Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Stealing Worlds

"Stealing Worlds" is the latest by Karl Schroeder, 2019, 311 pages. This is 1 of those books where I'm going "I have been waiting so long for this book." A very near future, with ideas on tech to use to escape from ever-rapacious capitalism, 80-90% of which are or could be in place nowish.

Schroeder has touched on some of these topics in his earlier works (see here for example), but this seemed to pull everything together. The infodump by one of the characters that makes up most of Chapter 14 represents that synthesis.

The only tech he uses that we are still reaching for is AI. But the AIs he described are not particularly ineffable, and may be within reach of big-data based systems.

I liked his concept of distributed autonomous corporations (DACs) - a corporation with no human employees, run completely by an AI. The owner gets all the profits - the very essence of capitalism? I also really liked his concept of a cryptocurrency that automatically resistributes from wallets that are too full to wallets that are empty - gotta love that outside-the-box thinking. And he again talks about thalience.

I really think we should get Schroeder, Cory Doctorow, & Kim Stanley Robinson together to design the future for us - the Green New Deal writ large. Can we get to a post-capitalist, post-scarcity utopia before the out-of-control paperclip-optimizing AI aka capitalism finishes turning the entire world into paperclips capital?

Friday, July 05, 2019

4 + 2

I think BookBub offered me "The Chaos Chronicles Books 1-3", by Jeffrey A. Carver, for $2.99 or some such. I remembered Carver as being a hard, galactic sci-fi kind of guy a la Gregory Benford or Greg Bear, so I went for it. The 3 novels it contains are "Neptune Crossing", 1994, 582 pages; "Strange Attractors", 1995, 352 pages; and "The Infinite Sea", 1996, 379 pages. These were fun, comic-bookish stories. An alien artifact on Triton implants an earthing with high-tech translator stones. He saves the earth, and then moves on to other galactic adventures with other translator stone holders. It kind of reminded me of Green Lanterns (DC comic). There is lots of action. The 2nd book does a good job of keeping us wondering, will the earthling hook up with the female 4-breasted humanoid empath stone holder? I did like that the main power of the translator stones was to ... translate, enabling communication with several other alien species.

I enjoyed these enough that I bought the 4th novel of the series, "Sunborn", 2011, 478 pages. Another cosmic story. Ha ha, in this one, at one point, our earthling tells 1 of the 2 smart ass robots that are part of the company, "Lead on, kemosabe." I'm immediately going, wow, is that a temporal tell, or what? And sure enough, Carver was born in 1949, so he's 2 years older than me. Ha ha, I wonder what is the youngest person who would get the reference? I queried my son born in 1976. He knew it had to do with the Lone Ranger & Tonto, but not sure exactly what. I queried my youngest daughter born in 1983. She replied with the image below, so I guess she got the reference. But I bet a 20-something would have no clue.

A 5th novel in the series is due out later this year.

I had 2 Karl Schroeder novels on my iPad, plus a Neal Stephenson. Decisions, decisions. I went with the older of the Schroeder novels, "The Million", 2018, 192 pages. I'm guessing this was actually a novella. It is set in the same universe as his "Lockstep". This is a really interesting concept - that in the absence of FTL travel, the way you could have an interstellar civilization is by slowing time way down by having entire worlds hibernate most of the time - except for The Million, who are the real-time caretakers. The novella is an interesting exploration of the ramifications of the concept, with action, plucky characters, etc. As the characters are mostly young adults, I'm guessing this is a YA story.

Then, on to the Stephenson: "Fall; or, Dodge in Hell: A Novel", 2019, 892 pages. Well, it was great to see Stephenson give props to "'D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths" and "D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths". These are family favorites - I have already bought all my grandchildren copies.

But, I was a little sad that the 1st person uploaded posthumously into quantum computers builds a world strongly along the lines of genesis. It was interesting as time passes and many of the books real-world characters get uploaded and now take part in the drama in Bitworld - culiminating in a Tolkienesque quest. But I kind of agree with the story's antagonist, El (Elohim), that they maybe could have done a lot better than creating a very medieval flavored world.

There wasn't as much snappy dialog and turns of phrase as is usual for Stephenson. So, an enjoyable, sprawling read, but maybe Stephenson is showing his age slightly.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The ABCs of Agent Orange

Posted on Twitter. Crickets so far. I don't get much traction on Twitter.

[Updated 2019-06-10 1:07 am]
[Updated 2019-06-10 11:35 am]
[Updated 2019-06-10 10:07 pm]
[Updated 2019-06-10 11:42 pm]
[Updated 2019-07-02 1:18 pm]

The ABCs of Agent Orange @realDonaldTrump

8-year-old-in-chief
Asshole-in-chief
Birther ...
Blowhard
Bullshitter
Bully
Capitulator
Cheater
Conman
Coward
Crook
Crybaby
Deal breaker
Draft dodger
Dotard
Egomaniac
Fraud
Grifter
Huckster
Ignoramus
Jackass
Kleptocrat
Liar
Loser
Misogynist
Narcissist
Nihilist
Opportunist
Prima donna
Psychopath
Putinite
Quisling
Racist
Russian asset
Sadist
Sexist
Sleazeball
Sociopath
Stooge
Swindler
Thief
Toddler
Wannabe mafioso

Friday, June 07, 2019

Oof

I haven't done Music In since late November - 7 months. The winter was a bit sparse, so I have been looking to new - and old - sources for new music.
  • Darwin Deez, "Songs for Imaginative People", 2013, 10 tracks. I think I originally found Darwin Deez on the iPad app Aweditorium. 1 thing I have started doing to get more new music is, when someone comes up on shuffle play and I like it, I revisit that artist for later works - as this album is. His guitar has a really unique tone. One live video he's playing a Squire Strat, so it must be in the amp. 4 stars. Here's "Free (The Editorial Me)" - nice video, reminiscent of "Memento" or "Groundhog Day" with a much shorter loop.

  • Grizzly Bear, "Horn of Plenty", 2004, 14 tracks. This does it for Grizzly Bear - this is their 1st album. Ha ha, this is definitely a band that improved with age. This album is fairly unfocused, no memorable songs. 3 stars. But, "Horn of Plenty" === Cornucopia, 1 of my fav words. So here's a pic.

  • Danny Gatton and Buddy Emmons, "Redneck Jazz Explosion, Vol. II", 1978, 8 tracks. This is not quite as strong as Vol. I, but still, hard to find fault with the god of pedal steel guitar playing with a great guitarist. 4 stars. Here's "When Sunny Gets Blue".

  • Jorge Elbrecht: "Happiness EP", 2018, 6 tracks; "Here Lies", 2018, 14 tracks; "Coral Cross - 002", 2019, 10 tracks. This was a recommendation from my most excellent nephew, drummer Max Heinz, of Portland ME. I liked these more early than I did later. "Coral Cross - 002" particularly was much more noise than I like in my music - 2 stars. 3 stars for the other 2.
  • Wilco, "A.M.", 1995, 13 tracks. I continue my exploration of Wilco. This is there 1st album. I didn't think there was a particularly catchy song, a prereq for 4 stars - then this next came up. 4 stars, after months at 3!

  • Sour Cream Band, "Sour Cream", 2018, 10 tracks. 1 of the best albums I have heard performed by people <= 17 YO. Guitar is Harlan Cecil, son of Sherri McGee, "Chick Drummer with Balls". They did a 45 minute performance on WRFL Live and I heard 0 bad notes - impressive. I have loaned Harlan my 3 pickup Flying V as encouragement. Ha ha, his main guitar is a cherry SG, as was mine Back In The Day. A great guitar, I'm happy if he sticks with it. I recommend this album, but for my collection, it is 3 stars.
  • Mumford & Sons, "Delta", 2018, 14 tracks. As with Fleet Foxes, I think that "power folk" bands really have a problem finding a sweet spot and staying in it. This album was way rockish. 3 stars.
  • My Brightest Diamond, "A Million and One", 2018, 10 tracks. Maybe from Amazon weekly email? The vehicle of indie rocker Shara Nova out of NYC. Very high quality tunes. 4 stars. Here's "A Million Pearls".

  • Elvis Costello, "Look Now", 2018, 12 tracks. Elvis is one of those old dudes (64 YO, YOB 1954, age of my brother Mark) who keep cranking out great albums. Kudos! 4 stars. Here's "Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter", with poppy grooves that would make Todd Rundgren proud.

That does it for 2018. On to 2019.
  • Beirut, "Gallipoli", 2019, 12 tracks. This seems to be the most prolific of Lexington native Kelly Pratt's several bands. I think of the music as Balkan Pop. 4 stars. Here's "Corfu".

  • Broken Social Scene, "Let's Try The After (Vol. 1)", 2019, 5 tracks. The latest from the Toronto super-group. These are all strong tunes, 4 stars. Here's "1972".

  • Deerhunter, "Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?", 2019, 10 tracks. I get these guys confused with Deerhoof. This album has some decent tunes. 3 stars.
  • Mudbone, "Live At Dogtooth", 2018, 7 tracks. Mudbone is the house band for the Dogtooth Sports & Music Bar (formerly Vodka Bar formerly Weekend Willie's) Tuesday Night Blues Jam, 7:30-10:30. They usually play 60-90 minutes, then start asking people up. I've played at this jam every Tuesday I'm in Naples FL since maybe 2011-2012? Mudbone is a fabulous band: Bill E. Peterson on drums, playing a kick, snare, high hat and ride cymbal; Jerry Fiero on harp & vocals; Ricky Howard on guitar & vocals; Ray Nesbit on guitar & vocals, & David Carlton Johnson on bass & vocals. David also is excellent on keys & guitar & tours with Aaron Neville on bass, keys, & vocals. 4 stars. Here's an old recording of "Be Thankful For What You Got". Mario Infanti, who moved back to CT a couple of years ago & was replaced by Ray Nesbit, is on guitar & vocals. Mario played with Chuck Mangione.

    Note, I realized a couple of years ago I could steal material I like from people in Naples & perform it in Lexington and visa versa. I've been doing this arrangement at jams in Lexington with a full band & in the duo with Steve; people really respond to it, FTW!

  • Panda Bear, "Buoys", 2019, 9 tracks, I get this guy mixed up with Gold Panda. This guy is part of Animal Collective. This is some decent alternative rock. 3 stars.
  • Boston, eponymous, 1976, 8 tracks; "Don't Look Back", 1978, 8 tracks; "Third Stage", 1986, 10 tracks; and "Walk On", 1994, 10 tracks. As I described in "Back In The Day", in spring of 1970 I played in a band with Tom Scholz, who later founded Boston, wrote & arranged most of the material, and still records and tours as Boston. 4 stars for the 1st 3, 3 stars for the 4th album. Here's one of their many iconic songs, "More Than A Feeling". Tom is the guy with the sleeveless top playing the gold Les Paul.

  • Andrew Bird, ""My Finest Work Yet", 2019, 10 tracks. Bird is always reliable for providing very listenable music, but no standout catchy tunes in this effort. 3 stars.
  • Fake Laugh, "Honesty / Surrounded", 2019, 2 tracks. This came from the weekly newsletter email I have started receiving from Bandcamp. Both songs are excellent, shamelessly upbeat & poppy, 4 stars. Here's "Surrounded".

  • Chelsea Wilson, "Chasing Gold", 2019, 10 tracks. Modern Australian disco, what's not to like? This also came from the Bandcamp newsletter. 4 stars. Here's the title track.

That takes us through April Fool's Day. Current unrated smart playlist is 174 songs, oops. Probably need to process Music In again at the end of July.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Back In The Day

I lived in Boston or Cambridge MA from Sep 1968 til July 1974. I graduated MIT June 4, 1972, 4 days before I turned 21, then worked at MIT until Apr 1974. I played in bands from early 1970 until Oct 1973.
  1. Band whose name I did't remember:
    • Tom on keys & rhythm & lead guitar. He was the bandleader.
    • Me on lead guitar & harmony vocals & pedal steel/slide guitar.
    • Mickey(?) the lead singer.
    • Terry Borroz on bass (and vocals?).
    • John Broderick on drums.
    I remembered this as a Led Zeppelin tribute band. I give the lead singer 3/10 channeling Robert Plant.

    I met Tom between classes at MIT. Early in the spring semester, 1970, long-haired hippy me was walking with another LHH talking about working up a Jimi Hendrix song. This tall, gangly guy with long dark hair & bangs invited himself into the conversation. He'd played keys his whole life and guitar a couple of years. He later asked me to join the band.

    I probably quit the band when I went home for the summer to work at Jeffboat for the 2nd year. That was my last time going home for the summer. So we played together from early 1970 til maybe late spring. We never gigged.

  2. Blue Eyed Boy Mister Death:
    • Delbert Lionel Hilgartner III ("Del") on Hammond B-3 with Lesley, lead vocals, & bandleader. Del died 6/24/2015.
    • Me on lead guitar, harmony & lead vocals, & pedal steel
    • Randolph Axel Nelson ("Randy" later "Axel") on rhythm & bass guitar, harmony vocals, & percussion.
    • Barry Levine on bass, sax, & harmony vocals.
    • John Broderick on drums.
    We were a dance band, did a lot of Santana, the Stones. We had a few originals, mostly written by Del. I think Randy wrote 1 also. We gigged at bars, ski resorts, frat houses, etc. We played most of my junior year, and disbanded when Del graduated June 1971 and moved to NYC to work in film at Cooper Union.

  3. Salamander - motto, "Walk Thru Fire":
    • Richard Griggs, (later Zvonar) on rhythm guitar & lead & harmony vocals. Salamander was Richard's band. Richard died 8/3/2005.
    • Me on lead guitar & harmony & lead vocals.
    • Robert Desautels ("Desi") on bass.
    • Barry Levine on sax & harmony vocals.
    • Terry McGeough on drums & harmony & lead vocals.
    • Gragg Lunsford, who joined a few months in, on keys & lead & harmony vocals.
    A good dance band, it started up right after the demise of BEBMD. We did some Richard originals, a lot of Kinks, Stones, Van Morrison, Allman Bros, Delaney & Bonnie. Gragg was much bluesier. We played pretty regularly. Our best gig was 2 weeks on Nantucket Island in the summer, playing at Preston's Airport Lounge. Great club, big stage & dance floor, pool tables in the wings, George of the Jungle pinball machine, air hockey. They put us up in a beach house, fed us at the club. Beach every afternoon, socialize in the evenings, play 9-2, sleep til noon.


I've been touch with Desi, John, Del, Barry, Richard, and Terry McGeough over the years. In late January, 2019, John Broderick sent an email to Barry and me. He had found ~4 hours of tracks by BEBMD: 12 including 5 originals from the basement; 2 sets at 1 club & 1 set at a different club. He included a Google Drive link.

BEBMD didn't suck! We weren't bad! I was really fast on lead guitar! I've listened to them a few times now, not bad. To quote John Broderick, " What a great selection of songs played with a lot energy."

He also included 17 tracks by the 1st band, which apparently was named Tesseract. The instrumentals are pretty good, the vocals, not so much. A couple of songs are painful - "Sea of Joy" for 1.

Here's the link to the google drive folder. There are 4 .xls files with the track listings, and 4 mp3 files of 1, 2, & 1 hour length. John pointed out you can separate the tracks with audacity, which is free software available here. It came with the USB turntable my kids got me 7-8 years ago. It is good software. It has a feature to automatically separate tracks. It didn't work well when I 1st started using it, but it may work better now.
But then at the end of the email Jon sez "How many people have Tom Scholz recordings from before his success with Boston?" ??? Tom Scholz? Iconic rock band Boston?

I look up the Boston wikipedia page, and the Tom Sholz wikipedia page. I look at pix of Tom - "Holy shit, I know that guy! I remember him well."

Tom wrote most of Boston's material, created their sound, created their 1st album in his home studio, and still tours and releases music as Boston. He also founded Scholz R&D which sold a ton of Rockman practice amps, + boards to create the Boston sound.

I bought the 1st 4 Boston albums, I recognized most of the songs on the 1st 3 albums. From 1975 until 1997, I spent very little time on music - pretty much just the car radio, so they must have gotten pretty good airplay. A definite part of the rock cannon, and some complex songs with different sections, voices, etc.

Ha ha, so I find out 49 years later that I played in a band with a guy who went on to become a rich, famous, and accomplished rock star. No idea for 49 years. I guess this means that, again, I love living in the future!

I got Tom's email from the MIT alumni directory. I emailed him, and later fwded John's email to him. Never heard back, oh well. I have enjoyed the old bandmates with whom I have been able to reconnect, particularly Desi & his wife Brigitte. Brigitte is an accomplished artist.

I tried to reach out to Axel Nelson. Randy quit MIT after 2 years & moved to Point Reyes in Marin Co CA with his hippy girlfriend Lesley. I think he's still out there, I found online what looked like a good phone & email. I called and emailed, no reply. I also googled Gragg Lunsford. I think this might be him.

Friday, May 24, 2019

WAKE UP!!!

The news has just been so bad lately. The POTUS sadistic behavior increasingly being normalized, the patriarchy out of control with idiotic 19th century abortion laws. So I continue with all escapism, all the time.

1st, "The Light Brigade", by Kameron Hurley, 364 pages, 2019. Military fiction, way too many exploding bodies. Some good anti-corporatist verbiage:

The corps tell us each individual should reap the profits of “their” hard work. But the reality is the corps made their fortunes on the backs of laborers and soldiers paid just enough to keep them alive. The corps did not labor. Do not labor. The shareholders and upper management sit in their glass towers and drink liquor spiked with our blood. Instead of sharing that wealth with those who broke their backs to attain it, they hoard it like great dragons.
2nd, "Perihelion Summer", by Greg Egan, a fav of the last couple of decades, 154 pages, 2019. This short novel is climate fiction, but Egan's climate change mechanism is a pair of black holes traversing the solar system and elongating the earth's orbit rather than atmospheric CO2 and methane. The main plot revolves around Australians helping residents of Timor escape an unlivable summer by migrating to Antarctica.


The only magazine I get in hardcopy now is MIT Technology Review. The latest issue had popped up on the magazine stack - "Welcome to Climate Change".

It had 3 sections for different phases of climate destruction: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering.

So much bad news. The 1st story of the "Suffering" section was horrifying, as was the final fictional piece by Paolo Bagialuppi, I tweeted my horror, and got crickets for response.

Here's the link to the Climate Apocalypse article. Here's the link to the Paolo story. Hopefully these aren't behind a paywall.


Yeouch, back to escapism, pronto! Luckily I picked a short story collection that was exactly what I needed: lots of bright, shiny futures. The collection was "Infinity's End", edited by Jonathan Strahan, 364 pages, 2018. I think there was only 1 story with a slightly lame ending, other that all very good work, and much, much positivity. Thanks, I needed that!

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Is Music Generative?

In my submission to the "Doughnut Economics Way #8" competition, "Money is Software", I posited that language, software, and money are all generative - you can make them arbitrarily complex, without limit. You can always add another adjective or clause to a sentence. So is music also generative?

My initial thought was "No". There are limited notes in a scale, limited number of voices you can add before music becomes cacophony. But then, I thought, "Well, you can always add another guitar solo."

So I'm voting that yes, music is generative. Notes can go from a whole note (1 measure) to a 64th note, and be on or off in every 2^6 pattern. So maybe, mathematically, music is not quite as unconstrained as the other 3 examples, but, at the level of the human mind's comprehension, I posit that it can be treated as generative.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

3 More

Man. there are just too many bargains on eBooks, and interesting economics books! Unread collection up to 59 books. So I was going to tear through 6 or so sci-fi & fantasy books. But after reading 3, I noticed I had not cleared the April magazine stack - oops! I blame it on now getting Sky & Telescope, Scientific American, and Wired in digital format. Here's the 3 I did read.

1st, "Tiamat's Wrath", by James S.A. Corey, 608 pages, 2019. The Expanse novel #8. Our old friends are back, the latest plot pivot appears to be pretty much played out. It seemed like they could have wrapped the whole thing up with this one, but I think we're still going.

2nd, "Radicalized", by Cory Doctorow, 308 pages, 2019. Doctorow is the bard of the revolution. He does not pull any punches, he pummels you with social justice - good for him. There are 4 unrelated novellas:

  1. People fighting their profit-generating appliances;
  2. The Man of Steel turns SJW and faces a racist and nativist backlash;
  3. The title novella shows people being radicalized by insurance company death panels;
  4. The final story is about survivalist yuppies getting their just desserts.
All 4 stories are excellent.

3rd, "A Memory Called Empire", by Arkady Martine, 478 pages, 2019. I think this got some good press, but I am definitely not going to read any more books with "empire" in the title. I don't want to read about feudalism. This a fairly inept empire too, supposedly covering 1/4 of the galaxy but still expanding in a manual rather than an automatic manner, with a lame succession method and techno-phobia. Pretty unbelievable. The characters are sympathetic and plucky I guess, and there is lots of action. The setting feels Chinese (ideogram based language) but the characters are described to look like Mayans. I had convinced myself this was a stand-alone novel but Kobo says it is "Teixcalaan #1". I don't think I will continue with the series.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Economics of Arrival

"The Economics of Arrival" is a 2019 book by Katherine Trebeck (@KTrebeck) and Jeremy Williams (@Jeremy_Williams), 312 (print) pages. It is subtitled "Ideas for a grown-up economy". Trebeck is a Senior Researcher with Oxfam, Williams is the cofounder of the Post Growth Institute.

The book was recommended in a tweet by Kate Raworth of "Doughnut Economics". Raworth wrote the 14 page (PC Kobo reader) Foreword, and this book revisits a lot of the concepts of "Doughnut Economics". The book also has a Preface (14 pages), 12 Chapters of greatly varying length, and an Appendix of further reading. The Preface, chapters, and sections in the longer chapters all begin with a nice quotation. It was a fairly quick and easy read.

"Doughnut Economics" introduced us to the airplane metaphor of W.W. Rostow’s Five Stages of Growth - prep for flight, take-off, cruising - but no provision for landing! The "Arrival" of this book completes the metaphor by letting the plane land, or arrive.

I felt like there wasn't that much new in the book - some new terms and formulations which we will get to below. But the "Arrival" metaphor is powerful, and I immediately found it very useful. Here's a comment I left on a post on the Project Syndicate Site, "How Western Economies Can Avoid the Japan Trap":

I just finished reading "The Economics of Arrival" by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams. "Arrival" is when a developed country recognizes that it has enough for all its citizens and transitions to a post-growth or circular economy. The authors suggest that, whether intended or not, Japan perhaps might be viewed as as the 1st country to have successfully "Arrived".

So put Abenomics back on the shelf! #ClimateCrisis

Again, the very next day, again Project Syndicate, commenting on a post titled "What’s Driving the Global Slowdown?":
I just finished reading "The Economics of Arrival" by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams. "Arrival" is when a developed country recognizes that it has enough for all its citizens and transitions to a post-growth or circular economy.

The developed world does NOT need growth. We should switch to efficiency as a goal; or, as Adam Smith suggested, improvement. Both include greatly lessened inequality.

At this point we should welcome global slowdowns. They give us a tiny bit of breathing room in trying to address the #ClimateCrisis. And we totally need all the help we can get.


The Preface contains a definition of Arrival:

beyond a certain point, economic increase ceases to be meaningful and ... after this phase the growth agenda should give way to new priorities that are qualitative rather than quantitative.
It also defines a task to be completed:
If not growth, how do we understand progress?


Chapter 1 is titled "Introduction", 48 pages. Since I began my study of economics abundance, one of my catchphrases has been "There is enough to go around!". The authors agree!

It is time to recognise that the richest countries have already Arrived in the world long hoped for. There are more than enough material and monetary resources.

...

Many would recognise the persistence of poverty in rich countries as a matter of distribution: a consequence of resource allocation that reflects political choices rather than any scarcity facing society as a whole.

We encounter our old friend, Keynes' "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren". [Note, there is a similar piece, "In Praise of Idleness" by Bertrand Russell, also discussed and linked to in the linked blog post.] There is the first of several quotes from John Stuart Mill. We also hear about our old friends the Skidelsky's, whose book "How Much Is Enough" was the 1st on abundance I read. [Hmmm, errata, the book is listed as 2013, but I read it in November 2012 - so I think 2012 instead. Amazon says June 2012.]. Another definition of Arrival:
We’re using a journey metaphor, but you could also consider Arrival to be a process of maturing or reaching full size. What does the economy want to be when it grows up?
The authors also describe Arrival as "making ourselves at home". I think I like Arrival better - but, writing this, they really aren't the same thing. "Making ourselves at home" happens after Arrival.

I get accused of being a Pollyanna or panglossian fairly frequently, but, yay, I think the authors are fellow travelers.

We believe it is compelling because it is fundamentally a success story – it’s about the end of striving and the possibility of the fulfilment of our ancestors' hopes. The agenda of fighting for survival could be over if the economy were to engage with a new challenge: that of building ourselves a lasting home in this place of plenty.
It's already uploaded, let's include a horn of plenty to celebrate our "lasting home in this place of plenty". "Cornucopia" is 1 of my favorite words, as is "jubilee".


Chapter 2 is titled "The fruits of growth", 26 pages. The start of the chapter reminded me of Steven Pinker's books detailing the many, many measures by which civilization has progressed. But the authors then remind us that not all growth implies progress and enumerate the "different forms of negative growth" identified by the United Nations Development Programme:

  • ‘jobless growth’ that does not create employment,
  • ‘ruthless growth’ in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,
  • ‘futureless growth’ that comes at the expense of the environment.
GDP is discussed for the 1st time, and the Skidelsky's are quoted:
‘we may reasonably ask not just growth for what, but growth of what. We want leisure to grow and pollution to decline’.


Chapter 3 is titled "Are the fruits of growth beginning to rot?", 186 pages. It begins by talking about consumerism and its tool, advertising.

Advertisers, from cleaning products to beauticians, tell us that the route to wellbeing and happiness is as simple as a clean house and a pedicure, and always just one more purchase away. Not only is this a false promise, it is an agenda that marginalises the many families and individuals who, even in GDP-rich countries, cannot afford to participate in consumerism.
John Kenneth Galbraith is identified with Keynes as an economist who "saw an end to the ‘economic problem’".

The history of ideas on the limits to growth is explored. The chapter then introduces us to a discussion on inequality in a section titled "An unevenly shared harvest" with the [under]statement "Our world is terrible at sharing.". The discussion points out one of the most common misuses of statistics by apologists for our current system: "the tyranny of averages".

when progress is measured through GDP per capita, the tyranny of averages means that, as the designer of GDP himself [Kuznets] warned, ‘luxury at the top offsets poverty at the bottom’.
Note, Kuznets was also responsible for the now debunked Kuznets Curve.

Another quotation, from Henry Wallich in 1972, that I think is really insightful.

‘Growth is a substitute for equality of income ... So long as there is growth there is hope, and that makes large income differentials tolerable'.
So one way to look at growth is that it is a sleight-of-hand done by the rich to distract everyone else and help keep themselves rich.

Here's a more nuanced, and human, view of redistribution than that offered by capitalists,

Redistribution isn’t about taking from the rich and giving to the envious poor. It is about bringing people in from the margins, supporting the disadvantaged and, in some cases, making up for past oppression.
This quote from Mariana Mazzucato and William Lazonick points out some of why inequality has increased so much since the 1980's, but doesn't include what may be its root cause: the gutting of unions that began with Reagan.
[A] major source of inequality is the ability of economic actors to appropriate returns from the innovation processes that are not warranted by their investments of capital and/or labour in it.
This statement really reminds me of a quote from somewhere earlier in this blog, but I can't find it.
When the wealthiest are able to bend the rules in their favour while the poorest are unable to change their circumstances, democracy and trust are eroded.
This statement I think is insightful. And we know that when people's self-esteem is suffering badly, they do stupid things like vote for Brexit or Agent Orange.
With extreme inequality, people feel more anxiety about their status and worry about threats to their self-esteem.
Speaking truth to growth. What are we sacrificing on the altar of growth?
what good is growth that damages the things we value most – community, relationships and our own health?
I really like their harsh words on the "gig economy". Seriously, how can anyone expect this to be anything but totally exploitative?
As long ago as 1944 Karl Polanyi warned of the human impact of treating labour as a commodity in this way:
'the alleged commodity ‘labour power’ cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting also the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this particular commodity'
...

workers with little power and few enforceable rights are treated as disposable – at the beck and call of an app.

One of the principles of "Doughtnut Economics" that I find myself using over and over in arguments discussions, typically after someone says "That's socialism!" or "You're a socialist!":
'when is each of the four realms of provisioning—household, commons, market and state—best suited to delivering humanity’s diverse wants and needs?'
Extremely odd, my wife, who is pretty skeptical about abundance and doesn't study it at all, texted this to me today?!?!? No idea where she got it.
'In economics, there is a theory called the Lauderdale Paradox, which the Scottish politician James Maitland articulated in the early 19th century. The theory says that capitalism undervalues public resources, like air and water and soil, because they are so plentiful, and overvalues whatever is private and scarce.'
So, capitalism undervalues the commons provisioning realm, and our authors astutely point out how the "gig economy" - capitalism at its worst? - similarly undervalues the household provisioning realm:
Paradoxically, in its pursuit of growth, the economy relies on these networks of reciprocity and social solidarity (often provided, unpaid, by women) while simultaneously eroding them through time pressures, consumerism and inequality.
[Note, I replied to my wife with Peter Barnes in "Capitalism 3.0":
'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.'
]

The authors return to consumerism. Hmmm. can't seem to find a book on consumerism??? We know its great tools advertising and marketing (aka propaganda). Very interesting, the authors identify other components of consumerism: identity; fashion; novelty; status; positional goods; conspicuous consumption. [Hmmm, I didn't get much out of "The Darwin Economy", but here it is popping up.] Here is a summary:

Status anxiety puts people on a hedonic treadmill: not only does consumption for these purposes have associated costs (time, effort, environment), but any benefit in terms of boost to positive emotions that is derived from the consumption seems to quickly wear off.
"Hedonic treadmill" is new to me but apparently "hedonic treadmill" was already a thing.

I like the Fulfilment Curve that they reproduce [reproduced here without permision].

This is very intuitive, but, is it anything more than diminishing marginal utility? I guess the survival/comforts/luxuries breakdown is instructive. "Needs, not wants".


Chapter 4 is titled "Stockholm Syndrome? How the economy fell in love with its captor", 36 pages. Growth, growth, growth- can we live without it? A lot of overlap with "Doughnut Economics".

all kinds of interrelated forces and dynamics entrench the position of growth-based economic models, and spur political decision makers to seek more GDP.

...

current economic models are totally dependent on growth in order to function

What kind of growth do you want? Pick your poison.
Adjectives are attached to growth: ‘sustainable growth’; ‘inclusive growth’; ‘green growth’; ‘shared growth’; ‘low carbon growth’; and so on.
This looks interesting. I just purchased the eBook, $22.79, ouch!
Tim Jackson’s seminal Prosperity Without Growth points to the three pillars on which the current economic model rests. ...
  1. flourishing is deemed to be contingent on material wealth.
  2. GDP growth is assumed to deliver key social goods such as health or education.
  3. without growth the economy will collapse, taking social stability with it
The dominance of GDP as the measure of all progress is decried. Interesting, I had not read of "Kuznets’ [its creator] warning that GDP should not be used as a measure of progress".


Chapter 5 is titled "Rushing past our stop: failure demand, uneconomic growth and consolation goods", 29 pages. This chapter introduces some terms I had never encountered before [my bold]:

As failure demand and defensive expenditure spurs more government spending to deal with the harm of the growth model, as much growth itself becomes ‘uneconomic’ and as individuals turn to consolation goods, many of the fruits of growth are beginning to rot.
1st, "failure demand". This is demand that you wish you didn't have. I remember someone who used an example like, if we all started breaking each other's legs, GDP would go up as we all pay for getting our legs fixed - not a good thing. It is fix-ups, bandaids, duct tape. The authors attribute the term's creation to John Seddon.
Failure demand is thus expenditure that not only could have been avoided by earlier preventative measures, but is reactive spending.
The authors provide a long list (11 items) of examples of failure demand. Oof, "5.2 million US workers could be described as performing guard labour".

An allied concept is "uneconomic growth", a concept they attribute to Herman Daly.

Daly explained that there comes a point – which he terms ‘the futility limit’ – where the marginal utility of production hits zero.

...

often GDP will record the economy as growing, due in part to increased expenditure on solving problems that this particular sort of growth has created. From this point on, the costs of growth outweigh the benefits. Forms of spending intended to correct the downsides of growth start to dominate – ‘failure demand’ at the societal level, ‘defensive expenditures’ in terms of the environment, and ‘consolation goods’ at the individual level.

The chapter ends with a very interesting comparison of the contradictions created when what is supposed to help instead harms and hinders. But, blaming it on abundance?
In a bizarre way, abundance has led to catastrophe as society and policy makers design and plan further exploitation of the environment, and reactionary spending to address problems created in pursuit of more growth.
[It is the not the fault of abundance, it is the fault of feudalism, tribalism, and the psychotic mindset that besets leaders, both in politics and business. Wow, that is a pretty random rant.]


Chapter 6 is titled "Embracing Arrival and making ourselves at home", 108 pages. We've been shown the problem, now for the solution. What is the goal? The chapter starts with a brief review of "Doughnut Economics" - "living well within limits". The term "post-growth" is used for the 1st time, and we learn of some variant names.

The notion of a ‘steady state economy’ was rediscovered in the 1970s as the environmental sector emerged, and it has enjoyed more attention in the 2010s under a variety of names – post-growth, degrowth (or ‘décroissance’ in the Francophone world), a grown-up economy, and even ‘a-growth’ as in ‘atheism’.
I like this review of several formulations of The Good Life, in addition to the one I know well, that of the Skidelskys. [Note, Table 1 in this chapter was unreadable in my eBook reader. I skipped it until, doing this review, I screen captured it and then opened and zoomed the image.]
  • Martha Nussbaum ... describes the purpose of development as to ‘enable people to live full and creative lives, developing their potential and fashioning a meaningful existence commensurate with their equal human dignity’. ...
    Her list: bodily integrity; senses, imagination, and thought; emotion; affiliation (other humans and other species); play; and Material rights. ...
  • Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, identifies ‘needs’ as subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom. ...
  • the Skidelskys 7 Basic Goods, the Elements of the Good Life: health, security, respect, personality, harmony with nature, friendship, and leisure. ...
  • American-Israeli sociologist Aaron Antonovsky suggests that a ‘sense of coherence’ is crucial for good health, particularly pointing to the relationship between health and stress. ... [It] encompasses comprehensibility ...; manageability ...; and meaning ...
  • Epidemiologist Michael Marmot’s work confirms this, explaining that factors that impact on health include control, predictability, degree of support, threat to status and presence of outlets and access to coping mechanisms. ...
  • Sociologist Emile Durkheim suggested that people enjoy higher wellbeing when their needs are proportionate to their wants and when they have means to satisfy those wants. ...
  • Scholars such as Rawls, Sen and Nussbaum all agree that autonomy is one of life’s basic goods. ...
  • Deci and Ryan (2000) ... also highlight autonomy and add in competence and relatedness as the three basic psychological needs.
An Arrived economy is contrasted with a business-as-usual economy attempting to maintain growth, tax it some, and use the proceeds to repair the damage growth continues to do. This approach is clearly fraught with peril. On the other hand,
being at home means protecting people, keeping them safe, meeting their needs, ensuring their security (of income, of identity and of body) and recognising the whole ecosystem in which people live their lives and maintain health. With positive feedback loops and co-benefits, virtuous circles will be set in motion.
The authors also posit that "philanthropy ... is similarly about downstream mitigation." They like 'dividends' better.
Instead, Raskin et al suggest that the economy and society can benefit from various ‘dividends’: a green dividend from cost savings and eco-efficiency; a peace dividend from reduction in military expenditure; a human-capital dividend from the creativity and contribution of those currently consigned to poverty; a technological dividend from new opportunities from innovation; and a solidarity dividend from reduced security and policy costs. The dividends – savings – will help to dismantle the structural dependence on growth.
I think this is an important point. Attempts to, say, tax carbon, must offset price increases by dividends - otherwise, you will get something like the French Yellow Vest movement.

The authors are also skeptical on the chances of decoupling growth from carbon emissions.

  1. we must ensure that decoupling is absolute, and not relative. ... Resource efficiencies need to increase at least as fast as the growth of economic output for true absolute decoupling to occur.
  2. efficiency gains can easily be lost through the rebound effect – just spending the gains on additional consumption.
  3. if a country has decoupled by transitioning to a services economy, with industrial operations simply moved overseas, then nothing has changed at the global level.
I'm surprised that #2 did not reference the Jevons paradox, which we learned about here. Their conclusions about decoupling:
As Tim Jackson has shown, the rates of decarbonisation required to prevent dangerous climate change have never been achieved outside of a recession. This is supported by the findings of Wiedmann et al, whose assessment of the material flows of 186 countries over time revealed that ‘achievements in decoupling in advanced economies are smaller than reported or even nonexistent’. In summary, as one study has concluded, it is ‘misleading to develop growth-oriented policy around the expectation that decoupling is possible’.


Chapter 7 is titled "What we might find in making ourselves at home", 222 pages. Sharing and redistribution. It is sad to me that progressive authors, always at some level afraid of being branded commies (but probably less in the UK than the US), have to make statements like this, which are completely obvious and should go without saying:

There’s no call for absolute equality, of course; there will always be natural talent and initiative, and rewards for hard work.
The authors next discuss ways to move beyond just redistribution.
Redistribution is essential for redressing existing inequalities, but ultimately, it would be better for everyone if the economy did not create so much inequality in the first place. Jacob Hacker has called this solution ‘predistribution’, looking at ‘measures to reshape the market so that it distributes its rewards more broadly in the first place’.

...

There are multiple ways to do this, from inclusive forms of business (including democratising the ownership of firms) and creating a stakeholder economy; from better jobs and higher minimum wages to a ‘participants’ income’ or even Universal Basic Assets (which, rather than a minimum entitlement to income, focuses on fairer entitlements to assets such as housing, healthcare, education and digital assets).

I like the term Universal Basic Assets as an expansion of Universal Basic Income. I think that is a term I could have used used in this post describing a Post-Scarcity Utopia.

The authors have a discussion of making work more "meaningful", which I think is beside the point. Ha ha, I believe there are enough of us who want to work that the rest of can spend time on activities we find more meaningful.

This next discussion is I think 1 of the most important in the book:

a life designed around relationships, experiences and participation will almost invariably be one of less consumption.
Nice, we get an extension to the Fulfillment Curve of Chapter 3. [Reproduced without permission]

We encounter John Stuart Mill again.

Activities and experiences – the ‘graces of life’ as Mill wrote, bring better rewards than the short-lived and disappointing ‘sugar highs’ of passive consumption. Focusing on experiences is also more rewarding: doing rather than owning, and engaging in collective activities rather than the often solitary and fruitless consumption. For example, arts or sport can feed the soul and allow self-expression, and often take place in a social context. Being active, giving, supporting others and being social all lead to increases in life satisfaction and life expectancy, and it seems that people recognise this.
[Interesting, in my family, gift-giving has increasingly become consumables - food, sauces, marinades, beverages. My wife & I have a houseful of stuff, 2 of my daughters live in small big-city apartments - nobody seems to want more stuff to take up space. Giving experiences is harder - it kind of requires you to have write access to the giftee's calendar, which I don't think is good.]
If making ourselves at home facilitates a move from materialism to ‘experientialism’, people may come to pursue conspicuous consumption of experiences rather than things.
Not sure that this is exactly the correct formulation. Jetting around the globe for breath-taking vacations is not very carbon neutral.

This is an interesting point:

In particular, while income is positional (and hence breeds status-seeking pursuit of more income), leisure time is not – people are not anxious if others gain more leisure at the same time as them.
We again encounter the importance of The Commons in the section titled "Stewardship of the commons". Hah, Peter Barnes would prefer "Trusteeship" to "Stewardship".

Here's a nice list, [I love lists, I don't know why authors don't use them more. Part of the refactoring I do in these summary/reviews is putting stuff in lists.]

To qualify as truly sustainable, our vision of a society that has Arrived and made itself at home would need to fulfil Herman Daly’s three criteria for sustainable development:
  1. Exploit renewable resources no faster than they can be regenerated.
  2. Deplete non-renewable resources no faster than alternatives can be developed.
  3. Emit wastes no faster than they can be assimilated by ecosystems
We encounter our old friends: the Alaska Permanent Fund; Norway's sovereign wealth fund; Elinor Ostrom's work on managing commons. Interesting, Prof. Ostrom, who was at IU, is the only woman to have won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

We are introduced to "A circular and collaborative economy".

Along with preserving nature for future generations – and for itself – making ourselves at home implies better use of existing resources.
I'm not sure I agree with their view of streaming music and video services as being an advancement. I'm kind of in hybrid mode with music. Most of it I download but thereafter I am playing local copies on various devices rather than streaming. I think this is the more efficient model. Video I'm pretty much completely streaming, but that might change with faster download speeds.

I'm also not sure why but renting rather than buying things often makes me uneasy. I don't know, some how makes me think of company stores. Or of privatization - just another way to put more $$$ in fat cats' pockets.

For example, Philips now provides light (‘lux’) as a service to Schiphol Airport and others, rather than selling light bulbs.
I think that there is so much potential in sharing. I have so many tools that are idle 99.999% of the time. Damn, I still can't locate the quote to the effect that "private property was only developed because we did not have good tools to manage sharing".
One of the leading thinkers in this field, Michel Bauwens of the Peer 2 Peer Foundation, calls for an economy guided by the principle of ‘If it is light, share globally, if it is heavy, share locally’.
P2P Foundation looks very interesting, Nice, just subscribed to their RSS feed.

Moving up to the higher levels of sharing, the authors aren't impressed with "impact investing". They instead want investors to be closer to other stakeholders - to have some skin in the game. This leads to a discussion of the financialization of the stock markets - no longer are the markets about raising capital for companies, they now are about extracting as much money as possible, in as many ways possible. The tyranny of focusing on shareholder profits is decried.

Much better are cooperatives and employee-owned companies. We hear again of the Mondragon coop in Spain.

Turning next to politics, we are reminded of the great need for campaign finance reform.

the influence of ‘corporate money’ in the political process has rendered democracy meaningless and a ‘charade’.
"Participatory budgeting" looks like a promising form of direct democracy, made possible by tech.

At the global level, there are 2 Arrival strategies, 1 for the developed world and 1 for the developing world.

  • First, the world’s industrialised economies need to recognise that they have Arrived and reduce their emissions and material footprints, through technological change and via the cultural and systemic shift that we have been describing. This ecological resizing would free up resources for others in a ‘contraction and convergence’ dynamic.
  • Second, developing countries need to ‘leap-frog’ the energy and resource-intensive journeys of the global North. Instead, so-called developing countries need to create renewable and circular economy systems first time around, cutting to the chase and taking an easier, cleaner path to arriving at a safe and prosperous ‘home’.
Hooray, there are models to help us get to a Post-Scarcity Utopia!
There are some bright minds modelling this scenario, including professors Peter Victor and Tim Jackson. Their Green Economy Macro-Model and Accounts – short name GEMMA – models how a society not pursuing economic growth will operate. It takes into account economic and financial stability, employment and social outcomes in a context of environmental and resource limits.
The models give a laundry list of action items - 17 are listed. Some seem pretty unrealistic, but, that can change as quickly as public opinion does. Objections to any of these items are political, not technical. I like this one, which we have seen before, I think mainly in "Capitalism 3.0".
  • stabilising consumption, including controls on advertising[my bold];


Chapter 8 is titled "Arrival and making ourselves at home in the real world", 158 pages. So are there any current places in the real world that show us how to Make ourselves at home after Arrival? The authors list several examples:

  • South Africa we could draw on the notion of ubuntu (‘I am because you are’), a useful counter to the West’s individualism ...
  • gotong-royong in Indonesia, a deeply held spirit of mutual aid and consensus ...
  • Nuka, ... , a word used by Native Alaskans that means a vast living system. It informs social structures based on reconnecting people with the entirety of their community: prioritising physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness. ...
  • Buen Vivir – ‘living well’ – arises from recognition that the individual is always and inherently part of the community. For the indigenous and Andean peoples in South America, Buen Vivir ‘expresses a sense of satisfaction in achieving the ideal of the community ... through the equilibrium between the living forces of Nature and the commonwealth of the community’. It carries a strong sense that ‘wellbeing is enjoyed collectively’. ...
  • E.F. Schumacher (the economist and statistician who wrote the 1973 book "Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered" famously called his overall approach ‘Buddhist Economics’, and the same principles that he espoused can be seen in Thailand’s concept of the Sufficiency Economy. [Hmmm, that book does not appear to be readily available. All I can find is a paperback on Amazon.]
I found this next very interesting: is Japan a country who has Arrived? It is especially interesting to me because when I formulated My Plan The Plan, I noted that Japan seemed like the perfect place to try it out. This article by Norihiro Kato in 2013 suggests that
people in Japan are beginning to wonder whether those “two lost decades” really were “lost” after all. Perhaps those years were simply the prelude to a new post-growth era.
But, the authors point out, Japan is not looking at things that way. Abenomics tried to reignite growth.

Does Japan look like a post-scarcity utopia? They have high debt, with the Bank of Japan doing some creative monetary policy [Jubilee!]. But their Gini coefficient is 32.10, not bad but not great. Better than the US at 41.00 or the worst case South Africa at 63.40, but above the leader Ukraine at 25.50. Very disappointingly, 17% of their population is below the poverty line. So, if Japan has Arrived, they need to work on Making themselves at home. Hah, maybe they still need to try The Plan!

Next up, Costa Rica - "one of the best ‘over-performers’ on the Social Progress Index" and "in 2016 ... scoring highest in the Happy Planet Index, for the third time in a row."

The next section of this chapter is "Stakeholder decision making". Some examples:

  • Participatory budgeting (PB), [which we encountered above], Luton Borough, Paris, Portugal, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, New York City; ...
  • Participatory Municipal Planning ...
  • Social auditing ..., serving to keep public bodies transparent and accountable to the people they serve. ...
  • the Open Government Partnership ... launched in 2011.
The authors next explore "a healthier relationship with work."
the Dutch work 1,430 hours a year, as compared to annual US hours of 1,783 and 1,676 hours in the UK. Almost half of Dutch employees work part time, and most part-time workers have no wish to increase their hours.

...

25 of the 33 OECD countries used shorter working time to avoid redundancies during the economic downturn

...

Other scenarios in existence include closing public buildings on one day a week

...

Other strategies include supporting early retirement; increasing vacation time (by collective agreement, Dutch and German workers have 30 days a year); facilitating more part-time or school-time working; job sharing; sabbaticals and career breaks; and longer parental leave.

The authors discus "B Corp" corporations. I guess these are a good thing, a little bit of Rhine capitalism for the rest of us, but somehow I fear that these may wind up just being lipstick on the pig.

Like sharing, access to capital may be getting an upgrade thanks to improved tech.

Alongside social stock exchanges and community shares, is the emergence of peer-to-peer lending sites ... that offer loans that are funded by ordinary people.

...

This same sense of participation is present in the arts world too, where people crowd-fund films, stage plays or art projects.

I like the title of this next section: "From conspicuous consumption to experientialism and conspicuous citizenship". "Conspicuous citizenship" reminds me of Athenian Democracy, for some reason. This next is a great thought:
materialism could be a phase of development rather than a permanent state.
The chapter ends with a discussion of a "circular economy", and introduces a new term: "remanufacturing" - where rebuilding rather than replacing becomes the default strategy.

[Our clothes dryer has lately been making bad noises, and a repairman who was out for something else listened to it, identified the failing component, and opined that it would be as cheap to replace the dryer as to repair it. But, we replace, the current dryer prolly winds up in a landfill, versus a couple of parts. So, I'm thinking, we repair, despite the fact that this seems like "throwing good money after bad", which one generally tries to avoid.]

Other new terms: "collaborative economy" and "collaborative consumption". There is also a passing reference to the "gift economy", which we learned about in "Postcapitalism".


Chapter 9 is titled "Are we nearly there yet?", 31 pages.

‘When is an economy “grown up”? And how will we know if we’ve arrived?’
  1. Part of the answer lies in calculating sufficiency of material resources.
  2. Another part is found by looking at the point at which growth no longer brings about improvements in quality of life.
  3. And yet another will be revealed when uneconomic growth sets in.
So 3 things to look for. Talking about sufficiency, this is an interesting number, from "sustainabilty expert Chris Goodall":
‘3 kilowatts per person can provide a decent standard of living, wherever you are in the world’.
Ouch, this is not going to go over well. Can we get most of this back on the supply rather than the demand side, i.e., through increases in efficiency?
Americans, on the other hand, are looking at an 80% cut in their ecological footprint to wrestle their consumption back within a sustainable and fair share.
Lots of "fascinating attempts to quantify a ‘sufficiency line’".
  • Bhutan, for example, engages with the notion of sufficiency – a Bhutanese person is deemed to be ‘happy’* if they attain sufficiency in six or more of the nine Gross National Happiness domains. ...
  • Professor of Ethics of Institutions at Utrecht University, Ingrid Robeyns, is carrying out work to specify a ‘riches line’ – an objective point above which people’s wealth is morally problematic. [www.fairlimits.nl] ...
  • the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has sought to map a ‘plenty line’ ...
  • In the US, Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found no increase in wellbeing when incomes rose beyond US$75,000. ...
  • When mapping the GPI, Kubiszewski et al noted that beyond a GDP per capita of around $7,000, GPI per capita does not tend to increase
I think this statement is misleading - or maybe, rather, that it refers to average per country rather than within a country:
beyond $25,000 there is no correlation between income and life expectancy.
I think that this might be true on the average, but, seriously, one believes this about access to health care in the US? Maybe this is true in the UK.


Chapter 10 is titled "From individual initiatives to wider change: agitation, amplification and attention", 117 pages. How do we move forward, step by step? What is our roadmap?

I have never heard of this before. For being "oft-cited", The Google did not have much to say on this. Maybe this reference. Or this one.

Geels and Schot’s oft-cited Multiple Level Perspective of Transition Theory explains that system transitions occur via interactions between three levels of the system:
  1. the niche, or micro-level (where innovation happens at community, grassroots and individual enterprise level);
  2. the regime or ‘meso level’ (the realm of dominant norms, practices, policies and rules);
  3. the landscape or macro level (markets, the built and natural environments and cultural and political beliefs).
We encounter again "The great systems thinker Donella Meadows".
From Meadows’ advice four tasks can be distilled:
  • Highlight the failures of the current system.
  • Paint a compelling picture of what a new economic model might look like.
  • Work with people who have power in the current system, or who could gain it.
  • Support people who are seeking and delivering change themselves, and those who are open minded, leaving those who are unlikely to change where they are.
Another well known thinker we have previously encountered:
In his famous book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Thomas Kuhn spells out how the old guard will lash out against new ideas in a futile attempt to defend their own, albeit discredited, theories.
Ha ha, I think this next is an understatement. I don't know that this book agrees with others I have read that figure that we will wind up having to fix it all at once.
Dismantling the contours of the current economy – its class structures, its power hierarchies, its patriarchy, its apparent ‘common sense’ and intellectual scaffolding and its sense of the possibility for change – will be a complex, messy, contested process.
They talk about "change agents" - Elon Musk, for example. This next is interesting - that this number is so low.
Eventually a critical mass (estimated to be about 10% of a given population1) might be attained and a tipping point reached and new norms created.
I hate to say it, but I think that a major crisis or catastrophe may wind up being the way we get there. The powers-that-be are going to have to be smote mightily to get their attention. And I like the scenario proposed by Kim Stanley Robinson in his novels (blogged here, here, and here), where We The People pile on to a financial crisis like 2008 via a universal strike against paying all forms of rent and then nationalize the big banks instead of bailing them out.
External events create the most obvious opportunities for change – a financial crisis, an election that brings a new political party to power or the signing of a new international agreement. These ‘teachable moments’ that show the impossibility of business as usual might not bring change in themselves, but they create moments of opportunity.
Wow, this seems somewhat Machavellian - it reminds me of what the Russians have been doing to the rest of the world.
But the power and influence of elites is not automatic – it depends in part on whether they form a cohesive group or consist of competing factions. This gives us a possible way to counter their influence: by finding mechanisms to fragment groups and undermine their cohesion.
A discussion of power:
To do this, power of some sort needs to be wielded, and there are many theories of power, its nature, its use and its creation. For example, hard or coercive power as opposed to soft or persuasive power; and then there is visible and hidden power. Equally, there are various other forms of power: ‘power within’ (personal agency); ‘power to’ (the capacity to exert influence); ‘power with’ (collective strength); and ‘power over’ (the ability to get someone to do something they would not otherwise do).
And, of course, if people's ideas don't seem to be heading in the right direction, we can use "behavioral psychology and ... economics" to hoodwink nudge them. ;->

This is really interesting to me, in my reading of "Wealth of Nations" I never noticed this next. I'm not sure if this point is profound, or more of a historical accident - that Smith was so early in the development of economics.

Adam Smith may have written the key book for free market economics, but he didn’t much care for economic growth. It hadn’t occurred to him or anyone else yet to use the size of the economy as a measure of success. Instead, Smith uses a disarmingly simple word for describing economic progress: improvement. All sorts of things are described this way, with roads and canals chosen as the ‘greatest of improvements’. The economy is better: improved, rather than bigger.
That paragraph is followed by this next one. I don't think the importance of this can be underestimated. Liberals in the US have been getting their butts kicked by conservatives for decades when it comes to the terms used to frame a discussion. The very name of the field - economics - biases us away from thinking in terms of abundance and Arrival. Hence my use of economics abundance.
The words we use about the economy matter. They reinforce a view of the world, and a view of ourselves. They can paint a picture of selfish people grasping after their own interest, or cooperative individuals working together for a shared prosperity. They can portray a world of scarcity and competition for resources, or of abundance and the common good. The dominant narrative of today emphasises the first half of each of those equations, a view that is strengthened over and over through political speeches, media reporting and cultural bias.
Another concept new to me: the Overton Window.

The chapter concludes with a section titled "Measuring making ourselves at home". It mentions many new measures which can become a replacement for GDP.


Chapter 11 is titled "Choosing Arrival - one step at a time", 38 pages. Here we finally get our laundry list of actions, organized by social hierarchy. We saw something like this in Chapter 10 of "Capitalism 3.0", but the groups were a bit more organic.

  • 6 Steps for international institutions;
  • 14 Steps for governments ... a commons approach to natural resources is a step, nice. I just mentioned "Capitalism 3.0", which I think is the best discussion of the commons I have read.

    "sumptuary or luxury taxes" are proposed, as is "rebalancing the tax system away from income and towards wealth".

    I don't think I'd seen this proposed before: "taxes on ownership of robots used in production processes".

    This next addresses a pet peeve of mine:

    capital gains tax set at a level to ensure that unearned income is not taxed at a lower rate than earnings from work;
  • 8 Steps for businesses; This is a good idea which I think is new to me:
    issue different classifications of shares, with committed shareholders receiving favour in dividends or bonus shares and greater voting rights.
  • 9 Steps for cities and local communities;
  • 8 Steps for individuals; This is an interesting idea:
    If you get offered a pay rise, take the opportunity to work fewer hours rather than to earn more.
    Looking back on my decades working as a corporate manager, mostly for (growing) software companies, I don't think we would ever have allowed the developers I managed this option. And it would have been a career-limiting move for them.


Chapter 12 is titled "Conclusion", 8 pages. Short and sweet.

The fruits of growth are rotting on the vine as economies remain geared to the pursuit of yet more growth.

...

Humanity already has what it needs: it is, however, patently terrible at sharing and cherishing those riches.

...

Keynes foresaw that future time of abundance. He also wondered if we would find it hard to adapt. Survival has been a primary goal since time immemorial.

...

‘Enough’ is impossible to define, but many nations have Arrived in a place where they have more than enough to meet basic material needs and secure a good life for all their citizens.

...

There is plenty more to do, infinite opportunities for progress – but what comes next is improvement, not enlargement.


I really don't feel like I have done this book justice. As I said at the start, there didn't seem to be too much new info - but, you know, there was a fair amount. Of the currently 25 economics books I have read, I seem to go back to these 2:

And after those, these next 2: There was so much new information on inequality, provisioning, etc. in those books that I detailed in those summary/reviews, that I did not reproduce it in the summary/review of this book. I really think that is the best I can do. It is too hard to write a summary/review of something that overlaps earlier summary/reviews without incorporating at a summarization level those earliar reviews. So, I think the best strategy is, read my earlier posts, come up to my currently very ambiguous understanding of economics abundance, and then the deltas in knowledge presented in this summary/review will sync our mental models of "WTF is our economy, and how can we tweak it to get to a post-scarcity utopia?"

Or, if you haven't read those other books, just read this one. It is a quick and easy read, and you will thereafter carry with you the very powerful memes of Arrival and Making ourselves at home. Spread the memes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

ia the subtitle of "Mycelium Running", by Paul Stamets, 2005, 343 pages.

Stamets is the founder and guiding light of Fungi Perfecti (fungi.com) in Washington State. In 2012, I grew shitakes in my basement with a kit (spore infused wood chip block) from Fungi Perfecti - a gift from my wife. I grew a couple other shitake blocks and a oyster mushroom block with blocks that came from Billy Webb's Sheltowee Farm in Eastern KY. Here's a shitake block growing:

Here's the oysters growing:

Here's Billy Webb, the mushroom man himself, in 2013 with a fine selection of mushrooms. Blocks are on the right.

Billy quit coming to that farmer's market, and I haven't seen him for a few years. He still delivers to restaurants in Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati. He was supposed to take me out foraging the forest around his farm down in the Danial Boone National Forest some autumn, but that never happened. I should prolly track him down - maybe I'll just text him a link to this post.

The book was an xmas gift from my middle daughter, soon to be a landscape architect. I think this book has a lot of useful information for her field, so I think it will go back to her - but my friend Fuzzy wants to borrow it first.

Part 1 (4 chapters) is titled "The Mycelial Mind". It introduces us to fungal networks. Stamets points out that these networks, which can become huge, can resemble the large scale structure of the universe, as shown below. I don't know that this means much, but I had already used this pic in the blog, and it's a neat pic, so here it is again ;->

Stamets reviews the many medical uses of mushrooms. A lot of these were early stage research, and I don't remember hearing about any new mushroom-based cancer cures in the 14 years since the book's publication. It would be nice to have an update, maybe I'll check their website.

Part II (4 chapters) is titled "Mycorestoration". This is really interesting stuff. Stamets divides this topic into 4 subtopics:

  1. Mycofiltration. Mushrooms are particularly effective at filtering farm waste before it gets back into the watershed.
  2. Mycoforestry. He favors chipping waste wood in forests such that it makes contact with the ground where the mycelia can infuse and digest it - particularly as an alternative to burning the waste wood. The right mycelia act as an extension to a tree's root system, providing it with increased water, nutrients, and hence growth. Stamets states that with conventional logging practices, after 3-4 harvests of trees, the forest topsoil is largely gone. His techniques would combat this - the mycelia create new topsoil.
  3. Mycomediation. Wow, oyster mushrooms will eat oil spills! Some mushrooms are also hyper-accumulators of heavy metals. So you have to harvest the mushrooms and then get the metal removed - no eating. You should also not eat mushrooms growing by roadways because most are excellent at absorbing the arsenic in auto exhaust.
    Unfortunately, no mushrooms do anything with lead.
    I wonder if they can do anything with coal ash? There's lot of that nasty stuff around.
  4. Mycopesticides.
Part III (6 chapters) is titled "Growing Mycelia and Mushrooms". It includes various techniques for growing mushrooms; a chapter on the "Nutritional Properties of Mushrooms", and a long final chapter "Magnificent Mushrooms: The Cast of Species" detailing the most useful kinds of mushrooms.

I love mushrooms; my wife likes them too. When I was a kid, my dad had a fishing buddy, John Svengali, who owned a mushroom farm in eastern Jefferson County (KY), just east of the Shelby County line. He grew white button mushrooms, and whenever my dad fished with John, he always brought home a big bag of mushrooms. So I grew up eating these on a regular basis, prepared in several ways.

I use mushrooms wherever possible when cooking: shitake, portobella, porcini, oyster (in the "gourmet mushroom blend" must supermarkets sell), and white buttons. So I think I am going to try to grow some in the back part of our yard. The trees back there provide so much shade that the main thing growing there now is moss. My wife has also lately been introducing some hostas. Maybe we get enough mycelia back there, they will eat the leaves to I don't have to rake them.

From the book, the best candidates for growing from the ground with some scrap wood down look like parasol, garden giant, and oysters. OK, ordering from fungi.com "The Garden Giant Mushroom Patch™" for $25 and "The Mycelium Running Oyster Mushroom Patch™" for $24. $19.17 shipping.

Back in the mushroom growing business again. Yay!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Doughnut Economics Way #8

[Updated April 15, 2019]

The most excellent folks associated with "Doughnut Economics" are having a competition to determine "What’s the 8th Way to Think Like a 21st Century Economist?". I thought about not entering - let the young people do it, plus, I am totally a dilettante - but decided I needed to go on and put my $0.02 worth in. I put up these 5 thoughts a few weeks ago, and, after some more thought, have decided to go with #5 - with #4 thrown in as well.

  1. Abundance, not economy.
  2. Needs, not wants.
  3. There's not enough to go around - false.
  4. Who's going to pay for it?
  5. Money is software.


MONEY IS SOFTWARE, so never worry about money; worry about real resources, both sources and sinks.

The world went from the gold standard to fiat currencies in the 1970s. Central banks like the Federal Reserve System in the US create money as directed by their governments via the funding bills passed by their legislatures.

The principles of monetarism are increasingly being replaced by those of modern monetary theory (MMT). One of the most important of these is that the only thing that drives inflation - the bugaboo of expansionary monetary policies - is a lack of real resources, aka supply-side shortages. [1] Inflation, a bad thing in large quantities, is not normally connected to the amount of money in circulation. [2]

When you are writing software, everything is possible. I worked in software development for 40 years and 1 of my mantras was, "Don't ever let anyone tell you it can't be done." It may be too expensive or time-consuming (the 24 hour weather forecasting program that runs in 48 hours) now, but Moore's Law will eventually have its way, and sooner than you might think. [3]

Software, like language, is generative. You can always add another adjective or clause to a sentence; you can always add a new feature to your software package, or write another program to monitor the (monitor) programs you already have running.

Money appears to be generative in a completely analogous manner: you can always create another derivative financial instrument. The study referenced below [4] estimates that the value of derivatives is 5-10x the value of ALL other forms of money put together. MONEY IS SOFTWARE.

So the eternal conservative question of "who is going to pay for it" is completely irrelevant. If we really want to do something, the money can be created.

The question that should be asked instead is, "do we have the real resources, both sources and sinks, to do this?" This, of course, assumes we have the knowledge and technology needed to reach our goal - or the real resources to develop the needed knowledge and technology. Resources are real, finances are imaginary [5].

Smaller countries with their own currencies might have to worry about currency devaluation if they attempted aggressive money supply creation. It is then up to the larger countries like the US to prop these currencies up. Central bank purchases of bonds in these currencies seem like a simple way to do this.

Alternatively, the larger countries could create the money in their own currency and transfer it to the smaller countries as foreign aid. Either way, the developed world shares the wealth.

MONEY IS SOFTWARE. The design goal of this software should not be about keeping score. [6] It should be about creating a safe and just space for all.

[1] In my lifetime, the only instance of real inflation came following the Arab Oil Embargo of 1974, when the price of oil grew by 3x, creating an artificial supply-side shortage. It took 10 years for this price jump to ripple through the world economy. Tragically, this black swan event gave credence to Friedman's "Stagflation" theory, which helped to promote the disaster of Thatcher-Reagan austerity economic policies.

[2] This was demonstrated when the Fed's 2009 QE program increased the money supply by 3x, and, in direct contradiction to "an open letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signed by several economists, along with investors and political strategists, most of them close to Republicans" in the WSJ issuing dire warnings of "currency debasement and inflation", 0 inflation occurred. In fact, deflation continued to be the more pressing concern.

[3] It looks like weather forecasting might be plateauing at a 2 week forecast. Too much chaos theory after that.

[4] http://money.visualcapitalist.com/worlds-money-markets-one-visualization-2017/

[5] This statement started as a complex numbers joke. Then I wondered, could there be any useful math treating economic quantities as complex numbers, with the real resources the real part and money the imaginary part? Sorry, physics degree ;->

[6] Current score (estimated): 1%, +$1,000,000,000,000,000 ($1Q); the rest of humanity, -$100,000 (-$100K) per capita. Can we each get our $100K back, please?


[Added April 15, 2019]

I read in an interview with Kate Raworth where she emphasized the importance of the before and after images for each of the 7 ways. I had no images, oops. So I added them. I was going to update my entry, but the submission deadline was April 12. Oh well no worries. Here are the images.

Old money. This icon comes from the Noun Project.

New, 21st century money. I could not figure out how to do this in Gimp or Inkscape, so I went old school cut & paste - scissors & Elmer's. Ha ha, Luddite!

I explicitly did not include the euro (€). It is not a good currency - ask the Greeks about that.

[/Added April 15, 2019]