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Re-Discovering Adam Smith: Controlling the un-controllable. Laws for Robots? For corporations? Creating healthy free markets... by design?

Contrary Brin - Sat, 07/21/2018 - 15:02
Can we control - or at least guide and sway -- important processes that some call uncontrollable? 

Certainly not big, chaotic things like the weather -- though steering civilization away from suicidal climate damage may qualify.  But what about hugely complex things like a modern economy? Or a sapient mind?

Elsewhere I've described how most societies tried such control through priesthoods and kings and owner-lordly castes whose Guided Allocation of Resources - or GAR - had the advantage of simplicity, in much simpler times. The Pharaoh simply ordered a levy of 5000 men to appear, between planting and harvest seasons, and voila - you got a pyramid. Still, in general, GAR was at best clumsy, primitive and generally stupid.

Adam Smith extolled market alternatives to GAR, allowing the mass wisdom of many to replace the delusional certainty of a very few. It worked better at allocating capital and goods and services... though it also led many to espouse a mad exaggeration called Faith in Blind Markets - or FIBM. Elsewhere I show how most of those howling for purist FIBM are actually devout GAR-ists... they just want the allocation process dominated by a new cabal of owner-lords.

In another place, I describe how GAR is being pushed hard by those who want a return to 6000 years of hierarchy, such as the Chinese Communist elite, who envision themselves as newer, smarter, wiser pharaohs. We're being GAR'd from the left and GAR'd from the right.

But this time, let's start with an example of asserted control straight out of science fiction! 

== Laws of Robotics ==
Jack M. Balkin of Yale University Law School has proposed a variant on Asimov’s three laws of robotics. He’s not the first, of course. In this case, Balkin suggests rules for algorithmic systems that might have strong influence over both public and private life:
First Law: operators of robots, algorithms and artificial intelligence agents are information fiduciaries who have special duties of good faith and fair dealing toward their end-users, clients and customers.

Second, privately owned businesses who are not information fiduciaries nevertheless have duties toward the general public.

Third, the central public duty of those who use robots, algorithms and artificial intelligence agents is not to be algorithmic nuisances. 
While these are excellent desiderata that merit serious consideration, they kind of miss the elegant prioritization effect of Isaac’s original codes! Where one law kicks in only when the more important one is fully satisfied. (I may be the world’s expert on the Three Laws, after threading their many implications in FOUNDATION’S TRIUMPH.)  In other words, a venn diagram of Asimov-style laws shows each one nested inside the preceding one, like a Russian Matrioshka doll.
Instead, Prof Balkin tries for something entirely different, making his analogy to Asimov somewhat fraught. Aming at comprehensive coverage, his first two laws touch at the edges. This is good, instinctive legal parsing… and the proposals are desirable... but it bears little relationship to Asimov.
== Three Laws of Corporatics? ==

Another scholar (actually a member of this blog’s comment community: Larry Hart) formulated his off-take on the three laws, this one following the Asiomovian "Matrioshka pattern."  Three Laws of Corporatics. 
1) A corporation must do no *** harm to human beings

2) A corporation must act to fulfil its specified charter as long as doing so does not violate the First Law

3) A corporation must act to insure its continued viability [e.g. maximizing profit] 
as long as doing so does not violate the first or second laws.
Of course number 1 is impossible to comply to without specified metrics in *** that make a clear drive for positive sum outcomes, both net and overall, even if some human interests are retrievably set back. LH summarized:
1) Don't make us sorry we chartered you.
2) Do what we chartered you for.
3) Keep yourself capable of doing it.

Of course now we're also talking about Wild Algorithms... bits of autonomous code that are already... right now... spreading through the Internet, automatically augmenting their resources and trading services, even hiring humans to perform tasks! And yes, this sci fi scenario is already here. Implementation of Hart's three laws would be filled with vexing tradeoffs. We'd have to define "humans" (broadly, I hope) and what long term goals we will charter artificial entities to aim for. And many other issues. I'd hope for looseness within which we can fine tune, adapt, adjust our implementation values while retaining the core ones.

I do know we'll best begin by rediscovering Pericles and Ben Franklin and M.L. King and the Suffragists... and yes, Adam Smith.

== A long overdue rediscovery ==

Twenty years ago, I was a lonely voice, demanding that folks revive interest in Smith, who has long been distilled into a few catch phrases like "the Invisible Hand" that misled everyone about his brilliant, passionate reasonableness. Now, it seems Smith is all the rage, being repositioned back where he belongs, as the founder of "liberalism" in both the older and newer meanings of the word.

Nowhere is he more appreciated than at Evonomics, a site where moderate and smart scholars mix appreciation of creative market competition with compatible notions of public responsibility and a tide of wealth that truly lifts all boats. Those who study Smith are realizing (surprise!) that he despised above all the oligarchic owner lords who cheated in 99% of human cultures -- the same caste our American Founders rebelled against.

Here's an amazing slide show of quotations from brilliant modern economists who talk about ways to make market economics more sapient and avoid the one failure mode that always ruined it across 6000 years. How weird is it that the defenders of Smith and truly competitive-creative markets are almost all now on the moderate-pragmatic left?  Example:

"Adam Smith recognized that there is a moral realm in human affairs, and that there is more to human life, government, and policy than just economics or pure self-interest."
More accurately, Smith believed that economics could have boundary conditions and incentives that balance short term monetary rewards. A sane, decent and above-all sapient civilization — one that chooses to include “externalities” like the fate of future generations and the planet and a moral sense of fairness — can use foresight to adjust market parameters so the subsequent work of millions of buyers and sellers will solve all needs and problems organically.  
Those who promote an “invisible hand” of wise economics through the actions of a myriad dispersed and distributed buyers and seller… these folks are not entirely wrong! Markets do allocate capital and labor and goods and services far better than command (GAR) economies, whether the small cabal of allocators are royal cronies, a communist party, or a conspiring caste of monopolists and CEO golf buddies. 
 But any such system operates under goal and boundary conditions that reflect values. They may be those of a liberally flat-open-fair and forward-seeing society, or those of a conniving oligarchy, like the feudal masters of 6000 years - stupid and self-defeating lords whom Adam Smith despised, and against whom the Founders successfully rebelled.
Putting this in perspective is Lynn Stout, the Distinguished Professor of Corporate and Business Law at Cornell Law School, who joins an array of superb, modern economists questioning the obsessive and never-ever-once-right 
Alas, these concepts appear to be difficult to grasp, even by smart people. As we'll see in Part II of this series.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Travel Itinerary Plus Photos

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 23:05
Hello, everyone! I’m here today to tell y’all about my upcoming travel schedule. On Tuesday, I leave for New York City, where I will be staying with my wonderful friends, Meg and Will. New York City is such an awesome place and I’m so happy to be going for the third year in a row. […]

News Books and ARCs, 7/20/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 15:00
Another week of summer passed, another summer weekend on tap, and a perfect time to catch up to these new books and ARCs that have arrived at Scalzi Compound. Anything in this stack that you’d enjoy reading on a warm summer night? Let us know in the comments!

View From a Hotel Window, 7/20/18: Cleveland

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 14:33
And what exactly am I doing in Cleveland? I have a private speaking engagement! Which, uh, means you can’t come unless you’re part of the organization I’m doing the speaking engagement for. Sorry, Cleveland. Know my love for you exists anyway. Hope you’re having an excellent Friday regardless.

Learn More About Me: My Favorite Anime

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 09:30
One thing about me you should know is that I love anime. If you’ve seen any of my “What You Should Be Watching” posts, you’ll know that I love cartoons, too. Anything animated! Artists are amazing! But that’s a separate thing entirely. So today I’m going to tell you about my all-time favorite anime, Black […]

The Big Idea: Jason Denzel

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 09:56
Someone once said that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Jason Denzel can relate to that — life certainly happened to him between writing his previous book on his new one, Mystic Dragon. Here’s how he incorporated what was going in his life into the writing. JASON DENZEL: There’s that old […]

You Deserve A Flower

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 22:05
Hey everyone, you all deserve a flower! What for? For whatever you think you did well on this week! Maybe you cleaned your room for the first time in months, maybe you did really awesome at your job recently, or perhaps you drew a really pretty picture. Whatever small or big thing you accomplished this […]

The “utopian anarchy” that unites most science fictional wish-fantasies

Contrary Brin - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 20:18
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We're heading out the door to San Diego's extravaganza -- even bigger than our famous Zoo -- Comicon International, with overseas guests in tow. And so, in keeping with the elevated theme of adventure and unlimited possibilities, let's set aside the political shenanigans America's civil war and briefly assume that our Great Experiment in a better kind of society continues -- a civilization that grows better as it grows more diverse and interesting and fair.

Ah, but how to get there? Does science fiction show a way?

== A future of freedom ==

Some of you have been following the debate between Elon Musk and Cory Doctorow et. al., over the meaning and ethos that underly the “Culture” series of novels by Iain M. Banks. Musk has called himself a “utopian anarchist” in a way best described by those novels.  (Elon named several of his SpaceX vessels after ships in Iain’s science fictional cosmos.) Doctorow counters with an assertion that Banks was a vigorous proponent of labor unions.

Having known all three of these brilliant gentlemen, let me avow that each has been beneficial to humanity, helping open our eyes to - variously - dangerous problems, daring opportunities and/or visionary goals. I hope all of them continue to influence us to rise into a thoughtful and bold and broadminded civilization. (And I will draw in other SF'nal utopians below, like Ursula LeGuin.)
This essay in the Guardian takes sides and is, I believe, myopically petty, especially about Elon Musk’s utopian anarchism. In fact, Elon is right that science fiction offers us the unique perspective of deep time, helping us squint far ahead to see a strangely common theme.
Three paths to very similar utopias
Libertarians often speak of a future when there will be very few limits on individual autonomy, when sovereign adults are free to form coalitions and make deals to advance both shared and personal goals, without being unduly hampered either by cloying restrictions or by cheaters.
Most folks aren’t aware that this is also — exactly, in every particular — the long range goal of Marxism! Karl Marx did not dwell on it, or supply much detail; he assumed a final withering-away of the socialist, transition state — into coercion-free individualism — would proceed out of elevated proletarian self-interest. 

Flipping that order of events, libertarians assume that individual liberation in market-driven paradise will require first dismantling the nation state.  Equality and freedom will follow.
A fascinating hybrid is the culture of Planet Annares, in The Dispossessed, by my former teacher, the late Ursula K. LeGuin. Although she was definitely a person of the left, she rejected the domineering 'socialist-transition' states she saw behaving so badly, in Leninist and Maoist realms. Her prescription seems akin -- in many ways -- more to the libertarian path: dismantle authority first. Standing on her shoulders (so to speak) is Kim Stanley Robinson, whose novels dissect many of the tradeoffs along the way to utopian freedom.

But let's get back to that simple comparison of libertarian and marxist end goals.

In sharing a perfectly overlapping, ultimate utopia of empowered individualism, these two movements differ from almost every other belief system of our long past, nearly all of which assumed that hierarchy will prevail. A perfect pyramid of Confucian noblesse oblige, for example. Or the post-apocalypse reign of Jesus. Priests for 6000 years were well paid to spread such mythologies, and Joseph Campbell extolled the pattern as fundamental to human psyches. Even today, Hollywood obsesses on wizards, kings, Jedi and demigod superheroes. (Ah, Comicon, here we go.)
Set against that most-common context, aren’t the utopian marxists and libertarians more rambunctiously similar than they are different? Elsewhere I go into detail about this strange overlap of ultimate goals… 
…and how the two movements differ profoundly over the path to get there! How to achieve that apotheosis of individual liberty from all want or coercion.  Indeed, I show that neither methodology can possibly work!  

But there is a third approach that demonstrably can take us close to that aim of utopian anarchy
== The Great Attractor Trap ==
For starters, it is vital to consider the human past. Across all of those long, dark eras, which failure modes generally thwarted progress?
Let’s all blame Charles Darwin. In every society that developed metals and agriculture, human males were relentlessly rewarded - reproductively - for cheating. We’re all descended from the harems of strong, ruthless guys who used metal implements to coerce others into serving them. And we carry seeds of similar behavior; a fraction of us will seek dark corners of any type of society, using any rationalization and exploit any opportunity to gain advantage and repress competitors. 
Oh, the surface incantations vary. The old USSR was run by a cabal of coercive harem-keepers no less brutal than the czars, only with different surface theology. The current occupants of the Kremlin simply tossed aside their hammer-sickle pins and returned to czarist  catechisms. (See Vladimir Sorokin’s terrifying novel “The Day of the Oprichnik.”)
No, this is less about left-vs-right than finding a sweet-spot optimization that eluded most of our ancestors. We who finally listened to John Locke and Pericles and Adam Smith have benefited from one trick -- never allowing power and authority to concentrate into toxic pools, but spreading it widely enough dispersed to keep cheating below a dull roar.
It’s nuts to shout “cheating” when fellows like Elon form clever alliances that deliver better goods and services. Only one society ever found the trick to truly unleash human inventiveness through competitive enterprise, and it’s the same one that got rich enough to finally tackle old injustices of poverty, prejudice and environmental neglect. Those who disparage the word “competition” would kill the goose that lays golden eggs.
But we also need context on the other side. Again, look back at 6000 years of dubious “civilization” in which those with power used it to crush any competitor who might rise from below. In 99% of human cultures, vast reservoirs of talent were repressed — vigorously and actively — under fabulated excuses based on race, gender, or what caste you were born into. Markets and institutions were warped to benefit the mighty, and priests taught that it was good for the lords’ sons to inherit your sons and daughters.
Any society that doesn’t confront this age-old attractor condition — the great human failure mode — will not take us to that glimmering goal of genuine utopian anarchy.  Even Ayn Rand declared cheating to be a basic problem! She maintained that some state structure would remain needed, to counter it. (Alas, her prescription then plunges into incantatory silliness that I dissect here.)
In the long debate between Hobbes and Rousseau, it remains Locke — followed by Hume and Smith — who comes out as wise. Human societies must find a balance between curbing our cheater-devils and liberating our better angels. Unleashing the greatest creative force in the universe - competition - but regulated (as in sports) to prevent the cheating that would ruin it all. This is ruining it all.

And what works best is to keep erring, progressively, toward freedom.
== Utopian Anarchism ==
Which brings us full circle back to the Musk-Doctorow argument over the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks.

In Iain’s projected future, organic and enhanced bio-humans experience lives of near total freedom, including the ability (projected earlier, in John Varley’s cosmos) to change sexes at-whim. Personal choice and the right to “pursue happiness” are maximized and just about the only thing that’s forbidden is to interfere with others’ right to do the same.  It sure looks like “utopian anarchy”…
…till you realize that there remains a regulatory framework, a guiding hand that is lighter in daily practice, but ultimately far more powerful than Ayn Rand’s “few courthouses.” That hand is wielded by the all-powerful AI entities who actually rule the Culture. Mostly-benevolently, but sometimes with plot-propelling weirdness or agendas of their own.
Ironies abound, here, and I am not leading you to a particular conclusion. 
Sure, Banks wove tales of a future that has inspired brilliant innovators — like Elon — to help propel us starward. Whatever the terminology, I share a dream of humanity achieving levels where state authority (or any kind) can safely “wither away”… to use a phrase coined by Karl Marx. And yes, I have spoken of this at many libertarian events and conferences.
But we are not yet the kind of beings who can reliably put reason ahead of tribal emotions, or act always in enlightened self-interest. Even among our brilliant, fact-centered professions, I’d say we do that at-best on a 30% level.  And half of Americans have been talked into waging open war upon all fact-centered professions! 

Under such conditions, you can see why those who want to re-impose hierarchy — like the Chinese Communist Party — rationalize that it’s the only solution.
They are wrong. Their approach -- under all the high-tech gloss -- is exactly the one that froze and lobotomized most human societies. If it prevails, we will never have the stars.
== A difficult, achievable path ==
Oh, if we look around today it's clear that Hobbes still has a several point advantage over Rousseau. And those of us who still believe in the passionately-moderate, militantly reasonable revolution of Locke — and Adam Smith and the American Founders — have an upward path to slog. A Great Experiment to save. 
And — alas for those eagerly propounding quick-fixes — this will entail using many of the tools we already have
Despite setbacks, like phase 8 of the American Civil War, we are on that upward path!  Ironically, Elon and Iain and Corey and Ursula and KS Robinson were all lights along the way.

But to go much farther, we truly will need to include externalities in our market prices. And elevate all children to a level of opportunity where talent stops being wasted and all competition is joyfully flat-open-fair. And ensure that disparities of power no longer entice many to prefer cheating over innovation.
Until we’ve done all that, and taught wiser generations how to apply their sovereign individuality with truly enlightened self-interest, then we’ll still need some Lockean structure. We’ll still need to fight for a civilization that — despite a myriad flows — has been more generously helpful of our long range goals than any other.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

View From a Hotel Window, 7/18/18 : Cincinnati

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 15:12
I’m doing a thing this evening in Cincinnati, and usually when I’m in Cincy I head home because it’s drivable, but tomorrow I’m doing a thing in Kentucky, so it made sense to stay here in town. And then on Friday I head to Cleveland for another thing! I am just doing a lot of […]

The Big Idea: Nicole Kornher-Stace

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 11:39
Nicole Kornher-Stace has some esoteric random influences for her novel Latchkey, which include a classic philosophical work, a popular video game… and a disease. Well, sort of for the last one. Here she is to sort it all out. NICOLE KORNHER-STACE: When I was eight years old, I had a teacher with advanced chronic Lyme […]

The Big Idea: Kali Wallace

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 10:36
City of Islands is author Kali Wallace’s first children’s book, and in writing it, she was thinking about where the balances were in telling a story for children, and still telling a story with some complexity. For her Big Idea, she’s here to talk about finding that balance, especially in today’s times. KALI WALLACE: Adults […]

Sunset 7/17/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/17/2018 - 22:46
Or, as I noted elsewhere: “Tonight’s Sunset as a Hotel Room Painting.” I think I could get at $25 for this! Here’s what it look like zoomed out a bit: We do have pretty skies here, I have to say.

The Big Idea: James Patrick Kelly

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/17/2018 - 11:00
Today, Hugo and Nebula Award winner James Patrick Kelly is here to tell you why you need more short stories in your reading diet. And coincidentally, The Promise of Space and Other Stories, his latest collection of short stories, just happens to be out! JAMES PATRICK KELLY: I rise in defense of the humble short […]

And Now a Brief Procedural Update on The Consuming Fire

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 23:11
What I'm working on today. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) July 16, 2018 Which is that I got the first pass page proofs this morning and read the book through, front to back, for the first time since sending it in a month ago. Folks, this book is really good. Like, better than I remember […]

The Big Idea: Wendy Nikel

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 10:53
People with a familiarity with time travel tropes may have heard of the “grandfather paradox.” But now, author Wendy Nikel proposes a corollary for her newest, The Grandmother Paradox. WENDY NIKEL: As an author, I struggle with titles, and I don’t normally settle on one until a story is completely written, usually borrowing from bits […]

The Bright Side

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 07/15/2018 - 23:33
Hello everyone! Today I’m going to tell you about this awesome comic that a reader of this blog told me about (when I posted about Death as a character). It is a comic about the personification of death, otherwise known as Dee, befriending a teenage girl named Emily! They become besties and she teaches Death […]

End the cheating...

Contrary Brin - Sat, 07/14/2018 - 17:13
Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE
This time, I'll finish with a weird comparison of Donald Trump as the Bizarro Gorbachev... indeed, I believe that's how Vladimir Putin views his puppet!  

But let's start by talking about how Rupert Murdoch and his minions and overseas allies hope to continue their impressive run, having controlled the US legislature, despite losing the popular vote in ten of the last twelve congressional elections, and in all but one of the last seven presidential elections.  How do they do it? 

We know how urgently they need to control the Supreme Court, which has refused to intervene against the egregiously horrific treason called gerrymandering. (Future generations will remember this craven behavior in kind with the Dred Scott Decision.)

Further case in point... Our battle for the republic just got a notch worse. The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 ruling, allows states to purge voters for a failure to vote.  

The Blue Wave will be inadequate unless voter repression in swing districts is fought, tooth and nail. Elsewhere I talk about Voter ID laws, and how stupid liberals are, for opposing such laws in principle.  In principle, there is nothing wrong with asking a voter to prove who they are. Opposing it in general terms makes liberals look like would-be cheaters, themselves.

No, the better argument is that states should offer vigorous compliance assistance, to help poor citizens or women, minorities, youth to get their ID, which would help them also economically and in other parts of life. No red state has done this, spending not even a dime. They close DMV offices in democratic areas! See where I dissect how enemies of America trick decent people into opposing a wretched cheat... in stupid ways.

Instead support groups like this one, that actually get on the ground - like the Freedom Riders of old - and help poor people, the old, the young, divorced women etc to GET ID. This is how we answer: see the valuable work done by VoteRiders.

== The voting machines ==

Top Maryland officials say the FBI told them this week that the state's voter registration platform was purchased by a Russian oligarch in 2015.  And this is... news? This is only the latest, blatant example. For decades, the companies making US electronic voting machines just happened to be owned by former GOP or Murdoch operatives.  

The top job of every GOP Secretary of State in red states is electoral cheating, and they are financially richly rewarded. These states, lacking auditable paper records, will show anomalously high Republican voting this fall, in targeted swing districts, especially in state assembly districts that might tip the balance of power in statehouses.

== This is how you can be most effective, starting now ==

If you are looking for a way to help, turn your attention to some local or neighboring state assembly or senate district that might be in reach to flip. It is at that level that one person's activism could make a huge difference. Offer to host a neighborhood meet-and-greet for the candidate, for example. If they see your district is climbing out of reach, the cheaters will go elsewhere.

Oh, btw, this advice holds for decent republicans. In 2020, the decent, American side of conservatism will have its one chance to rise up and rescue something from the Trump-Murdoch-Putin-confederate ashes. But only if there are ashes in 2018! This fall... hold your nose and go blue.

== Eliminating the greatest path for cheaters ==

A petition was recently sent to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, by 36 eminent retired general and field officers from the United States Armed Forces as well as retired civilian leaders from the National Security Council; the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, and Commerce; and the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Are they concerned about foreign despots? Terrorists? White and blue collar criminals? Drug lords?

All of the above are empowered and enabled by secret-anonymous shell corporations. And surprise, the leading nexus of these dark dens is not Switzerland, or the Cayman Islands. It is Delaware. Followed by many others of these not-so-United States.
“The U.S. remains the easiest place in the world to set up an anonymous shell company according to an academic study from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University….  These companies have put Americans at risk and worse — criminals enjoy the benefits of strong investment returns and total secrecy here in the U.S. drug cartels and human trafficking operations have long understood the benefits of corporate secrecy to launder money from criminal enterprises. More recently, anonymous companies are implicated in terror financing, fraudulent contracting with our military, and even sanctions evasion.”
These eminent leaders added: “As we ratchet up sanctions against hostile nations, it is telling to note that the Iranian Government previously skirted our sanctions for years by utilizing a web of shell companies, including some registered in the United States, to buy a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.”
Read the letter here, and spread the word. No, this Congress won’t do anything to benefit the nation, humanity or the future.  But tracks and seeds can be laid. This is reminiscent of the “Helvetian War” that I described in my 1989 novel EARTH. Only I never expected “Helvetia” to stand for America.

 == Who are the best cheaters? ==
Evonomics – the smartest site online for economic/social analysis, aimed at saving free markets from the oligarchy that’s ruining them – features Steve Roth’s article: “Capital’s Share of Income Is Way Higher than You Think.” Roth dissects how almost half of the market income arriving at U.S. households is received for just being wealthy: owning stuff, and not either work or active investment. In other words, most of the rich are doing exactly as that liberal – Adam Smith – described aristocrats always doing… pouring their excess wealth into “rent-seeking” or “rentier” vampirism, instead of creative enterprises.
Oh, there are exceptions! Investors like the west coast tech zillionaires who recycle their extra capital into new ventures, new goods and services and productive capacity. That’s what the Mad Right has said would happen with Supply Side “economics!” But for 90% of the oligarchy, it never, ever happened. Moreover guess how that risk-taking, investor 10% votes?  With a few exceptions, like Peter Thiel, they are mostly democrats, agreeing that markets must be regulated to reduce the age-old enemy of enterprise –
Seriously, where do the proto-feudal oligarchs think this will end? Will the war on all fact users truly cow all the folks who stand in their way to total feudal power? Or will we fight back?

And finally, as promised...

== Is Donald Trump our Bizarro version of Gorbachev==

I was about to claim this as an original-weird idea, but searching uncovered a guy who thought of it first - that Donald Trump's best historical analogue is Mikhail Gorbachev!

Oh, they are opposites in almost every way - as were the systems they undermined! But look at it from the perspective of Puppetmaster Putin, who calls the fall of the USSR 'history's worst tragedy.' Putin openly calls Gorbachev a western agent, who used the Soviet presidency to systematically bring a communist superpower down from within. So, why not use that template to retaliate, in kind?

Gorbachev applied intelligence and decency to reforming his nation away from dogmatism and incompetence. He might have saved the USSR in some form - (I portrayed it, in EARTH) - had not a final attempted communist putsch led to the total breakup.

Now mirror-reverse every single adjective above. Rupert Murdoch and Putin now have an agent in the White House who applies stunningly stubborn stupidity, indecency and a complicity to plunge his nation toward dogmatism and incompetence, while dismantling every single strength that led the West to Cold War victory - from strong alliances to science to a confident service class and basic social cohesion.

Yes, it is a mirror-reverse image, because the US and USSR were opposites in nearly all ways. Ours is a Bizarro Gorbachev, but the fundamental is the same... figure out the empire's greatest weaknesses. Then use a suborned leader and party, plus a massive propaganda mill to demolish morale, undermine institutions and bring a mighty nation down.

More and ever-more, I am convinced Putin and Murdoch are very smart, indeed... though not science fiction smart. They are unable to grasp where waging war on the West's fact-using professions will inevitably lead, once we let ourselves perceive the full extent of cheating.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:


Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 07/14/2018 - 15:25
In other words, Smudge update! This little guy has been living it up here in the Scalzi compound and is being an adorable pain in the neck! He is the most playful kitten we’ve ever had, Sugar and Spice as kittens don’t even compare to how crazy this dude is. He loves chewing on cords, […]

New Books and ARCs, 7/13/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 16:42
Friday the 13th is a lucky day here at the Scalzi Compound, because I get to show off all these new books and ARCs to you. What here would you consider yourself lucky to read? Tell us all in the comments!

The Big Idea: Raz Greenberg

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 09:46
My first personal awareness of Hayao Miyazaki didn’t occur until I was well into adulthood, but for Raz Greenberg, his journey with the great animator started much earlier, and led him to write a book on the filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki: Exploring the Early Work of Japan’s Greatest Animator. RAZ GREENBERG: The roots of the big idea […]
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