Lunch & Learn

The take away from BBC Business Daily, Being Watched at Work is that studying work habits and office design yields a much better outcome for workers; so long as the watching is unobtrusive and that your employees do not feel that they are being treated as suspects in a crime. Several of the new technologies are being used in very questionable ways, and yet paying attention to how ideas are generated is important if you want your business to succeed.

We called it “Lunch and Learn” at Graeber, Simmons & Cowan. The two stints I did as a line draftsman and architect at that architecture firm were some of the best years I spent in the field. Sitting around the conference room table hashing out how to use the tools we were given, and what the future of technology offered to the field. A twelve seat table beats a four seat table, every time.

Vilified but Charitable?

Freakonomics, The Most Vilified Industry in America Is Also the Most Charitable

This episode of Freakonomics comes with a pre-made rebuttal that I was disturbed to discover that Dubner didn’t cop to at some point during the lengthy interview segments. That perfectly reasonable rebuttal takes this form; Since the pharmaceutical industry sets the value of their products independently, and since the vast majority of their generosity is quantified in the value of in-kind charitable donations of their drugs, their charity is really of their own creation. Large or small, high price or low, they dictate what that value is and they expect us to thank them for their generosity.

As if they couldn’t just alter the price of all the drugs they make to make them affordable in the eyes of every person who needs them, while at the same time not bankrupting the people who have to pay for their drugs out of their own pockets.  Heaven forbid they not milk every available dollar out of every unsuspecting customer while at the same time giving away a product at something closer to its actual value. This was a point that Dubner did make during one of the connective segments, but he never actually goes on to fully explain, that the value of in-kind charity is completely within the control of the manufacturer, rendering the reported numbers essentially meaningless.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I don’t want any of the Big Pharma conspiracy fantasists or the naturopathy profiteers they go to to think that I’m somehow on their side in this argument. The fact of the existence of the identifiable label Big Pharma Conspiracy proves that the pharmaceutical industry is unjustly vilified in the general public. It’s just that their insistence that they aren’t profiting to a maximal amount at the expense of the general public rings a little hollow when their prices are so demonstrably fluid in value.

Evidence of Society

Does society exist? Most anarchists and conservatives would say it doesn’t. I present a counter-argument.

When was the last time you stalked prey, ran it down and then ate it? That’s not a realistic question, is it? I mean silly, right? I’ll skip over asking if you’ve crafted your own weapons with which to hunt game, I know most people have not and the creation of the most basic tools an individual can make is a skill that vanishingly few people can exhibit. When was the last time you planted seeds, watched them grow, and then harvested the crop? Well, all of us have probably tended a garden in our lifetimes. Agriculture is in just about everybody in some way. There is something real about digging in the dirt and watching plants grow. Something very zen and rewarding about the entire process. However, gardening is definitely not the same as growing everything you need to survive all by yourself year in and year out.

Why am I asking these questions? Because that is what it means to be truly self-sufficient. To be able to produce the food you require independently. To be able to create all of the tools and clothing you require to survive in any climate in any region of the world. If I were to ask you about building your own shelter, even fewer people would understand just how difficult that process and others are. They would be clueless as to just how many people are required to create the many things we take for granted. Take for granted (i.e. an entitlement) especially in the US and other developed countries.

TED, Thomas Thwaites, How I Built a Toaster from Scratch

I have heard the challenge, repeated many times over my years in libertarian circles, to prove the existence of society. It is almost a mantra to some individualists, and I know there are survivalists out there who are convinced they could live on their own indefinitely. Some of them even can do it, I’m sure, but the number of people who could do it are a fraction of a percentage point of the entire human population. That is a pretty steep hill to drop off of, if the lights just go off one night and never come back on.

Coming from the other direction, the number of people the Earth could support if everyone had to live a hunter-gatherer life is probably less than one billion people. I haven’t seen anyone do a back of the envelope calculation on that in several years, so my number is off I’m sure. The point is that the number of people the world can support in a primitive lifestyle is smaller than the number of people our established technology can support. The systems built and maintained over centuries by people who just want to see their children have it easier than they did, to be able to survive without having to claw their way through every day wondering if they’d make it through the next day.

The nine-to-fiver who complains about the cost of his latte has no clue, none at all, just how many people who had to labor to get him his coffee with milk in a container that he could just throw away when he’s had enough caffeine to keep him alert. And he gets that tasty beverage in exchange for a promissory note, a debt instrument, money, that the retailer then passes back down the chain eventually to the field workers in a far away country that actually touch the soil and grow the coffee that he thinks he paid too much for.

All of this, the high numbers of people, the ease of access to goods and services, the ability to do some task divorced from producing sustenance for yourself directly and still be fed, clothed, sheltered? All of it is evidence of society. Money is evidence of society, all by itself. Money is a socialist system, a system that exists because there are others to trade with in the first place. Without the group’s agreement, you’d still be running down prey like your ancient ancestors did, and hoping that the animal didn’t injure you before you killed it.

Watching the seventh season of The Walking Dead, I was struck by the notion that the entire group still wears clothing that doesn’t visibly disintegrate when they move. Seven years on, they still aren’t spinning and weaving thread and cloth. Patching shirts and jackets. For that matter the vehicles still run after being essentially without maintenance on the side of the road for years. Gasoline still burns even though (as anyone who has experience with small engines can attest) you’re lucky if you can get a lawn mower engine to start after it’s been sitting idle through one winter. Lucky to get it started because the fuel itself is unstable and will degrade over time. Rick and Carl and the rest of the crew? They’d be walking or riding horses everywhere by now because the fuel to run modern vehicles can’t be easily created without a vast infrastructure of technology that very few people understand.

That’s television, you say? Of course it is. It’s fantasy. And so is the notion that any of us are truly self-sufficient. None of us can replicate even the most simple of machines that we rely on daily, and yet we delude ourselves into thinking that we are capable and independent. Rational actors on a vast, mathematically predictable stage. That ability to delude oneself in that fashion? That too is evidence of society. Flat Earthers are a modern invention, and absolute proof of society’s existence. You don’t question that the Earth is round when you watch the people who will bring back your dinner tonight sail over the horizon to catch fish. The curvature of the Earth is as evident as the gnawing hunger in your belly.

I first thought about writing a post like this one after listening to this episode of Freakonomics,

Freakonomics, How Can This Possibly Be True? February 18, 2016

I was inspired by the complexity of the process of creating one of the oldest tools modern man utilizes, the simple wooden pencil. As the episode goes into, the pencil is hardly simple at all. It took generations of tinkering and tweaking to create the object that you and I think of as a pencil when we say the word “pencil”. This TED talk portrays the complexity of the subject more quickly,

TED Ed: Small Thing Big Ideas, Why the Pencil is Perfect

Unfortunately the video is hosted on Facebook only. I apologize for the cludgy video interface design that comes along with that; the parts that aren’t directly copied from YouTube, I mean. Modern technology is so much not like the pencil. Facebook’s baldly abrasive and ham-handed attempts to acquire all internet traffic for itself are a hallmark of poor design, but that is a different subject for some other day. The subject for today is how the simplest of objects that we take for granted, a toaster, a pencil, are beyond the ability of any one person to put together and have work properly. So much for the dreams of rugged individualism and self-reliance. Would you mind passing me that cup of tea, please?

The triumphs of the free market are actually nothing like triumphs of the free market. They are products of society, government and business working together. This is the part of the human equation that most individualists simply cannot wrap their minds around. None of us get exactly what we want. Not even the wealthiest of wealthy men gets exactly what they want out of life. To the extent that anyone’s needs are met it is done through cooperative effort. Like-minded people working together for a common goal. The most that any individual can do by himself is survive, and that only for the brief instant that their life contains. If that’s all you want out of life, survival, then you really are a pathetic creature. I grieve for you.

Freakonomics Radio Is the Government More Entrepreneurial Than You Think? (Ep. 348) September 5, 2018

Here’s some evidence of the government funding that Mazzucato’s talking about. DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, created during the Cold War to keep American technology ahead of the Soviets, has over the years produced several kinds of missiles and airplanes as well as the first computer mouse, miniature GPS receivers, HD displays, and a digital personal assistant. ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, founded under George W. Bush, has funded a variety of energy projects, including battery-storage tech; the Department of Energy, starting in 1978, invested more than $130 million studying the extraction techniques that have come to be known as fracking. And the National Institutes of Health has helped fund the vast majority of all new drugs approved by the FDA.

Stephen J. Dubner

A Tale of Two Cities

I remember exactly when I first noticed it: my first year in town, wandering around the heart of the city, unwittingly crossing through Red River and Sixth Street. It was an immediate shift. Property value sank, and the sidewalks were now populated entirely with black and brown faces. Casting my gaze back west and seeing all that pallid skin bumbling around in merry debauchery, participating in all those Austin promises, made me feel a little guilty. At that moment it was clear that Austin had some unfortunate secrets, because no matter how liberal or progressive your reputation might be, a history of segregation will always rear its ugly head.

Luke Winkie writing for

A house fire destroyed a boarding house just before New Years here in Austin, leaving six people homeless in some of the harshest weather this area has seen in several years. If you look at the images of the house in this news article, it is clear that hoarding was more than a problem in the house before the fire. The structure itself violates several current building codes, or would have violated them if it had not been grandfathered in under the rules that were being enforced at the time of its construction and/or annexation into the city of Austin. A filled construction dumpster in the driveway is a clear sign of unresolved problems within the structure that a devastating fire probably only makes worse for the people involved.

Not satisfied with the fact that there will soon be new construction at this once poverty-stricken address in a nearby neighborhood, one of the recent purchasers of Austin real estate took exception to the state of the house as it currently sits smoldering. This is understandable to me. It is understandable because house prices in Austin are ridiculously inflated, and I’m sure this purchaser paid far too much for his property. There was no price correction in Austin after the real estate bubble burst in the rest of the U.S. There was the briefest of pauses in price inflation, and then the prices just continued to go up, rising to levels that frankly have me thinking seriously of renovating and flipping my home so that I can retire somewhere a little quieter. Somewhere with horses, so that the Wife will have something to do with her time since no one will pay her a wage to do work in Austin anymore.

The homeowner’s objections are also understandable because I have an issue with the rental house across the street from me. I’ve told a running joke about it over the decades that I’ve lived here, and the joke has only gotten darker over the years. Considering the downward spiral it has been in since starting as an owner-occupied dwelling in the early nineties, I suspect there will be cannibals living there soon. Cannibals, because there isn’t much lower for it to go on the occupant quality ladder. Cannibalism is bound to occur there at some point in the near future.

However, several of my neighbors on Nextdoor insist on calling the boarding house that burned to the ground a crack house. Repeatedly. I have to say, that’s just uncalled for. After all, it’s not the nineteen-eighties anymore. We’re well past Reagan and his cloaked racial references like crack houses. Perhaps these new property owners don’t know the history of East Austin, the history of Austin in general? As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, I’d like to offer a few pointers to these new Austin residents, in the spirit of the New Year.

Let’s start with a big picture, historically. Austin was officially racially segregated until 1963. There were specific redlined neighborhoods where people of color were allowed to buy property. Those neighborhoods are well South of the area of Austin that we live in, but if you add in the Great Wall that separates East Austin from West Austin, the distance South that the redlining occurs becomes almost inconsequential. East of Interstate 35 was long considered the dumping zone for housing projects and industrial uses, and any in-depth analysis of land use in Austin will reveal that East Austin carries the brunt of the load of poverty for the entire city to this day.

While you’re calculating, don’t forget to add in the depression on living standards that the Mueller airport noise levels inflicted on the surrounding areas until very recently. That is crucial to understanding the change that is occurring on the East side of Austin today. With the removal of the airport out to Bergstrom, and the removal all the airport’s associated industrial businesses, there was suddenly a wealth of under-utilized property right in central Austin. The re-purposing of this property continues even eighteen years later. The old boundaries of the airport are all but erased, but you can still see the blighting effects of landing and take-off zones near the airport if you look hard enough.

The historical racism that stifled central East Austin’s growth, now lifted, the industrial uses and noise pollution of a central airport, now lifted, the big picture of why the gentrification and the pushing out of old minority owners in East Austin should become obvious. The two cities that were Austin are being forced to become one city, and the new city of Austin doesn’t have room for people who don’t have more than a quarter million dollars to sink on a home. Especially not in central Austin neighborhoods that used to be beacons for the average American middle class lifestyle.

Just to the North of the old Mueller airport site sits some of what was the most overlooked, undervalued property in central Austin. It was overlooked and undervalued when I first started living in the area about thirty years ago but it has now been discovered and is probably overvalued. I look to see a market correction in the near future. Friends of mine in the construction industry bought into real estate at the peak of the last boom in the eighties. They lost half their investment in the subsequent S&L collapse. I expect there is another one of those nasty surprises just waiting around the corner for most of Texas somewhere in the future. We dodged that bullet in 2008, but the growth that Texas is experiencing can’t be maintained forever. Something has to give, eventually.

The house fire that started this article is in one of those quiet little neighborhoods that used to be havens from the bustling inner-city of Austin, protected by the vast bulk of Mueller from central East Austin’s old redlined districts. The closest of these neighborhoods to the Eastern edge of Mueller is Pecan Springs-Springdale. This is the neighborhood where the boarding house stood.

Pecan Springs-Springdale was two neighborhoods originally, ergo the name. There are pockets of very nice houses in this neighborhood, surrounded by marginal commercial ventures and apartment houses, especially along the main arterial boulevard of Manor Road that carries the bulk of the traffic North/South through the area, between the two neighborhoods of Windsor Park and Pecan Springs-Springdale. The intersection at Rogge and Manor, near where the fire occurred, has always been problematic. That intersection marks the boundaries between three distinct areas and uses, one corner of which is a vacant lot. That property is an investment opportunity, for anyone taking notes that still wants to live here.

We rented a house in Windsor Park for about seven years before buying our current home. We rented it for less than $500 a month if you can believe that. The houses in that neighborhood are generally smaller and sit on smaller lots than surrounding neighborhoods. They were built for and bought by people with even less money than the college professors that my current neighborhood catered to. Backed up to the original Austin shopping center, Capitol Plaza, and bordered originally on the South by the main runway of Mueller and Fifty-first Street, Windsor Park was a working-man’s neighborhood. It’s hard to see that now since most of the property there was snatched up and renovated first, before Mueller moved.

The wife and I realized that the time to buy a home was now or never as we watched the neighborhood change around us, so we gave up renting and purchased a home in University Hills, a smaller neighborhood further East, but not so close that you could see or smell the landfill still operated by the city further out highway 290. University Hills was built to appeal to the growing number of educational professionals that needed to live near the University of Texas and the price of its real estate has ballooned significantly since we moved here.

People looking for a real estate investment should be well acquainted with this fact, that housing prices are at an all-time high in Austin, since it would be part of proper due diligence to have looked at historical prices for the area before investing. Some of the original residents still live in our neighborhood, and I bought my house from one them twenty years ago. There aren’t too many left these days, but their investment of $40-60k when they bought their places back in the nineteen-sixties would not compare favorably with the investments people are laying down now to get in this neighborhood. Some of us still don’t have that kind of money and we are being forced out of our neighborhoods by a growing number of people who do.

not very neighborly

Which brings us full circle back to the transplant complaining about a boarding house he has to drive by on his way to work that burned down having once been purportedly used for drug sales. The question I want to ask people like him is, how do you live with yourself? How do you ignore the underpasses in Austin littered with homeless people, even in freezing weather? Let me put it this way; I apologize to you for your neighbors, neighbors who were clearly having a hard time paying to remain in a neighborhood that has left them behind. Now that they are homeless, I’m sure the weather will get on with killing them faster so that their property can be better utilized by the next owner and not be a drag on your property in the future. That way you can flip that property you sank every penny you had into and make a profit. How does that sound?

Don’t mind us long-term residents, the people who just lived and worked here over the course of a lifetime. We certainly won’t notice when you are gone, any more than we noticed the last five people who owned that property before you. If you think I’m being too harsh, then I suggest you get out and help the homeless in your area, right now. Now is the time when homelessness hurts the most, when we lose the most people to exposure. If you have the quarter-million dollars to blow on an investment, then you certainly have enough scratch to make the difference in a homeless person’s life. Maybe you should re-prioritize your to-do list and see if you can make the world a better place for someone else. They’ll probably thank you for it and it might even be more rewarding than that profit you are lamenting you won’t make.

This recent (04/11/2018) episode of Code Switch deals with the subject that I was talking about in this article, namely redlining, what redlining was, and what redlining did. The after effects of redlining are still felt here in Austin.

NPR, Let’s Talk, Why are cities still so segregated?

It’s hard for people who have never been poor to understand what poverty does to you. It’s even harder to understand what not being able to pass for white does to you. The barriers that are placed in your way. The things that keep you from being able to succeed, the things they blame you for? Those things are external, barriers to entry that allow those who have what you want to point at you and say “see you don’t deserve what I have.”

NPR – Code Switch – Housing Segregation In Everything

I wanted to post a link to this episode because this was the first episode of Code Switch that I could link directly. The first episode that had a specific page that I could find and link to with the content that I heard on the air present on the page. It was a nice change that I hope they keep up with. It’s hard to share insights like you get from podcasts like this if there isn’t a location on the internet to send people to so that they can hear that specific thing you are talking about. In this case, redlining. Forcing people into poverty for the sake of having poor people to look down on, to take advantage of. This structural racism and economic stratification? This bullshit has to stop, and it should have stopped a hundred years ago.

Money in the Internet Age

I keep getting links to The Wall Street Journal articles. This is a regular occurrence on Nuzzel, one of the news aggregators I rely on for my daily news. These links are useless to me; I never pass them on and I never read them. Why? Because  The Wall Street Journal has erected an impenetrable paywall around their site and I simply don’t have money to give to publications in general, being a person living in poverty.

Even if I had money I wouldn’t pay a subscription fee to most publications (except maybe The Atlantic) because 9/10’s of what they report is available on Reuters or the AP feed. Why would I pay to read stuff on  a newspaper’s website that can be read other places for less money? Micro-payments for specific articles, if I had money to spend, would be something I would agree to, but not subscription.

I won’t pay subscription fees for other cities papers. I’ve never paid for the daily paper in my hometown (currently the Austin American-Statesman) I have never paid a lump sum for delivery of a daily paper; a paper whose content is actually paid for by advertisers who want to sell me cigarettes or alcohol or some other addictive substance that I couldn’t afford to use even if it wasn’t addictive. I borrowed newspapers at lunch or listened to the radio (NPR) for my news.

After the internet became available I started reading more news than I had ever read before and my understanding of the world improved. But this understanding came at a cost to the journalists and publishers of the newspapers who hadn’t figured out how to monetize information consumption on the internet. They’ve tried, and failed, to make advertising work on the internet. It doesn’t work because people like me don’t want to be sold to. We aren’t here to be pigeons targeted by businesses that want to make money off our browsing habits, although many of us (including me) don’t mind if Google (Now Alphabet) makes money off our information in exchange for providing services.

NPR – Hidden Brain – Buying Attention

Unfortunately for most internet businesses, there’s only so much room on the internet for businesses like Google, and competing with Google is hard work. Ask Microsoft if you don’t believe me. So how are the businesses going to make money online if advertising (the backbone of information delivery since the invention of the printing press and the mural) doesn’t work online? If the internet is (as I say in The Information Tollway) a replacement for the library, newspaper, radio and television? We’re going to have to admit that everyone who lives and consumes in society deserves some kind of stipend, some basic cost of living allowance.

They deserve it, and we need them to have it, because their consumption habits need to be accounted for. The easiest way for this to occur is for them to be able to spend money for what they need, just like everybody else does. Go to the doctor? spend money. Go to the grocery store? spend money. Read an article online? spend money. I doubt we will ever evolve to not need money for accounting purposes, but it is pointless for us to continue believing that money comes from work when not everyone can work, and the most important work (raising children) continues to be done essentially for free.

In the meantime, places like the Times, the Post and the Journal will have to do without cash from people like me, because people like me have to save what little cash we have to keep roofs over our heads and food in our stomachs. We already economize with our health unless we have medicare, and the GOP tax bill will cause seventeen million more people to do without healthcare in the near future, if passed. So there will be more people getting sick and just ignoring it as time progresses. We will economize with our knowledge and understanding as well if forced to. You can see that in the #MAGA‘s (Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans) election of people like the OHM and the GOP congress that is shafting the same misinformed people who put them there. But that is a story for another article. 

Economic OHM Bullshit

Yesterday on Stonekettle Station

Trump’s pet spokes bull, Kellyanne Conway says, “Record stock market highs AGAIN. The new normal under @POTUS and @GOP Congress.”

This comment is one of the most disingenuous in an administration literally based on disingenuity.

The stock market history trends upward ALWAYS — with certain notable momentary dips, which we’ll come back to in a moment. Trump’s supposed “record high” is just the normal far side of the graph.

For example, during Bill Clinton’s 8 year term, the market rose 229% with annual average gain of 14.9%. Every high during Clinton’s term was a record high.

On yesterday’s episode of the BBC World News Service’s Business Daily (Warning Signs for the Global Economy?) the first interview featured an economist (Pippa Malmgrem) who points out that quantitative easing put eighteen trillion more dollars into the world markets, and most of that increased supply of money went into the pockets of the wealthy class, who then proceed to play the stock market with it. Or as she put it, that eighteen trillion dollars will show up somewhere. This increase in the stock market has nothing to do with the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) anymore than Bill Clinton enabled the creation of the PC and it’s resultant boom. This is all beside the point that Stonekettle Station makes quite well, that the markets always trend upward; if not for inflationary reasons, then for real reasons of increased value. I find it amusing that eighteen trillion additional dollars doesn’t equate to inflating the money supply in the minds of most economists.

However, I would point out that the OHM’s stock market increases are not based on anything real but are instead based on the increased amount of money available to the markets, held by people who already have too much money. This allows them to bid up the market because millions of dollars mean nothing to these people. If the markets crash they’ll still have billions to rely upon. This is in direct contrast to the increases under Bill Clinton which were based on the creation and expansion of real markets and equated to more goods, more jobs, and more progress for the world and specifically for the American people. Progress that was lost under W’s watch and only regained slightly under Barack Obama. The OHM is presiding over the dismantling of America’s Long Peace. This will be disastrous to the US economy both short-term and long-term. I can’t imagine how we will survive this destruction even though I know some of us will.

Why the Minimum Wage Isn’t Enough

I had this image thrown at me in a minimum wage argument recently. What about the cost of producing milk? What about tax rates? Hunh? How do you explain that? If I had real patience with the speaker, I might have explained it this way. A gallon of milk costs one gallon of milk. That is its actual value, because it is a gallon of milk. I didn’t, so that wasn’t my initial argument.

Without refrigeration, milk spoils quickly, which means milk has to be drank quickly.  This is why cheese was so popular before refrigeration, unless you lived on a dairy farm.  Before refrigeration most milk went to make cheese or it was fermented into an alcoholic beverage (try it, it is revolting) because even though you could die from drinking tainted raw milk, it was still an irreplaceable source of protein. What created the market for milk was pasteurization and the discovery of cheap refrigeration (Connections) both of which indirectly impacted farming techniques and allowed farmers to get milk to the stores so that you can enjoy it and the farmer can profit from selling it. No one pays for the knowledge that is utilized to make all this possible. It is gratis, free, part of being in the human community.

However, the cost of educating all these morons so they don’t poison themselves is not factored into the cost of the gallon of milk. Anyone care to guess what that cost would be? I’ll save you the trouble, it can’t be calculated. Why? Because the cost of education raises the cost of production, which in turn raises the cost of education, etc. This incalculable cost is what is known as an externality and people who count beans for a living would like to pretend that externalities don’t exist.

But externalities do exist.  Which is why the cost of a gallon of milk is… one gallon of milk.  Money is a variable that steps into the equation that allows you to get milk without having to raise and milk the cows yourself.  That is really all there is to it.

What we have to decide is, what is money? That is what we need to figure out. If it is a creation of society then we can say everyone gets some, not enough, but some, and if you want enough you have to work for it. That function right now is served (imperfectly) by the minimum wage.  It could easily be served by Universal Basic Income or some other kind of minimum income floor that would allow people to survive without requiring everyone to work all the time. Funds are distributed to everyone or just the poor at a set rate a month, a week or even daily. Not enough money to live lavishly or even easily, just some money for everyone in any given area. What would that do for the economy?

The bogeyman of income tax tacked on at the end of the meme is just that. A bogeyman placed there to scare you. Income tax is a bad vehicle to do what the government wants, and is as subject to change as the minimum wage is. The list of alternatives to progressive taxation is nearly as endless as the numbers of ways that progressive taxation can be calculated. Set dollar amounts should be done away with, in any case. A 99% confiscatory upper tax rate could be set on any income that exceeds 20 times the lowest income in the marketplace. See how fast lower pay increases when you tie upper pay to it. Can the wealthy get by on $160 an hour? That should be an interesting experiment to witness.

Personally I like negative interest rates imposed on money left uninvested. That forces money to be used in the marketplace or lost over time. Impose negative interest rates on all accounts which are not retirement accounts or money market accounts. Invest it, save for retirement, spend it or lose it, Pick one. In any case, the problem is not the minimum wage. The problem is the limits on the imagination of the image creator.

The image was found wild on the internet, and was used in an internet argument against me. Post content written and forgotten on November 13th 2016. I probably had other things on my mind that day.

The Psychology of Hate?

I had a few objections to this episode of Inquiring Minds. All of this ties back to the episode that aired right before the election last November, the episode where the hosts and journalists being interviewed just assumed that Hillary Clinton would win the election, that Trump voters were some crazy fringe of American society that just wanted to be heard? Yeah, that one. In this one they just assume that the internet trolls that pushed the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) onto the GOP stage and then laughed themselves all the way to the foreign-intervention inquest hearing, had a larger point they wanted to make other than to prove that Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans (#MAGA) would believe anything they read on the internet. I’m sure those same trolls are still laughing after this episode.

Inquiring Minds – 192 ALI MATTU – The Psychology of Hate – September 11, 2017

OK. Here’s the problem with the guest’s take on polarization in the form of the sitting president. Setting aside the ingroup/outgroup bias that I have towards conservatives whom I consider barely capable of thought on a pretty regular basis considering who they allow to lead their party; I would say “since Reagan” but it’s actually been since Nixon, Republicans and conservatives are in love with money politics. It’s bad on the Democratic left as well, because that is the name of the game in this day and age, and that name is corruption. But their leaders don’t even pretend to disguise that they are doing the bidding of their funders. Trickle-down is a completely bankrupt theory of economics, but they still propose giving tax cuts to the wealthy because the wealthy don’t want to pay taxes. It certainly isn’t for the reasons that they pretend because it’s been demonstrated that money just pools in the wealthy people’s hands when you let wealthy people keep more money.

But I’m getting sidetracked into the bankrupt ideas. The problem with their leaders is that they get more and more corrupt. Nixon authorized a little B&E but that’s child’s play next to Reagan who bribed the Iranians or Bush the first who ran the CIA or the second that lied us into war in Iraq. And all of them ALL OF THEM pale beside the criminal, the huckster, the complete fraud that is Donald J. Trump. His connections to the Russian mafia go so deep you will need a rectal exam to figure out where they end. The election tampering was nothing compared to his dirty money ties to them that are just now coming to light and this is the guy they chose as their leader?

I mean, I sit down and break bread with conservatives everyday. I live in Texas after all, it is unavoidable. But Trump? Even David Frum can’t put enough distance between himself and Trump. The problem isn’t that the left has gone too far left or that there even is such a thing as “too liberal” (which is probably a point worth arguing) but if there is a thing called too liberal it’s going to be found somewhere residing in the heads of people who are willing to give a criminal like Trump a chance. He started his campaign with racism and I”m not waiting for his followers to start filling up concentration camps (currently referred to as immigration detention, just FYI) with their undesirables before I decide to do something.

There really is such a thing as a stupid idea, and giving a demonstrable criminal, a fraudulent deal-maker who has been sued nearly 6,000 times, a chance to run the country is the dumbest idea I’ve heard yet. But I’m sure I’ll hear something dumber from the Republicans pretty shortly, unless your guest beats them to it. 

How Not to Define Government

This image popped up in my Facebook news feed some years back. I can’t even find the originating image for it, it has been that long ago and had so little impact. I had several thoughts at the time which I lined out as bullet points. A rather lengthy breakdown for what is a five-minute throw-away joke image for Facebook.

Still. I know there are thousands, possibly even millions that would laugh at that joke. I in my previous libertarian persona would have probably accepted it as wryly humorous fact, which is precisely why I took the time to break down the many heuristical errors present in just thinking the observation true enough to be funny.

Not satisfied with wasting an hour or two breaking down a meaningless joke image once and filing it away, I have now spent even more time writing a lengthy post about it, proving the tagline of this blog is accurate.

As to the offered definition of government itself. You can believe any fool thing you want including that gravity doesn’t exist because it is a theory. I wouldn’t suggest jumping off buildings if you do, even though Douglas Adams describes learning to fly as throwing yourself at the ground and missing. Never mistake a joke for something that is true or actually possible. The image is a joke, it just isn’t a funny joke.

Government cannot actually defy science because government cannot change the laws of nature. That is why pi remains an irrational number most accurately described as 355/113 even though several governments have mistakenly believed they could change it. Math is always going to be math and 2+2=4 is true for every instance of reality as we know it. Do not throw the word quantum at me as a counter-argument because I will know that you are stupid if you do.

Economics really isn’t a science in much the same way and for the same reason that psychology is only vaguely a science. Both are in part human constructs held as beliefs within human minds. Therefore “laws of economics” are more rules of thumb than actual laws.

In short, even if there are laws of economics, we haven’t been observing them for long enough to know what they actually are. And given the vagaries of human behavior and the mercurial nature of states, people and institutions, the notion that there’s some grand mechanistic, master system that explains all and predicts everything is at best a comforting fiction and at worst a straitjacket that precludes creativity, forestalls innovation and destroys dynamism.

Referencing “the laws of economics” as a way to refute arguments or criticize ideas has the patina of clarity and certainty. The reality is that referencing such laws is simply another way to justify beliefs and inclinations. I may agree that the war on drugs is flawed, but not because it violates “laws of economics,” but rather because it fails in most of its basic goals. The test of whether government spending or central bank easing is good policy should be whether they succeed in ameliorating the problems of stagnant growth and high unemployment, not on what the “laws of economics” erroneously say about certain future outcomes.

The Atlantic, The Laws of Economics Don’t Exist

As an example, one can continue to print money without limit so long as the money isn’t allowed to collect anywhere in a volume large enough to break the system. People will continue to use and spend money blithely believing whatever they want to believe about the system they are part of so long as the system continues. That is the beauty of the human animal and its selective cognition machine that we call a brain. We only tend to notice structures when they fail,  and then we marvel at the complexity of the system that functioned so well we never noticed it until it was gone.

Debt Ceiling. Pageantry for the Legislature.

This week’s agreement to raise the debt ceiling will last only until the end of the year. It’s time to abolish the debt ceiling and end this madness once and for all. Here’s why:

Robert Reich, Why We Need to Abolish the Debt Ceiling

This video is right in line with my current thinking on the subject. Percentage of GDP is a more important measure of government spending, and by that measure we spend way too much. The ceiling is a meaningless argument that sounds good on TV. Presidential pageantry, but for the legislature. Stop flouncing around and start doing some real work.

Facebook status backdated to the blog.