Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Ministry for the Future

"The Ministry for the Future", 2020, 673 pages, 183k words, 106 chapters, is the latest from the bard of climate fiction, Kim Stanley Robinson.

It follows in the vein of "2312", 2012; "Green Earth", 2015; "New York 2140", 2017; and "Red Moon", 2018.

As I read this book, I thought of many recent posts I had done, and think, "Damn, KSR & I are on the same page." So are we on the same page, or am I just appropriating his ideas? My 1st post (of 60) tagged "economy of plenty", aka "post scarcity utopia", was September 25, 2012. My post on "2312" was November 28, 2012. But, the Green Earth novel was originally the Science in the Capital trilogy, published 2004-2008. Oops. Way ahead of when I started blogging on Economy of Plenty. But you know, I think, with the economics reading I've done, I am not just borrowing KSR's ideas. I think we are indeed fellow travelers. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I strongly recommend that you purchase "The Ministry for the Future" and read it right now. It addresses strategies for defeating the .01% and getting through the climate crisis on our way to a post scarcity utopia. Plus it's an enjoyable, well-written novel, with good plotting, an interesting variety of characters, a satisfactory conclusion without any deus-ex-machina, and a very important moral point to ponder. When you have finished reading it yourself, you can come back here and share my spoiler-filled thoughts on the book. If you are not going to read it yourself, then by all means just forge ahead.

*********************** SPOILER ALERT ***********************

What will it take to make people take the climate crisis seriously? This novel answers that question by opening with 20 million Indians dying in a heat wave. India then unilaterally jumps into a massive geoengineering project, flying 1000s of flights to release sun-reflecting aerosols into the upper atmosphere. And it seems to work, 5 years later, no more deaths from heat waves.

As the Chinese seemed to be the heroes of "Red Moon", the Indians seem to be the heroes of this book.

I have noticed how most of Climate Fiction seems to be taking geoengineering as a given. I still remember Naomi Klein, in "This Changes Everything", describing geoengineering as "fighting pollution with pollution". But, in a recent KSR blog post about this novel, Klein is listed as someone who participated in positive discussions of this novel. So, maybe her thinking has evolved?

This event leads to the establishment by the UN of The Ministry for the Future - an agency who represents the interest of future generations. I think the 1st time I was exposed to this concept, of future generations (and non-human species) as stakeholders, was in "Capitalism 3.0", by Peter Barnes, 2006. It is a completely valid concept, and a good way to start trying to break modern capitalism's myopic pursuit of quarterly reports.

The ministry is headed by a plucky mid-50's Irishwoman - chosen, I think, because KSR believes that the Irish are the most bluntly speaking people on earth. She survives a kidnapping, bonds with her kidnapper - a survivor of the Indian heat wave - and does not engage in romantic side plots until after she has retired and the good guys have mostly won.

My pinned tweet for a while has been a George Orwell quote: "Either we all live in a decent world, or no one does." To me, this kind of defines decency. And, surely, for rational people of good will, decency is high on the list of our goals. KSR reformulates this several times:

  • Chapter 4, “No one is safe until all are secure."
  • Chapter 69, Either everyone’s happy or no one is safe.
  • Chapter 69, Either every culture is respected, or no one is safe.
  • Chapter 69, Either everyone has dignity or no one has it.
  • Chapter 74, It’s all of us succeed or none of us is safe.

There are several chapters where we are addressed by seriously anthopomorphised entities: Chapter 43, blockchain. Chapter 46, the market. Chapter 53, a photon. Chapter 66, carbon dioxide. Chapter 88, herd animals.

Definitely felt kinship as KSR vents his frustration, which I totally share, re economics as a science:

The whole field and discipline of economics, by which we plan and justify what we do as a society, is simply riddled with absences, contradictions, logical flaws, and most important of all, false axioms and false goals.

...

Extinctions and ocean warming can’t be fixed no matter how much money future people have, so economics as practiced misses a fundamental aspect of reality.

...

the neoliberal order was all about efficiency, in its purest economic definition: the speed and frictionlessness with which money moved from the poor to the rich.

...

mainstream economists everywhere were fearful that this sudden flood of new currency was going to cause massive deflation. Or perhaps inflation: macroeconomics was no longer so very clear on the ultimate effects of quantitative easing, given that the evidence from the past half century could be interpreted either way. That this debate was a clear sign that macroeconomics as a field was ideological to the point of astrology was often asserted by people in all the other social sciences, but economists were still very skilled at ignoring outside criticisms of their field, and now they forged on contradicting themselves as confidently as ever.

...

Either a huge boon, a complete calamity, or a non-event. Thus the economists, faced with explaining the biggest economic event of their time. What a science!

...

Macroeconomics had thus long ago entered a zone of confusion, either early in the century or perhaps from the moment of its birth, and now was revealed for the pseudoscience it had always been.

KSR also calls out financialization, aka financial engineering, financial capitalism, as we encountered in "Foundational Economy".
These were not economists, but speculators. Finance in that late moment of capitalism’s exhaustion meant gamblers, sure, but more than that, the casino in which people gambled. And the house always won.
I thought it was freaky in Chapter 60, when KSR uses the "economy as sailing ship" metaphor that I arrived at so painfully in my MMT conclusion [my bold]:
the better to keep the financial ship of the world steadily sailing on into the great west of universal prosperity— for the elites first, and everyone else if they could be accommodated without endangering the elites on the first-class deck.
I liked Chapter 64, an in-depth exploration of Keynes' "Euthanasia of the Rentier" - one of my favorite phrases, remarked upon in this blog whenever it is encountered.
Now, it could be argued that the rentier class is not suffering, and in fact is happily engaged in eating up everything. A parasite killing its host by overindulgence is not suffering. In which case, really the rentier class needs to be executed.

...

“The rentier class.” Keynes meant by this the people who made money simply by owning something that others needed, and charging for the use of it: this is rent in its economic meaning. Rent goes to people who are not creators of value, but predators on the creation and exchange of value.

...

The rentier class will not help in that project. They are not interested in that project. Indeed that project will be forwarded in the face of their vigorous resistance. Over their dead bodies, some of them will say. In which case, euthanasia may be just the thing.

Chapter 67 is on Taxes, 1 of my fav subjects! KSR quotes some of my favs:
In the early 1950s, a time when many people felt that wealthy individuals had helped to cause and then profit from World War Two, the top tax bracket in the United States had earners paying in income tax 91 percent of all earnings over $400,000 (current value, four million dollars). This rate was approved by a Republican Congress and a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower

...

Capital asset taxes, sometimes called Piketty taxes, tax the assessed value of whomever or whatever is being taxed. [I think the term "wealth taxes" is the most understandable.]

...

Land taxes, sometimes called Georgist taxes, after an economist named Henry George, are taxes on property, meaning in this case specifically land itself as an asset.

Chapter 69 is a notable chapter. After a heat wave in the US south & southwest kills a few 100 1000s, KSR talks about an old favorite of mine, cognitive errors - blogged here as "cognitive illusions".
This was yet another manifestation of racism and contempt for the South, yes, but also of a universal cognitive disability, in that people had a very hard time imagining that catastrophe could happen to them, until it did. So until the climate was actually killing them, people had a tendency to deny it could happen. To others, yes; to them, no. This was a cognitive error that, like most cognitive errors, kept happening even when you knew of its existence and prevalence. It was some kind of evolutionary survival mechanism, some speculated, a way to help people carry on even when it was pointless to carry on.
Chapter 71 gives us, as mentioned above, the rehabilitation of geoengineering. Rightfully so, IMO, these points totally make sense.
This is part of why geoengineering no longer a useful word or concept. Everything people do at scale is geoengineering.

...

All geoengineering, all good. The word itself needs to be rehabilitated.

Chapter 102 continues:
Geoengineering? Yes. Ugly? Very much so. Dangerous? Possibly.
Necessary? Yes. Or put it this way; the international community had decided through their international treaty system to do it. Yet another intervention, yet another experiment in managing the Earth system, in finessing Gaia. Geobegging.
Chapter 73 was a pleasant surprise. For the 1st time, KSR includes Modern Money Theory, aka #MMT, FTW!, in the tool box for fixing the world. I was a little bemused that he led with JG/ELR, the universal job guarantee, prescriptive MMT, weak tea IMO, rather than descriptive MMT, money is imaginary, money is software. He does wind up stating 1 of my conclusions re how MMT gets implemented: most governments must embrace it, or there will be problems.
Enough governments were convinced by MMT to try it.
Chapter 75 so has KSR doing more mind-reading on me - I should start working on a tinfoil hat. He has the Kurds form Kurdistan, FTW! This is just 1 of those things, for the last 10 years or so, I'm thinking, "Damn, the Kurds surely deserve Kurdistan!".

KSR also advances his musings about money:

And when definitions of value shifted from talking about interest rates to talking about social trust— when finance and theories of money fell through a trapdoor in daily normality, down into the free fall of philosophy’s bottomless pit

...

Money was made of social trust. Which meant, in this spasmophilic moment, with everything changing and the ground falling under one’s feet in immense tectonic jolts, that money itself was therefore in limbo.

Chapter 76 is a really nice discussion of economic inequality. The US Navy is a completely well run and respected organization. A large organization (> 600,000 employees). Top salary, $200k, 8x the lowest salary. Corporate world, top salaries, 500x lowest. Hmmm. Who would have thought that the US Navy would be such an illuminating example? We of course hear more about the inspirational Mondragon Cooperative, but who knew that the US Navy would be so instructive? KSR proposes a nice round number 10x, for the legal limit of highest paid to lowest paid employee in any company.

Chapter 81 had something really interesting. Following the lead of Kate Raworth in "Doughnut Economics", I kick "Homo Economicus" in the nuts every time I encounter him. He's just so lame, he is nothing like a normal human being!

But, oops, KSR has a killer point here: the very rich are actually pretty much like Homo Economicus.

Maybe it’s the rich who are most like homo economicus was supposed to be. They have all the information, they pursue rational self-interest, they try to maximize their wealth.
That's really scary!

Chapter 82 introduces 1 of our favs from the other KSR books listed above, the Householder's Union. This is a good plan, and fits in with the rent/mortgage payment strike postulated in the other KSR books:

the Householders’ Union backed the Student Debt Resistance in support of its payment strike.
This chapter also eloquently extols the Foundational Economy:
The necessities are food, water, shelter, clothing, electricity, health care, and education. All these are human rights, all are public goods, all are never to be subjected to appropriation, exploitation, and profit. It’s as simple as that.

...

The Zurich plan, the Mondrag√≥n system, Albert and Hahnel’s participatory economics, communism, the Public Trust plan, the What’s Good Is What’s Good for the Land plan, the various post-capitalisms, and so on and so forth; there are lots of versions of a Plan B, but they all share basic features. It’s not rocket science. The necessities are not for sale and not for profit.

Ha ha, I loved this line, I tweeted it to @TomTomorrow:

One thing that happens over and over in the 2nd 1/2 of the book: our plucky Irish heroine Mary winds up having serious head-to-head meetings with ... bankers. And more bankers. And more bankers. We really, really need to get people thinking MMT and realizing that money is imaginary. At this point, money mostly exists to keep rich people rich. Resources are what is real.

It is funny and sad when Mary convinces some reserve bank that they needed to fight climate change because if they didn't then western civilization would end and they wouldn't be able to make their inflation and unemployment goals. Sadly, it seemed to work.

They were securing money’s value, they still told themselves; which in this moment of history required that the world get saved.

Chapter 87 had some poignancy:

All these sad little towns, the backbone of rural civilization, tossed into the trash bin of history.
But, paying attention to history, what, in the early 1900s, 90% of people worked on farms? When I was a kid in the 1950s, most people (>80%) still had a tie to a farm. [From when I was 7 or so until my mid-teens, I would spend a week or 2 every summer on my grandma's farm outside LaGrange, KY: milking, feeding, and herding cows; feeding chickens and collecting eggs; repairing fence lines; etc. I think my fav thing ever was when I was maybe 12 and my grandpa (George William Boemker aka Pop) and I tore down a small barn. I learned The Way Of The Crowbar.] How many people now have a tie to a farm? 5%? 2%? And with the passing of small-to-medium-sized family farms goes "rural civilization".

Chapter 89 introduces blockchain and cryptocurrencies into the mix.

As significantly, money itself was now almost completely blockchained, thus recorded unit by unit in the consolidated central banks and through the digital world, such that any real fiat money now traveled within a panopticon that was in itself a global state of sorts, unspoken as yet, emerging from the fact of money itself. Another brick in the controlocracy
This is really a stretch for me. That the rich would really allow us to track their money. Well ...

Chapter 94 was surprisingly inspirational.

Indeed it can never be emphasized enough how important the Paris Agreement had been; weak though it might have been at its start, it was perhaps like the moment the tide turns: first barely perceptible, then unstoppable. The greatest turning point in human history, what some called the first big spark of planetary mind. The birth of a good Anthropocene.
I did not know it was called the Keeling Curve. Now I do.

The Jevons Parados is mentioned. We have seen that before here and here. Totally new to me was Red Plenty algorithms. Man, that is a wordy damn post. Makes sense, tho. Markets worked better than communist 5 year plans because markets were far superior as computational engines. With improved modelling and 100,000x faster computers, maybe we can accurately model our economy. Hmmm, I seem to think so here: I talk about having a working model of the economy.

Chapter 101 really had me knocking wood. The basic theme is, Hong Kong successfully avoids being pithed by the mainland Chinese government. Well, good luck and godspeed.

Chapter 103 is inspirational. Mother Ocean is invoked - but not Mother Earth. "We live inside our mothers forever." Nice linguistic-foo, riffing on "Mama Mia" - apparently universal across many languages. And this is a wonderful piece of evolutionary biology/psychology speculation:

We turned wolves into dogs and they turned us into humans— we were something like orangutans before, solitaries who didn’t know how to work together, it was the wolves who taught us that, who taught us the idea of friendship and cooperation.
And finally, a fab piece of genetic trivia:
We are all family, as the new religion was telling us, and as every living thing on Earth shares a crucial 938 base pairs of DNA, I guess it’s really true.
New words:
  • usufruct: The right to the use and profits of something belonging to another.

Chapter 69 1st introduced us to our "very important moral point to ponder".

A private jet owned by a rich man— boom.
A coal-fired power plant in China— boom.
A cement factory in Turkey, boom. A mine in Angola, boom. A yacht in the Aegean, boom. A police station in Egypt, boom. The Hotel Belvedere in Davos, boom. An oil executive walking down the street, boom. The Ministry for the Future’s offices— boom.
Who is doing this? In Chapter 78, Mary's 2nd in command, who she put in charge of black ops at his suggestion, is talking to the Children of Kali in India:
So now if you keep killing, it’s just to kill. Even Kali didn’t kill just to kill, and certainly no human should. Children of Kali should listen to their mother.
We listen to her, but not you.
He said, I am Kali.
Suddenly he felt the enormous weight of that, the truth of it. They stared at him and saw it crushing him. The War for the Earth had lasted years, his hands were bloody to the elbows. For a moment he couldn’t speak; and there was nothing more to say.
KSR's earlier climate books seemed to be generally happening later, when climate catastrophes have happened and people are ready to fix our broken (economic) system as a result. Ideas like a Householder's Union rent strike to induce Yet Another Banking Crisis, and then nationalizing the financial industry rather than bailing them out - nice! Elegant!.

[But, so we nationalize the financial industry - so what? If it still pursues financialization, so what if 50% of its ill-gotten gains go into the public coffers? I guess the idea is that if we own it, we keep it focused on the things that were originally its focus: creating capital to fund companies that create jobs and products, rather than creating Yet Another Derivative Investment to skim even more wealth out of the system.]

But in this book, people get all proactive, and it appears that we stave off the worst of the climate crisis. But, via lots of booms as noted above.

So, our "important moral point to ponder". The climate crisis unchecked could conceivably lead to the end of human civilization as we know it. Dithering as we are now, it will probably kill a minimum of 1 billion people, maybe several x that, and lead to equal numbers of climate refugees.

On the other hand, the .01% represent (8,000,000,000 x 0.0001 = ) 800,000 people. < 0.1% of 1 billion. So maybe losing the .01% is a small price to pay for the rest of us? Euthanasia of the Rentier, with a vengeance? I'm not sure how I feel about that. Clearly a point to ponder. #EatTheRich #BeforeTheyEatUs

One thing I liked towards the end of the book, as airplanes are replaced by airships. If we ever do realize, we've done it, capitalism is done, we've got all the capital we could ever need, we have arrived, can we then slow down and enjoy and savor life? So going to Europe on an airship takes a few days as opposed to a few hours on a supersonic jet, so what? Enjoy the journey, enjoy the view!

Yay, that does it! Thanks KSR for another hopeful book pointing us on our way to a post-scarcity utopia. FTW!

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Tamir Rice

Rolling Stone today published an article titled "I voted, for Tamil Rice", by Jamil Smith. I posted this comment:
Tamir Rice's killing stuck a knife in my gut. 12 YO, playing w a toy gun, cop shows up, 20 seconds later, the kid's dead!?!?!? Fuck fuck fuck!
A little bit after that, I was playing at a jam in a black nightclub, I was outside smoking, a 10 YO black kid comes by playing with a cap gun, I start yelling at him: "If you see the police, throw that toy gun away! They will kill you if they see that toy gun!" Poor kid, crazy old whitey yelling at him.
And just after that, I was driving home from playing at a jam on KY 4, New Circle Rd, Lexington, KY's beltway, & a sporty car passes me doing 80-90 mph. Normally, I would call 911 & report that. But, maybe driven by black men. They get pulled over, who knows, they may wind up dead. So I didn't call it in. Lawless police breed lawlessness.
I get an email response from Rolling Stone:
Your comment on I Voted, For Tamir Rice has been rejected as it seems to contain content that is not in line with our community guidelines.
OK. Science! Let's take out "Fuck fuck fuck!", see if that flies.

Nope, rejected again. OK, let's replace "whitey" w "white men".

Tamir Rice's killing stuck a knife in my gut. 12 YO, playing w a toy gun, cop shows up, 20 seconds later, the kid's dead!?!?!? Fuck fuck fuck!
A little bit after that, I was playing at a jam in a black nightclub, I was outside smoking, a 10 YO black kid comes by playing with a cap gun, I start yelling at him: "If you see the police, throw that toy gun away! They will kill you if they see that toy gun!" Poor kid, crazy old white man yelling at him.
And just after that, I was driving home from playing at a jam. On KY 4, New Circle Rd, Lexington, KY's beltway. A sporty car passes me doing 80-90 mph. Normally, I would call 911 & report that. But, maybe driven by black men. They get pulled over, who knows, they may wind up dead. So I didn't call it in. Lawless police breed lawlessness.
OK! Looks like their AI is happy now, FTW! I think the comment is now posted? A confimatory email would have been nice ...

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Email to Paul Krugman

My name is Chris Heinz. I was born June, 1951, Louisville, KY. Grew up in Jeffersonville, IN. MIT BS Physics 1972. I was a staff scientist astronomer at the MIT Center for Space Research 72-74. Married (still) 1975. We had 2 children born in Louisville & 2 born in Lexington KY where we moved for a job in 1981. My kids are now aged 44-37. 4 grandkids aged 9-1. I retired Sep 2012, after 40 years as a software developer/manager/executive.

In my retirement, I decided to study economics.

I had earlier done a lot of reading in evolutionary psychology & cognitive science and gave it up when I concluded that all of human civilization - mind, language, big brains - came about primarily from sexual selection. Yes, mind, language, ... have some species selection value. But they were primarily sexually selected - the traits thrived because chick's dug 'em. We grew big brains, mind, language so that guys could say "Oh baby, baby, you so fine." & women could reply "Daddy, you so full of shit." Pecking order in 7th grade was indeed what it was all about. This crushed my spirit & led me to quit reading cognitive science books.

I tried the MIT Economics 101 class, downloaded the PDF of the free curriculum reference book. I didn't get much traction with it. [Why are textbooks such a rip off? Do the authors see much in the way of royalties, or is The Man hoovering the $$$ up?]

So I decided to start reading random economics books. Since 2012 I have read/reviewed/summarized 27 economics books.

Link: http://portraitofthedumbass.blogspot.com/2016/08/summary-of-economics-reading.html

You were #4:

June 12, 2013, 1K words, "End This Depression Now", Paul Krugman, 2012.
Link: http://portraitofthedumbass.blogspot.com/2013/06/end-this-depression-now.html

Only 1K words, my worst was the recent review/summary (May 1) of Wray's "Modern Money Theory", 24k words.

In my conclusion on that book, I proposed that MMT should broken into 2 pieces: descriptive MMT and prescriptive MMT.

Descriptive MMT talks about how all money is created by the Fed when congress tells it to, and how taxes destroy wealth. Governments with sovereign currencies do not have to collect taxes to spend money - they create money.

Descriptive MMT I proposed calling MMT.

Prescriptive MMT consists mostly of JG/ELR. The best feature of JG/ELR is that it is counter-cyclic with the economy. But Wray kept describing JG/ELR as an "anchor". I was like, what does that mean?

My conclusions on Wray MMT - you wind up being mentioned in there on 2x different topics. 3 minutes to read total: http://portraitofthedumbass.blogspot.com/2020/05/modern-money-theory.html#myconclusion

After failing to think of a metaphor that encompassed safety nets and anchors,

My subconscious came through at 4:33 this morning (2020-04-30). The metaphor that encompasses anchors and safety nets is a sailing ship.
I realized that the best metaphor for JG/ELR is ballast. If you don't have enough cargo (non-JG jobs), then JG jobs make up the difference. They are counter-cyclic with the economy.

But "ballast" == "dead weight". So, "Ballast Economics".

Foundational Economics sounded good. But, "Foundational Economy" already taken by a Manchester UK group. The latest economics book I read/reviewed was:

July 21, 2020, 6.5k words, "Foundational Economy", the Foundational Economy Collective, 2018.
Link: https://portraitofthedumbass.blogspot.com/2020/07/foundational-economy.html

I read/reviewed that book June/July 2020. OMG, the pandemic totally defined the Foundational Economy: anything that wasn't closed. They also defined the "overlooked economy", which were all the businesses that it totally ticked people off when the pandemic closed them: beauty parlors, barber shops, gyms, pedicure/manicure spas. Their insight totally confirmed by the pandemic is astonishing. IMO, anytime someone predicts the future that accurately, pay attention to them.

I settled on Stability Economics for that to call Prescriptive MMT. I propose it should include, as the things that it studies:

  • The Foundational and Overlooked Economies, as a starter.
  • JG/ELR (Job Guarantee, US government as Employer of Last Resort).
  • Informal caregiving as a JG job.
  • Universal Basic Income.
  • Permanent stimulus programs, as proposed by Paul Krugman.
With all of these, you are trying to stabilize the amount of demand in the economy. Then maybe Wall Street's swings (if those ever happen again) or a pandemic won't mess things up so much.

I was corporate for 40 yrs. It is totally bad manners to attempt to write into someone else's todo list. But, whatever, here's 3 for you:

  1. If you have not already, read "Foundational Economy". It is a quick read.
  2. Think about your permanent stimulus program in the context of Stability Economics. In some ways your idea seems to me to be a cousin to UBI. I know you are not a UBI fan.
  3. Open your mind to MMT. I was so excited when on Oct 13, Piketty proposed just setting some of the Fed/ECB balance sheet entries to 0. Debt? What debt?
    Link: http://portraitofthedumbass.blogspot.com/2020/10/show-me-national-debt.html
Done with econ. 2 more things:
  1. Thank you so much for your music recommendations, particularly Lucius & Lake Street Dive, I have all their stuff. I curate 22,000 tracks of music in my iTunes collection. Lately, all the big players who formerly would send me emails of new releases of artists I had purchased from them no longer do so. Instead, they want me to buy into their subscription streaming service, in which I have no interest. I'm lately getting most new music from Bandcamp. Any ideas? I blog new music as Music In. I would bet you can find some interesting new music there. Lately tho, Music In is suffering from the overhead of #SongOfTheDay in Music Out.

  2. In my retirement, I am a semi-professional musician. I've played guitar 55 yrs, sung 62 or so. March-September in pandemic hunker-down, I averaged adding 9 new songs/week to my book. (OnSong app on my iPad, currently at 1048 songs). Towards the end, 2/3 of those were standards. My Standards book is currently at 81. Playing a gig, you do 10-15 songs/hour, depending on availability of solo instruments.
    Sep 10 I came north to Lexington from Naples FL. Time to let things settle in & not ingest new music so vigorously. So I started doing #SongOfTheDay Sep 27.
    6 days/week, #standards here, Jaz Dumoz channel: https://youtube.com/channel/UC-8G0QzZxDOB8cRk1-5n7lA
    Saturday, something newer, Jim Dumas channel: https://youtube.com/channel/UCs7QrCGIS2G_pgRvzKeqlSw
    My vocal intonation started out horrible, maybe from not singing into a mic for 6 months, or not using my voice in lockdown, or recording the songs mid-afternoon pre-bourbon. It may be getting better, maybe not. Still, I make sure my guitar is always in great tune, & these jazz standards have such beautiful chords. So, check out a few. "Easy Street" I got ~85% of most excellent jazz guitarist Barney Kessel's licks. Next up "Cry Me A River" off of the same album, "Julie is her name", 1955, Julie London's premier album, Barney on guitar, Ray Leatherwood on upright bass. Fabulous album.
Best regards, stay healthy.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Why I Hate Libertarianism

This was the last paragraph of the last post. But, it is off topic and worthy of its own post. Voila.

Oh, 1 final point rant: fuck Libertarianism. I mean, seriously, the "I got mine, fuck you" philosophy. Are there any Libertarians anywhere in the world who are not well-off white people? I seriously doubt it. So many economics books try to justify themselves to Libertarians, I say, fuck Libertarianism. When we have a 100% level playing field, without 1000s of years of privileged groups accumulating capital, when he have a socialist, anarchist, post-scarcity utopia, then Libertarianism will I think be somewhat of a moot point. Until then, fuck it.
I really dislike libertarianism. And these recent explanations put forward by Whitehouse in the Supreme Court confirmation hearing, that the Koch brothers are behind the GOP court packing, and are looking forward to "friendlier government, fewer regulations, a Libertarian outlook".

David Koch ran for Vice-President as a Libertarian in 1980.

I tweeted today's vintage Doonesbury from the Newt Gingrich era - late 90's - Newt is the bomb.

So bottom line is, they won! Convincing and possibly bribing older conservative judges to retire so an inexperienced 30-something, indoctrinated and trained by far-right think tanks, who will then hold the judgeship for 30 years, can take their place. The scoundrels have pulled off a judicial coup.

Meanwhile, at the start of the pandemic, weren't we all saying "Hmmm, maybe having your government small enough to drown in your bathtub isn't such a good idea after all"? And that was before the murderous ineptitude of Agent Orange.

Here's 2 words that raise my blood pressure: Grover Norquist. May he be given bad acid at Burning Man.

I am really hoping it will not take too long to reassemble the US government that Agent Orange had been so busy destroying. I trust those guys - are they the deep state? - to try to do their best for the american people, and with absolutely 0 grifting involved! Science!

I've been sitting on this post. My hero Paul Krugman decided to jump in on my side this morning: "How Many Americans will Ayn Rand Kill?". So although there's clearly a lot more reasons to hate libertarianism, let's let it rip for now.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Show Me The National Debt!

I was so excited on October 13, when the emminent French economist Thomas Piketty published an article in Le Monde [that I picked up through his blog] which included the following statement:
As it is unlikely that the ECB or the Fed will ever decide to put these securities back on the markets or to demand their repayment, the decision to no longer count them in the total public debt could be taken now.
So, take the computer entry for >~= $2T in debt, and set it to 0!

Finally! A fellow traveler! Money is just numbers in computers, it has nothing to do with objective reality. Piketty gained worldwide fame for his 2014 book "Capital in the 21st Century", blogged here, which was the seminal work on economic inequality, how Thatcherism/Reaganism destroyed the 30 years of progress post WWII by the middle class, in which they clawed 15% of GDP back from the top 10% - all gone now. Oh, and BTW, the bottom 50% still got <~= $0.

I tweeted that morning:

Piketty is not 100% cool with all this new debt, because

The orgy of money creation and the purchase of financial securities in fact leads to an increase in stock and property prices, which contributes to the enrichment of the richest. For small savers, zero or negative interest rates are not necessarily good news.
Here's the last 2 paragraphs of the Piketty. I was disappointed that he did not say what might cause inflation to "become substantial again".
It would be different if monetary creation, instead of fuelling the financial bubble, were mobilised to finance a real social and ecological recovery, i.e. by assuming strong job creation and wage increases in hospitals, schools, thermal efficiency and local services. This would alleviate debt while reducing inequalities, investing in sectors useful for the future and shifting inflation from asset prices to wages and goods and services.

However, this would not be a miracle solution either. As soon as inflation becomes substantial again (say 3%-4% per year), we would have to put a stop to money creation and use fiscal means. The whole history of public debt shows this: money alone cannot offer a peaceful solution to a problem of this magnitude, because it leads in one way or another to uncontrolled distributive consequences. It was by resorting to exceptional levies on the better-off that the large public debts of the post-war period were extinguished and that the social and productive pact of the following decades was rebuilt. Let’s bet that the same will be true in the future.

Somehow this prompted me to revisit another finding that I believe totally validates MMT.

I'll repeat my mantra, "Money is Software". And currently, that software has been hacked and is owned by the financial sector aka "Wall Street". I mean seriously, what value do hedge fund managers and most other financial sector species contribute to the human race as a whole? 0! Absolutely 0! They produce nothing real! They have hacked the system to keep generating money to line their and their clients pockets - period. And the rest of the population buys into the "money is real" myth, and lets them get away with it.

In 7 months of pandemic Jeff Bezos's wealth has grown from ~$133B to $200B - is that a sound economic system? Or is that rather an incredibly buggy economic system?

Robert Reich just agreed with me!

So, mental exercise, gedankenexperiment: if we were somehow able to wrest control of the monetary system away from Wall Street, how would we use it create a post-scarcity utopia, the world of Star Trek, where everyone realizes that money is imaginary? Here are the basic principles & constraints we must deal with:

  1. Money is not real, it is imaginary. Resources are real. How do we develop an accounting system that recognizes this? My "money is software" post threw out there the concept of maths with all economics numbers as complex numbers, with a real (resources) part and an imaginary (money) part. Or maybe just a tuple, a 2-dimensional vector. I seem to keep coming back to that. How do we do all economic calculations with resource #s in place of or parallel to $$$?
  2. We give every person in the world an account with their country's central bank.
  3. We presume that Congress/EU/... gives The Fed/ECB/... the power to print money on demand and distribute it however the models say it should be distributed. The goal of the models is to have 0 poverty, and Universal Everything.
  4. Things to worry about 1/2: inflation. My contention is: inflation is caused only by supply-side shortages aka not-enough-to-go-around. My contention is: since the 1950s, we are in a post-scarcity economy (Capitalism 2.0 per Peter Barnes). So for most things, particularly digital, zero-marginal-cost things, there is plenty to go around. There will still be constraints, on McMansions, McYachts, McMercedes, etc.
    As Piketty says, if inflation kicks up, then money creation models might have to ramp down. We have lately actually seen the 1st signs of inflation in decades due to pandemic-related spot shortages.
  5. Things to worry about 2/2: exchange rates. The entire world has to buy into the concept. If just 1 country starts printing money as needed to meet the needs of its populace, other countries might say "you're cheating", and punish that country by lowering its exchange rate. The only real measure that matters in the world economy: money being created does not exceed real resources.
  6. If the 99% are getting provided for this way, the main purpose of taxes is to agressively relieve the 1% of as much of their wealth as is possible. 1 thing about the wealth of the 1%, it has a very low velocity. It just sits in their bank accounts and doesn't place any demands on real resources. So we should not think about redistributing their wealth. Let's distribute wealth from scratch in an amount that doesn't exceed resources, much easier. Let's just destroy the wealth of the 1%, and the power that comes with it, via taxes.
  7. Currently-rich countries must help currently-poor countries, how? By propping up their currencies via maintaining a high exchange rate? I think that possibly the Chinese may already be onboard in opening the doors of their manufacturing cornucopia - I love that word, picture to follow - to Africa and anywhere else in the 3rd world that needs more stuff?
  8. We need to do this ASAP before climate change destroys significant amounts of the currently accumulated capital. I believe that there is enough to go around now, but every climate crisis, whether flooding, fires, hurricanes, ..., destroys some of that.
8 principles/constraints. That seems like enough for now.

I feel pretty good we could make this work for the developed world. Hopefully the concept of "tumbrel insurance" will obviate the need for real tumbrels. The main gedankenexperiment that needs to be performed now: let's take a poor, populous African country, run the numbers, and see if it works.

In My Conclusions on Wray's MMT book, I did a cost estimate for this world. You are creating a fixed demand by having Universal Everything that might help stabilize the economy [Stability Economics FTW!]: to smooth the economic boom and bust cycles caused by the latest financial scam falling through. I estimated $$$ 19% of GDP , 90% of annual budget (2019). So that seems big enough to create a stable economy - as long as real resources aren't exceeded.

We are soooo close on this ...

Further thoughts ...

So much of the wealth of the 1% is in the form of stocks. The ROI on raw capital is now essentially <~= 0%, so where else are you going to invest your money? I don't think that stocks are particularly amenable to destruction via taxation. So maybe we do go on and do redistribution instead. Maybe what we do is, everyone with a net worth > $1B (or $100M?), every year, we transfer 50% of their holdings > $1B into the World or US Common Wealth Trust. That trust every year redistributes 1/2 of its gains into a Universal Dividend [you know, at this point, any program that doesn't start with Universal is BS] Program, distributed evenly amongst all citizens, and lets the other 1/2 ride. Or maybe 1/3 to citizens, 1/3 to Universal Capital Access Fund, and let 1/3 ride.

Or, you could use this to pay off national debts. In his book, Piketty estimated that the US national debt could be retired by a 3% wealth tax for 5 years. Of course, that was before the latest tax cuts and pandemic relief programs. I guess I'm talking about a 50% wealth tax. But, going back to where we started with this post, WHY BOTHER? Just set those cells in the spreadsheet to 0! Easy-peasy! MMT FTW!

One other random thought. 1 completely outside-the-box idea from Wray's MMT book was the elimination of corporate taxes. These have 2 bad side effects:

  1. They create a race to the bottom, with countries like Ireland and Liechtenstein leading the race by offering minimal corporate taxes.
  2. They encourage bad corporate behavior, such as advertising and borrowing, and anything else that can be taken off of the bottom line.
Yes, maybe corporations are people, but they really don't care about how much money they have. So, as they are on some level morons, give corporations a free ride. Attach the fiscal liabilty to the stockholders based on the value of their stock, which hopefully should reflect the success and profit of the corporation. Ban stock buybacks and set the tax rate on dividends and capital gains to 70% or so. Force harvesting of capital gains, what, annually? Every 3 yeers? And definitely don't let them get wiped out when stocks are inherited. But again, the whole world must buy in.

Speaking of inheritance. I find it hilarious that all the conservative types who insist everyone must earn everything from scratch and pull themselves up by their bootstraps still want to leave fortunes to their children. Why exactly shouldn't they want those children to start from scratch, work hard, create businesses or whatever, and bootstrap themselves? How is it that trust-fund kiddies get a free pass on all that?

[There was a point rant on Libertarianism here, moved to a new post.]

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Sunday, October 04, 2020

#MMT Twitter DM Rant

I'm feeling like I'm kind of done reading economics for a while. Instead, I will maybe be harvesting the crystals from the supersaturated solution in my brain. I got followed by (and followed) on Twitter a guy who ID'ed as "concerned that government debt will keep my sons from having the same opportunities that I have had." Obviously in need of a #MMT intervention. Here we go:

Show me the national debt. A nation that has its own currency never has to collect taxes or create debt to spend money. Congress tells the Fed to print $$$, the Fed prints $$$.

If someone set the National Debt to 0 in all the government computers, how would we know the difference?#MMT FTW!

My first car, 1966 Ford Fairlane cost $2,460. Same car today would be $30,000. I think inflation is the long-term outcome of spending money that you print out of clear air. Can you give me an historical example of a country that printed as much money as they wanted and had a good outcome?

And I think inflation hurts the people at the bottom of the ladder the most. Gas can go to $50 a gallon and I’m still gonna drive around some. I have been priced out of the local housing market. I bought real estate here in the 80’s and 90’s, and I could not afford it today.

Inflation is caused by supply side shortages, not too much money in circulation (monetarism). My 1st car was a 1974 light blue Ford Pinto station wagon purchased new for $3200 I think.

Most of the inflation of our lifetime was created by the Arab Oil Embargo of the early 70s. The tripling of the cost of oil created an artificial shortage of the primary commodity of the economy.

But there was some inflation in the mid-late 60s caused by the the Federal gov competing with the civilian sector for resources as it ramped up for the Vietnam war.

Supply side shortages === resource shortages. Per #MMT, real resources are all that matter. Money is just bookkeeping. The $ is a unit of measure. It is created in computers as desired.

My review of the main MMT book wound up being way too long. http://portraitofthedumbass.blogspot.com/2020/05/modern-money-theory.html

This 56 minute video is a better intro to #MMT. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKICOEY9l6w

Do you trust the government to control this? Do you have an example historically of where this has worked?

Real estate is indeed a real resource that becomes scarcer as population grows.

Re what you just posted, I trust the government more than I trust the oligarchs - although they are currently pretty hard to tell apart. I'll send you a recent rant I did. I proposed taking National Debt from 1x GDP to 1000000x GDP. What would happen? I have no idea. It would an interesting experiment.

But, would the 50% of US citizens currently with <= $0 net worth be worse off? I doubt it.

So, no, no historical examples, everyone up to now has been drinking the "money is real" koolaid. A great experiment. To create a future where no one is poor and no one is hungry.

Your slide on MMT is very good! Thanks, I will reuse.

I would like to capture this conversation in a blog post. Do you mind if I include your content anonymously?

Sure no problem, I’ve enjoyed the conversation.
1 last thought. There is 1 other thing you must worry about besides inflation: that is currency conversion rate.
If you just print too much money, the rest of the world says "You're cheating" & your exchange rate goes down.
But, US is still in a unique position. There is no current alternative to the $ as the world's default currency. There is not near enough of any other currency in circulation to replace the $. Why? Because no one else is running the debt we are. But, that could change. But only if other nations want to start running much larger debts.

Somehow, I think that's the right way to go. Every government with its own currency should roll the $ presses, & keep them rolling. Let evolution the invisible hand sort it out.

I believe we have been in a post-scarcity economy (Capitalism 2.0) since the 1950s. (Capitalism 1.0 = scarcity economy.) There is enough of everything to go around - except maybe McMansions. Else why would corporations be spending $B convincing us to buy crap we don't need? Now just need to convert into post-scarcity utopia (Capitalism 3.0). Easy-peasy!

#MMT Twitter RT Rant

I'm feeling like I'm kind of done reading economics for a while. Instead, I will maybe be harvesting the crystals from the supersaturated solution in my brain. Via Twitter:
Show me the National Debt.
If someone set the National Debt to $0 in all the computers in the world, where exactly would we notice the difference?
The main purpose of our monetary system is to make sure rich people stay rich.
#NationalDebtIsaMyth #MMT FTW!
Thx to #COVID19 , US National Debt has surged past 100% of GDP. Disaster! Catastrophe! Ummm, not that I noticed.
Japan has been running National Debt > 200% GDP for 30 years. #MMT FTW!
So, what if the National Debt is 1000x GDP? 1000000x GDP?
If interest rates are negative, as they are some places in Europe, & close in the US, that's a money maker! #MMT FTW!
Please, show me the National Debt. A picture, please.
#Economics #EconomyOfPlenty #PostScarcityUtopia
#MMT, FTW!
#UBI #UniversalBasicIncome #UniversalNutrition #UniversalHealthCare #UniversalHousing #UniversalEducation #UniversalCapitalAccess
Hep me, @scottsantens !

Thursday, October 01, 2020

#SongOfTheDay

From the start of pandemic lockdown in late March til I came home to Lexington in early September, I averaged over 9 new songs in my book per week. Lately, 3/4 of these are standards, 1900-1970. I have enjoyed playing an hour or so from my lanai in Fl or my back patio in KY, but I'm in KY now and it's getting too cold for playing outdoors in the evenings.

So I've started posting 1 song/day to YouTube. For the jazz standards, I created a persona/account Jaz Dumoz. Here is the URL for that channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-8G0QzZxDOB8cRk1-5n7lA
I'm hoping that maybe post pandemic I can play Giuseppe's or Creux or other places that feature jazz, and can point them at this channel as a virtual audition.

I've currently got ~75 standards in my book, another 10 or so in the to-be-worked-up list, and 1-1/2 years of "Peter Gunn" episodes to watch. I'm going to target using those 6 days/week. 1 day/week, I will post something newer or different. So far, "September", 1978, my favorite Earth, Wind, & Fire song. Those I am posting to this YouTube channel as my old musical alter ego Jim Dumas:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs7QrCGIS2G_pgRvzKeqlSw

I'm tweeting YouTube link after I post each song, tagged #SongOfTheDay, #song, #music, and #standards if appropriate.

I've done 5 so far. Most takes required so far has been 3. Only problem is, my intonation is back to sounding like shit. I used to think it was really bad. I couldn't listen to recordings of myself. Then, a couple of years ago, it seemed to get a lot better. These recordings, it is back to sounding bad. Maybe because I'm doing them mid-afternoon rather than nights when my voice has had some bourbon lube? Or maybe in lockdown mode I'm not getting to use my voice enough? Not sure, but I'm not going to worry about it for now - just plow ahead and hope it gets better.