Good reading on the Saturn Engine; a ramble on self government and productivity

View 811 Saturday, February 22, 2014


“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983



Another day recovering from my various ailments and ills, but I am reading and getting some things done, so recovering is the correct phrase.


For those who want to understand something of what it was like in the Apollo Race days,

Is fascinating, and for those who have do plans for the future I’d make it required reading.

This was brought to my attention by the efforts of

Stephanie Osborn

Interstellar Woman of Mystery

See all my books at <>

"Sometimes our hopes and dreams do not go the way we planned, but we must never let despair overcome us. We have to try and we have to care. We must never give up when we still have something to give. Nothing is really over until the moment we stop trying."

~Jeremy Brett

"Sometimes you gotta say what’s in your heart… And you have to stand for what you believe. No matter what."

Thanks Stephanie


And while I do not often publish my fan mail, once in a while I do in a fit of shameless self promotion:

2 Great books


I’ve just finished The Burning City and Burning Tower back to back on my iPad Mini – I felt compelled to congratulate you and Niven on a couple of cracking good stories! I really enjoyed them! Whandall, Sandry, Tower and Reggie are really great characters and I TRULY hope to run across them again on the pages of another addition to the series.

Thanks for the enjoyable experience…

Hope your wounds from the fall have healed!


Thanks for the kind words. I confess that I am quite fond of The Burning City, which came about because Niven was having trouble with a novelette and invited me in, and it just grew into two novels and possibly a third to come. Burning Tower is a full novel, romantic as well as heroic, and we have fun writing it, and driving through the desert to the various places where it takes place. Thanks for reminding me. And I am healing nicely, thanks.


Minimum Wage

I haven’t read The Road to Serfdom in a long time. (The Road To Serfdom, didn’t that star Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour?) But I believe that quote was in fact a preface to an argument that a full-on European-style welfare state would inevitably lead to socialism. Of course, many of the enthusiasts for a minimum wage hike are the usual social democrats, socialists, Marxists, fellow travelers and useful idiots, so that’s a good thing.

If raising the minimum wage to $12/hour is good why not $25 or $100? Why not give every worker $1 million and eliminate all poverty? After all, $12/hour is only $24,000 a year. Who could live comfortably on that? It won’t even cover the payments on my Lexus, condo in Aspen and daily double tall skinny soy decaf latte at Starbucks.

Of course raising the minimum wage sounds like a good idea. And in a perfect world it really would be one. But the only arguments from the proponents amount to special pleading, completely ignoring the negative consequences. Both Charles Murray and Thomas Sowell have made a compelling empirical case that historically raising minimum wages really does increase unemployment. No fooling, kids, it really did. That’s not just a theoretical argument, subject to changing precepts, it’s real. And it most affects the most vulnerable elements in society, like black teenagers. Most minimum wage jobs are entry level, and lead to higher pay in any case. I know the proponents will always be able to trot out the one man in America raising a family of five on a minimum wage job he’s had for the last 57 years. In a nation of 350 million you can find at least one of anything.

There is another way out of this conundrum – inflation. Raise the minimum wage and then inflate the currency so that the new, improved living wage buys exactly the same amount of goods and services as before. That should keep everyone happy.

Labor obeys the same law of supply and demand as any other commodity. More supply lowers the incremental cost of a unit of labor. If you want a real, sustained increase in wages the supply of labor must be restricted. Start by discouraging illegal immigrants, deporting ones already here where possible and so on. Some sort of protectionist tariff on cheap foreign goods.

And then – Tax the Machines!

There really isn’t much demand for back-breaking, mindless grunt labor any more. Not like 150 years ago when 80 or 90 percent of the population lived on inefficient farms just to feed a small number of urban artisans.

The industrial revolution combined with Moore’s law has just about eliminated the need for conventional labor, and it’s not coming back unless we do something highly artificial.

What to do? WPA-style make-work projects is one possibility. It takes something like 20 laborers with picks and shovels to do the work of one bulldozer with a skilled operator.

A few road building projects, dams and state parks could absorb a lot of surplus labor if purposely done with manual labor like in the good old days.

Sure it’s horrible mindless, back breaking and so on, but *it’s a job*. Dignity, schmignity.

How are we going to handle the left half of the bell curve? There are just so many jobs for massage therapists, scented candle makers, butlers and so on. I know! Organic farming, let’s make all the surplus to requirements population Amish.

Seriously, outside of a few radical libertarians, we really don’t want starving poor people dying in the streets. If machines are going to force vast numbers of formerly employed workers out of a job and we want some sort of societal safety net for them, make the machines pay for it. They don’t care. (Or maybe they will. I’ve always wanted to write a story about the Robot Industrial Workers of the World (the Robblies) staging a general strike for more workers control, tastier lube and better conditions. Self-aware machines could lead to all sorts of complications. "But ma, I don’t want to be a horizontal end mill!!!") The owners face a similar situation to the one presented by the tariff. Best outcome is spreading the misery around so that no-one gets an over sized portion.

I’m out of ideas. What should we do?

There have been more (Moore?) changes in the last few generations than in the previous thousands of years. We either find ways to survive or we’re back to hunting and gathering in the ruins. Earth could wind up like Mote Prime a lot harder and faster than anyone expected.

Man Mountain Molehill

You raise many of the important questions.

My proclivity would be to teach, in the schools, the principles of self government, and let those who don’t have useful productive jobs be employed at governing themselves. A great deal of the work of self government requires mostly honesty and some dedication to getting things done; it’s not rocket science. Yet most local government is awful, and the few citizen jobs tend to be things like crossing guards. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I agree we don’t want street after street of beggars, nor do we need workhouses of the Dickens variety. Citizens ought to be, and feel, useful. For a man to love his country his country ought to be lovely. And there should always be a clear path into the productive community; but that doesn’t mean that if you aren’t an engineer, scientist, or financier you are useless: a great deal of self government can be done by almost anyone conscientious and honest. Obviously not all; but quite a lot.

Self government by Citizens who have a basic safety net of income and choose that path would be very useful were the schools to be oriented in that direction.

The DOW is high, but the number of jobs in the new efficient economy isn’t rising very fast. Unemployment falls more because people stop looking for work rather than by the creation of new jobs, and since the economy is awash in capital – see the DOW numbers again – the investments are likely to be in machines – robots – rather in jobs for graduates of schools that seem unwilling and unable to teach their students how to do anything that someone would pay them money to do.

A republic with a large number of people who are proletariat – in the original sense of the word of those who contribute nothing to the state but their progeny, and who have no other stake in the country – is in trouble. In the days when 70% and more of the population was required in agriculture this wasn’t such a problem: if you didn’t own a small plot of land (in some eras soldiers were pensioned with as much land as a man could plow in a day, or two days, or two such plots) you could still hire out as day labor. The old Southern share cropper system worked this way, sometimes smoothly, sometimes not; but there was always some work. In today’s economy the number of people with no skills at all who are needed to keep the economy running is not large. Domestic service used to provide jobs for many, but that is considered demeaning by many now.

So we have a growing number of people who have little to contribute, and who know they are useless – but they do have a vote. It is said that democracies endure until the proletariat realize they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. Historically it doesn’t get very far after that: the rich realize that hiring soldiers and bodyguards and security forces is cheaper than paying the taxes demanded by the people. And so it goes.

I seem to be rambling so I will leave it here. How does one distribute the wealth generated by machines, and how do you get anyone to invest in building those machines? They don’t run themselves, just as a complex financial system does not run itself; there is always a need for skilled labor and management. Those with skills tend to live apart from those who have none. The skilled are necessary. When many Citizens are not needed, what happens? I explored some of this in my CoDominium books.

More another time.


Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.