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 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.


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
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.


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.