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Author Topic: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?  (Read 5955 times)

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Offline Asuras

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #25 on: October 21, 2009, 12:17:29 AM »
Quote from: kylie
What will guarantee that the prices of necessities do not largely absorb or outrun the lump stipend? 

What will guarantee that the cost of necessities (or the cost of producing them) doesn't come to exceed the value of the coupons?

Quote from: kylie
And with totally liquid assets, there is more incentive for someone to offer some other product at a significant price that might promise thrills or multiplication of wealth at some risk...  But that might not be as healthy, nor necessarily as long-term financially sane as simply turning in a coupon and getting a selection of (hopefully nutritious) foods.

Let's say we have a guy who likes to gamble, like you say, who spends $100 a month on food. The government starts giving him $100 a month in food stamps. That means has an extra $100 a month that he doesn't have to spend on food. Any idea what the gambler will spend that $100 on?

Quote from: kylie
If the currency remains purely liquid and can be held indefinitely though, then we are stuck with credit bubbles and hoarding.

You'll have credit bubbles and hoarding (if by "hoarding" you mean "credit crunch") as long as you have credit and imperfect information. So either you eliminate credit (which is like cutting off your arm because you have an itch) or you come up with ways to mitigate it.

Quote from: kylie
Perhaps if more of the currency pool were automatically reset/redistributed every few years (or some appropriate rotation for each category of coupons), then people would focus more on what they can practically use. There could be some larger package allotments for larger production centers, public works management etc.  Not so much or so guaranteed that some Big Cheese would again hold easy monopolies or be rewarded with profits that buy mansions rather than public works.

In that sort of system, it would be less rewarding to hoard the medium of exchange as numbers in the bank or on private gilded properties, to store up profits and tie those hoards into different levels of prestige and privilege.   Within each circulation time for a given type of coupon, one could use the credits, trade for other coupons within certain category ranges (some more specialty foods instead of more import liquor, more plain music instead of all that video, urban planning instead of gardening authority, whatever).  One might gain a reputation of ethical service that brings support for larger scale, public projects -- that urban planning role, resources to continue a sizeable product distribution chain, etc.

Does this leave any real incentive for long-term investment? Including, say, education? What happens to debt when the merry-go-round year comes? How often does the merry-go-round year come? Does this apply to corporate debt? If I buy a house over the course of one Merry-Go-Round period, will the house be redistributed? How about all the stuff in it? How about corporate assets?

The issue is that I don't see private savings and investment surviving this plan. You see government replacing it, and that makes it a planned economy. That's never made sense to me since it's essentially saying "I don't like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, but I do like politicians sitting in exactly the same place that they are at the head of vast money-making bureaucracies!" I'm willing to bet that you take issue with corporate influence in government, but you think that making these corporations basically part of government en masse that it'll solve the problem?

No, I think it just throws a rug over the problem. Now, instead of having all the powerful people in the country fighting against each other in an open market, they'll all be in government, together, with a monopoly on credit, regulation, free of competition.

Quote from: kylie
What do you mean when you say taxes "work"?  What goal for tax policy do you have in mind?

As you said, "if food+housing is a tiny part of expenses."  For many people, it is not.  For the few, they can keep investing. 

My point was that if you want to redistribute wealth, you can do it without scrapping everything about capitalism right down to private ownership. Taxes are enough; they do redistribute wealth.

And of course the rich, when left to themselves, have a tremendous advantage. I'm definitely for a tax policy that levels the playing field; I'm in favor of welfare programs and investment that helps poor people stand up for themselves.

But I also don't think that we have to throw out everything about the system we have to make it better. And, indeed, I think that if we throw out some things about it we're going to be far worse off than if we'd left them in, no matter what else we do.

Quote from: kylie
I don't think my larger notion of utopia -- nor even, a more conventional financial one -- is reachable from some $100 fund in my lifetime...  Is there evidence that these funds are actually outrunning inflation and the rising cost of living?  I would also ask what the cost of managing them is.   

The inflation rate - including the 1970s - has averaged around 4.4%, the rate of return on index funds matching the stocks in the S&P 500 since 1970 is around 9.5%. The cost of managing an index fund is negligible because by definition it's not actively managed.

Quote from: kylie
And it's all a moot point for the people who are just breaking even or worse. It also may not save many more of us, who have debts and limitations common to an economy where you are supposed to invest beyond your means to "get somewhere."

The point I was arguing against was that rich people are rich because they evade taxes and have better money managers - they don't. I completely agree that it's a lot easier to save when you're not on the poverty line...which is where I go back to my earlier point that I am for leveling the playing field more than it is these days.

The point of contention is that I think that people who work harder should still be rewarded. The system we have is not fundamentally flawed. I think there's a balance between helping poor people and rewarding successful people, and I think that if we do both of those things that both poor people and successful people will each be better off than if we just let poor people die in gutters or distribute all the wealth like candy on Halloween.

Quote from: Kylie
You may not be concerned about that when you say "sustainable," but I think the overall direction of that capitalism is implicated in recognized crises like recessions, depressions, lack of social services or disaster prevention, ease of misinforming the public, fear politics, etc.  If this is actually "sustainable" by certain measures, it certainly isn't ethical by my compass.

And the alternatives suck even worse than all that, and I'm sure we'll get to it, but...

What does that have to do with "sustainable?"

Quote from: Kate
The ancient greeks were very powerful for one core reason .. they didn't really
"do the accumulation of possessions" thing ... if you were a wealthy merchant, your house would likely be identical to those not of such wealth - with some differences, your vase in your kitchen impressive, you may have silk curtains or a finer rug ... but it wasn't much else.

Yes you can say "well thats just what Capitalism would be in an ancient society what were you expecting ? Cars ?" ... what happened though was when they did something impressive
for the community ... they would

a) Have a stronger "voting" power (ie effectively more influential in choosing what public works should be attempted when)

b) Effectively in whatever way possible had their efforts publically appreciated for a long term thing that really didn't give them proportional wealth options, but increased their "quality of a typical day" in non direct means - eg naming new streets after them, putting their crest on boat flags ... better seating in amphitheater's during plays or orations (which was not THEIR seat... it just happened to be offered to them at times they did attend ) ... yes their communities were small enough so if one person did something good the other families knew of it pretty soon. However it was reasonably obvious if someone did something good as it did help the community - wasn't just "oh arnt you smart" stuff.

Trade existed, transactions still did but "context" releavence or the returns of a good transaction was directed differently.

They realised one thing very quickly - the more possessions you own the more they own you - if they had 40 houses - they need to clean more, there is more to protect more security, more "insurance" less fraction of wealth to enjoy at any one given time.

First of all, there was no "ancient Greece" where everything was all the same. In Sparta, they had a class of military aristocrats who went around enslaving the neighbors into helots who were routinely brutalized. Oh, and every fall their teenage boys would run around killing and/or beating the shit out of any slave they wanted to. In Athens, half the people were slaves, the constitution legally defined four different classes, pretty much every ruler including Pericles was an aristocrat, and there was an entire empire of tributary states to pay for the statues and columns we've got in our museums these days. The other Greek city states like Thebes and Corinth were aristocracies somewhere between Athenian plutocracy and Spartan batshit totalitarianism.

Just to make the Athens point concrete:

Quote
INCOME LEVELS. The first propertied class (pentakosmedimnoi) had annual incomes at or above 500 medimnoi of wheat (250 times the daily minimum of an adult male). This income carried a value of 1,500 drachmae in 460-400 B.C. The second class or cavalry (hippeis) had incomes between 300 and 500 medimnoi or 900 to 1,500 drachmae. The third class of hoplites (zeugitae) had annual incomes of 200 to 300 medimnoi or 600 to 900 drachmae. The PANOPLY or the suit of hoplite armor and weapons cost between 300 and 500 drachmae (equivalent of 1/2 to 1 year's income of a zeugites). In 415 B.C. Athens armed 700 thetes as hoplites for service in Sicily at a cost of 210,000 to 350,000 drachmae (35 to 58 talents).

It was extremely unequal in ancient Greece, and the rich people were richly paid. And this doesn't even count the slaves, who were worse than thetes.

Offline kylie

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Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #26 on: October 21, 2009, 11:08:05 AM »
What will guarantee that the cost of necessities (or the cost of producing them) doesn't come to exceed the value of the coupons?
  and....
Quote
The government starts giving him $100 a month in food stamps. That means has an extra $100 a month that he doesn't have to spend on food.

     Perhaps I wasn't clear enough.  I did try to suggest there could be categories of goods that various coupons would be tied to.  I did not say the coupons would be based on dollar values, and I did not intend that.  My idea was more that it would be possible to lay out several different classes of goods, and give everyone access to certain quantities of each of them -- within cycles of time.  The system would not need to provide more coupons than it had resources, and it would not have to honor coupons that had expired. 

     If one wished to be super careful, I suppose there could even be limits on trading certain types of coupons so no one technically could trade away all of their food for something else.  Another way might be simply to keep a central list of  how much food is allocated, and track as people draw it down for each period (so they won't trade all the physical food away, if that is any concern). 

Quote
Does this leave any real incentive for long-term investment?
     The main incentive, as I believe both Kate and I have indicated in different ways, would be that more types of work would be available to more people -- there would not be a massive difference in storeable pay between say, being a technocrat or a doctor or a construction worker.  On the other hand, if one does good work, actually enjoys it oneself, and does not do it in a way that exploits others in the community to a great degree, then others would happily support the government allocating larger projects to that entity.  Whereas presently, a few Big Fish, who have picked just the right industries for only the time needed to game the market and kept the sight of actual social harm and profits at arm's length...  These accumulate liquid wealth to withhold, redirect to completely different projects, or take away on a whim.
 
Quote
  Including, say, education? What happens to debt when the merry-go-round year comes?  How often does the merry-go-round year come? Does this apply to corporate debt? If I buy a house over the course of one Merry-Go-Round period, will the house be redistributed? How about all the stuff in it? How about corporate assets? 
     Different classes of goods, different time periods, different rules.  First, we could insure some basic necessities.  It's not like there actually aren't enough to go around.  But when some people have six mansions and half of the people will fail at rent without their next paycheck, we have a problem.  We should judge by whether basics are met, how much that house actually draws on the resources otherwise available to the community, whether the community values that project going on now - or even accomplished X time ago - so much that they still want to support such a larger house as an exclusive, private estate (or what other functions is a bigger house serving for more than a couple people?).       

Quote
That's never made sense to me since it's essentially saying "I don't like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, but I do like politicians sitting in exactly the same place that they are at the head of vast money-making bureaucracies!" 
     Granted this would require simplifying the political process.  As things are, I think politicians and lawyers have enshrined themselves in such a distant language and procedure that most people are out of touch with how they operate.  This helps them hold onto lots of money (even as they are effectively writing the rules in very small cliques).  What if we did take money as such out of the equation?  Anyway, the direction I have in mind here would require a lot more democratization and transparency in the process of the bureaucracy. 

     Then again...  One way to achieve that might be to reduce the scale of many types of exchange, focus more on local goals.  If more decisions were made to serve smaller areas (for instance education is partly organized this way - often a state affair), then more people can follow and contribute to how those decisions are made.   Instead of say, a handful of people building sneaker factories around the more impoverished quarters of the world (complex decision, indicators kept away from the population that enables them with tax breaks and loopholes) and standing at arm's length using all their acquired credits. 

Quote
Now, instead of having all the powerful people in the country fighting against each other in an open market, they'll all be in government, together, with a monopoly on credit, regulation, free of competition.
  and...
Quote
My point was that if you want to redistribute wealth, you can do it without scrapping everything about capitalism right down to private ownership. Taxes are enough; they do redistribute wealth.
     Granted as a practical matter, there would be a question of how to start the system such that it isn't monopolized by current interests.  My simple effort at that is to say, the money incentive would go away.  I'm more concerned that people could not wrap their heads around it or vote for it, etc.  Once the system relies on totally liquid and numeric assets, I suspect taxes are easier to manipulate to game the system.  They are progressive in one era and regressive in another.  Same basic standard ("everyone pays taxes"), very different societies ("only some can really afford to" versus "everyone can quite honestly afford to").  If you actually believe more progressive taxes still could be institutionalized, though, why not something with similar distributive principles that maintains more of the equality over a longer term?

Quote
  The cost of managing an index fund is negligible because by definition it's not actively managed.
     Weren't you saying it was actively-managed index funds that would be of more interest to those poorer people who might, if they were creative enough by your reasoning, scrounge together $100 and pull themselves up by the bootstraps?

Quote
The point of contention is that I think that people who work harder should still be rewarded.
  We have an idea at present that whoever leads, must be working harder.  We can't always debate whether or not they are working; there are many ways to exert oneself.  I'm trying to imagine a system where there would actually be incentives to keep the field more level for more types of work and more collective interest.  I just think money moves too fast and is too unruly in this day and age to do that.  It was not really ever designed to do that.  The tax system claims to reward certain categories of activity more than others, but most people do not understand it or feel they have any real influence over it.  It relies on distant math more than a discussion they can enter.   

Quote
...if we just let poor people die in gutters or distribute all the wealth like candy on Halloween.
     This metaphor is still assuming everything must operate essentially the way that money does now, as if all goods and services are theoretically equal.  Money can be blown or constantly redirected, whereas access to certain ranges of goods can be used or not used -- but it could not be exceeded.  Halloween comes by once/year and manages only one class of good, candy.  I'm thinking of something much less one-time-funds-all than your metaphor.  I wouldn't go for all sorts of goods on the same schedule.   

     If one convinces the community to offer provisional rights to pursue a project (based partly on a track record with perhaps smaller scale, for the newcomers) and most people are materially or morally opposed to the outcome...  Then with a shorter turnover of resources the system can make a different distribution next period.  A delegation of temporary resources would be subject to some review.  We "review" money with taxes -- but how many people believe the rich already in power will actually give it up? I don't think the main problem with my idea is that the rich would seize the apparatus.  I think it's more problematic that they have access to most of the apparatus now, and they would be dead set against dropping the money standard.

Quote
What does that have to do with "sustainable?"
     Part of my idea of sustainability is, something that will not lead to constant alienation for the many, regular recessions or riots.  What is yours?  I'm not sure if you're actually concerned about the same thing.  You say you get it.  Bluntly though, I don't see that simply having the mechanism of a tax code has avoided lots of inequality and misery over the last few US decades.  I would argue manipulation of that code to suit the very few has actually been much of the problem. 

Quote
First of all, there was no "ancient Greece" where everything was all the same.
     Granted there were various things going on around there.  As around many systems we now take as "national prototypes," including the Founding Fathers idea.  (Although I have doubts about Wikipedia for something this complex.)  And Greece on the whole is not the largest of countries, even now.  It's still an interesting model to explore for whatever historical validity and practical potential it might have...  This seems to suggest that to really democratize a process further, some aspects need to be placed under more local auspices.  In a sense, the US economy is doing this anyway:  White flight, gated communities, exclusive funds, federal land versus private land, etc.  Some localities have an enormous amount of hoarding and sway, whereas others are left to petition the national code for relief.  Perhaps it is time to devolve some decision-making. 
« Last Edit: October 21, 2009, 11:13:33 AM by kylie »

Offline Asuras

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #27 on: October 22, 2009, 02:47:10 AM »
Quote from: kylie
Perhaps I wasn't clear enough.  I did try to suggest there could be categories of goods that various coupons would be tied to.  I did not say the coupons would be based on dollar values, and I did not intend that.  My idea was more that it would be possible to lay out several different classes of goods, and give everyone access to certain quantities of each of them -- within cycles of time.  The system would not need to provide more coupons than it had resources, and it would not have to honor coupons that had expired.

When the government honors coupons, it's going to pay producers and distributors that redeem the coupons they get from customers. Whether they say Coupon X is worth $20 worth of food or 200 calories worth of food, they still have to set a value on the coupon. That value is whatever the producers and distributors are paid when they redeem the coupon, whether its dollars or a basket of coupons.

So I'll ask the question again: What will guarantee that the cost of necessities (or the cost of producing them) doesn't come to exceed the value of the coupons?

Quote from: kylie
If one wished to be super careful, I suppose there could even be limits on trading certain types of coupons so no one technically could trade
 way all of their food for something else.

Then we should add the "War on Coupon Trading" to the expenses column of this plan. I propose that it should be about as effective and expensive as the "War on Drugs."

Quote from: kylie
The main incentive, as I believe both Kate and I have indicated in different ways, would be that more types of work would be available to more people -- there would not be a massive difference in storeable pay between say, being a technocrat or a doctor or a construction worker.

In other words, "Pay is pretty equal."

How does that answer the question "Does this leave any real incentive for long-term investment?" (which is what I was asking?)

Quote from: kylie
Granted this would require simplifying the political process.  As things are, I think politicians and lawyers have enshrined themselves in such a distant language and procedure that most people are out of touch with how they operate.  This helps them hold onto lots of money (even as they are effectively writing the rules in very small cliques).

Perhaps law is complicated and requires complex procedures in order to ensure justice beyond kangaroo courts.

Quote from: kylie
What if we did take money as such out of the equation?  Anyway, the direction I have in mind here would require a lot more democratization and transparency in the process of the bureaucracy.

Democratization and transparency is awesome. Yeay democratization and transparency. And when you expand the size of government as vastly as you're talking about here, you need that much more of it.

So how will you make government more transparent and concrete?


Quote from: kylie
Then again...  One way to achieve that might be to reduce the scale of many types of exchange, focus more on local goals.  If more decisions were made to serve smaller areas (for instance education is partly organized this way - often a state affair),

The way education is done is an excellent example of why this is catastrophically bad. In Dallas (which is where I'm from originally) the wealthy suburban school districts keep the money they have and reinvest it in those school districts. So, lo and behold, they have better schools. Meanwhile, the (urban) Dallas ISD suffers in squalor.

So, perhaps you say "Consolidate (i.e, un-localize) school districts in cities; no more suburbs and urban districts." Well, then what about the rural disticts? What about disparities between cities?

But modernity is inherently non-local. The computer you're using was made with parts from around the world; it is the endpoint of a supply chain that can bring together silica mines in India, copper mines in Chile, phosphorus mines in Nauru, computer engineers in California, Virginia, and Germany, semiconductor plants in Taiwan, Mexico, Japan, and South Korea, manufacturers, assemblers, and fabricators in China and Vietnam, distributors/truckers in a dozen states (implying shipbuilders, oil companies, refineries, naval engineers, maintenance crews, longshoremen, etc and an entire other industry). And retailers, marketers, financiers, payroll, human resources...etc, etc...

The reason you get a computer is because it's cheap. The supply chain is globalized, and it's globalized because you have multinational corporations to streamline that supply chain for you with economies of scale. If you localize economic relationships, it's simple: you don't get the computer, you don't get modernity, because you can't leverage the economies of scale that make computers, MRIs, cheetoes, and snuggies possible.

A computer is one thing, but this applies to everything about modernity from medical technology to food to...pretty much everything. Even apparently local things like education imply connections with global supply chains.

Restricting economic decision-making to localities would mean abandoning modern life.

So you see the problem? If you reduce the complexity of political/business life to a size so small that people can (directly) democratically participate, you abandon modernity, and leave everyone massively worse off. If you abandon competition and concentrate global supply-chains into one vast government bureaucracy, you create a monster massively worse than the monster you were trying to slay. Do you see why I would like to find a solution which doesn't threaten to precipitate either of these catastrophes?

Quote from: kylie
Granted as a practical matter, there would be a question of how to start the system such that it isn't monopolized by current interests.

This is not a matter of "current interests." Any bureaucracy you make is going to end up with the same flaws of the present ones, even if you change out the board of directors. "Current interests" will just be replaced with "new interests;" that's what happens whenever you have a pecking order regardless of what the managerial org chart looks like.

The way I'm suggesting is that by pitting these bureaucracies against each other - corporations against corporations, corporations against government - each of them will be more effective in serving the interests of the people than if you amalgamated them into one leviathan because they will be weaker and less able to dominate. It's not a pretty solution - it has its fill of "necessary evils" - but it is the "best of all possible worlds."

Quote from: kylie
Once the system relies on totally liquid and numeric assets, I suspect taxes are easier to manipulate to game the system.

If you have one currency, you have an IRS. If you have thirty different coupon classes, a bureaucracy that distributes, values, and regulates them (do you know how big the tariff code for the single currency we do have is?), tax codes for each one of them...

...how is that harder to game? The whole reason that lawyers and their clients (businesses) have it as well as they do is because of the complexity of law; you're making it thirty times (or how ever many coupon types you want) more complex.

Quote from: kylie
Weren't you saying it was actively-managed index funds that would be of more interest to those poorer people who might, if they were creative enough by your reasoning, scrounge together $100 and pull themselves up by the bootstraps?

I said: "anyone with $100 can save in an index fund, and there's a very famous book in finance which shows that actively managed funds underperform humble, passively managed index funds"

I didn't recommend "actively managed funds," and I certainly didn't recommend "actively-managed index funds", which is a contradiction in terms. Mutual funds and hedge funds are actively managed, index funds and closed-end funds are passively managed.

I recommended index funds (which are by definition passively managed) to anyone wealthy or poor because A) anyone can buy into them (unlike hedge funds), and B) they perform better than mutual or hedge funds.

Quote from: kylie
If one convinces the community to offer provisional rights to pursue a project

From personal experience, getting a public grant (which is what actually would happen when you "convince the community to offer blah blah blah") is easier to game than convincing Sequoia Capital to fund a project. The simple reason is that the public official you're talking to doesn't have to think about the finances, there's no way to audit it...he just has to defend the decision to his boss and to the media (which, come to think of it, would be a lot easier if the media was a government subsidiary like you want) as "plausible within the public interest" which is why public grants are such a cesspool of corruption. At least if Sequoia systematically makes bad decisions they're automatically driven into bankruptcy.

Quote from: kylie
I don't think the main problem with my idea is that the rich would seize the apparatus.

No, I actually think you'd be very effective in stripping Bill Gates of everything he has, if you had the power to. That's easy, you just have to ban him from running for election or whatever.

I think the main problem with your idea is that the class you replace him with - the ones appointing the judges, the assessors, the auditors, the grant purchasers, the nomenklatura - you've given them the apparatus for nothing. They don't have to seize anything. You've given it to them in your glorious revolution and given them all the power.

Quote from: kylie
Part of my idea of sustainability is, something that will not lead to constant alienation for the many, regular recessions or riots.  What is yours?  I'm not sure if you're actually concerned about the same thing.  You say you get it.

A system that is sustainable is a system that can continue to operate as it is indefinitely. The fact that this system has riots or recessions periodically is not unsustainable; that doesn't mean that the system will eventually become impossible to sustain, it just means that it has to endure riots and recessions now and then. Obviously these things are bad but it has nothing to do with sustainability.

Quote from: kylie
Bluntly though, I don't see that simply having the mechanism of a tax code has avoided lots of inequality and misery over the last few US decades.  I would argue manipulation of that code to suit the very few has actually been much of the problem.

And my argument is that your system simply shifts power from a disperse group of individuals to a concentrated group of bureaucrats who - sooner rather than later - will leverage that tremendous power you've concentrated in them to create something more unequal, more inefficent, and far more miserable and decadent than the system we have now.

Offline kylie

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Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #28 on: October 22, 2009, 03:05:46 PM »
     Asuras, you raise some good points but I'm really not clear on what your positive position is except to rant on how horrible my ideas are, through rather shifting frames of reference, when they're little more than generalized speculation.  Maybe we could use another thread on the tax code to argue over the magic math for those of us who are not Accounting majors and MBA's.  I'm really not going to hop into that.  I don't pretend to be "qualified" at it.  I think it has become fairly clear that the "sane" black box of economic principles under which a certain juggernaut of complexity runs Wall Street and much of our economy, is inherently flawed.  I don't know Sequoia per se, but we're just having a grand old time figuring out why all these "bankrupt" operations simply must be saved from themselves.  On money we've already borrowed from whole future generations. 

     You might say it merely needs tweaking, but the Reagan-Bush years did just that.  They tweaked and exploited it to the detriment of the masses.  I suppose I could try to be optimistic that we won't return to that road (tweak only in the "good" direction).  However, by your own reasoning people are always going to try and cheat the system -- there can be no education or incremental change or careful management of varieties of goods to defeat that.  And also according to your arguments, the system must remain opaque to most people for people to accept it.  Which leads back to people being more able to exploit it, as you are so certain anyone with any authority must become set upon doing.

     As for me...  Given the super narrow range of choices you're putting forward in response to my suggestions...  I suppose I must either sit around predicting the next disaster in the West, or be willing to flee to someplace foreign, perhaps pastoral and arguably happier.  Certainly someplace less centrally implicated in using private property to reduce choices of lifestyle -- which is much of what this thread started about.  That is, I could probably leave if Uncle Sam didn't wish to hunt me down for education loans.  And if various foreign countries were willing to host some ex-American citizens to rain on their local parades -- less pleasingly "modern" and Civilized by your standards, but they seem quite happy to keep them small and live with the closely-managed or ecologically managed (for the more pastoral) routines they have.

     Maybe we should all call it a cynical day and say there is no solution in the West.  Perhaps the only option is to accept "sustainability" in your version with a constant risk that one disaster or the other will overwhelm major cities and put gouging holes in  that lovely distribution network you mention.  Surely we can all "live with" a few riots and ultimately, you seem to suggest that no one actually suffers and dies worthy of saving in recessions.  Those issues are simply not as important as good old Fortress America stability, right?  I imagine you would not see any fundamental capitalist connection with or be concerned about another Katrina or, as we continue to attempt to colonize the world for more distribution networks, a larger version of 9/11?  (If it's a bigger tornado caused by climate change, then I might actually die in it but we shall see.)  On and on.  How about global warming?  You seem happy to keep losing people along the way and assume police, technology for the few who qualify (not so quick for  the many who can't afford to flee the cities) and the American Dream will keep everything from tipping over the edge.  But the disasters just keep on coming and evolving along with it.

    I honestly can be cynical and say, well people won't go for it anyway -- not because the ideas are clearly flawed, but more because people are always more comfortable with what they know.  And also because people are pursuing commodities to relieve themselves of all the burdens of modern life.  This doesn't mean they can actually endlessly go on doing so.  Katrinas will keep happening, oceans will rise, some of those people will die in the riots and suicides.  There will be more dissaffected, sometimes highly educated, apocalyptic cults and breakaway factions interested in much more destructive ideas than undoing modernity as you want to hold onto it.

     I don't accept some of your basic premises.  But I admit that I don't either understand or accept your notion of acceptable losses.  I also don't feel that you've really set out to explain just how tweaking the tax code would help us so much.  The way you have spoken of "good" leadership as necessarily opaque and complex, it sounds like if you even know, then I should not be able to understand it and discuss it in any sort of plain language. 
       
« Last Edit: October 22, 2009, 10:48:20 PM by kylie »

Offline Asuras

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #29 on: October 22, 2009, 11:31:41 PM »
Quote from: kylie
Asuras, you raise some good points but I'm really not clear on what your positive position is except to rant on how horrible my ideas are, through rather shifting frames of reference, when they're little more than generalized speculation.

If I have to speculate about your ideas, it's because you have yet to substantiate them. You express things you want to do, like democratization, transparency, and localization without expressing how these are accomplished.

Quote from: kylie
Maybe we could use another thread on the tax code to argue over the magic math for those of us who are not Accounting majors and MBA's.  I'm really not going to hop into that.  I don't pretend to be "qualified" at it.

I don't mean to bomb you with jargon. If I am making something unclear, that's my fault; ask me to clarify it.

Quote from: kylie
Which leads back to people being more able to exploit is, as you are so certain anyone with any authority must become set upon doing.

And you're certain that businessmen are dead set on exploiting the system. I'm just being consistent - I'm saying that any time someone is in a position of power, they're going to become corrupt; that's the track record of people both in government and in business.

If you have some magic wand that can transform tyrants and tycoons into benevolent, charitable stewards of the masses, then it doesn't matter whether the underlying system is capitalism or socialism or something in between. But I'm not smart enough to come up with such a magic wand, and so far you haven't described such a technique either, so the best I can do is try and describe a system that minimizes the damage that these people do as best as possible.

Quote from: kylie
Maybe we should all call it a cynical day and say there is no solution in the West.  Perhaps the only option is to accept "sustainability" in your version with a constant risk that one disaster or the other will overwhelm major cities and put gouging holes in  that lovely distribution network you mention.  Surely we can all "live with" a few riots and ultimately, you seem to suggest that no one actually suffers and dies worthy of saving in recessions.  Those issues are simply not as important as good old Fortress America stability, right?  I imagine you would not see any fundamental capitalist connection with or be concerned about another Katrina or, as we continue to attempt to colonize the world for more distribution networks, a larger version of 9/11?  (If it's a bigger tornado caused by climate change, then I might actually die in it but we shall see.)  On and on.  How about global warming?  You seem happy to keep losing people along the way and assume police, technology for the few who qualify (not so quick for  the many who can't afford to flee the cities) and the American Dream will keep everything from tipping over the edge.  But the disasters just keep on coming and evolving along with it.

I honestly can be cynical and say, well people won't go for it anyway -- not because the ideas are clearly flawed, but more because people are always more comfortable with what they know.  And also because people are pursuing commodities to relieve themselves of all the burdens of modern life.  This doesn't mean they can actually endlessly go on doing so.  Katrinas will keep happening, oceans will rise, some of those people will die in the riots and suicides.  There will be more dissaffected, sometimes highly educated, apocalyptic cults and breakaway factions interested in much more destructive ideas than undoing modernity as you want to hold onto it.

I don't accept some of your basic premises.  But I admit that I don't either understand or accept your notion of acceptable losses.  I also don't feel that you've really set out to explain just how tweaking the tax code would help us so much.  The way you have spoken of "good" leadership as necessarily opaque and complex, it sounds like if you even know, then I should not be able to understand it and discuss it in any sort of plain language.

It's absolutely possible that there are better systems out there than the one we have. But complaining about the present system isn't enough; it's useless without an alternative. Your alternative must be evaluated and if it doesn't prove to be an improvement over what we have - or if it simply proves to be impossible - well, we should stick with what we have until we do come across a better, viable solution. And so far I think that the solution you have presented is not well thought out and will lead to catastrophe, even compared to the system we do have.

I totally agree with the things you want - I don't like injustice and inequality any more than you do - but I don't think it can be wished away either.

Often times solutions - and the twentieth century had some great examples of this - that claim to reduce and injustice inequality do the exact opposite and create atrocities of injustice and inequality. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I'm not shrugging my shoulders blithely about "acceptable losses" and "necessary evils." I want to minimize them. But put bluntly, your solution is worse than the problem it tries to solve, presenting more losses and more evils than the present system, and it should therefore be rejected.

Offline kylie

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Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #30 on: October 24, 2009, 04:00:41 AM »
Before more of the same... 
I found a book probably related to Kate's Greek precedent.
Ellen Meiksins Wood, 1995.  Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism (Cambridge UP).
http://books.google.com/books?id=0BAy3WDKUskC&printsec=frontcover&dq=democracy+against+capitalism&ei=PqXiSqHQDJCkygS_97XyCw#v=onepage&q=&f=false

     As I understand it (pp. 204-205, 211), Wood states that Athens provided a measure of citizenship with rights for its slaves which was historically new.  In contrast, the modern Western notion of private property in capitalism presumes that an elite leading class should have rights that are not shared by royalty or common citizens.  So if you were suggesting that nominal slavery is a sign of exploitation, then it remains to be shown that modernity actually treats the average person with more principled value than Greece treated those described "plainly" - yet with some effective honor - as slaves. 

     This leads me to think that Kate's Greek reference has not been explored seriously enough.  The Greek principles as I can gather from previewing Wood, are not the capitalist principles associated with even modern "democracy" -- which per Wood, is not what Athens (the classical democracy we claim to draw upon!) wished for.  You have imagined some problems with driving an economy "officially" through public courts and committees.  Setting aside (for now) that we already have massive public-entrepreneur ties (sometimes reasonably known as collusion under our less public model)...  What if you're onto something process-wise, and it really does take a tyrant to get from here to something better...   (Kate?  Some thoughts?  Heh.  Sure, she nominates me and disappears.)   
     
Quote
You express things you want to do, like democratization, transparency, and localization without expressing how these are accomplished.
     Let's look a little at this notion of complexity.  I think maybe we're both falling into it, here but bear with me.  I feel like you're setting up a kind of straw man argument by saying you need a precise formula for something that is admittedly rather complex.  How can I convince you of ultimate "practicality," without dropping a gigantic national budget loaded with department rules on the desk?  Had I such a budget, you might still use that as proof that no local powers should be trusted to manage such a sweeping thing -- even, I gather from your quick dismissal of local capabilities, where the interests of their own people were directly involved. 

     The Republican Right has used this sort of argument to oppose all sorts of social programs: If it creates any new bureaucratic title (whether that be an actual new job or simply a change of titles and formal values - which I think is an important distinction), they say it's Big Government taking things "away" from the working people.  And they say, since we cannot perfectly predict the outcome, it must not be worth doing.  The same political faction goes on, meanwhile...  Creating endlessly lengthy defense budgets, raising a thick system of testing that teachers are given few resources to complete, and generally mobilizing complex systems to serve another clear agenda.  My point here is not to say you must be in that faction on those particular issues.  Rather, I'm trying to say I think shooting things down as too 'obviously' complex as it were, is a limited sort of argument. 

     Complexity in the abstract sense of more people, more paperwork can be manipulated any which way or no way.  You might consider it too risky, but I think we can be more positive by asking what sort of values and overall order (not a dense flowchart) would drive a system that served better.  If you say, nothing's better because there is always corruption and any "new" complexity is another kind of chance for corruption, well, that's a rather cynical position and I don't see much to discuss about it.
« Last Edit: October 24, 2009, 04:23:17 AM by kylie »

Offline kylie

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Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #31 on: October 24, 2009, 04:18:02 AM »
     Then we have principles.  You say that democratizing control over goods and services such that some uses of time are more valued than others, will necessarily create a more complex bureaucracy than the tax system you favor.  Even if it would be more complex, I don't really see why it would necessarily be more corrupt.  I'm also concerned what principles it would be regulated by.  Your concerns of runaway hoarding or speculation suggest to me that people must always operate the same way they have in a monetary system with few limits on that sort of thing.  I'm trying to think of a different system to begin with.  This sounds to me like saying for example: Public health care must be too expensive, simply because private health care has been too expensive up until now.  Isn't that apples and oranges, appeal to a dated precedent? 

     If you refuse from the get-go to imagine the principle working (say, you might think nothing in history could possibly support this idea), then we have an impasse.  Or, we might seriously kick around Greece and various other precedents.  That would really take a lot of patience and flexibility with historical interpretation, though.  We might both find it easier to plead lack of expertise, rather than research and risk misrepresenting so many contexts which - slipping in a bias here - are quite unfamiliar and in my experience of US education, usually not honored as serious, relevant education.

     For now, though...  First, it isn't obvious to me why my general idea would necessarily be more complex than what we have now.  It might need to be smaller scale to actually follow local goals -- with various pluses and minuses to execution in that.  At some admitted risk of blurring the differences, yes, but we have a federal system with lots of local exchanges now.  Couldn't we imagine this as a different type of exchange, with a new formal process?  I admit I don't know if the scale fits within our federal or nation-state model so closely.  I might be willing to reconsider how much Texas and say, New York actually have politically in common these days - but I could be in the critical minority there... 

     We have a system now that essentially says some people's time and projects are more valuable than others.  It is in itself horribly complex, and most people feel they cannot understand or manipulate it.  Those with excess wealth, pay another elite group to sort out the numbers in their favor.  And they have the excess wealth to keep on doing so almost indefinitely.  Granted, it might be possible to shake this up some through a flat percent income tax or a better battery of code.  Do you think that is actually forthcoming?  Or would you imagine that since it might be cynically speaking "sustainable," that the upper classes will keep larger gains from the past decades? 

     The long-term concern I have with simple tax policy is that money being extremely convertible, there is little to slow anyone from undoing it at the drop of a hat.  Social systems by definition can be undone.  Yet if we conceive the switch is so simple, we know most people have little control and arguably thus, less real sense of ownership at all.  In that model, there is nothing to do but defend capitalism defined in basically Marxist terms: The people who "own" means of production because, supposedly, no one else can possibly have a more efficient idea of how to use it that works, simply must be allowed to retain them and given rights over most everything available (or seizable, a la globalization and further class exploitation). 

     The principle of wage labor holds that anyone has the right to trade off their present, past, and even future time indefinitely.  All time is on the one hand supposedly equal and tradeable regardless of what use various people put to it.  On the other hand, wages pay for time differentially (hours x industry x nationality x race and gender etc.).  Credit allows people to trade much more time than they can expect to repay without great hardship (sometimes impossible).  I think some of your assumptions about valuation of goods and services are fixed upon the premises of that system, which I'm trying to shake altogether in the first instance (whether gradually or quickly, certainly open for ideas there).  If you reject outright that such values are socially marketable, again I'm not sure what else to add.  You seem to see higher risks from cheating and from political decentralization in the abstract (we haven't really looked around, except for Texas on education - have you ever, say, lived in a smaller country?) than benefits from many people choosing more of their lifestyles and having more basic guarantees of security.  I'm not fully convinced that is a difference founded on simply mechanical questions. 

Quote
And you're certain that businessmen are dead set on exploiting the system.
     I didn't set out to indicate that.  I have been pointing to evidence that the larger ones tend, on the whole, to have large amounts of wealth that appear to be hoarded or reinvested in ways that may not serve the public good.  I think some have been more benevolent than others, and some are horrid.  Some perhaps do not keep track of all they have wrought.  I would question your notion that government and business presently compete with each other per se.  I think our current notion of ownership puts all the benefit of the doubt with business - witness the government continually "forced" to bail them out and helping to break the system's supposedly inviolable principle that people are paid big bucks to take the biggest risks.  The risks seem to be on everyone who does not formally own the means, and upon future generations.  Most likely, the rules will continue to be rewritten, so it is a psychological game the masses lose.  That comes before the material one whose language, I think, you are speaking pretty faithfully.   

Quote
  If you have some magic wand that can transform tyrants and tycoons into benevolent, charitable stewards of the masses, then it doesn't matter whether the underlying system is capitalism or socialism or something in between.
     I'm not sure if you have inconsistent ideas about some "automatic" role of the present leading class in strategic decisions, or if you simply think I do.  Above you said I was hell bent on financially disempowering all of the business people, period.  You're installing me on two different positions there.  In the earlier post, you also said I would ban them from office -- which I never suggested.  Short of devolving more power to local communities directly, it might be useful to restructure formal relationships between certain offices and business, to allow the public more say in whether what's now often (honestly) unredeemable money to them, should do something more for their lives...  I have said repeatedly that I would like a mechanism that gives more people directly affected by allocations of resources more capacity to have occupations they care for and some ability to selectively reward projects that they feel benefit their livelihoods and communities.  Put these together, and there would be various scales of production.  I'm not sure there would be as much support for massive enterprises that carry a vast range of different goods at mixed quality, while taking most of the wealth out of local areas and putting most of the cost in distant ones (to later be publicized by conscientious activists, or sometimes retaliated against - directly or symbolically - by "radicals" and various foreign players). 

     I did read the rest of your post.  I think this is long enough, but I'll just say that I think we need to start by agreeing on principles.  I don't know if education is the simplest "wand," but I do think a certain historical learning has been involved when economies have restructured fundamentally in the past.  (Are we there yet?)  Part of change, whether it's a simple flat rate tax or ambitious regime for communal goals, has to be a notion that there will be some very unpredictable but politically acceptable risk.  If there is no jumping without a perfect formula -- while the public is continually trained to systematically attack any vague "threat" of disturbance to the established hierarchy with all its abuses -- then the trade-off is effective complicity.  Whether or not you call it such, that position treats dilemmas and disasters we can predict as acceptable costs.  In that case, we should not be surprised when the threats come for us "personally."  This isn't simply complaining; it is taking a position about collective responsibility.

« Last Edit: October 24, 2009, 04:47:23 AM by kylie »

Offline Asuras

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #32 on: October 25, 2009, 04:06:43 AM »
Quote from: kylie
As I understand it (pp. 204-205, 211), Wood states that Athens provided a measure of citizenship with rights for its slaves which was historically new.  In contrast, the modern Western notion of private property in capitalism presumes that an elite leading class should have rights that are not shared by royalty or common citizens.  So if you were suggesting that nominal slavery is a sign of exploitation, then it remains to be shown that modernity actually treats the average person with more principled value than Greece treated those described "plainly" - yet with some effective honor - as slaves.

Athenian slaves couldn't vote or hold property, they could be freely traded, their families could be broken up at will, for starters. So are you arguing that modernity doesn't treat "the average person with more principled value than Greece?" (classical Athens particularly)

Quote from: kylie
You have imagined some problems with driving an economy "officially" through public courts and committees.  Setting aside (for now) that we already have massive public-entrepreneur ties (sometimes reasonably known as collusion under our less public model)...

And that's a big part of the argument I'm making - your idea pretends to drive corporations out of governance, but in fact you're taking away any pretense of separation between business and government.

Quote from: kylie
What if you're onto something process-wise, and it really does take a tyrant to get from here to something better...

I think I've said the opposite - I think that if you centralize everything and put things into the hands of tyrants or vast all-powerful bureaucracies, you get something terrible based on the "power corrupts" principle.

Quote from: kylie
     Let's look a little at this notion of complexity.  I think maybe we're both falling into it, here but bear with me.  I feel like you're setting up a kind of straw man argument by saying you need a precise formula for something that is admittedly rather complex.  How can I convince you of ultimate "practicality," without dropping a gigantic national budget loaded with department rules on the desk?  Had I such a budget, you might still use that as proof that no local powers should be trusted to manage such a sweeping thing -- even, I gather from your quick dismissal of local capabilities, where the interests of their own people were directly involved.

This is a summary of the argument so far:

kylie: We can redistribute all the wealth equally.
Me: How do you ensure that the government will remain accountable once you give it all the power to redistribute and manage the wealth?
kylie: We'll make it more transparent, democratic, and local.
Me: How?

And now you're saying:

kylie: Well, it's beyond me to give details like that.

Really?

I'm not asking for a 20,000 page code of laws, but I'm asking for something a little more sophisticated than "We'll hand out coupons." I'm not asking for minutia, I'm asking for substance.

Quote from: kylie
Then we have principles.  You say that democratizing control over goods and services such that some uses of time are more valued than others, will necessarily create a more complex bureaucracy than the tax system you favor.  Even if it would be more complex, I don't really see why it would necessarily be more corrupt.

I'm going to make a point here since you've complained about this before: You still haven't specified how you're going to "democratize control over goods and services," so I have to speculate. I'm going to speculate that you mean something like nationalizing the industry.

1. Regulations are already quite complex, but when the government takes control of an industry, that's going to increase the complexity of law by an order of magnitude. As I said earlier, the power that lawyers (and their clients, i.e., businessmen) enjoy lies in the complexity of law; every sentence of law that someone writes is an opportunity for a loophole. Every loophole is a place that someone who's already powerful will wiggle their way through.

2. Every time that an industry is nationalized, it creates opportunities for patronage. Every opportunity for patronage is an opportunity for corruption. Every opportunity for patronage increases the power of incumbents, who can sell off positions or leverage their power over nationalized industries to help them win elections and drive out opposition.

Whereas when you separate government and business, if a business becomes corrupt, then (assuming that anti-trust law works) that business will go out of business because it's not going to be able to deliver efficiently to customers. Automatically. So there's a great incentive not to be corrupt.

Now, if you want to complain about corruption of government by businesses, well, how much harder is that when those businesses are already part of government? The Saudis, for instance, nationalized their country's oil industry a long time ago; who's the bitch today?

Quote from: kylie
Your concerns of runaway hoarding or speculation suggest to me that people must always operate the same way they have in a monetary system with few limits on that sort of thing.  I'm trying to think of a different system to begin with.  This sounds to me like saying for example: Public health care must be too expensive, simply because private health care has been too expensive up until now.  Isn't that apples and oranges, appeal to a dated precedent? 

The reason that it's "apples and apples" is that it's organizations of people in my system, and organizations of people in your system. I don't think your system is fundamentally different; so far you haven't presented a reason for anyone to think "Oh, well, people will suddenly play nice, suddenly large organizations will be benevolent." This goes back to the consistency issue - you think that businessmen don't play nice, libertarians think that governments don't play nice, I take the consistent position that no one plays nice so we have to balance all of them against each other.

Quote from: kylie
If you refuse from the get-go to imagine the principle working (say, you might think nothing in history could possibly support this idea), then we have an impasse.

What if the principle doesn't work?

Quote from: kylie
We have a system now that essentially says some people's time and projects are more valuable than others.

Because it is. If two billion people benefit from Project A and no one benefits from Project B, then Project A is more valuable. If Caleb spends his time working on project A, and Daniel spends his time working on Project B, then Caleb is spending his time better and should be rewarded for that.

Quote from: kylie
It is in itself horribly complex, and most people feel they cannot understand or manipulate it.

I wouldn't describe it as "horribly complex" - I mean, there are a lot of details, but to have a working knowledge of how the thing works is easier than it's ever been. You can look up what S-corps and C-corps do online and get a working knowledge of it. I do think that we should make greater effort to educate people in business, law, and economics.

Is your alternative easier to understand or manipulate?

Quote from: kylie
Granted, it might be possible to shake this up some through a flat percent income tax or a better battery of code.  Do you think that is actually forthcoming?

You're talking about overthrowing the system; I'm talking about reforming it. I think reform is necessarily more likely than revolution; anyone who wants revolution will be at least pressure for reform.

Quote from: kylie
Or would you imagine that since it might be cynically speaking "sustainable," that the upper classes will keep larger gains from the past decades?

I don't think anything is static. The people supported progressive taxes and a new, socially minded economy after WWII in most western countries and they got it; this replaced a vastly unequal social system that lingered from the gilded age. Since 1970, I'd agree that there was a shift in favor of the wealthy but I don't think that that's fixed.

Quote from: kylie
The long-term concern I have with simple tax policy is that money being extremely convertible, there is little to slow anyone from undoing it at the drop of a hat.  Social systems by definition can be undone.  Yet if we conceive the switch is so simple, we know most people have little control and arguably thus, less real sense of ownership at all.

I don't understand why making money less convertible would change this.

Quote from: kylie
You seem to see higher risks from cheating and from political decentralization in the abstract (we haven't really looked around, except for Texas on education - have you ever, say, lived in a smaller country?) than benefits from many people choosing more of their lifestyles and having more basic guarantees of security.  I'm not fully convinced that is a difference founded on simply mechanical questions. 

As opposed to what kind of questions?

I mean, we're comparing systems. We're arguing about whether or not humanity should adopt system A or system B. We have to evaluate, mechanically, the advantages and disadvantages of these systems because we're talking about the welfare of humanity. This is a mechanical comparison and a mechanical question.

Quote from: kylie
I think our current notion of ownership puts all the benefit of the doubt with business - witness the government continually "forced" to bail them out and helping to break the system's supposedly inviolable principle that people are paid big bucks to take the biggest risks.

People are compensated for taking on risk because otherwise they would always take safe bets. Development and growth require someone to take on risk, whether or not it's the government or business that takes it on that risk.

These banks were bailed out because not bailing out would crash the economy for ten years. That was the alternative. The banks did not make good decisions, no one says they did, and yet the fact remains that it would crash the economy. The strategy is to rewrite the rules so that the things that caused this crash won't happen again and the government doesn't have to bail them out again.

No, it isn't perfect. But unless you have a system that's less prone to bad behavior...

Quote from: kylie
I'm not sure if you have inconsistent ideas about some "automatic" role of the present leading class in strategic decisions, or if you simply think I do.

If you replace Bill Gates and Warren Buffett with Lenin and Trotsky, you will still have a ruling class. I don't deny that you can replace Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and friends, but I do deny that you can get rid of ruling classes entirely as long as you have organized society. The people you replace Warren and Bill with will become a new ruling class and very quickly they will come to behave like one.

Quote from: kylie
Above you said I was hell bent on financially disempowering all of the business people, period.  You're installing me on two different positions there.  In the earlier post, you also said I would ban them from office -- which I never suggested.  Short of devolving more power to local communities directly, it might be useful to restructure formal relationships between certain offices and business, to allow the public more say in whether what's now often (honestly) unredeemable money to them, should do something more for their lives...  I have said repeatedly that I would like a mechanism that gives more people directly affected by allocations of resources more capacity to have occupations they care for and some ability to selectively reward projects that they feel benefit their livelihoods and communities.

And again this is just generalities. Everyone would like to make government more local, everyone would like to let people have more say. Well...how?

The typical answer when countries try to try this sort of thing is "Big, powerful, corrupt government!" and it works as well as can be expected.

Quote from: kylie
Part of change, whether it's a simple flat rate tax or ambitious regime for communal goals, has to be a notion that there will be some very unpredictable but politically acceptable risk.  If there is no jumping without a perfect formula -- while the public is continually trained to systematically attack any vague "threat" of disturbance to the established hierarchy with all its abuses -- then the trade-off is effective complicity.

And there are a lot of different social systems we could try but I'm not willing to gamble civilization and the lifetimes of millions of people on whether they're good or not. Some of them are extremely stupid. We have to analyze them before trying them.

I'm not against change or reform - things like public health care I'm totally for - but these are very well-substantiated reforms, not leaping off cliffs. There is a real, substantial, tremendous difference between what you have so far described (or gestured toward) and something concrete like health care reform.

Quote from: kylie
Whether or not you call it such, that position treats dilemmas and disasters we can predict as acceptable costs.

Whatever you want to call them, I appreciate them as flaws. Acceptable costs, whatever. I would like to fix them, but I will not accept a "fix" that creates more dilemmas and disasters than existed before the fix. I fear your system does precisely that.

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Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #33 on: October 31, 2009, 03:55:29 AM »
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Athenian slaves couldn't vote or hold property, they could be freely traded, their families could be broken up at will, for starters. So are you arguing that modernity doesn't treat "the average person with more principled value than Greece?" (classical Athens particularly)
     Honestly, I don't pretend to be a grand comparative historian and I'm a big Google on Greece/ if time were available from holding down our specialized jobs and bills plus a measure of leisure then "let's agree to read something on the same list and come back."  At the quick Google, I am seeing that some slaves were basically criminals on death sentences and others were given a whole lot of security.  Also that the very idea of basic security of any kind, at some point in the contemporary history at least, was original.    Whereas I'm not sure what the basic security is for people today who go into credit bust and can't pay the rent.  Homelessness or 60 hour weeks or slavery with a roof and some (however twisted) sense of family.  Hmm. 

It's more the general principle of egalitarianism, at whatever stage, that I was interested in. As far as I can see, you're only going to be satisfied if someone has already pulled off something much better on a global scale.  We can go round and round where you say, people only follow precedent and I say they will only alter the rules if they sense something is really, fundamentally off in the way the system is structured.  (Will another be better? It's easier to go back than forward, but it's harder to see how staying put is waiting for Pompeii too.)  Supposedly we are doing the best that can be hoped for by exporting all the sweatshop labor to China and bombing tens of thousands in the Middle East, to get our textiles and oil here where we can all pretend to be safe and equal.  Globalization and distribution systems at the finest.

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you're taking away any pretense of separation between business and government.
    Am I, or is the notion that more people could be involved in decisions just another form of pretense to you?  Either way, I'm not so convinced that the type and level of pretense we have is really helping.  You don't seem to agree it's already mostly pretense, though.

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Every time that an industry is nationalized, it creates opportunities for patronage. Every opportunity for patronage is an opportunity for corruption.
    What if more industries are managed by local areas?  Would you trust locally bound, short-term accountable leaders the same or less than dynastic national ones, who can remove their stakes to anywhere they wish at any time?   The government is subsidizing fuel and transportation at the national level as it is -- and we would still have to deal with what that is really doing to the economy.  But assuming for the moment that were manageable to iron out, I really wonder if having a national system to translate conversion and distribution between more local systems of production would make necessarily the same hurdles as national and international convertability presents today. 

If more basic industries had more local operations and management, there might be more occasional local failings but this would mitigate against dumping of costs on other localities - they simply wouldn't be as reliant on distant sources of food, textiles, metals, whatever.  Granted, not everywhere can make steel or soybeans.  But when so much of the world relies on the US for corn products and most of the cars come from Asia, it's a step away from what in the 19th century was called Triangular Trade.  Except now the working hours without choices are in South Asia, not so much in the Southern US (well not to the same extreme anyway).  You haven't really engaged with what impact the US economy has on the rest of the world, but just for one domestic example: States that used to have viable small farming industries no longer do.

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Now, if you want to complain about corruption of government by businesses, well, how much harder is that when those businesses are already part of government? The Saudis, for instance, nationalized their country's oil industry a long time ago; who's the bitch today?
     You may have a point, but I'm not sure I can separate it out from the impact of US colonialism in the Middle East, with all the sordid grey operations.  You might say that having smaller scales of leadership makes for more vulnerable states, and therefore the Saudi leaders caved/were partly corrupted by foreign pressure.  It might be one reason to fuss about how many systems could be localized how quickly...  That doesn't show me that nationalization was the main culprit, though.  Would you also hold that most European health care systems are unacceptably corrupt, just because they are more nationally controlled?  Necessities first.  But I'd like to see a few more of them insured better, and build up from there.

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I take the consistent position that no one plays nice so we have to balance all of them against each other.
     This may be true for some people, and I think it's a factor that is encouraged by the formalities of exchange that we have.  It's like your stuck saying, well it's necessarily nicer to sap people of every dime by gaming the system and insisting one "earned" it.  As if the only alternative is abject chaos or mass exploitation -- and as if we don't already have mass exploitation. 

This doesn't really explain people who work in non-profits.  It doesn't address why lots of people on principle take on jobs that are often known to be undervalued and yes, rather messily regulated now (nursing, education, many arts).  Why does anyone live this way if they know they're going to be gamed a little -- or a lot?  I don't think it's fundamentally about trust in government; I think it's more about faith in people and their instincts for self-realization, their ability to learn something other than beggar thy neighbor.  And people who simply leave the US because they believe other countries are actually more "civilized" to put it glibly (more satisfaction with social services, sense of peace, sense of harmony with nature, ideals of community, pick a person and country).  By your standards, I rather get the impression we're all failing to be good citizens if we don't plan only for the worst and join/trust in only the lawyers and MBA's (or at least defense industry and assorted highly profitable contractors holding up those lovely distribution networks as they are).   

Quote from: kylie
We have a system now that essentially says some people's time and projects are more valuable than others.
 
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Because it is. If two billion people benefit from Project A and no one benefits from Project B, then Project A is more valuable.  If Caleb spends his time working on project A, and Daniel spends his time working on Project B, then Caleb is spending his time better and should be rewarded for that.
  You're assuming everyone concerned (including distant sweatshop workers and locally furlowed employees who are paying taxes that help Caleb's mansion #9) naturally agrees that A is more valuable than B, for as long (generations!) and across as many very disparate (even foreign) communities as the same money can be distributed and reinvested.  I'm not buying that. 

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I don't think anything is static. The people supported progressive taxes and a new, socially minded economy after WWII in most western countries and they got it; this replaced a vastly unequal social system that lingered from the gilded age. Since 1970, I'd agree that there was a shift in favor of the wealthy but I don't think that that's fixed.
    You know, with Obama in office and everything, I would really like to believe this.  I'm feeling a little skeptical that the Old Guard who benefited most from the decades of upward redistribution will let go of their edge such that my generation can benefit substantially in our lifetime, though.  I might have a little more faith if there were more incentives for the capital to stay in places where we can see what's going on and what it's doing for more than the people with mansions.  Oh, but we have to bail the children out from all the interest our elders accumulated for them first.  Those magic numbers to be fixed on Wall Street.  Too bad for us.

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The banks did not make good decisions, no one says they did, and yet the fact remains that it would crash the economy. The strategy is to rewrite the rules so that the things that caused this crash won't happen again and the government doesn't have to bail them out again.
     If there is a simple explanation of how this is actually being done to matter in our time, then I think most of the news media has missed it.  You say the economy is easy to understand under the going system, but can you explain it in language most of us will believe?  Without plain language detail, for all I know this could be just another veiled promise of trickle-down values backed by a lot of jargon-laden documents. 
« Last Edit: October 31, 2009, 04:03:01 AM by kylie »

Offline Asuras

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #34 on: November 01, 2009, 08:10:58 PM »
Quote from: kylie
Whereas I'm not sure what the basic security is for people today who go into credit bust and can't pay the rent.  Homelessness or 60 hour weeks or slavery with a roof and some (however twisted) sense of family.  Hmm.

I'm not aware that Athens had any "maximum working hour" law for slaves, so I really doubt that the situation could possibly have been better in Athens. Since slaves couldn't hold property, I find it extremely hard to believe that homelessness was less of a problem. Since employers (slaveholders) could break up slave families at will, I can't see any better domestic situation. I really see nothing about being an Athenian slave that would be better than a working class American.

Quote from: kylie
As far as I can see, you're only going to be satisfied if someone has already pulled off something much better on a global scale.  We can go round and round where you say, people only follow precedent and I say they will only alter the rules if they sense something is really, fundamentally off in the way the system is structured.

I've said this several times before - I'm not against trying new things, I'm not committed to the idea that capitalism is the best thing out there. I'm definitely not against the idea that people could become better.

But you've given no substantial argument as to how this could happen. You haven't explained how you want to deal with my main criticisms that 1. people in power are nasty and 2. there's no way to do this without concentrating power into fewer and fewer people. You've given very little substance on what exactly you want - so little substance in fact that I don't know if you're talking about vast Soviet bureaucracies or small, self-sustaining utopian communes.

If it seems like we're going in circles, it's because you're ignoring my questions.

Quote from: kylie
What if more industries are managed by local areas?  Would you trust locally bound, short-term accountable leaders the same or less than dynastic national ones, who can remove their stakes to anywhere they wish at any time?   

It depends how local. I think that if once you get past a few thousand people per elected official, the difference becomes negligible. And I'll give evidence: local governments in the US are no less corrupt than the federal government - there's no shortage of corrupt deals for city construction contracts.

Quote from: kylie
Would you trust locally bound, short-term accountable leaders the same or less than dynastic national ones, who can remove their stakes to anywhere they wish at any time?   The government is subsidizing fuel and transportation at the national level as it is -- and we would still have to deal with what that is really doing to the economy.  But assuming for the moment that were manageable to iron out, I really wonder if having a national system to translate conversion and distribution between more local systems of production would make necessarily the same hurdles as national and international convertability presents today.

If I follow this right, you're saying that the federal government starts with all the wealth in the economy and distributes it to localities. If that's accurate, then the appropriate comparison isn't fuel and farm subsidies, but military contracts, which is probably the single grossest example of government corruption, unfairness, and inefficiency in the American experience.

Moreover, virtually nothing (apart from some cottage and craft industries) is local anymore. A computer, a TV - hell, even food - is the end-product of a very long global supply chain. Most of the stuff we have these days is dependent on these global supply chains and simply will be too inefficient to produce without them. Now, if you want these supply chains to exist, someone has to organize them. Either the government pays corporations to do it, and pays for the final product (in which case we're in the military contracts situation), or the government itself becomes the corporation, handling each step in the supply chain - in which case the government becomes one gigantic totalitarian corporation which seems vastly worse than the contracts situation.

At any rate, I'm not quite clear on how this makes things more egalitarian anyway.

Quote from: kylie
You haven't really engaged with what impact the US economy has on the rest of the world,

No, but I would give pretty much the same argument.

Quote from: kylie
States that used to have viable small farming industries no longer do.

If they can't do it efficiently, they should do something else. Why should the rest of humanity be required to subsidize this?

Quote from: kylie
That doesn't show me that nationalization was the main culprit, though.  Would you also hold that most European health care systems are unacceptably corrupt, just because they are more nationally controlled?

It's one thing to nationalize or regulate a single industry - that doesn't fundamentally alter the power structure in an economy. What I am critical of is taking such a position in many industries; that does alter the power structure fundamentally, does create vast opportunities for corruption, patronage, and malfeasance. So the issue is where you do it and when is it beneficial and what is the best way to do it?

You might ask, "What's so special about health care?" Well, in the case of health care (and certain utilities) letting things run free is much less efficient than putting them under degrees of government supervision. That isn't as true of most industries.

Quote from: kylie
This doesn't really explain people who work in non-profits.  It doesn't address why lots of people on principle take on jobs that are often known to be undervalued and yes, rather messily regulated now (nursing, education, many arts).  Why does anyone live this way if they know they're going to be gamed a little -- or a lot?

People can want anything - I don't have any problem accepting that someone could want nothing but good in the world and work for a non-profit happily his whole life a few dollars above subsistence.

But my argument is that when it comes to organizations, the reality is that the kind of people that get to the top of those organizations are people who get tempted day after day with opportunities to take advantage of where they are, and that does encourage someone to blur the lines between right and wrong, even if they started out as an honest person. It tends to happen rather quickly, especially if you don't have very powerful disincentives built into the system to keep them from making the wrong choice.

Now, our system does in fact have very powerful disincentives built in: a corrupt business - an inefficient business - will be destroyed by the market.  People faced with dishonest options have very powerful, automatic disincentives against taking them. But if you erode that disincentive by combining business with government, I think you'll discover that people become much worse much faster.

That's how the "power corrupts" rule works. It's easy to be honest when you aren't confronted by lucrative opportunities for dishonesty.

Quote from: kylie
You're assuming everyone concerned (including distant sweatshop workers and locally furlowed employees who are paying taxes that help Caleb's mansion #9) naturally agrees that A is more valuable than B, for as long (generations!) and across as many very disparate (even foreign) communities as the same money can be distributed and reinvested.  I'm not buying that.

No, and I'm not saying that every time it works right, but I will say that in general the people who get paid the most are the ones who are doing the most valuable things. A doctor works harder and has worked harder and does more for more people than some guy who flips burgers. An engineer designing a cell phone is doing something that more people want and that more people can use and that will improve the quality of life for more people. And yes, even someone in finance or management is doing more because they're delegating resources, streamlining organizations, cutting costs, and working to create more with less. The difference between GM and Toyota is far deeper than engineering.

Quote from: kylie
If there is a simple explanation of how this is actually being done to matter in our time, then I think most of the news media has missed it.  You say the economy is easy to understand under the going system, but can you explain it in language most of us will believe?  Without plain language detail, for all I know this could be just another veiled promise of trickle-down values backed by a lot of jargon-laden documents. 

There are two kinds of banks, commercial banks and investment banks. Since the Great Depression, commercial banks (which are the banks that private citizens like you and me put our money in) have been heavily regulated by the U.S. government. They aren't allowed to lend recklessly. They are insured by the federal government, which means that the federal government guarantees that if you want to take your money out of your bank, the federal government will make sure that you can, even if the bank is bankrupt.

Investment banks (like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) have never been heavily regulated. Their clients are mainly other financial institutions, such as insurance companies, pension funds, and other banks. They have been allowed to lend just about as recklessly as they please. Last year, a number of them (such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers) ceased to exist because of the financial crisis, and their destruction threatened to bring down the financial system. They were the center of the financial crisis.

The big plan these days is to regulate them more like commercial banks, by imposing restrictions on how recklessly they can invest, and possibly by insuring their accounts.

Clear enough?

Offline kylie

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Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #35 on: November 05, 2009, 06:43:43 AM »
Quote from: Asuras
I'm not aware that Athens had any "maximum working hour" law for slaves, so I really doubt that the situation could possibly have been better in Athens. Since slaves couldn't hold property, I find it extremely hard to believe that homelessness was less of a problem. Since employers (slaveholders) could break up slave families at will, I can't see any better domestic situation. I really see nothing about being an Athenian slave that would be better than a working class American.
     You're very focused on formalities, precedents and plans; I'm really more interested in how principles can be adapted or changed and what people actually seem to do and feel.  There are levels of meaning beyond the plan which can influence how whole societies play out - if enough people take an idea seriously.  Worse, you're assuming that contracts are carried out the same in different cultures.  Again it is just at a quick Google, but what I was seeing was that some Athenian slaves were sheltered as virtual family members.  That seems to imply that they would not have been readily separated reassigned or overloaded.  Now, in many contemporary capitalist states, being "family" is an excuse for domestic workers (often recent immigrants) to be overworked.  However, if it is true as the historical materialism study suggests that the Greeks actually had a principle of basic protection for slaves apart from our notion of labor as an expendable resource, then it is possible that they would not have gone that exploitative route.  More to the point, whether you call something slave or maximum or minimum -- or property, it's the overall society that is going to determine whether many people have to work like crazy, how many have time and resources to be innovative, and who is actually (as opposed to formally) protected. 

     Back to Earth, for just one relatively "civilized" example (many other countries have less happy ones thanks to us)...  Contemporary Hawaii has minimum wage and minimum health care laws, but it also has a huge undereducated Filipino population and many people working 60 hour weeks just to pay the rent and have a few pretty commodities.  They don't call it slavery, but half the population will go homeless without that next check and the population's food reserves won't last two weeks in case of disaster.  All of this gravitating around a strip of land (Waikiki) that a century or so before was swamp and poi fields -- and big capital could move out and leave everyone high and dry the minute another place becomes "more attractive" for investment.  At the moment, it's a tourist mecca for a handful of global rich, just a few miles from where the military fires off depleted uranium on a regular basis.  You might say this is better than tribes having intermittent warfare or imperial powers squabbling over the island.  But, some might be happier if they had a level of basic security that didn't come and go with the military and cruise lines.  In fact, some Hawaiians are agitating for just that because they are willing to bet that more indigenous values would make a better world again, one way or another.  Pick another region, and I think we could find similar patterns (substitute New Age or socialist or regionalist, etc. as applies for the alternative label).  It boils down to a sense of unfairness and lack of security for many people with that global economy you take as so inevitable.

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1. people in power are nasty
     If it were this simple, then I don't think you can easily argue - as you did early on - that pitting one group of nasty (business) versus another group of nasty (government) should really serve the interests of most people at all.  It could as easily be nasty versus nastier, but everyone suffers (except the few in power).  By this reasoning, you've just substituted "people in power" for wealth.  It sounds like the Republicans going on about Big Government.  But without someone in power acquiring more concern for equality, the problem is much the same.

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2. there's no way to do this without concentrating power into fewer and fewer people. You've given very little substance on what exactly you want - so little substance in fact that I don't know if you're talking about vast Soviet bureaucracies or small, self-sustaining utopian communes.
    Well, as I thought about it, I imagined more support for local industries would probably have to be involved.  Localities can live without a lot of commodities being constantly updated (we don't need a new computer system every month), but how could they negotiate equity if they don't have a base in food and medical when other industries make catastrophic failures (nuclear accidents or simply a mass recall - since you assume some industries must have distant distribution centers or facilities too complex for localities to control)...   Speaking more generally, there is a lot of incentive for capital to be simply withdrawn from the workers' lives whenever it can be reinvested so much more efficiently somewhere else.  So something a little more on the general commune idea, perhaps, with an overarching structure to provide smoother exchanges for items that lack natural resources or population to produce them in some areas.  I'm not as concerned as you are with whether it would feel like modernity as we already know it.  That might be proof for you that it wouldn't gather popular support, but I don't think that means it's "obviously" a crummy idea.  I just think that means people have been effectively taught (to the greater advantage of very few) that living nasty and insecure is preferable to being aware of interdependence or attempting more equality.

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local governments in the US are no less corrupt than the federal government - there's no shortage of corrupt deals for city construction contracts.
     Wouldn't it be a disincentive for corruption if there was going to be follow-up on projects in shorter time frames?  And if over the long haul, local bodies could make decisions about who earned larger projects based on smaller-scale local trials and community interests.  As it is, we have lots of mega-companies slipping in and out whenever the tide turns.  There isn't much accountability, just big conglomerates based on liquid capital coming and going as they please - and leaving the human costs behind where they will.

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People can want anything - I don't have any problem accepting that someone could want nothing but good in the world and work for a non-profit happily his whole life a few dollars above subsistence.
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I'm not saying that every time it works right, but I will say that in general the people who get paid the most are the ones who are doing the most valuable things. A doctor works harder and has worked harder and does more for more people than some guy who flips burgers.
     You don't address why so many necessary and arguably honorable professions should should be paid so very much less or forced to mere subsistence for themselves and usually (in reality, American Dream aside) their children.  The result is that more people are alienated and few are even seriously allowed to propose meaningful innovation.  Sure you can say that lots of people use computers so Bill Gates did a good thing etc.  (Setting aside that lots of people buy lots of really destructive things, too.)  But was it such a good thing that he should be numerically assigned millions of times the choices of a school teacher who puts ideas in hundreds of heads every day?  So much more than the nurse whose repetitive but carefully applied actions save a couple lives directly and prolong thousands of others each week? 

     Couldn't his computers be distributed without the hard labor of people in China and Malaysia who may not have any other choice and little leisure at all, and the big computer makers rely on that for their massive profits?  Are the hours of craned backs by people sweeping his factory floors honestly that much less valuable that they should have a let's say 60+% lower chance of getting their children to the position of having their choice of labor or developing an innovative idea?  Even if the answer is yes, do the sons and grandsons of Gates (or Haliburton, etc.) really deserve to inherit millions of dollars in privilege and power just because the last generation did a few good things? 

     This is basically what I'm trying to address in some rudimentary positive fashion, however unspecifically or potentially maligned.  However techincally well-intended, rejecting any such change on the going thing wholesale through a language of But leaders can't be taught not to be corrupt! really stonewalls the point.  Perhaps we should drop money and wealth and inequality for lack of common ground...  And hop over to a thread somewhere on whether Obama is equally biased toward the rich as Bush?  Perhaps if he is more likely to level the tax code even slightly, you might be willing to concede that there is something other than "good business" in the philosophy behind why he might consider doing so?  And some smidget of that philosophy involved in the complex mechanics of how he got elected?  Am I reaching (or hoping) too much again?
« Last Edit: November 05, 2009, 07:00:47 AM by kylie »

Offline kylie

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Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #36 on: November 05, 2009, 06:45:12 AM »
Quote
Investment banks (like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) have never been heavily regulated. Their clients are mainly other financial institutions, such as insurance companies, pension funds, and other banks. They have been allowed to lend just about as recklessly as they please. Last year, a number of them (such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers) ceased to exist because of the financial crisis, and their destruction threatened to bring down the financial system. They were the center of the financial crisis.  The big plan these days is to regulate them more like commercial banks, by imposing restrictions on how recklessly they can invest, and possibly by insuring their accounts.
     I'd like to think it was that simple and such a change would really make a huge difference.  Although that doesn't really address the continuing hoarding of much of the nation's currency (and therefore many of our supposedly practical social "options") in the hands of a scant few from generations ago.  But there is some evidence that even while we have paid many billions to bail out failing businesses, the supposedly self-correcting financial market goes on looking for new ways for the Fat Cats to game the system while avoiding regulation.  And by your reasoning, the market - not government per se (who are also corruptible, I believe you indicated) - should ultimately protect itself from excess.  Inefficient businesses going under and all that.  Just picking up a few things quickly...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/opinion/25sun1.html?pagewanted=1&sq&st=nyt&scp=1
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We still worry about leaving all of these critical details up to the banks — even with a promise from the Fed to be more vigilant. During the last several decades, banks have been given far too much room to write their own rules. The economic disaster around us is the result.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/28/derivatives-bailed-out-ba_n_300420.html&cp
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The credit risk posed by derivatives in the banking system now stands at $555 billion, a 37 percent increase from 2008. "By any standard these [credit] exposures remain very high," Kathryn E. Dick, the OCC's deputy comptroller for credit and market risk, said in a statement.
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=a3CxbMYYXpt8
Quote
In the end-users coalition, broker-dealers found a powerful ally. Although the two groups say they didn’t coordinate their lobbying, their interests overlapped and many of the concessions won in the bill for end-users ended up benefiting some of the biggest Wall Street banks whose credit-default swaps exacerbated the financial crisis.
« Last Edit: November 05, 2009, 07:04:07 AM by kylie »

Offline Morven

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #37 on: November 06, 2009, 02:00:21 AM »
I've seen articles from a variety of people who know about the financial world saying that, over time, greed always encourages the financial markets to find new, unregulated, poorly understood ideas to implement.  Everyone's always looking for a new magic formula for making silly profits with no risk.  What generally happens is simply that people manage to find ways to do risky things that seem, by the former models and regulations, to not be risky—but all it is, is finding loopholes in the models, not eliminating real risk.

Another side to the tragedy is what proportion of our brightest and most able people are sucked into working in this fundamentally non-productive part of society.  Banking has its useful functions, but it fundamentally is really boring, middleman stuff, the kind of thing for which middlemen should sensibly and logically make only a modest profit on.  Banking is at best only an enabler, not a producer.

Offline Jude

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #38 on: November 07, 2009, 01:58:26 PM »
The best way to make money is to find a product, then sell create it or sell it in a way no one currently is.  Maybe no one else is selling it at all and you create a new product, this is innovation, which is a true growth mechanism.

The problem is, when you create your product efficiently by exploiting loopholes, getting your industry de-regulated, etc. chances are that regulation existed for a good reason and you're doing damage at the cost of making a short-term profit.  It's trying to circumvent the Adam Smith principle of "There's no such thing as a free lunch."

The question is just a matter of who stiffs the bill.  Sometimes the taxpayers do:  bailouts, environmental damage that has to be cleaned up later, etc.  Sometimes the company pays itself when it goes into bankruptcy or outright dissolves (and often in this situation the little people are still hurt after the fact; employees and investors).

The real problem in our financial markets is this idea that taking away the rules is "good" that the Neo-Cons and Reagan Conservatives (are they one in the same?) are so in love with.

We need to eliminate as much "suction" in the U.S. economy as we can.  If your company just funnels wealth from one party to another like a financial vacuum you're just hurting the overall country's productivity while helping yourself.

Our tax code needs some major reform too.  The fact that you're rewarded for living various lifestyles is ridiculous.  We need a government, not a nanny state that encourages you to get married, go to church (write offs for charity, religious tithing counts as charity), and etc.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2009, 12:07:46 AM by Jude »

Offline KateTopic starter

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #39 on: November 07, 2009, 09:18:46 PM »
there are some really insightful contributions to this thread i am impressed

Offline Asuras

Re: Utopia thawted by the delusion of Ownership?
« Reply #40 on: November 15, 2009, 04:50:26 AM »
(...speaking of 60 hour work weeks...)

Quote from: Kylie
You're very focused on formalities, precedents and plans; I'm really more interested in how principles can be adapted or changed and what people actually seem to do and feel.  There are levels of meaning beyond the plan which can influence how whole societies play out - if enough people take an idea seriously.  Worse, you're assuming that contracts are carried out the same in different cultures.

If you have ways of improving cultures, then we can debate them.

But if your argument relies on people behaving better, then yes - I'm going to ask you to say how you expect that to happen, because your argument relies on those assumptions and they should be investigated.

And again, if it seems like I'm being obstinate and particular, it's because I am not willing to gamble the welfare of a nation on something unsound.

Quote from: Kylie
Back to Earth, for just one relatively "civilized" example (many other countries have less happy ones thanks to us)...  Contemporary Hawaii has minimum wage and minimum health care laws, but it also has a huge undereducated Filipino population and many people working 60 hour weeks just to pay the rent and have a few pretty commodities.  They don't call it slavery, but half the population will go homeless without that next check and the population's food reserves won't last two weeks in case of disaster.  All of this gravitating around a strip of land (Waikiki) that a century or so before was swamp and poi fields -- and big capital could move out and leave everyone high and dry the minute another place becomes "more attractive" for investment.  At the moment, it's a tourist mecca for a handful of global rich, just a few miles from where the military fires off depleted uranium on a regular basis.  You might say this is better than tribes having intermittent warfare or imperial powers squabbling over the island.

I am familiar with grievous poverty and my emphasis on realistic solutions rather than sharing anecdotes and lofty principles stems from this familiarity.

Quote from: Kylie
Again it is just at a quick Google, but what I was seeing was that some Athenian slaves were sheltered as virtual family members.  That seems to imply that they would not have been readily separated reassigned or overloaded.

If you really care to argue about this, give citations. But remember that especially from anecdotes, history is viewed through the people who were in positions to write about it, so reading Thucydides or Xenophon is not very different from reading the writings of Thomas Jefferson and John Calhoun. They had their own reasons for describing the life of slaves as very rosy.

Quote from: Kylie
If it were this simple, then I don't think you can easily argue - as you did early on - that pitting one group of nasty (business) versus another group of nasty (government) should really serve the interests of most people at all.  It could as easily be nasty versus nastier, but everyone suffers (except the few in power).

I actually trust nasty people more than the less nasty. The "honest" ones will try and help their kids get good jobs and internships with the company even if they're not as competent, or try and protect co-workers that make grievous mistakes. The nasty ones will rat out co-workers for stealing staplers because they want a raise for themselves.

Try that on a large scale. Say the CEOs of Pepsi and Coke are good friends; if they weren't nasty fucks they'd be liable to get along and fix prices, charging the rest of us humble consumers twice as much for their various hydrogenated corn syrup consumer end products. But if they -are- nasty fucks, then just after they come to agree to fixing prices, the Pepsi guy is going to go have a call to the SEC and rat out his friend at Coca-Cola...and we, the consumer, save!

Net result: nasty people are better for the world.

Requirement for such a result: Create as many opportunities for back-stabbing (i.e., vigorous competition) as possible and viable in order to keep the nasty people "well behaved."

Quote from: kylie
Well, as I thought about it, I imagined more support for local industries would probably have to be involved.  Localities can live without a lot of commodities being constantly updated (we don't need a new computer system every month), but how could they negotiate equity if they don't have a base in food and medical when other industries make catastrophic failures (nuclear accidents or simply a mass recall - since you assume some industries must have distant distribution centers or facilities too complex for localities to control)...   Speaking more generally, there is a lot of incentive for capital to be simply withdrawn from the workers' lives whenever it can be reinvested so much more efficiently somewhere else.

I don't understand what you mean when you say "how could they renegotiate equity if they don't have a base in food and medical..."

But (parsing beyond that) I find it unusual whenever people talk about outsourcing like this in terms of human rights. It is, indeed, distressing for the people who lose their jobs because they're being shipped out to India; but what about India? When companies withdraw capital (which is harder to do than you may think), they reinvest it somewhere else. People on the edge of starvation in India are now making a little bit more because a call center has opened up in Bangalore or wherever; I really do find it hard to sympathize with a protester in Flint, Michigan who has to give up cable because he has to go on unemployment benefits when the loss of his job means that someone in Karnataka gets to live.

Quote from: kylie
I'm not as concerned as you are with whether it would feel like modernity as we already know it.  That might be proof for you that it wouldn't gather popular support, but I don't think that means it's "obviously" a crummy idea.

I do not think that you appreciate the degree of interdependency which comes with modernity. And when I say "modernity" I mean an "industrial society" - even communities 200 years ago were too sophisticated to exist as autarkies.

The level of civilization you're talking about going back to would not be able to feed 4/5 of humanity because your communes couldn't fuel tractors, produce pesticides, or equip distribution networks - let alone produce penicillin, vaccines, train doctors, researchers, and engineers, or manufacture transistors. You're talking about far more than giving up next month's Intel.

Quote from: kylie
Wouldn't it be a disincentive for corruption if there was going to be follow-up on projects in shorter time frames?
Generally this only increases the auditing costs and produces more paperwork for the contractor to hide their graft in.
Quote from: kylie
And if over the long haul, local bodies could make decisions about who earned larger projects based on smaller-scale local trials and community interests.
I do not share your opinion that local bodies are especially competent.
Quote from: kylie
As it is, we have lots of mega-companies slipping in and out whenever the tide turns.  There isn't much accountability, just big conglomerates based on liquid capital coming and going as they please - and leaving the human costs behind where they will.
Yes, I appreciate the problems. This is not the first time I've heard about outsourcing and capital mobility.

The catch is that if you make laws saying "We won't let you take money out of here," no one's going to invest there. You'd be essentially saying "You can make loans to us, but we're under no obligation to paying you back."

Quote from: kylie
But was it such a good thing that he should be numerically assigned millions of times the choices of a school teacher who puts ideas in hundreds of heads every day?  So much more than the nurse whose repetitive but carefully applied actions save a couple lives directly and prolong thousands of others each week?

And for that reason I'm for a much more progressive taxation system. The system does tend to give (and this is probably the one time I'm going to use Marxist terminology in my own arguments) "surplus profits" to shareholders and entrepreneurs - beyond the necessary incentives - and society would be better off taking those back. I'd be for taxing Bill Gates's next dollar at a 90% bracket (which, as I said, they used to do in the 1950s.)

But I am, nevertheless, (and I'll say this outright) in favor of a degree of inequality. I think it's a necessary evil. We may not need Bill Gates earning zillions of dollars, but we do have to have carrots in front of us - and that means inequality - in order to keep us moving. I do not know of a way to accomplish that otherwise that I am willing to risk the welfare of society upon.

Quote from: kylie
Couldn't his computers be distributed without the hard labor of people in China and Malaysia who may not have any other choice and little leisure at all, and the big computer makers rely on that for their massive profits?

Microsoft doesn't manufacture computers. (augh, why am i...)

And obviously any company could throw its profits away, the same way you could donate all the money you make on each paycheck to charity. Are there consequences?

There's one thing I want you to get:

There is a socially valuable purpose to a company competing to pursue a profit.

It's not all for them. There is, actually, a benefit to humanity.

Quote from: kylie
Even if the answer is yes, do the sons and grandsons of Gates (or Haliburton, etc.) really deserve to inherit millions of dollars in privilege and power just because the last generation did a few good things?

I'm for steep estate taxes, so no argument from me.

Quote from: kylie
However techincally well-intended, rejecting any such change on the going thing wholesale through a language of But leaders can't be taught not to be corrupt! really stonewalls the point

This has to be the tenth time I've said this, so I'll put it in gigantic text:

Maybe - maybe! - people could be a lot nicer. But you have yet to suggest how that could come to be.

"Stonewalling" would be if I simply ignored your argument, but as far as I can tell I haven't seen you make any argument as to how people could start behaving nicer. So, again, if I seem to be refusing to agree with you, it's because you have yet to listen to me!

Quote from: kylie
And hop over to a thread somewhere on whether Obama is equally biased toward the rich as Bush?  Perhaps if he is more likely to level the tax code even slightly, you might be willing to concede that there is something other than "good business" in the philosophy behind why he might consider doing so?  And some smidget of that philosophy involved in the complex mechanics of how he got elected?  Am I reaching (or hoping) too much again?

I don't know what you're alluding to. Obviously he's more likely to support a more progressive tax code than Bush, among other things.

Quote from: kylie
And by your reasoning, the market - not government per se (who are also corruptible, I believe you indicated) - should ultimately protect itself from excess.

I never said that. On the contrary, I've gone on record (so to speak) in this thread as supporting a variety of taxes and regulation to protect consumers and markets from market failures.

Quote from: NYT
     We still worry about leaving all of these critical details up to the banks — even with a promise from the Fed to be more vigilant. During the last several decades, banks have been given far too much room to write their own rules. The economic disaster around us is the result.

I agree with sentences 2 and 3. I kind of agree with sentence 1, but...

...even so, abandoning capitalism is not the solution that I would advocate even given imperfections in the current legislative process. Baby with the bathwater and what not.

Quote from: HP
The credit risk posed by derivatives in the banking system now stands at $555 billion, a 37 percent increase from 2008. "By any standard these [credit] exposures remain very high," Kathryn E. Dick, the OCC's deputy comptroller for credit and market risk, said in a statement.

A credit derivative is insurance against a company going bankrupt. Small wonder that people would be more concerned about that these days.

I cannot comment on the third quote.

Quote from: Morven
Another side to the tragedy is what proportion of our brightest and most able people are sucked into working in this fundamentally non-productive part of society.  Banking has its useful functions, but it fundamentally is really boring, middleman stuff, the kind of thing for which middlemen should sensibly and logically make only a modest profit on.  Banking is at best only an enabler, not a producer.

I never saw it that way. I mean, when a bank makes a loan, they're distributing the resources of the nation to a particular purpose; when GS buys a billion dollars in Ford corporate bonds to pay for a plant in Tennessee, they're directing a billion dollars of the national resources to building that plant. In principle (at least) their effectiveness in performing good business for America yields their profits.

Admittedly, analysts at GS or JPM aren't making microchips or automobiles, but they are deciding which project - the microchip, the automobile, or the cancer drug - has the most merit and delegating resources to it. I don't think that decision is a middleman thing; I'd say that in fact it's the most important and highest-level economic decision-making in the country.