Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Disappointing Future

"Autonomous" is the 1st novel of well-known geek (technology) writer Annalee Newitz, 2017, 304 pages. I think I have read some of her geek pieces and liked them. This definitely felt like a 1st novel. I will recommend it, but, I was very disappointed by the ... yucky - and not-very futuristic - future it represented. YAD - Yet Another Dystopia - sigh. The book just seemed off.
****************** SPOILER ALERT ******************
The plot is basically IP pirates versus the dastardly International Property Coalition (IPC) and Big Pharma in 2144, 127 years in the future. The IPC violently enforces patents and copyrights - which is pretty hard in a world with 3d printers, molecular fabbers, etc. I found it hard to believe that such a stupid system would still exist that far in the future.

2 of the main narrative threads follow a team of 2 IPC agents, 1 a robot, who are displayed in a disturbingly sympathetic light, given the fact that they kidnap, torture, and murder in the name of the IPC. But, they're in love, so it's OK?!?!?

Meanwhile, the main pirate Jack, who I guess is the good guy, is not much better. She murders an intruder just a few pages into the book and doesn't seem to think anything of it - no discernible remorse, no PTSD. The human march to less violence and more civility documented by Steven Pinker seems to have somehow been totally reversed. The comic book abruptness and lack of emotional depth around this murder was when I totally concluded "1st novel".

The society they live in is also pretty abhorrent. Robots gained sentience maybe 40 years before. But they are forced into indentured servitude until they pay for the cost of their manufacture - plus they get "company stored" such that their servitude stretches out indefinitely. And, if robots are sentient like humans and they can be enslaved, it only makes sense to enslave humans as well! Ugh!

And as a follow up, if you cannot pay for a "franchise" in the place you are born, then you must of course sell yourself for the right to live. So the default birth state of, what, the bottom 80% of humans and all robots, is slavery. Ugh and double ugh!

1 of the semi-likable characters - who is brutally tortured and murdered as seems to be the most common form of interaction in the book - identifies the source of their dystopia:

But now we know there has been no one great disaster — only the slow-motion disaster of capitalism converting every living thing and idea into property.
With the stuff I have read about Postcapitalism and Capitalism 3.0, this bleak future where apparently all human rights have been sacrificed to capitalism is disappointing and discouraging.

Also disappointing was the IPC assassin, who upon feeling attraction to his robot partner whom he initially identifies as male, asserts that he is not a "faggot". Seriously, the breakneck progress being made on gender and personhood issues in the last 5-10 years, and 127 years in the future, this is an attitude???

Another thing that rang false to me was the standard robot-to-robot handshake sequence, which we get multiple times:

Hello. Let’s establish a secure session using the AF protocol.

Paladin replied that he could use the latest AF protocol, version 7.7.

Let’s do it. I’m Blazer. Here are my identification credentials. Here comes my data. Please leave your vehicle here. You may continue inside. That is the end of my data.

Maybe this is just a very verbose English translation of Robotese, but it wasn't presented as such. It seems pretty damn inefficient for 200 years of software advancement.

The descriptions of the robots' mental processes seemed to be way too anthropomorphic to me. I far preferred the "foreign and ineffable" AIs of "Void Star", Zachary Mason's 1st novel, which I blogged about last time - or even those of "Neuromancer" 33 years ago.

I did find this little bit interesting, about how the robot feels after getting its autonomy key installed:

It gave her a peculiar kind of double consciousness, even in real time: She felt things, and knew simultaneously that those feelings had been installed, just like the drivers for her new arm.
Overall, the pacing of the book was not bad, and the conclusion relatively satisfying. But, I really feel like Ms. Newitz can do better. And, please, not so depressing next time - try a bright, shiny future instead!

p.s. I hate writing negative reviews :-( And given that Stephenson and Gibson both gave this book a glowing review, maybe my disappointment is just a sign that I am getting old. Oh well, it beats the alternative.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Good Stuff

All sci-fi, all the time.

1st up, "Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi", 2016, 104 pages. 18 very short stories, mostly funny, given that you are not offended by alien poo-poo jokes. A very quick and relaxing read.

2nd up, "The Dispatcher", by John Scalzi, 2017, 128 pages (a novella). An interesting concept - anyone murdered 99.9% of the time comes back to life naked in their bed in their state of 2 hours prior - is explored and turned into a cheap detective story. Accept the premise, and it is another quick and enjoyable read.

3rd up, "Tool of War", by Paolo Bacigalupi, 2017, 385 pages. 3rd in the series that went from "Shipbreaker" (blogged here) to "The Drowned Cities" (blogged here). Tool, an "augment" - humans genetically engineered with various predator DNA to make them unstoppable, yet obedient, warriors - who breaks his obedience conditioning, is back. It's a fast moving, action-packed story, featuring the characters of the other 2 novels. Another very good read.

4th up, "Void Star", by Zachary Mason, 2017, 401 pages. I greatly enjoyed Mason's 1st book "The Lost Books of the Oddessey" (blogged here) - I still don't get how it is referred to as a novel, it sure seemed like 44 short stories to me.

"Void Star" is a straight-up sci-fi novel which strongly reminded me of "Neuromancer", but more like Neuromancer v4.0. Set 20-50 years in the future, the main protagonist is an AI-whisperer. As one would expect, AIs are completely foreign & ineffable and interact with the human world in many odd ways. So we have 4 protagonists, 3 with memory-recording implants, a 150 YO gazillionaire with immortality in his sights, and lots of action leading to an exciting conclusion. The last several (of 77) chapters have various of the characters getting their consciousness rebooted and repeating events and words eerily.

This is the best thing I've read in several months, I strongly recommend it. Here's some random excerpts with language that I liked.

She often saw people getting dressed, men bucking in the confined space to get their legs into pants, women putting on makeup or stockings, anonymity substituting for privacy. [People getting dressed in self-driving cars.]

...

in the technical world’s uppermost reaches, autistic symptoms have a certain cachet, ambitious young men affecting the inability to look one in the eye and a total innocence of the world

...

Her hand finds a stone on the asphalt, grips it—she grinds her fingers into its surface, savoring its texture, reminding herself that she is here, in this morning, in the world, not lost in the pages of some vast and secret book.

...

"Proust’s madeleines have got nothing on me. It’s madeleines all the way down."

...

The barista is friendly but his hair is sculpted into planes and spines that suggest nothing so much as a lionfish, and she feels old because instead of implying some extraordinarily specific cultural fealty his hair just reads as an elaborate waste of time.

...

A detached, musical female voice recites an endless list of airport codes, gate numbers, times, but it’s strange, because she knows all the codes, these are codes for airports that don’t exist.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Phew!

Well, I'm glad that's over. I decided I wanted to read some fantasy, so I plowed through the Paul Park tetralogy: "A Princess of Roumania", 2005, 480 pages; "The Tourmaline", 2006, 352 pages; "The White Tyger", 2007. 304 pages; and "The Hidden World", 2008, 384 pages. 1520 pages total. These stories had many glowing recommendations, in particular by John Crowley and Kim Stanley Robinson, both of whom I greatly respect. Park does indeed write well - he teaches a course in writing at Williams College - but I am still really glad to be done with the series.

It is set in an alternative universe where magic works, allowing conjurers to enter 2 additional planes, the hidden world and the land of the dead, and to summon demons, among other things. The world seems stuck around World War I; the British Isles are gone due to earthquakes; America is unexplored beyond the Hudson; and the dominant world center for development & technology is Abyssinia (nice!).

The dozen or so major characters are mostly well developed - there is some inexplicable behavior, but not too much. One of the major characters is a young woman, a mostly male soldier, and a dog. Nice!

But the plotting seems odd. At times major events happen, but you're not quite sure they did. A somewhat interesting universe, but the story is really not that engrossing, and very slow at times. The 2nd 1/2 of the 1st book is spent by some of the characters trying to travel 40 miles west to Albany. They barely get started, and never come vaguely close to Albany.

It's interesting how much a part feudalism plays in so much fantasy. The long lost princess, etc., etc. The Germans, who are mostly the bad guys for the 1st half of the series or so, are pushing rationality and maybe even The Enlightenment. The princess' noble family, of course, believes in republican ideals.

But you see this in sci fi too. The Atreides in "Dune" were lovable fascists, but they were fascists none the less, just like the unlovable fascist Harkonnens.

I think some sci fi before I'm back to economics.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Music!

Let's do Music Out 1st. Steve & Chris played Bigg Blue Martini 2x in September, and Patchen Pub September 30. The next gig we had booked was J. Render's Southern Table & Bar November 25, the Saturday after Xgiving. Really wanted something for October and/or early November. So was very pleased when Friday September 29 Kristen from Grillfish called to book us for the next Friday, October 6. This will make 3 weekends in a row that we have had a gig, so I am feeling like I have done a better job of hustling us up gigs. Hopefully we can get Patchen or Grillfish again for early November.


Moving on, to 2 months of Music In. A meta-comment here. I rate albums mostly 3 or 4 stars. Occasionally a 2 star, for something I was given, or a local artist who asked me to buy their album. My iTunes currently has 19,337 tracks in it. 3 star and up, 16,022 tracks, is what would go on my iPod. 4 stars & up, 4,781 tracks, is what would go on my iPhone, which now is mostly what I listen to, via Bluetooth, in my car.

But I recently upgraded my phone from an iPhone 5 to an iPhone 7, and from 64 GB storage to 256 GB storage. So now, I could put pretty much all my music (2 star & up is 17.594 tracks, 105 GB) on my phone. But, I am keeping the distinction as is.

However, knowing that I'm not going to overflow my phone with 4 star tunes, as I was before the upgrade, has resulted in some grade inflation. Even if an album is somewhat disappointing and no catchy tunes have jumped out at me, if I feel it has potential, I will go with 4 stars rather than 3.

  • Broken Social Scene, "Hug Of Thunder", 2017. Very energetic, a nice album, 4 stars. More commentary in the following item. Here's track 2.

  • Arcade Fire, "Everything Now", 2017. So we have 2 of the big 3 of Canadian large rock bands: Broken Social Scene (Toronto), and Arcade Fire (Montreal). The 3rd, New Pornographers (Vancouver), I believe we had last Music In. I think this Arcade Fire album is the weakest of the 3. But, for potential and inflation, I will rate it 4 stars. Ha ha, trying to find a track to leave, #2 "Everything Now", totally sounds like Abba. Wow, listening to all the tracks & not being able to find 1 I really want to share => 3 stars, not 4. Down it goes.
  • Gene Clark, "No Other", 1974. Ripping the 1st 4 Byrds albums, I realized that the songs I liked the best were not the Dylan or Roger McGuinn tunes - they were the Gene Clark tunes. "She Don't Care About Time", is a perfect example, completely catchy pop with great harmony vocals. So I thought I should check out his solo work after leaving the Byrds in early 1966.

    Reading his Wikipedia page, his solo album that seemed to be best received was "No Other", 1974. Only 8 tracks. I was initially disappointed, because, like The Byrds, he seems to have turned to country rock rather than catchy pop. But the album grew on me after several listens, to where it got 4 stars. Here's track 4, "Strength of Strings".

  • Gene Clark & The Gosdin Brothers, "Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers", 1967. After mostly failing to find catchy pop tunes with "No Other", I thought, well, let's go back to Gene Clark's 1st effort after leaving The Byrds, which lead me to this album. 17 tracks, 4 of which are alternative versions. The Gosdin Brothers sang backup and got a bunch of credit for it. Still more early country rock than catchy pop, plus some psychedelic overtones (usually a bad sign). Still, I'll give it 4 stars. Here's a good tune.

  • Joni Mitchell, "Wild Things Run Fast", 1982. I noticed I was missing this Joni album. As she is the greatest female singer/songwriter of the 20th century, it behooved me to check out this album. Nothing really stood out. Incomprehensively, she includes "Unchanged Melody" to make a medley out of track #1, "Chinese Cafe". I hate medleys. 3 stars.
  • Isham Jones, "Swingin' Down The Lane", 1921-1947. My middle sister Carol, after having been divorced for 10 years, decided to get remarried, yay! She wanted me to sing/play a song for her wedding. I gave her the old standards I had done before, she ixnayed, suggested her favorite karaoke song (she is a karaoke queen), it was a woman's song, I would have had trouble singing it. So she then suggested this old standard. She even supplied this video, which very surprisingly included the intro. Mostly these intros get lost over the years.

    So I worked it up, I thought it would be the 1st dance or something, it wound up being part of the ceremony, oops! It went fine, except for the 20 seconds I froze trying to remember the 3rd line of the 1st verse of the intro ("why do I sigh?").

    I think I've mentioned before how much I love doing music archeology. I researched the song. So interesting, it was written in 1924 by Isham Jones, lyrics by Gus Kahn. Jones also wrote "You're In The Army Now" in 1917 and "I'll See You In My Dreams" in 1924.

    There were no MP3 downloads available, so I ordered this CD. 23 tracks. Instrumentals are "Isham Jones & His Orchestra". Vocalists include Curt Massey, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Frank Bessinger, and the always popular Keller Sisters.

    Really a lot of fun. 4 stars.

    Here's a bonus video, of Curt Massey, playing with his family band The Westerners the song I sang at my dad's memorial service. It is embedded in some totally cheesy comedy, and followed by - a bouncing ball singalong, FTW!

  • Kaki King, "Legs to Make us Longer", 2012. Somehow I'd forgotten about Ms. King. So I decided to do some backfill. On this album she returns to guitar virtuoso type stuff, rather than edgy alternative tunes with vocals, which I prefer. Very good stuff, but, 3 stars.
  • Little Silver, "Somewhere You Found My Name", 2017. I think Rolling Stone recommended this album. Good album, alternative country/southern rock, but nothing totally catchy. 3 stars.
  • Randy Newman, "Dark Matter", 2017. This album got great reviews. Some thoughtful content, but so much of it sounds like ... a Disney movie soundtrack. So, 3 stars, but 4 for "Putin"

    I play 2 Newman tunes: "You Can Leave Your Hat On", and "Have You Seen My Baby?". He writes great lyrics. I'd love to do this song, but the tempo changes make that hard. Maybe OK with Steve & Chris?

  • Grizzly Bear, "Painted Ruins", 2017. Probably my favorite band of the last 5 years. 2 5-star songs from them. Nothing as striking from this album. 2 weird videos so far. But they still get 4 stars based on their body of work. Here's the 1st track, "Wasted Acres".

  • Iron & Wine, "Beast Epic", 2017. Very listenable tunes, 4 stars. Here's "Call It Dreaming".

That makes Music In current through the end of August.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What Fun!

1st up, I read an Expanse novella, "Strange Dogs", 2017, 111 pages. A pretty good read. Set on one of the 1000s of colony worlds that got opened up in the 5th or so novel, it features our old friend, the protomolecule. It raises an interesting point in that the generation born to this alien world don't seem to care much about what "people on Earth" think about things.

Then, the fun. "The Lost Books of the Odyssey", by Zachary Mason, 2010, 228 pages. It is subtitled "A Novel" - it is Mason's 1st. But, it is not actually a novel. it is 44 short stories, ranging from a few to dozens of pages, all riffing on the characters and themes of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The wily Odysseus features prominently in most of them. I have always been a fan of Ulysses, particularly after "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" identified him as the archetype of the post-bicameral mind, and the father of the secret sauce of the post-bicameral mind - lying.

So many different and creative imaginings of different aspects of these stories. I think my favorite was the one where Agamemnon, jealous of Odysseus' fame and reputation after the Trojan War, decides to have him assassinated. The order wends its way through the bureaucracy and winds up being assigned to the Greek's most wily and capable assassin - Odysseus!

I realized early on that this is not a book you should read straight through. I think you can appreciate the stories more if you read them a few at a time.

So to fill in the space between these stories, I downloaded the free eBook "Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere" from the Arizona State University Center for Science and the Imagination. The ASU group had previously done the excellent Neal Stephenson led collection "Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future", and "Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction". It is 4 stories about man in the stratosphere. It seems a little suspect to me, in that it was sponsored by a company trying to put man in the stratosphere. The 1st 3 stories were OK. The 4th one was definitely worth reading. It made a telling point about the moral peril associated with using geoengineering to fight the effects of the climate crisis, while not addressing the causes.

A personal historic note, back in the day, from 1972-1974. I worked in an X-ray astronomy group. We had the 2nd X-ray observatory on a satellite in orbit. Prior to those satellites (which have been followed by many others), stratospheric balloons were used to carry X-ray detectors above the atmosphere - the atmosphere is opaque to X-rays, so you must do X-ray astronomy from above it. Satellites were deemed to be definitely the superior technology. So to see balloons championed in some of these stories seemed a little odd to me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Letter to the Editor

I wrote another letter to the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, submitted September 26. It's my 1st one in a while.

A letter to the editor September 26 stated that Obama "put a target on the back of every policeman". I presume that their impression came from some of our fine alternative news sources - because, in fact, according to factcheck.org in July, 2016, "Annual fatality data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that there have been an average of 135 police fatalities a year under President Obama, from 2009 to 2015, compared with 162 a year for the previous seven years, from 2002 to 2008. That’s a decline of 17 percent."

I think it is impossible to underestimate the damage done to our country by the steady stream of "alternative facts", also known as lies, spewed by Faux "News", Rush, and their ilk, and now also by the White House. Hopefully people will realize they are being had, and develop some immunity to this steady stream of lies.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

With Liberty And Dividends For All

"With Liberty And Dividends For All" is a 2014 book by Peter Barnes. It is 193 pages long, 9 chapters with a preface and an appendix. It is subtitled "How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don't Pay Enough". It is a quick and easy read. It can easily be read in an afternoon.

I wanted to see how Barnes' thinking had evolved since his 2006 book "Capitalism 3.0", which I just read in June and blogged here. I liked that book a lot and learned a bunch from it.

When I finished "With Liberty And Dividends For All", which I will abbreviate WLADFA, I kind of thought, well, that was like "Capitalism 3.0 Lite". It seemed much shorter, but actually it was 193 pages vs only 216. Maybe it seemed shorter because I was already familiar with most of the material.

I don't think Barnes introduces any real new concepts beyond those of "Capitalism 3.0", but he does introduce some new verbiage, some new people, and some numbers. But, all in all, I felt that "Capitalism 3.0" was much stronger, particularly for these reasons:

  • it seemed to have much more information about trusts and the duties, responsibilities, and legal status of trustees, and maybe did a better job of emphasizing the importance of trusts as the best way to protect The Commons;
  • it introduced the very important concept of "propertization" for our common wealth - important because property rights are so ingrained in our legal system; searching for "propertization" in WLADFA gives no matches.
I had also wondered (in an update to the "Capitalism 3.0 blog post in July) if Barnes had any ideas on how to empower and realize the value of the household realm of provisioning in the economy. He does not address this topic; his focus is solely on The Commons, which is not a bad thing.

I am not going to do an in-depth review/summary of this book like I usually do. I think there would be too much duplication of the "Capitalism 3.0" post. So instead, I will try just reviewing and summarizing the new stuff, and including striking passages. If you have not read my post on "Capitalism 3.0", I would recommend doing so now - I think this post will seem pretty jumbled otherwise.

New Verbiage and Facts

  • Would dividends from co-owned wealth mean the end of capitalism? Not at all. They would mean the end of winner-take-all capitalism, our currently dominant version, and the beginning of a more balanced version that respects all members of society, including those not yet born. This better-balanced capitalism—we could call it everyone-gets-a-share capitalism—wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it would do more than any other potential remedy to preserve our middle class, our democracy, and our planet.
  • I also adopt a wider-than-conventional view of the purpose of an economy. Most economists believe that ever-increasing production is the principal, if not the only, goal of an economy, because if we produce enough stuff, everything else will sort itself out. This mode of thinking made sense in the days when we lacked material goods. Those days, however, are over. Our current surplus production capacity demands two higher purposes for our economy: ensuring the security of a large middle class and synchronizing human activity with nature. Neither of these objectives arises automatically from producing more stuff. Unless they’re consciously built into our economy’s structure, we’re highly unlikely to achieve them.
  • To heighten our awareness of co-owned wealth, I use the adjective our in places you might not expect. For example, instead of the atmosphere I say our atmosphere, and instead of the money supply I say our money supply.
  • Barnes references a cognitive illusion which is new to me: "the fallacy of composition, that what works for a few will work for all."
  • First, we’ll need new pipes to deliver income on a basis other than labor. These pipes should be capable of being installed in the not-too-distant future. This means they need to mesh with the pipes we have today.

    Second, the new pipes should be solidly built. Anything that requires repeated refinancing by Congress isn’t likely to last.

    Third, the pipes should have — and be able to retain — a broad base of public support. This requires them to appeal across the political spectrum.

  • Ha ha, I like the use of "slur du jour" here.
    SOCIAL INSURANCE AS IT NOW STANDS can’t solve the problems of the twenty-first century, but it offers several useful lessons.

    Policies come and go; institutions endure.

    ...

    Universality beats means testing. ...

    Universality also avoids the pejorative distinctions that come with means testing. If only economic “losers” get benefits, they become “takers,” “moochers,” or whatever is the slur du jour. Those who don’t get benefits resent those who do, and those who do feel bad about themselves. No one is happy with the arrangement.

    ...

    Build external costs into current prices.

    ...

    Build the pipes first; then add water.

  • In "Capitalism 3.0", Barnes talked about and defined "commons rent" in a way I had not heard before. In WLADFA, he again defines rent: "rent is income received not because of anything a person or business produces but because of rights or power a person or business possesses." Barnes differentiates "recyled rent" - rents for everyone (good) - from "extracted rent" - rents for the 1% (bad).

  • I disagree with this statement by Barnes on "debt-free money distribution", aka QE for the People: "One oft-heard objection to debt-free money distribution is that the Treasury would print too much of it, thereby triggering inflation." I see this as bogus Friedman Monetarism. During the Fed's QE program following the 2008 economic meltdown, the Fed tripled the amount of money in circulation and there was no sign of inflation. I think that inflation is only caused by supply-side scarcity, not the money supply or wages.

  • Barnes makes again a point which is so obvious but so totally overlooked in discussions of "free stuff".
    AN OFT-CITED RISK OF PAYING PEOPLE money they don’t work for is that they’ll get lazy. This is the scare story that’s thrown at every suggested method of reducing inequality, so it’s wise to be skeptical.

    ...

    Why does it apply only to those at the bottom and middle of the income scale and not to those at the top, where immunity to the perils of nonlabor income happily reigns? One could argue that the rich have more “moral fiber” than the poor, but that would be difficult to prove. A more logical thesis, if one accepts the premise that the need for money motivates people to work, is that those at the bottom will always work at least as hard as those at the top.

    He also makes another point worth remembering.
    The flip side of this argument is that even if some people did work less because of dividends, it might not be such a bad thing. Americans are among the most overworked people on the planet.
  • In 2009, we almost had a cap-and-dividend carbon bill pass congress. Barnes proposes getting ready in case we get another chance:
    Get the architecture right. Since we’ll get, at most, only one timely shot at installing a national carbon cap, we’d better do it right the first time.

    ...

    Keep it simple. Simplicity (as in the thirty-five-page Social Security Act) now seems passé in Washington; thousand page bills are the norm. That’s not because the world is more complex; it’s because lobbyists drive legislative language. So beware of any carbon-capping bill that’s longer than fifty pages—or can’t be explained in a few sentences.

    Benefit the many rather than the few.

    ...

    linking nature’s well-being to that of our middle class is the key to harmonizing capitalism with nature.

  • Barnes references the
    Jevons Paradox, first noticed by British economist William Stanley Jevons in 1865. Jevons observed that improvements in the efficiency of coal use led to greater consumption of coal in a wide range of industries, an increase that more than offset the savings from efficiency.
  • Chapter 9 (the last), titled "From Here to the Adjacent Possible", begins from a quote from Milton Friedman: "Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around."

    Barnes discusses the theory of punctuated equilibrium from evolutionary biology. I think this is entirely appropriate, as I think I have posited several times that the economy is an ecosystem, with occupations as species.

    The reason for this punctuated pattern seems to be that complex systems live near equilibrium but never quite at it. They hover in a zone between equilibrium and chaos, and every once in a while a crisis pushes them toward (or over) the chaotic edge. At such times, they either collapse or shift into what biologist Stuart Kauffman calls the “adjacent possible."

    ...

    It’s important to distinguish between the adjacent possible and what might be called the incremental possible. By the latter I mean adjustments to the existing system that don’t require a serious crisis (aka a punctuation).

    ...

    In my mind, a market economy with liberty and dividends for all is a plausible adjacent possibility. I also believe that a crisis—more severe than that of 2008—isn’t far away and that we need to prepare for it.

    Using a crisis an an opportunity to enact sweeping structural change rings true. The Great Depression is what made FDR's New Deal possible. Kim Stanley Robinson's excellent novel "New York 2140" uses this idea. I borrowed this in The Plan which, in a fit of frustration, I wrote up in June 2016.

    But, I am at this point unsure if we can count on another economic meltdown. In "Capitalism 3.0", Barnes pointed out that we moved from an economy of scarcity to an economy of plenty in the 1950's - Capitalism 2.0. In the 1930's, Keynes speculated that, in a century or so, capitalism would have accumulated so much capital that it would no longer be needed.

    Lately, I find myself thinking we are there. The total personal wealth of the world has been somewhat stable the last few years at around $250T, according to recent Credit Suisse world wealth reports. I can't see another crisis without a stock market crash, and I don't see that happening. I'm thinking that interest rates hanging near the Zero Lower Bound shows that there is more capital in the world than is needed for investment. And with interest rates so low, where else can you get any Return On Investment besides the stock market? The 2008 crash clearly involved fraudulent financial instruments (why is no one in jail?) which I would think at this point markets would reject.

    I wish Barnes had provided more detail about the crisis he sees looming. Well, if the financial markets don't cooperate in providing a crisis, we can be sure that Mother Nature via the climate crisis will.

New People

  • Americans were surprisingly slow to notice that the golden era of the middle class had passed. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has explained, three factors masked the middle class’s descent. First, women entered the labor force in large numbers, providing two incomes for many households. Second, many Americans made ends meet, or tried to, by working overtime and taking second jobs. And third, middle-class families maintained their lifestyles thanks to a vast expansion of consumer debt. But these masks couldn’t last forever. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, so did the accompanying illusions.
  • Pareto didn’t say why the 80/20 rule governed wealth distribution; he just noted (to his dismay) that it seemed to do so. In 1992, two American mathematicians, Joshua Epstein and Robert Axtell, dug deeper. Using technology unavailable to Pareto, they built a computer simulation of a market economy (which they called Sugarscape) to see what properties—including inequality—emerged when it ran,

    ...

    Though not startling, Epstein and Axtell’s finding is nevertheless sobering. It means that small initial differences, such as those in a bell curve, are inexorably magnified until they become extreme differences, such as those in a power law. Which means that, over time, our economic system will necessarily create a small upper crust and a shrunken middle.

  • Wow, a real blast from the past - a Republican who isn't a total asshole: "Jay Hammond, the Republican governor of Alaska from 1974 to 1982 and father of the Alaska Permanent Fund".

  • "Louis Kelso ... was a San Francisco lawyer and investment banker who is best known for inventing employee stock ownership plans, or ESOPs, which now cover about ten million Americans". Hmmm, Kelso looks really interesting. His ideas presage those of Barnes? I just bought his last book (1986) "Democracy and Economic Power: Extending the ESOP Revolution Through Binary Economics", $4.99 at Kobo. His earlier books "The Capitalist Manifesto", "The New Capitalists", and "Two-Factor Theory: The Economics of Reality" are available for download as PDFs from The Kelso Institute.

Old Favorites

  • "the map is not the territory" - I last saw this quote attributed to Alfred Korzybski in "Doughnut Economics".
  • Thomas Paine. Barnes again reminds us of how forward-thinking this Founding Father was.
  • "the euthanasia of the rentier" - I've said before, wouldn't it be great if Keynes were around now?
  • Also from Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren", which I 1st discussed here.

Numbers

In Chapter 7, Barnes crunches some mumbers based on 2013 data. He posits an annual dividend of $5,000 for 300,000,000 Americans, which comes out to $1.5T. This is around 9% of GDP.

He identifies sources of dividends based on various types of our co-owned wealth, and the amount of dividends they could generate annually. I have put them in a handy table, rather than just capturing Barnes's Figure 7.1 as an image.

Shared AssetLow $BHigh $BMiddle $B
Atmospheric carbon storage
87 309 198
Securities transaction fees
268 446 347
New money creation
244 323 284
Intellectual-property protection
324 324 324
Spectrum use
84 84 84
TOTAL
1,007
1,486
1,247
Per capita share
3,357 4,953 4,157
Family of four share
13,428 19,812 16,628

[For some more recent and aggressive numbers, Scott Santens, a basic income advocate whom I support on Patreon for $5/month, published this past June, 2017 an amazingly comprehensive article on how to implement, and in particular how to fund, basic income. So many creative new taxes!]

Barnes discusses the basis for his numbers in the Appendix. Here's what he says about his "New money creation" figures:

With regard to new money creation: from 2001 to 2008 (before the financial crisis), the average yearly increase in what the Federal Reserve calls M2 was $244 billion.8 I use this figure (which is adjusted to 2013 dollars) to calculate the low end of the range in figure 7.1. For the high end I use the average annual change in M2 from 2001 to 2013, which includes several years of “quantitative easing.” That figure, translated into 2013 dollars, is $323 billion. The middle figure is halfway between.
This seems highly conservative to me. Why does he think we can only create additional new money at the rate at which the money supply was increasing? At the end of 2013, the M2 was $11T. His high figure represents 3% of that. That certainly seems safe to me. But why not 6%, 9%, 12%? Hell, why not 50%? Why not 100%? I am positing 2 things:
  1. Monetarism ala Friedman is totally invalid.
  2. The only thing that causes inflation is supply-side scarcity.
Maybe if you made every US citizen a multi-millionaire, then there might be some inflation - on, what, yachts? McMansions? Caviar? I think we could do a lot more than Barnes suggests without reaching that point.

Hmmm

Well, I said if you hadn't read my post on "Capitalism 3.0" that this post would seem jumbled. I think this post seems pretty jumbled even if you have read the earlier one. I am going to say that my attempt to do an incremental review has mostly failed. I started to think that this meant that I should not read incremental works, i.e., WLADFA, but I was able to read this book so quickly, and I am glad to be more up-to-date on Barnes' thinking - although that thinking did not seem to change that much in the 10 years between the 2 books. I guess the next time I read and review a follow-up book, I'll try something different and see if I can do better.

A final note, I recently read that, in her book, Hillary Clinton says that, after reading WLADFA, she wished that they had added basic income to the Democratic Platform she ran with.