Hedgehog and the Fox

Sir Isaiah Berlin wrote a wonderful little book called The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History. Here is a quick version of Berlin’s thesis.

‘A fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. This fragment of a verse by Greek poet Archilochus describes the central thesis of Berlin’s masterly essay in which he underlines a fundamental distinction that exists in mankind–between those who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things (foxes) and those who relate everything to a central all-embracing system (hedgehogs).

I think our current election pits a hedgehog (Romney) versus a Fox (Obama). I think the libertarians who comment on this blog are hedgehogs. I think Bob Dylan is a fox and Louis Armstrong and Picasso and Susan Sontag and Martin Scorsese and Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerman are all foxes. I think Ron Paul is a hedgehog and Franklin Graham and Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum are hedgehogs. They see the world through a single lens, be it Austrian economics or fundamentalist religion.

But our world cannot accommodate hedgehogs, because “the infinite variety of things” is only exploding. The hedgehog is incapable of dealing with facts that contradict his world worldview. Take the whole inflation debate which our Libertarian correspondents have been telling us is coming down the pike at hyper speeds for the last four years, because the Treasury and the Fed are “printing money”. As Richard Duncan points out in his new bookThe New Depression: The Breakdown of the Paper Money Economy , that at the very point that Greenspan was unloosing the easy money, Globalization was causing “a 95% drop in the marginal cost of labor by bringing a billion people from the developing world into the global industrial workforce.”

How could you possibly have inflation in such a circumstance? Hayek is simply not able to account for this. So Ron Paul will never stop predicting hyper inflation and the suckers will never stop buying gold futures which PAY NO INTEREST.

Or take Paul Ryan’s insistence that an austerity budget like the Conservatives pushed through in Great Britain is the key to America’s future. Ryan continues to push his budget, which mimics the British one, despite the announcement this week that Britain has fallen back into a double dip recession.

Britain’s austerity experiment in particular has been judged by economists to have been ill-timed and poorly constructed at best. It is a reminder, in the consensus view, that the basic tenets of Keynesian economics – primarily, that government spending plays a key role in maintaining demand when the private sector is struggling in a severe financial crisis — remain as valid as ever.

So much for the hedgehogs. Never let facts get in the way of ideology.

But how are the foxes going to convince the country that their vision that we are at a Cambrian Moment–A time of radical evolutionary development–is a rational reaction to the end of the Interregnum. I am convinced that Liberals must embrace the experimentation that flows from Subsidiarity: the notion that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. David Brooks writing about Jim Manzi’s latest book Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society, notes that experimentation is the key to rethinking our politics.

Manzi wants to infuse government with a culture of experimentation. Set up an F.D.A.-like agency to institute thousands of randomized testing experiments throughout government. Decentralize policy experimentation as much as possible to encourage maximum variation.

Here once again we return to the idea of New Federalism. As you know, I have been wrestling with this idea for years without coming to a satisfactory conclusion. I think as the school year ends this becomes my summer project.

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54 Responses to Hedgehog and the Fox

  1. Rick Turner says:

    What do we do when there are more people than are needed for the production of goods to keep a society going? We’re basically there now. With the automation of factories and agriculture, it takes fewer and fewer people to keep it all going, and the production of goods, services, and food becomes based not on labor, but rather upon capital. I think this underlies a lot of the modern wave of unemployment. Workers are simply not needed to maintain a steady state economy, and may not be needed to grow an economy other than that their wages are needed to keep buying stuff. So you have this “create jobs” mantra…which may be meaningless if it’s just make-work. Create jobs making disposable junk that pollutes our environment? What if the whole concept of jobs as currently thought of is obsolete?

  2. Jon Taplin says:

    @Rick Turner- This may be the great question of our age. And I don’t have an answer.

  3. John Papola says:

    What a nonsense partisan post. I believe in the power of emergent order. That’s the hayekian core notion. Let a thousand flowers bloom, not some top-down plan. How is today’s world not able to accomidate such a vision? Hell, today IS Hayek’s world. Wikipedia was invented inspired directly by Hayek. Complexity theories and the study of complex systems draw heavily on Hayekian concepts. After all this time, you still don’t understand these ideas at all. Or you jumble them in your mind as part of some reactionary political bias. Grouping Ron Paul with Rick Santorum is a classic example of such bizarre muddle-headed analysis. The two are polar opposites. 100%. But no matter. They’re republican and your a democrat, so they might as well be identical. How tribal and sad.

    You might want to check your own “facts”, Jon, nevermind the absurd dismissal of Hayek. Productivity growth causes deflation. Increasing The money supply to wash away that good deflation and generate mild inflation is… Um… Inflation. Thats what happened under Greenspan and, as hayekian economist George Selgin points out, it produced excessively easy credit conditions that helped cause an unsustainable bubble. You dismiss what you seem to intentionally misunderstand. I will surely grant you that I’ve been surprised by the sheer demand of dollars (inflation only happens when demand exceeds supply), but I wasn’t expecting Europe to implode. It’s yet another case of Hayek being right, and that macro prediction is a fatal conceit.

    And, um, have you looked at UK government spending? Have you? Or have you simply linked to willfully ignorant hacks who treat political rhetoric as if it’s reality? Because it appears that UK spending has INCREASED. So how is that “austerity”? It’s like Krugman’s continual lies about Hoover and “austerity”, even though the historical record shows that he DOUBLED federal spending in real terms. This shoe narrative about “austerity” is obscenely false nonsense and pretty offensive to anyone that cares about what the word “austerity” actually used to mean: privation. We seem to be living in the era of delusional, selfish, baby-boomer infants who cry bloody murder if they’re starved to death when anyone proposes a cut in the rate of increase in government spending. How ludicrous.

    It’s very hard to understand the real factors across Europe, since each country is very different. Spain is heavily socialized and so it makes sense that fiscal contraction would lead to large unemployment, just as it has in Greece. But the historical record remains littered with significant examples of fiscal contraction and rapid growth. The USA after WWII is one of them. 1946 saw insane real growth event as government spending collapsed and Keynesians were predicting depression. But why let actual facts get in the way of fake political rhetoric?

    Does the Ryan plan even cut spending at all? Seriously. Does it CUT? Cut, by the way, means spend less tomorrow than today. It doesn’t mean spend less than we were thinking about spending based on some ludicrous “baseline”. The whole debate is being had on a fraudulent foundation. Anyone expecting Romney to actually cut spending is delusional. Anyone lumping Ron Paul in with Romney is trafficking in partisan scam-artistry.

    Oh… and isn’t it funny that we have inflation here (yes, we do) even with all that “slack capacity”? CPI-U over the past 12 months increased by 2.7%. Thats inflation, and it excludes fuel and food. http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/CPIAUCSL/

    But given the shockingly sloppy imprecision of this post overall, I guess I shouldnt be surprised that this data is ignored.

    As for the positive call for decentralism, of course I’m on board. The notion of state agency “experimentation” is terrible and will surely produce corporation crony boondoggling just as we’ve seen in the green energy slush funds. Government should apply its rules equally, not empower bureaucrats to pick winners and losers. The best governance experiments won’t come withing agencies. It will come among the states and cities because there is a real signal of value: immigration patterns. We see that playing out between the defunct and increasingly plutocratic California vs the leaner, freer Texas. You guys are bleeding people to come to our state. Thats federalism at work. All that will be left in Cali are the rich, the tenured and the subsidized poor. The middle class is fleeing the taxes, garbage schools and high cost of living. Inequality in the land of “fair shares” is the ironic icing on the California cake.

    We welcome y’all to come to Texas. Just leave the moonbeam boondoggle politics on the coast. Real liberalism is welcome, though.

  4. John Papola says:

    Here’s another data set for to review: the producer price index

    Since capital goods and commodities are more responsive to monetary policy, one would expect to see faster PPI growth during an easy money boom. Now look at the 2000s in that graph. Look at that slope. Notice the only period whose slop matches the 2000s: the 1970s. The diffence between the 2000s and the 1970s was we had significant productivity gains in the 2000s, hence the lower consumer prices versus the stagflation 40 years ago.

    Notice too the bump prior to 1920. That the WWI inflation that lead to a 1920/21 bust even steeper than ours today… And it was met with serious SERIOUS austerity by the Harding administration. Harding actually cut spending so deep that he was able to pay down the debt even as he cut taxes as well. The depression was over in 18 months and we had the roaring twenties. It’s the rapid increase in capital goods prices that turn an easy-money boom to bust as the cost of production becomes unsustainable. When the money expansion finally slows to curb inflation, as had happened in 1920, 1981 and 2006, the and imbalances are revealed and the need for restructuring of the economy becomes obvious, resulting in recession. The record comports with the Austrian model. The notion that “animal spirits” ends booms, on the other hand, makes talk of a “confidence fairy” (as Krugman derisively puts it) look downright scientific. Hell, the importance of confidence is one of the areas where Keynes is surely right, just not about it being causal. The housing market went south first. Then people starting feeling bad, because they were losing money. It’s not the other way around, as the Keynesians attempt to treat it.

    Oh, and another austerity factoid… the UK actually balanced the budget in 1930s and ended their depression. Today’s fake, non-austerity in the UK includes both high spending AND massive tax hikes. Not even Keynesian orthodoxy agrees with tax hikes during a recession. But that’s what the Cameron government has done. So the keynesians are really trafficking in lies with the “austerity” talk about the UK on all fronts.

  5. len says:

    If there are fewer people working but work is producing more profit, we should be able to afford to fix all the broken bits (say bridges, for example) and we aren’t or don’t. The excess is going somwhere.

    Meanwhile media is debating whether or not Girls is a racist show and the and the President made a fool of himself on Jimmy Fallon. Perhaps the excess is going to trivial things like Bob Dylan albums, overheating iPads, mythologized innovations, and hyping ideas that so far are not panning out in the day to day ability of people to improve their lives.

    Pushing down the cost of labor? What a quaint idea from the old South: keep them in shacks and let them keep their own watermelon patch. Ever actually been in a sharecropper shack or pulled a bag through a cotton field, Jon? Probably not. I have and did. I can describe the smell of newspaper and pitch stuffed into cracks between boards heated by a perpetually burning franklin stove and just how fast the heat empties when you push ill fitted back door open to walk down to the creek to get a bucket of water to heat on that stove so you can bathe in the sink and put the overalls on for the fourth day running, the smell of cheap cigarettes and fatback and chicory coffee (Louisianne) and a wet dog.

    A cambrian explosion of trivia and kitsch is not a shining moment in a culture that profits by these but will not pay its bills. Click with conscience.

  6. John Papola says:


    Len, note that incomes overall have gone up both in the USA and in China. We are always looking to economize and be efficient in what we produce. That means reducing the cost of labor relative to output in each particular instance. But the other side of that is that increased output of goods people value creates more real income overall. So manufacturing jobs go away, but those that remain become higher-skilled and higher-paying. The increased real incomes that come about because goods get cheaper are dispersed among all of the customers, who are now free to buy other goods, thus creating all new opportunities.

    Even during the past 30 years, real incomes have risen across the board and for each quintile despite massive globalization. Particular jobs get destroyed. But the overall picture is a much better one.

  7. Jon Taplin says:

    @John-I still say you are a hedgehog. Here you are citing how Harding fought the 1921 post war bust as a rationalization that serious austerity could cure our current Great Recession. You actually suggest that the British aren’t cutting enough. It’s obvious to me that there are almost no inflationary wage pressures in America today. In fact every statistic is showing that the media wage is falling and that only the top 1% are gaining. In fact 93% of the wage gains since 2008 have been captured by the top 1%. http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2010.pdf

    You and I both agree in the power of bottom up solutions. But the ideas being put forth by Ryan and his acolytes are just nonsensical in the face of the current recession.

  8. Rick Turner says:

    I think we’re headed to a permanent state of 8 + % “official” unemployment which probably means more like 15% to 20% (or more) unemployed eligible-to-work adults between the ages of 22 (a nominal college graduation age) and 65 (the “accepted” official retirement age…right now). The official unemployment figures are a fantasy and admittedly don’t include those who have given up looking, those who live on family members’ income, those who retired early and could work but don’t, etc.

    This all might just mean a permanent welfare state…or some sort of income redistribution…which is what unemployment insurance and welfare and food stamps are, so we’re part way there without admitting it. Or perhaps we need some sort of new CCC-like employment system that engages the “unemployed” in meaningful work…for instance fixing our deteriorating national, state, and civic infrastructures and vastly improving them. Oops, sorry, but that becomes one of those Socialist things, doesn’t it?

    The capitalist system as it currently works is not in the employment game; it’s in the game of eliminating workers as fast as possible and replacing them with robots. It’s in my own industry; it’s in my own workshop with the CNC 3D router I just paid off. I want as few workers as I can possible have. I just got rid of (I hope) my last toxic employee, and am down to three good guys whom I pay better than they’d get in other similar shops, but I’m not hiring another guitar maker here until my CNC machine is spitting out every single possible part it can make. And you know what? The guitar making factories in China are loaded with automation.

    Capitalists would prefer to have zero labor; the entire system, including regulation and taxation pushes business people in that direction. It’s an incredible pain in the ass to have employees. Business owners would rather work 20 hours a week overtime than hire one more person.

    So I think it’s “Bread and Circuses” for the masses here and everywhere. It may not be Hunger Games, but it’s sure Jersey Shore and Lotto and Ultimate Fighting and food stamps and Choctaw bingo and mindless music and Kim Kardashian and celebrity sex tapes. And just enough unemployment, just enough welfare, just enough of this and that to keep the lid on “the people”. Distract ’em, make ’em think that they’re just one scratcher away from a million bucks, keep the alcohol flowing, let ’em supersize themselves to death on toxic food and fat, and say how sorry we all must be.

    We know where the money went and is going…it’s the 1% stupid! And they play the Goebbels game so perfectly… They know that all of the above distractions are nothing compared to fear of the other, so a few wars here and there, a few million spent per enemy combatant killed…hey, it’s really good for business if you’re the 1%.

    How much has it cost per body in the middle east? I read it costs a million bucks to deploy a soldier in his or her first year of combat duty… It would be cheaper to just pay off all the Islamists to just leave us alone. But then we’d have to leave them alone, and there’s no profit in that.

    So as I see it, the money is trickling up, and only enough is trickling down to prevent a revolution. It’s a delicate balance, but the 1% is incredibly good at getting paranoid people to believe their shit. Just look at this TSA nonsense. Does anyone really believe that they’ve kept the skies safer? Trying to board a plane with a bomb to take it down is just stupid anyway. But then we like to believe that “the other” is stupider that we are. Hence the whole meme about it being OK to outsource manufacturing to the little brown and yellow people because they’re not smart enough to invent the products; we’re superior with intellectual property. What a racist crock of shit that has always been. The folks in Eastern and Central Asia are smart as hell, and they work their asses off. The only thing that’s changing that game is that their workers want more of the pie, and energy costs are about equal world wide.

    And my real income has not risen in 30 years. In fact, I do not live quite as well as I did then. Damn good thing for me that I’m on MediCare or I’d be just plain fucked. When I last was paying fully for decent medical insurance, it had risen to well over 30% of my monthly gross income. So I don’t want to hear about income rising…I think that certain necessary expenses have risen far faster. I’d just as soon be at my 1965 expenses vs. income rate…when I was paying 12% of my monthly gross in rent for a two bedroom duplex near Harvard Square…and I had a roommate paying half of that. I had a fantastic gig as a folk guitar accompanist to Canadians “Ian and Sylvia”, and all my expenses were covered on the road. Try that now…

    So…Interregnum…we’re in it, and it will be won by whoever has the best control over the media that keeps the people fed with images and fear and lust and soma.

  9. John Papola says:

    @Rick Turner
    Rick, your wrong.

    The problem isn’t about surplus labor relative to goods. This is NOT the great question of our times, despite what Jon says. His economics in this instane I trapped in the dark ages of Malthus. It’s totally defunct.

    We could employ everyone today if they cut thier wage demand and we reduced the subsidies to unemployment. We’ve seen this before. It’s called eurosclerosis. Germany had it but then liberalized thier labor laws. Obama took us in the wrong direction with predictable results. There can’t be a general glut of goods that people value. We have plenty I problems to solve. Most of the jobs today didn’t exist 20 years ago and the same will be true 20 years from now. Cheer up.

  10. Rick Turner says:

    Cut wages? You’ve got to be kidding. Are you going to cut rent, gas, and food prices, too? And what about medical insurance.

    You must be among the 1% who just doesn’t get how close to the bone most people are living. You’re obviously totally out of touch with reality.

    Gimme a break. Your suggestion would result in armed insurrection. We’re already living past the bubble, and our average standard of living is lower than it was thirty and forty years ago. That lowering of living standard just happens to have been masked by the extension of consumer credit and the housing bubble. Of course those chickens have come home to roost, and so you have the mass freak-out.

    I’m also very suspicious of the manipulation of student loan interest rates. Seems to me that keeping the rates low has a dark side, and that is that it gives implicit permission to college administrations to jack up all costs associated with going to college way faster than inflation would predict. Make it cheap to borrow the money your clients have to pay so you can charge them more and convince them of the need of your services. I am all for affordable college and good public schools. I just think that cheap borrowed money is a scam.

    And John, if we did have low unemployment, what would all the people be doing? Making more disposable shit we don’t need? It’s not Malthusian to say that we maybe don’t all need to work 40 hours a week to keep things going just fine. It may be Utopian, though too much of what we’re seeing is Distopian. I think if you worked the ratio of workers who actually contribute to our US society to the total population, you’d see that it takes an amazingly small number of people to keep it all kind of in balance. And if you got rid of societal sea anchors like the Military Industrial Congressional Complex…who add absolutely nothing of positive value to society, you’d really see how few workers a modern society really needs. We would all be a lot richer with fewer people, so maybe that is quasi-Malthusian, but we’d also be just fine with a redistribution of wealth in a manner that let capital benefit mankind to a greater degree.

    Enough hot buttons in my comments? Oooh…nasty words and phrases!

  11. len says:

    @Rick Turner

    I’m not hiring another guitar maker here until my CNC machine is spitting out every single possible part it can make.

    The beauty of that is the previous models go up in value as the pre-CNC collectibles. Does your customers a favor. :)

    Only a republican or a libertarian or an employer can find the good about people without jobs.

  12. JTMcPhee says:

    In amongst the flood of condescending pejoratives and cocky dismissives, Papola yaks about “local and low.” Seems to me that local (not what he means by it, of course) is a pretty good idea, but then everything he is peddling is that grand concatenation of what all but the few would find to be more of a dystopia than what we are suffering now. I’ve dropped this link before, but it bears reminding ourselves what the hyperhypocriteoHayekians have in store for the rest of us, with their “government-like organizations,” and power as the greatest good: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/11/journey-into-a-libertarian-future-part-i-%E2%80%93the-vision.html

    As to what people might be doing for “work,” other than wage-slaving for the Kleptocrats, there’s good sense in “locavore,” and maybe intentional communities devoted to sustainability, and maybe undoing a little of the doing that all those greedhead shits who have built the mess we have got now have done. And maybe stuff like working on physical infrastructure and parks and I am sure the inventive folks here could come up with a bazillion different “innovations” that are something other than saccharin-high fructose iCandy for our already hyper”entertained,” mindlessly distracted, consumptively obese culture.

    What a strange set of ideas we have about what constitutes “work,” which the shrinking number of us who have “jobs” are expected to do more and more of, and for which we are paid less and less “money,” to buy stuff that gets more and more stupid and silly and “costly,” despite the fact that for all the stuff that matters, there is more than enough to go all the way around the table, except for the insatiable appetites of the pigs in suits, who strip off all the wealth, and turn it into wars of choice and counterfeit Funny Munny and endless feckless fraud’n’waste like the whole MIC thing and the broke-dick thing that we are stupid enough to call “health care” in this country, and can STILL sucker the rest of us into fighting over the last pork chop and the last broccoli spear and the last crumbs of scrumptious chocolate chip cookie.

    Oh, and for true believers in Obama’s Team HopenChange, or even just willing spokespersons, Guess what’s still going on, un-punished, uncorrected, unaddressed, mostly unnoticed? http://www.tampabay.com/news/perspective/there-is-no-denying-the-american-torture-files-now/1227615

    Say again what makes “America” so great?

  13. John Papola says:

    Rick, I’m not talking about everyone cutting their current wages. On the contrary, I’ve pointed out that wages have risen and that this is natural and (of course) good. Rather, I’m saying that the cure for unemployment is, in part, those who DON’T HAVE A JOB, to be willing and legally allowed to take on work at a lower wage. Of course, unemployment and SSDI provide a floor because what rational person would work from less than they’re paid not to work. And sadly there are numerous other legal barriers including but not limited to the minimum wage which forbid or discourage the unemployed from being hired.

    Meanwhile, we have the structural mis-match of job opportunities for profitable/value-creating firms and available people. I’ve read that there are as many as 3 million job opening right now that aren’t finding some that’s right for the job. And, yes, finding the right person is very hard and any smart employer knows that his people are the most valuable thing. The talk of entrepreneurs being anxious to fire everyone is nonsense concocted in an ignorant vacuum. Good people are hard to find and you hold on to them for dear life.

    and our average standard of living is lower than it was thirty and forty years ago.

    This is patently ludicrous nonsense. Open your eyes. Even the cheapest goods and services today are wildly better than their equivalents in 1970. Compare a $15k car today to one in 1970. Or a $500 TV. Compare the percentage of median income used for food today versus 1970. Real median incomes and the quality of those real median incomes buy is INSANELY better today. This “stagnation” narrative is statistically bogus but it doesn’t even remotely pass the human experience sniff test. Now, I certainly agree that, thanks in large part to the Fed and it’s new power post 1971 to expand credit endlessly, an unnatural amount of income flowed into the big finance. But that’s not the free market at work. That’s central bank collusion and corruption. There’s much to be fixed and I would expect many of the reforms I want would reduce inequality.

    And John, if we did have low unemployment, what would all the people be doing? Making more disposable shit we don’t need? It’s not Malthusian to say that we maybe don’t all need to work 40 hours a week to keep things going just fine.

    Rick, are you smartest being every conceived? Are you a god? Why do you think you can begin to know the answer to this or that anyone else could? I’m typing this on a computer that didn’t exist 20 years ago, transmitting it through wordpress software that didn’t exist 10 years ago, operating on network infrastructure that didn’t exist 5 years ago. Get the picture?

    We can’t know what the future will bring. It’s the beautiful thing about human beings. We’re ENORMOUSLY creative. And you’re totally right that total number of hours we need to work in order to get by “just fine” will continue to fall. That’s great. That’s what happened when equipment ended family farming. It gave rise to kids going to school instead of working on (and dying in) the family farm. And you know what those kids did? Invent cars and planes and new life-extending medicines and fun toys to enhance all our new-found playtime. Hell, now we have many Americans not working until they’re 24 years old and then stopping at 65! Compare that to 100 years ago. Amazing.

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, Rick. Value is subjective and unique, just as the magnificent capabilities of each creative human being are unique. We have always filled our new found free time precisely because we live in an imperfect world. When the world is perfect, we’ll stop. Until then, we’ll keep improving it. And you know what… you don’t get to decide what that perfect world is for me. My perfect world may be filled with “disposable shit we don’t need” like faster iPhones and cool-ass video games. I value that and there are entrepreneurs freely prepared to work their butts off to make those things for me in exchange for the fruits of my work. Again, value is subjective.

  14. John Papola says:

    @Jon Taplin

    What I’m saying is pretty clear: the narrative about British austerity is a lie. They didn’t cut spending and they did hike taxes. I short, they repeated Hoover, only Hoover increased spending dramatically. This is the opposite of what Hayek or myself believe should be done, yet there are scammers like Krugman claiming the opposite. You pitched this false narrative in this thread.

    And why should we cut government? Because the government sucks. It is built to be captured because it is a bureaucratic monopoly. It transfers wealth to crony corporations, war profiteers and boondogglers and squanders scarce resources on bureaucracy and waste. And then, to pacify the masses, the people get entitlements that make them into infantized wards of the state. What a deal!

    Ryan isn’t putting forward real cuts in the federal government to my liking. And Im not here to defend Ryan or Romney. I defend classical liberalism and emergent order. I defend freedom and shrinking the government to give the maximum space for civil society. And yes, I defend Ron Paul’s positions. He’s not in the same league. He’s focused on ending wars at all times. He focuses on the Fed and its scams. He’s great.

    Of COURSE the top 1% made out like bandits since 2008! The government gave them all of our money between Bush, Obama and Bernanke. Again, that’s why government sucks and we should shrink it. Start with the military, homeland insanity and the corporate welfare state. Then Medicare.

    We don’t face a change in this election. The change has to happen at the cultural level first. That hasn’t happened yet. But I’m working on it…

  15. Fentex says:

    What rational person would work from less than they’re paid not to work?

    Any person who values work for more than just money, which is many people, and who finds there is no other work for them because employers find no need to pay more.

    I point this out not because I disagree with the idea of liberalizing wage controls; after all what I wrote argues for liberalized wage controls because people who value work for the ethic, the responsibility, the experience, the activity etc can be expected to accept what is needed to get the work – and if that’s liberalizing wage controls than that’s what it is.

    I point it out because the motivations and incentives aren’t so simply aligned that what welfare is available says all there is to know about peoples needs for work by setting a price for not working nor does liberalizing wage controls mean only those unemployed now will reap the consequences.

    I think the U.S, and much of the world, is suffering from miss-allocation of resources caused mostly by the wealthy and political tribes control of regulation and legislation and not by the poors claim to welfare.

    Stopping funding of war mongering and reducing the cheap cash supply to money markets in favour of productive investment should be the ambition.

    It won’t matter how right anyone’s argument about wage liberalization is or any number of relatively minor policy issues if the slavering monsters that are eating the common weal aren’t slain first.

    As long as CEOs of companies have to explain why their manufacturing business isn’t making the same profits as a hedge fund productive work is handicapped.

  16. Fentex says:

    If we did have low unemployment, what would all the people be doing?

    I think this is an unfair question because it implies JP is demanding cheap labour for specific purposes. His position is (if I don’t misrepresent him) that unemployment is a clear signal labour is too expensive in markets where if innovation is permitted, given our experience, people are generally able to invent new business given the opportunity and resources (in this case affordable labour).

    And it’s unfair to demand now that someone suggesting that be able to invent all that new business here and now to prove that it’s possible to invent.

    It may be fair to argue that the idea wouldn’t work because other structural problems prevent the affordable labour from blossoming usefully (for instance IP laws, regulatory frameworks or political roadblocks that outlaw disrupting the status quo).

  17. len says:


    A problem noted over the weekend and this morning on the political talk shows is how much of the profits from available labor are used to a) offshore the profits (say 75 billion in the case of Apple) then use profits to b) lobby for a tax holiday before bringing any of the money back into the US to invest here or, as shown by the evidence, to pay out to the investors who then offshore the money.

    In a system where the wealth is used to bribe the government then extort the citizens, none of the fancy abstractions of the liberals or conservatives, hayekians or jerkoffagins make any difference. We are being cheated by very well educated innovative highwaymen who sells us round edges and throw curve balls. Obama doesn’t have the will to change that and Romney is the champion pitch man for this game.

    It’s the insurance commercial where nice people kibitz politely with their burglars.

  18. len says:


    Jobs told Issacson Obama would be a one term President because Obama is “hostile to business”.

    Left? Right? Innovation? It’s a cambrian explosion of BS. Only money matters.

  19. Rick Turner says:

    It will be an interesting future in which world wages close in on parity…

    Here’s an illuminating chart for you:


    We’re 14th in the world as far as hourly wages in manufacturing goes, and the thirteen year trend has us sinking. Do you think that directly relates to our standard of living relative to other countries or not?

    A drastic shrinking of government would be throwing the babies out with the bathwater; it would be a French Revolution, not an American one. I totally agree re. the need to rein it all in, make government accountable, stop spending on the war machine. I also happen to believe that certain services need to be state owned…police, fire protection, good schools, streets and highways, parks, libraries, and yes, the power grid. I believe that certain reasonable safety and health issues need to be under government control…otherwise the greedy bastards will kill us in their negligence.

    The Libertarian philosophy assumes a population of agreeable noble people all pulling their weight with none trampling on the rights of the others. It is utopian balderdash. It completely ignores how people really work. Greed for power, greed for money, blood lust, and general fucked-up-edness are rampant. Those base desires and emotions need to be brought under control by society. That’s why we have government. And yes, sometimes government itself is made up of people with base motivations. That’s what we have to fight…not the concept of government itself.

  20. len says:

    And that is the flaw of localization: it assumes encapsulation as well (in programming terms, local variables are hidden from non-local routines unless they are shared in which case there is a formal means to change them (an interface). Each locale has to define it’s interfaces and publish them.

    What we actually have is a global regulatory system (interface) for shared/global variables (say, taxes) that can be circumvented by anyone with the social network empowered or enough money to buy that empowerment (our governments are owned by the richest people and they don’t have to be US citizens). As long as this is ignorable (what the Occupy folks are saying is true), there is no chance for change. It simply won’t happen because this system even if evil is stable and imperturbable. We almost had an opportunity until the men noted in Jon’s post used Federal tax dollars to stabilize it for the advantage of the same social network that destabilized it with reckless behavior.

    Government would be the answer, Rick, but our government is completely at the mercy of the 1% that is, the social network of the very rich. The only reason to be a hedgehog is there is a society of snakes that supersede the foxes in power, and in fact, hunt them as game. They don’t hunt hedgehogs. They steal from them: one big idea at a time.

    And that is why Jon’s article is bullshit. It simply moves the locks on the chains to another group of people. The culture of innovation is also a culture of burglary. Meet The New Boss.

    So our election comes down to nah nah boo boo: the right says anyone but Obama and the left says anyone but the Republicans. No change of values; therefore, no change. No Interregnum. No Cambrian Explosion. It’s a fully locked system.

  21. Jon Taplin says:

    @JTM-I never read that Naked Capitalism piece before. That is one scary dystopian view of our future in which we leave our security to the insurance companies and their goon squads. No mention of due process, trials by jury or anything that quaint. Just airlift the criminals to the Brazilian jungle and let them fight off the Crocodiles.

  22. JTMcPhee says:

    @Jon Taplin
    Waiting now for Papola to explain all that away, with a blizzard of jargon, a cornycopia of high-sounding invective, and a myopia of insight…

    Takes me back to days of yore, in Philosophy, where it was so damn IMPORTANT and TRUTHFUL and EXPLANATORY OF EVERYTHING to master the minutiae of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and Aristotle and all those dudes, with the grand goal of FINDING THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE. Papola is just sure that he has the keys to catalyzing “cultural change” that will somehow bring him and his affinity group to power, just like Philo profs always want the last word (and to be anointed Chairman of the Department…)

    The really sick part, of course, is that “we” are pretty much functionally just stewing vegetables and viscid chunks of meat in the great cauldron of mystical, recondite misery that is laid out so baldly in that series of articles, and pretty much already exists so many places, patently or less visibly. Speaking as a former government and private attorney who used to acctually be dumb enough to believe in a “rule of law” and the virtues of the Great American Democracy. As len says, it’s really about “money.” Ask yourself how “health UNsurance” works — no goon squads there, right? No subjugation? How about the whole US security apparatus and its physical and political and electronic Gulags?

  23. Rick Turner says:

    But Jon, all you have to do is buy stock in the insurance company, and then you can vote at the stockholders’ meetings and elect a board of directors who will appoint a CEO who will certainly do what’s best for the stockholders, right?

    Oh…wrong…and that’s the model of our government right now, too…

    Don’t forget amnesty for all…

  24. Alex Bowles says:

    @Fentex Regarding this:

    Q:What rational person would work from (sic) less than they’re paid not to work?

    A: Any person who values work for more than just money, which is many people, and who finds there is no other work for them because employers find no need to pay more.

    Thank you for stating the obvious. I’m always amazed by how often details like these sail past those who need them the most. Also, aren’t we way past the point of assuming that actual humans are “rational actors”. I mean, FFS, just look around. The presumption of rational self-interest is no basis for a viable economic theory.

    @JTMcPhee Regarding that Naked Capitalism link. I did enjoy this gem from the comments:

    First of all the security organizations he talks about: According to another 1970s libertarizan, Robert Nozick (and many others), there is the issue of dispute-resolution between two people who are represented by competing security organizations. There is a possibility that the security organizations, in order to fulfill their obligations to their respective customers, would have to battle each other. Eventually leading to a “dominant security organization” within some geographical area, also known as a “state” (or ultra-minimalist state, if you like). So lets not even pretend there won’t be the threat of violence or coercion to back up property rights.

    Vociferous libertarianism could be described as the preservation of that fiction exactly. And talk about irrational. Apparently these people don’t see that the best argument against them is them. And that gets us right back to point #1.

  25. Rick Turner says:

    Well, when I worked for one of the “Tittie Kings of Broadway” in San Francisco…a “Sicilian businessman” who was not “Mafia” in the classic New York/Chicago sense of “there is no Mafia” Hooverisms…I can say that a written contract meant nothing, and a man’s word was everything. There was much wrong with it all. And there was that which was right. If you said you would get the job done…you got the fucking job done if it meant that you didn’t sleep for 48 hours to get the fucking job done. If you said you’d have to work for 16 hours and then sleep foer eight an then go back to work…well, that’s what you fucking did. The deal was that you did what you said you’d do. If you collapsed and had a heart attack, well, OK, but you showed that you put out what you intended. It was a most illuminating contract…it mean dealing with some guys who were way out of my scene, yet they were scarily refreshing. Fuck the paper. Fuck the signatures. Are you going to do what you say you’re going to do? Are you saying it straight? Just keep your word…and that means not nuancing it. Black is black; white is white; and we agreed upon that… If there was gray, we agreed upon that, too, but we did that then, not in retrospect. Gray is for pussies, gray is for the dead…

  26. JTMcPhee says:

    @Rick Turner
    And those oral contracts were enforced just how, again? Performance per the contract, I am sure, was based solely on one’s desire to protect one’s invaluable reputation. And I am sure there was a whole non-governmental organization to precisely enforce the simple laws that were so carefully crafted by a fully representational, philosopher-king legislature, to exactly suit the entire nature of all human bidness intercourse…

    The few liberterrariumians I have run across seem largely to eschew the intonation or ejaculation of the “f” word — how the fucking hell do they expect their fucking system to obtain, without a liberal salting of the oral contracts and the entire enforcement climate with a flood of “f…s”?

    Remember, Jon, just because some conversable, charming True Believer (or for that matter, cynical politician) holds up a Cabbage Patch Doll or some other icon you recognize and are maybe drawn to because of various hopeful and pleasant associations it has for you, and that seems to establish some sort of “common ground to build on,” that holdup should not impel you to be seduced into allying with him, and thus giving credence and credibility to the set of stuff that really motivates him… see, e.g., the leadership history of the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union…

  27. len says:

    I’ve worked for them too. The PizzaCrew tended to be respectful but very insistent on having their way all the way and if that meant I came to the gig one night to find my gear packed and waiting for me while the New Guy In Town was setting up, I put it in the truck, bought a beer, one last flirt with the waitress and out the door. No contracts. Sue them and find myself unable to book a gig for a year. That’s the bidness. That’s the gray. On the other hand, Shoney’s would do the same thing AND use the local restaurant association to keep me from working to avoid competition. The Boys never did that. The Columbians? A whole different culture. They hurt people for fun.

    I’d rather have the contract anyway. It may have the value of a lottery ticket but it’s a chance. It comes down to the judge and being willing to do the due process.

  28. John Papola says:

    What a sideshow this thread has become. We’re not going to be privatizing the police any time soon. There is this ENORMOUS area of potential agreement between those who fashion themselves “progressive” and aren’t fake partisan hacks and those of us who fashion ourselves “classical liberals” or “libertarians”.

    But, unfortunately, tribal nonsense reigns supreme. So a circle-jerk about how Hans Herman Hoppe said this-or-that becomes some self-congratulatory excuse to dismiss what I bring to the discussion.

    I happen to take Jon’s posts about “the libertarians who comment on this blog” personally because, um, I think it’s referring mostly to me and Morgan. I’d frankly prefer for Jon to actually call me out by name given that there’s just the two of us (I guess Flint makes an occasional appearance. Does he count). It’s a little weird to use the general “libertarians” when referring to so few people. And, again, Jon and I have a generally lovely rapport off-stage. He’s a great guy. We both want to move this world toward one that is more just, less ruled by cronies and crooks, and more open to innovation and new opportunity.

    I’m not all that interested in defending the extreme theoretical implications of the stateless free society with you guys. Sorry. It’s nifty. But it’s utterly irrelevant in a world where our governments are killing people overseas for no reason, looking to imprison citizens without due process, lying about our fiscal situation as they head us toward a crisis that will tragically hurt the neediest of us the hardest even as, we all know, they’ll come to the rescue of their corporate cronies yet again.

    Priorities. I’m not your enemy. Not even you, JT.

    PS. Fentex got me right up above regarding wages. I, of course, want real wages to rise for everyone. But I also want people to have the opportunity to work for low wages if their only alternative is unemployment and stagnation. Keeping people out of the workforce by way of price floor-like labor policies isn’t compassion or helpful. Again, there’s a reason why Eurosclerosis has persisted in places like France.

  29. Rick Turner says:

    John, what if the labor is simply not needed? Who is going to hire people when goods and services are not wanted? So you then will probably say that the cost of the goods and services should drop…but what of our (and I’m speaking as a small business owner) basic overhead? I don’t see rent, utilities, insurance, etc. dropping just because some libertarians think I should hire skilled workers at slave wages…

    I do not disagree re. our government being way off base killing folks…and spending tens of thousands if not more per kill. I don’t disagree re. the due process thing though it probably doesn’t impact the economy much; I’d rather see victimless crimes decriminalized. That might help. And the lies…well, no argument there. The lies seem to flood over us from the right and the left.

    But I just don’t think that we as a people, whether you limit that to us here in the US or go more global, are ready for the free for all of libertarianism. It ignores the reality of how fucked up too many people are. We need restraints on greed. We need restraints on power. And those restraints are not going to come by turning it all over to insurance companies and lawyers…Oh, I just remembered…we did that, we’re there, and no, it doesn’t work.

  30. John Papola says:

    @Rick Turner

    Real competition is not a “free for all”. The most tightly constrained companies are those in the most competitive industries, like high-tech, which are also the least intervened. When you don’t have a subsidy or a mandate to ensure your business nor a “regulation” to erect barriers to entry for your competitors… you are less regulated than the firms who face real competition and must rely entirely of convincing customers to come through the door. The history is quite clear that interventionist government policy benefits the big, politically connected corporations. It’s not a “regulation”. It’s a guaranteed existence.

    I understand your concerns about technology, but they’re unfounded. The point at which there is no demand for labor will be the point at which we are all living in a post-scarcity world of infinite plenty. We’ll be in heaven on earth.

    If goods and services are not wanted, than what’s the problem you’re worried about? If nobody wants anything, nobody needs anything. We just all sit and stare and happily starve in zen-like peace. Is there another way for me interpret your question? What do you mean by “goods and services are not wanted”?

    Production is the root source of our ability to demand anything. We’re all born naked. We have nothing to trade and nothing is available to take (other than nature). I make something either because I want to consume it or because I think someone else will buy it from me so that I can consume something else. But if it’s just me, there’s no dice. So I need to make something you want and you need to make something I want. Then we trade. Add lots more people and some tickets to get over the barter issue and you have an economy.

    Now, what if a robot can make what both of us want? Awesome! We can trade poems or paintings or solve other problems the robot isn’t good at. This already happened. It’s called the rise of machinery in farming. 2% of the population produces more food than all of us want to eat (that’s because of the subsidies that it’s an excess). So what do we do? We serve each other coffee in exchange for helping with our back pain or teaching us piano lessons.

    There is an ENDLESS supply of real problems to solve. The more we free up creative human minds be automating away the problems, the better off we all live.

    So, when you look at food, the percentage of medium income spent on food has fallen steadily. The robots gave everyone a real raise. Less money on food means more money for piano lessons and coffee and reading more books and going on longer vacations with the family and doing more traveling.

    We’re gonna be alright. We really will.

  31. JTMcPhee says:

    “2% of the population produces more food than all of us want to eat (that’s because of the subsidies that it’s an excess).”

    Anyone care to offer a suggestion about what is (or maybe “are”) so terribly wrong with that statement?

    If we’re gonna be alright, it won’t be because of the advent of a mess of “voluntary associations freed from subsidy and regulation.” It will be because there’s a necessary critical mass of decent people who are wise enough to figure out how not only to feed, clothe and shelter themselves, but to create and enforce governance (beyond those magically perfect laws and enforcement that are postulates of the libertarian geometry) that sustains them and their communities and other communities (part of that silly Golden Rule thing, which gets taught in kindergarten, some places anyway, under “no hitting, clean up your own messes, and share”) where those other communities, in the ordinary course of “civilization,” and in perpetuation of the disease of MOREism, would just build a warrior cadre and figure out how to sneak into the next town over at night and kill all the men and enslave the women and children and make off with all the booty…

  32. len says:

    Scarcity? Food costs less? Heaven?

    There is some truth in it (productivity is up) but remember, the innovations enabling the improvements are orders of magnitude more complex and more removed from the natural world (not in the poetic sense but in the sense of the clean room required to create a computer chip). Simultaneously, dependence on the increasingly artificial complexity is increasing and you aren’t free to ignore them. Corner telephones are gone and snail mail is feeling poorly.

    You are participating in ever growing interdependence and the economy should reflect that in a healthy way. Society is functionally dependent on complexity that fewer can grasp or participate in the creation of so unless that is also making us smarter or amplifying our capability to manage that dependence, there is a limit on how much benefit can be expected as society itself becomes less manageable and the infrastructures we depend on more exposed to failure modes. We’re betting on fragility.

  33. JTMcPhee says:

    And many of us are betting on mutual asymmetric vulnerability. Been to a CDO-CDS trunk party lately?

    No consequences, no negative feedback, and the amp is, like, totally HUGE…

  34. John Papola says:


    It will be because there’s a necessary critical mass of decent people who are wise enough to figure out how not only to feed, clothe and shelter themselves


    Human society has already tried family-unit self sufficiency. It’s called the pre-industrial era. The middle ages. And people were dramatically LESS secure than we are today in our highly specialized and interconnected interdependency. Crop failure or bad weather meant famine and mass death. That sucks. What you’re advocating is the literally the liquidation of civilization.

    It’s not just safer, it’s also better for human spiritual growth and worldly tolerance of others that we are so reliant on one another. Self-sufficiency isn’t just the road to poverty, it’s the road to narrow tribalism and the worst kind of parochial animal instincts.

    Guess what, though? If you want to go into the wilderness and start a commune, you can right now! Nobody is stopping you.

  35. len says:

    @jtmc: the consequences may be slow in coming, but they’re coming. Note the OWS protests while not getting much press are getting more raucous. That’s one sign.

    One year of college for my daughter at Univ of Ala: $27,000. Half my yearly. So now we have the problem that as the complexity rises and education is the surest way to advance, education is even more out of reach and even when it is attained, we work half our careers to pay for it and then we work the rest of our career to pay for our children. And so do they. As a result even fewer people can get into the lower elites by dint of hard work and innovative effort much less the ruling elite that requires inherited wealth to go the universities that enable access to the inner halls of real power.

    Heaven? Lack of scarcity? A shining city on a hill? King Reagan the Oblivious… Try a community owned trailer park in the back forty of an old sharecropper’s field.

  36. Rick Turner says:

    And what about all the college grads who can’t get a job?

  37. len says:

    Rick Turner :And what about all the college grads who can’t get a job?

    They are in Oakland and New York putting that expensive education to the tasks of pulling down the walls one thick brick at a time while an overpaid overhyped mainstream media looks on in droll sarcastic horror.

    But yeah, I’ve a son about to graduate with a college degree in running soundboards and playing trumpet… in that order. The good news is at least for now and thanks to the Big O, I can keep them both on my health insurance at least until my health gives out. (Aside: good news, one more week of treatment (yuck) and then it’s maintenance ritauxin for two years. Numbers are good. God Bless Blue Cross and this low paid job in the armaments industry.)

  38. Fentex says:

    Guess what, though? If you want to go into the wilderness and start a commune, you can right now! Nobody is stopping you.

    As an aside, I don’t think this is true. If a person did try to opt out of society today and go survive off their own wits I don’t think they would be left alone to do it in western industrialized nations.

    Too much is owned or controlled by regulations forbidding individual unconsented activities and I’m certain the moment anyone offended an officials or busy bodies tastes or aesthetics they would be dragged back.

  39. John Papola says:


    America has LOTS of open space, Fentex. That said, you’re probably closer to the truth than fiction as a rule of thumb. Busy bodies are the worst of human nature. They are mini-totalitarians.

    Still, if you want to live a “self-sufficient” life, there’s plenty of places in the world that will provide that level of living standard.

  40. John Papola says:

    One more thought for Rick.

    Remember that people are SUPREMELY creative. Creativity and empathy are our most amazing and uniquely human capabilities.

    Consider that Facebook didn’t exist 10 years ago. 10 years!!!! And now it’s gigantic and changing the face of just about everything. Entire companies are being built on top of Facebook. When you ask me “what will we do when the robots make everything”… imagine asking me that in 2001 and expecting me to answer “social media”.

  41. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    For someone who makes a lot of noise claiming and complaining that other people put words in your mouth and thoughts in your head, you sure attribute a lot to me. Since when do you have any basis for claiming I want to “return” humanity to what you posit was the bad old days of what you wrongly characterize as single-family hunting and gathering and agriculture, or medieval conditions, sans medicine, sans dentistry, sans Lasik? That is what might be called “arrant nonsense.”

    Even the Rugged Frontiersmen depended on someone to grind their grain, smelt and blacksmith their tools, do a little archaeo-medicine… And maybe you could do some forensic economo-anthropology, since people who lived way back when were not generally family-against-the-world self-sufficient — they lived in communities of one sort or another, and slowly did that specialization/division of labor thing until they got to your magical innovative world of FACEBOOK! that is CHANGING EVERYTHING! for the how many people who inter themselves in that desiccated, shallow kind of interchange that already is drawing highbrow critiques from various sources. Change one can believe in, real or not…

    Maybe you, personally, and your circle, or prolapsed spheroid or whatever, are “dramatically ” more “secure” than a lot of people, sir, but your magical mystery world of betterisms is producing the kind of INsecurity that on a real-world scale is pretty unimaginable. Start with 20,000 nuclear weapons still deployed and pointed… somewhere. Look at the oceans. Check out Stuxnet. See who’s starving, or living the libertarian dream by picking useful and sort of edible bits and chunks off the garbage dumps of the 0.063%ers. And on and on.

    We humans are mutually vulnerable, on a pretty unimaginable scale, too many of us suckered into applauding the “success” of a relatively few little folks sneaking around, figuring out ways to “get ahead” of all the others, which when you add up and resolve all the little vectors of all those behaviors, it does not seem to me to give a solution at all.

  42. JTMcPhee says:

    Even the Unabomber had to go to town for supplies and explosives, and to mail his packages…

  43. JTMcPhee says:

    Re Papola’s statement regarding productivity yielding “more food than all of us want to eat:” I guess he’s insulated from the immanence of the lives of the many, many people who are at, on, or over the edge of starvation. It seems to me his “all” is a pretty exclusive and shrunken group. Or maybe it’s just a problem of distribution, that “the free market” would cure, were it not for all the “distortions…”

  44. John Papola says:


    The poorest baby born in America today is more secure than the average person born in 1100AD when most people were “self sufficient” and farmed their own food. Hell, the poorest baby is likely more secure in America today than the richest baby born in 1100AD. That’s my point.

    I personally don’t find the Arab spring “shallow interchange”, and it’s been enabled by technologies like Facebook and Twitter that didn’t exist in 2001 and wouldn’t exist at all if most people were still farming their own food.

  45. len says:


    Umm…. everyone is aware that in some inner cities, real food isn’t even available, yes? They are buying out of liquor stores, gas stations, etc. A whole quickie mart culture.

    Infinite supply and available anywhere are not the same measure.

    @john: The arab spring isn’t nor is the occupy movement anywhere. But upswellings of populism at any time are almost always a media-driven event once past the shared sentiment, and the sentiment can be quite shallow and media follows money. Facebook is not different in this respect. Infinite supplies of martyrs are usually unavailable. Syria is the other side of the Arab spring. White balloons in the skies and blood are everywhere available and there seems to be an infinite supply of bullets.

  46. Rick Turner says:

    Papola, try reading the medical stats re. our position in the world. We’re nearly 3rd world…as I keep posting here to amazing rounds of silence. You seem to think that materialism equals quality of life. I don’t.

    My happiness quotient was just fine in 1965, and I paid a hell of a lot less of my gross income for food, housing, and medical care. My parents OWNED their home…the mortgage was paid off, and they weren’t though of as fools for not leveraging their lives for a bunch of crap. They had NO credit cards…and I don’t now. I am under much greater stress than were my folks…and more than I was under 40 or 50 years ago. I don’t think that my situation is unique; most of my friends feel this way.

    Those of my peers who did have 401k’s are singing the blues. Hey, remember when the rePuklibicans were trying to eliminate Social Security so all the dough would flow and blow in the stock market? Well, man, try to get that one across again! What’s worse than handing your money to the government? Oh, handing it to bankers and stock brokers!

    Do you really think people are happier now than in the fairly recent past? I don’t.

    And yes, we’re a country where the government buys surplus cheese and pays corporate farmers NOT to grow certain crops, and they’re starving in Somalia. That’s fucked up.

  47. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    Gee, isn’t it nice that internet interchange can be used for stuff as different as Arab Springing and spam and exchanging videos of guys fucking little boys and goats and girls beating the shit out of each other and cyber-bullying and what’s the Arabic for “OMG, fer sher, like, totally twee!!!?”

    (Is it just me, or is the phrase “Oh my God!” or OMG or OMFG and other variants one of the most blind-ignorant-hypocritically abused in our burly language? How many pretty or cute Facebookers give even a tiny thought to what that casually and/or excitedly ejaculated invocation of the Almighty portends, or how spewing it out over and over removes all virtuous meaning from the association and invocation?)

    For every little bullet point you can come up with, this over-critical cynic can fire off 30-round clips all day long. And Greeks and Teutons and Picts and Romans and Incas and the denizens of the Kingdom of Dahomey didn’t “family-self-sufficiently” grow their own food, they had a real good system of the then equivalent of factory farms, and the entire foundation of “civilization,” the parts of which you are willing to see (and as the Lord is reputed to have said of His Creation Series,) find that it is good, was the growing of grains and development of irrigation and harvesting and storage technology and fundamentally all those nascent bits of what has become “government,” from writing and record-keeping to priests to confirm the divine rights of kings to the Code of Hammurabi (which is mostly about torts and divorce law and commercial transactions, and PRICE-FIXING, even — http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp) to the funding of warrior classes to (a) keep the Hittites from stealing your grain and goats, and (b) send sneaking or marching or charioting over to Hittite-land and slaying with the edge of the sword and stealing THEIR grain and stuff and making slaves of their people that “our” warriors didn’t kill outright. Your notion that humans lived in little self-sufficient family groups and “fed themselves” might, might, be accurate for a very small subset of our ancestors, but even the Inuit, the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and the various peoples we call “Aborigines” and “native Americans, etc.” lived, and many still live, in complex, interdependent, much-bigger-than-family groups.

    Look with wondering eyes at the possible personally profitable futures you think are on us, and then step back to Mesopotamia in the time of the First Babylonian Empire, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammurabi, when I’m sure there were some nascent libertarians who chafed under Hammurabi’s regulatory and tax regime, and saw grand futures coming from improved boat designs and New! Improved! cuneiform tablet clay and wait! There’s more! Better, elephant-tusk-ivory incisors that increase the rate of production of characters!

    All bubbles pop. Shit happens. “The most persistent principles in the universe are accident and error.”

  48. JTMcPhee says:

    @Rick Turner
    Re medical care (which I would call “health care,” except that the phrase has been robbed of its nominally decent meaning and warped to refer only to the broke-dick “system” we suffer so stoically and stupidly today), previous readings from Papola would seem to indicate that the Present Horror is just largely fine, intellectually, since it’s based on the selling of skills and pills to those who can afford them (thanks to their Honest Transactional Wealth Accumulation). I would be happy to be proved wrong on that point, of course. Lest anyone forget, I’m a lowly nurse who spends much of my day applying not so much the skills I learned in nursing school, but the ones I built as a former federal enforcement attorney and in retail store management — the ones involved in figuring out how to serve a larger human need, to “get things done, piecemeal,” by working around or subverting some blank-facedly cruel, careerist- and profit-driven “system.” Any idea how much motion is lost in processing “prior authorizations,” which are only barely related to any kind of “cost control” and then only in the sense of reducing the amount of outlay of collected premiums for all that “health UNsurance,” to reduce the “loss ratio,” which syntactically would sound like it’s a Good Thing, right? Or appealing denials of coverage? Or suffering death or disability thanks to “bad faith” on the UNsurers’ part?

    But the Serious People can comfort themselves that they have “good UNsurance coverage,” and besides, little citizen, “It’s complicated, and we have to address all the important STAKEholders’ concerns, now don’t we?” Hey, you mother-fuckers (and I bet some digging would turn up anecdotes of UNsurance types ralphing over their own mothers), what are the rest of us, “Vampires?”

    My mid-Sixties was kind of spoiled by my personal stupidity in enlisting to go fight the Commyanist Menace in Indochina so the girls on the boardwalk at Long Beach wouldn’t have to learn Russian and drink vodka or Tiger Piss Beer to deaden the pain of being raped by Soviet Troopers or “little yellow men.” And that action on my part kind of screwed the time up emotionally for my parents and sisters. But yes, things seemed a lot more secure and orderly, even though in retrospect we can all see the machinery that was churning to bring us the world we have today.

    Of course, that same machinery, also New! and Improved!, is still trying to steal all the “excess wealth” represented by the SURPLUS in the Social Security Trust Fund (that thing that everyone is OMG shrieking is Going To Be Bankrupt In 2033! (except that is total fucking bullshit and a complete misrepresentation of the accounting). And of course the Holy Grail of The Public Be Damned would be a patent “Conservative” domination of all three branches of the mythical checks-and-balances Republic (beyond the covert concert-of-action that exists now), and them then defaulting on those “special treasuries” representing the taking of all our FICA and Medicare “contributions” to fund the fucking wars of choice and a few paltry billions in “subsidies” to Big Oil.

    See, e.g., Paris, France, May 4, 1789, for what’s coming up…

  49. Fentex says:

    The poorest baby born in America today is more secure than the average person born in 1100AD when most people were “self sufficient” and farmed their own food.

    This sort of thing bugs me a bit for I don’t think life a thousand years ago was all that bad, people often have exagerrated ideas of what it was like then.

    I think people tend to imagine periods like the Hundred Years war and the Plague when they think back that far but that was less than a thousand years ago and was a prolonged period of grief and strife. But a thousand years ago happens to have been a relatively settled and productive time in Europe.

    The big thing any baby in the world today has over those of a thousand years ago is much better odds on surviving infancy. But once that’s done their odds aren’t all that different from most of the worlds today of living a lengthy and healthy life.

    The standard of life for peasants in rural England a thousand years ago was better in some ways than that of a poor person in inner London. They had, by several measures, more autonomy, healthier diets and a stronger position in their society than the poorest in big cities today.

    The obvious differences in entertainment make for harder to measure comparisons but I think the far reduced odds on being capped by gang bangers or dragged into other peoples wars (neighborhood or national) were significantly lower making life more secure.

    I shouldn’t have liked to be without my luxuries, but people who never knew them were, by the expectations people today often have, surprisingly well off.

  50. len says:


    From the “We Told You So” class of Inconvenient Truths. When it gets right down to it, Taplin, you work for the bad guys and it doesn’t bother you to do that as long as the gauze filters are applied. On the other side, it is the winning side for the time being.

    A completely closed ecosystem smothers itself. A semi-permeable system that opens up to swallow neighbors and steal whenever something is worth stealing thrives. This is the cruel truth of both organic and information ecosystems. The cambrian explosion is not a magical event full of philosophy and poetry. It came about because the environment ceased for a short period (in geological time) to be an adversarial force. This was similarity to the early days of the web when large players were enticed into playing self-extinguishing roles in what turned out to be a period of unbridled piracy (as true for software as for other digital media).

    Remember that the next time the “piracy is bad” eternal thread starts again. You are working for the very forces that made piracy a pleasure before seizing the port and then turning on the farm charm to keep the animals behind the gate. Once closed and tightly controlled (see HTML5), innovation returns to the labs behind the firewall doors. More stuff of the same class is not innovation. Disruption becomes a no-no or as a former Motown producer told me once, “We’ll never let another Beatles happen again. It almost bankrupted us.”

  51. Fentex says:


    He’s wrong. Apple was succeeding with superior design and engineering before it invented a new thing that worked – a practical useable personal computer/phone followed by a tablet computer that extended the utility.

    That it enabled an internal ecosystem of applications is interesting in that it allowed the recording industry to fall into a trap of thinking the control it gave was a good thing and licensing Apple to sell their wares.

    Now they regret it because they’ve handed their position of gatekeeper off to Apple and it chafes them.

    But as many are finding out now investing in Apps where HTML can provide is an error but that won’t harm Apple because Apps aren’t the nub.

  52. len says:

    Apps are songs that serve drinks with the set.

    But he is right. Apple took what it wanted/wants and gave not a helluva lot of code back. They are a closed free rider. And that chafes. I get the bit about “machines that just work” and we said very early on the company that made a web browser work as reliably as a television would have a very big advantage. Not for long, I think. Brand only goes so far. Then function outs for cost and novelty. For artists, it’s still a matter for producing for the channels at hand.

    iTunes is one and the musicians who are shopping their work there are welcome to it. Good money if you can afford to promote it but I’d rather see the Secret Sisters on PBS (hey, t-bone is playing with them; this should be really good).

  53. Tom James says:

    Who is Mark Zuckerman?

  54. I don’t believe in the power of emergent order. Mark Zuckerman doesn’t either i believe.

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