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Cynicism

So the Occupy Wall Street camp in Zucotti park has been "cleared" by the NYPD, in a spontaneous display of concern for the health and safety of the concerned citizens asking why the rich are getting richer and the — dirty druggy hippies, who the FBI and the Heimatslandsicherheitsdienst agreed had overstayed their welcome, made their point, and now needed to stop annoying the ruling oligarchy.

In other news, the US State Department continues to express outrage over the Syrian dictatorship's use of secret police and paramilitary forces to arrest, assault, and kill dirty druggy arab hippies concerned citizens asking why the rich are getting richer and the dictatorship is still in power.

And the Church of England can't make its mind up.

Me?

I just want a party to vote for whose three guiding principles are (a) maximize individual liberty, (b) minimize the Gini coefficient, and (c) protect the commons. Yes, I am aware that these three goals are orthogonal and often conflict with one another: that's why it requires an ongoing process of negotiation rather than an ideologically-driven damn-the-torpedoes race to the goal.

How about you?

498 Comments

1:

"How about you?"

Equity for rent.

That is, if you pay rent it buys equity in the property. Something for something rather than something for nothing.

2:

That's why Zero State will soon be launching an international political party

3:

I'd say that (a) and (b) don't just sometimes conflict, but are nearly always opposed to each other. For that matter, so do (a) and (c), since "individual liberty" in the modern context is pretty much always construed as the right to engage in anti-social behavior which erodes and defaces the commons.

In any case, the only one of those three goals that I wholeheartedly endorse is (c). I might vote for a genuinely conservative party, one which was committed to care and maintenance of both the social and the natural environments. Instead, I get a choice between those that want to pillage the commons for the sake of commerce, and those that want to pillage the commons for the sake of private liberty, and given those choices I just choose not to vote.

4:

That's a neat idea and it's the sort of thing that can work well where the landlord is a public sector organization (such as a housing association). It works a bit less well when the landlord is small, and private -- my prediction is that you'd see very rapid rent inflation if this was legislated in. (Which, in turn, would trigger a new housing bubble. Just what we need ...)

5:

As a 65 year old liberal, as liberal approaches infinity, I agree with what you want, but want it for the USA. We all know what is going on with the concurrent raids on the Occupy people: no matter who is in power here, the oligarchy pulls the strings.

The cities learned well from the anti-war/civil rights era of the 60s-70s and were itching to have an uprising so that they could play with their SWAT toys. In Chapel Hill, NC, the police actually came in with assault rifles pointed at these kids because they were told they were anarchists.

Soon, we will be singing Four Dead in Ohio - probably a different school, but the state knows no boundaries and thinks our Constitution stinks.

6:

Come to Sweden, join the Pirate Party! We support a and c, and there are lots of ideas around b.

7:

My wants are slightly less ideological and slightly less achievable - I just want a competent party in government.

If you live in Ireland, or if you've watched recent events in Irish politics, you know that that particular desire makes Charlie's look like kindergarden math problems...

8:

I'd say that (a) and (b) don't just sometimes conflict, but are nearly always opposed to each other.

Disagree.

Freedom of speech, for example, isn't at odds with promoting financial equality. Nor is freedom of access to healthcare (hitherto a given, over here in the land of the National Health Service), or freedom of religion, or a right to privacy (for the most part).

About the only "freedom" that is at odds with economic equality is the spurious economic "freedom" -- the freedom to work until you drop -- promoted by the ideological apologists of capitalism. And it's not actual freedom that they promote because they always tap-dance past the obligation to work, with starvation in the whip hand behind you, regardless of how shitty and unpleasant the job in question might be.

As we now live in an age when around 1-2% of the population can produce all the food we need and another 2-10% of the population can produce all the physical goods that we need, what's wrong with giving the leisure society another chance, eh?

9:

I have a lot of sympathy for the Pirate Party, but in a way its like the Greens - a single issue party that needs to bulk out its "off topic" policies. The Greens got hijacked by the Socialists and Luddites. Where is the PP going?

10:

I could live with that. Probably have to join one's friends in finding a major party least diametrically opposed to those directives and then working on coring it out.

It's ironic that, compared to the UK and Western Europe, the US has seriously backward politics, but those politics are the most flexible at the local and state level. Votes still outrank dollars, as long as time and attention are given to get those votes. People are paying attention now and making the time, to push the three things you describe (or halt movement away from them). Efforts in a number of states, notably Ohio and Iowa, paid off handsomely earlier this month.

But from overseas all I can do is throw money at the Democratic Party.

11:

And perhaps I should qualify that by saying that when I say "competent" I mean "competent at the job", not "competent at maximising personal profit while minimising personal risk". A Minister for Finance who hadn't faked his academic credentials in economics, for example...

12:

I'd have a whole lot more sympathy if the majority of the 'occupy' movement weren't either spoiled idiots or professional protesters. There is a lot of generalized support for them because the economy is in terrible shape; However, that doesn't translate into universal support for yuppie students whinging about having to repay massive loans that no one made them take or support for the various anti-capitalist, anti-globalist and yes anti-Jewish elements.

It may be different in other areas but where I am there are less than 40 long term protesters...out of an area population of ~1 million...how is anyone supposed to believe that is significant? Lots of us are hurting; I'm unemployed and I know a lot of others who are, you can't go anywhere without seeing empty store fronts and abandoned buildings...but many of us grasp that even being 'poor' and struggling under our present system leaves us better off than the hell on earth that was say the Soviet Union.

Is there room for change and improvement? Heck yeah! I think the Tea Party movement and now this occupy thing are really good for us. It has woken up a country that 'slept' for generations without really talking about politics or policy and which hasn't held politicians accountable in a long time.

13:

Is violence inevitable, RaisedbyWolves. Granted, having a militarized police force increases the possibility, but I think that even the most thuggish of the police forces and mayors would be highly reluctant to open fire. We're not there.

Yet.

Mayor bloomberg, though, has proved that a 'benevolent' dictator is still, in the end, a dictator.

14:

The "work ethic" means that even if 1% produced 99% of all we need the rest would be occupied with makework in the form of a vast bureaucracy or selling each other insurance. Just to ensure there were no "spongers".

15:

Have you assessed the Greens on your rating scale? I think they do quite well on 2 and 3, but I'm less clear where they lie on the individual liberty axis.

16:

"I'd have a whole lot more sympathy if the majority of the 'occupy' movement weren't either spoiled idiots or professional protesters."

Would that be either rich kids or unemployed spongers? Because once you eliminate those everyone else is at a job all day. Problem solved eh?

17:

You are a Fox News fan and ICMFP. HAND.

18:

The Greens have always struck me as having a paternalist streak that's even wider than those of New Labour or the SNP. Shudder.

19:

I want to wrest power from those with huge bank balances and agendas of grotesque personal enrichment.

I want the to see the taxpayers chest of gold firmly locked until those who keep dipping their grubby little paws in it can demonstrate we're getting value money (That's both the wasteful public sector and the greedy private sector)

I want everybody else who wants the same to keep pushing until we get it... that time must be coming...

20:

Minor nit: I'm not a fan of the Gini coefficient, mostly because loses too much data when you reduce something as complex as "income inequality" to a single number. The number can stay exactly the same as the knee of the curve moves from left to right.

21:

After our recent presidential election in Ireland we have elected a man who does stand for the three guiding principles you mentioned above. However the second place candidate was a former host of the Irish version of Dragon's Den with strong links to the political party, whose biblical level of corruption was matched only by their Father Dougal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characters_of_Father_Ted#Father_Dougal_McGuire)like incompetence that ushered in and accelerated this country's financial collapse.

Another notable candidate was a former Euro-vision winner. But we were lucky that the majority of voters still went with Michael D. Higgins (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_D._Higgins) a decent politician, poet and sociologist author.

Meanwhile the traditional parties have sold out the people of the country to the IMF and EU while bailing out banks and noted members of the property development community who bankrupted the country in the first place. We desperately need a new political party that, in as much as possible, attempts to implement policies and structures that would abide by or aim for your three principles.

So far the only politician to even articulate this has been our new President. However the role of president in Ireland is largely a ceremonial one.

And he looks like Yoda...

We are fecked.

22:

You are correct, but I consider it to be a good starting point, at least until a more accurate/harder to game metric comes along and gains wide acceptance.

23:

Hm. Eric, I think you may have the scale off. Certainly, the baby boomers marched in the 60s, and I certainly remember protesting about Gulf Wars I and II. The "falling asleep" you mention seems to be a phenomenon primarily of the last two economic bubbles, and we're certainly awake again.

The issue about "yuppie idiots" a protesting is that they can afford to. And having trained "professional" protestors organizing and cleaning up is a major improvement. I've been impressed by some of the efforts I've seen to organize protests into communities and keep things clean. Next time we have a major disaster, I hope these organizers help out, because they will make a big difference.

But what about those who aren't protesting? There are lots of people who own property that's under water, who are fighting to make sure they can meet the rocketing tuition costs of their kids and the rocketing health-care costs of their parents. They can't afford to protest, even though they may agree. They've got too much to lose. Personally, I don't want to see them in the streets, because it means society is really and truly falling apart if they march.

24:

If those goals were orthogonal (i.e. at right angles), it would mean that by definition they cannot conflict with each other or support each other. I believe you meant those goals are partially opposed.

25:

I'm with you entirely on points (a) and (c), but rather less concerned about (b), so long as the people at the bottom are living in dignity, have food and essential healthcare, a roof over their head if they want it and can treat neighbours with respect and consideration, and the opportunities to improve their lot and that of their families.

"The Spirit Level" notwithstanding, I don't believe that a fair society is necessarily more materially egalitarian.

26:

More interestingly about the recent presidential election in Ireland, is the point that it's generally accepted by those who were watching that the front runner until the final debate was the Fianna Fail candidate, and that he was knobbled by a hoax from the Sinn Fein side of things (from a fake twitter account), who alleged corruption that - ironically enough for a Fianna Fail candidate's history - turned out to never have happened. But the allegation hit just before the media blackout on the election (broadcast media aren't allowed discuss the election in the 24 hours before polls open), so the Fianna Fail candidate was never able to point out that it was a hoax.

So we're in the odd position of having chosen one of the best candidates available because of the underhanded tactics of an ex-terrorist party against the corrupt party that ruined our country.

It's a bit of a head-wrecker really.

27:

"But what about those who aren't protesting?"

I think most people consider it futile.
Esp after the biggest demonstrations in British history failed to alter Blair's drive to war. I marched in those, in London. First time since my student days. Nothing is going to change until people find a way of really hurting those in power, either in terms of votes or money.

28:

Sympathetic with their complaints (well, some of them anyway), sympathetic with their objectives (see previous paratheses), not so sympathetic with their methods.

One thing that I discovered yesterday that I hadn't previously been aware of is that Zuccotti Park is not a public park. It's privately owned and operated as a public space, but the use of it is at the sufferance of the owners, and they have the right to say what the public do there, and what they don't.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't be too happy if the OWS folks showed up in my front garden and acted the way they've acted (even if I regularly allowed the public to walk through my front garden).

29:

Relevant to the current discussion, if only as an example of "the revolution will not be televised."

Just what's going on in Iceland right now? Apparently they told the IMF to engage in self-copulation. And they've got arrest warrants out for the arrest of at least some of the financiers who saddled them with crushing debt. And they're writing a new constitution to make sure this doesn't happen again.

http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2011/08/25/why-iceland-shold-be-in-the-news-but-is-not/

The telling quote (from their PM): "“We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North. But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.”

30:

And no doubt there are vast numbers of monied voices telling much of Europe why the Icelandic model is really, really bad and unworkable.

31:

a), b) and c) are all decent objectives.

On a more specific level, I'd like to see a universal safety net, but one that encourages people to regain health/motivation/independence and helps them contribute to each other and the community's well-being. Something like a mixture of a hospital/therapy centre/syndicalist farm-or-other-self-sustaining-thing.

I think a real problem with our society and culture is that we can see homeless people on the streets, suffering, some with clear mental problems, and we all just walk on by. In future generations, I hope we can look back on that with the same shock and disbelief we have now to apartheid and institutional racism/sexism -- we actually let this go on? Really?!

32:

The major freedom which conflicts with economic equality is the fundamental freedom to be able to do what you want with your time and money, including the freedom to plow it into the most lucrative venture that you can possibly get into. Given an unequal distribution of talent and opportunity (which are fundamental features of life with scarcity), economic inequality is a natural consequence of this freedom.

Now, it's certainly the case that the current plutarchs got into their position by pulling governmental strings and rigging the game so that they never have to lose, even when they wreck the global financial system to the tune of trillions of dollars. But removing the systems that allow that to happen would not eliminate inequality. It might reduce inequality... I'm not sure. Perhaps you're right after all.

Aside: if by "freedom of access to healthcare" you simply mean that no one should be barred access to healthcare, then I'd agree. But I'm pretty sure that you mean the positive right to receive healthcare without regard to price, which from the doctor's perspective is the appropriation of his labor and a loss of freedom. I'm not opposed to a public health care system like you have there in the UK, but framing it as a matter of "freedom" is looking at it the wrong way. It would be far more coherent to simply state that doctors have a social obligation to serve, and that this obligation takes priority over their other liberties.

33:

"As we now live in an age when around 1-2% of the population can produce all the food we need and another 2-10% of the population can produce all the physical goods that we need,"

Charlie, this is an interesting concept, could you (or anyone else here familiar with this) provide a citation for the idea only 12% of the population needs to work to support society?

34:

You're American, aren't you?

I've lived in a society that was significantly more egalitarian than the one I live in today -- it's the same country, 30 years apart, before and after it was fucked by the oligarchs.

Frankly, if you told me that in return for an extra 10% of my gross income in tax I could live in a significantly more egalitarian society (Gini 0.25 as in 1979, against today's 0.40), I'd take the offer without a second thought.

35:

Get rid of the transference of advantages via inheritance and start every single person out with the same, non-trivial amount of capital and (a) and (b) would generally be reinforcing one another, not conflicting.

36:

Zucotti Park is owned by a real estate holding but is operated by the City of New York under an agreement that was essential to the holding company getting concessions on zoning matters.

In other words, it's leased to the city for tax and legal benefits rather than money rent. It's not their front lawn.

37:

Get rid of the transference of advantages via inheritance

This is the most purely evil idea that has been floated in this thread.

38:

If you have a problem with the methods of Occupy Wall Street, perhaps you would like to propose some alternatives that:

1) Get public and media attention on the largest scale possible.

2) Can't be easily neutralized by the people in charge (see the so-called "free speech zones" at Republican National Conventions).

3) Provide a basis for further thoughtful discussion about the issues that are under protest.

The issues about sanitation and so on are understandable but protests that are Unsupported By The Powers That Be have limited resources. Fortunately, many people stepped in to help including unions--for example, the SEIU stepped in with porta-potties. If you want to talk about law enforcement, the police had no interest in doing anything to stop crime within the OWS-type camps or that would undercut any rationales for getting rid of them in the long run.

So if you have better solutions, I for one am all ears.

39:

I should like to point out that a 90% marginal rate of inheritance tax maintained for more than 30 years went a long way towards breaking the grip of the ancient landed aristocracy on this nation's throat. It still didn't work; robber barons are tenacious, and will find work-arounds (e.g. if you legislate for a pure meritocracy and no inheritance of estates after death, they'll sink their assets into providing superb educational and networking advantages for their children).

I see no moral justification for anyone inheriting more than $10-20M in assets from their parents (the size of a family farm in an expensive area), and plenty of reasons why they shouldn't. On the other hand, an inheritance tax that kicks in at 40% and affects the majority of estates that include an average-priced family home is clearly erring in the opposite direction.

40:

Care to elaborate on this? From where I stand (in America, natch) the extra wealth accumulated in the top 1% does me no harm at all, so long as they aren't actively exploiting that wealth to my detriment. Care to explain why you'd consider it an improvement to lose some income just so that other people lose more income?

41:

Well, yeah. That's what I want too. Instead (in the USA) I get two flavors of ice cream which end up tasting the same no matter which I pick. Oh, supposedly there are other flavors, but every one of them is supported by crazy people.

As a result I haven't voted in a presidential election (other than writing in 'Bugs Bunny' and 'Mickey Mouse') in a generation. I feel disenfranchised in what is supposed to be the world's bastion of freedom and democracy.

42:

the extra wealth accumulated in the top 1% does me no harm at all, so long as they aren't actively exploiting that wealth to my detriment.

But they are exercising it to your detriment.

Firstly, the diminishing marginal utility of money means that they get less value per dollar from their wealth than, say, a homeless person.

Secondly, they don't spend their money; they try to stockpile it. This reduces the velocity of money in the economy as a whole, reducing economic growth and causing bubbles in commodities and asset markets.

Thirdly, people with a lot to lose become inherently conservative and try to prevent structural changes that threaten their interests. So you get despicable ass-hats like the Koch brothers who allegedly bankroll anti-environmental/anti-climate-change propaganda because their wealth lies in coal and mineral extraction.

Fourthly, great wealth buys immunity from social diseases; if you can afford bodyguards you don't need efficient police and law enforcement, if you can afford to pay out of pocket you have no interest in fixing a defective healthcare system. And so on. This interacts with problem #3 (above) to result in active opposition to urgently-needed reforms.

Fifthly, the aristocracy fear the polis and want it to die. This is true today and has been true since the days of the French Revolution and much, much earlier. They are not your friends and you are not going to become one of them. In fact, they see you as a threat. Keeping you poor, ignorant, and in debt up to the eyeballs (not to mention in fear of their hired goons) is what they desire, because that way you are less likely to become a threat.

If you think the top 0.1% are just like you, you are sadly mistaken.

43:

I feel disenfranchised in what is supposed to be the world's bastion of freedom and democracy.

This century, more than half the governments on this planet are democracies. And most of them do it better than the USA. (UK not included, alas. Iceland, now, is another matter ...!)

44:

But it's so deliciously evil and subversive :)

I, for one, plan to leave absolutely nothing to my children unless I die before they're ready to fly the coop, in which case it'll be some life insurance paid out for some of their college expenses, assuming I don't manage to migrate to a sane country before then (I'm American).

I can't think of any real benefits to setting up the kind of entitlement that goes along with the possibility of an inheritance.

45:

They're three laudable goals, but I suspect they're issues that all (mainstream, at least) parties would say they would agree with. (Disclaimer: I am an elected Liberal Democrat councillor)

Perhaps it's more an issue of having a party that agrees all three are equally important? The problems come when there are parties who are willing to accept quite substantial reductions in a) or c) in order to achieve improvements in b) because that's their main goal, who are then replaced by those who'd happily accept negative changes in b) to improve a) etc etc And with all the badly-weighted trade-offs, everything ends up worse than it was at the start.

46:

I wouldn't put much faith in that "Why Iceland Should Be in the News But Is Not" article. It's riddled with simple factual errors. Paragraph 1 says Iceland is in the EU, it's not.

47:

I found the phrase "Heimatslandsicherheitsdienst" extraordinarily amusing.

48:

The LibDems have sold their soul - and for what? The ability to veto legislation the Tories didn't much care about in the first place and a slot at the trough.

49:

Certainly (b) and (c). Liberty is a balancing act. And with better values for (b), you get (a). Trouble with Liberty is mostly its just words written on some calfskin stuffed in ageing building in the capital -- it does diddly-squat. It's money that buys lawyers that get you practical rights and freedoms.

And on that I'd like a national legal service, but with no private legal services allowed.

I'd also like a party to be honest about the supposed "private" and "public" schism. The vast majority of "private" companies seem to rely on massive support from the government (not just banks, I include everything that gets support for its workers via benefits they get, through infrastruture they rely on, but others pay for, through the education that they want their workers/staff to have, but don't pay for). Especially since they want to keep all their profits ("Well we made them and you didn't help us") and for us to cover their losses ("Well, they're your fault, not ours."). And since more and more public organisations are having to get money for their services almost as if they were private.

50:

Indeed so. It's a shame, but when an article starts like that, you cannot trust anything in it you don't already know to be true.

At that point, you might as well stop reading.

The big problem for me is that I ended up discounting anything said not only in the article, but also by those who accepted it uncritically. In my more cynical moments, I've wondered if that was why it was written, as a poisoning of debate.

The damned thing should have a health warning attached.

51:

I hope you're paying attention to what's going on down-ticket. At the state and local level, the outlook is encouraging. As for the Presidential slot, please remember who will be nominating the next one or two Supreme Court replacements...

52:

Whenever there's talk about raising inheritance tax the Usual Suspects wheel out stories about how some little old lady living in a semi-detached in Surbiton is crying about how it will make her orphan children homeless when she dies. Not a mention of billionaire oligarch families, at whom such a tax would really be aimed. Possibly because they own the media reporting the story.

53:

A 90% inheritance tax in the USA would destroy the small-to-medium family businesses that employ a good third of the workforce. (I need to verify the 'third' number.) It would also be the final death knell of the 'family farm' in a country where agriculture is rapidly becoming a corporate industry.

The real problem in the USA and, I suspect, elsewhere is the political and legal power wielded by large corporations. A high Gini coefficient is just a way to roughly measure the success of these non-human commercial organisms by measuring the effect these corporations have on the personal wealth of those leading them.

I would rather see a flat income tax with loopholes and dispensations prohibited by the Constitution. Everyone pays the same (including corporations). You can make this flat tax progressive by the simple measure of only taxing income over the current poverty rate, times two. For example, let's say the poverty rate is $25, 000 a year and my income is $100,000 a year. My tax is figured on 100,000 - (25,000 * 2) or $50,000 dollars. If my income is so low it results in a negative amount of tax, then that negative tax is paid back to me.

Assuming a 20% flat tax, the tax form would look like this:

(1) Enter your income: _____________
(2) Subtract $50,000 from line (1) and enter the result here: ____________
(3) If the result in line (2) is positive, multiply it by .2. This is the tax you owe: _______
(4) If the result in line (2) is negative, convert it to a positive figure and multiply it by .2, this is the money you are owed for being at the bottom of the income pool: ____________

54:

"A 90% inheritance tax in the USA would destroy the small-to-medium family businesses that employ a good third of the workforce."

Even if set at a $100m threshold?

55:

I dislike the pirate party and the whole internet pirate culture. The whole thing is a tragedy of the commons and a feeding ground for neo robber barons.

Young independent creative people who go along with it all remind me of those poor Americans who support the republican party despite it being totally against their self interest.

56:

The PP is a stopgap because the real thing has not yet arrived

57:

...and they spent the first 2 terms of the Scottish Parliament proping up a minority Labour administration, then the 3rd refusing to support a minority SNP admin; an odd stance for a party who claim to be supporters of proportional representation!

58:

Well, setting a threshold would help small-to-medium family business and family farms certainly. However that threshold would probably have to be in the one or two million dollar range to be effective for family farms where the value is in the land, but not realizable as value so long as it is operated as a farm. It might be even more complicated for businesses with significant assets (buildings, machinery, etc.) are required to keep them competitive, but where those assets cannot be realized as actual value if liquidated.

59:

Trouble with this is that some employers will think "Gee, if I don't pay them anything, they'll get the poverty line from the government. That's fine by me, more money for my back pocket."

And on inheritance tax, those with enough will always find a way to avoid paying it. Unless you really do tear up the tax laws and replace it with a single sentence. I'd like to see that, but there are so many vested interests who doubtless bankroll the politicians, as well as the scared civil servants who would lose jobs because of it, ....

"No Representation with out Taxation": any lobbyist who wants to speak with a politician can only get a percentage of the politican's time equivalent to the percentage of the national tax take they pay.

60:

@38: I'll admit that I don't really have a good idea of what would be better; but at the same time it strikes me that with points (1) and (2) that you're one step away from saying that the ends justify the means, and that whatever grabs the most attention is the best option (I know, or hope, that you're not saying that) -- the logical, if not sensible, corollary is that you should be allowed to do whatever you want if you believe strongly enough, and so long as your message reaches the biggest possible audience.

My personal take is that your third point "Provide a basis for further thoughtful discussion about the issues that are under protest" is debatable, as the OWS movement has appeared to me to be a bit disjointed about what it actually wants. Maybe I've just not been paying close enough attention, but they seem to have a long list of demands without a particular focus.

@36: I thought I'd probably missed soemthing in the details about ownership/use/responsibility for Zuccotti park -- thanks for the clarification. I'm still not convinced that the OWS movement have always behaved appropriately in their use of a public space -- rephrasing my question: would you be happy with them in a public park next to your house or where you work?

61:

Whoops, I see you set the threshold at 100 MILLION. I was thinking 100 THOUSAND.

Hmm... I think 100M might be too high actually. It would be an interesting exercise to look at how different thresholds would affect various actual fortunes and what incentives might come of applying them. For example, a 100M threshold would probably leave Bill Gates pretty much where he started, being as the bulk of his fortune is going to his foundation and he has stated publicly that his children will only get a small percentage as an inheritance.

62:
I can't think of any real benefits to setting up the kind of entitlement that goes along with the possibility of an inheritance.

It's neither high-minded nor idealistic (hell, it was articulated by Jeremy Clarkson for pete's sake), but the Range Rover argument is a powerful one.

The idea being that most people don't drive Range Rovers (think SUV if you're from the US) on a school run because they need them or like them; they drive them because in a car-v-rover accident, the rover drives up the bonnet of the car and through the windscreen, killing the driver of the car and leaving the driver of the rover relatively unscathed. People see this, subconciously believe the rover's safer (because just look at the thing, it's a solid block of steel) and buy it because they want their kids to have the highest chance of surviving an accident.

The facts that this isn't how accidents really work, or that the Rover is woefully ill-suited to the task, or that there's a higher long-term cost to the owner and the environment, or that you look like a choose-your-own-expletive-here driving one; are just all outweighed by the thought of some other jerk driving a rover through the windscreen of your car and killing you and your family in an accident. (Once again, human perception of risk proves woefully inadaquate).

That - I strongly suspect - is the same logic behind inheritance. The idea that we're all going to be idealistic in the same way regarding the start our kids get in life is so foreign that noone will believe it, and so long as one person breaks the pact, nobody dares trust in it...

tl;dr - The prisoners dilemma isn't something the general public groks when they think about it.

63:

The policy isn't about economics.

Imagine a world where rent did buy equity. The normal way of buying property was to buy it in small portions whilst living in it, think of the ideas around Muslim finance. Now, try and imagine what arguments you'd deploy to get from that position to this and imagine how well they'd be received.

Eg, "Yeah, I think that it would be a good idea if a substantial number of people paid for the properties that they were living in but never owned them. In this way, a small class of people could end up receiving money for doing nothing. Legalised looting, if you will."

It's difficult to think up any arguments that aren't parodies of the current position.

64:

What if OWS's failure to issue demands that fit within the political paradigm isn't an indictment of the OWS movement but rather a failure of the political paradigm? In a rigged game, the only tenable option is to NOT PLAY the game. Engage in active non-participation. If that's the strategy that grows from the OWS movement, it has the potential for being incredibly subversive. If, instead, it simply participates in the established (and rigged) political process, how does that solve anything?

65:

How can goals be both orthogonal and still (if only "frequently") conflict with each other?

Just saying.

66:

I hate to do this, mainly because foreigners never seem to believe me, but Iceland never did any of the things you wrote, nor is the blog post you refer to in any way factual.

1. Iceland never told the IMF to do anything but instead the government followed their advice to the letter. The only thing that happened was that the President independently put the Icesave debacle to a vote. Icesave is a teeny-tiny portion of the financial situation in Iceland and, notably, the Icelandic government is planning on paying it anyway, no matter what the results of the election said.

In fact, Iceland completed the IMF program with accolades from the IMF. ( http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2011/pr11316.htm )

2. The only arrest warrant issued was for Sigurður Einarsson, former Kaupthing bank manager, who had refused to come in for questioning. Once he agreed to come the arrest warrant was dropped. No charges have been pressed. Nor have any of the people involved in the crash been charged with anything, except for the then Prime Minister, who can easily be categorised as a scapegoat at this point.

3. The current PM (the same as is quoted in that blog post) and the Finance Minister sold the collapsed banks to vulture funds that have since been squeezing the life out of the Icelandic economy. ( http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/11/iceland )

4. The Icelandic government bought wholesale into the austerity fad that is dominating Europe at least a couple of years earlier than anybody else. What remains now of the health service and the education system are shadows of their former selves.

5. The country has been dominated by nepotism and rampant corruption for decades, from the insider privatisation to the fact that the banks's biggest borrowers were also the owners of the banks (and never had to pay anything back). The Special Investigation Committee ( http://sic.althingi.is/ ) came to the conclusion that a majority of the country's members of parliament had strong financial ties to the banks. This corruption continues to this day.

6. The banks in Iceland now own most Icelandic retail companies and a solid proportion of the productive industry. Iceland is, in effect, an economy that is centrally managed by a committee of 'libertarian' bankers.

So, please don't refer to Iceland as a positive example of how things could be done.

67:

Parents have a moral obligation to their children and vice-versa, and they exercise this obligation through inheritance. Inheritance is one of the major ways in which the intergenerational social fabric is maintained; it encourages long-term thinking; and it stimulates investment. Some inheritance tax is reasonable. A total inheritance tax would be evil in the way that ambitious leftist schemes often turn into evil: while trying to solve one problem (a corrupt plutocracy) you accidentally dynamite one of the pillars of the social structure.

68:

Play along with me and assume that I'm incredibly dumb for a moment (possibly not difficult to imagine): Can you spell out how OWS has the potential to be incredibly subversive, from it's current stance of no coherent demands?

69:

I am mostly with you on (a), though I define the 'individual liberty' in more methodological individualism way.

I mostly disagree on (b) - the minimizing of the Gini coefficient is the wrong goal. It has some dangerous implications, think about the minimizing of the Gini coefficient at the cost of halving GDP per capita or 'just' the minimizing of the Gini coefficient at the cost of ceasing of economical grows - both versions perfectly fit to your (b).

So my (b) is something like 'the continuous growth of the weals of all society strata' without making any requirements on the proportions of that growth.

I am completely with you on the 'negotiation vs ideologically driven race' part.

70:

'the continuous growth of the *wealth*'

My English is still terrible. :(

71:

So, (a), (b) & (c) require an ordering. Does (a) override (b) or does (b) prevail? [For an example of the intrinsic conflict, the liberty to retain all money that is freely given to you by a fair transaction is a liberty which could be maximized, but that's just abolished taxation. Which probably has drastic effects for your coefficient.]

Moreover - is the Gini coefficient intrinsic, or are you endeavouring to stamp out inequality? What about Justice? Is Justice in your system Rawlsian liberal justice? Nozickian libertarian justice? Socialist Justice-as-Equality (see Cohen)?

Without an ideology to focus the mind on the ideal, miles away on the horizon, where we wish human society to be in 50 or 100 years we cannot claw back the yards of ground lost in the short term. These losses have not been to people who are nominally ideological. They've mainly been to so-called 'pragmatists' or 'technocrats' which has admittedly been a thin fig-leaf for neoliberal ideology.

How about you?

Equality. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. This is (i presume) somewhere along the lines of your (b) but with less implementation detail clouding the ideal. I disagree fundamentally with the primacy of (a), a liberty that most of the population cannot enjoy due to resources being allocated unfairly is no liberty at all.

Justice itself can be seen as an extension of a hard-line egalitarian principle of equality.

Indeed, democracy is only right & just in so far as it provides equality of participation and equality of enfranchisement to all. If someone provides a system that achieves these goals better but is not democratic in the currently accepted sense, then even democracy falls by the wayside in the face of equality.


I'ld also disagree with your implicit thesis. The greatest danger in times of change is not a surfeit of ideology, but a lack of it. For without it, times where change was possible become times where incremental tinkering occurred.

72:

I'll try :)

Let's suppose that one of the expectations of citizens in modern states is full economic participation, as defined by, for instance, the current incarnation of the American Dream (TM). In America, it usually means participating in the earning/spending cycle through employment (which is your primary means of access to any quality health care) and consumption of goods; purchasing (or at least renting) certain classes of goods, like real estate, automobiles, and such; buying better education, and even taking on significant debt to do so; and participating in the global banking/financial industry.

Now let's suppose you intentionally marginalize yourself by refusing to participate in any of it? Any action you take that reduces or eliminates your participation level in these activities is subversive to the system. But since you are alone, the net effect is negligible.

Let's further suppose that enough like-minded people, burned by their slavish adherence to the principles of economic participation laid out above, band together in significant acts of non-participation. If the movement grows big enough, the net effect is no longer negligible. That's why I am suggesting it can be subversive. (And that's why I suspect the occupiers of Zucotti Park were forcibly removed; there's probably only so much subversive activity a system can tolerate before it reacts violently.)

I'll freely admit I could just be projecting my own need for order onto something that simply defies it.

73:

Returning to 1979 levels of wealth would cost you a lot more than a mere 10% on your marginal tax rate. The hard part is continuing to generate wealth while you are redistributing it -- a subtlety sadly missing from your list of principles, and from the Occupiers' empty rhetoric. It's easy to drive Gini to zero by impoverishing everyone.

74:

A total inheritance tax would be evil in the way that ambitious leftist schemes often turn into evil: while trying to solve one problem (a corrupt plutocracy) you accidentally dynamite one of the pillars of the social structure.

I'd contest 90% as TOTAL but it is high. However since, at least in the US, there's long been a policy of the first million being exempt. So that's not a 90% total any more than I pay the top bracket on ALL my income.

I don't see why it can't simply follow the same rules as income. This concept that there's some social right to amass giant piles of stuff and never part with it again isn't at all in the interest of society - either as a structure or individuals.

And really, if you have a business that can't survive needing to take out some loans to pay your tax obligations for a once-in-a-generation event then how stable is that business? Why does it therefor have a right to continue to exist in this pristine state?

Because really, it's not like there's no way around some of these problems. Incorporation and share ownership allows families really committed to keeping these businesses intact past someone's death. You can look at the businesses in the candy and chocolate world to see how this is done with great success.

The opposition to the inheritance tax is purely about keeping large sums in the hands of a very small few without any sort of strategy or cost in doing so. The idea that small businesses can't survive it is a macguffin.

What can't survive it is family dynasties. Good. Let's see some of this supposed merit society in the form of the kids of the wealthy going out - with their already sizable advantages - and making some of their own money rather than purely relying on what's handed down to them based purely on genetic code.

75:

Let's suppose that one of the expectations of citizens in modern states is full economic participation, as defined by, for instance, the current incarnation of the American Dream (TM).

Wrong. SPANK.

Not everyone on this planet aspires to be American. There are certain aspects of the American dream which are, in fact, actively repulsive to many cultures.

76:

When the generation of wealth is hideously distorted, you can (and I think do) breed a level of "why should I do anything, I'm going to be f****d over anyway", or lesser level variants of "I'll do the minimum." I suspect that the strength of, say, the Swedish economy is down to the fact that they are all in it together, whereas the Greek (and British Economy) we're all in it together, its just that some of us are more in it than others...

77:

Returning to 1979 levels of wealth would cost you a lot more than a mere 10% on your marginal tax rate.

I'm pretty sure you're wrong. Notably, the UK total marginal tax rate is only around 10% lower than that of Sweden or Denmark, while military spending is a good deal higher: there's room for further cuts to "defense" (a weasely euphemism, given that in the past 30 years there has been one national-level military threat to British territory, but the UK has engaged in around five overseas military actions in the past decade alone), before we get into issues surrounding corporate welfare (e.g. Jobseeker Allowance claimants being railroaded into unpaid workfare for corporations like Tesco -- a direct transfer of employment costs from the supermarket chain to the state).

78:

Thanks! I thought that might be what you meant, and I agree that subversive behaviour can be useful, sometimes necessary, and that most political systems are intolerant of subversive behaviour; I forget who made the point up-thread about the powerful wanting to prevent change, since their power/wealth is based on the status quo, but I would agree that this is a big driver in the authorities stopping this kind of behaviour.

However.

Someone else also made the point that the number of active participants in the OWS movement is pretty small compared to the population as a whole -- and this is where I think the lack of coherence works against the OWS movement. Most of the general population will only follow a movement (or party) when they know (or think they know) where it's going; give mixed messages, or no messages, and the masses will not follow.

In it's current incarnation, I really don't think that OWS has the legs to be truly subversive on a wide scale (although I could of course be wrong).

79:

I wholeheartedly agree. There are aspects of it that are repulsive to Americans if they really sit down and think about it. And even if the people themselves don't aspire to this, there are manufactured aspirations that ARE peddled to populations as if they should be bought unquestioningly.

I just used that as the only example I had on hand (and really the only one I can speak on with any authority).

80:

Or wine makers.

I encountered a charming Italian, who was telling of how his grandson was entering the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology to study winemaking. Some of the fellow students were proud of how they were third generation winemakers.

Humberto's grandson is the thirty (or possibly thirty-first, I forget) generation. The family really, really know their vineyards.

81:

Hell, they're actively repulsive to many US citizens for that matter. As a poor person here, who's a member of lots of social minorities, it's kind of scary the degree to which even the downtrodden here often assume that what's wrong with them is that they didn't work hard enough until their lucky break came along.

82:

I wonder if there's any significance to deploying a plan to liberate American public spaces from unwanted public contamination on the same day as a headline-inducing Euro bond sell off. One wonders if the oligarchy is removing potential nuclei of protest just in case it becomes necessary to liberate more money from its unlawful public captors and into the deserving pockets of bank executives to compensate them for their losses when the Euro combusts.

83:

I'm not sure if this is a great minds moment or fools seldom differing. But I posted a long post about a similar topic to this today, then found this in my RSS feed. The whole lot is here.

Haven't considered your three axes yet, although don't have a problem with them at first glance, but the relevant bit for my thoughts is:

I would use this last piece of evidence to suggest that system is NOT broken. It is, in fact, still working smoothly - accruing money and power to those that already have it and, in an antiquated but apt turn of phrase, devil take the hindmost. If you read this blog regularly you will know that I'm in favour of an approach of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But, lurking under that simple statement is the idea that the system is fit for purpose. Fitness for purpose for an economic system is hard to determine because it becomes incredibly political and almost (sometimes literally and not almost) violently held political belief.

Although I wear, with pride, the label "European Liberal Socialist" when it's pinned on me by Americans (of almost any political ilk) I'm not a radical socialist. I don't, for example, believe that a company making profit is obscene, nor that someone doing a valuable job successfully should not be suitably rewarded for it, ideally in hard cash terms. I do, however, believe broadly speaking in large government, a welfare state and a free-at-point-of-access health system. Beyond that I believe the state should support education and training, it will want to keep armed services, emergency services, prisons and the like as well. It should also take wider stances, for example it should be promoting green policies to try and reduce our environmental impact and limit if not reverse global warming.

84:

Well, yes.

I am a self-employed business proprietor. Only reason I'm not the director of a limited company is (a) it doesn't scale -- I can't employ people to write Charles Stross novels for me -- and (b) in view of (a) the tax situation would be unfavourable compared to remaining self-employed.

I am the very model of what Karl Marx referred to as "petit bourgeois". Nevertheless? I'm still one of the 99%.

85:

But the British aren't one of those cultures, having originated many of the characteristic elements Aaron listed, albeit in cruder form. (I kid, you guys are totally the masters of imperialist branding and colonial market capture; we are not worthy.)

Also, in context, your comment boils down to "That culture you said you want to subvert, well it sucks and you really ought to have known that, Neal, I mean Aaron." The People's Poet zaps the Stoopid Hippy again!

This is why we on The Left can't have Nice Things.

It also reminds me of Britain importing legal reform to East Africa. We nobly declare the humane principle that a brother is not responsible for his brother's debts. At which the aghast unwashed said "What kind of brother would not stand for his brother and refuse to help him in his time of need."

86:

"I can't employ people to write Charles Stross novels for me"

Why? :-)

87:

Correct-- and would strongly disincent the risk taking involved in capital outlay for rental properties. Governments and non-profits can absorb that risk without asking the tenant to pay a premium.

I am also suspicious of any rent-to-own scheme because, in the US at least, such devices are used to prey on poor who can neither afford the item out-right, get credit cards at decent interest rates, or historically make use of banking institutions (savings & checking accounts( to save up the money to purchase outright.

88:

I wouldn't lose heart: a movement like that which is nascent in the Occupy actions might do more with the memory of That Brief, Shining, Moment that was Quashed by the Man than an actual, messy (literally and figuratively), physical occupation.

89:

I can see it now. The Apotheosis Tablet, by CHARLES STROSS, TOM CLANCY and someone you've never heard of, coming soon to a bookshop near you!

90:

'Expansion and contraction are of the Way,' as my karate instructors taught and implosion weapons demonstrate.

91:

what's wrong with giving the leisure society another chance, eh?

The 10,000 hours "law" for expertise in a field probably makes it very difficult to amortize the 10% requirement for all food & good production over the full 100% of the population. Cracking that nut may be the problem to solve.

92:

I can't employ people to write Charles Stross novels for me

Well... no, but you could franchise the property a la Star Wars & Dungeons and Dragons so that you were hiring people to write "Laundry" universe novels. Or have a "Fanfiction Certification Process" whereby you gave the Stross seal of approval for the work of others derived from your own, with graduated levels ranging from "Approved" all the way up to "Officially Part of the Canon"

Disclaimer: I have no intent to write Fanfic.

93:

Dave,

It is quite ironic that you accuse OWS of advocating an "ends justify the means" philosophy when there are elements of the American political system (especially the Republicans) that don't mind doing exactly that.

See so-called "voter fraud" laws that make it harder for Democratic voters to participate in elections; efforts to neuter public unions (who happen to play an important role in funding the Democratic Party); and a total roadblock of any efforts to stimulate the American economy or create Americans jobs in the hope that Obama will be blamed for the state of the economy.

Compared to what Republicans are trying to do, anything that OWS has tried to do as part of its formal efforts to protest the current state of affairs is mild at most or perhaps inconvenient to some.

94:

I stand corrected, and thanks.

One more great story, shot down. Oh well.

95:

There are a several things everyone can do to "opt out" of the system which are relatively easy.

1.) Move your banking from a large, "Too Big To Fail" bank into a credit union. (I'm not sure how "credit union" translates in other countries. Treat "credit union" as a "small, local bank that serves a smallish community" and you've got the general idea, however.)

2.) Make your purchases from local merchants. Stay as far down the scale as possible. This means local farmer's markets, barter, buying used where possible, etc.

3.) Pay cash whenever you can. There's no need to suck credit/debit card fees out of the productive economy. This also helps make sure that your purchases are not tracked and helps avoid bank fees.

4.) If you own stocks, invest in companies which actually make or do something useful. Take your money out of FIRE sector companies. (FIRE is Finance, Insurance & Real Estate.)

5.) Learn to grow your own food, repair your own stuff, and generally figure out how you'll sustain yourself when things go to hell. Take up a hobby (such as wood working, knitting, or wrought iron) that might become a profitable trade if things fall apart really badly. Make sure you buy hand tools, (not power tools) where possible. (In other words, participate in local maker movement.)

6.) Reduce, re-use, recycle and learn to make do.

7.) Research local politicians and companies and see how they "vote" with their money and political power. Make your own votes/purchases accordingly. Jesse Jackson used to call targeted purchasing "discipline dollars," which is a lovely phrase. (I'm currently working on a website that will make this kind of research easy, though the site is not directly related to politics.)

96:

I wouldn't half mind a social environment in which such a party defined a natural line of strength - something it was seriously politically costly to work against. That is, I think that the base and the informal institutions have to come first, and that the party is merely a necessary tactical outgrowth. But this top-down vs. bottom-up quibble aside, I'd be happy with all three of your goals.

(b) might require a bit of an explanation - I do identify as a libertarian, after all. And it's true that economic inequality qua inequality isn't something that distresses me too much in principle. But we don't live in an environment which is either strategically or culturally libertarian (or culturally gentle and generous enough to sustain any such orientation).

Since we live in a rancorous and increasingly naked plutocracy, where individual rights can be pretty much bought and sold wholesale by any of several transparent methods, I'm more than happy to abridge Tania Trillionaire's rights to accumulate enough to build an admirable space-yacht, in order to prevent her thereby also acquiring the abominable clout to expropriate everyone else in sight should she feel the urge to do so. Or even, let us say, to quietly have untouchable muscle descend upon the tents of Occupy Marsport when it begins to irritate her guests' delicate eyeballs.

I think we shall be able to afford more creative and useful inequality, just in the measure that we can eliminate the coercive and self-amplifying kind. We're not there yet - and just now, we're not even headed remotely in the right direction.

Doubtless we'd disagree hotly on the best way to achieve that kind of redistribution, but these days I can't deny that your targets are urgently good ones to shoot for.

97:

Disclaimer: I have no intent to write Fanfic.

I got half-way through a Laundry fanfic that would have fit into the canon rather neatly, but gave it up on the basis that if I didn't want to bother Charlie with it, and also didn't want to have it sit alone on my hard drive for all eternity...

And I really, really need to concentrate on my website.

98:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: This is not an American blog. You should therefore note that, in political terms, the owner of this blog considers all mainstream American politicians to be right wing extremists, and the Republican party to be a support group for the criminally insane. Oh, and the Democrats aren't exactly my idea of an opposition party, clustering well to the right of my comfort zone.

Tea Party apologists should therefore consider Charlie's Diary to be an annexe of Firedoglake, only with a harsher moderation policy and an owner who will mock them publicly if he feels like it.

99:

The Gini coefficient sounds like a keeper even when other measures come along. You don't just use the mean, you also use the median, the mode, and the variance (or maybe the standard deviation). Each measure something important. The Gini coefficient sounds analogous to the variance.

It's been a long time since stats class, but the problem with just using the variance is that it doesn't tell you where the mean is, and the problem with just using the mean and the variance, is that not all curves are normal curves. Consider a bimodal distribution. (By analogy many wealthy people, and many poor people, but nobody in the middle.) In that case you need to reduce the variance to nearly nothing to have something approaching fair. But what is desired is a curve when not too large a variance where the median and mode are near the mean. (I.e., something roughly shaped like a normal curve, but with really small tails at both ends.)

It's worth noting that when democracy was promulgated in Athens the wealthiest people earned only about 50 times what the poorest people (covered by the system) earned. A wide dispersion in incomes is probably bad for democracy, but some dispersion seems to be necessary for society to work effectively. (This may not be true in a highly roboticized society, though.)

100:

So, just to amuse me...Accepting for the discussion the idea that a small minority could support everyone; who decides who gets the to be in the 'leisure' 88%? How is that system enforced or imposed? What if some of those producers don't want to labor for others?

As for my comments, they aren't based on a news report. I went to the local protest; it's laughable. I've seen bigger protests at a local sports game. Heck get there at the right time and there are more reporters and staff than there are protesters.

101:

On the Occupy Wall Street folks:

I have gone from supportive of them initially to "not so much" right now as it has progressively become clear (or evolved as the movement has evolved) that they are less concerned with Wall Street and more anti-authoritarian, anti-hierarchy as an ideology:

I want to be clear: I think they have a valid gripe with the current power structure, but they fail to recognize that what they are calling a non-hierarchical organization is simply a different sort of power structure with different rules for inclusion, including social pressure and persuasive ability (strongly tied to educational background and prior socio-economic status).

I think this aspect of their ideology is dangerous, at a minimum because it throws out the baby with the bath water: For example, some of their spokesmen (one in Occupy baltimore, I believe) admit to urging assault and rape victims not to report it to police. Their dislike of police and fear that reports of violence would be used to demonize the movement do not outweigh the victims' rights.

102:

...Republican party to be a support group for the criminally insane. Oh, and the Democrats aren't exactly my idea of an opposition party, clustering well to the right of my comfort zone.

As an American... thanks, that needs to be said. Badly. And repeated as often as possible.

The terrible thing is that Obama came into office with the capability of driving US politics well to the left for a generation. All he had to do was arrest the banksters, prosecute war crimes and financial crimes, and bring back the "fairness doctrine" to the American media. (He has the ability to do all these things without Congressional approval.) I suspect that would have given him the votes to raise taxes on the wealthy and bring back Glass-Steagal. (For those in other contries, Glass Steagal was a Depression-Era banking law that made it illegal for banks to enter the securities market.) Instead he blew it completely, and will go down in history as one of the most corrupt American presidents ever.

103:

Just felt compelled to add: Mock all you want. I relegated you to the loony bin ages ago; doesn't mean we can't argue in a civilized fashion.

I don't consider myself an apologist for anyone, just a rational cynic. I understand too much of history to believe that anyone seeking power or revolution is likely to end up actually fixing much of anything. At best the top of the pyramid gets replaced but it is still a pyramid. At worst it gets really bad for everyone.

104:

These three goods' being in competition makes me think that we're in the process of writing an early Asimov story.

But more generally:
I've never liked Asimov's writing much, and I know of Our Host's criticisms of the implication of the Three Laws of Robotics for sentient mechanisms, but I have like [?]'s argument that the Three Laws are the model for what any technology should do.

Well, I would say that the main thrust of Enlightenment is to consider _all_ human institutions and structures a form of technology---I think it was the beginning (or near) of Macleod's "The Stone Canal", I believe taking a cue from D. Friedman that set me off on this tack. Private property and the market are technologies fof valence and allocation...but are they the best such for all circumstances, and for which constitutions of the "best"-determining algorithm?

I distrust any patent nostrum that claims that it works equally well for man and beast and machine, as surely as the linearised small-angle approximation to the motion of a single pendulum only works for small angles...this means that I can't back any form of purity.

I would point out, though, that primate sense-of-fairness would seem to me to make it be more legitimate for the government to take as much of its revenue as possible from activities impossible or nearly in its absence, and stable acquisition and inheritance of huge amounts of property is near the top of the list of those along with intellectual property and limited liability).

105:

An assessment of our oversized neighbour that unfortunately has proven to be painfuly accurate. Why it is Americans still think they live in a democracy really does escape me sometimes.

106:

I'll accept your three principles in principle, subject to a lot of debate about the precise meaning and application of the terms "liberty" and "equality", and a long conversation about how to keep the usual suspects from gaming the system (and the debate on meaning is motivated in part by the need to prevent gaming: look at what "liberty" has come to mean in political parlance here in the US).

Important Disclaimer: I am a radical socialist, and I come from an extended family that for the last few generations has split about evenly between active socialists and petit-bourgeois (and a few not-so-petty millionaires). But I don't believe profits are "obscene", they're part of the micro-economic system that operates in some organizations as a way to account for value to be indirectly invested back into the system or passed on to the macroeconomy via investment in other entities. However, there is such a thing as "obscene profit", profit accumulated to the detriment of the corporation's workers or society in general. As an example, consider the money saved by not fairly compensating the tens of thousands of people in India who suffered from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

It seems obvious to me that the political/economic system we've been calling "democratic capitalism" in the West is not working the way it was originally envisioned because it's been gamed and captured by a small minority who are now effectively an oligarchy. This group is not limited to a single nation, though there are oligarchic groups that run individual nations such as the US, UK, France, Germany, etc. It also seems clear that the process of corruption that results in oligarchy has gone further in the US and to a somewhat lesser extent in the UK than elsewhere, but that may only be a temporary distinction.

As Charlie says, there are other factors such as automation of work resulting in the need for only a small part of the population of a First World nation being required to maintain the production of needed goods (and most required services like medical, infrastructure maintenance, and public safety). These need to be considered in that discussion of meanings; it may be that the notion of employment needs to change drastically.

As I said, I come from a tradition of leftist activism. My first reaction to the political climate today in the US and elsewhere is disgust that I have to fight almost exactly the same battles that I had to fight in the 1950s and 60s against the capture of the political system by power and wealth, and the same battles that my father's generation had to fight. I'd take it back further on my family tree, but back then we were fighting against the Tsar and his cronies (and the Cossacks they sent out to beat and kill their opponents) rather than the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch or even Carnegie, Rockefeller, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. Even so, the situation is worse now than it was in the 1970s and 80s; much of the political and economic infrastructure set up by the New Deal in the US, and by the Labor governments in the post-WW2 period in the UK have been dismantled or neutered. And what Atrios calls "Our Galtian Overlords" have waged a propaganda war for the last generation for the idea that socialist memes are by definition corrupt and unfair to the average citizen, and have succeeded in altering the common definitions of terms like "welfare", and "union", and even "safety net" to the point where I'm strongly reminded of Orwell's MiniTrue.

And so this is what OWS can do and is doing: it's reframing the debate about fairness and equality to something closer to the real world than the definitions that have been imposed on us by the oligarchy.

107:

I'd love to see a major British political party offering us some genuine socialism: higher taxes on the rich, redistribution of wealth, renationalisation of the railways and public utilities, big banks broken up and corrupt executives SENT TO PRISON.

Sadly I'm not holding my breath.

108:

So, just to amuse me...Accepting for the discussion the idea that a small minority could support everyone; who decides who gets the to be in the 'leisure' 88%? How is that system enforced or imposed? What if some of those producers don't want to labor for others?

You really are slow, aren't you?

We do it the way we do it right now: by rewarding people for productive work.

What we don't do is actively persecute the folks for whom there are no jobs.

The American Dream is fuelled by the belief that if you're smart and work hard you'll get rich. Unfortunately it takes more than smarts and perseverance to get rich: you need luck and good health as well. Meanwhile, the logical inverse to "work plus smarts equals riches" is the pernicious doctrine that the poor are dumb and/or lazy. In consequence, much of our western societies are based on the principle that people shall work or they will be punished, even though the actual figure for people who are working full time at the level for which they are trained is only around 30%, and around 50% globally.

Most people -- once you count children, students, the elderly, the chronically ill, those who are forced into a McJob by a lack of opportunities at their own level -- are not productively employed. This is the natural order of things in the post-industrial world. We need to internalize that, and realize that morale will not improve until the floggings stop. Then and only then can we understand what the uneven distribution of wealth in our societies means.

109:

Alternatively: privatise the roads on the same basis as the railways. Then we'll hear Jeremy Clarkson screaming!

(One corporation will own all the roads, bridges, traffic lights, and speed cameras. They'll also be responsible for organizing route planning and repairs. About seventeen regional monopolies will own all the automobiles and trucks, and you'll have to rent your car from them and pay the road authority per mile for use of the highways. Oh, and the repair and upkeep of the infrastructure and vehicles will be paid for entirely out of revenue without any subsidy from the public purse, and the road-owning corporation will decide which roads to repair, and how often, on the basis of which roads are most profitable and least expensive to maintain.)

110:

There's a principle of law in some places (used to be common in US jurisdictions, for instance) that a criminal should not profit from the crime. That's been seriously broken in 2 ways recently, at least as regards the rich and powerful: those who are convicted of a crime are not required to forego profit (commit a crime, write a book) and those there is good reason to believe committed crimes are never indicted or tried. That's one sign of seriously inequitable society, when the "justice system" is used to enforce class distinctions.

111:

That's one sign of seriously inequitable society, when the "justice system" is used to enforce class distinctions.

Wow! Well said. I'm impressed.

112:

"The American Dream is fuelled by the belief that if you're smart and work hard you'll get rich. "

Well, yes and no. The mid-20th century version of it was simpler if no less idealistic. It was merely to own one's own home and live a comfortable life (usually pictured in the suburbs for some reason). Given the social climate of the time that life was Dad working, Mom at home and a couple of kids. Oh and a dog. But it really had nothing to do with getting rich. I'd argue that many people here and elsewhere would aspire to this state with appropriate social and cultural updating. The home ownership aspect would translate, in some cases, to a more general 'stable, safe place to live' and the Dad = working, Mom = stay at home wife paradigm probably doesn't hold in some cultures, but the basic outline sounds rather like your 3 points, frankly.

The problem is that somewhere in the 80s or so, we took that very reasonable set of aspirations and morphed it into the one you object to, that if we work hard enough, we'll get rich. This has all sorts of undesirable side-effects which are noted upthread. I'd like to see the US get back to the more reasonable economic dream of being able to work at a job and end up with a decent life combined with a social environment that encouraged people to be themselves and was tolerant enough of that that we wouldn't even debate the validity out of the mainstream choices but just accept them as those people doing what they want.

The ironic thing about that desire is that it would actually be a more stable and secure environment for the top few percent and their wealth simply wouldn't be affected enough to really matter. Instead, we have fear-mongering and repression. All this is doing is furthering my suspicions that as a species we're not all that bright.

113:

Eric, suppose we turn that around? What if you had really big-time automation of most drudge jobs, and a bunch of the others too? What if there were to end up being more competition to belong to the productive class than the leisure class?

Are you sure there wouldn't be? In my experience, most people say they'd like unlimited leisure and the means to enjoy it - but they don't necessarily react very well to it when they get it, or take the opportunity when it comes around. People need meaning in their lives, and for a lot of them social or artistic vocations just don't ring the bell. And if nothing else, there is always our vampiric old friend Status lurking in the shades.

I'm by no means convinced that any initial big blow-out resultant from such a change would be sustained. I don't think most people raised in our present societies could sit still for it, without their bums falling off from boredom.

And that's not even to recognize the existence of generosity or monkey curiosity, once the pinch of need is loosened.

There may be prudential reasons to avoid the 'leisure society', in that it might become entirely too easy for the employed class to dominate the leisure class into the ground by degrees. New trick, that, if it happened - but not hard to see how it could. That's something I find it rather easier to worry about than a shortage of people who want to do stuff, or a general devolution into insensate tapewormery. Those would require me to suspend my not very idealistic beliefs about human nature as I've come to know it.

And, think you, at the margins even that sort of set-up contains the seeds of its own cure.

114:

"This is the most purely evil idea that has been floated in this thread."

Ah, refutation by name calling. How incisive.

I have always wondered, myself, what the justification for allowing non-existent people to have any say in what happens after their previous existence ends could possibly be.

Perhaps you can give a reason why this should be so, and if so I would be interested in knowing it. But calling an idea "evil" just because you happen to disagree with it, completely unsupported by any other argument, doesn't, I am afraid, bode well for your ability to reason.

115:

There might well be that sort of competition, but that could just as easily create the very sorts of elites this all started with. The competition to join the productive class would create a feeling of 'we're obviously better, after all we were selected'. Some number of them will then start to wonder why they don't get more stuff or position etc. I just believe that is how humans are wired.

116:

"Heck get there at the right time and there are more reporters and staff than there are protesters."

Sounds like success

117:

I'll vote for the party whose stated policies are the ones that seem the most capable of creating a society that is 'just', by John Rawls' definition of Justice, which, basically, sees justice as fairness.

I guess that means I'm a Social Democrat, but if things keep going the way they are right now (the Euro implodes due to inaction from the ECB, leaving Europe in chaos; next year, a Republican candidate gets elected in the USA, leading to another recession and the global economy tanking due to its dependence on the USA...) I see no other way in the medium to long term but to give the Marxist Experiment another try.

118:

Stated policies are overrated.

The Republican Party's stated policies -- personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, suspicion of government -- are all great ideas. The trouble is that they don't really have much to do with how the Republican Party actually operates in practice.

(Which is not to imply that I'm a partisan Democrat -- I'm not even sure the Democrats HAVE stated policies at this point.)

As for next year's US election, I can't say how it'll go. I'm pretty damn confident Romney will be the nominee, and both parties will have underwhelming candidates that don't drum up enthusiasm among their respective bases. I think such a situation typically favors the incumbent, but nothing's certain.

And I'm frankly not convinced Romney would be a big step down from Obama. Guess it depends on whether President Romney would be more like Candidate Romney or Governor Romney.

119:

Er, wasn't that Iceland article debunked rather comprehensively almsot as soon as it first appeared?

120:

Over the centuries we have separated the political process from religious domination, from military domination and now we need to separate it from corporate/wealth domination

121:

I don't claim to be a Marxist, in fact I rather strenuously object to such a label. I disagree with many of his core assumptions, his predictions about where the revolution would take place were dramatically wrong - so I have real issues with the label.

I also have problems with many of the ways it was applied.

I'm actually, I think, rather more like you in some of the broad outlines although not necessarily in the details. I'd like to see a lot more support for all, a stronger safety net for the poor, ideally without opprobrium, and I'm willing to support higher taxes in general for it, particularly for the very well off both as income tax and inheritance tax.

I think that might have the same effect as your measures, broadly, particularly the Gini coefficient one, it just specifies rather clearly that (IMO) society should have an imperative to care for those in most need, and those with most resources should pay to achieve this.

Oh, and for the record, I'm self-employed too, and petite-bourgoisee. I occasionally employ others because I don't write books and so take on jobs that can sometimes be farmed out, but mostly I take on smallish projects alone, or stand-alones as part of a bigger project.

122:

See #94.

123:

I'd be happy with any change that moved my country (USA) a little toward humane social democracy. Failing that, I would appreciate not moving in the direction of a militarized theocratic state.

Unfortunately, my government is designed to move only in large lumps rather than moderate increments -- it's designed to not move at all, so any time it does shift feels at first revolutionary and then almost immediately disappointing. Many of Bush's supporters felt nearly as disappointed with his domestic accomplishments as Obama's do now.

Even more unfortunately, the country is likely to lurch rightward. President Romney won't do much to bring about theocracy; he won't have sufficient support in Congress, and that's not where his primary interest lies. Romney will do everything he can to preserve and increase the capital of our top 1%, and, because that's a group with significant support in both American political parties, he's likely to be effective.

Rather, he will be successful in increasing the relative capital of our uppermost class. I doubt he'll do much to get us out of the depression that will follow the fragmentation of Europe. Widespread immiseration will be a great help with the servant problem.

Who knows? In a couple decades maybe there will be people in the same class as Agatha Christie, unable to imagine being rich enough to own an internal combustion vehicle nor poor enough not to have a servant.

Christ, is all that depressing. I really hope I'm wrong. (I like to remind myself: Berlin Wall, South Africa. Pessimism can't be counted on to be any more accurate than optimism.)

124:

Sorry. Didn't mean to dogpile - it's the old usenet thread problem: commenting before reaching the end....

125:

The problem is people who think that a & b necessarily and always conflict. If we recognize that there is official state power, and private civil power, then it's obvious that an increasing gini conflicts with the liberty from the second half of that pair: economic inequality is a denial of individual liberty in the private sphere.

Private slavery is not an individual liberty. Anyone who claims that, they are the problem --- and historically, inevitably private inequality eventually becomes entrenched as state power. See the evolution of the Roman Empire and it's transformation into feudalism.

To think that reducing inequality necessarily conflicts with individual liberty is as fallacious as believing that reducing inequality necessarily confers individual liberty.

I am just sick and tired of the false dichotomy of essentially 18th century philosophies, communism and libertarianism. I am tired of the damn enlightenment --- how we are intellectually frozen in the ideas of the French Revolution, as if nothing has been learned since the flea-bitten barbarians of 17th century England, 18th century US & France and 19th century Germany learned how to use a steam engine.

I am tired of the mass of "intellectuals" who hold on to ancient dogma as fiercely as a medieval theologian, rationalizing epicycles rather than creating new dreams.

A century of ecology and we're stilling thinking in terms of maximization? Of excluded middles? Of static structures? I'm tired.

126:

Those are not "stated policies", simply because they AREN'T even policies - at most, they're ideological principles. What I mean by policies, I mean what they actually propose to do if they get elected, and by this measure, the Republican Party policies are: 1) No new taxes EVER, 2) tax cuts, 3) Gutting and privatizing the social security net.

And on a bad economy, the opposition will always have an advantage over the incubent... Obama's utter failure to react to the economy crisis (or, perhaps, his unwillingness to act) has doomed his presidency.

127:

You could get people writing novels for you! Rebuild the Stratemeyer Syndicate. It worked for Tom Swift and Nancy Drew, so why couldn't we have Rebecca Mansour and the Secret of the Space Nazis and Miriam Beckstein in the Mystery of the Broken Blade?

128:

As for the original question, I think the three goals (personal liberty, less income inequality, and protection of the commons) are laudable. Spread them across the world and they get...interesting.

One question is which part of the liberty spectrum is more important, the (Texas-style) definition, oversimplified to "I want to do whatever I want and not deal with consequences," or the more Scandinavian definition of "freedom from hunger, slavery, oppression, and similar human ills."

Less income inequality. That depends on the level of prosperity we're talking about. America could get by with a lot less money, if we had an infrastructure where we didn't need cars as part of our everyday lives. I heard somewhere that Eisenhower is partially to blame for suburbia, because he wanted the population spread out to better survive nuclear war. Don't know if that' true, but (as with having only 2% in agriculture), it's one of those societal patterns that's killing us right now. If we redistributed wealth across, say, the whole of the Americas, I think a lot of US cities (especially in the south and west) would become non-functional.

As for the commons, I've got Elinor Ostrom's Governing the Commons by the bed, and I'm no longer convinced that governmental control is the only way to preserve commons. Fun stuff, and definitely relevant.

As for additional goals, my humble suggestion is that financiers who fail to attain corporate goals should get to keep their bonuses, but only if they follow the practice of yubitsume. Large tattoos of the logos the corporations they are invested in is also a good idea. This is just my way of making sure that actually have skin in the game.

129:

Thad @118:

I just love to quote this and I will indulge again:

"We only have one political party in the U.S., and that is the property party, which essentially is corporate America, which has two right wings, one called Republican and one called Democrat. I can't say I like either of them."
Gore Vidal

This is lifted from the very end of this article on usatoday.com.

130:

Ed, just in case you didn't notice I gave a full explanation of my reasoning at #67. If you'd like something more complete than that, consider the following article: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/06/why-do-we-allow-inheritance-at-all/240004/

131:

Fair enough on the difference between policy and principle, but I think my point still holds -- even your examples of "stated policies" are implemented, shall we say, selectively.

And I'll absolutely grant that a poor economy favors the challenger, but I stand by my assertion that a contest between two mediocre candidates favors the incumbent. As for which of these two forces will prove stronger, well, we'll know this time next year. (Course, there's also the rather important point of Obama's fundraising prowess compared to Romney's.)

The rest, I suppose, is merely semantics -- I wouldn't say Obama's failed to respond to the economic crisis, just that he's failed to respond ADEQUATELY. But, to my original point -- Obama's performance rather proves it, given that he's utterly failed to do what he said he would, in concrete policy terms as well as abstract ideological ones.

tl;dr talk is cheap.

How this regional tangent pertains back to the original post: in America we've currently got one party governed by what Charlie calls "an ideologically-driven damn-the-torpedoes race to the goal", and another that just sucks at negotiating. The Democrats have set them up as the party of compromise, which would be rational if not for the fact that the define "compromise" as a situation where the opposing party crows that you've given them 99% of what they wanted.

Real negotiation would be, I think, the Occupy crowd and the Tea Party realizing that they've got more in common with each other than they do with the 1% and sitting down to hash out what they're willing to give up for the mutual goal of reducing the symbiosis between Wall Street and Washington and pushing for a system that rewards people who work hard and punishes people who run their businesses into the ground.

132:

Marxist, possibly (though I doubt it). Definitely not Leninist.

There are lots of varieties of Socialism that aren't Marxist. Some one of them is probably the only plausible government. But which one?

N.B.: Full coverage health care seems to be a necessary component, with no requirement for coverage, but also no guarantee that your case will be handled. (Heroic measures to extend life can be really expensive, and should probably not be a part of basic coverage.)

Also it seems to me that free public schooling for as long as you wish should be a necessary service. (This doesn't imply room and board, however. That's a separate matter.)

Also, guaranteed work at a living, if not luxurious level. This means government jobs. If nothing else, road repair and bridge building and maintenance and restoration of historical buildings. And if there's only enough work for 2 hours per day, that two hours earns you your living wage.

But there's a real problem that needs to be addressed while implementing this system, of how to ensure that those with power in the system deal justly with those under their power. This means that regulators must be prevented from accepting "favors" from those they regulate not only while they are regulating them, but afterwards. Ditto for managers, but it's generally more of a problem with those regulating companies. Companies can afford larger and more subtle bribes. Like a job after they retire.

Also one needs to prevent doctrinal issues from justifying regulations. The classic example here is sumptary laws, but various other "morals" laws also fall into this rubric. It needs to be forbidden for people to hurt other people without their uncoerced agreement, but beyond that things get quite fuzzy and hard to justify.

Then there's the question of punishment for crimes. Particularly violent ones. Various experiments have shown that people should not be given excessive power over other people. This includes guards in prisons. And other prisoners. To me this indicates that the only satisfactory approach is genuine solitary confinement. And genuine solitary confinement has been shown to cause changes in personality. There's no reason, however, why it should be made uncomfortable. There should be phone access to their solicitor, but to no one else. Should there be books? Should there be exercise equipment? Sentences would need to be much shorter. (How much? Good question. Enough to change their personality.) One thing this would do is cut out gangs of criminals recruited via the prisons. There are many details that would need to be worked out, but there should be no personal contact while the sentence lasted.
N.B.: I'm not proposing strict sensory deprivation, only social deprivation. That has in the past been shown to be sufficient. (Though I'm thinking more of ship-wrecked sailors than anything more specifically relevant.)

133:

One thing that I discovered yesterday that I hadn't previously been aware of is that Zuccotti Park is not a public park. It's privately owned and operated as a public space, but the use of it is at the sufferance of the owners, and they have the right to say what the public do there, and what they don't.

Well, it's a privately-owned public space. The owners don't have total rights over it, so your front yard is the wrong analogy. Here's the description from the NYC web site:

The 1961 Zoning Resolution inaugurated the incentive zoning program in New York City. The program encouraged private developers to provide spaces for the public within or outside their buildings by allowing them greater density in certain high-density districts. Since its inception, the program has produced more than 3.5 million square feet of public space in exchange for additional building area or other considerations such as relief from certain height and setback restrictions.

At first, the program was limited to a few types of spaces like plazas and arcades, but over the years many other types with differing standards were added. Experience with the early spaces shaped standards for the later spaces, which were more precisely defined and subject to greater public scrutiny than the first-generation spaces. Plazas built to the original 1961 standards account for one-third of the 503 spaces surveyed, the largest single category.

The results of the program have been mixed. An impressive amount of public space has been created in parts of the city with little access to public parks, but much of it is not of high quality. Some spaces have proved to be valuable public resources, but others are inaccessible or devoid of the kinds of amenities that attract public use. Approximately 16 percent of the spaces are actively used as regional destinations or neighborhood gathering spaces, 21 percent are usable as brief resting places, 18 percent are circulation-related, four percent are being renovated or constructed, and 41 percent are of marginal utility.

In response to the perceived failure of many of these spaces and to community opposition, the types of spaces permitted and their locations have been curtailed in recent years. And now, with this book and the comprehensive information available in the database, owners will be better aware of their obligations and the city will be better able to pursue enforcement where obligations are not being met. Only with increasing public awareness, further refinement of design standards, and diligent regulatory review and enforcement can New Yorkers be assured of high-quality privately owned public spaces.

So the developers put in the park in exchange for a variance in zoning. In effect the public has paid for access to the park space. The owners have some control over what activities take place there, but they can't close the plaza — it is legally required to be accessible 24 hours a day. (Part of the deal they made when they signed the development contract.)

134:

I'm not sure the Tea Party and the Occupy groups could readily sit down. The Tea Party seems to be largely white, largely older, largely *extremely* conservative, and largely funded by a few very rich libertarians such as the Koch brothers.

The Occupy movement seems to be attempting to avoid co-option by refusing to define leaders and sound-bite messages. It's an interesting tactic (becoming the fog of politics?), but I'm not sure how well it will turn out in the long run.

In other words, I'm not sure they've got much in common, except for disgust with the current system. Think hippies and the John Birch society for a 1960s parallel.

The rich irony with the Tea Party is that, if their policies went through, they'd turn Washington DC into a clone of Brussels. Shortly thereafter, we'd have financial problems that would dwarf what the EU is experiencing right now. There's this unspoken fantasy of the Confederacy, here in the US. It probably won't die any time soon, but I don't think it's any more workable today than it was in 1860.

135:

The Lib Dems are with you on (a) and (c), and inclined towards (b) but will endlessly debate the correct measurement to use. We're a long way from perfect at implementing these ideals, but we are all committed to pursuing them. We're even committed to an "ongoing process of negotiation", which is currently drawing a lot of criticism from the damn-the-torpodoes side.

I don't want to turn this into an actual debate on UK politics (which is currently overrun with vile trolls), but I do want to quote the opening paragraph to the preamble to the federal constitution:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

This is the guiding principle on which the party is based. You'll find the preamble to verbosely agree with those principles. (The other two big parties don't even have anything like this)

136:

"How about you?"

Me? To paraphrase Diderot: "We will never be free until the last billionaire is strangled with the entrails of the last investment banker."

137:

That's one sign of seriously inequitable society, when the "justice system" is used to enforce class distinctions.

"The law, in its magnificent equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges and begging for bread in the streets."

138:

Oh, there are barriers, certainly. And politicians/The Media are doing their damnedest to accentuate them.

But while I'd say the vast majority of Tea Partiers in Congress are precisely the people who are balls-to-the-wall refusing any chance at compromise, I think a lot of the folks who voted for them weren't voting for extremists so much as they were voting against the status quo that got us into this mess.

I'm sure most folks here can think of a friend or family member who they vehemently disagree with on politics, but who they believe has their back should it come down to it. I'd like to believe that spirit can be exercised on a mass level, however unlikely that may seem.

Here's something I wrote a few weeks ago; I'll just copy-paste:

--
Both sides agree that the government has removed the free-market mechanism that is supposed to punish companies that do bad business.

The Tea Party response is the simple, gut reaction: let companies fail.

The liberal view is more nuanced: if those companies go down, they take their employees with them; the bailout was justified (at least in this instance) in order to save those lower-level employees, but there should have been more strings attached.

And I think if you ask most people in the Tea Party -- not all, but most -- if it's right for an entry- or mid-level employee to lose everything because of malfeasance at the top, he'll say no. There ARE folks who take laissez-faire capitalism to its absurd "Let him die!" conclusion, but they're a loud minority.

So we start with the obvious stuff: the bailout should have denied golden parachutes and capped CEO/bonuses for any company that took the money. I think there are people in the Tea Party who can agree with that, even if they do so grudgingly. And some high-ranking people probably should have been prosecuted for fraud.

From there, at a minimum, I think both sides can agree there should be increased oversight.

We start talking increased regulation, again, that's going to get Tea Partiers to balk, because to them it's a dirty word. Indeed, at this point in the conversation they will inevitably blame it all on Fannie and Freddy. Well, point out that Wall Street made a litany of bad investments that had fuck-all to do with Fannie or Freddy, and start asking why that's allowed.

Ultimately I'm firmly of the mind that these banks need to be broken up; if they're too big to fail they should be smaller. That's another sacred cow to Tea Partiers, but it might be a good idea to mention at this point that even Adam Smith favored government intervention to break up monopolies. And ask if it's really a good idea for banks' successes and failures to rely on high-risk investments.

At this point you'll likely find yourself talking in circles and back to the "Yes but the free market would correct that if the banks were allowed to fail" point. But I still think this conversation is the way to find common ground and seek reform.
--

And while you're certainly right about the Koch/Murdoch/et al coopting of the movement, I think we're also seeing that the Tea Party isn't really falling into lockstep with them. The Kochs and Murdochs don't actually want, for example, a debt ceiling showdown, or cuts to military budgets or corporate subsidies.

Essentially, the Tea Party is like anyone else in the 99% is to the Republican Party -- useful idiots. They want their votes, and will say anything to get them. But they don't actually want the same things.

Relevant comic strip from the '08 primary season: http://www.xoverboard.com/cartoons/2007/071217_clown.html

139:
he Democrats have set them up as the party of compromise, which would be rational if not for the fact that the define "compromise" as a situation where the opposing party crows that you've given them 99% of what they wanted.

I think it was Krugman who said that, at the negociating table, each of the parties is supposed to start at the extreme and meet in the middle, and Obama starts in the middle where he expects to end, and is surprised every single time that the Republicans don't immediately jump there.
140:

I realise that the Lib Dems are rather strongly the minor party in a coalition and don't have a great deal of influence - there's a limit to the number of times they can threaten the nuclear option without their bluff being called.

I'm also aware that they've had to compromise their election promises, as have the tories to a lesser extent.

But, as the US folks here have commented about the stated aims and the delivered policies of their parties, I can't help feeling that the Lib Dems have failed on the acta non verbia test to meet any part of these aims. They've tried to spin their actions as meeting them, but failed dismally to actually act in support of them.

That doesn't mean they won't in future, but you have to wonder after this parliament how long it will be before the Lib Dems have a serious chance at any amount of power.

141:

Do you have a source for the 2-10% to produce all the physical goods we need, and is that including making allowances for sweatshops and suchlike?

The funny thing is that looking at the state of the USA is that the redistribution of income and wealth from the bottom to the top doesn't seem to be such a massive thing, whats 10% of GDP between friends? But when it takes place during offshoring of industry and a declining relative affluence it seems to really damage things.
The really insane bit is that most of the deficit is due to the recession, the Bush era tax cuts and the wars. So the sensible thing to do is rescind the tax cuts and at least maintain the benefits which are keeping so many people alive. But no, that simply isn't allowed!

OK, here in the UK it isn't much better, all suggestions of what to do are welcome.

142:

You are ignoring the scab voter problem.

The conservatives built up a huge military, industrial, and security complex. That's a significant chunk of votes, all with health benefits on a level equivalent to Sweden. Those scabs are terrified that they will lose their jobs and fall to the bottom.
In the real world, the bottom would rise to their present level if the liberals took over, but they don't believe that.
So the dollar will collapse, the massive embodied labor of imports will have to be replaced, and the bottom will rise past the MISC level as the one percent gets used to having to pay more for their direct and indirect labor. Kind of like when Soros "broke the Bank of England" and crashed the pound.

143:

As a general observation, I must say that I'm quite baffled by people who are on the one hand proponents of secularism, materialism, science, etc. and on the other hand are proponents of equality, Marxism, human rights and the like. What is the philosophical basis for this kind of liberalism, once you remove its Judeo-Christian or other religious foundation? From where in nature do derive the idea that equality, justice, etc. are meaningful or important concepts?
My understanding is that the world according to atheism cares nothing for such ideas; in this world only POWER and EVOLUTIONARY SUCCESS matter. So if a sociopathic 1% can dominate the other 99% by not playing by their imaginary rules, on what basis can you object to their success? Isn't this simply how nature operates, in all her brutal, amoral glory? Is the lion evil for preying on the lambs? Why shouldn't humans be just as cruel as nature?

144:

"What is the philosophical basis for this kind of liberalism, once you remove its Judeo-Christian or other religious foundation?"

Self preservation. The Golden Rule as a social contract.

145:
(a) maximize individual liberty, (b) minimize the Gini coefficient, and (c) protect the commons

Or, stated more traditionally, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Was this a deliberate reference, or simply great minds thinking alike?

146:

I agree, the various goals Charlie has in mind are good ones overall. I'd vote for a party which promised them (or their Australianised equivalents) over here. And I mean vote FOR, rather than my current system of voting which is largely worked out by figuring out which party I'd feel least shuddering dread about giving my first preference to (the ALP and the Liberals get to fight it out for last place).

I'd also like to see less of a punitive aspect to welfare. One core aspect of WEIRD culture which really needs to be examined is the idea that not being engaged in full-time paid work is somehow a choice which is wholly within the immediate personal control of the person who is unemployed. Now, I'd argue the reverse - while there are some aspects of the decision which are within their personal control, most of the factors which surround people getting jobs are structural, or outside their personal control. For example, if you're looking for work and the job just isn't there (or if the employers aren't taking on anyone who isn't already employed) then how much of that is something you as a job seeker have any control over? If you're in a field which is majority male, and you as a woman are faced with a much higher barrier to entry (which isn't provable in court, because nobody will out-and-out tell you that you're not being hired because you use a different lavatory - that's discrimination), then how much of that is something you have any control over? If you're not being hired because you're older than the majority of the applicants (again, something no employer is going to come out and actually tell you - discrimination again), then how much of this is within your personal control?

147:

people say they'd like unlimited leisure and the means to enjoy it but they don't necessarily react well to it when they get it... People need meaning in their lives.

My experience has been the opposite, but that's because I actually did it, so my experience has a selection bias (it's based on the few people who do it now). In my 20's and 30's I regularly quit my paid job and did whatever I wanted for months to a year at a time. That's because I chose my career well and got lucky - I could pick up contract programming work easily and it paid enough that six months work covered living expenses for at least a year. So I went cycle touring, was a "professional activist", went rock climbing/ mountaineering, and even sat at home playing computer games, all for however long it took me to decide I wanted to do something else with my time. I seriously struggled on a couple of occasions to find the time to look for paid work because I was running low on cash but was too busy (I suffer from "just one more week/action/event/turn"). I have been in circles of people doing similar things, but those circles also contained people living in desperate poverty to follow their dream. Not a choice I could make, but I admire some of them for doing it (when the dream is "sit at home playing computer games... not so much. When it's "make public art that reaches people", yes!)

What I see a lot of is people rejecting the opportunity to have leisure and poverty, or a crappy job and non-poverty. When the dole is explicitly set at 80% of the poverty line or less, getting the dole means being in a nasty situation. Risking that situation by quitting your job and living on savings is not something that many people can do with equanimity.

Which is what draws me to GMI and similar schemes. If we guarantee that everyone gets enough to live on and not in poverty, and paid work is something you do when you want more than that, what happens? Do people who like children just keep breeding? Wait, they do that now. What consequences would follow? I expect a lot of people would keep working, just because it does give them more of what they want. Hiring menial staff would become more expensive in total, but the marginal cost might drop (you're looking at GMI plus, not starting from zero).

148:

Oh god this guy again.

The amusing thing is his namesake comic book character is a more rounded individual than he is. Latveria has universal health care, full employment and a high standard of living.

149:

Arguing that ethics and morality are religion-based only is not particularly on topic, and is pretty close to trolling.

So please don't do it; everyone else, please don't feed the troll.

150:

My tax plan:

Progressive personal income tax with a deduction of some fraction of average annual income (no corporate income tax).

Capital gains taxed as income for both individuals and corporations.

A progressive corporate asset tax with a deduction equal to some multiple of annual operating expenses plus capital equipment assets (assets other than financial investments (stocks, bonds, insurance policies, etc).

And an estate tax with a deduction of some multiple of average annual personal income plus capital equipment assets (like in the one above this one)?

My thinking is that the asset tax and estate tax would keep money at a higher velocity, and a corporate income tax is pointless since the cost is passed onto consumers anyway.

Regards,

Hans

151:

Rubbish. You certainly could pay people to write Charles Stross novels. Me for instance :).

If that Garfield (the comic strip) guy can do it, so can you.

Regards,

Hans

152:

I'd also like to see less of a punitive aspect to welfare. One core aspect of WEIRD culture which really needs to be examined is the idea that not being engaged in full-time paid work is somehow a choice

I think Charlie was getting at this with his comments about how much work we actually need done. I think it's higher than 12%, but lower than 50%. Yes, take out the non-working (adjusted for those who work but don't get paid) and it is closer to 50% and 100%, but dropping that to 15% is pushing it IMO. Depending on how you define work, of course.

As we see in Victoria right now, some people will keep working regardless. Stop paying your nurses? Half of them will turn up anyway. Ditto teachers. How would you stop parents caring for their own children? Gunpoint? Does that mean it's not work?

I think once you take out Douglas Adam's "third ark" people you have a society well on its way to collapse. Yes, hairdressing sounds trivial, but for many people it's an "essential luxury" - it is part of what keeps them sane.

And that is what is missing from the welfare debate. The focus on depriving people on welfare of everything that's not absolutely essential is wrong. This blog post sums it up for me: http://thehandmirror.blogspot.com/2011/11/luxuries-necessities-and-right-to-make.html

153:

As an American, I fail to understand the distinction you are making. Doesn't everyone think that?

Hans

154:
I can't help feeling that the Lib Dems have failed on the acta non verbia test to meet any part of these aims

On the national level, the modern party has never achieved sufficient influence to do that, although there has been some modest progress and a lot of movement in the opposite direction has been blocked, over the years (not just recently).

On the local level, things get more complicated (both good and bad, in different locations).

This is profoundly unsatisfying. Still, it's more than anybody else in the UK has managed. The fight continues, despite the fact that liberalism doesn't get a lot of support from a population dominated by fear and greed.

155:

Not as bad English as you think, it parsed perfectly to me. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

weals
plural of weal (Noun)

Noun:

1. A red, swollen mark left on flesh by a blow or pressure.
2. That which is best for someone or something: "in the public weal".

So instead of "wealth", you wrote "the public good". Nice one. Wish my typos were that cool...

156:

"We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality." M. Bakunin

Not that I think extreme left libertarianism doesn't have it's head up it's ass the same amount as extreme right libertarianism...

Also note Bakunin is quite notorious for his, err, antisemitism, but then, Marx et al. were not that much better...

157:

Apologies everyone if I'm feeding the troll.

"From where in nature do derive the idea that equality, justice, etc. are meaningful or important concepts?"

It comes from inside my head, definitely a thing in nature. I have a conscience, a sense of empathy, and a mind that is capable of some reasoning. The ability to empathise is important, I imagine, for a social species. And I can reason from the specific (e.g. my own sense of injustice at someone's treatment of me, or pain observed in another person resulting from their treatment) to the general, arriving at moral rules. All I have to do is accept that I'm not the absolute centre of the universe, which reasoning and observation help me to do. Easy, see?

Now if I was a sociopath, it might be tougher...

PS - you haven't explained how a moral law could have a religious foundation anyway. The existence of an invisible sky friend doesn't prima facie imply any moral fact.

158:

"the actual figure for people who are working full time at the level for which they are trained is only around 30%, and around 50% globally."

This is a very interesting figure - where does it come from?

159:

Charlie, I would be interested in a fuller explanation of what you mean by not making things hard for people without work. Would that include some kind of garuateed minimum income which isn't designed to drive people back onto the job market?

Doom: Where do you get this belief that materialists must want to follow the "laws of evolution"? To a humanist, natural forces have no inherent moral quality- its their =effects on people= that matter.

Theists have the same problems justifying religion as unbelievers do; why should they do what god wants them to, and how do they know what that is? Since their philosophies depend on pagan Greek, Roman, and Germanic ideas which they reject, aren't they groundless? The fact is, rationally justifying morality never works vrey well, except in terms of "societies of humans who try to do X work well, societies of humans who do not-X work poorly".

160:

Yes, you are feeding the troll. Especially with your PS. But you're not the only one.

People, please don't. It's not an appropriate topic for this conversation (at least until Charlie says otherwise :)).

161:

The problem with any discussion of taxes is that there are people with an interest in misrepresenting the system in a way which scares as many voters as possible.

Look at what Charlie wrote: On the other hand, an inheritance tax that kicks in at 40% and affects the majority of estates that include an average-priced family home is clearly erring in the opposite direction.

You are talking as though the 90% hits everyone.

The interesting aspect is that both the USA and the UK have a two-part income tax system. There is income tax, which has no top limit on payment, and there is the social security part of the tax system.

The UK National Insurance rate is 8%. The basic rate tax is 20%. When your income passes a certain point, the income tax on the excess goes up to 40%. At about the same point, the national insurance rate applied drops to 2%. Now, the usual lie is to talk only about income tax, 20% jumping to 40%, and ignore National Insurance. But you're paying both, and the total rate chances from 28% to 42%. That's not twice the tax rate, it's about five thirds.

That's just not mentioning a tax, and I admit I have simplified the combination a bit. But the rich never mention that one of the taxes they pay is actually reduced.

There are other things that anti-tax protesters get wrong which look more like a willful refusal to learn how the system works. They'll cheerfully let you think that the high rate affects all your income, making the annual bill jump from GBP 11200 to GBP 16500

You're echoing that. It doesn't make you look good.

Now, I'm not sure that Charlie's figure for the value of a family farm is all that realistic, but a viable arable farm is past GPB 5 million, if you want to survive the bad years. But family farms can be owned by a corporation, with the shares held by the family. The last I heard, the biggest farming company--actively farming the land rather than renting it out to tenants--was the Cooperative Wholesale Society, which is a rather odd entity by American corporate standards.

162:

I can think of a few decent examples of that sort of franchising. Diane Duane did a few good ones for a minor Tom Clancy scheme. But Tom Clancy is a huge enough brand that money can be made out of that sort of book.

163:

We can only hope that violence doesn't occur, but the mindset that is in control of our police is paramilitary now and they see this as an "us vs. them" situation. They are not to be trusted; they are the only ones who have been violent so far. Think of the bullies who become constables in Clockwork Orange. That is the psychological make up of the majority of police in the USA today.

164:

All of the above is very nice, but the take home from the GFC is that the money men run things, are above consequences, and that politicians have either no ability, or no desire, to change things.

First question is therefore not what change you want, but how you can bring it about.

  • Peaceful protest doesn't work and gets beaten up.
  • Violent protest doesn't work and gets shot.
  • Voting for the usual candidates has no effect.
  • Standing for election outside the usual suspects is pointless.

First, find a alternative path to imposing change that CAN work; then work out what you want to do with it.

165:

I don't care about the Gini coefficient. If someone gets rich in a manner consistent with maximizing individual liberty, every dollar they've made is evidence that they've conferred benefits on other people that are worth more than a dollar. So what harm can it possibly do me that they're richer than I am? You might as well call for maximizing the equality of intelligence, or of physical beauty, or of height (there's an economist, Greg Mankiw I think, who has a lovely proposal for a height tax, based on the demonstrable statistical correlation between height and wealth). Get rid of rent-seeking and the laws, institutions, and policies that enable it, and the problem of the undeserving rich will solve itself.

I'm mistrustful of calls to "protect the commons," because they often seem to amount to governmental resource grabs that enable rent-seeking rather than preventing it, but Richard Epstein's discussion of the Roman distinction between private and common property persuaded me that common property has a legitimate place in a free society, and that legal rules for its use are needed and are a proper function of the state. So I'll go for that part of your program, cautiously.

166:

Oh yes, very smug, and never mind that in your programmer days you were very much part of the problem. Not only would it be good to fix the system, you have a responsibility to do so. After all, you helped break it.

I am amused by the number of commenters in this thread who take property and money as an unquestionable reality, rather than a shared game we were assumed to be playing from the moment we were born with nary a by-your-leave.

It was an ok game for a while there. We used to have a deal: if you do a reasonable amount of work, you can have a good life. And then some genius with a computer comes along and does the work of thousands of people, and suddenly thousands of people can't have that good life anymore. Real clever. Maybe you should have thought about fixing that *first*.

Oh well.

Forget charity. Arm the poor. Maybe they'll share some our dreams again (spaceships...) if they can forcibly make themselves a part of it. Besides actual weapons, there are plenty of sources of power to give them. Secrets. Tools to coordinate with. The ability to strike, for those with jobs. The ability to get together and shut down factories and offices, for those without (ie by "Occupying" things). Ideologies to give them moral clout.

I'm guessing we're mostly pretty successful here, though you may not feel like it (that's just how the system works). Therefore we are all in an excellent position to act as class traitors. What power can *you* give away?

167:

Several voices have expressed disagreement, but the describing goals A, B, and C as orthogonal makes perfect sense. Just think about it very literally as a mathematical space.

Think about a 3D space with A, B, and C axes. You can get from the origin to [1 1 1], there doesn't *have* to be any tradeoff between liberty and equality.

But it is harder to improve all 3 than to improve just one- [1 1 1] is farther from the origin than [1 0 0].

But then the 3D space is also full of little obstacles that force any path to zig and zag, and gradients where it is easier or harder to move. If we head straight out along the A axis, planning to improve in that direction without changing our position on the other axes. We run into a big blocking object- and lo and behold the easiest way around that object is to adjust out path so we keep moving in the +A but move slightly in the -B direction at the same time. Or as we move in the +A and +B directions, the path of least resistance is along a plane that slopes so we're moving -C.

I think that works solidly as an analogy for what Charlie's saying- the goals really are orthogonal, they don't by default work together or against each other. But the space is full of junk that requires detours and changes progress in local zones, making it seem like they're at odds sometimes and requiring careful balancing.

168:

I've thought for a while the political class should be paid based on the average wage, perhaps with an additional modifier for the inverse of the Gini coefficient.

169:

Well said, Alex.

Not following from that comment but related to some posters' earlier comments, I'll chip in that it was interesting to watch the Occupy Portland movement on TV during OryCon this weekend. They'd been camping in a two-block downtown park (across the street from the main police station, in fact), been given until midnight Saturday to clear out, and we got to watch live TV coverage of nothing much happening only a few kilometers from the hotel (we could see the helicopters from the Hospitality suite). Of course the protesters didn't clear out, but the police also didn't move in to sweep them away, letting them mill around and generally have every chance to get bored/hungry/whatever and go home on their own. By noon Sunday the city had the park evacuated and were looking at a big cleanup project, but the real cost to the city is a vast amount of overtime pay for police & other services.

170:

(I am also replying to #150 here.)

I would argue that one underlying problem of all tax systems is complexity. Yes, a complex tax system can provide incentives or can try to push money around the economy in desirable ways. However, a complicated tax system is also open to abuse by those who want to use it for their own ends, whether it is keeping competitors out or keeping their own money in.

It's a Camel's Nose situation: once you start adding complexity to any system someone smart figures out ways to game the system or (worse) someone with political clout (whether bought and paid for or not) tilts the system in their favor. Either way, when we are talking tax systems you end up with something that works better for those with money than it does for those without. It might take a while, but that is the ground state that all complex tax systems tend towards.

Here in the USA we have major defense contractors who pay very little taxes on the public money they receive (it goes in, but not back out). We have a progressive tax system which everyone (except the very rich and those on the right they can dupe) agrees is not equitable. I would suggest that the same applies in other countries as well. Certainly someone here can come up with examples.

The only way to ensure fairness is to simplify the system to the point it cannot be gamed. One tax rate for everyone to remove the incentive to cheat in order to get into a different bracket. No deductions that can be expanded for certain industries, other than the simple one I describe for progressive purposes. No complex asset calculations that can be gamed. All tax based purely on income, which includes any money coming in without regard to how much it cost to create the income stream. Capital gains? Why that's income.

Note: relaxing the 'all income is taxable income' rule above to designate only profit as income might be advisable, but only if you can do it with one simple rule in order to reduce gamesmanship. If that one rule cannot apply to every business, it isn't' a good rule.

Too simplistic? That's my goal here, so I consider it a positive. If you want the government to encourage certain industries with incentives do it the honest way and provide them lower-cost loans or outright grants.

171:

The leisure society you describe was already described in science fiction- by H.G. Wells. Eloi were happy...and tasty. Morlocks did all the work...but were well fed.

Basically, if you give people the option of living lives of total leisure, many of them will take it. No problem there. But they'll _know_ they're going to take it while they're growing up. "I don't need to learn that stuff- I'm going to sit around and have fun all day like my mum and dad and grandparents and great-grandparents did.".
You'd wind up with a likely hereditary aristocracy ("Son, you're going to be an engineer just like your mother is, or a doctor like your dad, but you're not going to sit on your ass all day") with a monopoly on the economy because they would be the only ones who knew how to produce or distribute any goods or services.
That 12% of the population would have power over the rest that historical oligarchs could only dream of- when farming peasants rebel, the aristocracy is in danger of going hungry; if leisure peasants rebel, they're the ones who starve...and quickly.

172:

errr, how about having a resource that an outside power would like control of, then get some propaganda going to make populace of said outside power into a moralistic frenzy- forcing said outsiders to bomb crap out of the country and install your lot as friendly sock puppets?


nah, itd never work

173:

Practically any economic system you care to name, with any socioeconomic stratification (or lack thereof) you want to impose, can support an oligarchy. Humans are that kind of primate. What we need to do is build metasystems that can be used to prevent the kind of gaming that creates an oligarchy.

Now let's look at the same scenario that Charlie talked about, where less than 15% of the population is needed to produce everything for themselves and everyone else. If that were to happen in the US in the next 10 years (not at all impossible, IMO) then the people who own and control the automated processes would be the same oligarchs who currently own and control the means of production: the executive capitalists. And what makes you believe that they would be any more considerate of the technical class who actually run the machines than they are now? Or any more tolerant of the lower economic classes (no longer the working classes in this scenario) who are of no use to them anymore?

174:

Occupying worked,a little in the 60's. By the end of the 70's it was worn out as something that did any good. Better to be like the Tea People, have a event and go home. When you'r there work on getting votes. Not making them mad at you. The "Battle for Algiers" was a dumb 60's movie. Not real life. And all cops can hurt you if you do not do what they say. In demos the leaders are at the back.

175:

In back? If they or the movement are young, or something needs supervising right there, maybe. The less hands-on leaders are at home, watching it on TV.

176:

My own position is quite similar to yours, though maybe less Freedom fixed (so Freedom would be third). Primo Levi expressed it very succintly: “A country is considered the more civilised the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak and a powerful one too powerful.”

177:

I agree that the Occupy Wallstreet people have a legitimate grievance, and a right to demand their problem be fixed (even if they don't have a clear idea themselves what their problem is or how it can be fixed.)

The problem is that people are using the Occupy crowds as cover for crime. (see the actions of District Mayor Vincent C. Gray).

178:

Like every other sweeping generalisation that I know of, "nature red in tooth and claw" has elements of truth, but fails to support itself wholly.

There are, for example, many symbiotic species, species which exhibit altruistic social behaviour and the like. Evolutionary fitness is about the ability to reproduce, not necessarily about being the biggest, most alpha member of the species - although of course there are species where only the most alpha can reproduce.

There is plenty of evidence that the social species H. sapiens sapiens exhibits potentially self-destructive altruistic behaviour for the loosely defined 'greater good' and without need for religion. Paying your taxes is just low risk altruistic behaviour and doesn't require any religious impulse.

Further, supporting more equality of opportunity (particularly if you're not in the 1% as most of us obviously aren't) can be described in purely selfish evolutionary terms. If you apply the loose precepts of well-known atheist and geneticist Richard Dawkins, your genes, my genes, everyone's genes simply want to continue into the next generation and have the best chance of continuing into subsequent generations. A society that has a great deal of inequality of opportunity makes it less likely that any given individual will be given the chance to spread their genes into another generation or two. More equality will increase the chances for my genes at the expense of those in the 1%.

179:

I'm coming late to this cool party, but I didn't notice any other responses to your comment ("The Greens have always struck me as having a paternalist streak that's even wider than those of New Labour or the SNP. Shudder.").

Shudder indeed. They have a massive paternalistic streak that I find increasingly off-putting (I've worked in political environments, so I'm not just going on talk-shows and published policies).

On a related note: I have noticed that political parties on the right of the spectrum tend to have policies that I couldn't possibly agree with.
But people in parties on the left - and this includes the Greens - tend to be insufferably self-righteous. I have frequently encountered an attitude that says, "if you don't agree with us, you must be either stupid or ill-meaning". In a way, that's worse and, I would argue, at least as dangerous for society if such people get into power. I note that it is a tendency that seems to become more concentrated the further up the party hierarchy one goes.

This presents me with a dilemma. Who can I really vote for in an election (bearing in mind that in Germany, where I'm presently living, parties getting under 5% of the vote don't make it into parliament)?
Except that it's not such a problem for me, as I'm not allowed to vote in national elections anyway: my red (EU) passport has the wrong writing on the front, so I can't vote nationally (and residency laws elsewhere mean I can't vote there, either).

180:

So what harm can it possibly do me that they're richer than I am?

None - in a society where rent-seeking has become a marginal dumb criminal activity, rather than the major basis of power and authority. First, catch your rabbit!

What I think you're missing, and what until fairly recently I used to greatly underestimate, is the strategic aspect of getting and keeping liberty - including property rights supposedly already guaranteed by law or custom. For a population where command of resources doesn't vary by many whole orders of magnitude, it is much easier to defend personal liberties when they come under attack, than it is for one in which a few individuals are super-empowered.

Yes, the degree to which this is true varies according to social institutions and local technology. But the principle remains: if most of the population are effectively disarmed in comparison with an elite, then general freedom is an unstable condition. Libertarians usually understand this very well when it comes to the means of direct violence. I think we have to extend that strategic logic to the means of commanding violence second-hand - or suffer a sequel in which most of us enjoy our liberties largely by the temporary grace of our betters.

I do agree with you that the standard statist solution to such inequality - concentrating all the excess power in the offices of State, which Wilson & Shea once memorably ridiculed as "whitewashing a wall by painting it black" - is worse than useless. But the goal of reducing inequality of strategic power between persons seems to me both compatible with liberty in principle, and essential to defending it in practice. The goal once granted, there's lots of room for debate and competing/complementary projects for actually achieving it.

181:

Well yes: that's why I voted LibDem at the last election.

I'd like to be able to vote for them at the next, but the Yellow Book wing shat the bed by crawling into bed with Cameron's Tories. Purge Clegg and his fellow libertarian opportunists and I'll think about it.

182:

Doctor Doom:

This is your yellow card.

You are either a sociopath or a troll. I'm leaning towards the latter.

My advice is to shut the fuck up on this thread unless you have something to contribute other than flame bait. Otherwise I'm going to ban you.

183:

I'm going to guess that neither you nor anyone wh seems to agree with you have ever tried to read any $techno_thriller_author's $series_name books?

184:

#113 - Can we define "life of leisure" to include "getting a liberal education", and GALE to include studying whatever interests you in engineering, science and the arts, with no requirement to sit exams unless you intend to practice in $field (including teaching others who intend to practice)?

185:

That 12% of the population would have power over the rest that historical oligarchs could only dream of

Not sure about that. What about 3D printers/rapid prototypers? If everyone has an autofab in their garage they can "make" whatever they want (subject to whatever raw-material restrictions there are) and no single individual or group of individuals would control the means of production.

As to jobs: What is more likely is that everyone (or at least a large section of the population) will have a "job" but this job will only require them to work for a few hours a day for a few days a week.

Or else most people will go to university for eight years or so (BSc + MSc + PhD + professional qualification) after school, and then work for 20 years until the retirement age of 46[1]

I suspect that the "work ethic" problem (pace Charlie @108) in the developed world will be solved in this manner. Not by passing employment to a small cabal of engineers and managers, but rather having *everyone* work for a couple of hours a day, three days a week.

It's worth mentioning that people in WEIRD cultures are actually happier (or report higher levels of happiness) when they have some form of employment[2]. "Jobs" may become (and are becoming, have been becoming) less about economic necessity and more about personal well-being and self-respect.

[1]: Note that current moves across the developed world at raising the retirement age are a de-facto tax cut for the rich, rather than an economic necessity. In the long run we're going to face a shortage of jobs, rather than a shortage of working people.

[2]: McJobs count here. Speaking as someone with experience of unemployment, anything that gets you up in the morning and out of the house is good. Ideally you'd only have people do productive and fulfilling jobs and jobs they *enjoy*, but until we get to our shiny autofabbed, automated, robot-waitered future we're going to have to accept that some of us have to clean out the sewers, sell insurance over the phone, and work the tills in the fast food restaurants.

186:

But you're paying both, and the total rate changes from 28% to 42%. That's not twice the tax rate, it's about five thirds 1.6 recurring.

Better than that; 42/28 == 6/4 or 1.5x rather than "about" (for which read exactly) 1.6x.

You are correct that the higher rate only applies to income above the step-change threshold.

187:

I agree that Wall Street has a reason to exist and is a necessary part of a working economic system.

The problem is that people are using Wall Street as a cover for commiting crimes.

And looking at the situation in the world, that is a bit more urgent, relevant, and justifies Occupy more, than alleged "public order" problems, if they exist.

188:

Evolutionary fitness is about the ability to reproduce, not necessarily about being the biggest, most alpha member of the species

Not exactly; evolutionary fitness is about the ability to propagate one's genome. As Dawkins pointed out, this is why sterile workers are, nevertheless, an evolutionarily successful strategy for eusocial animals like bees: they outsource replicating their genes to the queen and focus on behaviour that enhances those genes' chances of success.

More to the point, I really wish Darwin had used a word other than "fit" in his "survival of the fittest". "Flexible" or "well-adapted" or ... something not laden with double meanings in the English language. Naive misinterpretation of that one word has led to a ridiculous amount of suffering over the years.

189:

That's still not lack of control over the means of production...there's still power and feedstock required. Yes, you could use solar...but what if you live in a city and can't just throw out a few dozen square meters of solar cell wherever you feel like? We're back to centralized control by the guys running the power plant, stringing the cable, etc.
Move to the countryside? Sorry, the free housing is urban only- carbon footprint, you know.

One thing that's amazing about people is how fast so many of them will settle- having hit a tier of Maslow's heirarchy, they'll just stay there. They may not care, or they may not think anything else is possible, or they don't have neighbors who are examples of anything else. It's not about being as happy as possible, but about being happy enough.

You're not guaranteed to get philosophers if you take care of people's basic needs- you can get many more hillbillies or thugs because it's easier to be a thug.

190:

You're right of course. My bad for feeding the trolls before coffee.

191:

Why? Inheritance conflicts with both the economic principle that the most efficient way for an individual to acquire capital is through free-market based allocation, and with the ethical principle that we are all born equal and with equal opportunities.

192:

Lots of words turn up in lay evolutionary discussion that perhaps oughtn't- words and phrases like "successful" or "well-adapted" have connotations of goodness to them, and lead to an unfortunate conflation of moral impetus to what's ultimately as amoral a process as planetary orbits or ice melting.

Of course, that leads to a quandry- if the most evolutionarily successful strategy _isn't_ the most moral, there may be a problem.

193:

Paul, I agree in principle about the need to rebalance the system.

Arming the poor, though ... next you'll be demanding tumbrils and guillotines? Because the rich (and their minions) will shoot back, and escalation into civil war never ends well.

I'm of the opinion that we should, in principle, be able to dig ourselves out of this mess without breaking skulls and killing people.

(Final point: without automation we're all -- those of us who survive the subsequent starvation due to logistics failures -- doomed to drudgery. We don't have to go there; but then, we need to work out what to do about the shortfall in demand for labour that is induced by automation.)

194:

[ DELETED BY MODERATOR ]

195:

On the contrary, if it is a significant inheritance tax coupled with a significant asset grant (i.e. instead of a few people inheriting massively and most people inheriting little, we have everyone being granted, at age of majority, the same sizeable amount – say 4x-5x median annual income), we would have an explosion in entrepreneurship and small business (3-4 friends could easily be in a position to put good seed capital together), and a significant decrease in the need for both social welfare and retirement schemes.

196:

The first objection could also be levelled against acts of charity- what did that bum do to get a free sandwich?

The second is utterly laughable, assuming you don't mean "vaguely equal". Beyond genetics, there is the family environment- the son of Warren Buffett has more opportunity to learn finance than the son of Warren the Janitor no matter what the tax rate is.

197:

While I suspect your comment's going to get axed in a minute or two, there's some food for thought you need to consider- morality isn't just there to keep the plebs in line. It's a practical aspect of a society.

Why? Because two little guys with pointy sticks can kill one big guy with a pointy stick. You need some mechanism that lets people stop trying to stab each other and actually do something productive.
No one would say that the occasional backstab or immoral action can't help you get ahead...but people are going to help you based on what you can do for them, or because they happen to find you good company. When (and I mean when, not if) it becomes obvious you're a cackling madman, that the loyalty and help of others means nothing, they will stop giving or trading you aid.
And fella, I'm a fairly hardcore libertarian but even I'm not crazy enough to claim that being _alone_ means anything other than being dirt poor.

198:

Yes. Startup businesses that cater to 18-year-olds who suddenly have a hundred grand or so of cash at their disposal are going to _thrive_.

199:

Who said Darwin used "survival of the fittest." I did not think so and looked. I was righT. A proto (small n) nazi named Spencer used it to show how right it was for some to have more than others. They were just better, no need to think about it. The anti-Darwin mob loves to say Darwin stole it. If I am right he never used it.

200:

Next time you want to bash the "fit" word point people to giraffes:

http://amultiverse.com/2011/11/17/youve-got-some-nerve/

But then, there will always be some persons who absolutely want to be stupid about this.

201:

Absolutely agree with you on the charity part. I would thus also argue that any socioeconomic structure in which arbitrary charity plays one of the most significant (by volume) and critical (by importance) functions of capital allocation is unethical and inefficient.

As to equality of opportunity, I was referring to an ethical goal to strive for, not the current state of events. As such, your argument (if you disagree) must be about why we *should not* be trying to structure society in a way where everyone has equal opportunities.

Finally, 18 year olds are only irresponsible with cash because so few of them ever have any. The same line of argument for disaster was made when cars at the introduction of cars that moved much faster than horses (the masses moving at 30 mph – they'll kill us all!). It was just as wrong back then. If you know that what you hold is your one big break, you will quickly learn (from the mistakes of others) not to piss it up the wall.

202:

The "Battle for Algiers" was a dumb 60's movie. Not real life.

I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a statement.

/babbage

203:

Umm...didn't you just postulate arbitrarily giving a good chunk of change to 18-year-olds as a cornerstone of the economy?

Striving for equalish opportunity is about the best achievable, I think. How would you handicap the kid who had Warren Buffet as a dad? "Your tax rate will be somewhat higher than your neighbor's, because we predict you're better at finance than he is based on your childhood experiences. Ultimately, we would like to make your superior skill in finance worthless to you."

Cars do kill tens of thousands of people a year- they _are_ more dangerous than horses.
Anyhow, to your main point- examples from lottery winners seems to suggest that one-time windfalls don't produce lasting prosperity, they just delay bankruptcy a bit.

204:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE:

Doctor Doom, you are banned from this thread.

(C, I am reinstating your comment, but please don't follow it up or engage with Dr Doom in future.)

205:

That's rather ludicrous.

If you want to see more successful startups, you could do a lot worse than bring in a socialised national healthcare system; it's interesting how whenever the topic of the lack of middle-aged entrepreneurs in the USA comes up on Hacker News it results in a deafening silence punctuated by the self-justifying squalling of 18-24 year olds. Fact is, older people tend to have chronic health conditions (or dependents with them) which make going it alone in a country where self-funded health insurance costs multiple kilodollars per month much, much harder than it needs to be. So older folks are pressurized into staying where they are, rather than using their wealth of experience to start something new.

It's worth noting that here in the UK, many business startups are run by people in their 30s through 50s. And the initial failure rate due to stupid business decisions is consequently lower. (Unfortunately our accounting rules then impose harsher penalties for failure; but that's another matter.)

206:

Dirk said "The LibDems have sold their soul - and for what? The ability to veto legislation the Tories didn't much care about in the first place and a slot at the trough."

As I see it, they sold their souls to get the referendum on changing the voting setup from FPTP to some (admittedly weakened!) form of PR. I'd say it was a good gamble, and maybe the last time they'd get the chance for a generation, but sadly the Great British Public failed miserably to vote for it - never has it been truer to say "you get the government you deserve"!
The government establishment (ie the two large parties) have such a vested interest in keeping the status quo that they fought a pretty dirty campaign to smear the PR camp (eg Keep FPTP or the BNP will get in!). The big parties want to keep it the way it is because that keeps them in the driving seat and their noses in the trough!

207:

That might be an argument for having socialized healthcare for the self-employed. Now that's motivational- "Want healthcare? Start a business and help the economy grow. You help the country, the country helps you. Otherwise you're on your own..."

208:

Now that's motivational- "Want healthcare? Start a business and help the economy grow. You help the country, the country helps you. Otherwise you're on your own..."

I find your lack of compassion illuminating, if repulsive.

209:

Let's just gas the long term unemployed.
Think of all the social problems it will solve.

210:
I really wish Darwin had used a word other than "fit" in his "survival of the fittest".

He didn't, Herbert Spencer* came up with that one, and Darwin only added it on the fifth edition of his book

I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient."

He was trying to avoid the anthropomorphism of the term "selection". I think it's a "damned if you do" situation, since any formulation can probably be twisted towards simplistic ideologies.

Darwin agreed with Alfred Russel Wallace that this new phrase — "survival of the fittest" — avoided the troublesome anthropomorphism of "selecting", though it "lost the analogy between nature's selection and the fanciers'".

"Flexible" is not really accurate, imho, since species tend to overspecialize into niches over time until the environment changes and they go extinct.

*Herbert Spencer is, apparently, credited with creating social darwinism

211:

I think you'd just end up with lots of shit failing businesses and plenty more bankruptcies. Plenty of people don't want to start up businesses, it's not just due to a lack of ideas and or opportunities to do so.

212:

Don't forget the need to painlessly exterminate the elderly, the mentally deficient, and anyone else who doesn't contribute financially to the engines of wealth production: prisoners, people who like to sleep in late, anyone who didn't vote for the right party, children too young to send to the sweat shops, etcetera.

213:

I don't care about the Gini coefficient. If someone gets rich in a manner consistent with maximizing individual liberty, every dollar they've made is evidence that they've conferred benefits on other people that are worth more than a dollar.

Err, your model is making some assumptions here that are somewhat, err, problematic, for starters, just look at the problem of market failures, 'The Market for Lemons' being the classical example. Also note that you can define 'benefits' quite widely, e.g. if I sell tap water as a miracle healing or start an oppressive cult or, whatever, I'm still offering benefits for the money I got, in extremis the benefit being I'm not sending my thugs along to somebody who isn't paying me a, hmm, protective bribe.

OK, for the unmoral business angle, IM-very private and uninformed and prejudiced-HO many of Greens would fight for the right of practicioners of homoeopathy to charge, but let's leave it at that...

The qualifier "in a manner consistent with maximizing individual liberty" is somewhat ambiguous, too, since you don't qualify the metrics of individual liberty, in some areas, individual liberty is a zero-sum game, e.g. exercising my individual liberty is going to curtail somebody else's liberty to the same degree, in others, exercising my individual liberty is going to increase somebody else's liberty, and in some cases maybe I'm going to get a short-term gain in some liberty, but we're both going to lose more individual liberty in the long run etc. And that's only with two parties, add a third, and it get's a lot more complicated. Are you going to use 'individual liberty' as the maximum level of all parties, the minimum, the mean, etc.?

To use an extreme example, if I maximise somebody's individual liberty, e.g. allowing him to murder at will, and minimize the liberty of somebody else, e.g. take his liberty to not get murdered, is this the same as when I curtail everybody's liberty ('you can't murder and you are entitled to not getting murdered'), or maybe even better, since I increase the maximum liberty for one party?

On a more basic level. the problem with economic inequality lies in determining how many dollars you are able to charge for the service you offer; assuming we're talking about a free market here, let's say conventional wisdom is right and it's going to be the forces of supply and demand.

E.g. you're able to charge high if the services you offer are both high in demand and rare.

Problem is, both of these assumptions are best met the general level of individual liberty are quite low; if something is high in demand, many people want it but don't have it, which is quite opposite of personal liberty.

If something is rare, that could mean different things;some services require quite rare talents(there is only one person who can write Charles Stross novels, after all), though most talent are somewhat more equally distributed(for the IQ guys, according to definition half the population has an IQ greater than 100). Some services are expensive to the proposing party, too, e.g. in education or machinery. But a third possibility is somebody has a monopoly, which goes somewhat both against individual liberty AND free enterprise.

No wonder though that when you look at this map, countries high on economic freedon have often quite low Gini coefficients, while most of the countries with a high Gini coefficient are the ones no self-respecting libertarian would touch with a waldo...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gini_Coefficient_World_CIA_Report_2009-1.png

On another level, if we assume a libertarian economy is something to be implemented, this means that there was a time where it didn't exist. How are you going to rate property from this time? Sorted out, e.g. gains from slavery, religious oppression etc. are forfeit? Nice new jobs for the next score generation of historicians. Indiscriminate expropriation? Seems, err, interesting. Business as usual? Last time I heard, personal liberty was something more than *it stays as it is'.

214:

Raised and live in the US. Comes with the territory, I think. We're the folks who came up with the "moral hazard" theory of subsidizing healthcare. Anyway...

There seem to be two arguments that get conflated in discussions- what is most compassionate and what is most efficient. Generally people will tacitly pick a side, and argue that focusing on one can be done without sacrificing the other...when in truth only some (many, maybe even most) cases of compassion will increase economic efficiency (If people are healthier, they can work better), and only some cases of increasing efficiency will allow greater compassion (If we're wealthy enough, we can pay for more healthcare, retire earlier, and be safer).
Everyone tries to avoid directly stating the central debate- what is a healthy, happy person worth in economic terms? One side because it would show that failing to pay for a certain level of social services is economically stupid, the other because it suggests that at some point you'll just cut someone loose because it's not worth the money spent to fix them. Both sides would lose the fallacious illusion that you can get both maximum compassion and efficiency.

215:

Equity for rent.
That is, if you pay rent it buys equity in the property. Something for something rather than something for nothing.

I'm talking from the point of view of the US. And I've been a tenant, homeowner, and landlord for periods of over 10 years each. With experience in 5 states.

Granting equity in renting property or "lease to own" does exist. But mainly in the somewhat personal landlord side of things. And it has a reputation for being somewhat sleazy due to almost all renters never exercise the option to buy the property. So it has a reputation as a rip off. I personally feel this is more due to the mind set of most (not all) renters. At the end of the day most renters in single family dwellings are not of the mind set to buy a house. But I have no formal survey data.

As to just having a part of your rent to go something similar to a stock purchase in the equity of a property based on what I've seen most folks would wind up with some non trivial amount of money tied up in owning a very small slice of a property along with others who've rented over time. And this would create some real tax and paperwork headaches for the property owner who will almost always retain the vast majority of the equity unless someone is renting for 10 to 20 years.

As a side note I was told long ago that if you think you want to be a landlord you need to go into each rental/lease signing with the following in mind. This "banker" in the 3 piece suit might very likely end the rental early by driving his motorcycle through the front window after overhauling it in the living room. If you keep this in mind you will be in the proper frame of mind when a tenant moves out and you start inspecting the property. I've had tenants who while they didn't do that did do over $5000 in damage on their way out the door of a house worth $80,000 or so. Which was not how I treated the properties I lived in when renting. And I suspect not the way most readers here would treat the property. But we are not typical.

216:

"sociopath"

This word gets used a lot on this blog. I'd like a definition to make sure I understand its intended meaning.

217:

To do the Ingrid (a German usenet term, don't ask...)...

Are you going to use 'individual liberty' as the maximum level of all parties, the minimum, the mean, etc.?

To clarify, let's assume a situation where two parties do business, one party gains an amount of personal liberty, the other one loses the same amount. With the purposed metrics, you get:

- maximum of all parties: one persons gains lots of personal liberty, so it's ok.

- minimum of all parties: one person loses a lot of liberty, so it's bad.

- mean: nothing really happened.

On another note, if you think the problem with the gains of past crimes is academic, because there is no continuity, go read about the history of the Holy Roman Empire of German nation or whatever and Austria-Hungary.

Then ask if you really want to sue the ass of people like

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_von_Habsburg

218:

One thing I have wrestled with is the point at which we make "moral" decisions of policy. For most people these choices are made at moments of crisis rather than in some well thought out long term planning space.

It is "moral" to sink lots of money and resources into saving premature infants and extending, but not particularly enhancing, the lives of the super-geriatric. Because look, they are suffering right there in front of me and "somebody must be able to do something about this now before it's too late." However, it is a vague policy decision on whether low income kids get nutrition, insulation from violence, education, etc. That kid ain't going to die tomorrow; he is not going to lose all of his opportunities for a better life in one day; she isn't going to internalize her dehumanizing environment in one week. There's plenty of time for something to be done for some of them in some way that will sort of work and that will not upset too many vested interests and ideals and I'm sure there are several institutions working on that at this very minute in a general sort of way.

On a side note, the other day I heard somebody blame computers for the rotten state of politics these days. "Gerrymandering is now a science, not an art." Every district campaign is skewed to the extrmed because every candidate is playing to a partisan audience. Or as Homer said in the D'Ohddyssey, "Who decided to give every weirdo their own island."

219:

the folks who came up with the "moral hazard" theory of subsidizing healthcare.

A theory which I consider to be obvious rubbish, because moral hazard only comes into play when it comes to deciding whether to participate in risky activities (such as investment in CDSs).

Healthcare is non-optional, as we're almost all doomed to succumb to a nasty chronic illness in the end. Even "risky" lifestyle choices such as smoking or alcoholism may not actually increase the cost of healthcare for the individual very much, because smokers or alcoholics die earlier on average (hence don't generate the medical treatment demanded by, say, someone who is generally healthy but lives into their 90s with the concomitant regular geriatric medical issues).

You might argue for a sin tax on some products (tobacco, alcohol, unsaturated dietary fats) to subsidize state healthcare costs resulting from their consumption, or on some hazardous activities (BASE jumping, riding a high performance motorcycle, snowboarding), but there are arguments in the opposite direction as well -- the motorcyclist is more likely to end up donating valuable organs for transplant and not living long enough to require geriatric care.

221:

I've always favoured replacing all taxes with a land tax, with tax rates increasing on an exponential scale as size of holding increases, and the base price per unit area dependent on the value of the land. ie: land in the city of London would start with a far higher taxable value than land in the Welsh hills.

With a very low rate for small land holdings, this would allow the majority to own enough land to comfortably support their family, but would make it impossible for any individual to own orders of magnitude more than their fair share.

It would cause an immediate crash in land value as rich landowners rush to dump their holdings, allowing an almost immediate redistibution of wealth. Government could, if neccessary, maintain a pool of unwanted land.

This idea stolen shamelessly from John Seymour, one of the unsung great Englishmen.

222:

Thank you. I didn't want to go down the path of US wrench vs. UK spanner.

223:

In the US the valuation of real estate for tax purposes is already a incredibly contentious issue once you leave subdivisions and similar property groups. With appeals and lawsuits and such. I can only imagine the extra debates if an exponential rate was imposed. And are you saying that folks who bought land in totally fair and above board transactions should be forced to sell depending on what nearby land owners do?

A friend was recently assessed a value of $3,000,000 for about 10 to 20 wooded acres with a large stream due to it being in the area of subdivided property that had occurred over the last 20 years. He appealed and got it lowered to about $35,000 which was about what he paid for it 20 years ago. But was looking at bankruptcy if the valuation had stood.

224:

"without automation we're all -- those of us who survive the subsequent starvation due to logistics failures -- doomed to drudgery. We don't have to go there; but then, we need to work out what to do about the shortfall in demand for labour that is induced by automation"

I worry that no major political party is doing anything about this.

For the UK specifically, right now, I think there's some sense in trying to serve up better education and training, so that the population can capture those jobs that have not been automated out of existence. But the number of those jobs is going to keep shrinking, and it's not obvious that this strategy will keep working, if it even does now.

At root, it's not obvious to me that the market value of everyone's labour will always be worth at least enough to feed, house, and clothe them.

I guess there are some people somewhere engaging with this issue, but I don't know who they are, and it certainly hasn't made its way into mainstream UK politics.

225:

And are you saying that folks who bought land in totally fair and above board transactions should be forced to sell depending on what nearby land owners do?

No. I think you answered your own question when you described your friend's successful appeal.

226:

BTW, is there any indication clincal sociopathy is adaptive in certain environments?

I ask because I recently[1] thought about the popular conceptions concerning neuropsychological syndromes and occupation, e.g. many people associate autism spectrum disorders with mathematical and musical abilities, where in reality many high-functioning autists are good at number games, but suck at 'real' mathematics due to problems with abstraction etc., or might be very sensitive to tones and able to memorize them, but lack the emotional connectivity; note BTW that this generalizes to all cognitive areas.

With regards to sociopathy, many textbook definitions relate something like 'not necessarily connected to criminal behaviour, might be adaptive for business men, politicians, actors etc.', where I'm not that sure if that's exactly the case and said professions really have a higher proportion of ASPD.

[1] Well, I share an appartment with some people on the strange side of the autism spectrum. Who are interested in Italian Renaissance[2] and history in general. We indulge in watching crime series. And I shared an appartment with some guy who morphed into an aspiring, err, local herb businessman with an interesting client base. And, do I have to say more.

[2] Note that the most notorious example, e.g. the Borgias, aside from having a bad press, were fighting against other families and not against their kin somewhat excludes the notion of sociopathy. While there were example of guys that went agaist their own families, but those didn't last long. QED.

227:

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb

Well, I think advertising on this thread is sort of allowed...

228:

I've not actually experienced it first hand, but some of what you're describing is, I'm fairly sure, cultural.

About a decade ago I was exploring emigrating to New Zealand. It is quite common in New Zealand for people to purchase homes in a rent-to-buy model (or was then). I don't remember all the details but a quick google showed this which seems to spell out the pros and cons pretty clearly, as of 2 years ago, so after the worst of the banking bit of the current mess had passed.

229:

Given how many small businesses fail in their first year or two, or never grow beyond the man and a dog stage, I hardly think that founding new businesses is the most ideal form of activity. Let alone that not everyone wants to do such a thing.

Which reminds me - here in the UK, we don't seem to have anyone to negotiate with. Does anyone seriously doubt that the political processes have been hijacked by people who operate from a narrow basis of ideas and with only a few options that they will even consider?

230:

Always when I read the comments I am struck by the historical effect that the antisocial, the weirdoes and those with initiative mostly moved to the colonies while the conformists stayed home (and then most of the remaining restless ones died in wars). Then the difference between a population density on the hundreds per square kilometer compared to a little over 30. Almost like different worlds.

With European or Asiatic population densities, you just cannot ignore your neighbours or their problems. We sink or float together, and the common good is really common, whether it is the school, the hospital or the train station. When someone gets filthy rich, for whatever means, they usually move out (to a tax heaven, rich-people-friendly-country, or simply a separate community), taking their wealth with them, so the people who remain in the community get actually poorer. Not to mention that wealth increase at a higher rate than the actual growth means someone else is getting poorer.

231:

the antisocial, the weirdoes and those with initiative mostly moved to the colonies while the conformists stayed home

Bogus correlation. Populations breed back to the norm; otherwise Australia would be the planetary crime capital, for example.

The population density per square kilometre is significant, I think. As is the duration of settlement. The European colonists in the Americas entered continents almost emptied by diseases (brought by the initial explorers), and didn't finish "filling" the territories until 100-150 years ago. (Arguably, they still haven't.) This promotes a very different attitude to community and land use -- but we're not different species.

232:

No. I think you answered your own question when you described your friend's successful appeal.

But to be honest. In many ways he was an exception. And how long will they allow they valuation to stay low. More and more land in his area is being subdivided.

Over 30 years ago I lived in Lexington Ky. Home to a lot of horse farms. And this is an area with a lot of population growth. Horse farms were being shut down as they were surrounded by subdivisions and the land value became to great to support horses running around on it. Fair enough.

But if you have exponential rates at some point you're forcing people who saved their money and bought land to sell it off.

And I can just imagine the tax industry this will create as you split up parcels to make them smaller so no individual parcel will be worth too much. Of course you could go after the total value of someone's holdings but again, you'll catch a lot of hard working people in the effort unless you get real creative with how you define things. This is a big issue in the estate (death) tax in the US. Businesses are forced to sell off upon the death of the founder unless they play a lot of ownership and tax games which don't benefit anyone but bankers and accountants when all is said and done.

233:

I suspect the internet sociopath who is smugly confident of his superiority is mistaking a lack of flexibility with an advantage. The man on the street is, as anyone who has been paying attention can attest, quite capable of turning vicious given the correct motivation, but the capability to modulate this behaviour is important.

Being stuck in a single mode is not all that advantageous. Successful sociopaths prove this by being able to mimic normal social function, unsuccessful ones spend their life institutionalized.

234:

but we're not different species.

But we do tend to different cultural assumptions. Just look back at your comments about how you view nearly all of the US political landscape.

And I keep thinking about how the Germans my daughter went to school with for a year can't imagine how a 4 way stop could work when two road intersect.

235:

Four-way stops are just as counter-intuitive as roundabouts (US: traffic circles) -- there's a set of rules that everyone entering one needs to obey, or they don't work. So both types of traffic controls rely on shared knowledge of the local rules of the road. That's not a cultural assumption -- that's a legislative one.

236:

I keep reading comments here about how the rich have hijacked the political systems as if this is a recent issue. To me the real debate is will politics ever not be dominated by the rich.

From my reading of history it has been so for most of what we know going back at least 4000 years. Exceptions are few and tend to be small.

237:

You've answered for me again! Of course it would be on a person's total holdings.

And to argue that people would look for loopholes isn't an argument against a land tax, it's an argument against any taxation system.

238:

And to argue that people would look for loopholes isn't an argument against a land tax, it's an argument against any taxation system.

My argument is that when you use the tax system to punish or achieve goals that are against the economic activity of subsets of people who might be more successful through hard work you will tend to create and industry of tax avoidance.

Would we really have Apple, Dell, HP, Google, IBM, Oracle, Skype, eBay, NetFlix, etc.. with your exponential system?

239:

You're American, aren't you?

Nope, Human/European/British/English!

I'd just rather live in country A where the bottom has a lifestyle commensurate with income+benefits of, say, £30K per capita and the top has a lifestyle commensurate with income of £30M, than country B where the bottom get £1K and the top get £2K. Would you honestly prefer to live in the latter country?

Have a play with the GINI calculator at http://www.poorcity.richcity.org/calculator/ .

Illustrative datasets would be something like:

Country A:
1000000,*30000
100000,*300000
10000,*2000000
1000,*3000000
100,*30000000

Country B:
1000000,*1000
100000,*1100
10000,*1200
1000,*1500
100,*2000

Country B is almost completely egalitarian, but everyone's equally poor. Heaven help them if they aren't completely isolationist and protectionist.

Note that nowhere did I say I had a preference as to how the bottom affords their lifestyle; through work, investments, benefits funded through progressive taxation, or a mixture of the three.

240:

Let's say that the assessed value of the developed land is $3E5/acre. The tax rate on the land tax is 10% of assessed value. Your friend then sub-divides off and sells one acre to pay the land tax. Ok, he has no additional cash at bank, but he still holds land worth $2.7E6; not a bad return on his £35k.

241:

Would we really have Apple, Dell, HP, Google, IBM, Oracle, Skype, eBay, NetFlix, etc.. with your exponential system?

Wrong question.

You should be asking if we'd be free of Bear Stearns, BCCI, Barings, Washington Mutual Bank, and all the other failed financial institutions. And arguably Goldman Sachs and their like -- the successful parasitic financial institutions.

242:

Would we really have Apple, Dell, HP, Google, IBM, Oracle, Skype, eBay, NetFlix, etc.. with your exponential system?

To be the first when it comes to the incredibly lame pun, would that be a bug or a feature? BTW, add M$. *g*

On another note, we might not have big businesses who are often quasi-monopolists with questionable ethics (Apple, in its last incarnations, for goddess's sake) and services (ebay, if YKWIM), but many smaller competitors with innovations etc.

243:

Sorry, did you just say that a "Yield" sign is counter-intuitive?

BTW, I know someone who didn't know about 4-way Stops and brought an intersection to a grinding halt for 2 minutes until someone explained that everyone else was waiting for them to take their turn!

244:

But you can't really sell this land that way. Limited access to a road. And since has been just a few parcels for likely over 100 years, no easements.

Oh, did I mention a non trivial creek running through it. The road is named Edwards Mill Road for a reason. Cutting it up into tiny slices isn't very doable unless you're subdividing and putting in roads. And willing to spend big to do so and then plant McMansions on it.

Plus just try and sell unimproved dirt in this area just now. You can't unless you're basically giving it away.

So a policy like this tax takes land he bought as an investment and forces him to almost give it away.

My point is he's not landed gentry. He's just worked hard for 40 years and bought some of this land with his savings so he could enjoy a rural life style to some degree and sell it if needed when elderly.

245:

Er, surely everyone in nation B is poor in a World where nation A also exists. If nation B +/-10% or so is typical of the entire World wealth distribution, then no-one is grindingly poor or rediculously wealthy.

246:

Yes, "Yield" is counter-intuitive!

The UK equivalent is "Give Way". How intuitive is that?

If you're unfamiliar with the local meaning of the term, either of them sounds meaningless and/or weird.

247:

Any taxation creates an industry of tax avoidance. This is not a convincing argument against a specific form of tax.

248:

The funny thing is, if you look at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gini_Coefficient_World_CIA_Report_2009-1.png

it seems more like most of the countries with a high Gini coefficient are something like 0.1 dollar a day for most, 1,000 a day for a few than your 100 dollar vs. 100,000 dollar example, while most of the countries with a low Gini coefficient are more of the 100 dollar vs. 10.000 dollar variety.

For goddess sake, could we just stop to fight the old trench warfare and equate economic liberty with economic inequality, when there are good reasons to think the two more like negatively correlated, e.g. inequality implying monopolies, artificial borders to commerce etc.?

There is even one school of thought that the inequalities of Manchester capitalism were not so much a product of economic liberties, but of lack thereof before, think 'peasant, bloody'. Though that may be somewhat apologetic to early industrialism.

Still it might be that both early socialists and economists were just mistaking dubious correlation for correlation.

249:

If it's not worth more than he paid for it 20 years back, it was a cruddy investment!

250:

Was the UK of 30 years ago really that much more egalitarian?

We had unelected power blocs that wielded immense power, and didn't always use it sensibly (power workers, coal miners, rail workers unions); remember "show of hands" votes, closed shops, wildcat strikes, secondary picketing, flying pickets, union block votes within the Labour Party. Industrial life could get seriously miserable (even impossible) if you didn't toe the line "their" way.

We had governments "bugging and burgling their way across London" (see "Spycatcher"). We had the implicit assumption that Oxbridge was where the Government (and senior civil servants) came from, and that the financial sector should be run by decent sorts of chaps who'd done some time with the Guards before settling in to a rather chummy banking and stockbroking system.

There were insurmountable barriers to entry into finance, telecomms, transport, and computing. The Government tried to run the commanding heights of industry, and proved that it wasn't that good at it (British Leyland? British Steel? British Aircraft Corporation? Inmos? ICL?) although it was to its credit that it tried. To those who mention what nationalized industry "could" have achieved, it's worth asking why they hadn't already achieved it with the chances they had.

I find it ironic that 13 years of the previous government actually reduced social mobility. However, given that only 10% of the population made it into tertiary education, and the majority of the remainder left school at 16 (up from 15 a few years earlier), I think we should remember why we had the TV series "On the Move"... (for the younger and for y'all, a BBC series trying to address illiteracy and innumeracy amongst adults). If you want to keep "them" down, keep "them" uneducated.

there's room for further cuts to "defense" (a weasely euphemism, given that in the past 30 years there has been one national-level military threat to British territory, but the UK has engaged in around five overseas military actions in the past decade alone)

I'd suggest at least two national military threats - the Cold War, and Irish Republican terrorism. Some of the remainder were arguably national economic threats, on the basis that war and political instability are bad for regional economic growth (quite apart from the hideous suffering within the war zone).

Sierra Leone was a "good thing with no tangible benefit" (genuine peacekeeping), Libya, Bosnia and Kosovo were a "good thing for Europe" (military force against a murderous dictatorship, preventing a mass of genuine refugees), Afghanistan was arguable (whatever the reasons, we had arrived in a situation where domestic extremists were providing a safe base for international extremists; ask the Spanish), Iraq was a lie. Allegedly this year we even staged a battalion-sized amphibious raid into Somalia, so that a local warlord could be "negotiated with". Meanwhile, we've seen the Army used as firefighters during a national firefighters strike, and providing critical infrastructure during Foot&Mouth outbreaks.

The problem for any defence budget is the lead/lag time for any threat response; historically, threats have tended to appear faster than the capability to meet that threat, short of "national mobilisation and a willingness to bear any cost". Keeping a broad spectrum of capabilities is expensive, and it isn't helped when politicians see it as another trough for their noses (see: the Army's new radio awarded to firms who promised jobs in government marginal constituencies, and appointed MPs to their boardrooms; aircraft carrier contracts blocked and blocked again, with delays and rising costs each time, until the final assembly was guaranteed to be next to the Chancellor's/Prime Minister's constituency).

The discussion on UK military forums appears settled on any move to holding military capability in the reserves being a "feature" rather than a "bug" - because it may discourage military adventurism by politicians that doesn't have the support of the general public. We're going to have a regular Army of 80,000 fairly soon, and the smart money is on a smaller number. The reserves have already been run down, and one estimate is that there are realistically less than 15,000 left in the TA. Compare that with a regular strength of ~120,000 Regular and ~35,000 TA in the late 1990s; and >150,000 Regular, 60,000 Regular Reserves, and 65,000 TA at the end of the Cold War.

Part of the problem is that politicians have consistently failed to provide a consistent set of requirements for our military capability; and that when they have, they've either refused to fund them fully, or have promptly been overtaken by events (e.g. announcing the withdrawal of all long-range maritime patrol and gapping of our airborne SIGINT capabilities this year, just in time for Libya to kick off). There's nothing new about this; we saw it in 1982 with the Falklands War - the announcement that we were to scrap our Antarctic patrol ship, and sell/scrap two of our aircraft carriers, was taken as an implicit green light by the Argentinian military junta.

251:

To be the first when it comes to the incredibly lame pun, would that be a bug or a feature? BTW, add M$. *g*

Agree on both counts. And I was totally ignoring the "evil" debate for any of them.

But you'd have to set the exponential effects at a fairly high bar or you'd stop a lot of smaller companies that employ 1000 people or so from ever getting there. Which all of the above were at one point. You'd almost create a system where big established firms can't be displaced. Which from my decidedly USA view seems to be more an issue in Europe than in the US.

And merging a couple of thoughts here. Most of the companies that go from zero to enormous seem to be located in the US. With a few coming out of SE Asia. And it seems that some seem to be starting in South America. Is this a cultural thing? Tax policy? Or am I just not seeing what is happening in Europe due to my limited world view?

And I know that Korea has several of these but I have to feel they are as much a product of government backing than anything else.

And there's the Honda example which had to fight most of the entire Japanese power structure when they decided to start making cars.

252:

We're in a trough just now. Just as I thought Europe was also. Worth and what you can get for it has a tenuous relationship just now. Which is why a tax policy that forces a sale based on "tax worth" strikes me as a fail.

253:

Aren't you arguing semantics rather than logic there?

Give Way (or Yield; they actually mean the same thing in context) to traffic from $side makes sense.

Stop and wait for an arbitrary number of other vehicles to use the junction in an arbitrary order doesn't! Particularly when the Stop is mandatory even when you can see half a mile in every direction except behind the advertising hoarding where the Highway Patrolman is.

254:

Particularly when the Stop is mandatory even when you can see half a mile in every direction

That's OK. In Texas they have these county two lane roads where the speed limit is 70MPH. And where they intersect is a 4 way stop. Which can be a bit of a surprise for newbies to the road as you come over a rise and think "SAY WHAT". Just seems bizarre.

255:

It is not arbitrary in the least – in fact quite the opposite.

The bedrock of civilisational progress is leaving the world a little bit better than you found it (at least locally. If everyone, over the course of their lifetimes, consumed exactly what they produced we would still be in the savannah, since each generation would have to start from scratch. The question then becomes what do with the stuff that the dead people owned but now cannot use, in light of the fact that people are born owning nothing. How to transfer the wealth surplus between generations, in other words. With inheritance the wealth is transferred by blood, being careful not to break up large capital pools, such that it remains easy to further increase them and further centralise wealth in the hands of a few. With a system of a very high inheritance tax (paid by the inheritors, not by the estate of the deceased) coupled with a asset grant at majority, the wealth surplus is spread equally. This is both more equitable and more economically efficient.

Of course, this would not account for absolutely all differences, but it would be a damn sight better that what we have now. In fact, even the other differences will decrease – with generation, after generation, after generation of people all starting from the same place as their peers, you are going to find far fewer instances when, in 10 year's time one of them is Warren Buffet and another is a drug-addicted prostitute. You do not have many (upper) middle class kids ending up in the streets – why? – because their access to capital gave them better options.

And to reiterate my earlier point – sudden windfalls are only detrimental when they are uncommon, unexpected, and put you in a much better position than your peers.

256:

Population may breed to norm, but most legal systems are inherited from those heady times(and in the most egregious cases, enshrined into something approaching religion), and important social factors like religious diversity or its lack, are reminders of the emigration/war periods.

The cultural identity of a people or nation has a mythical component from the past. It is not a matter of the Irish naturally being Catholic and disliking the English, but a consequence of the education and culture they receive.

It is this cultural self image what needs to change in order to implement lasting social change.

257:

This might be a tad off topic of your response, but the main objection to the "make it free and they'll use too much of it" theory of healthcare might be that the assumption's not right.

Aetna healthcare is a very large insurance company in the US- big enough to get creative with its patient population to maximize their returns.
They funded a study where patients at risk of heart disease were given free drugs for cholesterol, blood pressure, etc- since years of prevention are still cheaper than a heart attack, stroke, etc.
Half the patients never filled their prescriptions. The difference between the free group and the control group was, iirc, about seven percent.

As far as minimizing total healthcare costs go, you want people to be as healthy as they can be until ripe old age- very old people get stuff that kills them relatively quickly. The guy who gets his first heart attack or diabetes in his forties? He's going to drag on for another twenty years or so and it's expensive as hell all the way, even before considering lost productivity.

It's a cultural problem- how do you cheaply care for people who won't even take free preventative healthcare?

258:

it seems more like most of the countries with a high Gini coefficient are something like 0.1 dollar a day for most, 1,000 a day for a few than your 100 dollar vs. 100,000 dollar example, while most of the countries with a low Gini coefficient are more of the 100 dollar vs. 10.000 dollar variety.

You've misinterpreted my example datasets. The left hand column represents the number of people in a quantile, the right hand column the income per capita. And the quantiles in both countries are exactly the same sizes. Consequently, I can't tell what point you're trying to make.

259:

It's a cultural problem- how do you cheaply care for people who won't even take free preventative healthcare?

You start with health education. And health education in turn belongs in the schools, starting at a very early age. I'm appalled by how little most of the people around me seem to know about how their bodies work, what the symptoms and causes of various illnesses are, and so on. Or about how to take medicines they've been prescribed. A lot of what passes for knowledge is actually a hideous mix of folklore, superstition, and half-remembered sensationalist newspaper headlines.

(Oh, another corollary of this: sex ed is a subset of health ed. But I'm not going to open up that can of worms here ...)

260:

Some of your points seem not to have changed much. The senior civil service is still dominated by men with an Oxbridge education. It's no longer a monopoly, but it's still a large majority. If you look at the experience of Clegg, Cameron and the 5 candidates for leader of the Labour Party recently, one stands out. Diane Abbott may not have stood a realistic chance of being elected (for a range of reasons) but the other 6 white men in their 40's have slight differences but a lot of similarities.

The BBC no longer broadcasts "On the move..." but their website contains a lot of materials for adult numeracy and literacy via their skillswise link. There have been a wide range of schemes to improve adult numeracy and literacy both by changing the education system's focus on these and providing training for adults. The situation hasn't changed that much in several decades.

We've had newspapers bugging, phone hacking and surveilling their way around the country. Possibly the government too - certainly there's a lot of CCTV around, even if some of the estimates of numbers are crazy. With mobile phones and the rise of the text and email, and more recently twitter there's a lot of ways for government to intercept messages without breaking into homes to plant bugs.

"Only 10% entering tertiary education" sounds like an interesting line in cultural expectations. Why is someone with a degree in English inherently more valuable than someone who left school at 16 but can help build a house? Is a graphic designer more useful than a hairdresser or a chemical engineer? They are all important in different parts of our lives, but generally speaking we consider the ones with degrees "better" simply by benefit of having the degree.

I wonder what would happen to the social mobility measures if we did work to minimise the Gini coefficient. It's not the sole arbiter, but increasing inequality of financial resources increases the difficulty in moving up the scale.

261:

I am by no means advocating that everyone should immediately become an entrepreneur upon receipt of their asset grant – I was just trying to argue that a more decentralised wealth structure would promote small business rather than hindering it. In fact, I do not think that most people would want the risk or see themselves as having the right mix of skills for starting their own business – the asset grant would just give them the option to do so if and when they want to. There is no shortage of places where one can productively park assets. In fact, kids entering the workforce could take those assets with them to their companies (in the understanding that they will take those assets + growth in value out if they get fired or switch to another company). This would go some way to keeping management honest as not only would it mean that the new type of shareholders would care about more than quarterly profits, but that shares would also be redeemable against company assets.

I also now realise that I was a little bit unclear in my post, for which I apologise. When I mentioned "social welfare" programmes, I meant programmes to combat poverty (which would be greatly reduced since people would no longer be born into poverty with almost non-existent avenues for escape) to the exclusion of healthcare systems. I see healthcare more as a mutualisation of risk problem, not as a distribution of assets problem – healthcare should be universal not only because it is unethical to have the poor die untreated on the street (though this is a very, very bad thing), but also because it is much more efficient to deal with low-frequency, high-impact events as a larger group. Actually, if I could change anything about healthcare, I would only recommend dramatically shifting the focus from ameliorative to preventative (regular detailed checkups, realtime vitals monitoring, etc.), such that healthy people pay the system to keep themselves healthy, as opposed to sick people paying the system to get better. There will still be plenty of sick people of course (some things you just cannot avoid), but I would wager that disease incidence, especially of chronic conditions, would fall quite dramatically. And incentives in the healthcare system would become a bit better aligned.

As for my comment on lower need for government retirement schemes. Consider Path 1. Start out with nothing, take on debt to be able to produce, pay off debt with production, be left with only a small surplus over debt servicing at the end, have the need to borrow again, cycle repeats. So, not too much left to retire on, and government may need to step in to prevent destitution. Contrast with Path 2. Start out with capital cushion, use capital cushion to produce, production re-creates capital cushion plus a small surplus, re-invest to expand production, cycle repeats. So, clearly more to retire on than in Path 1, and lower likelihood of the need for government intervention.

262:

I'm not even sure you should mention that topic within 10 feet of a live internet connection!

263:

Forgot to click the "Reply" link. My last comment was to Charlie @259, just in case there's any confusion.

264:

By the standards of the Gini coefficient, yes it was more egalitarian back then, and the evidence is that social mobility has also decreased over the last 30 years. The reasons for this are related to what you complain about in the first paragraph - the other unelected but yet representative power blocs. Since then more power has been centralised, there are fewer routes to the top of anything other than the finance/ big business/ political nexus which rules the country. Hence a drop in mobility. In "The good old days" you could work your way up the union hierarchy from a deprived background and end up in the cabinet. Nowadays, forget it, you need the right background, education etc to have a chance.

Bear in mind also that the financial sector, being run more by good chaps than international money making sociopaths, was a conservative bulwark of part of the establishment. Nowadays, access to it is still restricted but it has lost the conservative part and become actively destructive.

These insurmountable barriers of entry into finance, telecoms, transport and computing have they gotten any lower? No, of course not. Increased centralisation of big business has resulted in 2 major bus companies and a couple of railway operators. Telecomm wise, how few corporations are into that?

Oh, and growth was greater up until the oil shocks, despite all the nationalisations that had taken place. In fact growth was nearly twice as fast as in the 'liberated' economy of Britain in the 80's and 90's.

265:

"The Greens have always struck me as having a paternalist streak that's even wider than those of New Labour or the SNP"

The reality, I think, is we need more ethical people, and new and better morals. Else even us corvids will end up going hungry. I'm not real happy about it, though. ("Mo-om...")

To the person who said that the Greens are a single-issue party: yeah, fate of the earth. It's just one issue.

266:

Another angle on de-linking work from survival, I don't believe we begin to know enough about genetics to contemplate a cull of the non-productive, which seems to be at the core of the right-wingnuts's argument. If work can't be totally delinked from survival, this might be an acceptable stopgap:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Bill_of_Rights

267:

You start with health education. And health education in turn belongs in the schools, starting at a very early age. I'm appalled by how little most of the people around me seem to know about how their bodies work, what the symptoms and causes of various illnesses are, and so on. Or about how to take medicines they've been prescribed.

20 years ago or so I would agree with you. But I've spend 40 years in IT. Programming, system admin, high level support, whatever. And I've come to the conclusion that some people are wired to just not give a damn unless it is a hot button for them. Even if it means they will be fired from their job.

Education isn't the issue. Making people believe that this is really important is the key. And tied to it is getting people to care about long term results vs. fix it today. And there's a non trivial amount of evidence that the later issue is somewhat if not mainly genetic. I'm amazed to see siblings where one will approach health care as a long term issue and the other is always looking for the "fix of the day". And many times if you know these people you'll discover the former is into long term planning for finances and life and the other is more of a pay check to pay check kind of person. In my not very scientific observations of people.

A lot of what passes for knowledge is actually a hideous mix of folklore, superstition, and half-remembered sensationalist newspaper headlines.

And what's scary is how many of the folks in this camp are engineers, research scientists (in non health fields), and other highly intelligent people.

268:

A few suggestions here seem to sail dangerously close to the thought that it's not the systems that are wrong, it's that people don't think and behave right. Slippery slope from there to the not-so-good ol' re-education camps.

Sorry, not very constructive, just an observation.

269:

Ah yes, the slippery slope into authoritarianism.

Seems to me that the only thing we should be absolutely sure about is that achieving certainty in human affairs is an impossibility, and anyone who insists on it is a dangerous authoritarian.

270:

I'm of the opinion that we should, in principle, be able to dig ourselves out of this mess without breaking skulls and killing people.

I agree with your principle, I hate violence, and I don't plan to shoot anyone. That being said, this particular generation of oligarchs strikes me as being much, much stupider, considerably less competent than the previous generation, and spoiled in a manner not see since the days of Caligula. They won't get the point until a substantial number of them have been hanged.

271:

Re: Gini
Several years ago I saw a paper about a Gini variant were only surplus income above sustenance was counted. I cannot find it now, but the original idea was that including minimum cost of living in the Gini greatly distorted poor countries' rating. Everybody getting by on $400/a except the oligarchs (5%) who get by on $800/a doesn't look too bad GINI wise, but actually translates as 5% of the population getting ALL of the surplus (and some outright starving) and should be calculated that way. Sustenance level in first world countries is problematic, I admit, but you can take a swing at it.

Another equality-based point:
There is a common comment in arguments about wealth inequality along the lines of "Your extra money does not hurt me." This is one of those seductive ideas that sounds really great but doesn't seem to occur in nature. More money means more power in every real political system I have seen, and wealth differences that span multiple OOMs mean extreme power differences. Even if the rich have no goals in conflict with the poor (which is not likely, as noted by Charlie upthread), the sheer disparity of power is dangerous. I'm beginning to think of it in terms of ants - yes, I know it sounds stupid, but please bear with me.

I don't think it is healthy for a society to have power discrepancies that render the weakest members of the society down to the "pest" level. That is to say, if the weak, doing their very best within the bounds of the social contract, can only inconvenience the strong, things are going to head south. At some point, the pests will be especially pest-y and the Raid will come out. Then we discover how strongly the relative power level depended on the social contract. Whoever wins, (and it may very well be almost nobody) there has been great disctruction and the social contract has been destroyed.

Now you might argue that we have little empathy for ants, and you eould be right. However, I would argue that there is, and always has been, a concerted effort to dehumanize the powerless. It's no accident that after the raid on the Occupy movement every single news story I heard about it took time to mention that the authorities were now cleaning up the garbage, calling in the sanitation crews, etc.

Another argument is political. A large country needs a government, and that government needs, almost by definition, to have redonkulous power. How do the ants cope? I think one of the reasons democracy can be so successful is it provides a way for the ants to renegotiate the social contract without burning down the state. Right now (and to be honest, throughout history) there's a lot of subversion going on. I don't know if it is effective enough to prevent the ants from doing anyhting. After all, the ants are not really united at the moment.

272:

I would include "perfectability" in with "certainty".

273:

I think exterminating people who like to sleep in late is going a bit far personally. Are you some kind of extremist?

274:

So you think destroying existing successful businesses and family farms and replacing them with possibly profitable new businesses is preferable?

I see too many problems with this approach. Starting with the asset grants: who determines how much money goes to which individuals? This sounds to me like something that will quickly turn into a political football and soon thereafter be perverted into an asset grab by those with political power. (I.E. the rich.)

275:

Er, surely everyone in nation B is poor in a World where nation A also exists. If nation B +/-10% or so is typical of the entire World wealth distribution, then no-one is grindingly poor or rediculously wealthy.

Sure, money would just scale accordingly. A house would be a tenner, and a bottle of milk would be tuppence.

But that's not the world that we have. Some countries have fantastic natural resources, but haven't yet developed adequate social systems and know-how to make best use of them. Some have limited natural resources but high levels of ingenuity, some have lots of both, and some countries are unlucky enough to have neither.

I'd also argue that even if country A was completely destroyed (by an asteroid, say), all the other country Bs would be poorer by the absence of all the stuff that A used to produce - even if they could only afford it in small quantities previously - since now they can't obtain country A's stuff at all, for love or money!

We could wipe the slate clean and divvy up all the world's natural resources equally amongst all 7b of us. But what happens if you have a child, making the population 7b+1? Should everyone have to give up 1/7b to provide a share for your offspring? Should you and your partner have to split your joint share between the three of you? If so, what if you later decide to have a second child? Unless its older sibling reduces their share too, you'll have inequality between the two siblings according to birth order. And say some important project (an asteroid defence system, say) required huge amounts of resources, how would you get buy-in from so many stakeholders?

276:

Encouraging job mobility and entrepreneurship is one of the better arguments for a national health care system. Or even a single payer system.

277:

(Replying to myself.)

Note that I am speaking as a late-middle aged programmer and writer who quit his job and is currently living without health insurance. Or any other safety net, including unemployment.

Yes, I am worried about it. No, I didn't let it stop me, but then my dependents are all now adults or deceased.

278:

Combining this with an earlier comment about excessive self-righteousness; There is a dangerous tendency in any debate on political systems to end up at the point of, "not just wrong, but stupid or evil". The urge to silence those who don't agree with you by dismissing them is not limited to any one ideology.

It is one of the reasons I always come back to the questions of, "who decides?" and "how is it enforced?". There simply is no universal standard of "fair" and many of the concepts we bat around in conversations like this mean widely different things to people of different backgrounds. I'm not convinced there is any quick or ultimately peaceful way to settle those differences; but I am firmly opposed to those advocating violence to advance the discussion.

279:

Stop paying your nurses? Half of them will turn up anyway. Ditto teachers.

Sounds kinda like Mike Harris in Ontario, back when we elected a neocon government. Teachers were lazy, according to the government (and they paid for TV ads to tell everyone that). Meanwhile they claimed that they could cut education funding without affecting the school system, because teachers were dedicated and wouldn't let the children suffer.

Oddly, none of the conservative media pointed out the contradiction.

280:

Not a terribly creative troll either.

281:

Charlie,

Eloise is right. Long comment, but there's such a pervasive bias here that it needs explanation.

Here's what's going on:

--Almost all multicellular eukaryotic species on the planet have symbiotes. The "almost" is there because I can't think of a single counter-example, but they're probably out there.
--Many unicellular eukaryotic and many prokaryotic organisms have or are symbiotes. Note that I'm counting the deep biosphere, which probably is the majority of unicellular organisms, period. If we just look at surface and ocean life, replace "many" with "most."
--Yes, eukaryotic cells evolved from several serial symbioses.
--A vast majority of eukaryotic species appear to be parasites (think: fungi, tapeworms, parasitoid wasps, seed-eating beetles. Most are parasites on plants or on other arthropods, not on vertebrates). This is a form of symbiosis that appears to be exploitative. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. (For example, people have used tapeworms to cure dysentery, and many plant fungi defend against worse pathogens).

Now, the RICH irony in this is that, when you pick up a typical biology or ecology textbook, there's 1-5 pages on symbioses (including parasitism), and a long, boring chapter on competition that spends a page on flour weevils. Oddly, it's much harder to prove competition than it is to demonstrate symbiosis, but that doesn't stop biology books from expounding at length on the few textbook examples of competition (such as the weevils).

This distortion is pure politics, and it badly warps our view of biology. To telescope a long history of the competition vs. symbiosis war, some of the people who studied symbioses early were communists, and the social darwinist advocates of laissez-faire capitalism were early supporters of Darwin. To this day, some people think symbiosis is a communist plot.

So yes, if you see "survival of the fittest" in terms of "nature red in tooth in claw," your view of biology has been strongly influenced by the cold war, and has very little to do with reality.

I'm not saying that the communists were totally right either. Politicizing biology distorts the science, and some of the the communist theories based on symbioses were as distorted as the libertarian idea of bloody-toothed competition as the way the world works. Both are views were created by politicians trying to find excuses in biology to justify their actions and dreams, nothing more.

The truth is that most things improve their fitness by having an intimate relationship with something else. This is as true in human society as it is outside. Survival of the fittest depends on survival, not on how one goes about doing it. In many cases, cooperation is the way to go.

282:

I'm old enough to remember when health education, including also nutrition, wasn't as thoroughly captured by moneyed interests as it is now.

We learned in school to eat a healthy breakfast, drink your milk, get your vaccines for MMR, polio, smallpox, etc. and get some exercise.

A few years back, the sweetener industry in the US went ape when the Dept of Health & Human Services wanted to endorse a diet in which refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup weren't two of the basic food groups.

A few years earlier, ketchup almost became a vegetable for school lunch purposes.

@The Raven 265:

Members of leftist or leftish parties need to scrutinize their management structure as they do everything else, if they want their party to make any difference.

"The good guys" are often the most exploitative managers, as a lot of U.S. Greens found out when campaigning for Ralph Nader in 2000. Worthy goals don't excuse treating the rank and file like crap.

Follow the money too. The Dutch charity Pink Ribbon (Breast Cancer Awareness) was finally exposed for plowing 80% of donations into operating costs and throwing self-congratulatory, star-studded fundraising galas that barely broke even.

Sorry, had to get that off my chest.

283:

Just musing on the thought of this inheritance tax/asset grant idea, and it seems like it's going to get awful complicated, awful fast.

The idea seems to be that you get this grant at $age_of_majority, then you get to accumulate whatever assets you can or want to during your lifetime, then when you die, most of it goes back in the pot.

The first issue, as someone up-thread pointed out already) is who manages the pot and how (already into "who watches the watchmen" territory here, in order to avoid massive corruption).

Second issue: What happens when someone has dependents and dies at an early age? Are the deceased's assests still returned to the pot? Do the dependents get them? Are they stripped from the dependents when they reach majority or at some other arbitrary point?

Sort of carrying on from the above: Are there classes of individual who don't get the grants? Individuals who through mental or physical disability will never be able to make use of the asset grant? Who decides what these categories are, and how?

Those are just the first few off the top of my head, and yes solutions could be suggested; but it looks like a rabbit whole of complexity, so much so that there will be loopholes to be exploited galore.

Not too mention that in the end it's also going to look and smell like communism to a lot of people.

284:

Which reminds me of what would undoubtedly be an interesting story - the way the parliamentary labour party has been captured by right wingers with power becoming more centralised, and how more radical lefties have, over the entire political sphere, been marginalised. Not to mention the forgetting/ suppression of more libertarian left viewpoints over the years, although I get the impression that was well under way by the time of WW2, although people now don't know that we had 2 communist MP's at that time.

285:
I wonder what would happen to the social mobility measures if we did work to minimise the Gini coefficient. It's not the sole arbiter, but increasing inequality of financial resources increases the difficulty in moving up the scale.

Once upon time in the intertubes (which means it's still the de facto assumption of the usual Very Serious People), the usual argument was that these sorts of inequalities were to be expected when applying the high growth policies that would make everyone better off in the long run. Hey, do yo want to live in a society with a Gini coefficient of 0.9 where the hoi polloi eke out a meager existence with only $80 K/year and access to the latest and bestest consumer toys to sustain them? Or do you want to live in Annares-Land where everyone is terribly terribly equal and the very latest in transportation is the public tram?

Given those assumptions, I can see why people would buy an unequal society where annual growth in income was five percent a year vs a more equal one where growth was only three percent annually; the miracle of exponentiation makes the former society twice as wealthy as the latter in less than two generations.

Of course, thirty years of data don't lend much credence to the assumption that those policies creating higher inequality (the unintended but concomitant consequence that follows from really trying to do something to improve the lot of the common man, I assure you) actually lead to higher growth. In fact, the data seems to indicate that those "high-growth" prescriptions are really recipes for low-growth, and contrariwise, countries that implement policies that decrease inequality actually seem to grow faster than those who don't.

Whoda thunk?

Of course, our elites seems strangely unaware of this data and to the extent they bother to acknowledge it's existence, it's only to dismiss its relevance. In fact - sorta like what you see with the ever shifting excuses for not doing anything about AGW - when the old arguments fail to convince, new justifications are trotted out for why the official policy is what it is and why it shouldn't be changed in the light of new data (and often the new reasons are logically incompatible with the old ones.) Currently, they usually seem to be something along the lines that making it easier for individuals to become wealthier takes precedence over relatively poor economic performance, with the VSP advancing this notion then justifying prioritization by saying they're just public servants enacting the will of People in this matter, whatever their personal priorities may be off the clock when they're not carrying out this Sacred Trust.

Oh, and hey, some of their best friends are gay!

Yeah. I know.

286:

Erk!

279 comments since I last logged in yesterday!

The trouble withthe "occupy" protesters is that thay want a lot LESS personal liberty.
They're selling "Socialist Worker" for a start - so they are completely dippy and insane marxists religious believers.

So they can get stuffed, right away.

Of course, the problem of balancing the objectives a,b, c as listed by OGH is a standard problem.
It is so complex that it is a profession in its' own right, and it is called, erm, politics....

Charlie @ 8
If you'd said "Corpratism" rather than "capitalism" I'd agree with you.
There's a huge number of quite right-wing commentators and blogs mourning the tossers of "occupy" getting the hallf-wrong idea, because they are claiming that "Real cpaitalism" (TM) is a good thing, and what is genuinely oppressing people is the "Corporate (fascist) state"...
They certainly have half a point.

Always Lurking a@ 15
The Greens ahve gone badly to the Authoritarian camp.
I don't trust them.
They remind me of the christians (shudder). Charlie @ 18 - no, they are MUCH worse than that.
Think of the famous C. S. Lweis quote about a dictatorship for your own good....

aexpc @ 35
That is THEFT
So you cannot inherit your parent's small house?
No way jose!
Charlie @ 39 - it also (becaue of inflation) started to cripple perfectly ordinary families, especially in areas where property-prices were high, like London.
Sorry, mate, you are unfortunately wrong on this one - UNLESS one index-links the threshold amount - which no guvmint will do, because it's too tempting.

J.S Bangs @ 40
But (some of them) ARE using that wealth to crap on you.
That is the problem.

Nick @ 45
As in all three political parties promised us an EU referendum, and then proceeded to wriggle out of it?
Liars, the lot of you.

Al Lang @ 73
Unfortunately, yes.
Think Cuba - very low Gini coefficient, because everyone is poor. And the infrastructuire is shite, as well.
The opposite extreme is Haiti or Burma.
So, where do you want to be, in Gini terms?
15% ?? 25% ??

Kevin Murray @ 76
Yes, this is what happened in "communist" countries, especially E. Germany & Czechslovakia.

Charlie @ 77
Disagree about defence.
Though our defence spending has been ridiculously high, we are (IMNSHO) under-defended.
Why should this be so?
Because the contractors & civil servants and politicians were both incompetent AND corrupt.
Our Navy is about half the size it should be, and we should never have sold-off the Harriers.
Dodn#t know about the Tesco-workfar scam.
That sounds nasty.


@ 83 & 64
Notwithstanding my diosagreement with OGH immediatly above, I'd go with that.

brucecohenpdx @ 106
YES!
What we have now isn't "capitalism" it is corporatism - almost like (Godwin warning) as the NSDAP-state had.
Which is very worrying.

Charlie @ 109
LURVE IT!
Provided I get to keep my Land-Rover, of course!

Jack @ 117
NO
We know the "Marxist experiment" doesn't work.
It is an exceptionally cruel theocracy, even by the standards of theocracies....

Dirk Bruere @ 120
That is VERY pithy and to the point.
Right, HOW?

Anura @ 125
FORGET the "French Revolution" and the != enlightenment equation.
There was a man, 14 years younger than Boney who changed the world a lot more than those plotical murderers.
his name?
George Stephenson.
You even MENTIONEd the steam engine, and didn't
appreciate it's influence!

@ 135
Re. Lib-Dems
BOLLOCKS
The LibDems claim to be pro-education.
One our local LD councillors is functionally illiterate...
They are against evil nuclear power....
They want to cuddle up to Brussels, just as the Eu turns into a corporate-fascist state of the type we are all complaining of ....
Erm
(I WAS an LD party-member for a short while - I even stood for our local council...)
Oh dearie me.

Doctor Doom @ 143
You are a christian millenarianist and I claim my £5!
Oops, I see OGH, and others have spotted that as well ...

Charlie @ 188
DELIBERATE mis-representation and mis-interpretation (of "fitness")
Remember Rabbits are fit: they out-breed all their predators.....

D Brown @ 199
Ferpectly correct.
Spence coined "survival of the fittest"
And even THEN it was deliberately mis-interpreted by:
a] Right-wing nutters
and
b] Religious nutters out to try to trash science....

Charlie/Dirk @ 212/219
Ah, the Swift solution ...
Otherwise called "A modest proposal" IIRC.

James Barton @ 224
I believe "The Culture" have solved this problem.....

Martin @ 250#Agree about military/political threats/spending.
Disagree about industry.
Anyone else noticed how the "union-ridden" British car industry is doing so well with Indian and German managers/owners, bu the same workforce?
Um.

@ 279
You WHAT?
They really did that?
What happened in the end?

287:

Bogus correlation. Populations breed back to the norm; otherwise Australia would be the planetary crime capital, for example.


I dare say it might well be, if the people they 'transported' had been psychopaths. In reality, 99% of the people they transported were ordinary poor people guilty of such 'crimes' as the stealing of goods worth over 5 shillings, the cutting down of a tree, stealing an animal or stealing from a rabbit warren. There were 220 odd crimes which carried the death sentence in the late 18th/early 19th century - a large chunk of them were converted to transportation instead.
And populations don't necessarily breed back to the norm - witness the prevalence of genetic disorders in certain areas.

288:

"They're selling "Socialist Worker" for a start - so they are completely dippy and insane marxists religious believers."

What - every single one of them? Or just the Trots who turn up to every demo, no matter what it is?

289:

"Dirk Bruere @ 120
That is VERY pithy and to the point.
Right, HOW?"

Amon from Zero State tried posting something here yesterday, but since it has not shown up I guess somebody binned it.

As for how, the last public discussion is here:
http://zerostate.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=413

290:

Consequently, I can't tell what point you're trying to make.

OK, let me repeat myself, the slow way, mark my words, for writing down etc. Those who can read and remember their own postings etc.

I was referring to this:

I'd just rather live in country A where the bottom has a lifestyle commensurate with income+benefits of, say, £30K per capita and the top has a lifestyle commensurate with income of £30M, than country B where the bottom get £1K and the top get £2K. Would you honestly prefer to live in the latter country?

Which, when you roughly divide by 365, err, 300, give us 100 and 100,000 whatever a day in country A, while country B has about 3 and 6 whatever a day.

(Which, incidentally, is more than people in Liberia and Burundi get.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_credit_rating

Which, incidentally, have UN Gini coefficients of 0.53 and 0.42. Where, funnily, even though Liberia is somewhat better off in terms of per capita GDP, its Gini is higher, and its life expectancy lower. Err.)

Leaving the rhetorical question at the end aside (or answering it with the likely response) this more or less boils down to the good old proposition 'it's better if everybody has a somewhat comfortable life, even if there is great inequality, than if everybody starves under total equality'. Or, to go in the way of easy to remember slogans, 'prosperity versus equality'.

(I'd like to to add that per capita income is something of a debatable qualifier, having had the pleasure of travelling to places with low per capita income and low food and housing prices, but I digress.)

'Prosperity versus equality' in itself is of course a valid critique against using the Gini coefficient or any measure of economic inequality in analyses, but then, in general all economic indices have some drawbacks, see mean per capita income etc., and judging general welfare by asking people how they feel is not an option, I guess hungry Ukrainian serfs were lucky, too, they didn't know it could be better, and at least they were not directly starving.

So in want of a better marker, we have to stick with those indices, but we must weigh them somewhat; BTW that's not just in murky economics, but also in life sciences, e.g. medicine:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrogate_endpoint

Which references an article about surrogate markers,

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8815760

and with some searching, we get a pdf:

http://spctrm.stanford.edu/education/ICCR2011/Mod04_SurrogateEndpointsinCTs,Lavori.pdf

"In theory, for a surrogate end point to be an effective substitute for the clinical outcome, effects of the intervention on the surrogate must reliably predict the overall effect on the clinical outcome. In practice, this requirement frequently fails."

Which, BTW, seems sensible for economic markers, too.

So, when we apply this surrogate marker analogy to economic inequality in general and the Gini coefficient as a marker for social welfare, we make two assumptions:

1) There is a correlation between a low Gini/low inequality and welfare.
2) Programs lowering the Gini/inequality tend to improve welfare, and/or programs to increase welfare tend to lower the Gini.

(the second one is somewhat tricky, and even for the first, as you mentioned there are exceptions, but then, excessive blood loss due to severing main arteries is a known, fast and reliable way of lowering blood pressure, but of debatable influence on mortality in hypertension.)

Now I guess proving or disproving the usefullness of the Gini as a surrogate marker is beyond the scope of this blog, as is the question if and when lowering the Gini relates to greater welfare. What we can do is look at the statistics to see if the distribution of values implies that 'prosperity vs. equality' is such a strong factor that it makes the Gini useless. Or if general welfare and low social inequality are somewhat correlated, where we could ask if low social inequality leads to equal opportunities for all and thus better utilization of the human capital, or general welfare tends to lower economic inequality etc.

(to use an analogy from medicine again, hypertension is bad, so low blood pressure should be an indicator for low mortality; but then, hypotension might be a symptom of left side heart failure. So, if hypotension due to heart failure was very frequent, it would mock the usefullness of blood pressure as a surrogate marker. So we look at blood pressure vs. mortality to see how the two correlate.)

And well, there is this one:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality

Which you can compare with other indices.

E.g. you could look at the UN Gini of the G-7, Canada (0.33), France (0.32), Germany(0.28), Italy(0.36), Japan(0.25), UK(0.36), and USA(0.40), you could also look at per capita GDP etc. And even though I've done no real statistical analysis, it doesn't seem like 'prosperity vs. equality' is that much of a confounding factor, since countries with a high per capita income, high öife expectancy etc. tend to have a low Gini. Which is also true for most countries with a high per capita income, the marker that's closest to the "general well off"-ness you propose. So, it doesn't seem like your example of "30K for the bottom, 30M for the top" doesn't ring true as an explanation for a high Gini in most cases, given the state of the economy of most of these states, e.g. mean per capita GDP etc., it's more like 'low income in a G-7 for the top(which, incidentally, fits with many from the top searching a job in one of the G-7 or like), you-sure-you-can-live-on-that for the bottom'. Hope you understand.

Now with specific cases, one could still argue, e.g. if a small African country has a low Gini, I'd like to look at life expectancy, GDP etc. But still, it seems like most of the countries with a high Gini are not the ones where the majority of people can lead a somewhat comfortable life, while most of the countries where the majority can lead a somewhat comfortable life have a low Gini.

Which, of course, doesn't rule out an economy with great inequality where nevertheless the bottom is relatively well off, problem is judging from contemporary economies, that's unlikely and more something like a cloud-cuckoo land. But then, as mentioned, it might be that equality and welfare are somewhat causally related, e.g. great inequality diminuishes welfare for all, since the fact there is someone insanely rich means I'd be an idiot if I wouldn't charge him accordingly, which means prices would go up, which means it gets worse both for the top, who can't enjoy his money, and the bottom, who can't afford it. Or that an economy where most are somewhat comfortable tends towards greater equality, since monopolies are somewhat harder to institute if more people can form a startup etc.

To be more precise, I guess I could leave out any quantifier ('most') in the above text if it were not for the US, so we might stop asking ourselves why the rest of the world is an exception to the US and start asking ourselves if and why the US is an exception to the rest of the world.

291:

The existing businesses and farms would not be destroyed, they would just be bought into by a new generation of people not necessarily related by blood. Whoever wants to keep it within the family can themselves buy the property using money from their asset grant. They would only run into trouble if the value of the asset they want to inherit themselves is significantly in excess of the value of the averaged out 'inheritance', but this just means that people are prevented from getting something for nothing.

In any case, just because a system works ok today does not mean that this is the best way the system can work – feudal governance worked ok as well. Actually, the parallels to replacing aristocracy with democracy are illustrative – democracy says that the amount of political capital that is one's birthright should not depend on the station of one's parents. The system I am defending says that the amount of economic capital that is one's birthright should also not depend on the station of one's parents.

And the determination of who gets what is simple – every person gets the same lump sum upon turning 18 (or some other age of majority). No scope for political football.

292:

Always when I read the comments I am struck by the historical effect that the antisocial, the weirdoes and those with initiative mostly moved to the colonies while the conformists stayed home (and then most of the remaining restless ones died in wars).

First of, repeating historical myths doesn't necessarily make the true, for starters, it seems like the Pilgrims found life in England and Holland too little conformist for their liking, so they left sinful Babylon for the New World.

And then, the creativity of non-conformism in general is seriously overstated, most 'antisocials' and 'weirdoes' I have met were terribly boring and stuck in their way, not surprising though, if you look at 'delusion' in most medicinal dictionaries, it's quite close to 'stereotypy'.

Last but not least, leaving Europe for America was hardly a gamble, there were such things as letters, you know, and people came back...

Second of, ascribing cultural differences between Europe and the USA to positive selection for wanderlust, either cultural or genetic, is somewhat unwarranted. There are some reports human population moving out-of-Africa have a higher proportion of alleles predisposing towards novelty seeking

http://courses.washington.edu/evpsych/Chen%20etal%20-%20DRD4%20&%20migration%20-%20EHB%201999.pdf

but then, I wonder why we don't see that many reports on Aborigines and Yanomami stockbrockers, who have a higher rate of these alleles than the US sample (Mixed European) in this study.

Might be that a 12 year old phenocopy of severe hyperactivity[1] high on sugar playing Quake and listening to Limp Bizkit is not really that adaptive in a real wilderness situation.

Leaving aside the question if that's just plain gene drift etc. at work.

Also note that even if DRD4 is one of the better established genes for personality differences, results are hardly conclusive.

[1] I'm not that sure about real ADHD though, respectively some subtypes of it or people with some traits of it but not the full-blown problems that lead to visiting a shrink.

293:
Well yes: that's why I voted LibDem at the last election.

I'd like to be able to vote for them at the next, but the Yellow Book wing shat the bed by crawling into bed with Cameron's Tories.

Clegg's not as close to the Tories as the media like to make out. The party was basically handed an appalling position in the last election: it could join the Tories in coalition and lose a lot of support, or refuse and lose a lot of support. It was generally understood within the party that refusing would mean there was no prospect of LD MPs in parliament for a generation, because there is no point in voting for a party that refuses to govern, and anyway the Tories would have taken an easy majority in a snap Autumn 2010 election.

Pretty much nobody really wanted to support Tory policies, but faced with a choice between a little liberalism in government and none at all, the party threw its weight behind the lesser evil. There were no illusions about how much this was going to suck.

It is understood that Clegg is irredeemably tainted by association and his political career is basically over when this government ends. Whether this will be in 2015 is too close to call; whether he will lead the party into the next election is a very complicated question that I'm not prepared to discuss in public, beyond noting that Lib Dems are a fractious bunch who debate this often and loudly and haven't decided anything yet.

It is worth nothing that party policy is set by voting at conference, not by its leaders (ie, the opposite way around to the other two). Clegg isn't in charge of the party, he's just the one out on the sharp end.

294:

Surely theft is forcibly depriving someone of something they have worked for. For what I propose to qualify as theft, the children of the wealthy would have to have worked for their inheritance significantly more than the children of the poor.

If you want to keep the house of your parents, just buy it (with the money from your asset grant). The "Want something you did not work for? Buy it!" works pretty well for asset allocation in the economy at large. Why should it be any different for intergenerational wealth transfers, apart from "it has always been done this way"?

Since capital is the biggest determinant in one's ability to create value and acquire more capital, inheritance greatly centralises power in the hands of a few. Indeed, I suspect it was its primary purpose throughout history – to maximise the chances of a few 'alpha families' to indefinitely lord over the rest of the peons in the tribe. More speculatively, it may actually be this great importance of inheritance that pushed up the importance of monogamy (make sure that you know your heirs and that there are not too many different, competing groups of them), increased the disdain for sex (much easier to stay monogamous if sex is generally looked down upon), and disempowered women (limit the number of heirs and get the wife out of the picture if the husband dies first). Thankfully, society has matured quite a bit since then...

295:

Here's an even nastier alternative:

What if focusing on the Gini Coefficient is wrong?

What if the problem isn't the concentration of wealth, it's that the newly super-rich haven't a clue how to be rich?

The short-hand is that the Peter Principle (and the Dilbert Principle) may apply to wealth as well as status. In broader terms, many of the super-wealthy are experts at acquiring money, but they have little or no experience in holding on to that money or spending it wisely. They're investing it in things like mansions, yachts, jets, and so on. Many of those purchases are now underwater (zombie jets, anyone?), and there's a developing industry of high-end repo men (see link above) who clean up after these people.

In a broader sense, the combination of cluelessness, transient good fortune, and lots money is dangerous. It's especially dangerous when a lot of that money is invested in the stock market and in other venues where we're supposed to be making stable investments for our future. Or in food futures. It may be driving the very unstable, bubbly economy, that we have now.

The wealthy aren't all the same. Some of them realize that giving back isn't a feel-good measure, it's a necessary feedback mechanism to keep their system working smoothly. Classing all of the rich as "the enemy" (as with the Gini Coefficient) may be counterproductive. Of course, sorting the bad from the good isn't easy either...

296:

With my agricultural experience, I was pretty disappointed by how the green movement handled GM crops. Now, there are a lot of problems with the way Monsanto are using glyphosate resistance. It's potentially a useful approach to weed control, since glyphosate is one of the safer pesticides. It's broken down by soil bacteria. That angle was something the green advocates ignored. There was also all the talk about how one couldn't do anything if glyphosate resistance got into weed plants, as it might.

No, the crop plants unavoidably shed some seeds during the harvesting process. A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. You can't avoid a scattering of glyphosate-resistant plants, whatever your contract with Monsanto, and the company lawyers, might have to say.

Farmers have answers to this problem. Grasses are a difficult weed to control on wheat crops, because wheat is a grass. Grass in a field of Oilseed Rape is quite easy to control, likewise Oilseed Rape volunteers in a field of wheat.

What the green movement did was wreck the research that might have told farmers in the UK whether the GM crop varieties produced by Monsanto actually work in the UK. We have different weather, different strains of fungal crop diseases, we even farm the crops in different ways. And we Brits, on average, get about twice the yield that an American farmer does.

We're pushing the plants hard, and one of these resistance genes makes the plant less efficient. We never did find out if that loss was significant.

The Soil Association as as cavalier about science. At one point they allowed the use of nicotine as a pesticide on "organic" crops. I've used some pretty nasty pesticides in my time, and I think I would prefer a choline-esterase inhibitor to nicotine.

This unscientific, non-agricultural, strand of ignorant greenness is something I find despicable.


297:

Hm. I'd say that the newly rich, making lavish purchases without much discipline or forethought, are at least pumping money into the economy. Seems to me that the people who stay rich do so as much by not spending as by investing wisely.

298:

My understanding is that glyphosphate resistance has already jumped out of oilseed rapes into weedy mustards. I know a decade ago there were similar concerns about genes jumping out of sorghum into johnsongrass, which is a very closely related perennial weed. I'm not sure if they panned out.

There are a couple of problems with glyphosphate that you didn't mention. One is that it's not neutral, and it kills non-target species like various aquatic life-forms. Sloshing it onto the landscape causes runoff problems.

Second, it's a little unclear whether it's totally harmless to humans, because the studies and metanalyses aren't that comparable nor (apparently) comprehensive, and almost everyone doing the research has a financial stake in the outcome. I'm not being an alarmist, so much as pissed off about the way the toxicology research appears to have been done. It's hard for an educated person to figure out whether the stuff's safe or not.

Third (and largest), I'll grant that glyphosphate is a reasonably good pesticide on its own merits. The problem with engineering glyphosphate resistant plants is that it's allowed massive use of this pesticide, predictably leading to increased resistance in more and more weeds. I know that Monsanto has recommendations to slow the build-up of resistance, but it's not clear to me whether those ever get off paper and onto the farms in any meaningful way. As with penicillin, overuse of glyphosphate means that, 50 years from now, we probably won't be using it at all.

299:

Yeah, kind of. Still, gold-plating a private jet is one of those niche industries, compared to what you could do with that money in other uses. More generally, I don't think we can create anything like a sustainable economy servicing the luxury demands of the super-rich. There's just too few of them to carry that burden.

300:

And it's pro-cyclical spend, as well.

301:

Still curious as to how all this will be administrated and enforced given the massive capacity for corruption? Also, how would you possibly move from any current model of society to this? Can't imagine the current 1% giving up what they've got too easily (or are we into guillotine and revolution territory here?)

It seems that the idea of the asset grant is nice in theory, but falls apart pretty fast in the real world (back to my earlier comparison to communism perhaps?)

302:

The theory is of course that people 'servicing' the super rich will get paid and in turn spend their money in the wider economy on goods and services from other people. In practise what happens is that the super rich use their econo-political power to screw down the wages of everyone including those who service them. So the end result is what we have now.

303:

I would agree completely with your thesis. It's not the only thing going on, but it's a major issue. The current crop of rich people is very clueless and incompetent and spoiled, and they can't compete in a well-regulated environment.

It's the spoiled part which worries me. That sense of entitlement which says, "we shouldn't have to pay taxes. We deserve government bail outs. We shouldn't have to go to jail if we break the law. We shouldn't have to be regulated. We deserve a giant bonus no matter how badly we screw up. We have no obligations to our fellow citizens. We don't care if people are starving because of our decisions. We deserve to be in control because we are in control." There's not even a patronizing sense of noblesse oblige we can appeal to when we have problems.

I'm not terribly worried about the Gini coefficient, which is the symptom rather than the disease. The incompetence is hurting us badly. The combination of incompetence and spoiled is killing us.

304:
It is worth nothing that...

Worth noting. Argh.

305:

IMHO it's not just the Greens, since at least in Germany GMOs would take it tough on the market. Though I'd like to donate a prize for the one who is able to rationally explain why a selective genetic modification is worse than normal breeding, especially since with breeding for resistance we don't know the changes, the mechanism or the identity of the chemicals in question, though in general, phytoalexins are not that nice.

OTOH, of course GMOs have their own dangers, anybody who knows Darwin Awards knows that whoever says something is idiot-proof underestimates the common idiot. Like thinking ricine is a good insecticide...

But then, if biotech is outlawed, only outlaws will do biotech'. See you at the Dr. Watson Con 2016 in Tel Aviv, since Israel allows the creation of embryonal stem cell lines, and the Jewish religious ethics seems to be somewhat more, err sensible than their Christian conterparts. As long as there is no pork[1] involved:

http://www.biotech-info.net/jewish_law.html

[1] BTW, concerning the halakha of biotech[2], do the rules of basar bechalav

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk_and_meat_in_Jewish_law

apply to powdered milk? If so, the con could be in for some problems:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powdered_milk#Use_in_biotechnology

[2] While we're at it, as a Roman-Catholic, may I use culture media containing meat extract on Friday? Or is this only when culturing human cell lines, given the donors were Roman-Catholics themselves? If so, what chruch was Ms. Lacks a member of?

306:

Trottelreiner @ 290:
"To be more precise, I guess I could leave out any quantifier ('most') in the above text if it were not for the US, so we might stop asking ourselves why the rest of the world is an exception to the US and start asking ourselves if and why the US is an exception to the rest of the world."

Excuse me, I thought that was a given.
US exceptionalism is scary.

Ah yes, ....
Who regulates the regulators?
Who? erm ... how ... ?
Erm ......

307:

Well obviously we're supposed to regulate the regulators. Reminds me of the Frank Herbert quote
Q -"What governs the governors?"
A - "Entropy"

I suppose one of the problems is simply the accumulated baggage of political structures and habits. ANother is the way the rich have distorted the playing field in their favour, with rewards to those politicians who do as they want. Another is simply structural issues to do with running a democracy in a nation state made up of tens of millions of people, when you can't just hold a village meeting and chuck the prime minister out because you don't like what they've done.

308:

Isn't there the chance that some basic common sense policies could make things much better than where we are now, and seem to be headed? Is "the answer" really that difficult? Here's my USA-centric view, anyway:

• Let's simplify the tax laws, keep the progressive tax, and make it quite a bit more progressive at the high end. The super-rich will still, frankly, be super-rich, but maybe we can spread their wealth around quite a bit more than we do now. Take a bigger cut of estates upon death, but nothing too rash. Crank up capital gains taxes a bit -- but still keep it a bit under income tax, to encourage investment. But capital gains is waaaay too much lower than income tax today.

• Let's just freaking go single-payer for healthcare already.

• Let's invest considerably less into straight-up military research, and much more into basic science research, with a huge emphasis on healthcare and energy. Shit, let the same damn companies who get rich now off of making bombs, get rich making the world a better place, I could care less. Let's just shift WHERE the research money is going. Oh yes, and more space research of course! Just imagine if we put the few trillion dollars we spent on Afghanistan and Iraq into basic energy research. Something tells me, we may have come up with one or more breakthroughs that would solve some VERY significant issues facing the planet right now.

• Get the government out of the marriage business, allow churches to marry (or not marry) whom they see fit, and make it so the government is purely in the business of civil unions of a legal nature, that are not gender-dependent.

• Require education investment to be more widely disseminated, so poor locales are not forced to have sub-par schools. I don't think there's a magic bullet to making poor places less poor, OTHER than to make sure that the people who come from them have a chance at a genuinely good education. This also means a SAFE education, there should be ZERO tolerance for gang crime, bullying, etc. in schools.

I could probably think of more stuff, but the above seems obvious. And frankly, is pretty much what the Democratic party largely at least publicly stands for -- the problem is that the Dems have been COMPLETELY co-opted by the same big-money interests that support the Republicans.

Which probably means, we need a third party that is frankly not too different than what most people think the Democrats are supposed to be about, on paper anyway.

Someone up the thread made a VERY good point -- the bigger issue is probably cracking HOW to affect changes at this point, and breaking through our highly corrupt system, and less about what the changes should actually be. I think some very good, important, big change could come from heading back into less-loony territory. But how to get to the point where common sense can possibly reign supreme? That's the biggest challenge of them all!

309:

Err, some mistake; when discussing Burundi and Liberia, there is a link to credit ratings:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_credit_rating

That seems to make no sense, and it doesn't. The link was supposed to go to African countries by GDP:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

310:

What if the problem isn't the concentration of wealth, it's that the newly super-rich haven't a clue how to be rich?

They don't, overall.

For that matter, when you look at generational trends, the majority of people who merely inherit money (so you'd think they would have some "rich kid" training) tend to lose it in a generation or two.

It takes some severe legal maneuvering and political hacking to keep a huge family fortune in the family in the long run - and even that seldom works. Most trust fund kids tend to blow the cash quickly, over a decade or so. A very few will reinvest their inheritance, or start a new company that succeeds. A lot of the famous "ultrarich" families are on their third or fourth go-around, with a few gaps of not-so-rich in between.

Paris Hilton is an annoying example of this: she got a chunk of money from the family (after her granddad decided to give most of his money away to a charitable trust), and has since made a LOT more, mostly due to hiring the right people to manage it for her while she made even more from her modeling and fashion work - her perfume brands alone have grossed over $1.4 billion. Yes, with a b.

The same goes for corporations. Most large, "successful" companies tend to fail after 50 years or so, mostly because they're trying to keep doing things the way they used to. Sure, a few really big ones will stay around and gain influence (along with giant stacks of money), but when you look at price-to-earnings ratios, they tend to be, well, average.

311:

Without addressing the can of worms, but one indicator of the lack of knowledge on how biology works- every TV commercial for birth control pills over here features a line to the effect that the pill won't prevent transmission of diseases.

How in the hell would you think it would?

312:

One slight problem with the "no inheritance" plan as far as farms go- land (and other asset) management requires effort. If the farmer knows the farm will go to his kid, he'll be more likely to take care of it than if he knows it's just an income source for his lifetime.

"I'm seventy...why bother repairing the barn roof? I'll be dead before it collapses."

313:

There's a distinction to note- cooperation and symbiosis between species, but competition within a given species.

When a ram eats grass he's not competing with the grass, but he sure as hell is going to compete with other rams when mating season comes around. Your competition is the one most like you.

314:

It would be nice for a change to have the poor fighting the rich, rather than fighting other poor on behalf of the rich and powerful.

Regarding drudgery: With all these decades of productivity improvement, what the heck are we now all actually doing with our time? There are plenty of negative-sum games going on, not to mention people being co-opted to fight battles between the rich. For example: call centers full of people who spend all day ringing people up and trying to sell them stuff they don't need. Or all those quants eaten up by the finance industry instead of making useful things.

I don't want to smash the state, but I don't think it's as fragile as the rich would have us believe either. It can survive having a few checks and balances forcibly inserted. Longer term, I'd rather boot up new systems on a small scale and expand them, see what works. Now seems like a good time to start dabbling in distributed consensus-reality systems again. Names and debts and money and such -- things that currently require a government to manage.

315:

I did not want to flog a dead horse, on cultural (not biological) differences making Mr. Stross plan even harder to implement in the USA, but this just came out yesterday: http://www.pewglobal.org/2011/11/17/the-american-western-european-values-gap/

A couple of the US results scare me, as I suppose some of the European ones will horrify people over there.

316:

The mere fact that it's legal to advertise prescription medicines on TV in your country never fails to weird me out when I visit.

317:

In a sane set-up where farms weren't seen as a weird income-generating variant on a family home, but as a business, you wouldn't get people working on them past retirement age. Especially as its dangerous and frequently physically strenuous work!

The mind-set you describe is a hangover from mediaeval peasantry; you work the land or you die of starvation.

318:

On the flipside, it wierded me out when I read about a guy in Britain with a medical fetish who kept stealing medical supplies (gowns, gloves, etc) from the NHS that he could have just purchased here in the US.

The difference in mindset is that in Britain healthcare is largely a service provided by the state for the patient. In the US, it's a service the patient more-or-less buys for himself, just like he'd buy a car or food.
I'll make the assumption that you think of healthcare as something you need, and that you should get what you need. In the US, healthcare is something you want (although you likely want it very much at times) and the focus is on providing the patient with what he wants, not what he needs.
Many hospitals go out of their way to make childbirth not only safe, but esthetically appealing and pleasant. Hospitals that can afford it try and make their campuses attractive and provide perks and services so that patients will pick them rather than other facilities. And yeah, drug companies try and convince people that their drug for happiness, erections, or heart health (those seem to be the big three) is better than the competitions' products- because if you nag your doc long enough, he'll write for what you want...or you'll find one who does.

319:

I'd have a different take on the anti-GM movement so far.

Its important to note the timescales and what was actually on offer and going to happen, rather than the just the science of what GMOs can deliver.

GMOs can deliver many 'miraculous' things: "golden" rice, etc. to deliver vitamin A, etc. But in commercial reality court evidence has shown that Monsanto in particular wanted to secure its position on the expiry of glyphosphate patents by making non-roundup ready crops commercially extinct. Simply make sure there was not enough non-Monsanto maize seed available.
Moving off glyposphate-tolerant crops is in principle possible, but not commerically so: you need to leave the land fallow for some seasons to allow the pesticide to break down. Hence the lock-in.
This juggernaut needed to be stopped. And it mostly was in Europe. It was for most not a reasoned scientific debate, but that was not realistically going to happen in a 2-3 year timescale needed.

The other side of the coin is to understand that "no GMOs" is a stance ha we can back down and move on from, at a slower, more reasoned pace. Examine the case for a given GMOs, license it. The opposite case, with commercial extinction of IP-free seeds was designed not to be reversible.


320:

Yeah, I'm with the OP.
1. Maximum social liberty
2. Social & medical safety net + reasonable workers' rights
(The real commonality between low Gini nations)
3. Societal "big ideas", funded publicly (i.e. TAX)
(whether it be "go to the moon", or "see the next generation educated properly).

I've thought a lot about how to boil down the main objection I have to the currently-fashionable "small government is good" ideology, and it breaks down like this:

1. You can't build a competitive modern economy without some seriously large corporations.
2. Seriously large corporations will abuse their position relative to individual workers, clients, stakeholders (inc. shareholders), and regulators. Why can they do this? Because they're enormous enough to distort entire markets, being as they are, often either monopoly holders or parts of very tight cartels in their industry.
3. In a world where 1 & 2 are true, what could possibly work better than strong democratically elected government, to act as a counterweight to the power of the big corporations?

321:

I'm not sure that's entirely it- many people seem to be emotionally attached to a particular piece of land, taking pride and enjoyment in the fact that it's a link between them and their ancestors who also owned and farmed it.

I'm guessing you'd find the quote from "Gone With the Wind" to be insane: "Land is the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for because it's the only thing that lasts."

322:

3. In a world where 1 & 2 are true, what could possibly work better than strong democratically elected government, to act as a counterweight to the power of the big corporations?

Unions? Because a democratic government is going to balance the needs of both corporation and worker. Unions or trade guilds are after the wellbeing of their members only- self interest keeps them more on target. You can combat heavy control of capital with heavy control of labor.

And if you can't get enough people to join one...well, those people probably wouldn't be voting in your favor, either.

323:

I'm playing devils advocate a little, but could you expand on #1 You can't build a competitive modern economy without some seriously large corporations a little please. Why can't you? I can't think of a competitive modern economy where we don't, but I don't know why it's inevitable.

If #1 is not inevitable, then strong, enforced regulation to limit company size would be an alternative.

But generally large, strong, enforced regulation, backed up by a government that governs rather than shivers in fear before the might of the media and the locally relevant vested lobbying interests ought to be a good answer IMO. Just have to find the politicians with the backbone to do it now!

324:

Dunno, from where my family is from, almost the farming you will see is done by old people. Not because they would starve without it - but sure it is a very good supplement for pensions.

Also gives the old ones something to do. Or put the other way, the day my 80 years old dad cant do some work on the farm (and complain about his bones for hours later), is the day he is dead.

But of course thats because well, northwest Spain isnt preciselly too far away, mentality-wise, from our mediaval peasant ancestors. Land is very much fragmented, each small owner thinking his miserable bit of land is all that stand between awful misery and just misery. Who can blame them, no matter how "modern" things are now they remember the post-war years as a even-more-miserable-and-wretched period on a constant level of it.


325:
How in the hell would you think it would?

Like a vaccine?

326:

"Our pill prevents one thing you don't want that comes in via your reproductive tract, so clearly it prevents all things you don't want that come via that route."

Bonkers.

327:

Businesses are forced to sell off upon the death of the founder unless they play a lot of ownership and tax games which don't benefit anyone but bankers and accountants when all is said and done.

Don't you have limited companies over there? And does this mean the end of Apple?

328:

"many people seem to be emotionally attached to a particular piece of land"

Like the Duke of Westminster who owns much of Central London. All due to his hard work, no doubt

329:

Para 1 - That just strikes me as an odd manifestation of kleptomania. In point of fact you can buy most of those medical supplies (not sure about surgical scrubs, but gloves, labcoats, medical instruments etc are all available to the general public) here.

Paras 3 and 4 - Well, that explains a discussion I (UK) had with an American where he couldn't understand my POV in saying that a surgeon could and should decline to carry out $risky_procedure if the patient's state of health was such that the risk of an undesirable outcome exceeded the benefits from a desirable one. "First, do no harm" and all that.

330:

The trouble withthe "occupy" protesters is that thay want a lot LESS personal liberty.
They're selling "Socialist Worker" for a start - so they are completely dippy and insane marxists religious believers.

No, what that means is that the SWP, being a bunch of parasitic chancers, have glommed on to Occupy for their own purposes.

331:

If you think of a baby as a contracted infection it's not that big of a category error.

In fact the mechanism for a viral infection and pregnancy aren't that dissimilar. A stripped down carrier for genetic material gloms onto the cell wall of a suitable target cell and injects it's DNA, radically repurposing it's machinery and resulting in systemic effects all through the body.

The mistake is not understanding the effect of the contraceptive is hormonal, reducing the body's willingness to cooperate with this particular invasion, but say, some spermicides do have antiviral properties.

The point to take home is not "some people are dumb" rather that all of us are pretty dumb when we're not paying attention/not interested, to borrow a quote Peter Watts posted from Pete Richerson and Robert Boyd: "all animals are under stringent selection pressure to be as stupid as they can get away with."

So I'd consider the written warning to be insufficient, a fig leaf to prevent litigation, and I'd go with something like an iconic cartoony VD getting through even when the baby shaped sperm are being bounced back.

Sure a world geared for this might look a lot like idiocracy but snobbery aside I believe it really is necessary, as I've had cause to observe the effect in myself. Not paying attention = room temperature effective IQ

332:

Two months in, we are bound to see infiltrators, especially people who want to commit violent acts in order to discredit the Occupy agenda. (Of course, that is a problem: two months in and they concept of a horizontal coordination is beginning to fade.)

We have no way to know who the ninja-types were who broke windows, etc. during the original Oakland call to shut down the port, etc., but pretty much all who have any voice or a connection to the Human Microphone are asking people to be non-violent, to follow Ghandi and MLK, Jr. in their civil disobedience.

The problem: Winter is coming. We can take this as Bloomberg's desire to look like Tsar Nikolai or as a hint to get back to reading George R.R. Martin. Either way - taking the cold weather tents and cutting them up is an act of inhumanity that befits a police state.

333:

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-11-employer-health-premiums-percent-state.html

Premiums for employer-sponsored family health insurance increased by 50 percent from 2003 to 2010, and the annual amount that employees pay toward their insurance increased by 63 percent

334:

There is also the suspicion that the guy who recently fired a rifle at the White House had been associated in some way with the local Occupy encampment.

Is it that they are infiltrators, or are they the kind of nut-jobs who like glomming onto big rallies?

The problem: winter is coming.

That was my thought about three weeks into the Occupy event.

How many people were willing to camp out in sub-freezing temperatures for The Cause?

And would that mean that the concentration of nut-jobs (relative to the sane members of The Cause) would be too high to keep a clean public image for The Cause?

335:

There is also the suspicion that the guy who recently fired a rifle at the White House had been associated in some way with the local Occupy encampment.
Or he could be a Teabagger trying to discredit Occupy? After all, the Teabaggers have threatened armed rebellion before! Well, how else should you take "We came unarmed this time"

336:

The mere fact that it's legal to advertise prescription medicines on TV in your country never fails to weird me out when I visit.

Weirds out some of us also. I wonder how many folks over here have developed a built in brain filter for such ads. And I cna't imagine it is worth the effort except as a way to distribute huge sums of money to the ad companies.

Now I do watch new sex drug ads so I can see what euphemism they have come up with.

337:

In my 20's and 30's I regularly quit my paid job and did whatever I wanted for months to a year at a time....

Interesting and enviable-sounding, though not all that easy-sounding. Shades of Travis McGee's time-slicing retirement plan. I do something like that on a more modest and less scary basis: having relatively few responsibilities and inexpensive tastes, I work 40 weeks of the year on a term-time-only contract at a school, and find the extra time off hugely worth what it costs me.

GMI: I've believed for most of my life that the most effective and least intrusive kind of social benefit a polity could offer would be a regular no-strings flat cash dividend per member: no exceptions, no way to game it, no perverse incentives or micromanaging bureacracies or group demonization built into it. Not good for exploitative employers, either. Expensive to roll out, but if somehow achievable, much better value per pound and per life than the Hunt for the Deserving Poor - with such hunters as that employs.

For that, tax rises wouldn't be a hard sell to me. The weight of the State on its subjects is not reasonably measured in pounds alone.

338:

This is a whole other rant, but I wonder how many people have developed a filter for tv ads generally? I know that if I'm buying, say, curry paste I'll choose $brand_I'vs_never_heard_of over the usually more expensive $Heavily_TV_advertised_brand, and usually get a better product as a result.

340:

"We have no way to know who the ninja-types were who broke windows, etc. during the original Oakland call to shut down the port, etc.,"

They weren't ninja-types. They were standard-issue sixteen to twenty five year old males, being idiots. That's the problem with leaderless crowds - they turn into mobs even faster than normal.

No, Occupy hasn't been "infiltrated." It's just full of the same sort of people who always show up to this sort of thing (i.e., random), with an added frisson of edgy types who love to act dangerous. Sure, you have your "human microphone" people who say they're all for peace and love, but you also have about the same number of people who are screaming about burning down Wall Street because "the chicks think it sounds cool."

Think "big social-democratic crowd with a large annex of unemployed chavs and no leadership function."

The OWS crowd in San Diego held a moment of silence, by the way - for the guy who took pot shots at the White House. Which seems to be a heck of a mixed message.

341:

...you wouldn't get people working on them past retirement age. Especially as its dangerous and frequently physically strenuous work!
The mind-set you describe is a hangover from mediaeval peasantry; you work the land or you die of starvation.

I think you and others here assume everyone wants to retire to a life of leisure/non work/whatever. This is just not true for everyone. And maybe the people who still own farms are predisposed to not think of retirement.

In my family the farmers worked until they physically could no longer do it. They had money in the bank. And could have retired years before they stopped but to them sitting around was just dumb. And even then they traveled the country or stay active.

Personally as I get closer to that magic age I can't imagine not having a job or doing something productive.

My father built and remodeled houses off and on as a second job during his career at a large industrial plant. And when he did officially retire he put in a full day most every day fixing up and adding features to his house or doing work for others or consulting work with his former employer. To be honest I think he did more physical labor in the 10 years after retirement than in the prior 10 years.

I think you're missing a mindset or attributing it to false motives.

342:

Can we define "life of leisure" to include "getting a liberal education", and GALE to include studying whatever interests you in engineering, science and the arts, with no requirement to sit exams unless you intend to practice in $field (including teaching others who intend to practice)?

In a word, yes.

In a few more: Yes, with the rider that the more it looked like that in practice, the less sinister and class-ridden I would expect the resulting society to get, and the more lives I would expect to divide into multiple 'leisure', 'directed study', and relatively short but intense 'working' phases.

There is also a "good stuff that you don't necessarily enjoy doing and won't get paid for, but know you owe your neighbours" phase, which I think might soak up a lot more life in such a society, and a good thing too. I'd call that a dominantly 'social' phase, distinct from either work or leisure as usually understood.

Lots of interesting possibilities in this setting, aren't there?

343:

[digression]

My observation has been that there are many who actively think about the advertising that they're subjected too -- actually spend more than a few microseconds analyzing it -- and they're the folks who can and do filter it out. Because they've made a conscious choice to do so, or taught themselves to do so over time.

Most of the target audience for adverts seems to passively absorb the advertising, and are influenced ever-so-slightly below the conscious level. They don't have any filters, because they don't realise that there is anything to filter out.

[/digression]

344:

I think we're in agreement about where we want this society to go then!

Further rider - if you want to, you can change from non-examined to examined study in $subject any time up to the first anniversary of starting study without a need to re-audit except by reason of spectacular failure of said exams.

345:

[further digression]I think we're in agreement here, because to do what I was saying, I'd have to know what $HTAB is!

Charlie, I did say there was a whole other rant in here! :-D

346:

I like this list as a starting point for framing politics.

I think these principles may or may not be mutually exclusive or mutually re-enforcing depending on the context. Giving people the economic freedom to make their labour more valuable in exchange would improve the Gini co-efficient for example.

I might go so far as to say that as a rule of thumb any politcal philosophy that didn’t consider all three of these to be a matter or importance or thought one of the three factors was actively bad was an extremist party.

I notice that as I have gotten older and more mature I find myself much more comfortable with people having different ground values from me. Rather than seeing someone who doesn’t share my top level values and policy choices as some combination of inept, evil, stupid, insane or selfish I’m more comfortable with the idea that other people have some profound difference in their basic definations of “fair” or “good” or “freedom”.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t find some of those values strange, even abhorent, but if I approach them in the first instance as alien rather than mad or evil I find out more about them and myself.

I don’t, for example, have much difficulty with Liberatarians who believe that individual responsbility is a good thing in itself and that any loss or “unfairness” that arises from a Liberatarian system is a price worth paying. I don’t agree with them but I see that for Liberatarians a certain type of freedom is very, very valuable. I disagree about the values but I do see the intellectual and philosophical coherence. (I do have a problem with Liberatarans and transaction costs but that’s a different discussion.)

With this in mind I’ve been thinking about my approach to socialism. I think I would be a socialist if I thought everyone else would join in.

I believe that we have personal obligations to look out for each other. I also believe that there is such a thing as a group; that our place in society is not just a series of bilateral relationships; and that we have obligations to the group (both current and future members). I’m morally inclined to agree with the ideal of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”

My difficulty with socialism, which I’ve been chewing over for the last few years, is that I think it only works if there is a wide agreement on the underpinning values. Without that people find that the mechanisms of socialism infringe some of their closely held values and this leads to sub-optimal behavour on both sides of the ability maxim and attempts to game the system. I think I’d prefer to live in a world where we all felt a binding moral obligation to help our brothers and sisters when they were in need but where our brothers and sisters felt a binding obligation not to take the piss.

This lack of commonly agreed ground values I think means that the political process is an on-going negotiation about basic values, the policies that flow from them and about what appears to be adminstrative aspects of the political arena.

I also have some concerns about agency theory and socialism. They are the mirror of my concerns about agency theory in the current economic environment of large, trans-national corporations. Where there is a large distance between the people actually running an organisation and those in whose interests the organisation ought to be run problems occur. I think this holds true for large trans-national corporations and for large, nationalisedThese range from the organiation becoming bad at serving the needs of the owner / customer to the manager taking active steps to use the hierarchiacal and economic power they have been lent to enhance their own position. Both set ups leave little opportunity for aggrieved individuals to seek out different ways of organising capital or services.

This leads me to favour small organisations, both political and economic, over larger ones and I would be be prepared to pay a small premium for that i.e. a slightly less efficient or effective service but one controlled more closely to the citizen or shareholder / customer.

Socialism, as currently organised, tends to start from the premise of large organisations owned by the state on behalf of the citizen. I would consider a large number of community renewable energy schemes to be just as socialist as a re-nationalisation of the entire National Grid. This kinds of co-operative socialism doesn’t seem to be on offer in the UK.

So I would add to the list of maximising personal liberty, minimising the Gini co-efficient and protecting the commons (or Liberty, Egality and Fraternity!) a fourth principle of Subsidiarity.

I find myself in recent years trying to solve left-wing problems with right-wing tools.


This is my (provisional) truth, tell me yours.

347:

Now I'm seeing a video on youtube of Occupy San Diego having a moment of silence and solidarity (or some such) for the shooter.

Is this black propaganda, infiltration, or a leaderless movement without a way to filter out the nut jobs?

348:

I've been following this story across the BBC and several other politics sites as well as here; Nobody knows, and I'd suggest that it's far from clear that all the Occupy sites actually want the same thing(s), or even that this incident was anything other than a single nutter with no relationship to Occupy or the Tea Party beyond personal friendships.

349:

Is this black propaganda, infiltration, or a leaderless movement without a way to filter out the nut jobs?

Those three possibilities are non-exclusive -- it's possible that it's two of them, or even all three, at the same time.

350:

Spain had this whole thing back in March, with the Plaza del Sol occupied for several months. I guess it's inevitable but it feels like everyone thinks these Johnny come latelies invented something new :)

Anyway, who did it first sour grapes aside, what I found impressive about the Sol protests is how well organized they were, I walked through the encampment and they had cleaning rotas, food preparation, a library, information points, legal counsel, everything. Whenever tensions with the police got near a sparking point, the protestors were all shouting non violent slogans and made a point of distancing themselves from anyone vandalizing or being aggressive (The question of plants and professional protesters of convenience did arise there too)

351:

It's also possible to have compassion for the shooter without condoning his actions.

The guy sounds like he's clearly mentally ill. He should be locked up, yes, but he's yet another example of a completely failed mental healthcare system.

It's a relief that he was caught before he hurt anybody. But it was a near miss, and he should have had medical attention well before things escalated to this point.

All that said, yeah, I'd stop short of having a moment of silence for the guy.

352:

The last; That has been the problem with the occupy movement from the start. The lack of a clear (or even coherent) complaint or ideology invited everyone who was unhappy with anything to join. A small, but significant, minority of them have been calling for violent action from the start. Add to that the assorted parasites who saw the chaos as a good opportunity for a bit of fun (variously defined as rape, theft, rioting etc).

With no organization from the start and no clear direction, what did anyone expect?

353:

The Occupy Wall Street had a very clear complaint and ideology; the media said otherwise, and you seem to have bought it. With or without active work on your part to disbelieve that people could be so upset at corporate fraud that they'd organize in large numbers.

It's amazing how many people will simultaneously complain that the Occupy folks are not organic and yet have no leadership.

354:

Come to think of it, the same could be said of most of the US's notorious spree killers.

That is, mental instability seems obvious in hindsight.

355:

[W]hat I found impressive about the [Plaza del] Sol protests is how well organized they were, I walked through the encampment and they had cleaning rotas, food preparation, a library, information points, legal counsel, everything.

The Occupy Portland encampment was broadly similar; I took only a single pass through it before it was shut down and saw a library tent, a first-aid station, an area closed for cleaning, and what were clearly residential areas away from the 'main streets' through the park.

Small societies often self-organize pretty well. How much of this filters up to the movement as a whole I can't guess.

356:

@Charlie: "I can't employ people to write Charles Stross novels for me"

It never stopped Leslie Charteris! And I think we've both met at least one of the writers he employed.

"I am the very model of what Karl Marx referred to as "petit bourgeois". Nevertheless? I'm still one of the 99%."

But seriously, you aren't. You don't make money out of other people's labour - you earn money by selling stuff you make, not by rents or profits. "Petit-bourgeois" (which is an older word than Marx but used by Marxists) would have been small shopkeepers, artisans who managed workshops, that sort of thing. Small businesses where the owner typically worked alongside employees. What they would have called "Little Masters" in England not long before Marx came here. Later extended to include bureacrats and officials and managers - workers who ally themselves with the bosses in order to get a share of their profits.

As far as Marx was concerned such people will try to accumulate enough capital to no longer need to work - in which case they become just capitalists, the haute bourgeois - the "1%" as we seem to say now - but if they can't they will be reduced to the status of wage labourers. "Proletarianised" in the jargon. Someone in your position, who works but is neither permanently employed nor an employer, is also up for the inevitable proletarianisation (according to Marx) but isn't actually petit-bourgeois.

Also Marx would have had a hard time slagging off all writers and artists and intellectuals, seeing as he was one himself!

Though he did claim that artistic and intellectual production (including his own) is not "free" in a romantic sense but determined by material and economic conditions. We ourselves are products of our times and our circumstances, so whatever we produce must be also.

357:

@danieldwilliam: "Where there is a large distance between the people actually running an organisation and those in whose interests the organisation ought to be run problems occur. I think this holds true for large trans-national corporations and for large, nationalised... Socialism, as currently organised, tends to start from the premise of large organisations owned by the state on behalf of the citizen."

No, that's just one sort of socialist starting-point. There have been plenty of others.

There has been a continual opposition to state socialism within socialism. Someone already mentioned Bakunin on this thread. It comes in both a far-left form - people who would call themselves socialist anarchists, or anarcho-syndicalists (which always sounds silly in English), or liberatarian communists (which Americans who don't get out enough think is an oxymoron) - and a more centrist form such as the co-operative movement and various Christian Socialis organisations. In Britain both sorts tend to claim William Morris as their founding father. Though I've got a soft spot for Kropotkin myself :-)

Yes, the Left has to be about all three of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. And as you say, a practial implementation of those ideals requires some notion of subsidiarity, and appropriate scale. Thinking socialists always knew this. The famous Clause Four of the Labour Party Constitution (before Blair abolished it) never committed the party to nationalisation, but: "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service."

One large government-run mega-corporation might be "the best obtainable system" for some kinds of work. But not all of them. Probably not most of them. "The best obtainable system" for corner shops and pubs and cafes is probably that the person who owns them runs them and works behind the counter. "The best obtainable system" for some other kinds of industry or service might be workers co-operatives, or local democracy, or partnerships, or ownership by clubs and societies and unions and guilds, or consumer co-operatives. There are all sorts of possibilities.

358:

" Don't forget the need to painlessly exterminate the elderly, " .... Oh they do that already Charlie.

To remind yourself of this have a look at the Stats for Old People dying in the UKs Wintertime of Hypothermia and consider the reduction of the UK winter fuel allowance by £50 ..a trivial amount of course and a mere statistic that will give The Government LOTS of £ to add to the reduction of the UK's Debt Burden.

I'm pretty sure that my Grandfather died of Hypothermia a couple of weeks before he was due to move from his cold water, coal fire heated, flat in the late '70s of the last century to a flat that was to be provided not by a Government that was grateful for him having volunteered for the Durham Light Infantry at the onset of the First World War and then having fought for the duration of that war but rather by his Old Comrades Association ... " Oh WE don't want to Lose You but WE think you ought to go " ..which you will find in a rather subtler form in the modern recruitment Advertising that sends 'Volunteers ' who can find no other form of employment to die in Afghanistan ..a couple more in the latest news report on any given day.

359:

the three possibilities are non-exclusive...

Can the same be said of the Tea Party?

At any rate, I am willing to give the Occupy movement some time to figure out how to eject nut-cases.


But we are dealing with an amorphous group here. How long before we can assume that the majority of the group has accepted the nut-cases as members?

Do they realize how much bad PR can come from not having a clear group sentiment against violence?

360:

"liberatarian communists (which Americans who don't get out enough think is an oxymoron)"

In fairness, as much as anything that's because of the difference between libertarian and Libertarian.

When an American says "Democrat" or "Republican", he's referring to the political parties of those names, not the ideologies they originally drew their names from.

361:

Oh we aren't all that behind the times in the UK you know.

If a medical fetishist really wanted to BUY the medical Objects of His/Her medical affection he/she could do that from the States via the Internet and from an American Dealer. I suspect that at least part of the fetish would be the act of Theft from the N.H.S. ...a bit like those people who steal underwear from someone's' washing line when they could far more easily just buy it from a local department store. Consider those Japanese vending Machines that are reputed to offer used girls knickers for sale to the cognoscenti.


The Human mind is a wonderful thing

362:

Well, somebody has to pay those banker bonuses, and since they do not actually create wealth themselves it has to be...

363:

One of the signs that things are fucked up in the UK* is the increased emphasis on "join the armed forces and learn a trade", i.e. the systems for dealing with teenagers who want a job and career and education are so fucked up that you have to be willing to kill and die on behalf of politicians in order to get such a thing.

*At least for people like myself and no doubt a lot of people who post on here. The USA seems to have a slightly different culture.

364:

Actually, if the fetishist is after doctor's/nurse's clothing you can buy it all in UK, in a range of over the counter places. Famous Army Stores being one such, or they used to be 25 years ago.

There are all kinds of situations where white coats, gloves and the like can be used. Scalpels I'm not sure about after the relatively recent changes to knife laws, but I expect craft shops still sell them. A stethoscope is available on Amazon (the UK one) amongst other places. Scrubs are a bit trickier, but courtesy of the internet are available from within the UK too.

I used to be a medical student, not a fetishist, not of that sort anyway.

365:

You can certainly buy scalpels in the UK, I have done.

366:

OOOh- thanks for clarifying; The OWS demand(s)(?) just don't fit the approved political paradigm;

367:

people who would call themselves socialist anarchists, or anarcho-syndicalists (which always sounds silly in English), or liberatarian communists (which Americans who don't get out enough think is an oxymoron)

Personally, I think 'socialist anarchist' is more of an oxymoron, if you define 'socialism' as 'modes of productionare owned by the state', err, sorry, last time I looked that up, the dictionary was from the 70s...

BTW, 'syndicalism' could also mean 'national syndicalism', which is somewhat related to corporatism and thus, well, fascism. Where the connections between anarcho-syndicalism and fascism are somewhat, interesting, with anarcho-syndicalists usually negating any thus connections and some fascists in Italy stressing themselves as the true syndicalists. Which leads to several, err, facepalms when reading about Italian Futurism, intended or unintended by the authors is up to debate, come on, those guys wanted to shock.

Personally, I think there are some parallels, e.g. between the notorious 'propaganda of the deed' (which IMHO is a quite cumbersome way to spell 'PR disaster', BTW) and the stress on action in fascism. Also look at the ideas and influence of Sorel:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Sorel

Of course, the funny thing with fascism is that it's everything, and the, err, 'conservatives' who'll say they knew all along fascism was nihilism should start to read anything on the topic, for starters, a diff of some fascist manifestos and their analysis (the words 'materialism', 'moral decay' etc. should be quite prominent). Still, it might help to analyse past errors to not make them again.

368:

What planet are you on?

Example, Wal Mart; They are so Dominant in the retail space, and use their dominance to crush any possible opposition to their business model....

And the family still owns about 40% of it.

And uses it to dirce business to other holdings, like Arvest Bank and Murphy Oil, (Not sure what John Walton's interest in those is, but sure to be substantial); Both frequently colocated with Wal Mart.

369:

BTW, when reading about Futurism, I found something that fits quite nicely into the cooking thread...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurist_meals

370:

Feorag @ 330
I tend to agree with you - at least half-way.
Like these morons haven't got a clue.
ANY of them, at all....

Guthrie @ 363
That's been happening for a long time.
Especially if you got into REME, and then went into the auto industry.
A very profitable route for the people who did it - I've met a few.

371:

Regarding filtering: What's television again? My family quit watching it years ago. When presented with the opportunity to connect the cable again, both my kids responded with "meh".

The watch what they want, when they want via the internet. Typically no advertisements, and they ask me to help them install ad blockers etc (they get tired of the pornz).

Shrugs. Advertising seems to be a business intent on its own demise.

Regards,

Hans

372:

It'll work for some. Others will wind up dead broke regardless. How?
"Hey, we understand you have bills to pay, and you're not getting your check until next week. We'll give you 85% of your next benefit _today_, if you sign this form agreeing to hand over the cash next week. And you get to keep your lights on, and prevent your car from being repossessed, and pay for those diapers..."

To quote the abrasive pop finance guru Suze Orman, you usually can't solve a financial problem by giving someone money.

373:

Do you want to re-fight old and lost battles or change the world for the better. The Tea party was pre-fabed with talking point and web pages. The fox called for some one to save America, the web pages opened. The fooled the same people that were always fooled. What they did not do was Po voters. So what are the failed holdovers doing? Po ing the voters. The baggers have changed America. Making voters late for work will make the baggers look good, not fix what they have done.
The R/W already have people who day they are infiltrators. A case in point is the pepper spraying in the Smithsonian museum. One r/w put it on his web page that he forced the spraying of the people in and outside. Shutting it down. That demo was not about Occupy, only anti-war.
The most effective and feared anti-war demos were the Vet-Nam veterans. They were very hard on violence by anybody and often found planted weapons. Right before the cops showed up to look were they had been. And they worked hard to hide planted nuts from TV.

374:

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace - business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.” Franklin D. Roosevelt – 1936
“Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.” – John Stuart Mill

375:

"Moving off glyposphate-tolerant crops is in principle possible, but not commerically so: you need to leave the land fallow for some seasons to allow the pesticide to break down. Hence the lock-in."

You are ignorant of how glyphosate acts. Sorry, but it has to be sprayed directly on the plant to be killed. Once it gets on the soil, any effect lasts for less than 24 hours. You can spray off a field, killing the plants that have emerged and (assuming the right tools and soil conditions) and plant a new crop the next day.

Monsanto's evil trick was to use contracts and patents to go after people who tried to stop growing Roundup-Ready crops. Roundup-Ready was a weed, in effect, hard to eliminate 100%, but the court/patent system was used to require perfection.

376:

That sounds sensible.

377:

>>>I just want a party to vote for whose three guiding principles are (a) maximize individual liberty, (b) minimize the Gini coefficient, and (c) protect the commons.

Charlie's ideal world:

a) You can do whatever you like.
b) Everyone have exactly the same amount of wealth.
c) Redundant.

378:

Ah, please do not troll. Most especially, please don't try to troll our host.

379:

That does raise one good point- ideal world versus ideal country. If you support minimizing the Gini index by massive and swift redistribution of wealth from those that have it to those that don't, you either decide to keep that plan mostly within your country or you start levying heavy taxes and cutting into services to pay for foreign aid to starving foreigners.

The Global GDP/capita in purchasing power parity terms is about US$11000...from which you'd have to pay for all your overhead- infrastructure, police, healthcare, scientific research, etc before the remainder was available for personal discretionary spending. A world where all the wealth has been spread evenly wouldn't put everyone in grinding poverty (the way a couple billion people are now), but it's a step down for your average first worlder- around what Costa Rica is, maybe. And Costa Rica's nice, pleasant, friendly...with really scary bridges.

380:

It's pretty obvious that you can't minimize Gini index to zero, because then people won't have any material motivation to do anything. To create the ideal communist world, the Noon Universe of Brothers Strugatsky, where the principal of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is universally applied, you need to change human nature. Brothers Strugatsky understood that very well and invented the "High Theory of Upbringing" which, basically, turned 99.999% of the population of Noon Universe into altruists. Which makes for a nice utopia...

381:

Well...yeah, there would be a material reason to do stuff- it's just that you'd have to trust everyone else to do stuff, too, because the economic gain you make gets divided by about seven billion people. You don't necessarily need altruists, just workaholics.

I think Stross has postulated (perhaps indirectly) that you can generate enough economic activity to run a country (or world?) by letting people do things that they find intrinsically satisfying, rather than have them suffer the work-or-starve dynamic.
I'm personally thinking that'd generate some odd economic fluctuations since you could literally drop what you're doing to do something else on a whim. I'd think you'd have lots of bubbles of overproduction as fads came and went. You'd need some huge-scale coordination scheme that beats out money both in terms of information _and_ motivation.

382:

Anatoly: It's pretty obvious that you can't minimize Gini index to zero, because then people won't have any material motivation to do anything.

Two points:

1. That doesn't seem to have deterred crusaders and jihadists across history. (You might want to look up the terms "charity", "volunteer" and "hobby" while you're at it.)

2. The three goals are goals, and conceded as being partially incompatible from the outset; the idea is to optimize the three parameters to the greatest extent practical. Or, to put it another way, a Gini coefficient of 0.25 was achieved in the UK within my living memory; it's now 0.4, but we have a Bill of Rights. Are these changes correlated? I think not.

3. Anatoly's troll-prop for my ideal setup sounds a lot like Iain M. Banks' science-fictional Culture. (To which I'd emigrate in a split second, if it existed.)

383:

1. That doesn't seem to have deterred crusaders and jihadists across history. (You might want to look up the terms "charity", "volunteer" and "hobby" while you're at it.)

Crusaders, jihadists - you might want to look up the terms "crazy" and "nutjobs". Nothing deters them.

And you can't run an economy on volunteers and charity unless you are sure 99.99% of the population WILL volunteer and give charity. Does it sound likely? How do we achieve such a state? Where do we even start?

3. Anatoly's troll-prop for my ideal setup sounds a lot like Iain M. Banks' science-fictional Culture

Culture sounds a lot like the Noon Universe. That is, both are utopias.

384:

Crusaders, jihadists - you might want to look up the terms "crazy" and "nutjobs". Nothing deters them.

Now you're just being silly. Go back to the 11th century and they were behaving quite rationally, given the prevailing false belief framework about how the world operated. We may not operate on the same set of beliefs, but within their framework they were operating consistently.

Hmm. I am interested to note that many libertarians and boosters of extreme capitalism as practiced in the US today seem unable to believe in either altruism or charity. I wonder why?

385:

"Hmm. I am interested to note that many libertarians and boosters of extreme capitalism as practiced in the US today seem unable to believe in either altruism or charity. I wonder why?"

At a hunch, because people assume that others will behave as they themselves do. So pick an extreme libertarian, and ask him what he'd _do_ if he had his every economic need fulfilled without the need to work, but had no chance to accumulate any more wealth than that. If his answer is "I'd do nothing- there wouldn't be any point.", you see why they think as they do.

If you thought that people only work or produce because of a fear of poverty or a desire for more wealth, you'll assume the economy _stops_ if people can't fulfil their greed and don't need to worry about penury.

386:

Now you're just being silly. Go back to the 11th century and they were behaving quite rationally, given the prevailing false belief framework about how the world operated. We may not operate on the same set of beliefs, but within their framework they were operating consistently.

1)11th century (as well as today) christian belief framework was based on a Bible and allowed multiple and contradictory interpretations. If it was not so, we wouldn't have schisms, heretics and holy wars of christians vs. christians. The same is true about Islam. You can use both Quran and the Bible to justify extreme militancy or extreme pacifism. And when you chose the former, you are a crazy nutjob.

2) How do you know your belief framework is not false?

387:

Hmm. I am interested to note that many libertarians and boosters of extreme capitalism as practiced in the US today seem unable to believe in either altruism or charity. I wonder why?

It's not hard to believe in altruism or charity - both clearly exist in the world. What hard to believe in is that humanity as it is can shrug off greed and egoism and turn as a whole to altruism and charity.

388:

Personally, since the thread is titled cynicism, I have to admit I believe change comes through technological innovations changing the underlying conditions, making some behaviours possible and others no longer profitable. Talking about putting the means of production in the hands of the people in the 19th century is all very well but all you're going to be doing is rearranging deckchairs on the titanic until desktop fabbing comes along 150 years later.

Things like Justin Hall-Tipping's highly efficient home solar panels will do more to change the face of the world than all the political movements and trade agreements.

Movements like the various occupy protests aren't agents of change, rather they are effects of the increasingly obvious irrelevance of extreme wealth. As we've discussed before, the ultra rich aren't materially that much better than the average, a 3000$ bottle of wine is not 100 times better than a 30$ one, Steve Jobs' billions did not buy him an order of magnitude better healthcare over the mean. Given this, it's increasingly hard to tolerate real inequality when it can be so easily compensated.

389:

I agree it's hard to imagine a world in which everyone shrugs off greed and egoism. Every culture has its dissenters, criminals and lunatics after all.

I wonder though if a culture, or a group of cultures, changed in such a way that they genuinely acted to promote altruism and group support, where the culture genuinely rewarded acts that enhanced the opportunity of your fellows more than activities that enhance your personal wealth just how good they would be to live in.

Maybe I should move to Costa Rica. A nice, happy place with scary bridges sounds like a better place to live than a police state, or a state where if you are unable to work for more than 4 weeks you are seriously at risk of being told you're a useless malingerer, or a state where people who cost the country billions of pounds of tax payers money are given multi-million pound bonuses because "it's essential we keep the good people."

390:

I came up with $US11K for a 1-seven-billionth share of the world's GDP too, and thought it a little low, but am I right in thinking that the 11K would go a helluva lot further if I wasn't paying through the nose for some rich dude's savings account, not to mention if the state (me and everyone else) owned the utilities....augh! Socialism! Speaking of which, we can bring about world peace by explaining to the Americans that having armed forces they all chip in for is pure Socialism, too. Hahaha! World peace in one paragraph...

391:

Steve Jobs' billions did not buy him an order of magnitude better healthcare over the mean. Given this, it's increasingly hard to tolerate real inequality when it can be so easily compensated.

Actually it did. It allowed him to figure out which state or states had the shortest waiting lists for liver transplants and register there. Then have a private jet on standby when the call came.

Us regular folks have to wait for organs nearby to where ever we're living.

392:

Yeah I was aware of that, I didn't count it as an order of magnitude over what a person in a place with universal healthcare would have, and arguably it was his billionare sense of mastery over the universe that reportedly led him to flub the early stages of treatment. The QED in this case is that he's dead.

393:

Hey, I wonder what motivates people who look after elderly relatives or next door neighbours, without getting paid for it? I wonder why people have spent decades fighting bad development, researching random stuff, running youth clubs etc, without getting paid for it? Why do all those weirdos write code for a free OS?

394:

Yes, I've known about it for years as well, especially since one of the places I tempted for a while after uni had an ex-logistics corps guy as the warehouse manager. But I don't recall anyone or any adverts being quite so insistent, nor did things used to be so bad that it was clearly the best way to go if you want to be debt free. Basically the bastard tories are implementing their ideals without anyone really stopping them.

395:

" My family quit watching it years ago. When presented with the opportunity to connect the cable again, both my kids responded with "meh". "

They're not interested in Gambling/Audience related Sports then?

Here in the UK, SKY - the Murdoch Empire of Weevil - appears to derive much of its Sat TV income from Ball Games and these mostly Football/Soccer. Recently released Movies do figure in the profit, but given the tendency for Movies to drift into downloading/ file sharing that just can't last and so BALL Games it is. ..and these mostly influenced indirectly as Really Rich ..Russian /Chinese Oligarch country .. buy up footy clubs in the UK and push out the local Used Car Dealer UK rich football club owners who are pitifully rich by comparison and really don't know or can't learn, who counts in the UK/USA political scene and thus don't know who to bribe and how to bribe them .... or who to Hire who knows how to do these things.

Some-one remind me of how little it costs to BUY U.K. or U.S. of A ian citizenship these days?

396:

I think the adverts seem insistent because there's a paucity of others - it's the only branch of government still recruiting and universities are shedding jobs and student places as cutbacks there hurt.

But I just about remember the last two big recessions and think that the "join up" adverts came out (or appeared) in more force in each one. They certainly appeared more attractive - job or dole - to many folks, including various friends that signed up.

One thing that does seem to be really different this time, though, is the perception of "is university worth it?" - with rising fees etc. is skewing the perception of the forces as possibly desirable even more. Previously higher education in the UK was broadly considered free (or at least generating only a small debt), and a good gamble against life on the dole. Now... coming out £27k in debt (or more) and a feeling that there won't be job in 3 years... lots of potential students are suddenly stopping to make serious choices about the services whereas it tended to be those that didn't get in before.

397:

Hmm. I am interested to note that many libertarians and boosters of extreme capitalism as practiced in the US today seem unable to believe in either altruism or charity. I wonder why?

Didn't that start with Atlas Shrugged? If I recall correctly, Ayn Rand was seriously against altruism in all forms, something about society functioning better when everyone pursued their self-interests. I don't know if this was a reaction to communism or what, since I'm obviously not an objectivist, but it's just as silly as total altruism.

The more interesting question is whether these people are ideological libertarians, or whether they've found a faith that matches their (perhaps psychopathic) personalities?

398:

over what a person in a place with universal healthcare would have

I cannot imagine a universal healthcare setup where we fly folks across country for organ transplants on a regular basis. That would suck up almost all the money in the system now. Transplant lists have some issues but mostly if you're in the area and next in line you get the organ. Flying people or organs from NYC to LA on private planes for a transplant isn't going to happen under any plan.

399:

Later her welfare worker said Ayn Rand died on state welfare. She did not like it, but it was better than nothing. She did not live in the real world and nether do her fans
---The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
John Kenneth Galbraith

400:

Forget Steve Jobs for a moment and tell me if anyone here really envies Michael Jackson's access to superior healthcare.

401:

Even if you have a personal doctor on retainer, you don't necessarily have access to the best health care.

In a weird way, this is the point about the rich not knowing how to spend their money. For example, the best doctor for you is someone who has successfully treated someone else with your particular illness, and has some idea of what he or she is doing.

You don't get this by hiring a private doctor, because he only has you to practice on, and you are a sample size of one When you develop a new illness, will that doctor know how to treat it? Excellent question.

Instead, you get this by paying for a system where the doctors get lots of chances to practice their particular skills, and spend relatively little time negotiating with bureaucrats about who's paying how much for that particular practice.

In other words, the rich might get better health care out of a single-payer system. Just saying.

402:

David L @ 398
Flying people or organs from NYC to LA on private planes for a transplant isn't going to happen under any plan.
TOTALLY WRONG

Here, organs are regularly moved from, say London to Glasgow or similar, for transplantation.
It's easier to move the organ, remember.
But then, we have something approaching a proper healthcare system (not as good as the French/Dutch/German, but still)
Whereas the USSA does not appear to have any such system - and you LIKE IT THAT WAY.

I think you're all mad.

403:

In fairness to David L there is a limit to moving the organs - a time limit on how long they remain viable on ice - that would make moving them from NYC to LA (a flight of about 6 hours on a commercial jet) rather impractical.

Although, in fairness to you, an integrated national health service does help along with a smaller country.

And both countries have registers of need and potential donors and match them up across quite long distances.

404:

David L @398 Whether or not flying people for transplants in private planes is affordable seems to miss the point being made. Even if we could do it, it would not provide an "order of magnitude improvement in health care".

Again, taken the Steve Jobs example: diagnosed in 2003, transplant in 2009, died in 2011. I think it's a big stretch to say the transplant provided an order of magnitude improvement over the outcome without it.

405:

Let's give you a sense of perspective:

London-Glasgow distance: 550 km.
New York-Los Angeles distance: 3900 km.
London-Baghdad distance 4100 km.

Now, list every objection you'd have to joining the NHS and what Iraqi healthcare system there is into one unified system, sharing a tax base and providing an equal level of care to citizens of both countries.

406:

Pretty sure if we can afford to send supersonic jets to drop bombs on them it'll be a fairly simple matter to modify the ordnance racks to drop chilled organs instead.

407:

Again, taken the Steve Jobs example: diagnosed in 2003, transplant in 2009, died in 2011. I think it's a big stretch to say the transplant provided an order of magnitude improvement over the outcome without it.

Without the transplant he would likely not have seen the end of 2009. Basically the transplant changed his life expectancy from less than 6 months, maybe less than 3, in terrible condition to over 2 years. Order of magnitude, no. Major difference yes.

And as to the London Glasgow example as other have indicated that's not relevant to my point. In the US organs move around all the time. But within PRACTICAL distances. Time is a critical factor here. Especially with things like livers. Flying most anything at supersonic speeds is almost always a fail just due to costs and very limited range. The military only uses it with very few exceptions to escape weapons fire. The SR71 being the biggest exception and it is retired. And the SR71 was not in any way shape or form a "we need to fly this now" type of air craft. It required hours of prep and I suspect several hours of stand down time with both situations requiring specialized facilities you just don't find at commercial airports. And was basically a flying gas tank carrying engines, crew, and cameras plus room for a thermos and some sandwiches.

My broader point is health care costs money. Real money. No matter what country. The biggest single issue as I see it in the US in no one is willing to talk about this. Neither R's nor D's will discuss the really hard decisions that need to be made as to just how much money we want to allocate to healthcare. Things like how much to spend on expensive treatments which many not do much to extend life. Doesn't the UK system have a number for this that's about $50K US money?

Anyway, over here the D's want to talk about giving everyone "free" healthcare but refusing to talk about limits. The R's (mostly by numbers not based on who's yelling the loudest) think most everyone should have access but have to pay some non trivial amount to keep the system from being abused but still refuse to talk about how much of the GDP to limit the total costs. Which means we never get to any meaningful discussion.

408:

I cannot imagine a universal healthcare setup where we fly folks across country for organ transplants on a regular basis.

You don't have to; here in the UK, the NHS has for many years been in the habit of shipping the donor organ to the hospital where the recipient was waiting for it, rather than vice versa. (By helicopter air ambulance, if necessary, then road ambulance if there's no helipad on the hospital roof.)

Priority couriering of a perishable transplant organ, even across a thousand kilometres, is cheaper than the operating facilities and aftercare. (Which are expensive.)

409:

For example, the best doctor for you is someone who has successfully treated someone else with your particular illness, and has some idea of what he or she is doing.

You don't get this by hiring a private doctor,

Correct.

If I had effectively unlimited disposable wealth, then what I'd look to do medically would be to hire, not a private doctor, but a private medical literature search team. I'd pay for an in-depth health check and full gene sequence, then after taking on board any short-term recommendations, I'd set the research team to looking for research bearing on any conditions I was directly affected by. Their task would not be to treat me directly, but to advise me on the leading experts in the field and if necessary get me a referral to them for treatment.

This would presumably take up a lot more of my time than the private quack with the opiate-and-multivitamin-filled syringe, but hopefully it's also going to work a lot better.

(You're right about the rich doing much better from a single-payer system than outsiders might naively expect. In the past year, two members of my family had -- treatable -- cancer. Both required surgery. One had private health insurance and went private-sector only; the other didn't and went NHS-only. The only appreciable difference in quality of care was that the private patient had a somewhat nicer room and better food during their hospital stay ... and a shitpile of paperwork to update before and after.)

410:

Actually, I tell a lie. The private patient got treated by the local NHS consultants, only in their private clinical practice. And their surgery was delayed by some weeks -- luckily not with serious consequences -- due to bureaucratic miscommunication between insurance co/consultant's office/general practitioner. In the end it took several months from initial diagnosis to surgery and radiotherapy. The NHS patient, in contrast, turned up at the hospital to find they were scheduled for an MRI within two hours of being told the biopsy result, and was initially scheduled for abdominal surgery and a hospital stay within three weeks of the initial diagnosis.

Just having joined-up healthcare with no patient-side paperwork and no questions about who's going to pay is a huge win when it comes to providing treatment in a timely manner -- which is what saves lives, when dealing with chronic conditions. (The cost of screening for and detecting a cancer in Stage IA and nuking it early is vastly less than the cost of waiting for an acute presentation with symptoms in Stage III followed by months or years of fighting a rear-guard action.)

411:

That list's not finished- you could then subsidize treatment of patients with those diseases you're likely to have, so the doctors get as much practice as possible. Hell, put out a few scholarships or motivators to get more budding physicians into those specialty areas.

And come to think of it, this may be one reason why the US splits as it does on healthcare- different income groups would prefer the focus of healthcare spending to be different. Even a fairly modest degree of wealth makes basic preventative care affordable...but that's what'd make the biggest difference to the poor, and a national system would likely shift resources there instead of to late-life care. If you can pay for your own basic health stuff, you want someone to chip in for the expensive things when you're old.

Now, consider that life expectancy in the US correlates somewhat with income...and that the US _does_ happily and without controversy provide healthcare for those over age 65. If you're even reasonably well off, you can live to ripe old age...where healthcare would be too expensive, but it's subsidized then. The current system isn't too terribly bad for you, then.
If you're poor, living in an area with bad air quality, bad food, etc, you aren't going to make it much past 65. You'd like more money spent on basic care, because that Medicare isn't worth squat to you.

On average (though bad luck and good will apply in particular cases), the healthcare debate in the US isn't between the 1% and the 99%, it's between those who can afford a gym membership or to live in a walkable area versus those who can't.

412:

C @ 405 etc
I was thinking of New York - Chicago - about the same as London - Inverness.....

The real give-away is that Infant mortality in the UK is LOWER than in the US, and the life-expectancy is HIGHER.

Now, tell me again, how the US' system is better?

413:

Talking about the NHS, have you seen Allyson POllok et al's critiscism of the gvt proposals?

http://whitehallwatch.org/2011/11/12/confusion-and-denationalisation-at-the-centre-of-the-health-and-social-care-bill/

I note comments like:
"In addition, Clauses 8 and 9 would in effect excise from section 3 ‘public health functions’, such as immunisation, screening and health promotion. These PCT services would not therefore have to be covered by CCGs. But the provisions of Clauses 8 and 9 are particularly opaque, the interface with Clause 10 is very unclear, new charging powers are also proposed (in Clause 47) for these presently free services and, according to Earl Howe, where they are commissioned by local authorities they would not be part of the NHS."

and:
"• Who will allocate problem patients, and patients with learning difficulties, severe disabilities, or complex mental health or physical health problems? What about asylum seekers, and the homeless and those of no fixed abode?"

414:

Yes well, it's fairly clear that the English[*] government is trying to destroy the NHS as an integrated healthcare system, moving it to be a default single-payer so that they can then funnel business to US-style private health insurance corporations.

[*] As opposed to the Scottish government, which is actually going in exactly the opposite direction. For which I am very grateful, even if I end up having to pay more tax to support it.

415:

I haven't seen those specific ones, but similar comments.

At the point that I understood it to mean that there was no necessity to provide immunisations I hit the roof and stopped reading - I was already opposed to the bulk of the changes, that one just makes my blood pressure soar.

With the exception of the flu vaccine (which never hits true mass production efficiency because it has to be changed each year) the general vaccines given in the UK cost a small number of pounds (last I saw, all told about £5) per person and protect against a range of diseases and long term save the NHS a lot in terms of treatment costs.

Given the title of this entry, is it too cynical to suggest that the only people who couldn't and wouldn't afford it for their kids are unlikely to vote Tory and so can be safely eliminated by stealth by such measures?

416:

Given the title of this entry, is it too cynical to suggest that the only people who couldn't and wouldn't afford it for their kids are unlikely to vote Tory and so can be safely eliminated by stealth by such measures?

Epidemics don't give a shit about property rights.

Vaccination and herd immunity are, in fact, a glaring market failure and a huge refutation of the ideology of the free market absolutists. (Just like private fire brigades in the pre-insurance era, but that's another can of worms.) I find it remarkably easy to believe that the doctrinaire "business friendly" conservatives are brushing vaccination under the rug because it's easier to avoid the source of cognitive dissonance than to deal with it without compromising the purity of the ideological framework.

417:

Ah sorry, guess I wasn't clear enough.

If you and Feorag have offspring in a place with no vaccination on the NHS support for vaccination but some shadow of the NHS, unless it's ludicrously expensive I bet you'd pay for it.

Herd immunity is wrecked, but your offspring still have the best protection they can get. If you're super rich, like you're the PM, Chancellor etc. at the moment, then there's an excellent chance your child lives because you pay millions for the treatment if necessary, so it probably doesn't have much chance to develop complications without treatment.

As the price goes down and down, the herd immunity improves as more and more people bite the bullet and pay. The poorest and least educated never do...

It's a very scary proposition really. Economic eugenics.

418:

Charlie is probably also thinking of the 19th century, when epidemics were ignored by most of the ruling classes and petit bourgeousie, until they started being infected as well, after which sewers and clean water supplies suddenly became government business.
But that was in a time when there was only one vaccination, now the rich can get vaccinated against a great many more diseases and thus in the future may be almost invulnerable to the infections the poorer section of society get. I recall one SF novel where a background piece of news was a very rich person changing his and his families DNA so they were invulnerable to all infections.

419:

Charlie @ 414
I disagree
Admittedly SOME ultra-right tories are heading in that direction, but do you REALLY think they'll get away with it?
I do not, in spite of their rhetoric - I certainly don't hope so.

The unfortune alternative is a guvmint headed by Mr Milibean - uggg ....
(Note: This should NOT be taken as support for the traior, Camoron)

What we actually want is someone similar to the position held by WSC in 1910 - FOR social support and welfare, but also pro-defence.
Nothing like it on the horizon, and I can see another serious war coming on, somewhere in the next 15 years...
given that we are now at "1931" - who and where the next "Adolf" is going to emerge, we cannot possibly say, but it scares me.

420:

Admittedly SOME ultra-right tories are heading in that direction, but do you REALLY think they'll get away with it?

Yes.

Haven't you noticed the gerrymandering that's going on in the background?

At the next general election (in 2014) the LibDems will be served up on a sacrificial plate and take the blame, then the Tories will get in with an absolute majority and everything they've begun in this term will be cemented thereafter as we discover that the LibDems were, in fact, a moderating influence.

421:

"---The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith
"funnel business to US-style private health insurance corporations."
The US shows just how much money can go to the right peoples banks. So it must be good. In fact it's evil not to. If your over here you find it is, no fooling, Economic eugenics. If you can't pay for it you don't deserve to live, your not right with god.
What we are talking about is Herbert Spencer's concept of Social Darwinism, used as an excuse for bad behavior. It's became ethical precept justifying laissez-faire economics, war and racism. If they were the fittest they would not be on the bottom, and who cares about them. They drag the rest of us. We are better off without them.

422:

One thing history teaches is that:
religion + violence = success

As for belief systems, the winner will be the most useful in any given context. Truth is incidental.

423:

At risk of soapboxing, the simple fact is that a lot of tories will genuiniely believe that a more American system will be better or more just. That work goes to the right firms with the right connections is just the British system in action (Where you do the corrupt deeds first, and get rewarded later). Many of them probably also believe that it is a necessary action, and a lot of voters simply wouldn't believe that such actions would be bad for them. Hence they have a window of opportunity in which to carry out their 'reforms' and cement them in place before the shit hits the fan.

I don't actually believe that most conservative voters want us to become more like the USA except in a milder sort of leave us alone way. But the politicians at the top and their buddies are 100% behind more wealth for themselves and the right sort of people.
Greg, look at Blairs reforms, look at how the current gvt is continuing to split up the education system. The destruction of the NHS as a national system open to all is a logical extension of their beliefs.

424:

But that was in a time when there was only one vaccination, now the rich can get vaccinated against a great many more diseases and thus in the future may be almost invulnerable to the infections the poorer section of society get.

In the US it's what I think of as the vanity rich who aren't getting vaccinated because playboy centerfolds seem to carry more weight with them than doctors. And since to get into most public schools in the US you have to have a panel of vaccinations on file unless you get an exemption, the poor are more likely to have all the vaccinations. Most (all?) local heath departments provide them for free to people who can't afford them.

425:

I cannot imagine a universal healthcare setup where we fly folks across country for organ transplants on a regular basis.

You don't have to; here in the UK, the NHS has for many years been in the habit of shipping the donor organ to the hospital where the recipient was waiting for it, rather than vice versa.

Again. In the US across the country means something very different than in the UK. Organs are flow and transported around all the time. Just rarely across the country. New York to Boston or DC is maybe 3 hours hospital to hospital. Maybe a bit more if the depending on flight schedules. NYC to LA is more like 8 hours door to door and schedules are more of an issue.

Over here organ donations are grouped into states or regions depending on the size of the state and population densities. It does lead to some inequities but likely allows works about as well as a system that would covered the entire EU.

And over here there is also the system of Angle Flights. This is in broad terms where corporations make seats available on private jets available to move medical needs around. People, organs, whatever. So companies even donate entire flights. A friend used these to get back and forth to the medical center providing experimental cancer treatments for him.

426:

ANGEL Flights.

427:

I'm an active Lib Dem, and tend to find myself on what people describe as the left/social liberal side of the party. A relatively new internal party organisation, the Social Liberal Forum, had a conference last summer where we discussed how we make sure the things we believe in actually happen, and how we can get the things we like happening. We had a few Labour speakers along to discuss areas where we theoretically cross over, and the most illuminating thing was how they didn't understand what drives Liberal Democrats. The liberty side of things wasn't much of a concern for them. They didn't get that a government with too much power was just as bad as a corporation with too much power. After all, a government with lots of power would of course be fine if it was run by the right people.

It was the SLF that led the opposition within the party against much of the health bill, identifying what actually made it bad, rather than just saying it was bad because they didn't like the tories. Labours opposition still mostly remains their standard 'oppose everything the government does' standby. An overwhelming vote made party policy clear in its opposition to the health bill as it stood, and despite reports, major changes have happened. There is still more to fight for, the biggest problem being that many of the bad things that will supposedly result from the bill, are actually already in law from the previous government. There is a reason Labours opposition to the bill has been lacklustre, which is because they started many of these 'market' reforms.

When it comes to the coalition, and cries of betrayal from people, what's missed is that the party actually had a vote on this issue. 98% voted in favour of the coalition. Including those who really don't like the tories as a party. I know some of the people who voted against, and one of them said he'd have voted for the coalition if he thought the vote was in danger of failing. Things haven't turned out as perfectly as we'd have liked (tuition fees, PR), but we've got a lot of what we wanted (higher income tax threshold, state pension rise made a lot better), and stopped a lot of things we don't like (abolishing the human rights bill, scrapping inheritance tax). The lists for all 3 can be a lot longer. Because of the commitment to proportional representation, the Lib Dems are never going to say we won't go into coalition because we don't like the other party, or because they have some policies we don't like. It's about compromise.

Anyway, the only thing I've got out of the coalition is having abuse hurled at me, usually rather disconnected from reality. When more accurate, debate usually isn't willing to be engaged by the other side.

428:

I suspect that the whole flights-for-transplants issue is a bit of a red herring. Although I know next to nothing about the specific case, given the typical wait for a transplant, Steve Jobs could probably have got there by bus. However, having a private jet allowed him to be in other places while he waited for a suitable donor.

429:
At the next general election (in 2014) the LibDems will be served up on a sacrificial plate and take the blame, then the Tories will get in with an absolute majority and everything they've begun in this term will be cemented thereafter as we discover that the LibDems were, in fact, a moderating influence.

This prediction is, for those of us who follow politics closely, depressingly likely. Just about the only two good things about this scenario are that (a) we at least had ~5 years of moderation at a time when the country was in a fragile state, and (b) the next election result after that is likely to have a stronger liberal presence, as people realise this.

There's two other plausible scenarios, from the current political landscape, albeit less likely than that one. Firstly, we could have a repeat of the 2010 result, where the public looks at the parties on offer and goes "meh", giving us another hung parliament. This will either result in a continuation of the current government, or a labour minority.

Secondly, there's an outside chance of a labour majority. Here's hoping that doesn't happen, because unless they have a massive change of heart, they'll spend money we don't have to build an authoritarian nanny-state, and crash the pension system in the process.

Much like before the last election, it doesn't look good.

430:
Yes well, it's fairly clear that the English[*] government is trying to destroy the NHS as an integrated healthcare system, moving it to be a default single-payer so that they can then funnel business to US-style private health insurance corporations.

The government is not; that's a myth made up by Labour. A number of people within the government would rather like to do that, which is used as the basis for those stories, but I am quite confident that they will not be permitted to do so.

There is no way that the Lib Dem federal conference will ever permit this to happen, and it has an effective veto. Furthermore, the health bill explicitly prohibits it, as a direct result of this year's spring conference drawing a line on this issue.

(It is instructive to actually read the bill and then figure out how many of the claims are true, how many are interpretations of the form "because the bill does not explicitly outlaw something, the government is intending to do that", and how many are pure fantasy)

431:

In fact, since all I'm seeing here are the "Tories want to hand over healthcare to a US-style insurance based abomination" and "state run NHS" positions, I'm going to dig out my soapbox and stake out one of the Liberal positions on this question.

The NHS is inefficient. We can probably all agree on that. Its bureaucracy is painfully weak, it keeps spending money on expensive IT systems that never work, and it is institutionally reluctant to focus on prevention rather than cure because the bureaucrats who are setting policy are too scared of failure to change things - there is no reward for success, only career doom for failure.

None of those factors are critical, yet they are annoying. It doesn't even matter how large you assess them to be; the simple fact is that things could be done better, and the NHS as an organisation is very bad at innovating and improving healthcare, preferring instead to do things the same way they did last year.

So, let us stipulate that there is some better way to do things, delivering either a higher quality of service, lower costs, or both. We can assert the existence of some "quality of health per pound" metric that covers both - again, we don't need to measure it, just to say that some better way exists.

So, in our hypothetical situation, the NHS is getting some lower value on this metric. If a private healthcare provider (NOTE: not insurance company) is able to achieve the higher value, where exactly is the downside in letting them do it, and splitting the difference with them? The government spends less money, patients get better service, and the private company makes a profit - everybody wins because things are being done more efficiently. Now we consider how this system fails: if the private company turns out to be more expensive, the government is not obliged to pay any extra; the company makes a loss. If service is worse, patients are not obliged to go there; they have a free choice of whether to go to the NHS or private provider, and they aren't going to go private if the NHS is better. Of course this supposes an intelligent market; if patients make poor choices then the system will break down. This is where a healthcare regulator is needed to inspect and inform.

Now, one step further: we have an NHS hospital which is costing more money to run, and a private hospital which is doing things differently and delivering better service for less money. What do we do now? The Tories would simply close the NHS hospital, but this is foolish. The Liberal position is that we tell the NHS hospital to stop mucking around and do things the way that the private hospital does them. Now the NHS hospital costs even less, because they aren't taking a profit out. We have achieved the desired outcome of improving the NHS, and the private healthcare company has made a reasonable profit from their innovation in the time it took for this to happen. If they wish to continue making a profit, they merely have to continue finding ways to make things better, and we will reward them for doing so, because it's making healthcare better for society, permanently.

This is hard to accomplish - I'm not shy about that. There's a lot of details to get right. But the basic concept is sound: people get reasonably rewarded for doing good things, and the corporate drive to maximise profits is controlled by the fact that at every point, they have to be better than the NHS or nobody will use them.

This is how Liberals look at the world. Companies don't have to be rapacious; that is a symptom of systemic problems, and can be corrected. State-run organisations have their place, but they can't exist in a vacuum. Introducing personal choice into the system makes it all work a lot better.

(Note that at no point would this involve private healthcare insurance companies doing anything more than they currently do in the UK, nor would it ever involve replacing even one single NHS service with a private one)

432:

this camp clearing..
ever seen the film 'they live'?

433:

Assufield - I might be able to say something more intelligent after a nights sleep, but right now your post seems more like a "We can do it better!" piece of wishful thinking rather than a decent piece of politics. Its one thing to say that introducing choice will make things better, another to actually make that possible, especially without introducing a greater bureacratic load (And the point about the NHS is that is used to run quite well without an internal market and such, keeping costs down compared to other medical systems).

The problem so far is that the attempts by new labour to introduce private operators (let alone those made by previous conservative governments) have often been more expensive with worse outcomes, e.g. the farming out of hip and knee work in south wales or wherever it was.

Also it would be nice to have som evidence re. innovation, because with all the government forced re-organisations over the last decade or two, as a user of the NHS I've got little idea of whether or not they have worked, but I'm damn sure that many things are done better now with better equipment and techniques than they were 10 or 15 years ago.

A more personal example - my sister is a radiotherapist, who used to work in wales in a badly designed new hospital, but the techniques and systems used were bang up to date. She's moved to Scotland now and found that the systems in use in a certain hospital are behind those she was using before. Both hospitals being in the NHS, one behind the other. I really don't see how your ideas are going to help this sort of situation given the number of other variables in play.

434:

That may, indeed be the Liberal position, but it is not the position we are seeing put forward by the current government.

Lets just take one paragraph of your manifesto:

The NHS is inefficient. We can probably all agree on that. Its bureaucracy is painfully weak, it keeps spending money on expensive IT systems that never work, and it is institutionally reluctant to focus on prevention rather than cure because the bureaucrats who are setting policy are too scared of failure to change things - there is no reward for success, only career doom for failure.

The NHS is inefficient - true for some values of inefficient. It runs a service staffed by humans that keep demanding to sleep, have tea breaks, some members of whom call in sick each day and yet it has to provide a huge range of routine, urgent and emergency services and it manages to do so. After decades of successive governments attempting to "reduce inefficiency" until we have android doctors I wonder just how much inefficiency can be removed from the system. I'd suggest close to 0.

There are huge sums spent on IT systems. Under Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron in fact there have been and continue to be. Generally speaking they are introduced by a government eager to "reduce inefficiency" because "it's the modern business way" and they are instituted at ministerial level and imposed on the health service. Just like you're suggesting.

The "OMG they're so bad" line that you're spouting doesn't actually bear examination either. My GP, who I visit a couple of times per year, has a computer system that seems to work fairly well. I've recently had occasion to receive physiotherapy, treatment for hearing loss, screening to retinal degradation and glaucoma and more. They all use IT systems, and you know what - they all work.

This is impressive. The sheer volume of data is frightening, as is the speed at which the data that needs to be stored changes. There is actually quite a small amount of common data across departments and while the data required by each department changes at a pace that would scare industrialists, given the massive amount of on-going research, new tests, new treatments, new drugs etc. that are introduced. Most industries struggle to cope with complete overhauls in one or two processes per decade (there are exceptions but they are exceptional) between everything going on, most departments in each hospital undergo complete overhauls every 3 years or faster. And that's a LOT of departments remember. The IT systems struggle to keep up? You bet, but they do actually work in practise within most departments. And fortunately we add an inefficient redundancy layer of paper records that are still kept. Oh, but you won't let us do that in future I'm sure. Too inefficient for you.

And it is just untrue that they are willing to spend money on prevention. Purely medical prevention - screening and vaccination - is well established and largely has well understood guidelines, strengths and weaknesses. New medical preventative measures are introduced as they become cost and benefit efficient, and can be removed even more swiftly when the finances are squeezed. 14 months ago I was screened for retinal degradation as 'essential prevention on an annual basis given my general health.' Two months ago I wasn't because 'it's too expensive to screen that way without more indicators.' That's under your new improved government. Thanks.

Other preventative systems exist - "take your five a day" (or one if you're North of the border) has a good catchy slogan. But what counts as five a day and why? At one point if I bought a small strawberry smoothy and a small banana smoothy and drank them, that was 2 of my 5. But drinking twice the volume of a strawberry and banana smoothy was only 1. That's Department of Health - note, NOT the NHS. There was a suggestion we should change the slogan to "5 different colours of fruit and veg a day" - so with a bit of shopping I can have a green, yellow, red, russet and I don't remember what the fifth colour we came up with was, but 5 different apples a day met the criteria. A green apple precluded a lot of leaf vegetables though. A tomato meant no red apples. And so on.

I'm sorry. Your assumptions stink of rhetoric without considering the facts. Well, they are a manifesto maybe I shouldn't be surprised. But it makes it hard to take your proposed alternatives seriously when you seem to be more interested in rhetoric than actual improvements.

435:

asuffield: So, let us stipulate that there is some better way to do things, ... we don't need to measure it, just to say that some better way exists.

Sorry, you need to do much, much more than that. Simply asserting that something exists then leaping to the conclusion that a fragmented, partly privatised system with an extra layer of bureacracy would be it is at best optimistic.

I think it would be helpful to first decide how you would recognise that better health system if you found it. Assert that such a measure exists, by all means, but then specify exactly how it works before you get all carried away claiming that option A is better than option B. What are you measuring, how are you measuring it, what evidence do you have that you're measuring the right things in the right way... it's exactly like a school science project. But with millions of lives at stake.

Are you comfortable doing that job to a lower standard than a primary school science fair would accept?

Medicine is actually one science where a huge amount of work on these exact issues has been done, and I find it offensive that people who have not bothered to do substantive research on the state of the art make sweeping pronouncements about how awful that state of the art is. The very important questions around the interaction of that specialty with wider society, the place of that specialty in society and how to make decisions about those things; those questions are a really important part of modern medicine in a way that I have not seen even in "Strategic Studies" professionals (the military) who occasionally skim over the area, let alone in the broader commerce field or in law or engineering.

436:

I think the problem is that (a) is misstated. I think you mean "optimize" individual liberty. Maximized individual liberty would imply murder would be ok. You mean (I think) that individual liberties should be maximized within other unstated constraints. Saying "optimized" rather than "maximized" would better imply the existence of these constraints, though you may then have to go through and discuss them, which would ruin the nice simple 3-point requirements you have put out.

437:

I suspect that the whole flights-for-transplants issue is a bit of a red herring. Although I know next to nothing about the specific case, given the typical wait for a transplant, Steve Jobs could probably have got there by bus.

No. With transplants when a organ becomes available the top compatible person on the list gets a call. "Can you be here in xx hours?" If not they move on to the next compatible person down. If they get no hits they then offer the organs to other regions but if time is an issue then this is sub optimal. I'm over simplifying here and this is based on how things worked a few years back.

As to Steve Jobs, he checked around and found out that the shortest wait times for his situation occurred in Tennessee. So he did whatever he needed to to get on the Tenn. list but still live in San Jose. But to answer "the call" he needed a private jet. And I can't help but wonder if the Memphis airport being a fully staffed 24/7 operation didn't contribute to the decision. Memphis is the FedEx hub and is landing and taking off lots of jets all night long.

438:

Probably says a great deal about his moral character, though, that he went about it that way.

With 6.7 billion dollars and a dire need for a liver...you'd think he'd have explored options that didn't involve waiting around for a donor, eh? Hell, you can build your hospital from the ground up for a fraction of that...
And no, that doesn't necessarily mean a snatch-and-grab organlegging...I'm sure there are plenty of people who would travel to a country where organ sales are legal and donate a lobe for a few hundred million. Risky, but lucrative.

439:

Guthrie @ 423 & Charlie earlier.
I agree there are some on the ultra-right who are really dangerous, but I do not think it is as bad as you fear.
Remember, both sides are spewing out misleading propaganda.
But, the public will not stand for a destruction of the NHS.
What is needed is administrative reform.
( Note: I see asuffield @ 430 has noted the internal inefficiences - mostly put there by Labour's so-called "market reforms"...)
The tories are right about that, just that their methods are almost certainly wrong. Doing nothing is not an option, however.
In the meantime, the NHS did me proud for a chronic condition.
Took 10 months, but I got my free varicose-veins operation, and as a result the fluid retention in my legs has gone down (it will probably not go away completely) I can now run again, and dance. And, whilst I was waiting, I was given temporary assistance/support to keep me going until the operation came along.

Rich @ 427
I'm an ex-Lem-O-Crat
I stood for local council.
I left when I found their education policies to be a complete sham.
Take your point about the control-freakery and authoritrian streak in the Labour party - they are much worse than the tories (at present)

440:

The NHS is inefficient. We can probably all agree on that. Its bureaucracy is painfully weak, it keeps spending money on expensive IT systems that never work, and it is institutionally reluctant to focus on prevention rather than cure because the bureaucrats who are setting policy are too scared of failure to change things

Disagree on pretty much all of the above.

To begin with, if you go back to the late 1980s, the NHS didn't have a bureaucracy of any significant size; it's a past-1997 accretion. Secondly, the big IT spending came in at the same time as the surge in management jobs. Finally, the lack of focus on prevention is a side-effect of managerialism (it's very hard to quantify the absence of a phenomenon, which prevention requires one to do if one wants a performance metric).

It's fairly easy to explain why this happened. The NHS had been massively, systematically starved of resources during the Thatcher/Major years. Labour got into office in 1997 with a remit to fix the NHS, and started throwing money at it. Unfortunately, you can't buy consultants and nurses off the shelf in large numbers; they take years or decades to train. So after some initial hole-patching, the fire-hose of money was spraying around directionlessly and activities had to be found to mop it up. Some of these were the PPPs that were used to replace the national fleet of 19th century poor-houses-turned-hospital with modern purpose-built institutions. The NHSpfIT was another boondoggle, intended to soak up money and serve as a supplementary Keynsian stimulus to the IT sector (unfortunately it mostly went into the pockets of big foreign consultancy corporations). And of course everything had to be measured to confirm the public was getting "value for money", which meant managers and performance metrics, which meant anything that wasn't amenable to management (like, oh, the actual delivery of positive healthcare outcomes via preventative medicine) took a back seat.

Final note: the NHS has a couple of huge advantages over any private healthcare vendor. Firstly, it's a monopsony: it can strong-arm suppliers into giving it supplies at the lowest possible price. Secondly, it's not intended to cream a profit off the top and hand it to the shareholders. Both of these issues lead to inflation in healthcare costs ... with results we've seen clearly in the USA.

441:

If service is worse, patients are not obliged to go there; they have a free choice of whether to go to the NHS or private provider, and they aren't going to go private if the NHS is better.

You've fallen for the illusion of "choice" in healthcare.

Free market proponents yammer on about "choice" the whole time, but in the real world, when you're having a heart attack you don't want to be weighing up the pros and cons of your local hospitals; you want the best treatment as fast as possible, period.

(More to the point, whenever I hear a conservative ideologue boosting the importance of "choice" I look at some mobile phone company tariffs. They're a great reminder of why more choice is not necessarily a good thing ...)

442:

My current favourite to shut up the right wing ideologues about the superiority of choice and the free market is to ask why they insist on paying for a defence industry.

After all, we know mercenaries exist now, historically they've been common. Why aren't we tendering defence spending out to the far superior private sector?

443:

Also, for libertarians, we have two GREAT examples of libertarian no-income-tax night watchman states; 1850's UK, and 2000's Somalia. You'd think from their oft-asserted idea of what makes for a good life they'd be emigrating in droves to the latter, but no. As for the former, that's why we got the welfare state in the 20th century.

444:

Of course the transplant issue is a red herring. Jobs was a CANCER patient. The proper comparison would be with a pancreatic cancer patient with a similar diagnosis to his.

The circulating narrative is that he flubbed the early stages of his treatment when it was easily treatable, I don't know if this is true, but if we take it as such for argument's sake, the issue of choice in medical treatment becomes clearer. Again with Michael Jackson, the narrative there is that his doctor gave him dangerous anesthetics because he demanded them. The power dynamic between a rich patient and a personal doctor who views him primarily as a meal ticket is not optimal for healthy outcomes (See also elective plastic surgery addictions).

I thankfully do not have a lot of experience with cancer in my immediate circle, with one exception, a young friend of a friend who was diagnosed with brain cancer. As I was told, he was rushed to surgery urgently as soon as it was discovered, and the treatment did give him several years of normal quality life.

The doctors in this case acted officiously, maybe Jobs would have had better outcome if he'd just been carted off for surgery as soon as the diagnosis was confirmed.

On a related note, this Spanish news item: A surgeon and his team offers to do free operations one day a week. The system hasn't taken them up on their offer but it has had an effect, reducing the cuts in available operating theatres that were planned.

What is the true cost of medical treatment when the personnell involved have as a goal the treatment itself, healing their patients, and not the profit?

445:

Forgot to add - this link promises long">http://singularityhub.com/2011/01/23/food-freezing-technology-preserves-human-teeth-organs-next/">long term organ storage via nondestructive freezing

446:

Charlie @ 441
Ah yes, "choice" of service-providers...
The majority electricity-supplier in London is now EDF.
They were fined some huge sum last week for illegal spying activities on "green" protestors.
They've just put their charges up, and they are making record profits.
Meanwhile they're OFFERING a "special discount" etc to the vile Olympic games.
Wasting OUR MONEY and troughing it at the fascist Kraft-durch-Freude so-called "games" that are heartily loathed by everyone I know.
How's that for openly corrupt and in-your-face-sneering corporate behaviour?

447:

More to the point, whenever I hear a conservative ideologue boosting the importance of "choice" I look at some mobile phone company tariffs. They're a great reminder of why more choice is not necessarily a good thing ...

Telco ratecards are horrible (of course they are - dozens to hundreds of operators in ~200 national markets each with dozens to thousands of rate centres), but the real example is energy. I'm just moving house, and being amazed by the complexity that the UK energy companies manage to layer onto a genuinely homeogenous product. All the gas, and all the electricity, is poured into the grid, after all...

Given that there is a world price for natural gas, and that they all pay the same access fees to National Grid plc, the only meaningful thing they can compete on is the little shaving of cost on top for running a billing database (they all outsourced reading the meters to the same company). Electricity is a bit different.

The rest of it can only represent price-discrimination, which shouldn't happen in a competitive market...I guess there's some value in doing things like offering a fixed price until $YEAR, but that's just arbitrage and by definition they must be taking the other end of the trade. And I suspect you pay for it on the unit price (although SSE seems to offer a lower unit price if you take the fixed price, which sounds like a losing trade from their point of view unless they expect a crash in gas prices).

448:

Another problem with the "lets have a market sort it out" sort of approach is that, absent making our system more complex like some continental ones or extremely carefully worded legislation, it'll end up back at monopsony or monopoly pretty quickly. After all, if bigger hospitals are more efficient, then there will be a push towards the minimal number of hospitals in an area. Meanwhile less efficient operators or those who make errors will be pushed out, leading to provision concentrated in the hands of only 2 or 3 large operators.
It is also common for large companies simply to buy up the competition, as Bodycote did, to make a very large company out of a medium sized and fifteen small ones. This makes great sense for shareholders but does rather reduce competition.
A final example is the Royal Mail - because of the capital cost of sorting machines, warehouses, vans, etc etc, it is in fact more efficient to have one single organisation doing it all. Especially if you have an obligation under the law to deliver to everywhere in the country. ALl that would happen if you forced 'competition' into the service would be the duplication of sorting offices, warehouses, vans etc at vast expense, followed by a race in which the loser became bankrupt and it would revert to a monopoly again. Unless of course you carefully broke up the system into artifical areas, got rid of the public service aspect of delivering to every house in the country and gave people no option but to pay for the resulting higher postage costs.

449:

"I'd have a whole lot more sympathy if the majority of the 'occupy' movement weren't either spoiled idiots or professional protesters."

Wow. You much have a lot of data to be able to make that sweeping statement.

450:

"And on inheritance tax, those with enough will always find a way to avoid paying it. Unless you really do tear up the tax laws and replace it with a single sentence. I'd like to see that, but there are so many vested interests who doubtless bankroll the politicians, as well as the scared civil servants who would lose jobs because of it, ...."


Two things which always, always go together: the line 'the rich will always find a way around [tax x]' and frantic efforts to avoid the implementation of this allegedly easily-avoidable tax x.

451:

"Play along with me and assume that I'm incredibly dumb for a moment (possibly not difficult to imagine): Can you spell out how OWS has the potential to be incredibly subversive, from it's current stance of no coherent demands?"

First, they've accomplished more in two months than a whole lot of other people have in the past several years.

Second, the whole goal at this stages is to raise awareness, point out the corruption and let people know that they are not alone.

If OWS had a list of demands, the establishment (and their lackeys in the MSM) would looooooooooove it. They could mock each and every one, they could 'analyze' each and every one, they could have committees 'work' on each and every one.............................. forever.

452:

"Returning to 1979 levels of wealth would cost you a lot more than a mere 10% on your marginal tax rate. The hard part is continuing to generate wealth while you are redistributing it -- a subtlety sadly missing from your list of principles, and from the Occupiers' empty rhetoric. It's easy to drive Gini to zero by impoverishing everyone."

1) Stross never said anything about returning to 1979 levels of wealth. You just inserted it into the argument.

2) You are implying that wealth production and a lower Gini coefficient are opposed (at anything like what Charlie proposed). By now it's clear that the post-1979 neoliberal regimes in the US and UK produced zero improvements in growth.

453:

"An assessment of our oversized neighbour that unfortunately has proven to be painfuly accurate. Why it is Americans still think they live in a democracy really does escape me sometimes."

For the same reasons that produce websites such as 'we are the 57%' (see http://actuallyyourethe47percent.tumblr.com/ for a humerous/tragic takedown).

454:

"And I'm frankly not convinced Romney would be a big step down from Obama. Guess it depends on whether President Romney would be more like Candidate Romney or Governor Romney."

President Romney + a GOP Congress (with the Blue Dog Dem Senators collaborating like Vichy) would be extremely bad. And this time, unlike in 2000, we'd be started from a miserable position. Going down from here would not be pleasant.

BTW - the last time we were sold a 'moderate' Republican it was George W. Bush.

455:

(re: the Tea Party) "In other words, I'm not sure they've got much in common, except for disgust with the current system. Think hippies and the John Birch society for a 1960s parallel."

Nah. The Tea Party was a false-front operation from the start. Note that their big rallies were after (and immediately after) they had lost power. Their alleged disgust with corruption was, ah, containable as long as Bush was in power.

456:

"By noon Sunday the city had the park evacuated and were looking at a big cleanup project, but the real cost to the city is a vast amount of overtime pay for police & other services."

Probably less than a championship sports riot. Or just clean-up after a non-riot championship game.

And the real cost to the city is the Great Financial Collapse. Think of the vacant/foreclosed housing problem alone, not to mention increased homelessness, people unable to afford medical care.......

And that's just the money cost - the cost in human misery of the past few years (and the Bush Decade, and the likely Long Depression awaiting us) dwarfs *anything* that OWS could do.

457:

"The problem is that people are using the Occupy crowds as cover for crime. (see the actions of District Mayor Vincent C. Gray)."

I agree. See MYPD, Portland PD, UC Davis PD, UC Berkeley PD, Oakland PD, and too many others to mention.

458:
To begin with, if you go back to the late 1980s, the NHS didn't have a bureaucracy of any significant size; it's a past-1997 accretion. Secondly, the big IT spending came in at the same time as the surge in management jobs. Finally, the lack of focus on prevention is a side-effect of managerialism (it's very hard to quantify the absence of a phenomenon, which prevention requires one to do if one wants a performance metric).

Okay... the only thing I don't get here is exactly how this is disagreeing at all. You have accurately identified the primary causes of the inefficiencies I highlighted (and your following discussion of how this came to be is similarly precise).

Free market proponents yammer on about "choice" the whole time, but in the real world, when you're having a heart attack you don't want to be weighing up the pros and cons of your local hospitals; you want the best treatment as fast as possible, period.

Agreed. Now, how are we going to determine what is the best?

I stipulate that we can discard out of hand the idea that it should be determined by an insurance company or a bureaucrat operating within the "change is bad, nobody got fired for doing things the same way" system. In fact, we can easily discard all solutions that are wholly based on the profit motive or on having a decision forced on you with no right of appeal; it's fairly clear that none of those are going to work.

The model that I sketched out earlier deals with the vast majority of the healthcare system - non-emergency care where people have a reasonable opportunity to make an informed choice. Doing something similar for emergency care is a tough problem.

(Aside: the model I sketched out involves a heavily regulated market, and can in no sense be described as a "free market". I'm a liberal moderate with a basically centrist economic position, and can hardly be described as a defender of the free market. The biggest problem with liberal models like that one is that they are politically untenable in the UK, because both the left and the right will simultaneously decry them as being "too much like the other guys", in their "damn-the-torpedoes race to the goal")

459:

RUTHLESS ROBBER BARON ON TAXES...My favorite ruthless robber baron is Andrew Carnegie, who wrote the essay "The Gospel of Wealth", in 1889. Americans may know him best as the founder of the Carnegie liberties. And the winner of one of the bloodiest strikes in our history. He had strong opinions on taxes. It looks like at the last of his life he saw how he and his friends had made America into something that would never have let him rise. He wanted taxes to undo some of what they did.
To save jobs and industry to pay taxes he wanted a strong tariff. To break up the inbreeding lords of money he saw as running and ruining America, he wanted as close to a 100% inheritance tax as possible. High inheritance taxes work till money to polls get ride of them.
He rose to power and wealth by his own work and knew better that to worship it. It was so hated there were there were phony "The Gospel of Wealth", on the net. And it's hard to find the real thing out side a collage. I can't see any newspapers reprinting it today, but it was then.

460:
I think it would be helpful to first decide how you would recognise that better health system if you found it. Assert that such a measure exists, by all means, but then specify exactly how it works before

No.

The details of any such metric are a distraction.

Hypothesise that your favourite metric, fully compliant with all your most strongly shouted beliefs shows there is a better way, and a private organisation can deliver it (at a lower cost) where the NHS refuses to do so because their chief bureaucrat does not agree with your beliefs. Do you support this organisation being permitted to do so, under carefully controlled conditions? Yes or no.

Medicine is actually one science where a huge amount of work on these exact issues has been done, and I find it offensive that people who have not bothered to do substantive research on the state of the art

Citation needed.

461:
That may, indeed be the Liberal position, but it is not the position we are seeing put forward by the current government.

Indeed. I was in no sense discussing the policies of the current government in that post. You will find some fragments of that sketch in LD manifestos from the past few elections; I was just putting the pieces together to show one way it could work. (There's others, I'm not claiming it's the best, but it's distinctly liberal where the Labour and Tory proposals are not, and I dislike seeing proposals for their authoritarian madness held up as the only options)

They all use IT systems, and you know what - they all work.

The criticisms of the NHS IT systems are so well documented elsewhere that I don't particularly want to get drawn into a discussion of them. But next time you get a chance to speak to a clinical professional who works in an NHS hospital, ask them about the IT systems. You will almost certainly hear tales of all the times they have spend half an hour writing up some patient notes, only to have the system crash and make them do it over. That's the kind of inefficiency that we need to stamp out.

462:

Ok, you asked for it.

Evidence that a private organisation can deliver it at a lower cost than the NHS while still maintaining a full range of services - which is part of my most loudly shouted beliefs - please.

463:

You will almost certainly hear tales of all the times they have spend half an hour writing up some patient notes, only to have the system crash and make them do it over.

Because, of course, that never happens in any other industry?

/sarcasm

464:
right now your post seems more like a "We can do it better!" piece of wishful thinking rather than a decent piece of politics

Well, yes. Good politics, in UK terms, consists of claiming that the existing/historical system is the best it could ever be, that nothing substantial needs to be done to improve on this, and that all we need to do is to leave things alone/put them back how they were. Delete as applicable for the start or end of a term in government; that's an accurate description of everything the past couple of decades of governments have said.

Trying to make things better is bad politics. There's no villain, nothing to hate or rant about, and you don't even get to feel confident that it will be successful. That's why UK politicians mostly don't do it, and the ones who do get voted down.

I am secure in the knowledge that nobody who agrees with me that we should find and encourage innovation in healthcare will ever be permitted anywhere near control over the NHS, so I will never have to find out whether I'm right. But somebody has to fight for it, if only to stop the people on the left-right from continuing to make things worse. Possibly the best thing I can say about the LD presence in the current government's health policy is that this time, those people on the right have been mostly blocked. It's a shame that we couldn't block the ones on the left from doing it last time.

(And that's quite enough posts from me in a row, I think)

465:

Citation needed

http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/24/1/151.full

http://mdm.sagepub.com/content/28/1/21.abstract looks interesting but I can't access it - anyone got a Sage login?

Those came up from googling "NICE care decision strategy", which seemed an obvious way to start.

466:

The problems, indeed virtual insanity associated with the boondoggle government IT program for the NHS is well documented. Of course it also has an effect on IT provision at the local level as well, but how do you separate out the centrally imposed IT madness from the local issues?

(And as Eloise says, private companies have IT problems as well. I've only ever worked in the private sector and some of the ancient software, crashes and strange restrictions have been rather frustrating.)

I am however happy that you agree your proposals are not free market. In fact they sound a bit more like what I have read the continental systems are like. HOwever they themselves have pros and cons and I suppose I am getting out of my depth here.

467:

... and Andrew Carnegie loved the USA so much that he returned to his native Scotland, and gave away most of his fortune there, primarily establishing free public libraries in towns that didn't already have them. I grew up in a town that had a Carnegie library, and actually made a virtue of the fact up until the 1980s.

468:

asuffield @ 464
iTrying to make things better is bad politics. There's no villain, nothing to hate or rant about, and you don't even get to feel confident that it will be successful. That's why UK politicians mostly don't do it, and the ones who do get voted down.

NOT EVEN WRONG

Think of the (then) tory increase of the franchise under Disraeli & Salisbury, and the public health acts and works of that general period.
The 1908-14 Liberal government
MOST (but not all of) the internal actions of Labour 1945-51
Thr collaboration between Labour and Tory to get the "Sale of Goods Act" through in the 1970's, ditto the H&S@W Act (Before it was hijacked by jobsworths)

paws4thot@467
Please don't do that!
There still is a Carnegie Library here, "In use" but ...
it has a LOT fewer books in it than it had in 1964.
LOTS of shiny computer-crap, and whizzy stuff to supposedly encourage "yoof".
And councillors who are functionally illiterate, and who buy into the olympic-fascism going on 4km down the road, and who are actively against culture.
We had to fight really hard to get our two really good local museums (Vestry House and Wm Morris Gallery) saved from the Loakes tour of destruction.

469:

#468 clause 3 - Note the following from #467 "had a Carnegie library, and actually made a virtue of the fact up until the 1980s". I agree with you, with cause!

470:

"Andrew Carnegie loved the USA so much that he returned to his native Scotland" Well he did not much like the America he helped make. And people remember the blood.
ALL Libraries in the States are not buying books to pay for shiny computer-crap. That just does not work as well as card boxes did. In a public meeting they told me that with computers I can find and order books better. Not if they never buy the books so they can pay for computer-crap. Young Mommies wanted more computers, Its a magic word. From what I could tell they wanted to dump their kids there and use the Library as a baby sitter.
Something I have seen, and then read about is the flooding of boards by R/W fan boys. I read they find boards that have facts that anger the true bevers, so the e-mail around and get others to help push out the evil truth. They know they are right and don't want others read about how they are wrong. I believe that is happening here. One of their facts is how heath care is to costly if the government has anything to do with it.
Here in the States the Congressional Budget Office, the best source of data on the cost of healthcare reform. When the first Obama care came out they found that new government costs associated with reform between 2010 and 2020 will add up to about $1.2 trillion. That's the figure cited by the R/W. But GBO also says those costs will be offset by more than $1.3 trillion in cost savings and new revenue, which will lower the national debt by about $170 billion over that time period--not raise it.
Funny, most do not know this. WHY? Obama wanted health care to be free. the GOP would not let it go to a vote till making people pay the insurance companies money was added. Then it was voted on, and the GOP started yelling about making people pay for the GOP's insurance payments deal. THE BIG LIE WORKS.

471:

"I'd just rather live in country A where the bottom has a lifestyle commensurate with income+benefits of, say, £30K per capita and the top has a lifestyle commensurate with income of £30M, than country B where the bottom get £1K and the top get £2K. Would you honestly prefer to live in the latter country? "

Perhaps this is being personal and insulting, but I've gotten sick and tired of people who explicitly or implicitly assert that the gini coefficient and per-capita income are correlated [except at the ludicrous extremes].

We've gone through a 30-year neoliberal experiment in the developed world which did *not* improve growth rates, and resulted in an economic catastrophe the likes of which we haven't seen for a full human lifetime.

472:

"Though I'd like to donate a prize for the one who is able to rationally explain why a selective genetic modification is worse than normal breeding, especially since with breeding for resistance we don't know the changes, the mechanism or the identity of the chemicals in question, though in general, phytoalexins are not that nice."

The answer is obvious to anybody who passed high school biology, but I'll help here.

Genetic engineering has the ability to perform gene insertions which are unlikely to be seen in nature except over large intervals. An analogy would be that (at least plant) biology is approaching modernity in the sense that chemistry did, decades ago - radically different things can be manufactured, in relatively little time.

From what I've heard, the real objections are (a) we don't know what they've done, and how they've tested it, (b) there is a major potential for these genes to move into the general environment, and (c) there's serious IP problems (e.g., GMO pollen pollinating your crops makes you liable for IP crimes).

"especially since with breeding for resistance we don't know the changes, the mechanism or the identity of the chemicals in question, though in general, phytoalexins are not that nice.""

First, they can be determined afterwards, and second they'll probably generally in a limited range of possible values. It's unlikely that one can breed a radically different plant in one generation.

473:

Hypothesise that your favourite metric... shows ... a private organisation can {do better but} the NHS refuses to do so... Do you support this? Yes or no.

Yes. Despite your generous belief that I know more about how best to run a health system than a highly trained, experienced person, I disagree. If the people who specialise in running such a system think that my favourite metric is insufficient I'm going to bet that they are correct. It would take a lot more effort than I'm willing to put in to convince me that they're wrong.

To me this is a classic individualism or free market failing. The idea that I as an individual have the time and ability to develop any arbitrary tool, validate it and apply it as needed, is false. Yes, in a world where various assumptions apply I could use my perfect abilities to develop a perfect metric and apply it to create a perfect market in healthcare. But in practice I've failed at the simple task of building a better bookshelf. Build a healthcare system for 60 million people? Laughable.

Can I help improve the system we have? Maybe. But I'm pretty busy, and other people seem to be quite keen to have a go. Maybe I should leave it to them. I'll settle for just giving their approach a quick look, then seeing what they suggest.

So, what criteria will I use? Hmm, I'd start with people who have qualifications and experience in the design of healthcare systems, and ideally a detailed knowlege of both the history and current state of a variety of healthcase systems. Then I'd look at their proposal and see whether it links to other research on the topic, and whether it's been peer reviewed. ideally it would link directly to similar modifications to similar systems that have been successful.

Your proposal is not looking good by my measure, I admit. But I'm open to being persuaded that I'm going about this the wrong way. Not, admittedly, by being called names, but vigorous intellectual debate would be good.

Look, there are situations where counting noses is an appropriate way to make decisions, and there are situations where listening to experts is the appropriate way. There are also other situations. In my opinion, as someone who has done a small amount of reading on the subject, managing large healthcare systems is a very difficult thing to do. Determining the goals and policies of such an organisation is a part of this large and complex task, and is itself complex. Very smart people have put a lot of effort into very small parts of it, and even the smartest, most well-informed and best-advised people have made a complete hash of running them. I find it hard to believe that I could do better, and based on what I've seen your write, you wouldn't either.

474:

Gini coefficients generally and corporate greed ...
Um.
Remember, first, that almost every Head-Teacher in the country is on "Higher Rate tax", AND is probably past the limit where allowances are cut off ( ~£ 115 000 IIRC).
To lots of people, £110 000 a year is loadsamoney, but head-teachers get more than that! (And the stress that goes with it)

It's pay over £0.5 million where things start getting rough, and that is where the ladder-pulling is occuring.
Meanwhile a lot of people ( ~ 1-2 million ? ) are supposedly really well-off rich snobs who should be taxed to death etc ... are actually in that £0.075-0.5 million bracket. Whereas its the REAL "fat cats" we should be going after. A huge number of people, especially the current Labour Party are failing to realise that this distinction even exists.

Contrariwise, some of you might be interested in THIS very interesting entry from a fairly right-wing yet "liberal" blogger, echoing many of the thoughts here, and other places, about what has gone horribly wrong.

A last thought ... it appears that in the USSA, congresscritters are EXEMPT from insider-trading rules.
Guess who did very well out of selling short, just before the last Presidential election, and just before it became clear that some form of Obamacare was going to pass?
Makes slimy crooks like Ernest Marples look positively saint-like.
( PS/NB I mean "saint" as generally thought of, not as they actually are - bigoted lying murderers, most of them )

475:

We've gone through a 30-year neoliberal experiment in the developed world which did *not* improve growth rates, and resulted in an economic catastrophe the likes of which we haven't seen for a full human lifetime.
The statement is more or less accurate, but the timescale is way off. The economic crash took almost exactly 10 years from Billy Bob Clinton's repeal of Glass-Steagle (sp) and Greedy Gordon Brown's repeal of the UK equivalent banking control regulations to the collapse of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, and was correctly predicted almost to the day (I'll give you 2 parts in 3652 as correct within error) when the repeal of Glass-Steagle passed Congress.

476:

The statement you quote is perhaps a little garbled, but you do know that the reigns came off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and they were swiftly destroyed back in the 1980's in the first bout of neoliberalism?
It was from the late 70's/ 1980 onwards that growth rates dropped severely, and all through the 30 years the trend by government has been liberalisation and marketisation.

477:

The statement I "quote" is entirely my own (a statement that a prediction was made is not a quote of the prediction). As are any actual factual errors in it. Since it doesn't consider events as "early" as the 1980s, I'd suggest that your data is unrelated.

478:

Occupy Baltimore's Sexual Offense Policy as agreed to through it's General Assembly:

http://occupybmore.org/node/360

479:

Just being pedantic here, but "An analogy would be that (at least plant) biology is approaching modernity in the sense that chemistry did, decades ago - radically different things can be manufactured, in relatively little time." isn't strictly true. Plant genetics is bloody difficult. They are more complicated at a cellulatr level than us animals are (though in some ways easier to modify for obvious structural & developmental reasons)

We are on the other hand getting rapidly better at making bacteria that do stuff we want. Part of the reason for that is just the size of the thig. A typical smallish bacterial genome codes for about one to two thousand proteins (many are multifunctional of course) plus a few hundred odd bits of RNA, and the bacterium itself is likely to support a hundred or so biochemical pathways and be able to synthesise a couple of thousand organic molecules. The control systems for that are at about the limit of what one well-educated and reasonably clever human could do - in terms of size it would be like understanding ever single piece of software on a typical PC, recognising every file, knowing what it was for, and having some idea of the implications of deleting or changing them, or at least knowing how to find out what would happen if you did. Of course we don't know what all the genes and proteins of even the simplest bacteria do yet but we are very near that stage now.

The systems biology of a plant or animal cell is orders of magnitude larger than that. Probably too large for any one person to get a good grasp of all of it, and too complex to be able to reliable make any but the most simple changes and predict how they will come out. The only way to be sure that the results of a change to the control mechanisms will be is to run the experiement.

When you say "It's unlikely that one can breed a radically different plant in one generation." I think in fact its still easier to make a radically different plant by breeding than by GM. All we really do with GM at the moment is insert or delete individual small systems which we have a pretty good idea of the function of. The gross changes to the plant are actually smaller than are achieved by artificial (or sometimes even natural) hybridisation.

480:

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan did it all really. He is a libertarian who said he wanted to stop government from telling smart guys what to do. The Federal Reserve Bank has nothing to do with the Federal Government. Its a private bank run by a committee from the country ten biggest banks. Its only job is to take care of banks, not the country they are in. Greenspan was at least as important in the real world as our Bill Clinton. He came up with the 2001 Banking Reform Act and all the smart guys loved it. All congress was lined up waiting for our Bill Clinton to make it law. In ten years the USA and some of the world were ruined. The smart guys sold America short, maybe helped it fail down and kept the money. They got new tax laws passed first.
In 1907 the states passed anti-gambling laws making it a felony to gamble on Wall St. There was a collapse and the States, not Washington wanted to keep it from happening again. It worked. The last part of Greenspan's law did away with letting the states rule Wall St. The banks started making bets the bosses did not even know about, never mind if they could work. Many smart guys bet the banks would fail. They did and some made over a billion dollars just on that. In front of Congress Greenspan said he believed the bankers would act like grow ups, they did what the regulators always said they would. . So why are there not mobs going where Greenspan is getting paid to speak? Lets start a I hate Alan Greenspan Club.

481:

From Wikipedia - "The twelve Federal Reserve Banks form a major part of the Federal Reserve System, the central banking system of the United States. The twelve federal reserve banks together divide the nation into twelve Federal Reserve Districts, the twelve banking districts created by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.[1] The twelve Federal Reserve Banks are jointly responsible for implementing the monetary policy set by the Federal Open Market Committee. Each federal reserve bank is also responsible for the regulation of the commercial banks within its own particular district."

The FOMC consists of 7 Presidential appointees, and 5 of the 12 Federal Reserve (District) Banks.

I'd agree with what you say about Greenspan, but he didn't actually have the power to introduce an Act to Congress, much less pass it.

482:

Perhaps this is being personal and insulting, but I've gotten sick and tired of people who explicitly or implicitly assert that the gini coefficient and per-capita income are correlated [except at the ludicrous extremes].

No offence taken, as that was exactly my point. Charlie's point (b) was that he would vote for a party that would work to "minimize the Gini coefficient". My point is that that says nothing about the overall levels of prosperity (i.e. it could be achieved by pursuing policies which make everyone fairly equally prosperous, or fairly equally destitute). If he'd said "maximize prosperity and distribute it as equally as possible", I'd have not stuck my head above the parapet.

In terms of country A/country B, I suspect that might look something like country C:

1000000,*60000
100000,*100000
10000,*200000
1000,*400000
100,*800000
10,*1600000
9,*3200000
8,*6400000
7,*12800000
6,*25600000
5,*51200000

Everyone's even more prosperous than in country A, but they're more equal, even in the presence of a small number of multi-millionaires.

483:

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed Glass-Steagall. Not Obama, I think he went with the smart guys worked for him, who got rich on Wall St. But Congress was so in love, I think it would have been passed over him. America has lost its guts. There should be mobs looking for the people who did this to the world. Instead they get keep getting richer.

484:

OK, I get rushing on my run sometimes.

485:

It's very late to come in here (I've been hella busy, Charlie), but no-one seems to have mentioned an idea I saw floated around in "The Spectator" a while back:

- An inheritence tax of 100%. When you die, the government takes the lot. It then uses that to pay for...

- A "birthright" grant given at age 18. Say, a cash grant of $150,000 in US terms (quick estimate based on total wealth estimates). You can use it to fund an education, start a business, buy a house, or blow it on drink and drugs - your choice. But everyone gets it equally.

Now, you might nitpick around the edges of that idea, but the basic concept is compatible with both social democratic principles AND American ideals - everyone gets a chance, and you succeed or not based on your own merits.

486:

@ 485
UNTIL the guvmint cheats - especially by not raising the bar with inflation.
Which is why "higher rate" tax should not cut in, here, until you are on (I think) about £90 000 pa, and you should not be paying tax AT ALL under £12 000 pa (at least) .....

487:

Inflation would have nothing to do with it - it is an inheritance tax, with all the money taken from the estates of the dead given to those reaching their majority (add provisos for smoothing etc). There's no need to legislate a set amount - it would rise as society gets wealthier, and the estates of the dead rise in value.

The point is to remove intergenerational transference of wealth from the luck of inheritance and give everyone a more equal opportunity (note, not outcome).

488:

Tony Quirke:
This would involve, in my case, the guvmint STEALING all my late father's books and maps, and household posessions, and my grandmother's Arts-&-Crafts table & chairs.
You're not associated with the bunch of lying theives called "the intergenerational foundation" are you?

What you are actually proposing is a variant on the failed theocratic communist system, I'm afraid.
And I really don't like it.

489:

While the 100% inheritance tax part has no influence from inflation, the "birthright grant" can. If the value is set at $150k, in ten years time it buys a lot less than it does now. The grant setting agency should, of course, increase the value of the grant over time, but has a terrible tendency not to.

There are strikes from many of the government workers next week in the UK, as I'm sure you know if you live here. They're based around the proposed changes to public sector pensions. One of the changes that causes most outrage is the changing of the index-linking. We have several ways to measure inflation in the UK, and public-sector pensions were always linked to the highest of these. The changes propose to shift them to the lowest. A difference from ~5%pa increase to ~3% this year. But, of course, with cumulative interest effects it makes a very big difference.

So, suppose they tie the amount of the birthrate grant to the lowest measure of inflation, but the income increases at a faster rate than that in most years... what happens with the excess? What if the next government decide, as is often the case, that this policy needs changing for... well often for purely political reasons. (Housebuilding programmes exist for example, the old (Labour) one was disbanded and the new (Coalition) one instituted. It's meant to be much better, but is at a first look very similar, just on newly headed notepaper, except there's more money put aside for it. I'm not sure why new notepaper makes it better, although more money to encourage more new houses should be good if more new houses is actually a good thing.)

490:

Anything can be taken too far.
My favorite red handed, ruthless robber baron is Andrew Carnegie. "Carnegie did not support estate taxes because he believed the state needed more money. (As a good very rich Republican of the 1800's, he was into Social Darwinist big time. An inheritance tax was necessary because it preserved the ability of men like him to rise to the top through their wits. The hereditary transmission of wealth from generation to generation would create dynastic power over business and politics. This was bad for capitalism, bad for democracy, bad for the children of the rich who were handed leadership positions they had not earned and worse for the poor and middle classes that had to struggle against unreasonable odds to achieve leadership positions." If you look around you see he was right.

In the New Orlieans flood the GOP looked for a rich man who was killed to show how bad inheritance taxes were. Only the poor parts of town flooded so they were dissaponted. Carnegie's demand that the wealthy give away their riches — or lose them to inheritance taxes — remains an extreme idea. The fact that the Republican-led Congress has severely cut what it calls the "death tax" is evidence of that. So is the commotion that greeted Buffett's largesse — the gift of about 85% of his fortune". Thats here in the Sin the New Orlines flood the GOP looked for a rich man who was killed to show how bad inheritance taxes were, only the poor parts of town flooded. So they were dissaponted.

491:

The "Battle for Algiers" was a dumb 60's movie. THAT SEEMS TO BE USED AS WAY TO ORGANIZE DEMOS.

492:

This would involve, in my case, the guvmint STEALING all my late father's books and maps, and household posessions, and my grandmother's Arts-&-Crafts table & chairs.

From who, precisely? I would assume your father is dead, and your grandmother is also dead. Are their corpses objecting? Is there a legal brief via ouija board, perhaps?

Stealing the assets from you? But you didn't earn them. The hypothetical is exchanging the dubious "right" to pass on vast amopunts of wealth to winners of the genetic lottery for a society where everyone has an equal opportunity.

I'll even allow a pass for assets of sentimental value - if they want to pass them onto you and you want them, then you get the first right to BUY them at a fair market value. You can use (or borrow) against your birthright. Don't want to spend that birthright money on them? Guess they don't have as much value to you as you claim...

What you are actually proposing is a variant on the failed theocratic communist system, I'm afraid.

Nope. Do you see the word "God" in there anywhere?

And I really don't like it.

Given that you don't seem to be able to grasp the basics of the idea, comparing it to "theocracy", I'm not worried by your criticism. Why don't you try to deal with what I am actually saying, and THEN criticise it?

Oh, and Eloise - that $150,000 wasn't a hard and fast number - it was just a back of teh envelope number. The idea is that the value of assets belonging to everyone who dies that year gets redistributed to those who reach their majority that year.

493:

The answer is obvious to anybody who passed high school biology, but I'll help here.

It might be obvious after high school biology, but after college (or postgrad) biology, it's not so much.

First of, there are some examples of horizontal gene transfer, to the point where for bacteria, it's more like the norm than the exception:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_gene_transfer

If we don't see it that often in metazoans, it might be that it's rare, it might be we haven't looked, or that the transfer was not adaptive and got selected against.

But then, second of, there is normal sex, and lots of it, so we have hybridisation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybridisation_in_shorebirds

And third, last but not least, there are things like retrotransposons which would lead to deletions like in genetic modifications, in fact, we often use similar technologies in the laboratory, e.g. homologous recombination.

An analogy would be that (at least plant) biology is approaching modernity in the sense that chemistry did, decades ago - radically different things can be manufactured, in relatively little time.

Err, first of, I'm somewhat tired of the positivist comparisons, rankings and historiography between different sciences according to 'complexity', where astronomy is most pure and simple and most progressed (guess Comte'd be in for some surprises with modern cosmology) and sociology is most complex and dynamic (but then, anybody into corporate research has to master his topic AND sociology, SCNR), with biology somewhere in the middle. Oh, and add Popper and his ideas that all sciences should be like physics. Anybody who ever ventured into history of science has to admit that Feyerabend's 'Anything goes' is not exactly a good program, but a good approximation of the state of affeirs.

Second of, the comparison is somewhat misleading (or illuminating, for that matter); for the radically new things possible, there were quite complex reactions in err, proto-chemisty since humans cooked and fermented their food, where we just see what happens, and when you look at historical chemistry, some of the more exotic reactions tend to crop up in the 19th century, since they did thing nobody would do today since it seems like a wast of time.

As for the danger inherrant to differant stages, for nastiness of products, there's a special place for arsine, with no known cure and problematic detection, and arsenic bronzes were some of the first metal alloys used:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenical_bronze

So, no, I don't see that much of a discontinuity on the history of chemistry, and especially higher capabilities don't translate to new dangers that well.


(a) we don't know what they've done, and how they've tested it,

OK, so this means we need to know what has happened, we need all results, we need independent results etc. Amen to that. But, then, in the cases in question, it was quite open.

(b) there is a major potential for these genes to move into the general environment,

Which could mean two things, either the organisms reproducing alone (last years foodstock is this years pest) or with closely related species, or the genes themselves migrate into other species.

The first one is a known problem, but then, it is so with all cultured species that can easily reproduce or have with close relatives they can reproduce with. Funny thing is, Genetic modification is one of the ways to block wild reproduction, but then, 'terminator genes' are another problem. Also note, as mentioned, genetic change happens all the time.

For the second, err, that means we can't insert slien sequences into organism because alien sequences get inserted into organisms all the time?

(c) there's serious IP problems (e.g., GMO pollen pollinating your crops makes you liable for IP crimes)

I see, but where exactly is the difference to the current situation with seed companies (source of most used seed in agriculture) and breeder's rights?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_breeders%27_rights


[unknown resistance mechanisms in conventional plants]

First, they can be determined afterwards

Err, first of, people with first-hand experience in phytopathogen research, identification and isolation of active compounds from natural sources, toxikologists and epidemiologists are invited to cordially laugh at the idea of easily

a) mapping the genes in question
b) isolating the corresponding peptides, metabolites or whatever in sufficiant quantities to
c) perform meaningful long-term toxicology, where
d) doing cohort studies etc. to find enhanced cancer rates etc. is another option, not likely more easy.

For the last one, just look at the neverending fun that are studies on THC (AFAIK a resistance factor, since THC-rich cannabis has less problems with insects than THC-free one) and psychosis.

Second of, even if it was easy, then you'd have to look at it; that's easy when something happen, e.g.

When a major grower introduced a new variety of highly insect-resistant celery into commerce, a flurry of complaints were made to the Centers of Disease Control from all over the country because people who handled the celery developed rashes and burns when they were subsequently exposed to sunlight.
Some detective work found that the pest-resistant celery contained 6200 ppb of carcinogenic (and mutagenic) psoralens instead of the 800 ppb present in normal celery. It is not known whether other natural pesticides in the celery were increased as well. The celery is still on the market."

(from Ames et al., "Nature's chemicals and synthetic chemicals: Comparative toxicology", see http://www.pnas.org/content/87/19/7782.full.pdf)

But when the action is more insidious, that might never happen.


and second they'll probably generally in a limited range of possible values.

Er, no. Even if there are some genes that effect tolerance to just one mold etc., most traits are polygenic, e.g. they involve multiple enzymes, where all of those have some side reactions. In contrast, most GMOs are likely toonly include one or two altered genes; genes with strong enzymes as products that involve multiple products, but still, only one enzyme to figure out, not a whole host of those.

It's unlikely that one can breed a radically different plant in one generation.

Ever heard about hybridisation, e.g. in wheat?

494:

>>The PP is a stopgap because the real thing has not yet arrived

I presume you mean the ninja party? :P

495:

I'll even allow a pass for assets of sentimental value - if they want to pass them onto you and you want them, then you get the first right to BUY them at a fair market value. You can use (or borrow) against your birthright. Don't want to spend that birthright money on them? Guess they don't have as much value to you as you claim...

Are you outlawing gift giving. Sure seems that way.

Who knows if anyone is still reading this thread.

496:

I spy spammers!

498:

It occurs to me that a truly total inheritance tax would involve deporting everyone, shortly after birth, to the back of beyond, where they have to earn their way up to First World levels of comfort by spending their childhood making shoes. Simply being born in affluent countries is itself a significant economic advantage.

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