Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Mueller, the Sanders Tax, Rand and Revolution...

Today's political posting can't compete with the Mueller hearings, which established clearly that RM would have indicted Two Scoops for obstruction, had he not been shielded by the dubious OLC memo on presidential immunity. (Note when we get Congress back from Putin, we can amend that, carefully. I favor the concept of "slow indictment." Criminal and other proceedings against a sitting president may move forward so long as they demand from him or her - in total - no more than say ten hours a week of distraction/attention from other duties.) 

What I wanted from Mueller was a very clear description of "criminal conspiracy" as primly defined in a free society that gives all benefit of the doubt to the accused. If that benefit were less strong, would "preponderance of the evidence" have led Mueller to indict on that charge, as well? In the dictionary definition of "collusion," which is not a legal one at all, would he conclude that the Trumpists colluded with Moscow, even if criminal conspiracy wasn't proved? The answer in both cases would be resounding yes.

So much for that, for today. This posting features a few interesting items...

== Bernie goes to a matter of importance! ==

Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill that would tax trading of stocks, bonds and derivatives at rates ranging from 0.005% to 0.5%. "A so-called financial transactions tax could raise between $776 billion and $2.4 trillion over 10 years, economists estimate.The U.S. hasn't taxed financial trades since the 1960s, although the 2008 financial crash brought the idea back in vogue.”

Sanders noted that Great Britain has levied such a tax since the late 17th century, while dozens of other countries also use one. In more recent years, France started taxing trades in 2012, and a wider tax went into effect in the European Union in 2017.

“Research suggests a transaction tax would have the greatest impact on hedge funds and other speculators, which make hundreds or thousands of trades a second, profiting from faster technology or advance information. … While each trade might yield only a fraction of a cent in profit, the sheer volume of trades make it lucrative. Nearly half the volume on a given day is made up of this type of speculative activity.”

“A Forbes contributor likened it to a cigarette tax: "It would pick up some revenue while discouraging dangerous activity.”

Oh, but it is much, much more important than that.  See where - almost a decade ago - I proposed this as a way to save us from rogue AI! 
A Transaction Fee Might Save CapitalMarkets... and Protect Us From The Terminator!

== Adam Smith knew it ==

Many of you I know I deem Evonomics to be an important site for moderate liberal thinkers to reclaim the legacy of Adam Smith, who (along with the American Founders) knew that oligarchy by cheater-lords has always been to main enemy of flat-fair-competitive-creative enterprise and markets. 
This article - Eight Reasons Why Inequality Ruins the Economy - lists 8 possible theories for why slower growth correlates with widening wealth disparities. In other words, cheater lords once again poisoning the very markets they depend on and sowing seeds of revolution.
All eight correlations likely have some validity, though I believe #1 is both inarguable and paramount.

== Combat your enemy, not a strawman, or straw – Rand ==

On the Evonomics site, true market liberalism – Smith's flat-fair-competitive enterprise – finds its actual champions. It finds them where they have always been, especially during the Greatest Generation -- slightly left of center. 

Still, sometimes an intelligent writer misses the point. Sorry, but this take-down of Ayn Rand, while cogent in many places, utterly fails to grasp her main weaknesses. I'll try to summarize. From Locke and Adam Smith to the U.S. Founders, "liberal" society sought a middle ground between competition and cooperation

Competition is the greatest creative force of all - and libertarianism is founded on that true fact, then drifts and loses its way by ignoring one pure fact we see across the last 4000 years: that competition is spoiled by cheaters!  And history shows that human males (lords/kings/owners/priests) will cheat with any excuse. The commissars who Ayn Rand saw in her youth weren't "altruists" at all, but were simply the latest wave of male cheaters, using Marxist cant to give themselves a slightly different-colored version of rapacious feudal power. 

Rand and her followers extoll the creative power of competition - which empowered liberal societies to vast wealth and fecundity - while frenetically ignoring the element that made it possible, keeping our competitive arenas -- markets, democracy, science and courts -- flat and fair.

The conditions for fecund COMPETITION require social and democratic COOPERATION, in order to provide healthy markets with two essentials: anti-cheating regulation and maximization of opportunity for new competitors. 

(Liberal programs to uplift poor children require no justification on moral grounds! They are how we maximize our input-feedstock of skilled and confident competitors and prevent the recurring failure mode of oligarchy. Libertarians who oppose such programs are thus utter hypocrites.)

Rand portrays ubermensch heroes prevailing via impudent genius and creativity over the opposition of entrenched cheaters... whereupon she then ignores what has always happened next, until our liberal revolutions. The new lords just replicate the pattern, use their wealth to suppress new competitors, and cheat to give their sons unfair advantage. 

Actually, she knew this! It's why, across thousands of pages of Randism, only on one single page does she ever mention children, reproduction, new generations. Because if her New Lords procreate, the reader will start to ponder what's next, and recognize that she solved nothing.

Hence, alas, while Dr. Cummins says many wise things in her Evonomics take-down, she is not arguing directly with Randians or going to their core weakness. For more in this in detail, see:

== Signs of revolution ==

The pool of smaller, affordable starter houses is low. And increasingly, first-time homebuyers are competing with investors who are buying up these homes. 

Look up the British "enclosures crisis" and similar events in Rome etc, and other ways the rentier caste cheated to rob the middle. This trend proves one thing above all else. That aristocracy does not equate to intelligence. The smart zillionaires... Buffett, Gates, Bezos etc ... can see where this leads. They cry: "raise my taxes!" not just for moral reasons, but to keep tumbrels from coming after them.

Not all aristocrats have foresight. An infographic on how some of today’s rich are seeking bolt-holes or Patagonian ranchos or other survivalist means to survive an apocalypse of their own making. And – um – they think that the smart people they’ve been waging war against don’t know where all of these “refuges” are located? 

You actually think that all the folks who know stuff and how to make and use stuff won’t be able to find you?

== A related aside... ==

Take a peek at the ideas of Douglas Rushkoff, whose new book Team Human is about ways that we might restore our shared sense of forward purpose, dissecting some very old, false ideas about competition, individuality, scarcity, and progress. “We needn’t embed these values in the digital landscape of tomorrow.” Elsewhere, Rushkoff described how some of the business elite are going about preparing for a doomsday, Salon ran an article: We asked psychologists why so many rich people think the apocalypse is coming.”

Among the insights: “Though we tend to think of the apocalypse as negative, the idea may counterintuitively be attractive to some,” he said. “In a world in which life feels uncertain and often unfair, in which people struggle to find a sense of personal purpose, the idea of an apocalyptic ending, though terrifying, can also feel meaningful." ... "This is obvious when we think about certain religious apocalyptic beliefs, but even among more secular types or those who do not believe in a particular religious apocalyptic narrative, apocalyptic ideas can be seductive... like people dreaming of a “better world."

... “Some are attracted to these ideas because they would be tested and could find their true purpose, maybe even emerge as heroes or people of importance in a new world,” he said... “And some like to imagine the possibility of a simpler life, what might be almost a form of nostalgia.”  

Of course, this is one of the malignant, cancerous mind-memes that I addressed, at some depth” in The Postman, and later in Existence.

== Spread this concept == 

Again,  consider ways to get someone, anyone in power to look at my gerrymandering solution, one that takes three sentences, is simple, does not impose a commission or complex formula, and would give a big sop to Chief Justice John Roberts's rationalization -- his need to allow legislative sovereignty. Yes, a state legislature's sovereign right to cheat its own citizens. 

Alas, I had no way to tunnel it into the sincere and hardworking but microcephalic heads of the plaintiff lawyers in this case.


Alfred Differ said...

1. I don't think Bernie's proposal will get through Congress.
2. Many of us trade stocks in tax privileged accounts related to our IRA's. What then?
3. If I'm taxed more for stock trades, I'll move my activity to options trades and avoid exercising them. What then?

It's not just that we can game any rule set. It is that any rule set alters the game in ways you might not anticipate. I get the motive to slow high speed trading, but be prepared for us to find some other thing that a new rule set actually encourages that you might not have intended to encourage.

And since we are talking about investments and equity ownership and we WERE talking about space last time, I'll offer up the following link showing the amount of private money and deal counts involved in recent space efforts.

For example, SpaceX is currently at an estimated valuation of $32B and has raised about $1B this year.

These equity purchases ARE stock trades. Do they get taxed at 1/2% too? Is that what we want?

David Brin said...

Alfred you are ignoring the essential nature of this Tobin Tax. It is incredibly small. It won't inconvenience you the slightest, trading at normal human speed.

Alfred Differ said...

0.5% isn't small.

If I buy a $1K block of shares, I pay $5. That happens to match my broker's fee, so they would double my costs of trading on a what is actually a small trade. On larger trades, they'd swamp my broker's fee.

Many of us are careful where we trade and how often because brokerage fees add up. The people who ARE brokers are the ones who get to avoid that and are most likely your HF targets. Do that, though, and you might break the brokerage business model. Many of them create liquidity for their customers. If I want to buy X and it isn't traded often, they might sell it to me and adopt a temporary short position until they can clear it. As long as their brokerage fee covers their likely expense (on average), they are doing me a service.

I'm not saying "Hell NO!" to trade taxes in general, but I WILL admit that I don't trust Bernie to do it right... especially during a primary season when the political positions matter more than sound finance policy. I like his spirit and dedication to "Best of Intention" causes, but he has some really, really awful policy ideas. So does Warren, but she's much smarter.

Jon S. said...

Those rich folks aren't apparently smart enough to consider that the smarter people will be able to find their boltholes. They're still convinced that after the Apocalypse, their paid guards will stay loyal to them!

David Brin said...

Alfred. ).5% is considered at the high end. And most versions give private individuals 100+ tax free trades.

gregory byshenk said...

David, according to the article linked, 0.5% would be that tax on (all?) stock trades. That seems high to me. I think you could achieve all the benefits of such a tax by setting it at 0.05% (or even 0.005%). Such would make no difference to any "normal" (human?) trading, but would still hit the automated systems that exist only to skim a bit of margin.

David Brin said...

Exactly Greg.

Brian said...

Dr. Brin;

First, and utterly--well, mostly--unrelated to the topic at hand, I'd like to thank you once again for your wisdom over the years, the challenges to my own thinking, and your willingness to engage with pretty much anyone genuinely motivated to improve society, whether they're on point with their thinking or completely misguided (both camps I've fallen into from time to time).

This would have been originally a simple "It was so great to finally meet you" sort of post, but nope. Having been lucky enough in the great Comic-Con lotteries for this to have been my fifth consecutive year, I've had the opportunity to meet in person celebrity types of various levels of notoriety and while they've been pretty uniformly gracious, it's also fairly obvious (at least to my hardened and cynical soul) that their public face was pretty firmly in place--understandable, to be sure. I'm not sure what I expected, if anything, beyond the simple opportunity to meet you and acquire a signed copy of The Transparent Society (thankfully, the book mongers there had a single copy I was terrified someone would snatch up before I got to it) for a place of honor in my library. What I found in person was...unexpected. Your warmth, engagement, enthusiasm and generosity all put me immediately at ease. The adjective that immediately comes to mind--if someone as deeply WASP-y as myself can be so bold as to use it--is mensch. It was an unexpected and delightful surprise. This, for the other denizens of this forum, is no mean feat by Sunday of Comic-Con, when (particularly at my age) various anatomical parts are starting to drag...

A couple of quick comments to give this at least passing focus on the topic at hand. I've thought (I think since the first time you brought it up) that the financial transactions tax was an outstanding way of leveling the playing field against electronic speculation and AI. This in combination with estate taxes dramatically limiting intergenerational wealth transfer would go a long way kneecap the oligarchy and the disturbing migration of wealth to the top. I consider myself libertarian, though Classical Liberal is probably more accurate. Taxes are suspect, as is government. They are also necessary. While taxation as a tool for social reform kind of makes me twitch a bit, I'm also a fan of simple effective and self-enforcing solutions. Not unlike your gerrymandering proposal. The devil's in the details.


Alfred Differ said...


I was referring to the article and what that author said about Bernie's plan. I'm sure there are ways to do this that bother me less, but this early in the political season I won't get my panties in a twist... yet.

Bernie's plan is just politics. He has to carve out his niche in a cluttered field. We all know the game they all have to play to secure an understandable position... and I'm okay with that. I'll hold my fire until the Democrats get someone elected. THEN we should look carefully about unintended consequences.

I mention this stuff now because you link to it as if 0.5% wasn't bad. Bernie is a True Progressive and would involve the feds in a lot more of our lives while also raising the money to make sure it is properly funded. If elected he would try, but I don't think he would actually succeed. From my outsider's perspective, I think True Progressives are better off with Warren. She's smarter and might find ways to succeed where Sanders won't.

When it comes time to look at real policy, I'll be looking at possible impacts to the 'discount brokerage' business model. I get why some people spend extra for full service brokers, but I think it is too easy to be scammed by brokers who have no fiduciary responsibility to you. Discount brokers play a different game and make money a different way less likely to encourage the old scams. I don't want to lose that business model because regulation intended to stop a different kind of cheat is unintentionally broad.

David Brin said...

Brian, thank you for your warm and kind words. There are people in this world who say that I am none of those things -- unfairly, I assert -- because I am ornery and contrarian and I love to pounce into any sort of argument. And, alas, some fail to see the joy I do, in a good intellectual tussle. (I was likely killed by age 16 in every previous life, because of this trait!) Alas, among those who dislike me most are some activists on our own side, because I believe the pro-enlightenment side desperately needs to re-examine failed or unproductive tactics, and that would call into question a lot of comfy-sanctimonious reflexes. In fact, I don't think anyone on the mad-right hates me as much as some do on a bilious far-far-left. (Orwell wouldn't be at all surprised. Read "Homage to Catalonia.")

All of which goes far afield. Suffice it to say I try to compensate for my inevitable boorishness by expressing decency toward people, and hoping I can fool a large enough majority into thinking (as I fooled you into thinking) that I am a mensch. Maybe if I fool enough folks, I can fool myself.

Thanks again and see you again, I hope.

Alfred, I agree that Warren is better presidential timber. I just worry about her. There's a level of political glad-handing and elbow grabbing and jocularity that Clinton and Obama had, that Carter didn't have, and that I've seen no sign of, in her. I wish she had been a governor. And/or I wish Inslee had charisma. I still fantasize Biden Warren with a deal where he retires in 3.5 years after she's learning administrative and deal-making ropes.

scidata said...

Mensch, I don't know, having never met you. But you say nice things about Ben Franklin, Adam Smith, and Isaac Asimov. That makes you jake with me.

Alfred Differ said...

I'd rather Warren and Sanders were not on the ballot come 11/2020, but I'll face reality later. Democrats in California might not mind me voting in their primary, but it's their call... not mine.

{I get the distinct impression my party is going to pick someone I find unpalatable this time, but we shall see. I've already met one Libertarian Presidential candidate and I was... underwhelmed. State level politics suggests a rebellion is well under way. The voted to wipe out the entire state-level platform at the last convention. Sigh.}

tonyt said...

Speaking of cheating, some of these things that are drowned out by the smoke and thunder screen

David Brin said...

Blatant cheaters. Open and outrageous cheaters. And anyone you know who supports this mob of mafiosi is a cheater, too. “GOP senators block election security legislation hours after Mueller warns of Russian interference.”

Alfred I wish I could be optimistic that the rebellion within the LP was by grownups and AdamSmithians. Alas, I would bet with long odds that it's an uptick in dogmatic radicalism, instead. Which might actually do good in 2020, though I doubt it.

While you and I are both Smithians, I would expect I am more with Warren than you are. Honestly, I see nothing she recommends that's not just a reset to FDR's social contract. You know I'll join you in battle, if they go commie on us.

Stefan Jones said...

I'm all for the financial transaction tax.

I'm retired, and my income will come from selling off investments. Any sane scheme will, as DB noted in a reply, give a few dozen free trades to each person per year.* I wouldn't get hit by transaction taxes under that measure.

(I'd be curious if reinvestment activity is taxed. (That is, if you set your mutual fund to reinvest dividends automatically, does that count as a trade?)

* There is a similar allowance for retirees now. If your income is low (under $39K) you don't get taxed on capital gains or qualified dividends.

Alfred Differ said...

The rebellion within the CA LP probably does NOT involve the grownups. My suspicion (I may be wrong) is it is coming from people who recognize their similarities with the Deplorables and seek to demonstrate that. My county level folks haven't really changed, but we are greatly outnumbered by LA County (who isn't?) and I'm not liking what I'm seeing. Dogmatic radicalism described a lot of us, but the faction that wants to behave like the Trump party is nauseating. They actually think Trump is behaving in a libertarian fashion. I can't even snicker at how stupid a joke that would make… but they are serious.

I get your support of FDR's social contract. My father was supportive too. That piece of history kept his family alive during the Depression. I won't argue against the historical importance of what FDR did, but I don't think some of it should be re-applied today. This is not the 30's. We have a much better historical perspective on Marx. Europe isn't about to set itself aflame… again. The US now has a huge navy and essentially controls the oceans with respect to military interventions one nation would make against another across the seas. Our currency is essentially THE reserve currency. Most importantly, though, we experienced the high inflation period of the 70's and learned a thing or two about what caused it. The revolution that we attribute to Reagan and his allies was already underway before him and supported by many voters who did not like what they saw in the previous couple of decades. Whatever we think of the motives of the people who wanted the changes, they EXISTED. That can't be undone, so I'm not excited about a return to FDR's approach.

I recognize Warren's similarities. What bugs me more, though, his her inclination toward authoritarianism. She's forceful and convinced she is correct about a number of things. I'm not sure how those of us in the dissent would fair. Would she listen? Compromise? I don't know. Like Sanders, I think she would have to as her opinions aren't supported by a majority. Unlike Sanders, I think she is smart enough to try and potentially succeed… and I probably wouldn't like some of her successes.

I'm not sure what I could offer Democrats to choose someone else, though. I can live with her far more than a Trump second term, but I would deeply appreciate it if Democrats at least gave a nod toward representing the whole country. That means representing me too.

Alfred Differ said...

A progressive set of brackets for taxing stock trades can mitigate some of the damage done to otherwise useful services, but my suspicion is we will need outright loopholes if we want to avoid destroying otherwise valid business models OR we will see those taxes passed through to their customers as costs when those businesses have customers… which is pretty much anyone in a world where shell companies can be invented on a dime.

Looking at this and trying to make them neutral for retail customers of brokers sounds like a good start. We get statements like "This won't impact me." Odds are those statements are mistaken, though. If brokers are impacted, retail customers WILL pay through fees. If clearing houses are impacted, brokers will be impacted, then their customers will be impacted. Since most small customers don't really understand fee structures, don't be shocked if a progressive rule set on paper is actually regressive in practice.

All I'm saying is "The devil is in the details." No surprise, right? I'm not arguing against doing anything at all, though. I'm pointing out that simple statements are probably grossly mistaken. I don't see how that could possibly be incorrect. After all, many of us who do trade DON'T agree on how we value stocks. The prices at which we will trade depend on our valuation preferences, so any rule change y'all might want to make regarding punitive taxes against certain trades are unlikely to work as you think. It ain't that simple.

David Brin said...

Alfred, you raise interesting points, some of which delightfully point out that -- while we share so very much ground as Smithian lovers of liberal society and a nation of accountable laws and uplift for the poor -- we have a few lovely gaps we could argue over!

And it is finding those gaps INTERESTING and fun that marks us as truly citizens of this remarkable nation and time.

duncan cairncross said...

While I agree that people were working to reverse the new deal before Reagan I DO NOT buy the idea that there was actually anything wrong with said "new deal" and the people working to subvert it were not doing so for any actual good reason - well not for the economy as a whole

Alfred grumbles at my "engine" metaphors - but those people were busy pouring sand into the oil!

The funny thing about Alfred's objections to suggestions to "make the engine run better" is that he appears to have no problems at all with suggestions that my "model" and history show will make it run a LOT worse

Alfred Differ said...

Arguing that they poured sand into the oil is the usual comeback when central planning doesn't work. Hayek devoted a chapter to it in the Serfdom book. Plan doesn't work? Blame someone! It's not hard to do since the plan likely ticked off people. They must have done things that did harm to the plan. Surely. 8)

My primary objection to the metaphor is it's not even remotely like an engine. No more than a human brain is a computer... though it does compute. I have no problem with suggesting that misidentifying it (by metaphor) DOES do harm. However, I can admit that often times the harm done is mild in the short run and amounts to misunderstandings that cause small harm... mostly. Often times, it isn't worth me getting twisted up about the central planning being done. The current GOP strategy for getting me to vote for their people would genuinely like me to get twisted up over it, but I refuse. THEY are doing more harm than the engine metaphor.

An erroneous metaphor can offer dire outcomes for certain suggestions, but economic models are notoriously bad at ex ante predictions. There are too many dimensions to the prediction problem and we can't really control for any of them. Okay. Maybe a couple out of hundreds. Ex post facto predictions aren't anywhere as convincing to me. Too much risk for 'just right' stories and confirmation bias. As an example, there are people who love FDR and his policies and people who despise him and his policies. I have little doubt both camps are populated by people moved by confirmation bias. Get each to make predictions for where markets will be just six months from now... and place their money on the bets as options... and (oops) many of them shut up. Ex ante predictions are damn difficult... and can be checked by your portfolio value. 8)

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
Forget your "Central planning" I have no dog in that fight

What I do have trouble with is anything that INCREASES INEQUALITY

The current level of Inequality is too high - too high for Democracy as well as too high for the engine to run well

We need to lead on the "more equality" lever to bring the levels down - and "The Market" is no bloody use for that as even BEFORE it gets subverted by too much money it is inherently a positive feedback system

Even with a completely fair system them as has gets more! - so a degree of re-centering IS required

I've changed my mind I do have a dog in the central planning argument
Central planning and ownership works best for
Police, Courts, Jails, Roads, Defense, Education, Healthcare, Water supply, Power supply
In fact for all "Services"

And it works best for the first stage of getting goods to market - the "Up to working model" part

The market however appears to work best for the rest of getting goods to consumers

A.F. Rey said...

A couple of news items that might be of interest to some:

Pew Research poll on religion shows that most Americans have some idea about religions, including those of other religions, but are murky about the details.

You can test your own religious knowledge here:

Second, three large asteroids passed close to Earth last night, one closer than the moon:

gregory byshenk said...

Alfred Differ said...
... I'm not liking what I'm seeing. Dogmatic radicalism described a lot of us, but the faction that wants to behave like the Trump party is nauseating. They actually think Trump is behaving in a libertarian fashion. I can't even snicker at how stupid a joke that would make… but they are serious.

Based on my (limited) experience, there are indeed some small number of principled libertarians, but the vast majority of US "Libertarians" seem to fit K. S. Robinson's description very well.

Brian said...

Dr. Brin:

Thanks for the warm welcome. I humbly submit that most of your self described "flaws" fall under the classification of features, rather than bugs. On the other hand, I tend to enjoy the company of strong personalities that seem to intimidate most folks. Not sure what that means...

I have to say, returning here is a tonic I badly needed after the last couple of years. No real reason for drifting away, just distracted by something shiny, most likely. It is refreshing to find there are still places and people that can discuss and disagree reasonably, and be open to new ideas and/or seeing old ones from a different perspective.

Gregory: This KSR quote "anarchists who want police protection from their slaves"? Dear god, I have to question whether you're talking or listening to actual libertarians, or what non-libertarians with an axe to grind have to say about them. Most of the time, the descriptions and attitudes of non-libertarians towards those of us with small "l" libertarian and/or classical liberal tendencies that I see are of people I don't recognize, and wouldn't recognize, as libertarian. That description is the very antithesis of what I would consider libertarian values. A wolf may dress itself in sheeps' clothing, or you may call a wolf a sheep, but it doesn't make it so. To the extent that you've encountered people self-describing as libertarian that would actually fit the above description, it is deeply regrettable and deeply inaccurate [to describe them as libertarian]. They are in no way shape or form libertarian--or [classical] liberal. Vast majority? Simply attempting to entertain the idea makes me physically ill.


A.F. Rey said...

Perhaps most Libertarians don't fit your definition of a libertarian. But what do you call the flock do when the wolves-in-sheep's-clothing outnumber the sheep? :)

scidata said...

As a non-American, I'm surprised that AI, automation, and the UBI are not discussed more in US politics. Milton Friedman's advocacy for a UBI was called 'negative income tax'. Only Andrew Yang seems to consistently talk about this subject. I wonder if this is due to ignorance & inertia, or rather to genuine fear. It's a train that's really easy to see coming down the tracks. It's sort of ostrich-like behaviour.

jim said...

In my experience a typical libertarian is a white man with a collage education (often an engineering degree) who would be a conventional anti tax, anti regulation, republican but with also one or more of the following beliefs

1) They are atheist or agnostic
2) They want to smoke pot or do other drugs
3) They want to use prostitutes
4) They want to gamble

(seriousness level 4 – on a 10 point scale ;-)

David Brin said...

Only a minority of libertarians are either sincere about fostering creative competition (Smithians) or else wolves in sheeps' clothing (the Kochs, Forbes and others who have bought the LP, top to bottom).

Actually, a majority of today's "libertarians" are sheep doing cosplay as wolves. Screaming at a gentle and supportive civilization the same way that teens scream at loving parents - because it's totally safe to do so, knowing the support won't go away, no matter what you say. Raving that they are being held back! That without society's hard-learned anti-cheating institutions, their talents would flourish and they would become Top Dogs!

Even were it true, the lesson of 4000 years is that the grandchildren of top feudal dogs - inheriting unearned lordship - only become Randian villains, conniving to use their unearned-inherited status to repress any possible competition from below. And the richest irony about Rand is that she portrays such inheritance brats exactly that way! As her principal betes noirs! Relegating mere socialists to the category of hapless saps. (It's the underlying reason why she never speaks of any of her uber-Galtian lords having children, ever, at all, even once.)

Only we - with our anti-cheating innovations (that occasionally get hijacked or become cloying, in need of reform) - only we created conditions under which vast feedstocks of lively competitors enter markets to jostle and strive creatively. And yes, that's a large part of the Rooseveltean social contract (RCC) of the Greatest Generation. And it is by OUTCOMES that we know which movement worked best at transforming us more toward flat-fair-open-creatively-competitive cornucopias. And it was not the Reagan-Bush-Koch "revolution."

Were reforms and tweaks ever-needed for the RCC? Sure! Democrats banished the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) which was Rand's archetype of a captured regulatory monster (in Atlas Shrugged) And did even one Randian give credit when that happened? One? Ever? Democrats opened the way for MCI and Sprint to give us a new era in comms. No specific regulatory proposal is sacred. Some, like forced school busing , were horror-travesties.

But you can be sure of one thing. If the oligarchy wants something torn down, it's a pretty good sign that it stands in the way of returning us to feudalism. And we should examine that thing for reform. And maybe making it stronger.

David Brin said...

the better, more cogent "jim" is back. Welcome home, son. Though the Confederacy has striven hard to normalize gambling.

jim said...

David Brin said...
"the better, more cogent "jim" is back. Welcome home, son."

He never left, It is just that you really, truly, dislike my stance on the TMT.

(and that is totally fine with me, people can't be expected to agree about everything all the time. And the decision on weather or not to build the TMT on Mauna Kea will be made by others, we will just have to sit back an see what happens. my guess would be about a 60% chance that it will end up on Mauna Kea, but the longer the protests last that chance goes down. If one or more of the elders out there protesting dies while protesting or being arrested the telescope will end up in Spain. )

David Brin said...

No, I really, truly dislike your attempt to bully me with category imperialism, proclaiming some aggressively opinionated small clade of individuals to be above critique and immune to external ideas, simply by virtue of their category identification.

It is a wretched reflex that clones exactly the bullying impulses that used to be used to repress those very same groups. Indeed, it uses the same sanctimony justification poisons.

jim said...

Well the land was stolen from the native Hawaiians at gun point.
When the University of Hawaii got control of the top of Mauna Kea they abused their authority and built several unauthorized telescopes. They had to be sued in 1995 to clean up the all garbage that they had dumped on the top of that sacred place. The university and the astronomy department were not good stewards to the land.

this from the audit by the State of Hawaii

"we found that the University of Hawaii management of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve is inadequate t ensure the protection of natural resources. The university focused primarily on the development of the Mauna Kea and the tied the benefits gained to its research program. Controls we outlined in the management plans that were often late and weakly implemented. The university's control over public access was weak and its efforts to protect natural resources were piecemeal. The university neglected historic preservation and the cultural value of Mauna Kea was largely unrecognized."

David Brin said...

Argue specific grievances and that's fine, though you vastly oversimplify. There was a vastly complex history of legal sales and to this day huge land trusts in native Hawaiian hands that you conveniently toss aside. Big Island desert areas were among the first tracts that the Kings willingly parted company with, and long before "guns" came into it.

But grievances? Sure. You don't do that. You bully. You declare that only the most radical can speak for an entire people and their elected councils have no right. You denounce the very idea that an outsider might - with less passion - suggest different ways to look at TACTICS which are often poisoned by legitimate righteous rage. And yes,sometimes the 'good' side can impulsively decide upon very, very bad or even self-defeating tactics.

NHor are you remotely interested in probably the most clearcut case of THEOLOGICALLY resonant miracle working, that these small groups, were they sincerely religiously motivated, would certainly take into account.

No, all you care about is category privilege and bullying.

David Brin said...

Unlike the mainland, where Native tribes were pushed onto ever-poorer lands, the native Hawaiian trusts own some of the best lands on the islands. That says something.

Laurence said...

This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

It never occurred to these people to ensure the guards loyalty by um...being a decent and fair-minded boss? Being nice to them? No?

David Brin said...

There is a way to get loyalty. But these SOBs will never think of it.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The word "libertarian" is the opposite of "authoritarian."

You would refer to a person who is significantly more in favor of authoritarian social structures than the average person as an "authoritarian."

You would refer to a person who is significantly more in favor of libertarian social structures than the average person as a "libertarian."

Members of the United States Libertarian Party are a recent subset of libertarians.

Similarly, the United States Democratic Party constitutes a subset of those who believe in democracy.

The United States Republican Party consists of a subset of those who advocate a republican form of government.

It is a mistake to conflate the ideas of members of specific political organizations with the names of general philosophical concepts.

One should not determine what is meant by "democracy" by attending the U.S. Democratic National Conventions and talking to the individuals who attend that convention and the other related events of the organization.

One should not determine what is meant by the advocacy of a "republican form of government" by attending the U.S. Republican National Convention and talking to the individuals who attend that convention and the related events of the organization.

David Brin said...

Jerry your attempt at a defined political bestiary shed no lihg at all, alas. In practice, only the "democrats favor democracy" maps onto today's landscape.

Unless the "republic" that republicans want is like the Roman Senate, utterly oligarchic.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

David, please read what I wrote again.

I wish that I could draw Venn diagrams on this forum.

Are you saying that those who are not a member of a political party are not in favor of democracy?

I am a libertarian, and have called myself a libertarian since about 1962. I am not a member of the Libertarian Party. I was opposed to the formation of the Libertarian Party at the time that it was formed (and I was quite aware of those meetings a the time that it was being formed).

If I had to chose from among all those running for president today, I would vote for Tulsi Gabbard.

David Brin said...

And Alfred and I call ourselves libertarian too. Your definition is so loose as to be of not much use, Jerry. And what about that venn overlap? Can you make liberty-loving overlap with wanting a green planet, with wanting to maximize the number of poor kids who can rise up and compete? With Wanting democracy? In a sane republic where we are represented by accountable, fact and negotiation-loving adults?

Jerry Emanuelson said...

David, I was not trying to define a political bestiary. My original post was showing how it cannot be defined.

Perhaps I should have put the words "not" and "subset" in capital or bold characters in my earlier post.

Political philosophies cannot be defined only by looking at the individuals affiliated with a specific formal organization, even if that organization has a name that is the same as (or very similar to) the philosophy.

Larry Hart said...

Jerry Emanuelson:

The word "libertarian" is the opposite of "authoritarian."

Except that it depends whose liberty and whose authority you are talking about.

Today's Libertarians seem to want their own liberty protected from the liberty exercised by everyone else. Just as today's advocates of "religious liberty" mean the liberty of restrictive religious institutions to exercise the coercion their religious tenets demands over intransigent non-believers. Which is a different thing, in fact the opposite thing of what the Founding Fathers meant by the term.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Larry, you're doing the same thing that others have been doing today on this forum: conflating libertarian (the philosophy) with Libertarian (members of the political party).

You're even doing it within a single post.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Larry, the fear that a Libertarian political party would eventually try to impose its will on other people was exactly my main reason for opposing its formation at the time. It was originally sold as being primarily an educational organization (with the excuse that political parties get all the attention).

The original founders of the Libertarian Party were good people with good intentions. The country was in a serious crisis at the time, and Nixon had just made a catastrophic economic decision that disassembled the long-stable Bretton-Woods world monetary system (in order to finance the Vietnam War).

Brian said...

I think, having read through the comments above, I'm going strictly with "classical liberal." More accurate, I think, as it hearkens back to the enlightenment values of Smith, et al, and feels more accurate given the state of "libertarianism" currently. Less baggage, even if it confuses many folks...


Alfred Differ said...


I do not think Jerry said what you think he said. I read some of your patent material and understand the need to GIST a bit here. You only have just so much attention to share. At the risk of shouting, I ‘uppercase’ to point at bits I do not want a reader to miss. Missed negations can screw up a complex argument… and I think that is what happened.


If I read you correctly, you were responding to A.F. Rey in response to Brian. I have the time to track back and follow an argument thread. David does not have enough dittos. Bold text helps. Uppercase helps. White space helps, but you have that covered. Mostly, though, bread crumbs showing a logic trail up through the thread work best.

Alfred Differ said...


I self identify as a classical liberal when talking to Libertarians. I actually registered with the local party, but not with the national one. The State doesn't make the distinction, but my local folks do. Since I'm not the pot smoker or gun fanatic some expect of registered Libertarians, I occasionally confuse the local folks. Hence... classical liberal.

The only time I ask people to register with the party is to send a signal to the other parties that the 'non-affiliated' people actually DO have preferences. I'd rather libertarians flooded in and took back the Libertarians than see Libertarians make a joke of us all when they run fools on November ballots. Eventually I'll give up and find a different windmill to tilt at, but I think it would do the GOP a world of good if all their disaffected members took over a different party and then displaced the rump party left behind. It shouldn't be the Democrats destroying the old rump. It should be the sane former-members.

Alfred Differ said...


I’m amused by your level 4 seriousness description of us. It is reasonably close, but if you squint at it all the options become the same thing. “Let me be!”

I AM an atheist, but the better description that covers a large group of us is anti-evangelical. See how “Let me be!” applies? Get out of my bedroom. Don’t tell me who I cannot marry. How dare you decide my speech is heresy. All those statements require Thought Police to enforce them, so anti-evangelical is about recognizing who among the theists would hire or want to be such people.

As for the gun nuts… well… if they aren’t killing your children… let them be.

Alfred Differ said...


Forget your "Central planning" I have no dog in that fight

I would, but I do not think you see the harm done by the overly simplistic metaphor.

I accept that the level of inequality is too high right now, though I probably do not accept any of the common measures used to quantify it. My issue with them mostly boils down to this. If they say the US had less inequality during any point during the Jim Crowe era, they are not aggregating enough information to detect reality. Piketty had interesting graphs in some chapters connecting inequality measures to ratios showing how dominant investment-driven income was. They made some interesting suggestions for the post-WWII era that I simply do not believe.

The issue with the metaphor is it suggests solutions that I think are more likely to do harm than good. What you think you know strongly influences what you think you see and then what you think you should do next. Sigh. In the mid-eighties, James Burke put together a TV series called “The Day The Universe Changed.” It has ten roughly one hour episodes and is reminiscent of Connections from the late 70’s. The 80’s series was different in that it had a cyclic point to make in each show. Start in one place, work forward in time, arrive back at that place again, but realize that the entire universe had changed. As what we knew changed, the universe around us seemed to change. Of course, it was not the Universe changing, right? It was just us. Connections showed the complexity of the interconnections of our web of knowledge. The next series showed how that web had spirals that circled through space to return at a later time with a very different version of what humans think the universe is.

The first and last episodes addresses the mental models we have that explain what we sense. The first one points them out. The last one points out how VERY robust they are against change. Yet they change.

I cannot use the engine metaphor not because it is wrong. I used to use it… and then I was confronted with something that caused me to rethink it. It was a wrenching experience that involved Smith, Hayek, Darwin, Hofstadter, Dennett, and a number of others I like to read. I was forced to open a mental wedge between designed solutions and functional chaos. I grew to see ‘evolution’ for the powerful description that it really is. Smith’s competition is the culling force in an evolutionary model. Failure to educate our children and protect equality of opportunity limits diversity and risks genetic or memetic extinction. Entrepreneurial enthusiasm grants recognition of personal dignity which works better than sex at reproducing memes and growing them to maturity.

I can go on and on about the experience, but what I cannot do is go back to the simple engine model. Once you mentally imagine planets whirling around the Sun, Aristotle’s universe is just weird. Worse, though, Aristotle’s geocentric model suggests to believers what they should DO when something occurs they do not like. Same with the engine metaphor, right? Lean on a lever! Turn the wheel! Step on the break! The model I’m using makes very different suggestions. Educate the children! Liberate their minds! Weed out the cheaters… but be damn careful you let them grow just enough to decide that they ARE cheaters! It is not an engine. It is an ecology.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: I grew to see ‘evolution’ for the powerful description that it really is.

When evolution truly detonates in your brain, there's no going back. For me, it all came together in one stunning moment as I was reading Dawkins' "River Out of Eden".

It's pathetic to watch modern scientists contort and strain to disprove the concept. The crucial need to skeptically test sometimes morphs into the compulsion to invent fairies and worse, to protect and nurture them like children.
The moronic 1 in 10^77 useful protein 'argument' reminds one of the '747 assembled by a whirlwind' idiocy of a decade or two ago. I hope I'm not insulting any relatives/colleagues of Berlinski, Meyer, and Gelernter. They are fine people, who've been led astray by pathological mathematics.

duncan cairncross said...

There are two parts to the inequality argument

The poor buggers at the bottom - their "pain" and the fact that they are too poor to act as part of society (and as consumers)

The very rich who are rich enough to Destroy any attempt at a democracy

I could envision a society with only one of those issues
But today's USA has BOTH of them

You can argue that my engine metaphor is incomplete or sub optimum or could fail but doing NOTHING guarantees failure

David Brin said...

Jerry I can see I miread some of your remark. Apologies. Alas for my limited bandwidth. Overwhelmed,

Scidata, Gelernter almost became DT's "science adviser" quotes intended.

Larry Hart said...

Jerry Emanuelson:

Larry, you're doing the same thing that others have been doing today on this forum: conflating libertarian (the philosophy) with Libertarian (members of the political party).

Not exactly, although I can see why it seems that way to you.

I'm conflating a philosophy with the common perception (by the general public) of that philosophy as it seems to be most vocally characterized.

It's like Norman Goldman says about Christianity--the term has been hijacked by zealots who present themselves as "Chrisitians" when what they mean is something along the lines of "mean spirited white supremacists who insist on control of women's bodies." True Christians have a point when they claim not to go along with that other interpretation, but unless they make the case generally, it doesn't matter. When Joe Public hears a politician extoll himself as a Christian, he's going to hear and understand that first thing.

That's what I see happening with "libertarian". And it has little to do with whether or not there is an established party with the same name.

scidata said...

@Larry Hart
Yes, that's the problem with identity politics. Any dufus can quote from "Two Corinthians" and immediately draw millions of sheeple to their cause. The remedy? Widespread literacy, especially scientific. The vehicle? Citizen Science.

I can hear the Confederate throat clearing in preparation for accusations of elitism and cabal of enlightenment. The best support for my argument is supplied by them. I yield the floor.

Brian said...


Thanks for your comments. I suspect you and I disagree about very little. Your "It is an ecology" statement was particularly eye-opening. Never really thought about it in quite those terms before. It's a model that seems to fit.


Jerry Emanuelson said...

Larry, I understand what you are saying, and I understand that many humans have a natural tendency to listen only to the loudest voices.

Most people tend to identify ideas with the loudest and most obnoxious people who claim to be associated with that idea. That is one of the main causes of the extreme political malice that we see today. People just need to stop doing that. They need to see people as individuals, and to not conflate ideas with their most obnoxious advocates.

It is just not that difficult. Each individual, one person at a time, just needs to stop conflating ideas with their most obnoxious advocates. Just stop it.

Just because a lot of other people are doing something badly gives you no excuse to exhibit the same behavior. (I am using the word "you" generically, not to refer to you personally.)

To use your example of Christianity: I happen to be an anti-theist with respect to the Abrahamic religions. Yet I live in a city that was overrun with evangelical Christians from 1980 until 2006. I never encountered a single one of those evangelical Christians during that time. (I guess we had some unconscious method of repelling each other.)

I knew that the Christian extremists were there in my city because I could see the psychological damage that they were doing to people, especially to kids who were trapped in school with them (as teachers, staff or classmates).

During that time, I had many friends and acquaintances who were very moderate Christians (certainly never evangelical). They rarely mentioned religion in my presence. Most of my Christian friends (including my parents) knew that I was an atheist. Yet I always got along just fine with all of them. I never attributed any of the ideas of the obnoxious conservative Christians to my much nicer (and more civil) Christian friends just because they happened to both use the same word to describe themselves.

I think that Christianity is basically a horrible and destructive ideology, but I would never ascribe any of the worst ideas of Christianity to people who just happened to call themselves Christian.

I just don't see what is so difficult about avoiding the conflation of ideas with their most obnoxious advocates. It is necessary to learn to do this if we are going to have a civil society.

David Brin said...