Wednesday, September 17, 2014

China: Looking to the Future

Amid world tensions, are there good news stories?
== China’s Syndrome? ==
transformation-bustInvestment maven John Mauldin's Thoughts from the Frontline: Ttransformation or Bust looks at China's economy: “…there are no cases in modern history where an economy has managed to avoid an outright bust after experiencing rapid lending growth anywhere in the neighborhood of China’s ongoing credit boom.”
Mauldin continues: “The more I dig into the data, the more convinced I become that Xi Jinping and his colleagues in Beijing are facing an impossible challenge. After fueling one of the single greatest credit booms in modern history, the People’s Republic is left with a mountain of bad debt backing a number of overleveraged industries that are simply not viable without the state’s continued favor.” And: “While China does boast substantial buffers that can – at least in theory – allow it to paper over bad loans for another few years or resist the pressure of foreign capital outflows for a time, those buffers cannot protect China indefinitely. The longer the People’s Republic continues down the path of low-quality credit growth and widespread misallocation, the bigger the bubble will become. China may suffer one of the defining economic crises of our lifetimes.”
China-economyDoes this mean to be bearish on China? Of course not. In the 32 years since Deng Xiao Peng initiated the reforms that led to a spectacular development boom, more human beings have been lifted out of poverty than ever before. China's new infrastructure is spectacular, especially in comparison to the decaying and underfunded, penny-wise neglect of America's once-proud capital base. China's education levels are skyrocketing and - the most encouraging development of all - science fiction is starting to take some real hold over there.
Two factors that receive far too little notice... that it was willing U.S. policy to allow three decades of trade deficits to enrich China -- foreign aid through WalMart. See: How the U.S. saved the world by buying vast amounts of stuff. Probably the most generously helpful policy ever enacted by a great power, in the history of our species...
Intellectual-Property...that, plus turning a mostly blind eye to the hand-over-fist grab-theft of nearly all the crown jewels of American industrial Intellectual Property. (We need to recall that we were IP thieves, during our own early development; but still, this flagrant raid must stop. It kills the goose that lays the golden eggs that China relies upon.)
==Fighting Corruption==
So what are the prospects? Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party appears to be engaged in a major anti-corruption drive, using the “Central Commission for Discipline Inspection” to perform stings on bribed or shady party officials and then hand them over to state authorities. If this effort is sincere and vigorous, that is all very well and laudable…
fighting-corruption…and it has no bearing on the real way to eliminate corruption, which is liberating people to competitively apply transparency — reciprocal accountability — both laterally and from below.
Yes, yes, it is obvious why Xi and his cohorts — who are human, after all — will do what human rulers almost always do, and that is “solve” problems by top-down command. Indeed, sometimes it works. But then what? Something has always happened, after every Lorenzo di Medici, or Marcus Aurelius, or the first Tang or first Ming Emperors. After that initial burst of reform, top down systems always become spectacularly corrupt again.
east-westSome time ago, it looked as if the Chinese leadership was determined to leverage the ‘best possible’ combination of western and eastern methods, retaining hierarchical command control in the top tiers of governance, while allowing western methods of transparency and citizen-based accountability to root out inefficiencies and corruption down at the local and city and provincial level, where it does its worst harm to both average citizens and the economy.
I saw hints of this approach and squinted into the future, hoping I would hear Chinese leaders say something that is far from ideal (from a moral or righteous perspective) but that is at least smart and practical:
“We must retain single party control for at least another generation, in order to preserve stability during an era of rapid change. (Subtext: and also to preserve our grip on top-power in a traditional Chinese pyramid; we are, after all, human.)
citizenship-accountability“BUT, in order to maximize progress, efficiency and happiness, we will unleash citizen accountability upon all officials at the city and corporate level. People may record their interactions with officials. Moreover, the press is encouraged to publish exposés...
"… so long as the light STOPS at the district level. We will take it from there.
 “Only… district officials are warned. In ten years citizen accountability will rise to that level, so get ready! And ten years after that, this rule of openness will rise to the provincial level. So start preparing now, and stay clean enough to survive, when that happens.”
China-globalWould this create a dicey situation... the people may get that confrontational habit and try to pick up the pace! But the benefits -- eliminating 90% of all corruption and waste -- would be worth taking the risk.
That is what a Marcus Aurelius or Tang Emperor would have done, if they were truly wise. But wisdom, among human leaders, is as scarce as walking, talking dinosaurs.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Climate: Have we reached the tipping point?

With climate change still a political minefield across the nation despite the strong scientific consensus that it's happening, some community leaders — even in Red States — have hit upon a way of preparing for the potentially severe local consequences without triggering explosions of partisan warfare: Just change the subject. See: Red State Cities Find Euphemisms to Prepare for Global Warming.

==Denialism continues== 
OCEAN-ACIDIFICATIONWhen you encounter anti-science climate denialists, say two words -- "Ocean... acidification." It is clearly and unambiguously happening. It is clearly dangerous and harmful. And it cannot possibly have any other cause than increased absorbed CO2 from human activity.
Every Distraction-Gambit concocted by AEI and Heritage Foundation and Fox - at the behest of coal barons and middle eastern petro princes - falls apart. Not sunspots nor "faked hockey sticks" nor any of the other incantations will work, this time.
Watch! As your crazy uncle suddenly points to the left and yells: "squirrel!"
But you can come back with another word. "TWODA"... or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway.... All sorts of moderate, reasonable work on efficiency that would help address climate change and that would help us all anyway, even if climate change were a myth. Only one class of people would be hurt by us all becoming more efficient and saving money on energy, via TWODA.
Coal barons and middle eastern petro princes... who own today's GOP. Huh, funny about that. So ask your uncle... "Is there ANY degree of investment in Rand D and moderate science and other TWODA, that you will admit would NOT "destroy the economy" and you would be willing to negotiate, just in case 99% of the people who actually know a thing or two about weather and climate happen to be right?  AnyTWODA at all? Anything?"
Those of you out there who are fuming right now, consider.  If you do NOT want to be viewed as a member of a fanatical denialist cult, there is one thing you can say: 

ClimateSkeptics"I am willing to negotiate moderate precautionary measures and funding for initiatives that would increase energy efficiency and alternatives, just in case I am wrong and most scientists prove to be right.  I will negotiate hard and insist that the measures not be "economy wrecking" and that they have benefits to the consumer other than just reducing carbon emissions.  I will also insist, as part of the deal, that some basic questions and doubts about the "warmist" consensus be addressed, asap, and I will help back urgent increases in funding for a broadly competitive range of scientific research to settle this important matter."

"I will also establish a set of achievable and reasonable milestones for the "warmist" case and if those milestones are met, I will accept that the 99% of atmospheric and climate scientists who believe that more urgent action is needed are probably right. In that case, I will 'up' my support for efforts to save my children's planet and I will "down" my respect for those who talked me into calling 99% of atmospheric scientists fools.  What I will NOT abide is moving the goal posts... when my skeptical questions are satisfied, I will actually change my mind."

THAT is reasonably stated and exactly what a reasonable, rational "Skeptic" would say, in the face of the fact that 99% of scientists who actually know the Navier Stokes equations and cellular gas balance models disagree with the fox-sources that provide your science. It would also end the hypocrisy of the American right, shouting "we need more research!" ...while savagely cutting it every chance they get.

 If you can bring yourself to say -- and act upon -- those two paragraphs above, then maybe you are the rational "skeptic" you proclaim yourself to be!

Otherwise, look in a mirror.  Cultist.

== The fizzing sound of a tipping point ==
methane-plumesThis is what we had all feared -- those of us who aren't ostrich-people. The possible tipping point. Methane plumes are emanating from at least 570 seafloor cold seeps on the outer continental shelf and the continental slope, Mississippi State University reported. A potential disaster that I warned about in EARTH (1989).
"Warming of ocean temperatures on seasonal, decadal or much longer time scales can cause gas hydrate to release its methane, which may then be emitted at seep sites," said Carolyn Ruppel, study co-author and chief of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project.  "Such continental slope seeps have previously been recognized in the Arctic, but not at mid-latitudes.  So this is a first."
To be clear, methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2… and rising ocean temps will cause icy methane hydrates to fizz, all over the globe, causing a runaway effect.
Okay, I began this missive all-reasonable and trying logic and argument. That is why -- above -- I offered a simple exit strategy for those "skeptics" who truly want to earn that term.  If you can recite the paragraphs I offered, and intend to live by then, then please leave now and thanks.  The following does NOT apply to you!

 But truly? Do I any longer expect that approach to work?  During phase eight of the American Civil War? Of course not.  Which leaves me with this to say to you others -- the science-hating fools, drooling before “hypnotize-me!” Fox-Nuremberg rallies and neo-confederate rant-fests against all big-city-university “smartypants” types.
TWODA-2No evidence will change your opposition to negotiating even moderate, sensible, precautionary interim measures to increase energy efficiency or do basic RandD. You sabotage TWODA (Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway.) When the US Navy shouts concern about a warming arctic, you simply move the goal posts.
Worse. You help to denigrate and geld the smartest, most knowledgeable, competitive and wisest human beings whom our species has ever produced, and thereby you declare yourselves to be brave authority questioners and skeptics! 
Millions of science loving moderates (like me) have been willing to negotiate ways to (win-win) simultaneously boost economic activity while taking basic precautions against the (perhaps slim) possibility that smart people aren't stupid. But fanatics show no willingness to make a deal. Their New Civil War has reduced the world’s most scientific and future-oriented nation in history to dysfunction, unable to perform politics at even a basic level.
You refuse to look at actual outcomes, by which measure your “side” has proved insanely incompetent.  Everything to you is “right versus left” — a loony metaphor that allows you to ignore the fact that Adam Smith … today… would be a Democrat.

See also: A Brief History of Climate Change -- from the BBC.
== Ahem... ==
AguingCrazyUncleRant mode off.  Only dig this.  The earlier phases of the Civil War featured this same syndrome.  A re-ignited confederacy, riled up on hate toward urban-educated-industrial-blue Americans who create all the wealth and progress. Each time it failed.  Blues were (as Sam Houston predicted, during the 1860s phase) slow to anger and seemingly soft as mush... till each and every time we proved tougher than we had seemed, and ponderously unstoppable when pushed too far.
Right now, you are threatening the very lives of our grandchildren and our planet and the republic that we love.  And we will stop you from ruining any of them.

== Final Item ==

Before moving on, let's do a chilling side segue... that's very interesting. Eric H. Cline, in his recent book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, portrays a time when bronze age empires of the eastern Mediterranean were riding high… then went into a simultaneous tailspin due to drought and their own inability to adapt.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Twelve Questions about "the Future" from my Reddit AMA

I recently participated in an AMA - Ask Me Anything on the Reddit Futurology subgroup. Here's a selection of questions and answers from this session.
twelve-questionsWhat do you find that has changed in the past ten years that is leaning towards your own fictional work?
The trend toward transparency being crucial to our survival and freedom has been in my fiction and nonfiction for decades and it is coming true. Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. Of course there will be tussles over the details for years. I'll talk later about how we must also watch the watchers of the watchers.
What, if anything, have you changed your mind about in the last 12 months?
In politics -- I reluctantly concluded that reason will not prevail and the U.S. is doomed to a new phase of its 200 year Civil War, with dogma and hate replacing reason, almost across the board... alas. 

wrongIn science -- I learned that we can look beyond the "curtain" of light that raised 325,000 years after the Big Bang! In literature, I learned that a new novelist in China - Liu Cixin - has leaped ahead by a couple of generations and will stun western readers, in the fall.  These are just a few examples.

Hey, I am surprised a whole lot of the time!  Indeed, part of being a modern world citizen is being willing to say the one phrase that all scientists are trained to say:

"I might be wrong; let's check it out."
What do you believe (if anything) is necessary for our society and culture to change, in order to prevent a collapse/new dark age/extinction of our race? Or - if nothing - why?
UnlikelinessPositiveSumSocietyI've pushed for 30 years what I think is the secret of the Western Enlightenment Experiment -- The Positive Sum Game. Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed shows what will happen if Earth is run by the Zero Sum thinking that dominated in 99% of human societies.
We get positive sum outcomes from science, democracy, markets etc because they are competitive! But it is REGULATED competition that minimizes blood and cheating and maximizes folks leveraging against each others creativity.
The mistake of the left is to badmouth competition, when Adam Smith was the first liberal!
The mistake of the right is to imagine we can get these benefits without very meticulous regulation to prevent cheating, which ruined 99% of human societies and made them zero (or negative) sum. Alas, it is winners and the strong who inevitably try to cheat - a flaw in human nature that may also have crushed positive sum systems on other planets, helping to explain why no one (yet) found the knack of maintaining perpetual creativity and reaching the stars.

competitionLook at how regulated sports is! It would collapse otherwise.  The trick is to find the right and minimal kinds of regulation that keep the game flat-open-accountable-fair and competitive.  Those who would over-regulate are almost as bad as those who ignore 6000 years of human/feudal history and think that markets and politics can regulate themselves.
Right now oligarchs are trying to turn our society zero sum and feudal again. The attempt happens every generation. If we can prevent it and restore a pragmatic, can-do society, maximizing the flat-open-transparent arena of joyful-fair competition, then we may reach Star Trek.
Which self-preventing prophecy do you think would have the largest positive impact the on future if published today?
self-preventing-prophecyIn my essay, The Self-Preventing Prophecy: How a Dose of Nightmare Can Tame Tomorrow's Perils, I talk about how the highest form of Science Fiction is a predictive novel that scares millions into fighting against the portrayed future. e.g. Soylent Green or Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The greatest Self-Preventing Prophecy was Orwell's 1984, which I discuss here.
A related topic is why so many recent films and novels wallow in dystopias that are NOT "self-preventing" because their scenarios are lazy and stupid, as I discuss in The Idiot Plot.
Today? I'd warn about collapse of confidence in our creative-pragmatic can-do civilization. The worst problem we have is so many of our neighbors turning stylishly cynical.  Too many of YOU think you invented "brave cynicism" when it is a drug-addict cop-out. What truly takes courage and adult patience is the long slog of negotiating with your neighbors, who are NOT all sheep!  Many of them - even those who oppose you - may be 10% right about something.  Or 50%!  There are some who are much smarter than you.
can-do-civilization
Do you ever see that ethos manifest in a film or novel?  Of course not!  (Well, maybe in EARTH or the novels of Nancy Kress and Octavia Butler and Kim Stanley Robinson.)  The positive sum game is very hard to portray in dramatic ways.  But it can be done and that kind of story might save us.

Negotiate.
==On the Singularity==
What's your opinion on the possibility of humanity forming a collective consciousness through the internet?
I portray this happening in Earth and in Foundation's Triumph. The latter was in Isaac Asimov's universe so it portrayed a Gaia/Galaxia uber mind that essentially takes over. Nicer than the Borg because folks don't clank and whirr but instead float and go 'om' and commune...
I do think that to be a simplistic type of Overmind (see Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, too.) That is not how complexity actually layers, in complex systems lilt nature. In Earth I portray individual humans retaining all of their individuality, with the higher shared consciousness riding lightly above, benefiting from human individuality and eccentricity, absorbing and digesting their input the way you ponder the countless fleeting thoughts in your own head.  It is a more complex and subtle kind of "over mind."  It might be a positive-sum win-win.
dowereallywantimmortalityDo you believe biological immortality could happen in 10 - 25 years from now? Also what do you want to see in the future with new technologies coming out?
I deem it pretty unlikely. I am a bit of a grouch-curmugeon in the transhumanist-life-extension community. Humans are already the Methuselahs of mammals, getting three times as many heartbeats as mice and elephants. We have probably plucked the low-hanging longevity fruit and the next steps will be very hard.
What I do expect to see is methods of brain/skull preservation that are far cheaper and more convenient than cryonics. Plasticization etc. Not for actual revival, of course. And most intra-cellular info would be lost. But the location of a trillion synapses might be preserved and serve as boundary conditions for a fairly good emulation program that could upload a version of you, someday. Is that good enough? Depends.
See my larger essay: Do We Really Want Immortality?
Where do you differ with Ray Kurtzweil on the singularity?
KurzweilSingularityCoverRay and I get along, but I am a contrarian. When I find myself among those who do not believe in change - alas many of our fellow citizens - I speak about how rapidly human destiny is being challenged with new powers. 

Around Ray and his acolytes? I am cautionary.
For example, Kurzweil believes Moore's Law, all by itself, will make him immortal by creating Soulful machines who will gladly incorporate us and human values in the adventure of super-life. I portray this happening! In Earth and in Existence! But at Ray's conferences, I splash cold water.
For example, he calculates Moore's Law crossing the rate of transistor growth in machines with number of synapses in a human brain... about a trillion... and thus derives when (benevolent) AI will take off. But synapses may just be the tip of the iceberg, especially if there's intracellular computing! If so, Moore's Law will need five or six or maybe even ten more doublings!
Which do you think we'll reach first? Relatively cheap spaceflight, or full body 'virtual reality' simulations? The latter can, of course, include MMI equivalents instead of external bodysuits.
Sure VR will be the main thing for most of us. If we could make cheap "deputies" we could send them to Mars and bring back the heads and "live" the experience!  Say, I offer that in Kiln People!
 ==On Books...and Aliens==
temptationI just want to say that I really enjoyed your Uplift books. Do you have any plans for new books?
Indeed I am currently working to get Creideiki and Orley off that planet, at last! The Brightness Reef trilogy settles the fate/destiny of the ship Streaker, and a lot else. Till then, see the story "Temptation" downloadable from my website. Some will argue that Existence is uplift!
What do you make of Cliford D. Simak's dog and animal society in City? I allways found his ideas on animal and foreign intelligence interesting, if somewhat anchored to his time.
Yes, Simak influenced me. Also the fact that I have never had a novel that did not feature an ape or other primate! ;-)
Have you looked into the topic of UFOs and if so, do you have a stance on the UFO phenomenon?
Sorry but this "phenomenon" is taking care of itself. Brin's Corollary to Moore's Law (yes it's called that) is that CAMERAS get faster, cheaper, more numerous and mobile at a rate much faster than Moore's Law.
This means that the excuses for blurry UFO images get slimmer and slimmer. Have you done the math? All of the places where a UFO was dimly blurry in the distance 20 years ago... would have dozens of folks with cell cams right below it today! Please do the math. If images remain blurry, it is because they are teasing us and staying just out of range, even taking Brin's Corollary and the lens quality of iPhones into account!
thoseeyesIn that case, they are bastards. Snub em.
Please... you know I am interested in aliens! I spend my life on the topic, in SETI and in fiction. I'll even admit a very slim chance there might be UFO saucer aliens! But I find the creatures described in these stories to be illogical, immoral, unimaginative, ridiculous and ... compared to the thought experiments in good science fiction... unutterably boring!  They are way down on my list of priorities.

(See my short story "Those Eyes".)
==On Privacy==
What is your idea on a transparent society, and how does that affect personal privacy? Or should we start getting used to having no privacy?
privacy-doomedThe most common assumption of people who have not read my articles or The Transparent Society is that - as "Mr. Transparency" I oppose privacy or think it is doomed.
No way! A free people will want and demand some privacy! In Chapter 4 of The Transparent Society I discuss how essential some core privacy will be... though it will be closer and narrower.
But the irony is that we will only have that core if we live in a world that is mostly open! In which most people know most of what's going on, most of the time. Only then will voyeurs and spies and sneaks be deterred, because they'll get caught!
There is so much to this. See more articles about transparency, freedom and technology.
PrivacyAccountability

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fights over legroom in the skies... and deficits in free fall

 ==Airline Deterioration==
airline-eliteTensions -even outright fights- about legroom and cattle-car treatment on airlines have reached a point that any sensible person would have predicted. (I did.) Violent interactions, frustration, pain and rising, seething anger.
What to do? Picket the carriers?
Naw. Any (metaphorical) torch and pitchfork mobs should head instead for the charter and corporate jets, which are obscenely subsidized, instead of taxed as luxuries. 

See: Airline Deterioration and the New Elite.
Stop the new White Flight! Tax the hell out of luxury-air and chase the rich back onto First Class, where they belong! And with only twice our comforts and legroom… okay, limit it to (tops) 3x.
first-class-airThe crux to remember: all forms of transportation degrade and collapse, when they are abandoned by the rich. Let em be rich! But they should fly with us. Then watch air travel get better again.
(This is what the Tea Party would be railing about if it were honest populism, instead of howling after the Export Import Bank, at the command of the Koch Brothers. A made-up "issue" toward an institution that costs the taxpayers exactly zero. The root motive?  Parasite oligarchs hate the rich corporations that got that way by innovating new products and services that can be exported.  Why? Because the latter bunch of billionaires vote democratic.)
== More facts inconvenient to the narrative ==
federal-deficit-declineThe federal government is on track to record the lowest annual deficit in six years.
Time and again, every single report that comes out fits perfectly with my appraisal of the deficit back in 2012
…and the almost perfect correlation (and shocking reversal of cliches) about how the two U.S. political parties handle fiscal responsibility.
It would be one thing if the matter were even slightly ambiguous. Then you would have some basis for clinging to Hannity-rants and quasi-religious incantations. But in fact, if you conservatives actually-and-truly cared, even slightly, about fiscal responsibility, you would never again touch the Republican Party with a ten-light-year pole. The fact that you still cling to that loyalty shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you are in this as a religion. Not as a logical, pragmatic and modern citizen.
==Competition and Libertarianism==
Paul Krugman is often on-target, though I suspect he kind of dumbs down his columns... and at times he veers from moderation down some paths where I just can't follow. Let me cite one of his B+ pieces. In his article, The Libertarian Fantasy, he shows you examples of a fact that should be blatantly obvious to anyone with any sense… that the libertarian movement in America has been hijacked away from its last anchors in reality and intellect. Facts do not support the Randian agenda.
competitionYes, it’s a good piece, though Krugman is often more shallow than I'd hope from a Nobelist who reads sci fi. There are more fundamental ways to undermine the grip of Rand-cultism, by appealing to what libertarianism should be about... competition. The most creative force in the universe — when it is flat-open-fair and transparent, and when the players (as recommended by Adam Smith) are not rentier-oligarchs, but companies and entrepreneurs who are small-enough-to-fail… and who then are free to start over and over and over again with fresh ideas.
Paul Krugman is in a perfect position to accomplish what I cannot (though I’ve tried.) Getting liberals (not leftists) to rediscover the founder of their movement — Adam Smith — who knew that oligarchy has always been far worse an enemy of enterprise than civil servant regulators ever were.
LIBERALS-ADAM-SMITHYes, libertarians should criticize bureaucracy! That’s their role and it’s an important one — that they are currently failing! Because they have allowed themselves to become oligarchy’s tools, devoid of common sense.
See my earlier posting: “Liberals rediscover Adam Smith!
==Promises vs Outcomes== 

One in ten working Americans between the ages of 35 and 44 have their wages garnished -- due to overdue credit card or student debt, or accumulated medical expenses, reports NPR news.
In Bread and Circuses, P. Z. Myers takes apart those trying to minimize income inequality.
See also his earlier post in which he talks about "Rollin' Coal," a backlash against environmentalism, in which good ol' boys blast pedestrians, bicyclists, baby carriages with specially arranged clots of thick diesel smoke. Oh, and they especially do it to hybrid drivers...cause they have it coming.
Showing that same level of intelligence, the CEO of Sears promised that applying Ayn Rand’s methods and Lord of the Flies management style, he would quadruple business and profits. Instead, Sears has tanked. So has his vaunted hedge fund. Proving that the Objectivist methods are just like Las Vegas. Where you can always make a small fortune! Providing you start with a big one.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

On Government, Morality and Competition

== The age-old enemies of competition ==

As part of my eclectic and contrarian approach to life, I subscribe to a number of conservative and libertarian newsletters and sites... and some rather lefty ones, too. While I am skeptical of all prescriptive-simplistic dogmas, I do keep searching for that germ or core concept or variation that might be worthwhile. As a result, and despite my well-known views about the noxious New Confederacy, I nurse some concepts and notions that shock my left-leaning friends.  Indeed, what follows is sure not to please dogmatists of any stripe. Still, you might learn something.

government-moralOne of the more hard-hitting, Rothbardian-Libertarian sites is Casey Research, headed the brash but smart and sorry-but-I-can’t-help-liking-him master-provocatuer Doug Casey. One of Doug’s Fellows, Mr. Paul Rosenberg, just issued a manifesto assailing the core morality of “government”… a central catechism of the Rand-Rothbard-Cato wing that has taken over libertarianism, for more than a generation. You should read this missive; it will give you a better understanding of the incantations that transfix many of your neighbors. (Hey, you have your own glib and oversimplifying incantations – are you honest enough to admit it?)

I generally shrug off the polemics while sifting for pearls in manure. In this case, however, I felt I simply had to respond. Go have a look… then come back here.

== Hatred of all government - enabling an older enemy of freedom ==

Alas, amid his blanket denunciations of “government” as inimical to liberty, Mr. Rosenberg ignores the elephant in the room -- the failure mode that destroyed freedom and competitive markets and enterprise in 99% of human cultures, across the last 6000 years.  Feudal lordships in which owner-oligarchs crushed the hopes of the great masses of peasants below, while quashing any advances that might destabilize their family grip on power.  Steep pyramids of power, in which a few bullies with swords owned everything and used hired priesthoods to declare "it is GOOD that our sons will own your sons!"

Compare the horrific "morality" of any feudal oligarchy to the flawed but often progressively positive morality of a modern, western state.  This is not a comparison that Mr. Rosenberg's jeremiad can survive... so he evades the contrast, altogether.

Mr. Rosenberg knows darned well that owner-oligarchy is the great failure mode.  The one denounced by Adam Smith as the relentless market destroyer.  The calamity against which our American founders rebelled.  Yet, he is part of the campaign to yell "squirrel!" and point our attention elsewhere.

CompetitionTo be clear, competition is the greatest creative force in the cosmos.  Adam Smith focused on the positive outcomes when competition can be engendered in the best ways.  Competition made us! But in nature it is vicious and inefficient, working slowly, atop mountains of corpses.

It is seldom much better in human affairs. Look across the centuries; we see almost every renaissance of competitive creativity (e.g. in markets) is almost always quickly suborned and ruined by cheaters.  By conniving men with swords or deeds of ownership over everything.  The rentier caste that Adam Smith denounced.(Indeed, even Ayn Rand denounced Olde Money cheaters... though her New Lords would quickly become more or the same; that's why she never showed her Galtian characters having kids!)

Competition that is open, fair and productive has only survived more than one generation  - anywhere - when it was regulated to minimize cheating. Exactly as Smith recommended.

In fact, that success, getting the good, positive outcomes from creative competition, while excluding the nearly automatic cheating modes that always ruined it in the past, has truly only happened for more than two generations in a row once in all of the history of Homo sapiens... during this marvelous western renaissance we are living in.

COMPETITION-1
You'll notice that my portrayal of the situation fits into neither the simplistic model of the Left nor that of the Right!  

One side's lunacy is to ignore the fantastic fecundity of competition at generating such vast amounts of wealth that we can then afford to do progressive things. 

The contrasting insanity of the right is to ignore those 6000 years and pretend that competition's fecundity and productivity can happen amid the usual, festering swarm of opportunist-cheaters!

= Prevention of cheating requires...regulation! =

I can prove all of this with one spectacular example. 

sports-regulationThe exact parallel is professional sports, one of the tightest-regulated realms of human experience.  Yes, most of the regulations are decided by cabals of team owners. But I never said regulation has to be "governmental"! It simply has to prevent the failure modes (cheating that Adam Smith said always ruin markets.

  What is key is that most of the regulations in a sporting league are intended to level the playing field and eliminate cheating.  Because if cheating reigns, then the system fails to deliver the desired product... excited fans, eager to buy tickets.  (Do you deny that individual players and teams would cheat, if they could get away with it? Or that the sports franchises become valueless, when the customers notice rampant cheating?)

AdamSmithREgulationAdam Smith knew all of this and recommended state endeavors to balance out the inevitable rise of cheaters and to do what F. Hayek later demanded... to maximize the number of skilled competitors!


Smith wanted free public education, state financed infrastructure and health measures, the breaking up of monopolies and other reforms that would ease the way for bright sons of the peasantry to compete with the sons of owner-lords.  The very first acts of the American Founders, after the Revolution, included seizure of half the land in the former colonies from a few lordly families and redistribution, in order to create a (somewhat more) level playing field.

LIBERTARIANS-PROPERTYIndeed, many of the reform movements since then have revolved around spreading that circle of fairness.  Not just because it's nice, but because it is stupid to waste talent and let cheaters stifle competition by the maximum number. In other words, it takes some socialism to deliver the world that Hayek recommended!

None of which is part of today's libertarian doctrine!  All talk of level-flat-fair-open competition and Smithian libertarianism is quashed, replaced by the New Dogma -- idolatry of unlimited, lordly accumulations of private ownership... which (let me reiterate) was THE failure mode for 6000 years.

Property is now the libertarian god! Competition is shrugged off and never appraised for what it is, an explosively creative force that must be maintained, like an engine, lest the grit of cheating destroy it.

WealthNations== To be clear... ==

While I hold many liberal or progressive views, I also proudly and unabashedly proclaim others that are Smithian-Heinleinian Libertarian, in that I deem healthy suspicion of government over-reach to be fit and proper! But I can turn my head and see such dangers - abuse of power - looming from all directions. 

(Can you?)

Yes, "government" can be captured by crony oligarchs!  That is why the democrats (and never republicans) de-regulated away and erased captured agencies like the ICC and CAB and broke up AT&T and gave an unregulated Internet to the world. 

Worth-noting: all of those deregulatory measures were opposed by the GOP at the time. The only industry that the GOP has ever de-regulated (despite all the rhetoric) is finance and Wall Street.  And you know how that went.

Keeping a close eye on government, skeptical to all over-reach, is a fine role for a sane libertarianism, and it inspired my book: "The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?"

But assuming we do keep the bureaucrats leashed, then it is proper to recall that they... and the scientists too... are "elites" we can use to counterbalance the inevitable cheaters-from-oligarchy who betrayed freedom and competition in every other era.  Indeed, the war on science and all other castes of "smartypants" expertise is being funded precisely by those who want feudal oligarchy to come roaring back.

== But is capitalism a good thing? ==

market-competitionGuardedly, you bet! In that market competition is the engine of our cornucopia and the wealth that enabled us to then take on progressive causes!

  Indeed, healthy market capitalism should be viewed as a top victim of crony-oligarchy. Indeed, You liberals need to admit that the issue of "globalization" is not settled and your reflexes were dead wrong.  Aside from the two billion people rising rapidly in China and India...

...read about potential real progress in three more countries that together contain 1.5 billion people.  Nor are these the only such examples.

Have investments in infrastructure, education, science RandD and public health paid off? According to one of the top (still-sane) conservative economics research houses, that “social capital” of shared investment in the future is responsible for most of our current standard of living.

“The United States and the rest of the post-industrial, developed world owe their epic rise in living standards to the underlying “social capital” that properly incentivized innovation, entrepreneurship, and thus technological transformation over the last two centuries.” - says Worth Wray of Mauldin Economics, a noted conservative investment newsletter:

MIT Professor Robert Solow would agree with us on this front. Solow’s work on the US economy – which has become a textbook economics lesson – explains that innovation has accounted for more than 80% of the long-term growth in US per capita income, with capital investments accounting for only 20% of per capita income growth.” 

So much for supply side (voodoo) economics (SSVE), which proclaims that the only way to engender growth and development is huge tax cuts for the uber-wealthy… even at the cost of cutting back on infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health… exactly opposite to the prescription cited by Adam Smith.

Funny thing. Not one prediction ever made by SSVE has ever, ever, ever come true.

Liberals, this is your fault too.  Again... until I am blue in the face -- instead of bad-mouthing capitalism, you must embrace Adam Smith and declare true, healthy, flat-open-fair capitalism to be a top victim of the campaign of crony-cabal grabbing by the New Lords.  Investments in infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health are what feed and engender a thriving market economy.