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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

It's Getting Better All The Time

Well, I liked the last 3 sci-fi/fantasy books I read much better than the prior 3 that got the "meh".

1st up was a collection of stories and essays, including a review of another author and an interview, by John Crowley, entitled "Totalitopia", 2017, 113 pages. The fiction was very good, and the essays interesting - Crowley admits that his secret sauce was always that the characters in his stories know that they are in stories. The author he recommended was Paul Park. I have purchased his "A Princess of Roumania", which Crowley recommended as an entry point.

2nd up was "The Delirium Brief", by Charles Stross, 2017, 384 pages. This is the 8th book of the Laundry Files, which is Dilbert meets H.P. Lovecraft and occasionally James Bond. In reviewing maybe book 5-7 of this series, I said I thought Charlie was kind of burned out on this series, but he is back in top form on this one. I think that his inclusion of modern political issues, in this case privatization of government services, enables him to deploy his snarky wit to its fullest.

3rd up was "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection", 2017, 704 pages. The stories were consistently strong. I have noticed I like less sci-fi about exploring the moon, mars, and other stuff relatively close by. I like it more cosmic, across both time and space. But I did really enjoy, say, the film "The Martian", for its celebration of science and engineering.

I read all 3 of these in hardcopy, as that is how I have all of the many prior works by these authors which are in my collection. I will be glad to get back to eBooks.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Dumbass Sees the Total Eclipse - and some Neo-nazis

I discussed going to western Kentucky for the August 21 total solar eclipse with my NC and KY children and their spouses. After reading about the possibility of "the greatest traffic jam in US history", the Louisville contingent decided to stay close to home, and we decided to meet up with the NC contingent in Greenville SC - smack in the middle of the path of the totality. It was around a 3.5 hour drive for them from Raleigh, and about 5 for us from Lexington.

They booked a downtown hotel 2 blocks from the Children's Museum of the Upstate. We wound up out in the suburbs. We both only booked for the night of Aug 20. After reading about the possible traffic jam and seeing that there were some things to do in Greenville, we also booked for Aug 19, but could not get a room for Aug 21. They were leaving after the eclipse anyway, going to Great Wolf Lodge, some huge water park near Charlotte that was on their way home. We wound up booking the night of Aug 21 at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville NC, 60 miles north. We've stayed there before, it's a cool place.

We got to Greenville late Saturday afternoon. That evening we were treated to a parade down Main Street of 8 pickup trucks flying the confederate and neo-nazi flags. They parked at the large downtown Springwood Cemetery, where someone had placed small confederate flags on the graves of confederate soldiers. This plaque was just outside the cemetery.

The note at the bottom says that this thing was put up in 1961 by the Confederate Centennial Commission. So 100 years later, with the civil rights movement heating up, they put up a plaque expressing "reverence and admiration" for the "courage and integrity" of the 5 local signers of SC's articles of secession in 1860. I'm sure the signers were all slave owners, quite willing to rend the US asunder and sacrifice 100,000s of lives to protect the huge capital investment represented by their slaves. I'm sure the African-American residents of Greenville County at the time of the erection of this plaque agreed whole-heartedly with its sentiments - yah, right.

This stuff, and all the statues, needs to go. Slavery is inarguably the worst institution in the history of human civilization. Germany after WW2 did it right in their handling of Nazism. No sentimentality, no romanticization. Just get rid of it, assign those memes to the dustbin of history where they belong.

Sunday we went to the Greenville Zoo in the morning. A surprisingly good zoo - the animals were really active. There was a male lion pacing just beyond a sheet of plexiglass, making for great photo-ops. The howler monkeys were going crazy.

In the afternoon we walked around downtown. They have done a good job with their Main St, 8-10 tree-lined blocks with lots of benches, restaurants, shops, some statuary, and a few buskers. Falls Park on the Reedy had a cool bridge over the falls of the Reedy River. Here's the falls.

At the entrance to Falls Park there was an attractive young woman reading aloud. Cool, I thought, thinking it was poetry. As we go by her and can hear her clearly, oops, she's reading the bible. I told my son "Disappointing, I was hoping for some poety, but it's just the fucking bible." A young man nearby turned to me and asked "What's wrong with the bible?" Not wanting to spent hours enumerating the bible's many faults, we ignored him. Ugh. Next eclipse we will go north rather than further into the bible belt.

The restaurants we ate at had interesting looking dishes, none of which wounded up tasting like much. I'm sure their kitchens were overwhelmed by the volume, and, additionally, had probably not had much of a chance to make a lot of these dishes before.

Monday, the day of the eclipse, we were in line at 8:45 waiting for the Children's Museum to open at 9:00. We spent the morning there. It was a surprisingly good Children's Museum, 3 floors, and no exhibits on Bible Science, hooray!

We went out onto the lawn of the museum for the eclipse. It was 93 degrees, so we found a place were we could stand under a tree in the shade and then step out, put on our glasses, look at the developing eclipse, and step back into the shade. And when we got too hot, we'd duck back inside the Children's Museum and cool off in the air conditioning for a few minutes.

The sky was totally cooperating - we had maybe 5 minutes of clouds blocking the sun during the 90 minutes leading up to the totality, and no clouds during the 2 minutes 10 seconds of the totality. Up until the totality, it was still surprising light, but you could feel how much cooler on your skin the sunlight was. Someone mentioned the crescent shadows that the tree leaves were throwing. Way cool, here's a pic.

The totality was absolutely awesome. A ring of fire in the sky. I wasted 20 seconds trying 2x to take a picture, but the corona was still bright enough that the pix were overexposed. In the blackness that fell you could see Mercury near the sun and Jupiter 1/2 way to the horizon, along with stars. I've seen Mercury a few times before, but always just above the horizon at dusk or dawn - it is after all very close to the sun. To see it overhead was so weird.

Afterwards I wished I had had 2 or 3 copies of myself so I could have taken more in. I didn't particularly notice any changes in birdsong, or other odd animal behavior.

After the totality we watched 10 minutes or so of the sun reappearing, and kind of said, well, this is going to be just like the last 90 minutes but in reverse. So we said our goodbyes and left. We walked 4 blocks to where our car was parked, got it out of the parking garage, and headed for Asheville. Our route took us past the Children's Museum lawn, and it had almost completely emptied. Apparently everyone felt pretty much like we did.

The trip to Asheville was supposed to take 1h 15m. We did some detouring and made it in 2h 20m - not too bad.

We had a great dinner at Grove Park Inn. Here's the view from our room.

My wife did some shopping Tuesday morning and then we headed home around 11am. Except for some construction, traffic was normal. So the "largest traffic jam in US history" was largely avoided. It did take the NC contingent around 5 hours to go what should have taken 2.5 hours on Monday.

This trip was definitely worthwhile. The ring of fire in the sky was totally otherworldly, I'm totally glad I got to see it before I die.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Meh, and a Trip

2 science fiction novels and 1 fantasy novel, none that great.

1st, the oldest unread eBook in my iPad: "Crysis", by Peter Watts, 322 pages, 2011. I have commented before on how much I liked Watts' "Blindsight", and its sequel "Echopraxis", blogged here. After I got it, I found out it was a video game tie-in novel - hence the delay in reading it.

So what is a video game novel like? Lots of fighting. The aliens who have invaded Manhattan with bioweapons get bigger and harder to kill, but, of course, the protagonist gets bigger and better weapons. Not sure there was a big final fight against the queen mother organism at the end. The tech detail both on the bioweapons and our cyborg protagonist is very good, but still, if you are not a fan of the game, this is probably not worth reading.

2nd, the fantasy, "The House of Shattered Wings", by Aliette de Bodard, 418 pages, 2015. When the angels get kicked out of heaven, they come to ... Paris, which they make the hub of a worldwide empire until they begin to war among themselves and trash the place. The protagonist is an exile from Chinese/Vietnamese mythology who got drafted for the war. I liked the inclusion of this other mythology, but overall, the story didn't do much for me, and the characters were all kind of whiny. A sequel is out, but I will stop here with this series.

3rd, "The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.", by Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland, 768 pages, 2017. After the previous book, Stephenson's standard smartass dialogue was greatly appreciated. This book had its moments - say when the Vikings invade a Walmart - but Stephenson seemed to be using the book as an excuse to expound on some his passions. 1st, lots of detail on swords and swordfighting. 2nd, the sacking of Byzantium by the crusaders, which I think he had already used in "The Baroque Cycle" - or maybe that was another siege of Constantinople. I am glad I read it, but I was a little disappointed. Note, this book wound up tagged as both science fiction and fantasy - I don't think that has happened before.


Thursday, July 28, my wife and I flew to Portland OR. We came home Wednesday, August 2. We flew on United. We changed planes in Chicago, and flew Chicago to Portland and back in a 737 with seats 6 across. I seem to recollect that 737's had seats 5 across. It was really tight quarters. The flight back I was rubbing shoulders with my wife and another woman - and I am not that broad shouldered. The other woman said she had heard that the FAA was looking into the situation - they need to.

We rented a car, spent 1 night in the Hotel Monaco in downtown Portland, and then Friday drove to Oakridge OR, which is ~40 miles SE of Eugene on the Willamette River, which is 2 hour drive (111 miles) south of Portland, to spend the weekend with our middle daughter who, following her 1st year as a grad student in Landscape Architecture, was doing a (paid) internship for the US Forest Service. We did some nice hiking, saw Salt Creek Falls, at 286' the 2nd highest waterfall in Oregon, and 2x ate tasty vegetables from her garden.

Sunday we drove back to Portland, ditched the rental car, and spent 3 nights at the Hotel Deluxe in downtown Portland. It had a 40's Hollywood movie theme. We enjoyed:

  • the street statuary on 5th and 6th avenues, particularly "Portlandia" on the Portland building. This is a googled image.

  • Powell's City of Books. We were told this is the largest bookstore in the US, I believe it. Its color coded sections and numbered shelves sprawl over 3-5 levels. I picked up Dozois Year's Best #6, 7, and 18. #34 just came out - Dozois started doing these in 1984. I am now missing just #1, 2, 4, 5, 8, and 17. The latest, #34, just came out.
  • The Oregon Museum of Fine Art - not real big, but containing some good stuff. My wife bought me 2 very arty ties in their extensive gift shop.
  • The International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. So many colors and sizes of beautiful roses. Possibly the high point of the trip. 7000 bushes in 550 varieties. This picture represents maybe 5% of the extent of the gardens.

  • The Oregon Zoo in Washington Park. Very big and well laid out.
  • The Japanese Garden in Washington Park. They had some amazingly colored koi.

    After this we were tired, so we got a ride back to the hotel using Lyft. My 1st time, it worked very well.

  • The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). A huge museum, with an incredible amount of hands on stuff for kids. Washington Park has the Portland Children's Museum - I wonder what it's like? The featured exhibit at OMSI was on Pompeii, which I have always found interesting.
Tuesday we purchased 2 mass transit day passes, senior price $2.50 each, very reasonable, and rode buses, trains, and streetcars. I love being without a car in a big city.

The best meal we had was at Jake's Crawfish, founded 1892. I had an etouffe with crawfish, shrimp, and chicken, my wife had "Northwest Salmon and Alaskan Halibut Sauté w Shiitake & Oyster Mushrooms, Sherry, Hazelnuts and Cream". Both were very tasty. We also had a dozen oysters on the 1/2 shell, 5 different varieties all from the pacific northwest. The flavors were varied and interesting, but they were maybe as little as 1/3 the size of huge, golden Gulf oysters we get in Naples, FL.

One other thing I really liked about Portland was the many views of Mt. Hood. It is so striking sitting by itself, like The Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit. I wonder if all such mountains are volcanoes like Mt. Hood?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Music (Mostly In)

The Lexington jam scene is still mostly dead. Another Thursday night jam at Green Lantern 9-12, not much musician turnout. There is a rumor we may have a weekly jam starting up, my fingers are crossed.

Meanwhile, Steve & Chris had fun playing at the J. Render's Southern Table KY Ale Dinner. We started with the dessert course and played for ~90 minutes. Our rigs worked well. We did a pretty good job of keeping the crowd around, I think, and played a couple of requests. Here's a pic.

I have been slacking badly on getting us more gigs. Most places seem to be booked 2-3 months in advance. I need to keep on it and get us worked into some rotations.


I have a new addition to my music family: a 2010 DBZ Imperial. I bought it off of Ricky Howard in Florida the 1st Monday in June. I absolutely love this guitar. It is the slimmest electric I have ever played. I is maybe 1/4" shorter in the body than an ES-335, which I have never been able to get comfortable playing, but it is lighter than my SG. It is archtop front and back and really fits up against your body well. It has Grover tuners; Seymour Duncan pickups - the volume knob is a push-pot - down for double coil pickups (Gibson), up for single coil pickups (Fender); a Bigsby whammy bar (my 1st); and a fancy metal inlay on the headstock, with an eagle over the large Z with a small DB over it. Here is a pic.

DBZ is for Dean B. Zalinsky. He was at Dean Guitars from 1977 to 2008, when he founded DBZ Guitars, which merged with Diamond Amplification to produce DBZ Diamond and now Diamond guitars. Since 2012 he has been on his own producing Dean Zelinsky Private Label guitars.

I've had it out a few times, mostly to Coralee's Sunday open mic at Cosmic Charlie's; it has drawn kudos for its looks and sound.


Lots of music in.

  • Grizzly Bear, "Veckatimest", 2009. The last 2 Grizzly Bear albums have yielded 2 5-star songs - I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to backfilling their stuff. Looking up their Wikipedia page, I found out that one of the members, Daniel Rossen, was also part of Department of Eagles, and the most excellent DOE album "In Ear Park" included 2 other Grizzly Bear members. So it's not surprising that this album actually sounds more like a Deparment of Eagles album than the latest Grizzly Bear stuff. 4 stars nonetheless. Here's the opening track.

  • The New Pornographers, "Whiteout Conditions", 2017. Good, peppy Canadian pop. 4 stars. Here's the opening track.

  • Becca Stevens, "Regina", 2017. Recommended by bassist Robert Trott shortly before she performed in Lexington. (He went and said there was maybe a dozen people there, so before every song she learned an audience member's name.) Very nice folky stuff, some guest harmony singers, 4 stars. Here's the title track.

  • San Fermin, "Belong", 2017. The group's 3rd album doesn't seem quite as orchestral/composed as the 1st 2, but it is still good, still has a unique sound. 4 stars. Here is the title track.

  • John Mayer, "The Search for Everything", 2017. As well crafted as you would expect, but no really catchy tunes. 3 stars.
  • Little Dragon, "Season High", 2017. This group continues to crank out great tunes. This one doesn't seem quite as sparsely funky as some of their others but still great. 4 stars. Here's "Strobe Light".

  • Andra Day, "Cheers To The Fall", 2015. I've been asking why all the neo-Motown seems to be coming out of London, here's some from from San Diego. I heard Ms. Day on Austin City Limits and got her latest (1st) album. The 1st song sounds like it could be Amy Winehouse. Another one sounds Adele'ish. Here's the 1st track.

  • Gorillaz, "Humanz", 2017. Their 1st offering in a while. An all-star cast of collaborators, 26 tracks, but nothing really jumped out at me. 3 stars.
  • Willie Nelson, "God's Problem Child", 2017. You got to respect a guy keepin on keepin on at age 84. Nice tunes, but no real standouts. 3 stars.
  • Wilco, "Being There", 1996. This is the favorite band of my friend Josh Brown, former GM at Azur, now GM at J. Render's Southern Table. He recommended this album and a couple others from this period. This album definitely grew on me over time - it is more country/southern than what I lean towards nowadays, but it seems to be very good-hearted. It made it to 4 stars. Here's "Say You Miss Me", which I think turned out to be my fav track.

  • Feist, "Pleasure", 2017. The first from this Canadian Broken Social Scene alumni in a while. I found this album off-putting the 1st time or 2 I listened to it, but it grew on me. 4 stars. Here is the 1st/title track.

  • Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, "Muddy & The Wolf", 1983. Somebody at the Sunday open mic told me I needed to get this, so I did. Had to order a CD. It is 6 tracks by Muddy Waters followed by 7 tracks by Howlin' Wolf. The 1st song, I'm listening to it and I'm like "Wow, what a great harp player" - the album notes say it was Paul Butterfield, with Mike Bloomfield on guitar, and probably the rest of the Butterfield Blues Band. Howlin' Wolf is backed by Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and other well-known British blues-rockers. Good quality stuff. Not sure when these were actually recorded tho. 1983 is the year Muddy Waters died, I suspect this album was put out to cash in on that. 4 stars. Here's the 1st track. Note 2 harps, a blues harp and a chromatic harp. I wonder who is playing what? I took the CD down to Florida to give to my harpist friend Owen, I wish I could check it.

  • Todd Rundgren, "White Night", 2017. Todd is staying pretty damn productive for an old guy (69 YO). A lot of collaborators on the album. 4 stars. Here's the song he did with Donald Fagen on the Evil Orange One. I hate to give the attention vampire any attention, but ...

  • The Both, eponymous, 2014. This is an album Aimee Mann made with Ted Leo performing as The Both. Nothing very catchy. 3 stars.
  • Phoenix, "Ti Amo", 2017. A good effort from a group that is 1 of my exemplars of EuroPop. 4 stars. Here's the 1st track.

  • Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister, "Planetarium", 2017. An interesting concept, 17 tracks, all the planets, "Halley's Comet", "Black Energy", "Tides", "Kuiper Belt", "Black Hole", "In The Beginning". Very spacy sounding, as you would expect. I was going to give this 3 stars, but, I want to hear more of it, so I will give it 4 stars. Here's "Mercury".

  • Miles Davis, "In A Silent Way", 1969, and "Bitches Brew", 1970. One of the staff at Cosmic Charlie's told me I had to listen to these, and I'd been meaning to get "Bitches Brew". But, they are long jazz jams, and I really am more of a song guy. 3 stars.
  • The Mountain Goats, "Goths", 2017. This was recommended by an economist or scientist whose blog I follow. It is extremely laid back. Looking at the Wikipedia page, this is mostly the work of John Darnielle, who started in CA but is in NC now. He's been recording, with various other people, as The Mountain Goats since 1994 and this is their 16th studio album?!?!? Very easy to listen to, but I'm unsure if I want to work back through the 15 prior albums. 4 stars. Here's "Wear Black" - note how background the lead vocals are, the backup singers kind of carry the song. Definitely different. Hmmm, he did a 6 track EP with Kaki King "Black Pear Tree" in 2008. Went to order it, not available ...

  • Lorde, "Melodrama", 2017. Her 1st album wasn't too bad, I figured I'd give this one a try. She's really not much of a singer. 3 stars, except for "Writer In The Dark", the chorus of which seemed to stick with me - 4 stars for it.

  • Fleet Foxes, "Crack-Up", 2017. This is only their 3rd album. Their 1st eponymous album in 2008 was definitely great, their 2nd in 2011 I only gave 3 stars. This one also gets only 3 stars.
  • Beach House, "B-Sides and Rarities", 2017. This is the 5th album by this band I have. All are 3 stars. This one is very laid back.
After the drought early in the year, definitely a lot of new music. This post makes the blog current through the end of June.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Capitalism 3.0

Capitalism 3.0 is a 2006 book by Peter Barnes, Co-Founder, Working Assets. It is subtitled "A Guide To Reclaiming The Commons". It is 216 pages, 10 chapters in 3 parts of 4, 4, 2 chapters, with a preface and an appendix. It is a very easy read. There are many interesting facts and people of whom I had not heard before. And there is also a sensible scheme to protect the commons from the predation of capitalism.

Being a successful businessman and entrepreneur, Barnes unappologetically believes in capitalism and the power of markets. But he also sees the downside of the corporate operating system: short-sighted focus on profits, and no thought whatsoever for future generations, the planet, or all the other species with whom humans share the earth. So to counterbalance the unrestrained greed of the corporate sector, Barnes proposes the establishment of a commons sector. This is the 3rd or 4th economics book I have read recently in which The Commons plays a major role.


In the preface, we meet the guy who in 1968 coined the phrase "The Tragedy of the Commons", Garrett Hardin. He was an ecologist. Per Wikipedia, "Hardin blamed the welfare state for allowing the tragedy of the commons; where the state provides for children and supports over-breeding as a fundamental human right, Malthusian catastrophe is inevitable." He sounds like a real charmer. Pretty old school - he was a neomalthusian. Ugh, also from his Wikipedia article: "A major focus of his career, and one to which he returned repeatedly, was the issue of human overpopulation. This led to writings on controversial subjects such as advocating abortion rights, which earned him criticism from the political right, and advocating eugenics by forced sterilization,[citation needed] and strict limits to non-western immigration, which earned him criticism from the political left".

Barnes sees The Commons as victim of the market and government - the only 2 options Hardin believed could manage a commons.

if the commons is a victim of market and government failures, rather than the cause of its own destruction, the remedy might lie in strengthening the commons.
This lead him to a seminal question: "who should own the sky?". He proposes that we all own the sky, as a commons. He created the Sky Trust proposal, and his book before this one, "Who Owns the Sky?: Our Common Assets And The Future Of Capitalism", 2003.

Barnes traces his business career. He grew up helping his "father crunch numbers". He was a journalist for Newsweek and The New Republic. He was president of Working Assets, which donates 1% of its top line (gross) to "nonprofit groups working for a better world". Hunh, Credo Mobile is part of Working Assets. All of which lead him to some hard questions about capitalism.

Is capitalism a brilliant solution to the problem of scarcity, or is it itself modernity’s central problem?

...

When capitalism started, nature was abundant and capital was scarce; it thus made sense to reward capital above all else. Today we’re awash in capital and literally running out of nature.


Part 1 is titled "The Problem". It explores our current system, which Barnes labels "Capitalism 2.0.", including some of its history.

Chapter 1, "Time to Upgrade" likens our world economic system to a computer operating system that needs an upgrade. I have said many times that money, and by implication, the economy, is a software system whose parameters we can tweak until we get it to be something we all can live with, so I like his metaphor. We meet our old friend Jared Diamond yet again. His book "Collapse", blogged here, is totally a cautionary tale for our times.

past human civilizations (Sumer, Rome, the Maya, Easter Island) did on a smaller scale what our own economic system seems bent on doing planet-wide: they destroyed their resource bases and crashed. The pattern is hauntingly familiar. First, the civilization finds a formula—agriculture, irrigation, fishing, capitalism—for extracting value from ecosystems. Because the formula works so well, the civilization’s leaders become blindly attached to it. Eventually, the key resources on which the formula depends become depleted and the inflexible civilization collapses like a house of cards.
Barnes sums up the challenge:
The question our generation faces is: will we change our economic system voluntarily, or let the atmosphere change it for us?
Barnes defines The Commons:
This notion of the commons designates a set of assets that have two characteristics: they’re all gifts, and they’re all shared. A gift is something we receive, as opposed to something we earn. A shared gift is one we receive as members of a community, as opposed to individually. Examples of such gifts include air, water, ecosystems, languages, music, holidays, money, law, mathematics, parks, the Internet, and much more.

These diverse gifts are like a river with three tributaries: nature, community, and culture.

Here is the worth 1000 words pic. We should always remember how rich we are.

Barnes defines 2 terms, neither of which I like very much:

  1. Illth, from John Ruskin - the opposite of wealth: poverty, pollution, despair, illness. Barnes equates illth with economics' "negative externalities", which I continually encounter in reading about what is wrong with economics.
  2. Thneed, from Dr. Seuss - "a thing we want but don't really need ... (Significantly, needs are generic, while thneeds are typically branded.)". As in the last economics book I read, consumerism is presented as a large part of our problem.
Chapter 1 ends with Barnes laying out the "premises of this book".
  1. WE HAVE A CONTRACT. Each generation has a contract with the next to pass on the gifts it has jointly inherited.
  2. WE ARE NOT ALONE. ... Not only do our children and grandchildren matter, so do other beings and their offspring.
  3. ILLTH HAPPENS.
  4. FIX THE CODE, NOT THE SYMPTOMS.
  5. REVISE WISELY. NBDF: if it's Not Broke, Don't Fix it.
  6. MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING, Money is the blood of our economic system; it shouldn’t be the soul.
  7. GET THE INCENTIVES RIGHT.


Chapter 2 is titled, "A Short History of Capitalism". How did we get where we are? "Two parallel threads emerge: the decline of the commons and the ascent of private corporations.".

The enclosure of the commons accelerated beginning in the 17th century.

The rationale for private property is that it boosts economic production, but the commons has a rationale, too: it provides sustenance for all.
As early as the American Revolution, Thomas Paine recognized that there should be "indemnification for that loss", i.e., enclosure. He proposed this in the form of a national fund, to be paid to all citizens on attaining their 21st year, and every year after they turn 50 - Social Security v0.5. Throughout the history of the US, a tug-of-war has gone on between market forces seeking to enclose the commons, and forces of conservation trying to preserve the commons. It continues to this day.

The commons is mainly assaulted on the source side by enclosure, while on the sink side it is assaulted by externalization - this pollution doesn't show up in any economic models, so how about we just dump it in your air, or water, or ground?

Meanwhile, corporations have continued to grow in size and power. I did not realize that the Supreme Court ruled corporations to be "persons" under the 14th ammendment all the way back in 1886.

In 1955, sales of the Fortune 500 accounted for one-third of U.S. gross domestic product; by 2004 they commanded two-thirds.
I like his concept of Capitalism 1.0, shortage capitalism, vs Capitalism 2.0, surplus capitalism. Here I've been trying to figure out how we get to a post-scarcity utopia, while according to Barnes, we got to post-scarcity in the 1950s - now we just need the utopia to go with it.

Capitalism 2.0 was accompanied by the great servants of consumerism: marketing and advertising - it is no wonder "Mad Men" was set in the 1950s.

In this version, there’s no limit to what corporations can produce; their problem is finding buyers. A sizeable chunk of GDP is spent to make people want this unneeded output. And credit is lavishly extended so they can buy it.
We should not forget that 2 of the largest current net presences, FaceBook & Google, both get most of their revenue from their online ads.

This chart gives a good characterization of the 2 flavors of capitalism encountered so far.

Barnes concludes his short history of capitalism by noting the "Three Pathologies of Capitalism":

  1. the destruction of nature;
  2. the widening of inequality;
  3. the failure to promote happiness despite the pretense of doing so.
On inequality, and globalization:
the rich are rich because (through corporations) they get the lion’s share of common wealth; the poor are poor because they get very little.

...

The whole point of globalization is to increase the return to capital by enabling its owners to find the lowest costs on the planet. Hence the stagnation at the bottom alongside the surging wealth at the top.


Chapter 3 is titled "The Limits of Government". Our "Tragedy of the Commons" guy thought only the government or markets could protect a commons. This chapter explores why government probably is not up to the challenge.

I like this view of the American experiment:

America has been engaged in two experiments simultaneously: one is called democracy, the other, capitalism. It would be nice if these experiments ran separately, but they don’t. They go on in the same bottle, and each affects the other. After two hundred years, we can draw some conclusions about how they interact. One is that capitalism distorts democracy more than the other way around.

The reason capitalism distorts democracy is simple. Democracy is an open system, and economic power can easily infect it. By contrast, capitalism is a gated system; its bastions aren’t easily accessed by the masses. Capital’s primacy thus isn’t an accident ... . It’s what happens when capitalism inhabits democracy.

And we all know this has gotten far worse since 2006, particularly thanks to the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 which opened floodgates of political contributions. Studies show your average congressman does what his donors want, not what his constituents want. My feeling is that publicly financed elections are the only solution to this problem, but I'm sure the rich will still be able to find ways to subvert legislators. You would still have the army of lobbyists in DC, which leads us to our next problem: "regulatory capture":
A new agency is created to regulate an industry that’s harming the public. At first the agency acts boldly, but over time its zeal wanes. Reformers who originally staffed the agency are replaced by people who either worked in the industry earlier, or hope to do so after a stint in government. Industry-packed “advisory committees” multiply, while industry-funded “think tanks” add a veneer of legitimacy to profit-driven proposals. Lobbyists meet constantly with agency staffers.
Can we ban lobbyists? Seems pretty anti-1st amendment to me. Hmmm ...


Chapter 4 is titled "The Limits of Privatizaton". Can markets do a better job of protecting the commons via privatization? Barnes gives a more detailed definition of capitalism as an operating system.

Our current operating system is dominated by three algorithms and one starting condition. The algorithms are: (1) maximize return to capital, (2) distribute property income on a per-share basis, and (3) the price of nature equals zero. The starting condition is that the top 5 percent of the people own more property shares than the remaining 95 percent.
These are the rules of the corporations that make up the capitalistic system that is eating the world. Barnes explores 3 ways that corporations could "rise above their profit maximizing algorithm":
  1. enlightened managers might choose a higher goal than profit. A nice idea, but Barnes suspects that in the real world "Corporate communications departments would try to maximize the appearance of social responsibility for the lowest actual cost. We’d see beautiful ads and reports, but little change in core behavior."
  2. shareholders might insist on it. More of this is happening, but I think that in general the investor class is into that "Maximize return to capital" algorithm.
  3. government might require it. But, as we saw with 0 bankers going to jail after the 2008 financial crisis, if the government won't jail individuals, then the corporations are happy to pay fines as a cost of business.
Finally, Barns discusses "free market environmentalism". Started by freshwater economist Ronald Coase in 1960, it posits that "nature can be protected through property rights, provided they’re clearly defined and the cost of enforcing them is low.". Barnes likes the idea, but finds it unworkable. "First and foremost, it lacks a solid rationale for how property rights to nature should be assigned." So rather than privatization, Barnes proposes propertization, which brings us to Part 2.


Part 2 is titled "A Solution". Chapter 5 is titled "Reinventing the Commons". Barnes introduces the commons sector. Its job: to oppose the capitalist system, particularly the 3 pathologies we met in Chapter 2.

The new sector would supply virtuous feedback loops and proxies for unrepresented stakeholders: future generations, pollutees, and nonhuman species. And would offset the corporate sector’s negative externalities with positive externalities of comparable magnitude. If the corporate sector devours nature, the commons sector would protect it. If the corporate sector widens inequality, the commons sector would reduce it. If the corporate sector turns us into self-obsessed consumers, the commons sector would reconnect us to nature, community, and culture.

...

To be sure, building an economic sector from scratch is a formidable task. Fortunately, the commons sector needn’t be built from scratch; it has an enormous potential asset base just waiting to be claimed. That asset base is the commons itself, the gifts of nature and society we inherit and create together. As we’ll see, these gifts are worth more than all private assets combined. It’s the job of the commons sector to organize and protect these gifts, and by so doing, to save capitalism from itself. [My bold]

Barnes estimates that, as of 2005, common assets, natural and social, were at least 50% larger than private and government assets combined. I think that could be off by a factor of maybe 10 or so - as Barnes points out, there are so many common things we take for granted that belong to us all: the natural world, the Internet, stock exchanges, laws, communications media, the arts and other culture, scientific and technical knowledge, universities, libraries, accounting procedures, transportation infrastructure. As I said earlier, we should always remember how incredibly rich we are.

Barnes discusses "organizing principles of the commons sector". He sees a lot of variation in commons institutions. The most important characteristic of a common asset is whether it is limited or inexhaustible.

Some of the variety will depend on whether the underlying asset is limited or inexhaustible. Typically, gifts of nature have limited capacities; the air can safely absorb only so much carbon dioxide, the oceans only so many drift nets. Institutions that manage natural assets must therefore be capable of limiting use. By contrast, ideas and cultural creations have endless potential for elaboration and reuse. In these commons, managing institutions should maximize public access and minimize private tollbooths.
Some of the organizing principles:
  • leave enough and as good in common;
  • put future generations first;
  • the precautionary principle: when in doubt, err on the side of safety;
  • the more the merrier - Whereas private property is inherently exclusive, common property strives to be inclusive. It always wants more co-owners or participants, consistent with preservation of the asset. In addition to the internet and culture, this principle also applies to social contracts like Social Security and Medicare;
  • one person, one share;
  • include some liquitity.


Chapter 6 is titled "Trusteeship of Creation"; it traces the Nature branch of The Commons. Barnes contrasts the the natural world, which is irreplaceable, with consumer goods, which "tend to be massproduced and highly disposable"

The question is whether creation’s irreplaceable gifts are different enough to merit different treatment by our economic operating system. A strong case can be made that they are.
But the current system values capital above all else. We learn of Marjorie Kelly and her book "The Divine Right of Capital" (2003). "Kelly locates many places where capital’s supremacy is written into our codes." It's interesting, there is only one law where capital is constrained, and that is the Endangered Species Act.

Barnes reviews several land trusts, some of which are centuries old. He gives us this definition of a trust:

Trusts are centuries-old institutions devised to hold and manage property for beneficiaries. The essence of a trust is a fiduciary relationship. Neither trusts nor their trustees may ever act in their own self-interest; they’re legally obligated to act solely on behalf of beneficiaries.

Trusts are bound by numerous rules, including the following:

  • Managers must act with undivided loyalty to beneficiaries.
  • Unless authorized to act otherwise, managers must preserve the corpus of the trust. It’s okay to spend income, but not to diminish principal.
  • Managers must ensure transparency by making timely financial information available to beneficiaries.
Trustees are held to a higher standard than corporate managers or "stewards".
A trustee isn’t the same thing as a steward. Stewards care for an asset, but their obligations are voluntary and vague. By contrast, trustees’ obligations are mandatory and quite specific. Trusteeship is thus a more formal and rigorous responsibility than stewardship.
Barnes shows the commonsensical nature of his approach by invoking standard double-entry accounting principles. When we credit a corporation's account with natural resources, where does the corresponding debit show up? "In fact, there aren’t any accounts that could be debited. " Creating common property trusts provides the account for the debit, so that common resources can then be managed by normal business practices.

Barnes defines "commons rent" in a way I have not heard rent defined before: "it’s money paid because of scarcity."

We meet the "underappreciated American economist Henry George". Hmmm, "underappreciated" doesn't seem right to me, he has an institute in his name in NYC and a foundation in his name in London, both presumably promulgating his ideas, FTW! He did not quite make it into the 20th century.

Seeing both the riches and the miseries of the Gilded Age, he asked a logical question: Why does poverty persist despite economic growth? The answer, he believed, was the appropriation of rent by landowners. Even as the economy grew, the property rights system and the scarcity of land diverted almost all the gains to a landowning minority.
Following George's lead, Barnes makes "a bold assertion":
sharing commons rent through per capita dividends isn’t just the best way to bring our economy into harmony with nature, it’s also the best way to reduce poverty. That’s because there’s no other pool of money of comparable size to which poor people have a legitimate claim.


Chapter 7 is titled "Universal Birthrights"; it traces the Community branch of The Commons. We all know the universal birthrights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Interesting, I didn't know that Jefferson got these from John Locke, whose version was "life, liberty, and property". The Constitution gives us more birthrights.

We revisit Monopoly, "a reasonable simulacrum of capitalism". But, where's my $200 for passing Go? Plus, to be like the real world, "Imagine ... a twenty-player version of Monopoly in which one player starts with half the property".

Another example showing a different "economic operating system" is the pro sports leagues. "Each league shifts money from the richest teams to the poorest, and gives losing teams first crack at new players." What fun is a sport without at least a somewhat level playing field?

Barnes sees waves of birthrights:

If we were to analyze the expansion of American birthrights, we’d see a series of waves. The first wave consisted of rights against the state. The second included rights against unequal treatment based on race, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. The third wave—which, historically speaking, is just beginning—consists of rights not against things, but for things—free public education, collective bargaining for wages, security in old age. They can be thought of as rights necessary for the pursuit of happiness.

...

Universality is also what distinguishes the commons sector from the corporate sector.

Barnes looks at what should go into this third wave:
Without great difficulty, we could add three birthrights to our economic operating system: one would pay everyone a regular dividend, the second would give every child a start-up stake, and the third would reduce and share medical costs. Whether we add these birthrights or not isn’t a matter of economic ability, but of attitude and politics.

Why attitude? Americans suffer from a number of confusions. We think it’s “wrong” to give people “something for nothing,” despite the fact that corporations take common wealth for nothing all the time. We believe the poor are poor and the rich are rich because they deserve to be, but don’t consider that millions of Americans work two or three jobs and still can’t make ends meet. Plus, we think tinkering with the “natural” distribution of income is “socialism,” or “big government,” or some other manifestation of evil, despite the fact that our current distribution of income isn’t “natural” at all, but rigged from the get-go by maldistributed property.

For the 1st new birthright, a universal dividend, Barnes takes the Alaska Permanent Fund as his model.
We could, for instance, have an American Permanent Fund that pays equal dividends to long-term residents of all 50 states. The reason is, we jointly own many valuable assets.
In discussing the 2nd new birthright, a start-up stake for every child, he raises an important fact about inheritance. The early US did away with the European tradition of primogeniture. Having the oldest son inherit all the capital is a great way to keep it concentrated, which is not what the founding fathers wanted, and is not what we want either.

To fund this new birthright, we will of course need new taxes, preferably on the rich, of course.

To top things off, I like to think that the contributors—millionaires and billionaires all—will feel less resentful about repaying their debts to society if their repayments go directly to children, rather than to the Internal Revenue Service. They might think of the Children’s Opportunity Trust as a kind of venture capital fund that makes startup investments in American children.
It is sad reading his justification for the 3rd new birthright, universal healthcare. 11 years later and a small step in the right direction will probably be wiped out soon :-(


Chapter 8 is titled "Sharing Culture"; it traces the Culture branch of The Commons. Barnes discusses the IP bugaboo, and comes up with a statement late in the chapter that sums up my attitude.

To create scarcity where it doesn’t need to exist diminishes rather than enlarges our well-being.
When your local public library tells you they have only 3 copies of an eBook, what can you do but shake your head? They have infinite copies!

Wow, I'm going to get a pic of this and tweet it.

DISNEY STORIES TAKEN FROM THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: Aladdin; Atlantis; Beauty and the Beast; Cinderella; Davy Crockett; The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; Hercules; The Hunchback of Notre Dame; The Jungle Book; Oliver Twist; Pinocchio; Robin Hood; Snow White; Sleeping Beauty; The Three Musketeers; Treasure Island; The Wind in the Willows.

DISNEY STORIES ADDED TO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: None.

...

Then there’s the Music Performance Trust Fund, set up in 1948. To settle a dispute with the musicians’ union, the recording industry agreed to pay a small royalty from recording sales into a fund supporting live concerts in parks, schools, and other public venues. The fund was, and continues to be, administered by an independent trustee. In 2004 it sponsored over eleven thousand free concerts throughout the United States and Canada.

Meanwhile, we all know about the FBI investigating copyright infringement and the $250,000 fines. This whole enforcement infrastructure certainly does not come for free. "Yet the companies’ price tag for it is exactly zero. (They do pay taxes, but so does everybody else.)"

Another similar imposition on the cultural commons comes from the great engine of Capitalism 2.0, advertising. I don't think I've seen this analyzed before particularly, and I agree 1000% with Barnes attitude on the subject.

What they claim is free speech, I experience as mental trespassing, and so do millions of others. As Kalle Lasn has written, “Our mental environment is a commons like air or water. We need to protect it from unwanted incursions.”

...

Children in America see, on average, one hundred thousand television ads by age five; before they die they’ll see another two million.

...

Every ad thus has an opportunity cost, a cost we experience but advertisers don’t pay.

...

What if we managed advertising as we manage, or could manage, physical pollution?

...

But if we dampened an overheated economy by lowering the volume of advertising, we’d get the benefits of higher interest rates without the pain. In fact, households might save money by buying less.

Wow, a new knob to turn to throttle an overheated economy, to add to the Fed interest rate.

My wife and I do a pretty good job dodging ads. We watch most content on Netflix, iTunes, YouTube, or time-delayed on DVR. All are pretty much commercial free. Watching real-time sports is the main time I'm hit with advertising. My browser has an ad blocker. Plus I think that, in general, I am pretty good at ignoring ads. But Barnes made a telling point: "Every ad has an opportunity cost." The time I spent watching an ad I could have spent doing something else, potentially profitable. So the ad maker clearly owes me for my time.

Barnes also discusses the airwaves, the internet, and scientific patents as part of the cultural commons.

Barnes concludes reviewing the 3 branches of The Commons.

Fortify, Then Enhance

The larger lesson of this chapter is that all three branches of the commons—nature, community, and culture—are under similar assault from corporations, and all need to be fortified. The means of fortification will vary with the particular commons. When commons are scarce or threatened, we ought to limit aggregate use, assign property rights to trusts, and charge market prices to users. When commons are limitless (like culture, the Internet, and potentially the airwaves), our challenge is the opposite: to provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number at the lowest cost.

...

After we fortify, we should enhance; just as we take from the commons, so should we give back. Art and music can be reproduced by corporations, but they don’t come from corporations; they come from the commons. Folk music, country music, jazz, blues, garage bands—these are the roots of our musical heritage. We must nourish the soil in which these roots grow. This, not copyright extension, is the way to enrich culture.


Part 3 is titled "Making It Happen". Chapter 9 is titled "Building the Commons Sector". Here's another 1000 word pic.

I think I've seen the concept of the "time bank" before, a search of this blog didn't turn it up. Time banks provide a complementary currency, which seems to be a trending topic in this blog.

Note that the "Spectrum Trust" is a trust administering the airwaves.

Barnes identifies another very important thing which must be returned to the commons: political campaign financing. "By privatizing our airwaves, in other words, we’ve effectively privatized our democracy." The effect of the alternative fact machine Faux "News" on our political discord cannot be understated.

As we near the end of the book, Barnes begins to try to win the gold medal by discussing more ways to make higher taxes palatable to the rich.

The premise behind a commons tax credit is that wealthy Americans owe more to the commons than they currently pay to the government in taxes. That being so, a commons tax credit would work like this. The federal government would raise the uppermost tax bracket by a few percentage points. At the same time, it would give affected taxpayers a choice: pay the extra money to the government, or contribute it to one or more qualified commons trusts.
Barnes defines 4 roles for government to play in building the commons.
  1. Until it assigns responsibility for a commons to someone else, government is the default trustee, and should be held to trusteeship standards.
  2. Government is the initial assigner and ultimate arbiter of property rights. Instead of privatizing nearly everything, it should assign more property rights to commons trusts and give commons rights precedence over capital’s.
  3. Only government can broker inter- and intragenerational compacts like Social Security and Medicare. We need government to do this again for health insurance and the Children’s Opportunity Trust.
  4. Government can help finance the reacquisition and restoration of previously privatized pieces of the commons. State and local governments in particular have the authority to issue long-term tax-exempt bonds, which can be used to acquire private land and water rights.


Chapter 10 is titled "What You Can Do". I think he is completely correct about the importance of property rights. 3 things to start with:

We should, first of all, start noticing and talking about our common wealth. Whenever we see it, we should point to it and let the world know to whom it belongs. [I find this to be a very easy topic to bring into most conversations.]

Second, we should demand more birthrights and property rights than we have now. Rights that belong to everyone. Rights built into our operating system. Rights that protect future generations as well as our own.

The reason I stress property rights is that, in America, property rights are sacred. They’re guaranteed by the Constitution. Once you have them, they can’t be taken without fair compensation. These protections have greatly benefited those who own private property. They should also benefit those who share common wealth.

Third, we should imagine and design multiple pieces of the commons sector—that is, organized forms we want the commons to take. And we should build and test our models wherever possible.

Barnes now addresses various groups of people, with suggestions appropriate to each role.
  • Parents.
  • Wage Earners.
  • Capitalists. Ha ha. Barnes gives it another shot.
    Well, let me be blunt: you do get too much. But don’t get your dander up; I’m not saying you’re a scoundrel. I’m saying, rather, that capitalism as we know it over-rewards people who own private property. It’s a system flaw, not a personal flaw. Its harm lies not so much in the luxuries it bestows on you as in the necessities it denies to others and the distortions it brews throughout society.

    I don’t expect you to surrender all your excess rewards at once. That would be asking more of you than I’m prepared to ask of myself. But I do ask you to consider doing two things: (1) Give back some of your excess takings now, and the rest when you die. And (2), if fellow citizens ask for a system upgrade that rewards noncapital owners more fairly, don’t fight them. Let them have it. It will work. And it will be good for your kids and the planet.

  • Commons Entrepreneurs.
  • Lawyers. "forge new property rights for the commons."
  • Economists.
  • Religious Leaders.
  • Politicians.
Corporations + Commons = Capitalism 3.0

Like the governor of James Watt’s steam engine, these add-ons will curb our current engine’s unchecked excesses.

...

All Americans will benefit both from nature’s health and from the health of corporations.


The Appendix is titled "Key Features of Corporate, State, and Commons Sectors". Yay, a nice table! I will be lazy and include it as a pic rather than hand coding it in HTML.

Reviewing, I did not mention above Barnes' discussions of "intergenerational pacts". Social Security was #1, with current workers paying retired workers and counting on the next generation of workers to do the same for them.


This was a fun and easy read. A little disappointing that it is 11 years later and I am just hearing about it - meaning, I'm afraid that these memes are not getting much traction. And yet, when you read this book, it all seems so commonsensical.

2 or 3 times, Barnes addressed himself to the "capitalists" - the 1%, the .01%. Basically he kind of says, "Can you all just be a little reasonable?" But probably they won't. I think the most important thing we need to figure out right now is, what is wrong, mentally, morally, spiritually, humanly, with the ultra-rich. and how can we help them fix themselves? Cory Doctorow's attitude in "Walkaway" makes more and more sense - that in their heart of hearts, the ultra-rich know that they really do not deserve their over-the-top wealth - so they are compelled to suppress that fact however they can, pretend that the system is fair, and continue to pile on wherever possible.

But even worse than that are GOP politicians, particularly in the south. Their policies, particularly regarding health care and the medicaid expansion, seem to indicate to me that they really don't care if the bottom 20% financially of their population dies. They may actually view it as a feature. And their base goes along with it because, proportionately, a larger %age of those who die will be people of color - despite the fact that, when you look at absolute numbers, the number of poor whites affected is 3-4x the number of poor people of color. A sound man in a club told me that poor white southerners "would get their d--k cut off if it meant black guys got their d--k and their hand cut off". I have used the word "genocide" in posts, I do not think it is unwarranted.

I think every system of government should have 1 goal: to maximize the outcome of every child. In the US 20% of people & children are nutritionally challenged, and every day a growing child doesn't get enough nutrition is a day they grow fewer brain cells. And every day they don't have access to quality education, the Internet, culture, capital, ... is a day they have fewer opportunities to grow their minds.

I really liked this book comparing the economy to an operating system - because that's what it is. It is a software system that we can tweak or refactor until we get something that works for everyone. The 1% & .01% will all still be richer than any Roman emperor, but we won't be starving and oppressing children. I think we need to get the simulations working to where we can show how it can be done. Surely our real-life game of Monopoly would be more fun for all if the rules were fairer.

After this book, Barnes published 2 more:

I think I will make the latest 1 my next economics read. It will be interesting to see how the ideas of this book have evolved. Plus should be a quick read, and hopefully a shorter review.

[2017-07-14 5:47pm] I forgot to mention. In "Doughnut Economics", Kate Raworth discusses the 4 "realms of provisioning" central to the embedded economy: household, commons, market and state. Barnes gives us a really good way to empower the commons realm - by propertization, as property rights are well understood and tightly integrated into our laws. But what about the household? Does Barnes have any ideas on how to empower and realize the value of the household realm? I'll look for this in his most recent book.