The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: April 2016 Page 1 of 2

Cries for Sanders to Be Conciliatory Miss the Point

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So, Sanders has most likely lost. Last minute upsets are possible, but highly unlikely.

And now come the calls for Bernie to be conciliatory.

This misses the point.

Sanders doesn’t need anything Clinton can give.

Any promises she makes with respect to his priorities are not credible. He’s old and his career is all but over anyway, so there is little she can offer in terms of career “advancement.”

Why does he need to be conciliatory? Only “for the good of the party.”  But the party has not been good to Sanders–in fact, it has repeatedly put its hand on the scales to help Hillary.

Clinton’s policies are far enough from Sanders that the only argument for him to be “conciliatory” are based on Trump being even further from him. But on things like not attacking foreign countries, Trump is actually closer to Sanders.

From my POV, the onus is on Clinton to be credibly conciliatory to Bernie, and more importantly his supporters. If her entire argument is “I’m the lesser evil,” then she should expect little beyond the occasional symbolic olive branch from Sanders or his followers.

Of course, it’s hard to be conciliatory for Clinton. Her entire campaign has been based on “I deserve this,” which doesn’t leave a lot of room for saying to other people, “I see your side.” She’s already saying things like TPP only needs a few tweaks, etc.

She’s simply, and to the core, a right wing hawk who is fundamentally opposed to most left-wing policies and who only changes her mind once those policies are inevitable (as with gay marriage, which she supported very late in the game).

In emotive language, she’s evil. Bernie’s no wonder on a lot of issues, but he did actually oppose all the key wars, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and so on. Clinton? On the wrong side of almost every issue which has mattered for her entire career and she’s not even believable where she’s better than Bernie, for instance on gun-control, about which she has attacked Obama as anti-guns, but then pandered in PA on gun-control.

So Clinton has to rely on Bernie being loyal to a party which has screwed him repeatedly in order to help her win the nomination, and she can’t credibly give him anything that matters because she’s not trustworthy on any issue that matters to Sanders or his followers.

Conciliatory? Ridiculous. She’s not credible, and he doesn’t need her. If she wants to be conciliated, she had best go first and find out how to make it credible.

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Why the Climate Change Numbers Say “Nuclear”

Lot of people won’t like this post, but some of the smartest people I know have been saying for decades that a solution to climate change means nuclear energy. The numbers cannot, and will not, work without it.

The below info-graphic shows why:

French v German carbon production

The problem with nuclear energy is the problem with everything in our society.

Running it requires competent, risk-adverse individuals who takes its dangers seriously. It’s not that these dangers can’t be managed, it is certainly not that we can’t design better and safer reactors than we have now, it is that our elites do not care about the future. They are rational, utility-maximizers in the short run, who believe that investing to prevent disaster or catastrophe is foolish. Any catastrophe can be managed or survived. Katrina happened, life went on. Indeed, Katrina was a brilliant opportunity to introduce charter schools to New Orleans.

The financial disaster happened, and the people who caused it came out richer and more powerful, as a group. Fukushima happened, and, well, we’re all alive, thanks.

The long lesson our elites have learned over the past 40 years is that nothing can go so wrong it can’t be recovered from and that most catastrophes and crises are just opportunities to make even more money. There is no reason to invest in preventing crises when higher returns await elsewhere and when catastrophes are beneficial to our leaders.

As such, we cannot, overall, be expected to run something like nuclear energy properly.

Or financial markets.

But, if we really wanted to mitigate climate change, what we would really need to do is figure out how to run nuclear energy safely–including handling shutting down plants, dealing with waste, and running them safely. That would mean a significant framework/infrastructure redesign.

But it would also mean a change in our culture and society, a change to a society capable of managing risk, and we would have to be given some reason to believe that change would be relatively long-lasting: At least as long as the life-cycle of the nuclear plants.

Nuclear energy would be used as a transition energy source, needed for a generation or two, as we move to better sources. But generational cycles, and our own recent history, indicate that expecting our social structure to stay sane for as long as the life-cycle of nuclear plants isn’t a safe bet.

As usual, technical problems are subordinate to cultural and social issues.

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How Terrible People Normalize Injustice

There is a proposal to raise jail times for web piracy from two to ten years in the UK.

The key phrase in the above piece is “…other serious offenses, including rape and rioting.”

So, the writer, Matt Burgess, is saying web piracy is a serious offense, akin to rape.

Do not pretend a professional writer (and his editor) don’t know what they’re doing. It leaped out at me immediately. It appears to condemn, but the language normalizes.

Though this line is buried in the text, it is the pull quote used on twitter.

Our media is, overall, a detriment to society. I mean this quite seriously.

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What the Infotech/Telecom Revolution Has Actually Done

Globe on FireThere’s a great deal of talk about how wonderful modern technology is. The internet, cell phones, and computers are the stars of this firmament. I believe such talk is somewhat overblown; the latest tech revolution is not as significant as many that have come before.

At least not in terms of doing good.

Let us examine what all this infotech really has changed.

Control. Massive control. Surveillance.

Just in time inventory. Not possible 50 years ago.

Second to second tracking of workers without having to have a supervisor physically watching them. Amazon warehouse workers carry devices which allow their workflow to be tracked to the second. And if they aren’t making their seconds, the supervisor is right on them. This wasn’t possible 30 years ago. If you wanted to have that sort of control, you had to have a supervisor physically watching them, and the cost was prohibitive.

This sort of tracking is used for clerical workers as well.

Outsourcing work that had to be kept domestic before. The massive call centers in Delhi and Ireland were not possible even 30 years ago. The cost was simply prohibitive.

Offshoring work, like manufacturing, was difficult to offshore before. Without real-time, high-density communications, cutting edge manufacturing overseas was very difficult in the past. You could offshore some things, certainly, but those industries tended to be mature industries: shipbuilding, textiles, and so on. Cutting edge industries, no, they had to be located close to the boffins or they were offshored to another, essentially First World country–as when Britain offshored much of their production to the United States in the late 19th century.

Commercial surveillance. Everything you buy is cross referenced. When you buy something at a major retailers, the store takes a picture of you and matches it with your information. All online purchase information is stored and centralized in databases. This information is shared. This includes, but goes far beyond, internet surveillance; witness Google or Facebook serving you ads based on what you’ve read or searched. Add this data to credit reports, bank accounts, and so on, and it provides a remarkably complete picture of your life, because everything you buy with anything but cash (and even some of that) is tracked. Where you are when you buy it is also tracked.

Government surveillance. Millions of cameras in London and most other First World cities. Millions of cameras in Chinese cities. Some transit systems now have audio surveillance. Because the government can seize any private surveillance as well, you can assume you’re being tracked all day in most First World cities. Add this to the commercial surveillance system described above and the picture of your life is startlingly accurate.

As biometric recognition system comes online (face, gait, infrared, and more) this work will be done automatically.

What the telecom and infotech revolution has done is enable wide scale CONTROL and SURVEILLANCE.

These are two sides of the same coin, you can’t control people if you don’t what they’re doing.

This control is most dictatorial, amusingly, in the private sector. The worse a job is, the more this sort of control has been used for super-Taylorization, making humans into little more than remotely controlled flesh robots.

It has made control of international conglomerates far easier; control from the top to the periphery far easier. This is true in the government and the military as well, where central commanders often control details like when bombs drop, rather than leaving it to a plane’s crew.

This is a world where only a few people have practical power. It is a world, not of radical decentralization, but of radical centralization.

This is a vast experiment. In the past, there have been surveillance and control societies. But the math on them has always been suspect. Sometimes they work, and work brilliantly–like in Tokugawa Japan, certain periods of Confucian Chinese bureaucratic control, or ancient Egypt.

But often they have been defeated, and fairly easily, by societies which allowed more freedom; less control, less spying, and supervision. Societies which assumed people knew what to do on their own; or just societies that understood that the cost of close supervision and surveillance was too high to support.

The old East German Stasi model, with one-third of the population spying on the other two-thirds was the ludicrous extension of this.

What the telecom and infotech revolutions have actually enabled is a vast experiment in de-skilling, surveillance, and control–beyond the dreams even of the late 19th century Taylorist movement, with their stopwatches and assembly lines.  Nothing people do, from what they eat, to what entertainment they consume, to when and how well they sleep; let alone everything they do during their working day, is beyond reach.

This is not to say there are no good results from infotech and computers—there are plenty. But contrary to the idea that these technologies would increase freedom, they appear, on a daily basis, to have decreased freedom and privacy and promise to radically reduce them even more.

The second set of questions about any technology are how it can be used for violence, how it can be used for control, and how it can be used for ideological production.

(The first question, of course, is what is required to use it. More on that another time.)

Infotech may enable totalitarian societies which make those of the past look like kindergarten. We are already far past the technology used in the novel 1984 (Big Brother could not record, for example). That much of this surveillance is done by private actors as opposed to the government, does not reduce the loss of freedom, autonomy, and privacy.

Combined with making humans obsolete, infotech and the telecom revolution are as vastly important as their boosters say.

But, so far, not in a beneficial way. Yes, they could be used to make human lives better, it seems the real traction of the telecom and infotech revolutions remarkably began/coincided with neo-liberal policies which have hurt vast numbers of people in both the First and Third Worlds–precisely because they helped make those neo-liberal policies work.

Technologies are never neutral and there is no guarantee that “progress” will actually improve people’s lives. Even if a technology has the potential to improve people’s lives, potential is theoretical; i.e., not the same as practice.

Infotech and telecom tech are primarily control technologies, the same as writing was. They vastly increase the ability to centralize and to control a population’s behaviour.

(Read also: The Late Internet Revolution is Not So Big A Deal)

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Most Russians Would Like the USSR Back

This is what happens when you mess up the transition from Communism:

When researchers asked the public if they would like the Soviet Union to be restored, 58 percent replied in the affirmative, with 14 percent saying they considered such project quite realistic at the moment. Forty-four percent view the restoration of the USSR as unfeasible, even though preferable. Thirty-one percent said they would not be happy if events took such a turn, while 10 percent could not give a simple answer to the question.

Of course, much of it is nostalgia by people who have no memory of the USSR, but I still find it interesting that, in some of the countries that were Communist, people would like to go back.  The number in East Germany was 57 percent recently.

I wonder what the number would be in China. The interesting metric is this: Those who stay in their ancestral villagers are happier than those who leave. Pollution is terrible in the new mega-cities and safety is way down. I know many people familiar with China in the 80s who say you could leave your possessions in public, come back hours later and be certain they would be thre.

History never ends. Neither capitalism, nor democracy, nor the current capitalist philosophy of neo-liberalism will be eternal.

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Open Thread (Primaries)

Feel free to use this thread as an open one. In particular, any discussion of the US primaries should go here.

Single Payer Healthcare: Bernie Sanders vs. The Wonks


“Liberal wonks” have been sniping at Sanders healthcare plan: Single payer. In a single payer system, the government acts as the sole insurer for all basic medical needs. Think Medicare, except for everyone.

Single payer costs less than the American system–about one-third less. Take a look at the chart above and find the Canadian line. Notice what happens after Canada goes from a private to a single payer system—costs drop by about one third compared to the United States.

One can cavil about how Sanders will pay for single payer, but the fact is that it will cost Americans less than the current system.

A lot less.

The question then becomes: “Who will pay?” It makes no difference to a company’s balance sheet, or a person’s bank account whom they end up paying—private insurers, or the government. It only matters how much they pay.

Paying one-third less will be a win for everyone, except insurance companies, drug companies, and various health-care providers who price gouge, so long as it is intended that everyone win.

As for your coalition to get single-payer through, it is everyone not involved in the healthcare industry, and many people (like doctors who hate the current system) within the healthcare system.

Yes, insurance and drug companies, appliance manufacturers, private hospitals, and so on will spend an immense amount of money to campaign against single payer, but they are still a minority of the population and of businesses. There is a case to be made to every single non-healthcare company which currently offers insurance (these tend to be the large, more powerful businesses) to come out for single payer to save themselves money.

Single payer is a superior system. It costs less and produces better results on most metrics. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, or has no idea what they are talking about.

“Wonks” who pretend otherwise through tedious arguments, are deceptive at best, making their bones within the system at worst. Or not actually competent “wonks.”

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What Should Wages, Prices, and Taxes Be?

The principle is simple.

Wages and taxes must cover the cost of maintainence and replacement of capital plus any negative externalities.

Maintainence of capital, as horrible as the phrase sounds, includes workers. They must have a wage sufficient to eat well, live in a healthy place, buy entertainment, and have children. That is maintainence of “human capital.”

Taxes must be at a level sufficient to replace society’s capital base. That includes running schools, roads, courts, and all of that.

Businesses which put particular wear on specific portions of capital should be charged extra taxes. Are you degrading “natural capital” by polluting or drawing down water or timber reserves? You need to pay the replacement cost. Are you putting more stress on roads than normal businesses? You pay for that as well.

Prices should run on the same principle. Charging less than the cost of operating plus the replacement cost of capital and the price of any externalities mean the company is underpricing its goods.

“But it’s a free market.”

Free markets work when, and only when, full costs are priced in. If you charge less than the full price, you undercut those business that are charging full cost, driving them out of business. Because they were actually paying the freight for their business and you aren’t, you are free-loading, a parasite.

Competitive markets require more than the above to exist, but these are some of the requirements. One can deliberately choose, as a society, to subsidize an important sector (perhaps renewables, perhaps education), but the actual costs still need to be known and covered by society.

If you see a business or government which isn’t covering the cost of replacing its capital, whether human, natural, or otherwise, you see a business or government which is parasitical on the past, on people, or on the environment.

You will virtually always wind up paying the price anyway. But paying on the back end is far more expensive.

Corporations and people usually get rich by offloading their capital costs…by not paying them. For an example of this, look into the history and practices of Walmart, which did not, and does not, even pay its employees enough to feed themselves, and whose business practices wiped out the downtowns of most of small-town America.

The Waltons are rich precisely because they downloaded their costs onto other people and pocketed the difference.

A good society does not allow this to be done without democratic determination, and makes it as transparent as possible. If something is being subsidized, it should be known, and those who are receiving the subsidy should not be allowed to get rich off it. Want to get rich?  Great, do it in an unsubsidized business. You’re welcome to “do well” in a subsidized one, but not to become a billionaire.

This stuff is fundamental. It was well understood by the New Deal Liberals who ran World War II (no war rich!), and the post-war economy. They didn’t always live up to it, but they did know it. We seem to have forgotten.

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