View 751 Wednesday, November 28, 2012 though Friday, November 30, 2012
Another day more or less devoured by locusts. I continue to think about the situation, in hopes of getting things in order.
Continuing to examine basic facts for rational analysis. Among them: the United States still leads the world in manufacturing, and is either first or second in total exports among the nations of the Earth. We also rank very high in agricultural production. What we don’t do is employ as many people doing all this as others do. We can expand all this, but it end unemployment because productivity continues to rise. Why, then, do we not compete with cheap labor. But that depends on what we mean by compete, doesn’t it?
We also import vast quantities of crude oil; but we also export vast quantities of highly refined petroleum products.
Federalist No. 62 – “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow.”
Friday, November 30, 2012
Thursday I had dinner with Niven and we worked on Anvil, our latest attempt to save the world. Today I am still recovering from something between flu and a cold. I haven’t got much done today.
In part because things don’t make sense. It is difficult to understand what the President is doing. He had the Secretary of the Treasury approach the Speaker with a proposition that he well knew was impossible – $160 Trillion in new taxes. Rush Limbaugh is convinced that the President intends to let the new taxes and sequestrations happen. That will put the economy in even worse shape.
It is clear that whatever happens, it is time for intelligent people to take a number of precautions in case there is a new depression. A new Great Depression. That is difficult to prepare for, particularly since we have an enormous debt and a very great deal of paper money backed by not much. Inflation is possible – actually reoccurrence of stagflation, a shrinking economy, high unemployment, and inflation rates of 10% or more. That too is hard to prepare for.
Entertainment, including story tellers, generally do all right in such conditions: people want escape from their lives, and the prices of books adjust to rising costs of living. Some other occupations are safe enough. Many others are not. And the number of takers – people who have no choice but to rely on government for subsistence – rises. And of course those who have capital try to preserve it, not risk it on new enterprises that increase employment. This is all truism, but the truisms must be remembered. If the United States does in fact go over the fiscal cliff that looms larger every day, the results will be far reaching and last longer than you expect, even if it is corrected quickly thereafter. And of course Obamacare will happen whether we have a fiscal cliff or not.
It’s a lot to think about.
I have done enough research on polonium to be confidant that the Swiss laboratories have a good chance of finding evidence if Arafat was in fact poisoned. If he did, it is not automatic that he was killed by foreign assassins: there were plenty of domestic rivals and others within his own entourage who had motive to kill him. But I don’t know, and this is pure speculation not any attempt to follow breaking news. I’m depressed enough about the way the President is treating the financial cliff ahead without worrying about the consequences of complications arising from Arafat’s death.
View 751 Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I am in the middle of developing my piece on survival in the new era, but there have been a number of distractions. Apologies. The weekend was spent with LOSCON, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society Convention, and the wedding of two good friends; and due to family reasons Roberta will be heading north to see her sister.
All of which is no excuse for not getting on with it, but it does explain why I am slower than I wish to be. Apologies.
Survival in a time of makers and takers makes for a theme, but it’s also simplistic. One of the examples that define injustice is treating unequal things equally, and among the “takers” there are many inequalities. One such is single mothers: they are not “just another tax taker”. Of course there are many inequalities even among that group. The ability to discriminate – to see inequalities – is one of the major requirements of correct analysis, rational debate, intelligent behavior…
In the case of single moms, the motivations are and very much should be quite different from those of many of the other ‘takers’, starting with some of the most basic of human motivations that have kept the race alive through the ages. A mother with a hungry child will do damn near anything to correct that situation – some of the great literature of both Eastern and Western civilizations operates from that premise.
There are many other categories of ‘takers’ which any feasible political scheme must provide for. Even in the darkest days of Malthusian survival in Medieval times this was well understood.
Any rational analysis must also take account of inherent differences among people. Like it or not, half the population is below average in intelligence. Fortunately below average does not mean stupid; but now divide the ‘below average’ into groups, and –
If intelligence is distributed in a bell curve – that is, if the Normal Distribution is anything like an accurate picture of the reality of the distribution of intelligence – certain hard facts fall out. As a rough cut, think of the way the military sees things. A modern army consists of persons of IQ 85 to as high as it gets. It doesn’t really have much for those under 85 to do. Moreover, in general you’ll find that non-commissioned officers will fall among the IQ 105-120, and officers about 120 and above. There are always exceptions, but comparing those numbers to the Bell Curve can be instructive: what kind of education and training do you give to new recruits? Clearly you won’t give the same to all. Training the IQ 90 recruit for officer candidate school makes no sense. On the other hand, you have to find something to train him for: something you need done, and that he/she is capable of doing.
OK for the military. Begin to apply that to the population and education in general. The outlines of an essay begin to form…
It’s dinner time. I’ll try to get a mail bag up soon. I also need to discuss something Keith Henson brought up to me at LOSCON (and which in fact I had used in some of my early stories): build a solar power satellite with chemical rockets. Now use the power from that to power a laser launch system to put the rest of a Space Solar Power Satellite power generating system into orbit. The first SSPS is bloody expensive, because of the launch costs, but once the power is essentially free the next SSPS is cheaper, and the third can begin generating power you can sell at a profit. You can be a capitalist or a government. If you are a government you can be one that speaks English or some other language like Chinese. If you speak English it may or not be US or English English. They speak English in Bombay, too.
Anyway the concept needs exploring. The technical stuff already exists. More later. I really do have to get to dinner.
And the radio is telling me they have dug up Yasser Arafat. I don’t do breaking news, but I sure want to follow that story. They are looking for cause of death. Polonium?
Had dinner with Niven and we worked on our book on – well, it’s sort of on survival. We need viewpoint characters. And it’s late and I am tirted, recovering from this flu like cold or cold like flu. More another time. What’s important it to understand that America is very rich. We are also very diverse. That diversity gives some strengths, but includes many who need well designed training to become part of a thriving economy – and not only will not all of them profit from what Gates once said all deserve, a world class university prep education, but in fact trying to provide this to all means that very few will actually receive it, while forcing everyone to be exposed to a world class university prep education will mean that many spend their time in useless activities that do not contribute to learning what they can actually do. Skilled work goes looking in vain for those who can be trained to do it, while those graduating in some of the useless arts find they know how to do nothing that anyone wants to pay for.
These matters affect the story we are working on. We have twice struck the Earth with large objects in our fiction. Both books sold well, The story of survival in disaster is an interesting and useful story. Unfortunately since the last time we worked on these things, the education system has become worse, and seeks diversity rather than excellence. This never works. The best education brings each student up to something close to a real potential. That generally takes hard work for all at all levels. No wonder it is not often done.
But the incapable cannot be allowed to control the process, to soak up resources needed to train the hone the excellent.
It’s late. The problems are difficult. They are not insoluble. There are still more good people than bad in these United States,
View 751 Thursday, November 22, 2012
Wishing you well on Thanksgiving Day.
And despite the election we have much to be thankful for. God reigns and the government at Washington still lives. We endure.
Part of my day was taken up with a vain attempt to make a good brown gravy from gluten free baking flour. There are many varieties of gluten free flour. The one I tried would not brown after considerable time in a fryng pan with Imperial margarine; then started to turn black. I got all that out of it and decided to try again, this time without an attempt to brown it. It ended up a mass of grey when, when I put the pater in, made for lumps. I got rid of the lumps with a blender, but the result tasted a bit like caramel; apparently gluten-free general purpose baking flour contains some kind of sweetener. After about an hour of this I threw the whole mess away.
We saved an appropriate amount of the turkey drippings for Roberta and I used Wonder flour to make a regular roué brown gravy, which the rest of us could eat. If anyone knows a good gluten free turkey gravy recipe I’d be grateful to have it.
Alex and his wife Dana were over for Thanksgiving. The other kids are fine with their families. I seem to be recovering from a not too severe cold. Felt rotten yesterday but in the recovering feeling state today. Tomorrow I’ll go down to LOSCON, the LASFS proprietary convention down by the airport. I should be over being contagious by then.
And happy Thanksgiving Day.
Just an idea, my grandmother used to brown flour for roux in the oven before she added it to the fat/oil. Of course it was regular flour, might work for gluten free, worth a try anyhow, just throw a layer of flour in a pie pan or something and toss it in the oven for awhile (I’d guess 350 degrees) and check it every once in awhile. Or if you want you could try browning it on the stove top, again just put the flour in a pan over a moderate heat, you might need to stir it from time to time.
I don’t know if cornstarch has gluten in it, but that can also be used as a thickener. Tapioca flour as well, but again, no idea on gluten content for those.
Hope that helps.
Cornstarch thickens nicely but doesn’t brown and has no flavor. But if you make a gravy with lots of the juice from baking a turkey, and it comes out thin, then a teaspoon of cornstarch in a small amount of cold water added to the gravy will thicken it nicely. It will also make it a bit less salty if somehow you added too much salt anywhere along the line. It’s certainly gluten free. But alas it won’t brown.
re: It’s Time For A New (Old) Kind Of University
I read the blog you referenced with interest. I noticed in it that the author stated that costs at some universities had increased at a rate of 3X inflation for the past 20 years.
I was laid up for a week of post-op recovery in a hotel far from home earlier this year and I became (extremely) bored. At one point I went online and researched the student handbooks from Georgia Tech (my alma mater – IE ’78)) and I plotted out the costs of tuition and fees from 1976 to 2010. I made normal adjustments for the switchover from quarters (which I thought were highly sensible) to semesters that the institution made in the 90′s. I also plotted the annual costs versus inflation across that period.
My findings were that annualized tuition/fee costs across that period actually have increased at 6X inflation. At the same time, they actually (it seems to me) cover less core ground in their engineering curriculums than they did in my day.
This can’t go on.
And the number of administrators and staff has risen exponentially as well. As well as the number of new courses and departments, most of which do not seem to teach anything useful for getting a job or adding to the economy. And it continues unabated.
I was digging up material on the van Allen belts, and came across this discussion of, of all things, the theory that the moon landings were impossible because the astronauts could not get through the van Allen belts an live. Therefore they didn’t go and return. For some odd reason I went to this site http://www.wwheaton.com/waw/mad/mad19.html and found it a reasonable discussion of the subject. It will, as it notes, tell you more about the van Allen belts than you really wanted to know…
And finally while cruising through my Firefox open windows – a device I use as a reminder that I should post or comment or something or another – I found a number of them with interesting material that I will probably never get time to comment on, and they are piling up. So here, in no particular order, are some places where you might find something interesting, but which I probably won’t get to and most likely will clear out to make room for more.
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/10/30/geneva_tsunami/print.html tsunami in Geneva!
View 751 Tuesday, November 20, 2012
The reactionless drive appears again.
Propellentless Space Propulsion Research Continues
Aviation Week & Space Technology Nov05, 2012
<http://www.aviationweek.com/awin/awst.aspx> , p. 84
Chinese academics say they have perfected the EmDrive thruster
Chinese scientists appear to have validated a propellentless space propulsion technology previously branded as impossible. Based on earlier British research, it is averred that the EmDrive concept provides sustained thrust at low cost and weight, but this has yet to be accepted even as a workable theory by the wider propulsion community.
. . .
Shawyer’s EmDrive does not have any exhaust, according to its inventor.
Credit: Roger Shawyer
This appears to be a violation the law of conservation of momentum. However, Shawyer says net thrust occurs because the microwaves have a group velocity (the velocity of a collection of electromagnetic waves) greater in one direction than the other and relativistic effects to modify the Newtonian mechanics. Shawyer compares the EmDrive to a laser gyroscope, which also looks like a closed system but is actually open and works thanks to relativistic effects.
Shawyer’s analysis was challenged after the EmDrive was featured in a science magazine in 2006. John Costella, a researcher in relativistic electrodynamics, described the EmDrive as a fraud and argued that even with relativity there can be no net thrust.
Shawyer built demonstration EmDrives to back his claims, including a 7-lb.
version he said produced a thrust of 85 millinewtons (mN) with a 300-watt input. Skeptics, convinced of its impossibility, have not even tested the EmDrive.
A Chinese research professor, Yang Juan, professor of propulsion theory and engineering of aeronautics and astronautics at the Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xian, claims in a peer reviewed journal to have built a model that produces 720 mN from 2.5 kw of input power.
If that holds up, it is revolutionary. Professor Yang is at this time unable to answer questions about the device, and it is not available for inspection by Aviation Week or anyone else so far as Aviation Week can determine.
The Shawyer Drive was featured on the cover of New Scientist a few years ago. Its principles are available on line. The Wiki story is here.
A working reactionless drive – Yang’s paper is entitled "Net Thrust Measurement of Propellentless Microwave Thruster," and is in the June edition of the journal Acta Physica Sinica published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences – would be an astounding development. It would undoubtedly earn Shawyer a Nobel Prize as well as a great deal of money.
Nothing I have seen describes just how the thrust was measured, or what experimental precautions were taken to be sure that this is not some kind of reaction with the outside world. If it works we should all cheer. It is the key to the solar system, and possibly to the stars.
I have a considerable history of looking for reactionless drives. It began when I was at Boeing in the 1950’s, when Harry Stine saw the Dean Drive in action, and Editor John W. Campbell, Jr. featured it in Analog Science Fiction. The Dean Drive was said to be a system of mechanical counter-rotating systems out of phase with each other; the phase differential “converted rotary acceleration into linear acceleration.” The result was a device which, placed on an ordinary bathroom scale, apparently lost weight. The entire story of my experience with the Dean Drive (which happened in the fifties) is told in a previous View From Chaos Manor and need not be told again.
I have told my story of the Dean Drive for many years, including at least once in my BYTE column back in the glory days, and I have been approached by many with stories of a reactionless drive in the hopes that I will endorse it and help raise money for development of a working model. I have always replied that I have no ability to evaluate theories, but I would be glad to inspect a working model. I have several times been told that a working model is in development, and I should stand by. This got as far as a planned trip to Edinburgh to inspect a device, but as I was arranging some lectures to pay for the trip I was told there was a delay, then another, and then the entire conversation disappeared. Similar things have happened regarding groups in Mississippi, Bogota, and other places. I have even seen photographs of an object hanging off vertical when turned on, but I have never actually seen such a device.
It would be easy enough to use magnetic fields to build a gizmo that looks as if it has a reactionless thrust. All you need it a strong enough magnetic field on the device, and a large enough magnet somewhere behind it. (Obviously I exaggerate when I say ‘easy enough.’ Better perhaps would be ‘not impossible.’) Yang’s device uses a large magnetron. Since I don’t know how the 720 mN thrust was measured, nor anything about the chamber in which it is tested, and apparently neither do the Aviation Week reporters, we can only say, Wow! I hope she’s right!
I understand that Shawyer, having exhausted various grants and fundings, is raising money for continued experimentation. Boeing’s Phantom Works says it is not studying the Shawyer Drive.
I sure hope it works, but I’m not inclined to invest.
I have been a bit under the weather. I am working on the subject of survival in an era of Makers and Takers, with due regard to the dimensions of the question. Do note that on the subject of “Takers” there are a number of questions: as for example, who provides what is taken? It is one thing to hand out a negative income tax as a form of distributism. Milton Friedman was in favor of this method (note that he wasn’t a big advocate of redistribution of wealth, but if you’re going to do it, this would be the method that least influences the economy. It preserves freedom of choice.)
It is worth noting that any organization set up to relieve poverty will be a bureaucracy, and will be subject to the Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the FHA come to mind, among others.
Anyway, I am a bit delayed on the work.
Another example, as a clarification: suppose we concede an entitlement to education. That can be provided by a state bureaucracy, or in out case, 50 state bureaucracies overlaid with the federal Department of Education. You can have the government determine who is allowed to teach and set qualifications, and establish departments of education. You can give the state a monopoly on accreditation and credentials. Nearly all of his is paid for through taxes, and run by unions and bureaucracies.
Alternatively, you can give every person entitled to education a voucher, and say “Here’s your money. Go get your education. Good luck.” This is how some of the original GI Bill benefits worked. The Korean Veteran’s Bill was even more so.
Or of course you can combine those approaches.
The bureaucratic approach worked back when there was general agreement on what ought to be taught, and schools pretty well offered the national saga and encouraged patriotism. That system brome down in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and produced a number of bureaucratic schools perpetuating ideologies sometimes antithetical to the beliefs of those paying the bills. For some reason this is considered proper: to require ideological compliance in order to get a teaching credential, but to insist that the ideology one must comply comply with is one rejected by a majority of the population. Over time, of course, that ideology will become the majority view. Or perhaps not: there are those who argue that some ideologies so distort reality that they are doomed to fail, but they may last long enough to end the civilization that created them.
Enough: I wasn’t intending to write an essay on the subject, just to give an example of different ways to provide entitled people with what they are entitled to. The way preferred by bureaucracies is the creation of a bureaucracy. An alternative is simple distributism, giving out largesse to and adjusting inequalities, but not interfering with freedom – other than of course the confiscation of wealth that allows the redistribution in the first place.
View 751 Sunday, November 18, 2012
Let me recommend this
It’s Time For A New (Old) Kind Of University
This is my first experience with this web site.
Mail 750 Saturday, November 17, 2012
I noted in View that I am preparing an essay on surviving in an age of makers and takers. That has generated considerable mail, some of which is very relevant. It is worth noting that the subject is a great deal more complex than the title: clearly there are more than rwo categories of people. Makers and takers is neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive of the citizens and inhabitants of these United States. It is a convenient way to refer to the growing number of people dependent on government for basic needs that formerly were not supplied by government nor considered government responsibility.
Makers and Takers
I have been pondering the "Makers/Takers" divide in light of the Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier.
If you mean to write an essay on the matter, the subtle thing is to see where the poles are really located. The simplistic classification most folks on the right want to make that puts business owners in the "makers" and government workers (along with welfare recipients) among the "takers" does not correspond to reality.
Many government workers (e.g. soldiers, homicide detectives, those of us who teach large lecture sections in and conduct research in useful disciplines at state universities) provide useful services to society, and are arguably "makers", while businessmen whose business model is dependent on monopoly rents derived from state-granted monopolies called "copyrights" and "patents" (e.g. academic publishers, patent trolls, consulting firms and lobbyists specializing in expanding copyright and patent protection for incumbents in the market) held on books they did not write and inventions they did not make are arguably "takers".
The discussion of who is a "maker" and who is a "taker" in the realm of finance could get very nuanced.
I commend Luigi Zingales "A Capitalism for the People" to your attention if you have not already read it. In truth I think it would be better to dwell on his distinction between pro-market and pro-business than on the easily abused maker/taker distinction.
Indeed. There are several dimensions to this matter.
While there may be those who would condemn civil servants and those who work for the government in other ways, they certainly do not include me. I spent a good part of my life working for government institutions, as an undergraduate assistant at the Universities of Iowa and Washington; at Boeing, where a good part of my work was directly paid by the government and had nothing to do with the commercial activities of the company; at Aerospace Corporation which was known as a “government non-profit”, and the work was directly for the Air Force; at North American where I worked on projects funded by NASA; and so forth. And I very nearly took a position as a senior GS at a level that required a vote of the Civil Service Commission before they could offer me the position at that level; I could eaily have ended up as a retired civil servant. I certainly do not despise those who do government service per se.
On the other hand, I have always been in favor of the old Hatch Act which forbade federal civil servants from engaging in any political activities including donating to political parties or candidates or political action committees – in other words, restricting their free speech as a condition of government employment. I suspect that it is time to reopen that debate. FDR favored the Hatch Act and for good reasons, just as he opposed unionization of civil service.
On the other hand, I do not consider artists and authors to be in the taker category. The Constitution is pretty clear on the purpose of patents and copyrights. If the notion is that those rights are being abused, I would quickly agree: it wasn’t me who insisted on copyrights lasting forever. I was perfectly happy with the 28 years plus a 28 year renewable under which I wrote most of my early works, and I would be happy enough with Victor Hugo’s “life plus fifty years” in the international copyright conventions – if I were to alter that, it would be to cut that to life plus 40 years. And I am appalled at what has happened to patent laws in this era of a politicicized plaintiff bar.
As to universities, I am a product of public universities: in my time tuition was quite low. On the other hand, the federal government didn’t try to ‘help’ me by insisting that I be paid some fanciful minimum wage: a good part of my working my way through college came from board jobs, at which I waited on table for an hour in exchange for a meal from the restaurant’s menu. Board jobs no longer exist, but they were pretty standard in college towns at one time.
Universities like all bureaucracies are subject to the Iron Law, and will absorb as much money as comes their way; and if government pumps money out to stimulate demand, the price will rise to absorb all the money and then some. It may be a good investment to provide free or nearly free university level education to some percentage of the population, and then to provide that nearly free to anyone who chooses certain professions and can maintain competence in them; but it is clearly madness to subsidize endless graduates in sociology, ethnic studies, basket weaving – we can all make lists. And it is insane to raise the cost of studying engineering and medicine in order to finance the university departments that turn out graduates in useless studies.
The real debates are on freedom and subsidies: are we to have ‘entitlements’ or investments? It is one thing to justify taxation for investment when there is some relationship between what is spent and what that buys, and sheer entitlements in which the recipient has a right to something paid for by someone else.
It looks like people have finally become aware of Jane Jacobs proposal of the theory of the “survival syndromes” she first published in her book SYSTEMS OF SURVIVAL. Those would be an explanation of the “traders and Takers” systems that have been successful throughout human history that she postulates have evolved into “Marketplaces” and “Guardians” of all societies. In her book she “found” that there were 15 “rules” that needed to be followed for each system to “work.” However, more interesting to me is her discovery that to use the “Taker” rules in a market place, or to use “Trader” (maker?) rules in Guardianship results in total CRIMINAL ACTIVITY. If Taker rules are used in a Market, then you have nothing less than a Mafia style “protection racket” where fees (taxes, political donations) must be paid so you won’t be destroyed by those in charge. If Market rules are used in the “Taker” (Guardian?) arena, then you will have a “Guardian” who is “for sale to the highest bidder”, or total corruption. When you view the current American societal systems operant today, you must conclude that our current system is a mix of a government for sale that is also operating as a Mafia style protection racket where if you make a political donation to the “wrong party”, then the Guardians will put you out of business. Think of all the republican owned GM auto dealerships that were closed and what happened to the non union businesses in the auto bailout as an obvious example.
The information has always been there, but our over controlled media have stifled its’ dissemination. Hopefully, you can get this out to your readership as in the past you have mentioned Jane Jacobs THE COMING DARK AGE (her last book).
Jane Jacobs is always worth reading and contemplating. While there are items in her rules I would quarrel with, the concept seems correct. And the media are not to blame for the lack of discussion of such items in our institutions of learning.
Makers & Takers
Jerry, as I recall, the quote (from Heinlein, via Lazarus Long), was “makers, takers, and fakers.” You probably want to worry about all three categories.
As I said, neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive.
Survival in a world of makers and takers.
Dear Dr. Pournelle:
Long before the (temper-tantrum?) petitions to secede, the Balkanization of the USA was a concern. RAH wasn’t the first and maybe wasn’t the best, but his ‘Friday’ struck a chord that I have never been able to forget. While I see the fracturing of this nation in the future, I think the form it will take is to be influenced more by state-to-state immigration rather than corporations splitting the GDP pie.
Please continue to sign me,
Blowin’ in the Wind
I recall California and its Chief in Friday. Mr. Heinlein was prescient…
Everyone is a criminal…except government employees of course
Our incarceration rate <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/sunday-review/candidates-and-the-truth-about-america.htm> is higher than that in China, Russia, Cuba, or Iran. We have “5 percent of the world’s population. But…almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/americas/23iht-23prison.12253738.html?pagewanted=all> .” There is a drug arrest in this country every 19 seconds <http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2011/sep/20/drug_arrest_every_19_seconds_say> . Charles Lynch faced 100 years <http://abcnews.go.com/Business/Stossel/story?id=7816309&page=1> in prison for selling medical marijuana legally. There are around 75,000 arrests yearly <http://prostitution.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000120> for prostitution.
Your correspondent is wrong on a number of points. Unemployment had been extended to 99 weeks – which just ended. See http://www.edd.ca.gov/unemployment/Federal_Unemployment_Insurance_Extensions.htm for details.
Second, the employer pays for unemployment insurance, not the individual. And those rates are skyrocketing because of the extensions, which is part of the reason we’re not seeing salary increases outside of union contracts (the other part is healthcare costs). Those fixed costs are driving price inflation without wage inflation (which, contrary to your other correspondent, can still go hyper). The cost of goods increases.
Third, there is a substantial portion of the folks on unemployment insurance who are choosing it as a lifestyle – especially when combined with SNAP, TANF, and all the other programs, it’s livable. I have a family member who runs a temp agency. The revolving door is that they’ll hire someone, who will work just long enough to reset the unemployment term, and then never accept another assignment and start collecting again.
Now I’m not suggesting that everyone, or even a majority, of folks on it are abusing it. But a non-zero, and somewhat substantial portion of folks are.
While not a direct comparison, here’s a similar example of how to game the system. I worked in a health food store, back in the days when food stamps were paper. Folks would come in, buy 10 cent gum with a 1 dollar stamp, and pocket the change (which was given in real cash). Then they’d come back a couple more times. Then they’d walk next door and buy cigarettes with the coins. Other examples include buying Twinkies, Cheetos, and other junk food with food stamps. Or using the atm machine at casino’s and strip clubs for cash advances on other welfare cards.
There’s something to be said for the old soup kitchen lines – there’s a shame factor there that limits fraud, and that’s a good thing. Folks who really need the help get it, but most who don’t, won’t abuse it because of the stigma. Rather than food stamps, perhaps it’d be better to stop paying farmers not to grow crops, pay them for the crops they do grow, and issue a 50 lb bag of flour, a few #10 cans of peanut butter, and a couple of blocks of bacon and butter every month. Welfare is supposed to be a safety net about human kindness and survival, not tips for dancers, cash for blackjack, or Twinkies to eat in front of the flat panel tv.
You need not worry about Twinkies…
Preparing for inflation
It may be coincidental to all this, but I note the Google Fibre is up and running in Kansas City. Could it be that they are choosing to invest their capital into infrastructure rather than more liquid forms of wealth to avoid some of these trends?
I can see their business getting stronger all the time, with that kind of thinking.
‘In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed.’
"If the ancient finds in the Mediterranean can be verified, they will show that Homo erectus or Neanderthals or both had the skills and cognitive ability to build boats and navigate them."
Australia was inhabited 100,000 years ago. It takes no better technology to go to Australia than to go to Crete. And indeed we know what technology was needed to settle Hawaii and Easter Island. While that didn’t happen all that long ago, it’s not inconceivable that it could have happened 50,000 years ago. Sailing isn’t that complicated. I have never thought it impossible that the Americas were settled along the Pacific coast with boats…
Incompetence v. malice
I have been looking for the origin (hard to believe I invented it) of the following mashup of Napoleon and Arthur C. Clarke: "A sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice." I first thought of it back when we were hearing of a new Windows / MSIE security hole every few days, but it still holds for much of what governments (all levels) have been doing.
I am not sure I ever heard that before. Clever.
China Eyes Atlantic Base
Chinese air power could become a threat to U.S. hegemony in the Pacific, but now China appears to be considering a move into the Atlantic. The article does an excellent job describing the geographical and geopolitical challenges viz. crises China would create with such a base.
On June 27, a plane carrying Wen Jiabao made a “technical” stop on the island of Terceira, in the Azores. Following an official greeting by Alamo Meneses, the regional secretary of environment of the sea, the Chinese premier spent four hours touring the remote Portuguese outpost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Wen’s Terceira walkabout, which followed a four-nation visit to South America, largely escaped notice at the time, but alarm bells should have immediately gone off in Washington and in European capitals. For one thing, Wen’s last official stop on the trip was Santiago, the capital of Chile. Flights from Chile to China normally cross the Pacific, not the Atlantic, so there was no reason for his plane to be near the Azores. Moreover, those who visit the Azores generally favor other islands in the out-of-the-way chain.
Terceira, however, has one big attraction for Beijing: Air Base No. 4. Better known as Lajes Field, the facility where Premier Wen’s 747 landed in June is jointly operated by the U.S. Air Force and its Portuguese counterpart. If China controlled the base, the Atlantic would no longer be secure. From the 10,865-foot runway on the northeast edge of the island, Chinese planes could patrol the northern and central portions of the Atlantic and thereby cut air and sea traffic between the U.S. and Europe. Beijing would also be able to deny access to the nearby Mediterranean Sea.
Joshua Jordan, KSC
The Rise and Fall of Stalin’s Atlantis.
Denver UFOs buffy willow
The “UFO” activity looks a lot like bugs flying in front of the camera. The various trajectories are about what you’d expect if a bug flew in front of a camera, and the blurry shapes are what an out of focus object would see, especially if digital processing was used for sharpening or other effects, or if the bug was moving fast enough to appear elongated due to CMOS sensor scan rates and framerate adjustments as the sensor info is converted into digital video.
In at least one of the videos, an object that initially appeared to be in the distance briefly flew and appeared in front of shrubbery or trees or other objects, indicating that it was not actually a distant object. Based on relative distances and angular line of sight rates, it looks even more like it is simply out of focus bugs flying in front of the camera.
As for witness statements that there was “nothing there”, as someone blessed with vision that is naturally 20/10 and can be corrected to somewhere around 20/7, it sometimes surprises me what other people can’t see. I’ve seen bugs fly like that all my life, simply because my eyes are good so I notice them as they whiz by. It wouldn’t surprise me if whoever set up the camera didn’t notice bugs flying in the camera field of view or realize that in the video, the out of focus condition coupled with digital processing artifacts would make those bugs look larger, farther away, and more substantial.
Interesting. Alas, I have never seen a flying saucer. I did a short stint investigating a couple of reports for Blue Book when I worked with USAF in the 1960’s; I could only conclude that a jury would probably convict someone of murder on the testimony of the witness, but there was no possibility of proof. Of course there would be no murder trial without some evidence that there had been a murder.
Plenty of believable people have told incredible UFO stories. As Ted Sturgeon put it one night when we were on a national TV show, “I’d like to see wreckage and bodies. Not someone who says he has seen them.”
On computers and central planning
As a software developer, I tend to feel that the only people who think computers solve the problems of central planning are those who’ve never tried to build large-scale, low-latency systems. They’re hard.
The hardest part? Synchronization. If you want a system to scale without sacrificing latency, you quite literally cannot wait until you have all your information in front of you before doing your analysis. Throwing more hardware at the problem only helps to an extent; you can make a single decision making component as fast as industry allows, but it will never be enough to cope with the additional demands that would always be placed on the system.
The most productive parts of the computing industry over the past ten years have been those built on many actors (be it machines, CPUs, CPU cores or individual GPU units) performing actions driven by local knowledge.
If that doesn’t sound directly analogous to the basis for an economy driven by individuals, I don’t know what would.
Before I would trust computer systems to run an economy I would like some evidence that our economic models have some efficiency or even correspondence with reality.
We know the market works. With command economies it is always “This time for sure.”
The reason a true hyperinflation is highly unlikely in the US is that it destroys the value of financial assets (inflation erodes assets, hyperinflation wipes them out). Too much of the net worth of the US is in financial assets for any government to deliberately ignite hyperinflation, and hyperinflation does not happen by accident. All of the uncontrolled hyperinflations involve countries with relatively limited financial assets and economies dominated by hard assets (Argentina, Zimbabwe) or in the midst of a general economic collapse that wiped out what financial assets existed even before the hyperinflation started (post-USSR break-up, post WWII central Europe). The Weimar case was tied to reparations and Versailles – the German economy of the early 20s was something of a special case in German history.
A simple way to think about this – via Wikipedia as of 2009 the total US bond market (govt & private) was over $30 trillion. Add to that all the pensions, annuities and other fixed income assets and you can see that it makes no sense for the government to inflate away $16 trillion in government debt at the cost of destroying something like triple that amount of national wealth. And as the 70s proved, there are political trip-wires that will go off way before things get that bad. Only in the aftermath of a collapse that wipes out these assets would you see hyperinflation (to wipe out whatever remaining debt is owed to foriegners).
I find it hard to believe some level of inflation beyond the desired 2-3% will not occur in the next 3-5 years. But before it gets very far it will be clear to the powers that be that it does more harm than good, and the damage will be limited. It won’t be trivial, but it only goes exponential if there are far worse things to worry about.
I have no estimate of the probability of what is called hyperinflation, but I do not see how we can avoid the inflation levels of the Carter era. Inflation is too much money chasing too few goods. It has the effect of ruining those dependent on savings and fixed incomes. I would think Carter era inflation levels almost inevitable.
View 750 Friday, November 16, 2012
Survival in a world of makers and takers. I am working on an essay. Suggestions welcomed. It will not be necessary to remind me of Atlas Shrugged. I am not that absentminded.
Barnes and Noble is closing FictionWise. Those who bought eBooks from Fictionwise have one a short time to convert them to B&N Nook format; the FW books are under Digital Rights Management, and once B&N stops maintaining the FIctionWise servers, they will be inaccessible.
If you have bought FictionWise books the following applies:
You will be able to read the transferred eBooks that you purchased at Fictionwise (including eReader.com and eBookwise.com) by downloading NOOK’s free mobile app to your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, or you can read your transferred eBooks with your PC/Mac web browser, as well as on the award-winning NOOK® devices. If you would like to transfer your Fictionwise eBooks in your Fictionwise Bookshelf to a NOOK Library, simply opt-in by following the steps below.
Click through to the link below to go to the opt-in page, where you’ll be instructed to confirm that you would like your Fictionwise eBooks in your Fictionwise Bookshelf transferred to a NOOK Library. Please opt-in by December 21, 2012.
Once you opt-in, you will receive an email from Barnes & Noble.com with an access code and instructions for redeeming this code. This access code represents the Fictionwise eBooks in your Fictionwise Bookshelf that are being transferred to a NOOK Library for you. You will also see a link to a code redemption page.
Click through to the redemption page and simply enter your code as prompted. This will move your existing eBooks into a NOOK Library. Please redeem this code by January 31, 2013.
Note the deadline.
Authors of FictionWise books presumably will get their rights back. It should not be difficult to convert them to some other format. Note that Barnes and Noble and Amazon use different formats, but you sell books in both formats – but you can’t have a sale at B&N and undercut the price you charge at Amazon.
The publishing revolution continues to shake, rattle, and roll, and we can only dimly see outlines of some future developments. At the moment, about 80% of author revenue from eBooks comes through Amazon, 15% from B&N, and the rest is lost in the noise. That doesn’t preclude the rise of other eBook publishers. At one time Baen dominated the eBook market, but that was long ago when the market was much smaller than it is now.
Things change like dreams, but so far it has been good for authors.
The Benghazi story will not go away. It is clear that the obscure video had little to do with it – this was a well planned attack involving well equipped forces, not something assembled to support a protest – yet high public officials insisted for days after that it was not a planned attack nor was it sponsored by a terrorist organization.
We can speculate as to why it was thought a good idea to pretend to believe this story, and it is possible to come up with theories that make the whole mess fit in with Napoleon’s dictum: never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. But in that case the incompetence must reach the highest level; and there must have been disagreement at some lower levels, and that disagreement must have been suppressed. Again we need not assume malice, merely obedience, on the part of the subordinates. Now that the story is out, one would think that at some point those ordered to act stupidly would welcome the discovery that they were merely obedient…
View 750 Thursday, November 15, 2012
The government only pays you UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE ( which, of course, I have paid for) for a whopping 26 weeks. Where did you get this crazy idea that people can live off unemployment indefinitely, which underpins your assertion.
Maybe you should try to feed your family on 405 dollars a week for 6 months before you pretend that people are choosing this as a lifestyle. Explain to your hungry kid at dinner why there’s noting else to eat. Getting a job is easy compared to that.
I can only think I have not been clear. I don’t think I have ever said that one can live indefinitely off unemployment. When I was an undergraduate “the unemployment” was known as 26-26, meaning that it was $26 a week for 26 weeks. The benefits have been raised considerably, and the duration extended to 99 weeks for many cases, but is still short of infinite.
Men with families who stay home and try to support them are not likely to be tempted to turn down a job offer because they prefer unemployment. On the other hand, those who live on unemployment do tend to adopt a new lifestyle, and to discover the other entitlements and benefits available. Indeed, given the blitz of radio advertisements for the food stamp program in the weeks before the election, they don’t have to work hard to make that discovery.
As an aside, the Food Stamp advertisements in California were promoted as “Cal Fresh”, and they were ubiquitous until just before the election. I have not heard one since. None of the ads mentioned the words Food Stamps.
Not every person who goes through a long period of surviving unemployment adjusts to the point that continuing that life is preferable to continuing to look for jobs. How many do I don’t know. I’ve never been in that situation, and I don’t suppose very many of my readers ever have. I can tell you that there are plenty of jobs I would not take if it came down to that vs. a life on entitlements. Whether that would have appealed to me when I was younger I can’t tell you.
The people most critically affected by the economic crash are solid citizens, skilled workers who were solidly middle class until for one reason or another they were priced out of the labor market, and who have little capability of ever regaining the income and status they once had. Their companies could not compete, and the international economic policies protect keeping consumer prices lower (through non-tariffed imports) than job protection. That is yet another debate: clearly there are cased in which protective tariff to keep domestic industries alive have been successful; there are also cases in which protection produced terrible results and didn’t actually protect the jobs either. Lincoln’s observation that if he bought a shirt from New England he got the shirt and the money stayed in the United States where it could still be taxed doesn’t apply so much in these days of international corporations, but it is still something to keep in mind when designing economic policies. When I was young the South was solidly Democrat in part because the Democratic Party had a policy of “tariff for revenue only” as opposed to the Republican Party which favored protective tariff. That was long ago, and since that time industry has come to the South despite the enormous protective taxes on textile processing machinery, and the issue never arises any longer. The question of a rational policy that balances job stability against the higher consumer costs that come from protective tariff is worth discussion.
The problem is that no entitlement society can ever restore the lost jobs of the skilled workers whose industries have closed down. They will have to adjust to a new life style no matter what the government policy. Government and entitlements can’t make them middle class again. Government can employ some of them, but then they have to be paid for. And government can raise the level of what we call ‘poverty’ to something less intolerable – a large number of the people of the world would consider the US poverty level to be one of unattainable luxury. The question then is how long that can be continued: at present productivity levels it can’t be. Before we can give out enough goods to keep that level going we have to have those goods, either through manufacturing the goods or through providing goods and services to those who do make the stuff that we need.
In addition to stuff, there are essential services that must be provided. Health care is one of them. There is a limit on how many of those services are available. The remedy is to train more people to provide them. We’ve been through this before: is there a real limit to the number of medical professionals who can be supported at levels that will induce them to undergo the rigorous education and training required to bring them up to an acceptable level of service?
These are the kinds of problems that must be solved.
One solution is central planning. Five Year Plans. Guaranteed jobs. Employment stability. Schumpeter dealt with that a long time ago, in a book that used to be required reading for everyone who pretended to a university education. So have many others. Central planning tends to fail for lack of information. The computer revolution is said by some to have remedied that.
We have not seen many examples of successful central planning command economies. Perhaps in future? This time for sure? We will have some answers to that over the next four years.
Another is the “German Economic Miracle” phenomenon: remove restrictions on work and employment, remove most economic regulations, invite people to be ingenious” if you can think of something to hire someone to do, and that person is willing to do it, then go ahead. Yes, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s the core: unleash the engines of creativity. The result will be growth. Some of it will be brutal. It will be easy to find cases of exploitation’, greed, sadistic bosses, racial discrimination, sexual harassment: there will be good reasons to to impose restrictions and regulations. But for pure economic growth, unrestricted capitalism works.
Incidentally, the one restriction I would always impose on capitalism is size and market share. I would not allow monopolies and cartels. I would not allow the nation to have a Big Five banking system: it would be a lot more like “a not so big 100” along with a ferment of smaller local banks. The same would be true of many other industries: compete by providing more goods at lower prices, not by buying out your competitors. But that’s another story, and one I haven’t time to deal with just now.
What I do want to get across is that I don’t oppose the notion of unemployment insurance. I never took part in 26/26 but I had classmates who took it (and I think illegally continued their undergraduate studies). The notion of 26/26 was to bridge people’s transitions between jobs in a going economy. Inevitably over time the rates went up and the period was extended. That was hardly the main reason for the current depression, but it does contribute to its prolongation. But it can’t be continued forever.
And I think you may have underestimated the effect of entitlements on a coming generation which has not had the experience of supporting itself. Out in suburbia, where people marry and raise their children and send them to school, who show up to work on time and work hard, there is little incentive to live the life of On The Road, and great shame at being unemployed. Elsewhere those values are dying off.
If something cannot continue forever, it will stop.
I also have this on the current situation:
Talk about Paradigm Shift… FBI agent in probe was a good guy made to look like a wacko
Saw this in my news today (copyright, Seattle Times) and knew you would be interested in it. Someone was trying to ‘get’ the agent who bucked FBI bureaucracy and should be a hero. Shirtless photo incident totally presented to public out of context … as is seen after reading the facts in this story:
Mystery FBI agent in Petraeus scandal revealed
The FBI agent who started the email inquiry that eventually led to the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus is known for his work in Seattle leading the investigation into millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam.
By Mike Carter <http://search.nwsource.com/search?searchtype=cq&sort=date&from=ST&byline=Mike%20Carter>
Seattle Times staff reporter
PREV 1 of 3 NEXT
FBI Special Agent Fred Humphries once testified for the defense of would-be "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam. <http://seattletimes.com/ABPub/zoom/html/2019684906.html>
Enlarge this photo <http://seattletimes.com/ABPub/zoom/html/2019684906.html>
STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
FBI Special Agent Fred Humphries once testified for the defense of would-be "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam.
The FBI agent who initiated the investigation that led to the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus has a history of bucking the system on principle, once testifying for the defense of convicted would-be "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam about Ressam’s harsh treatment by the agent’s colleagues after the 9/11 attacks.
Special Agent Fred Humphries was outspoken in opposing the FBI’s decision at the time to turn Ressam over to agents from New York after the attacks, and warned their tough tactics were undoing the cooperation Humphries had coaxed out of the al-Qaida-trained terrorist. Eventually, Ressam ceased cooperating, as Humphries predicted.
Humphries found himself sharply criticized within the bureau. He insisted he had done right and owed it to Ressam.
That same sense of right and duty may be what drove Humphries late last month to contact U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert when he concluded that the FBI was dragging its feet — possibly for political reasons — into an investigation into disturbing emails sent anonymously to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, according to sources familiar with the case.
That investigation eventually led agents to discover that the emails were written by Petraeus’ biographer and secret lover, Paula Broadwell.
Reichert, R-Auburn, took Humphries’ concerns to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who took the message to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Congressional leaders have since complained that they weren’t told about the probe until Petraeus resigned three days after the election.
Kelley, a family friend, first contacted Humphries about the emails, according to Humphries and news reports. Humphries referred Kelley’s complaint to the bureau’s cybercrime unit and was not directly involved in the investigation, according to the sources.
Humphries, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, acknowledged he sought out Reichert, through his former boss, retired Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge Charlie Mandigo, but declined to elaborate.
But two sources said Humphries decided to go outside the bureau when his concerns about the progress of the investigation — which he believed involved national security — were met with an internal investigation into a shirtless photograph of Humphries found in Kelley’s email.
Humphries, 47, confirmed the photograph exists and was sent to Kelley and dozens of other friends and acquaintances in the fall of 2010, shortly after Humphries had transferred to the Tampa office from Guantánamo Bay, where he had been an FBI liaison to the CIA at the detention facility there.
Indeed, among his friends and associates, Humphries was known to send dumb-joke emails in which the punch line was provided by opening an attached photo.
A Seattle Times reporter was among those who received an email containing an attachment of the shirtless photo. The subject line read: "Which one is Fred?"
The snapshot shows Humphries — bald, muscular and shirtless — standing between a pair of headless but equally buff and bullet-ridden target dummies on a shooting range.
The joke — over which was the dummy — has now backfired in ways he couldn’t have imagined on Sept. 9, 2010, when it was first sent.
Mandigo confirmed he received a copy of the photo as well and described it as "joking." The photo was sent from a joint personal email account shared by Humphries’ wife. Humphries said that, at one point, his supervisor posted the picture on an FBI bulletin board as a joke and that his wife, a teacher, has a framed copy.
Humphries joined the FBI after serving as an Army infantry and intelligence officer, leaving with the rank of captain. He had been with the FBI for just two years when he was made the case agent in the Ressam investigation, involving a 1999 plan to set off a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport.
The trial judge in the Ressam case, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, praised Humphries’ efforts and integrity repeatedly.
In Tampa, he and his wife also dipped into the party circuit that featured CENTCOM brass. In an October 2008 email to friends and acquaintances, including a Seattle Times reporter, he said they had just had "a phenomenal evening at a private residence on Davis Island with MG Jay Hood (former commander at GTMO; now Chief of Staff, CENTCOM) and General Petraeus. Also in attendance, Former Governor Bob Martinez, Mayors, who’s who in Tampa and the State of Florida."
The email referred to the two generals as "great leaders."
The New York Times quotes Humphries’ attorney, Lawrence Berger from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, as saying that the Humphries and Kelleys socialized, and that was part of the reason Jill Kelley went to him about the troubling emails.
He also described the shirtless photo as being "sent years before Ms. Kelley contacted him about this, and it was sent as part of a larger context of what I could call social relations in which the families would exchange numerous photos of each other," Berger said.
In May 2010, while an agent in the Tampa field office, Humphries shot and killed a disturbed, knife-wielding man outside the gate of MacDill Air Force Base, where Humphries was training with SWAT and special-forces soldiers.
In an email to the Seattle Times reporter several months later, Humphries described the incident.
"I had 4 seconds, that seemed like 40, to go through my mental checks," he recalled. With cars and civilians around, he waited "’till he was five feet from me before firing two rounds … after repeatedly warning him.
"I worried it was a FT Hood scenario," he said, referring to the shooting spree in 2009 at the Texas Army base that left 13 dead and dozens wounded. "I didn’t even have time to put on my ballistic vest. Crazy world."
The shooting was deemed justified. Locally, Humphries is remembered as a driven and dedicated counterterrorism agent whose first big case was Ressam, during which he wound up traveling nearly 300,000 miles. Ressam is serving a 37-year sentence.
Humphries also was a key agent in the investigation into James Ujaama, a Seattle man who tried to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.
Andrew Hamilton, a King County senior deputy prosecutor and former federal prosecutor in the Ressam case, said of Humphries on Wednesday, "I can honestly say he was one of the finest agents I have ever worked with." He said "one of the reasons" Ressam cooperated with federal investigators "is the way he was treated by Fred Humphries."
"I think Fred was very caring, he was honest and very professional," Hamilton said of the agent’s dealings with Ressam. "Let me just say this, Fred never got tired," Hamilton added. "He would work until the job was done."
[emphasis added] I put this up for information.
Missiles rain on Tel Aviv. Israel is calling up the reserves. They do not do this lightly.
U.F.O. seen over Denver Colorado Skies:
This guy records UFO’s over Denver between Noon and 1pm a couple of times a week. He tells a TV station. They send out a cameraman and a reporter. THEY get the UFO’s on video. NORAD claims no air activity for those times.
Well! Fancy that!
It appears to be repeatable.
Someone will eventually explain it I suppose. Still, very interesting.
http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carroll/lewis/snark/ An attractive nuisance.
Mail 750 Tuesday, November 13, 2012
There is a great deal of mail on inflation, most of it very good, but far too much to post all of it. Here is a selection with comments.
Paul Krugman has discussed inflation on a number of occasions in the past few months. His view is quite different from your view, if I’m understanding you both correctly. Worth a quick google (there are a fair number of articles.)
Here is a short video and a very superficial overview which touches on hyperinflation fears.
The problem here is that I don’t really care to listen to the comments of a commentator even if he does have prizes in economics. I’d like to see his theories with data. To the best I can determine, Krugman’s critique of TARP and the Stimulus is that we didn’t put enough money into it. We should have borrowed/printed more, and spent more, and stimulated more, to get us out of this depression. The debt doesn’t actually matter.
That will result in inflation, but inflating our way out of the crisis is the right way to go.
Perhaps so; spending one’s way out of debt would certainly work if the spending resulted in great waves of new production. Once production ramps up you don’t have a paucity of goods, and having lots of money chasing those goods doesn’t rack prices up. So far this hasn’t worked, in part because the money tends to be invested in companies rather than technologies, and the companies picked by the government have not been successful. Stimulus resources tend to be allocated to political allies, not for economic reasons. This time for sure, of course; we will almost certainly see more of that.
Given the popularity of Dr. Krugman with liberals and the left, it is likely that we will see more attempts to implement his plan. We can only wait and see what that does.
Your fairy-tale themed corrector seems to be wrong, from a bit of poking around online; hyperinflation just means inflation that’s so big it needs to be distinguished from vanilla inflation.
One of the most famous examples of hyperinflation occurred in Germany between January 1922 and November 1923. By some estimates, the average price level increased by a factor of 20 billion, doubling every 28 hours.
I would guess that he’s using a specific definition from a specific theory.
I did not see the German inflation but I did see the Brazilian model. Incidentally, “what I tell you three times is true” is from The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in Eight Fits) by Lewis Carroll, not precisely a fairy tale, and of course I have used the phrase many times myself.
I did like the tone of the Hyperinflation mail either, but I have been intrigued by this subject as it relates to computing for some time now. With our current computing power we should be able to represent every person and business and study any economic theory, before we implement it! Why have we not modeled our economy? I used sabermetrics back in the 90’s in little league and it does not give you a huge advance, but it does give you something. I read Paul Krugman book and thought it was the biggest pile of junk I ever read. Lots of statements, but no documentation backing it up. I’m an engineer and a programmer not an economist. I would like to some modeling and documentation as it relates to the economy. Not another WAG.
Economic Full Stop
Our congress critters have been very effective at changing how inflation is measured. As a result must of what impacts fixed incomes is not measured.
"Economic Full Stop" when googled results in Chaos Manor’s post from yesterday third from the top. The two above are referenced to Paul Krugman, the only economist the liberals like, and both reference this post from Krugman:
In my experience with liberals, if Krugman says something it is as good as a law of nature, and is not to be doubted or questions. To doubt or question just shows that you are a "regressive".
Alas. I confess to some doubt about the efficacy of the spend your way to success theory. Of course no one doubts the truth of “Invest your way to success.” Many politicians have asserted that as well. Invest in infrastructure seems to be one of the recommended investments. Generally the execution is a bit less than the intention, and the usual result is that the money simply vanishes. There are exceptions. One can make the case that TVA was a great success, and I certainly believe that if the US had spent the projected $300 billion cost of the Iraq War on domestic energy development the result would have been better than what we obtained, even if those investments had simply vanished without effect. When government chooses what to invest in, the results are not always predictable. The Manhattan Project certainly changed history, and Oak Ridge was not a likely private investment scheme. Generally, though, what government invests in does not directly make profits, and simply passing money out does not end depressions.
Your nasty commenter does have a point.
How does the money get into the hands of the people? With high unemployment, open borders, weak unions, workers don’t have much leverage to get higher wages. There is also a credit squeeze as banks sit on the money they are getting from the feds.
It seems likely that the actions of the Federal Reserve are merely staving off deflation.
* * *
Re:Inflation and hyperinflation
The flaw in your belligerent correspondent’s argument is that he assumes wages and salary to be the only source of income. Many if not most Americans receive some sort of Federal payment, the amount of which is set by Congress. When prices go up high enough the People will demand Congress Do Something. The Price-Payment spiral will be driven by an Act requiring monthly COLA adjustments, and possibly direct Economic Stimulus payments.
Regarding http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?p=10601, Inflation and hyperinflation.
"Hyperinflation requires a wage-price spiral." — your unnamed correspondent
I am not persuaded by your correspondent’s repeated assertions that the above statement is true. It appears to be a thesis; that is, a hypothetical proposition put forth without proof. It needs support.
My guess is that your unnamed correspondent is young, studied economics in some college or university, and deludes himself that the answers to his exams map one-to-one with reality. In my experience, nothing credible has ever come from the sogenannte science of economics.
I note that in the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974 was awarded to Friedrich Hayek for "pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and . . . penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena." In 1975 the Prize was awarded to Soviet economist Leonid Kantorovich for <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonid_Kantorovich> his "contributions to the theory of optimum allocation of resources." Hayek was a classical liberal; he championed life, liberty, and property and a free economy. Kantorovich was a Communist; he championed a demand economy. The fact that these two won the Nobel Prize a year apart tells me that Economics is not a science. It is a political platform.
I recall the Carter years when inflation reached twenty percent a year. I did not and do not regard that as hyperinflation, but it was not a pleasant time.
I traveled through Brazil twenty years ago when the country was in the throes of ‘government managed’ hyperinflation. Every second Sunday, at the end of the evening news, the newsreader gave the inflationary rate to be applied beginning the following business day. During my stay, the rate varied from eleven to fourteen percent. Every other week. Set that up in a spreadsheet and see what you get as a yearly result. To say it was unpleasant fails to describe the experience.
What I saw in both cases was a decrease in the amount of capital available to lend for acquisitions, capital investments, and so forth. Small businesses suffered. That resulted in the generation of fewer new jobs. That meant unemployment rose.
I do not have any faith in college-educated economists. My father manned 8-inch rifles in France and Germany during the Second World War. After the war, he learned a trade while still in the Army. Over the years, he built a company that manufactured custom homes. By the early ’70s, he employed three four-man crews and subcontracted to numerous plumbers, masons, painters, roofers, electricians, sheetrockers, heating and air conditioning installers, and finishers.
I have never had a course in Economics. The hardest courses I ever took were Complex Analyses, Nuclear Physics, and Secured Credit Law. Maybe I am not smart enough to understand Economics. But on economic advice, based solely on the rate of return from the initial investment, given a choice between my father and the combined talents of Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, I shall choose my father.
Live long and prosper
h lynn keith
I was in Brazil in that period; it was fine for the rich who seemed to have ways to get new money as the indices rose. Not so good for those who had to stand in lines. And one learned not to convert many dollars since the local currency lost its value by the hour.
inflation, wages, gold, etc…
the value of money, any currency, be it fiat money or commodity-based, is what people expect to be able to buy with it later. tomorrow, in ten years, today’s value is an aggregate of immediate and expected value. how this is resolved depends on too many – fluctuating – factors for anybody short of Harry Seldon to determine.
In the case of fiat money it’s actually simpler: it’s what people expect the country who prints the money will produce in the future. Will this country make things people will want to buy?
Next there’s the problem of money supply vs the requirements of the economy. Is there enough money to go around? this is where fiat money is superior to commodity-based systems like gold. In a growing economy, you need more money every year. If your currency is commodity based, you may or not produce more money. In an ideal world of fiat money the central bank will print more money to fit the need of the economy. this is why inflation is unavoidable: you’ll have the central bank print a little more just in case so there’s no shortage. A little inflation is not a problem, a lot less a problem than money shortage. As long as inflation stays within reasonable bounds, say less than 5% a year.
A little inflation is also a good thing because it’s more productive to have people invest their savings in inflation-proof vessels like private companies shares than rent.
The catch, of course, is the Iron Rule: if government can print money to increase its power, it will.
Up to a point it’s not a problem. History shows that up to, say, 7% inflation, people have time to adjust.
Wages: the key point is that most people live from a salary, and on average economy works if and only if people on a salary can buy the things they make. So if wages are disconnected from inflation people will be able to buy less and less.
(making a big jump because it’s late)
the real problem is we now have the technology to supply most people’s basic needs with very little work. with robots and nuclear power 10% of the world’s population are enough to feed, house, water, etc… the rest of the people. The 50% below average are irrelevant. How do we manage this?
Depends on the people who are adjusting. Losing 7% of your income per year, which is what happens to those living off savings and annuities, soon leads to ruin. Cost of Living Adjustments to Social Security and other government payments never keeps up with the actual inflation rate. The squeeze can be excruciating. My mother lived with us during the big inflationary periods, and we could see what it did to her incomes; and my father was a prudent man who had left her savings.
As to the 50% below average, surely the best thing to do would be to design a system in which they are valuable and can know that they are? Being entitlement consumers is not a bracing occupation. But perhaps we can teach people that they also serve who only spend and consume?
given the tone, i really don’t want to respond either, but will note that we have an additional factor in (relatively) easily available consumer credit to meet the increasing prices. If eggs and milk for my family costs $50 and i do not have it…but do have $50 left on my mastercard, …Crying hungry children are so annoying. Of course,…bein’ as how consumers don’t typically have a printing press, paying off the credit creates yet another problem. The credit card people will certainly be helpful, they would prefer for everyone to be in hock to them up to the eyeballs and making minimum payments—The only thing that is really clear is that things are not as simple as the writer wishes them to be.
Inflation and deflation
I think your very rude correspondent has a kernel of truth going for him. It’s important to distinguish between a general inflation, like the stagflationary 70′s, and a deflationary hyperinflation. If you’ll forgive my layman’s understanding of the difference, I’ll give it a go.
Sorry for the length, but it’s a complicated subject.
A general inflation (such as the 1970′s) may be a monetary phenomenon, but it also features a decrease in the aggregate productivity of inputs–the ability of a man-hour or a quantity of iron ore to produce a dollar of economic output. If an industry wants to make a buck, they’ve got to shell out more bucks to get it. Thus, a positive wage-price spiral. This can be exacerbated by monetary policy (as it was in the 1970′s), but monetary policy is not the sole cause. The 1960′s were a period of general price inflation even before the mistakes of the 70′s.
For several reasons we are in a general period of deflation, characterized by increasing productivity of inputs. Industry does not need to shell out more dollars just to maintain profitability. They can actually spend less over time for a given output. All things being equal, that leads to a negative wage-price spiral. Note that productivity does not equal increased GDP–the Great Depression was deflationary.
So far so good. Inflation is one thing and deflation is another.
However, even in a deflationary environment it’s possible due to bad fiscal and monetary policy to break the relationship between a currency and its future value. The currency loses its value catastrophically, as people catch on to what is happening. My understanding is that this is what happened in Argentina, for example, when they broke the peso-dollar link. I’m not exactly sure which category Weimar fits under, although it has many hallmarks of a deflationary environment.
Note that Weimar and Argentina have a common feature–a parallel currency. Weimar had gold marks and Argentina had the dollar, and both were in general circulation as legal tender right alongside the paper mark and the peso. That’s something that is most emphatically NOT a feature of the U.S. economy, and if you try to run a business denominated in anything other than dollars then heaven help you; the IRS certainly won’t. The federal government has gone to great lengths in the tax code to make it difficult to maintain the value of one’s savings against a rapid increase in money supply.
My best guess at the moment is that the Fed will indeed simply print enough money to keep the government in clover. There will be some odd distortions to the economy, but not a general price increase at least for the next several years. Anything imported will likely start to get expensive, although other countries will be concurrently expanding their money supply to "defend" their export markets so that too is not easily predictable. The most predictable outcome is that the first recipients of the newly-minted money will do fairly well in this economy. Everyone else will see their buying power erode. Unless there is a drastic shift in fiscal policy, that I suspect that means government retirees, government employees, Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries, and government-subsidized corporations. "Nice work, if you can get it."
Now hopefully someone more knowledgeable can point out the flaws in my understanding.
If the problem is that productivity is too high, it is soluble. It is much easier to divide a large pie than a small one. The problem is that the entitlement economy leads to attitudes widely seen in Moscow toward the end of the USSR: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” On my morning walk in Moscow I saw seven men filling a hole in a blacktop street. Two hours later I returned from my walk to the Russian Parliament building. The hole was still there and they were still ‘working’ on it. I asked the foreman why it took so long to fill a pot hole. “Ah, well, but there is always another hole…”
No one seemed particularly unhappy with the situation. They would spend the evening in a tavern. And my visit to the Writer’s Union lounge was instructive. The main complaint was the price of American cigarettes. I had thoughtfully brought a carton of Marlboro’s; the result was that many joined at my table, and I was told, with some laughter, that this was the first time the Jewish and Gentile Members had sat at the same table in weeks.
It is surprising how well one can adjust to situations. If productivity had been higher, the USSR would exist today.
on the end of entrepreneurship
Being a founder of a startup here in silicon valley, I can comment on Spengler’s essay. In the EDA business (Electronic Design Automation) everyone expects to get bought by one of the large EDA companies. No one expects to go IPO. Why? All of those wonderful laws the democrats passed after the fake energy crisis. Once you pass the small business threshold and enter big business, the cost of doing business goes up prohibitively. Further, the extra burdens placed on IPO’s in the last 10 years, make it much harder to go public. The net result is we all (if we are lucky) join the collective. We get paid for our stock or get new company stock, stay the minimum required time and leave. Those of us with the energy, do it all over again. The unintended consequence is we build bigger and fewer large companies. Just what the democrats like. As Amity Shales pointed out in "The Forgotten Man", bigger companies act more like the government and are easier to manipulate. Resistance is futile.
That of course appears to be desirable to the liberals, who do not care for all that independence which spoils the big plan. The obvious way out of a depression is a booming economy with great production of goods, so that the problem is distribution of goods, not unemployment. It is easier to divide a big pie than a small one. And of course to most of the world, the impoverished in the United States are enormously wealthy, and the temptation to divide THAT pie is great. If one we can get there and be part of it…
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I have read your recent mail discussion with your somewhat impolite correspondent. His thesis seems to be that the result of inflation will not be hyperinflation but instead an economic full stop. He seems to believe this will be the case because wages will not rise as prices do, resulting in the economy grinding to a halt.
While this is possible, I do not believe it likely.
As prices rise, skilled workers such as lawyers will be able to negotiate for better wage packages, because they are needed and not easy to replace. They can hold a gun to their company’s heads and will do so.
Unskilled workers who are unionized will use the union club and their allies in government to push through wage increases as well.
That leaves the unskilled minimum-wage workers and the "shadow economy" of illegal immigrants. Given who’s in office, I assume it won’t be very long before Congress raises the minimum wage again. Shadow workers will still take money because even at inflated rates it’s still far better than they could earn at home.
So I don’t see the nightmare scenario your correspondent envisions. I think an increase in prices will result in an increase in wages as well. Wages are, after all, themselves a form of "price" — a price set on labor.
I do believe that inflation is a within-one-sigma possibility. I believe hyperinflation is an outside-two-sigma case but not impossible. But the most likely case, I think, is dramatically increasing debt with no attempt to pay it off either through inflation or through taxes. The can will be kicked down the road. Eventually, of course, the bill will become due but I’ll wager the government will do everything it can to prevent the bill coming due before 2016.
Those of us who have a life expectancy past that point would be well advised to inflation-proof our investments against when, not if , the bill comes due. For myself, I will also keep an eye out for opportunities in Singapore or HK or Australia or Switzerland et al. I don’t know what will happen when the hammer finally falls but I don’t want my family to be here when it does.
Beyond that, of course, I still have hope because the God who delivered Israel from famine in the time of Joseph is still alive and looking after his followers today. Still, God has a tendency to use natural phenomena like, say, a neighboring Egypt than dumping manna on people from the clouds. So I’ll keep my eyes peeled and watch for my chance.
I have not given up on recovering the nation, but I don’t expect to live to see it. I had a picture of the future in A Step Farther Out that I thought might happen in my lifetime.
Well, the left managed to disturb me once again:
Mr. President, please sign an executive order such that each American citizen who signed a petition from any state to secede from the USA shall have their citizenship stripped and be peacefully deported.
The disturbing part is not the request; one expect immature people to make idiotic statements. The disturbing part is the cognitive bias vis-a-vis executive orders, which seems to suggest the petitioners think that executive orders have the power of law or act as imperial decrees. Of course, Youngstown Sheet Company vs. Sawyer (343 U.S. 579) set the precedent that executive orders — as an attempt to make law — are illegal. Justice Black took the position that Presidents have no power to act except in those cases expressly or implicitly authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress. This case presented a stinging rebuff to Harry Truman — another president that enjoys unfair popularity with the ignorant — and to the imagined authority of executive orders.
I came across this case when researching executive orders for my political science course. I wanted to know why presidents seemed to think they could write some of the strangest crap I’ve ever read on paper, call it an executive order, and put the wind up so many people’s butts. I learned that presidents really have no power with these executive orders, but the bureaucrats and most citizens do not seem to know that, which poses a problem. Still, we have the precedent of Youngstown Sheet Company vs. Sawyer and other interesting precedents. As an aside, martial law cannot — legally — occur while civilian courts are functioning — see Ex parte Milligan (71 US 2). The ignorant often remind me that Lincoln declared martial law, but they do not seem to know of Ex parte Milligan, which declared Lincoln’s action unconstitutional.
The left seems to have little understanding of how our government works. The left do not seem realize that our government is a polyarchy, as the left constantly refers to governance as a "democracy", which it is not and was never intended to be. The left do not seem to understand that our president is not a despot who rules by decree, that Congress makes laws and is the main branch of governance, and the left does not seem to understand the role of the courts. Unfortunately, the rest of the government seems to bend to the will of the ignorant as the Obamacare ruling underscored. Like Franklin said, "A republic, if you can keep it". The left is making that most difficult in 2012; perhaps we should put a petition that if you voted left that you should be exiled to a communist country? Or are we already in one?
Joshua Jordan, KSC
See the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. That period of American history was taught in 5th grade in Tennessee when I was growing up. Now it is hard to find anyone who knows what they were. I do hear about secession petitions.
Your point about executive orders is well made.
The original theory of these United States was that only the States had inherent sovereignty; the federal government was a government of specific and limited powers. It was supreme within its jurisdiction and all state and local judges had sworn allegiance to it as the supreme law of the land; but only within its limits. Sovereignty rested with the states. This guaranteed considerable competition among the states, and allowed all kinds of political experiments. That notion no longer seems to be taught in our schools.
FBI in the Sex Scandal!
This FBI agent seems to live in a porno movie. I say that because I saw a porno movie from my father’s collection when I was 13; two people were copulating in a bush and some other person came along and joined it. There was no surprise or objection from any of the original participants. This FBI agent seems to think that he can just join in on the extra-marital fun:
A federal agent who sent topless pictures of himself to the woman at the center of the Petraeus and General Allen scandals was told to ‘stay the hell away’ from the investigation but took it upon himself to ‘nose around’, it was revealed today.
After receiving a half dozen harassing emails from an anonymous account – but later linked to Petraeus’ mistress Paula Broadwell, Jill Kelley, the Florida woman who served as a volunteer social liaison officer at the Tampa military base, contacted a male FBI agent that she knew and had previously worked with.
During a prior exchange, when the agent was trying to establish a friendly relationship with the married mother-of-three, he sent her shirtless photos of himself adding to questions over his true intention behind going above-and-beyond his work duties to help her with the threats.
Joshua Jordan, KSC
I confess to both amazement and amusement as the melodrama unfolds. But there is the serious question of what happened in Benghazi and the timing of the release of this sex scandal. I don’t expect much to come of that. A spymaster brought down by the jealousy of a mistress: the stuff of novels. I am tempted to write one…
Subject: Inflation and business
"I have said that the prudent will prepare for inflation; that inflation is taking place now and will continue. I have also said that sometimes inflation has resulted in drastic hyperinflation "
Some of the things my family did in the ’70s suddenly seem to make a lot of sense. My mom and her preserves, my uncle and his huge pantry full of groceries. My dad buying a lifetime supply of stakes for his new stockade fence, to replace broken bits over the years.
Something you could touch on in the next few weeks might be how business will fare. My employer has a fair bit socked away in the bank, and we have as little in inventory as possible. And a lot of effort has gone into Just In Time systems and practices. We’re ‘product realization’: we make other people’s electronics.
Not seeking specific advice, but a general sense of ‘what to expect’ for business in an inflation/hyper-inflation environment.
We will address specifics over time. And I invite suggestions. My income is reasonably inflation proof since the price of books is easily raised, and the market for entertainment is generally good in bad economic times. I am digging out some of my old survival essays. I am not sure how much expertise I have on predicting the future of small business.
I admit to having been a big fan of Petraeus…What he did in Iraq to get them back on track was amazing, as was his career in general. I find it difficult to forgive him for taking a mistress, and I’m sorry that he has fallen from the lofty level I had placed him at.
However, this issue seems to be all consuming in much of the press, much more so than the deaths of the four men in Benghazi. Could it be that it’s a distraction from some issues at hand, such as the big push in new regulations the President is pushing through, the tax raises, sequestration or another issue? Media is reporting that the government was aware of it some time ago….why did this and the Iraqi attack on our drone get suppressed until after the election?
There are just too many issues for there not to be some cover-up, and I cannot believe that the FBI would not have made the President aware of the issues about the Director of the CIA as soon as they came to light; it’s just too critical a position.
We now know that the Attorney General knew some time ago. He says he did not tell the President, who is said to be his best friend. You can believe as much of this as you want to.
I infer that the excitable correspondent maintains that hyperinflation is not possible without having wages indexed to inflation, creating a painfully obvious positive feedback loop. The correspondent then maintains that in the absence of automatic wage indexing, hyperinflation of prices results in an "economic full stop" at some point in the process before postage reaches three millard marks.
I will admit that I am not enough of a student of history to know if the Weimar republic had such an index, but I had certainly never heard of one. However, if employers want to keep employees in a hyperinflation scenario they have to index the salaries accordingly, which is the mechanism I had always assumed. In other words, indexing does not have to be codified to be effectively in place. Also, real property assets (real estate with improvements, precious metals, and other tangible commodities) sustain some level of value above the previous baseline and are available for sale or barter.
In any event, hyperinflation does NOT refer just to cases where price increases are measured in decibels or tens of decibels per annum (which seems to be another implicit assumption of the excitable correspondent). I would construe inflation rates of above about 30% per annum (sufficient to necessitate a more frequent than annual assessment of prices and wages) to fall into the category of hyperinflation, and I believe that’s close to the definition you were assuming. We are going to exceed that level, at least on a quarterly basis, in the first quarter of Calendar 2013 when the new taxes and Obamacare taxes kick in, and again in the first quarter after "cap and trade" become the regulatory basis under EPA rules. (Note: that does not necessarily mean that the official inflation rate will be recorded at those levels, since the federal government is fully capable of adjusting the formula basis for reporting — inflation has been understated for much of the past four years because increases in food prices have been offset in the numbers by the continued weak housing market.) Those changes are strictly due to the underlying changes in the fundamentals. The expansion in the money supply over the past four years probably represents the opportunity for another 30% correction but not necessarily on the same schedule. So in the absence of significant wage corrections, a near doubling of prices over the next two years seems likely; a wage correction will drive it higher and trigger the inflationary spiral.
I could probably add more but that’s about the limits of my erudition for this morning.
Related note: http://www.cnbc.com/id/49792979 Wealthy Dump Assets Amid Worries About Going Over ‘Cliff’
The financial cliff is quite real. Be prepared.
Hyperinflation on Russ Robert’s "Econtalk" and Ricochet.com
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I do not know if you are familiar with Russ Robert’s "Econtalk," but it is a great source of information about everything economic. He is a professor at George Mason, and I believe now a Hoover fellow or some such. He does weekly, approximately 1.5-hour interviews with a wide range of economists, "ordinary" people, academics, authors, etc. A recent podcast on an economist who studied hyperinflations is here: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2012/10/hanke_on_hyperi.html
I really appreciate your work here, you are a treasure. You do seem to turn up in many parts of my internet reading and podcast listening – TWiT, Instapundit, John C. Dvorak (although not on No Agenda…that is a fun, informative show, if wacky at times).
Do you know of Ricochet.com? It is a project of Rob Long and Peter Robinson and others with National Review ties – Mark Steyn and Jonah Goldberg turn up from time to time…along with conservatives celebrities such as Pat Sajak. They were aiming for something like a civil HuffPo of the Right. Membership is required for commenting, which, along with a code of conduct, keeps things civil even while arguing politics/culture. They are now generating a number of podcasts. "Law Talk" with John Yoo and Richard Epstein is one of my favorites. I just threw your surname into their site search and found 19 hits for you; people do like to quote the Iron Law.
Thank you for all you do.
I think inflation is going to be less of a worry than you think. I suspect that the various crazies out there, maybe starting with North Korea, are going to start testing. And going by the issue with the embassies in the middle east, I think those tests will be met with apologies from the US. Which will encourage more testing. As the only real losers in the Arab Spring were those dictators who had learned the hard way not to harass Israel, I can see things hotting up over there, plus Germany has got to be getting fed up with being guilt-tripped into paying for the welfare habits of Greece, Spain and Italy, a frustration which could increase hugely if Russia decides to start taking chunks out other countries, not just Georgia. And then the Brits could try buying better quality food at lower prices from countries in the Commonwealth rather than propping up a failing EU. And so on, and so on.
With the lid that’s been kept on the crazies since WWII, I think we’re heading into interesting times at a great rate of knots.
Interesting times. They can be made a bit less interesting if one has a large stock of non-perishable food acquired quietly and without drawing attention. You do not want your neighbors to believe you are hoarding. Hoarding is evil. Being prepared means protecting yourself from having the reputation of being a hoarder.
It’s been my experience that people who use copy & paste, then declare what they tell you three times is true, are generally belligerent assholes who ravings can be readily dismissed.
As several analysts have noted, the situation we’re in is unprecedented. Even during the worst of FDR’s excesses there was some semblance of adult supervision. There is something worse than hyperinflation, where there is at least a value attached to the currency. The worst scenario is, for lack of a better phrase, though economists might have one, is complete dehydration of the currency. This is the opposite of liquidity, where the money is utterly worthless. You can make a bill three feet wide to have room for all of the zeros and it won’t matter. If enough people stop believing it is just pieces of paper.
Part of the crisis in 2007 was that financial institution holding massive piles of Mortgage Backed Securities said they couldn’t act because they couldn’t find any functional mechanism to place a value on the MBS paper. This was nonsense, of course. A thing is worth what someone will pay you for it. They refused to ask the market what it thought of their product because they already knew what the answer would be. So instead they threw a tantrum and threatened to hold their breath until…, well, until the government became the worse kind of weak parent and gave the brats what they wanted. A smarter parent would know the kid would immediately start breathing again after losing consciousness. And if autonomic nervous action didn’t kick in there were plenty of other kids looking for a good home in Manhattan.
Breaking the money is the CTRL-ALT-DEL of global finance. It’s the only way you can really start over. How you do this without WWIII is the question.
It’s late and I’m not sure much of the above makes sense. But anyone who thinks bizarre scenarios are impossible when we’re already in a bizarre scenario is whistling in the dark. We can either back away from the cliff and absorb some hurt to get back to a rational policy or we can make history of the ‘interesting times’ variety. Rational policy isn’t a strong suit of our species, so I expect history it is.
And you might look into other nightmares. Indeed.
PLEASE RECONSIDER WRITING…
…a survival book. The election and your recent musings on preparing for inflation make me think you could do it with your eyes closed.
Surely some of your old research and columns are still relevant? I realize that nuclear war is much less likely (although I think an isolated event much MORE likely now) but you have plenty of material to pore over, edit, compile…
I know you have enough on your plate already, but I think people would pay attention now. Tuesday really was a game changer.
We will at least have discussions here.
Conservatives, don’t despair
While I don’t agree with a few things in there, especially the snarky remarks at the end, the article does contain some good information and a bit of realism on what just happened. We’ve seen worse time – depression and WWII come to mind – and we’ve seen better times – roaring 20s and Reagan years come to mind. We’ll see worse and better times again, hopefully tinier bits of the former and grander bits of the latter. It isn’t the end of history and conservatism is a more sound philosophy than liberalism, but we need both. In my opinion we got a little too much of the latter in the last election, but hope is not lost. When Obama first came into office his party controlled all branches of government and still barely managed to pass Pelosicare. We are not done yet by a longshot.
And we can end on that note. And despair is a sin.
We have sown the wind, and we will reap the whirlwind, but that has all happened before. And Moore’s Law works inexorably.
View 750 Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I had finished the editorials and news and was thumbing through the entertainment section of the LA Times when my attention was drawn by a photograph of Spartan soldiers, which attracted me to read a review of a new TV series by National Geographic: Mankind: The Story of All of Us. The series begins tonight at 9PM. Oliver Stone will do his liberal view of about 75 years iof US History in 10 hours. The Geographic will manage to tell the story of mankind from the Big Bang To present. We weren’t around for a long time after the Big Bang, so the story starts with hunters in the grasslands of East Africa.
I haven’t seen the series, but the reviewer says “As with ‘the Story of Us’, ‘Mankind’ with its emphasis on battles, weapons and gadgetry, is clearly aimed at engaging the easily distracted preteen male.” It will be interesting to see which battles National Geographic considers decisive in the history of mankind. As long time readers will recall, I recommend Fletcher Pratt’s Battles that Changed History as one of the best overview summaries of the history of Western Civilization, in part because of his essays on why obscure battles like the Nike Sedition in Constantinople, and Las Navas de Tolosa in southern Spain were selected over the better known battles of Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World which I also recommend. (I also recommend that you read Pratt first, but that’s not terribly important – I read Creasy before I ever heard of Pratt. But Creasy concentrates more on the battles; Pratt embeds the battle into its times, and that can be important.) I suspect the Geographic series will draw heavily on Creasy. Most lecture series of this kind do so.
That, however, isn’t what intrigued me about this upcoming history series. The review continues “There is no way to tell the history of mankind in a dozen hours of television without resorting to absurdities, which here include having “experts” explain how terrible cold and hunger can be, how difficult it was to build the pyramids, how dangerous bandits were and how the invention of the alphabet made it easier to learn how to read.”
Given the state of historical knowledge – abysmal – stretching from the White House and Cabinet through many level of University scholars and down into the public school system, even I am not at all convinced that it is absurd to explain to young American people how terrible cold and hunger can be. We have immigrant children who know these truths in their bones, but the middle class American teen agers who watch the National Geographic Channel are not likely to have experienced such things at first hand. More, concentration on battles and military history cannot be a bad thing. I suspect that “Mankind” will not show the crucial scene in the education of Alexander of Macedon (not yet The Great) who as a teenager was sent with one of Phillip’s marshals with a small force to deal with insurgents and raids on the frontier. On the way they encountered a stream of refugees, young people, women well raped, carrying everything they had as the fled toward the order represented by King Phillip. The old marshal pointed to the stream of misery and said “That is defeat. Avoid it.” Alexander remembered that all his life. It is a lesson every free person should learn.
But that was not the phrase that attracted my attention to this review.
Reviewer Mary McNamara, the Times Television Critic, may think it absurd to have to explain to viewers that the invention of the alphabet made it easier to learn how to read, but I can guarantee you that a very great number of professors of education – and tens of thousands of their students who have become teachers – have never given that idea much thought. Until not very long ago California public schools, like those in many other states, discouraged the teaching of phonics in first grade. They taught “whole word” reading, which is essentially reading as if there were no alphabet. Words are presented as if they were icons. The notion is that one learns to read by word recognition. This bypasses the ‘decoding’ of words by ‘sounding them out’ and thus makes for faster and smoother reading. This is, after all, the way good readers read. There is a lot of research data proving that. So why teach the painful process of word attack, phonics, syllables and sounding out? Better to teach children to read well. Alphabets are all very well, but the important thing is to learn to read words and understand them.
The results were disastrous and California has never recovered from this. School readers had to be revised for ‘grade level’, meaning that stories like Ruskin’s King of the Golden River, poems like Longfellow’s Skeleton in Armor and Macaulay’s Horatius at the Bridge, short stories like The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, many stories by Steven Vincent and Rosemary Benet, all of which were taught by 7th grade in Capleville Consolidated in the 1930’s to farm children, vanished in favor of Dick and Jane and the whole parade of vocabulary controlled junk written specifically for grade schools. The first words of the McGuffy Reader which served America for generations were “No man can put off the Law of God.” The first words of the Soviet first grade readers were “For the joys of childhood we thank our native land.” The first words of a most widely used first grade reader in the United States during the height of the look-say period were “’See Spot run.’ said Jane. ‘Run Spot run.’”
Worse than the sacrifice of literature to banality was the plunging literacy rate. And worst of all was the loss of continuity: with no professor of education teaching phonics, no new teachers learned to teach that English is a phonetic language, and the whole notion of teaching reading through phonetics and teaching children to ‘sound out’ words was pretty well lost. Since professors of education have tenure, replacing those who believed in look say (and clearly didn’t understand phonics) takes a long time – and in many cases is being resisted because those tenured professors don’t want to bring in new professors who know the old goons to be culpable ignorami.
Incidentally, for those who don’t know: of course a study of people who are good readers will not reveal many who ‘sound out’ words. Almost no one reading this exposition will read that way, until he encounters polyethyldimethyltoluene, and depending on reading habits more common words that may be unfamiliar. One may or may not be able to read quaggas at a glance, although if the book in question is a history of large South African mammals it will be encountered often enough to become part of the recognition vocabulary, just as Hannibal and Punic will become familiar to those reading Roman history. On the other hand, those who know phonics will be able to read both those words. They will also be able to read many others they may have heard in conversation but have never seen in print. And of course they will encounter words they have never heard before, and must infer their meaning from context or by looking them up or asking a teacher. It’s a lot easier to ask the meaning of a word one can say. **
I don’t suppose that the National Geographic explanation of how the alphabet allowed more people to learn to read will much change the world, but there is a potential there. The problem here is that smart children often figure phonics out for themselves, but since they have never been taught the principles they don’t learn them all. My wife’s reading program requires seventy half hour lessons to go through English phonics in a systematic fashion. When the student is done with it the student can read, and it works with pretty well every intelligence level. (My mother taught first grade in rural Florida in the 1920’s; when I asked her if any of those farm children left first grade without learning to read, she said, some years there might be one or two, but they didn’t learn anything else either.) Bright kids will learn to read, sort of, without knowing about phonics, but some will have problems; far better to learn systematically. Less bright kids – and some bright ones – just don’t catch on to phonics until the subject matter has by-passed them. If you can’t read by fourth grade you won’t be likely to get much from the rest of your education.
You may take the above as relevant to the question of survival for the next four years. One thing you can and must do is educate your children. The public schools are not likely to do that, and I see no incentive for them to get dramatically better anytime soon. The most important part of early education is to be able to read. It is your duty, — not the school’s – to see that your children can read before they leave first grade. It would be better that they know before they enter first grade. Since the British education system for centuries was to have nannies teach middle and upper class pupils to read at age four, and it is not likely that those children were better protoplasm than yours, you may safely embark on doing this. If you want to know how, start with Mrs. Pournelle’s reading program The Literacy Connection. It’s old and it’s hokey, but seventy half hour lessons will do the job. Some may have to be repeated, but that’s no difficulty. While you are at it, see that your kids learn the Addition table to 15 + 15 by then end of first grade, and the Multiplication table to 20 by 20 by the end of second grade. None of that requires home schooling, which may not be possible. More on this another time: but one thing you may be sure of is that with the current election results, dramatic improvement in the schools is unlikely. You may add bad education and increased illiteracy to the inflation and unemployment of the next few years. Inflation, unemployment, and increased illiteracy may not be inevitable, but that’s the way to bet it given the past.
Smart people should be in survival mode. That doesn’t mean trekking out into the woods and hiding. What you need to do is find ways to make it more probable that you will survive in place in the coming stagflation. We will from time to time look into observations on this, and of course I welcome discussion.
I would say that National Geographic is correct in designating the invention of the phonetic alphabet as a key event. Of course those of us brought up on V. M. Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World have known that from an early age (I read it at about age five; my father bought it and left it lying about the house…) Alas, I don’t know of a reliable low cost source, but I can recommend the book as an early work for American kids. I suspect my father’s method of getting me to read it was optimum in my case, but I also understand that others have had success with bribes…
For that matter, leaving Pratt’s Battles that Changed History lying around for teen agers is worth a try. It too is worth a bribe…
I had thought the Benghazi / Petraeus story could not get more bizarre. Clearly I was wrong. Speculation without facts is a waste of time. We have not heard the last of this.
And once again let me remind you that inflation is almost certainly coming. Make some preparations. At least learn something about it.
** For grins, did you note the relationship of Punic to phonetic?
Note that the election was extremely close. Well under a million votes in six key states would have changed the outcome. The imbecility of the Republican consultants who built a strange and utterly faulty ground game should be enough to let us get rid of those suckers, although I wonder if the leadership has enough good sense to do that.
Close isn’t winning. But despair is not justified.