Showing posts with label capitalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label capitalism. Show all posts

Friday, May 21, 2021

Spam for breakfast, nothing for lunch

This morning I checked my email and found a message from Jeff Bezos. How exciting! Here it is:


My name is Jeff Bezos an American technology entrepreneur, investor, and charity donor. I'm the founder, CEO and president of, Inc. I believe strongly in ‘giving while living’ I had one idea that never changed in my mind, that you should use your wealth to help people and i have decided to give Five Million Dollars, to randomly selected individuals worldwide. On receipt of this email, you should count yourself as the lucky individual. Your email address was chosen online while searching at random. Kindly get back to me at your earliest convenience, so I know your email address is valid. …

Best Regards,
Mr Jeffrey Preston Bezos, Billionaire investor

Whoa. Five million? Really? Sign me up.

But then, I asked myself, "What's the catch? There's always a catch." Thinking this, I hesitated to reply to Mr. Bezos. "Why," I asked myself, "would Jeff Bezos choose me? Could this email be SPAM?"

Or is it really from Mr. Bezos? Is he the kind of philanthropist who gives money to random strangers? Not according to a Forbes article from September, 2020. The magazine scored 400 billionaires on their philanthropy. Five was the high score. Bezos got a one. That score means he's given out less than 0ne percent of his wealth.

Well, perhaps he's a humanitarian. Not so, according to this PBS story. Former employees consider Amazon a dehumanizing workplace. But if Bezos isn't a philanthropist or a humanitarian why would he want to give me five million?

He could be sitting on a lot of spare change. Maybe not. Didn't he just buy a 500 million dollar yacht?

On another note, my ancestors used to hunt and gather their food. They didn't own much, because there wasn't much to own. The food they acquired, they shared with their neighbors. Their neighbors likewise shared food with them. Sounds like Communism, doesn't it? Luckily, humanity replaced gathering with farming, and hunting with animal husbandry, so that it could invent real estate and other forms of property. With property comes capital and with with capital comes Capitalism and its heir, income inequality. Through new methods and technologies, Capitalism now churns out extreme income inequality like climate change churns out high waves. Society could do something about this, but why stop a great party just because some go hungry?

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Why the one percent wants climate change (a conspiracy theory)

My book is free on Kindle July 4, 2021 weekend

Let's discuss one of my conspiracy theories. First I'll tell you my biases. I believe that humans cause climate change just as much as I believe that humans hunted mastodons to extinction. I believe that Easter Islanders denuded their islands of vegetation prior to ending their days knocking over big stone heads. Since I also believe that the Japanese learned to manage their forests rather than denude them, I believe we should manage climate change rather than dither-about denying it. To do so effectively will require a massive amount of human cooperation and will. Without cooperation and will, other resolutions to humanity's problems will result in far more more human misery.

Climate can change for a variety of reasons. I take on faith that human activity is the main cause of current climate change. Climate science is complex and I'm no expert. I believe what I do because what I've seen matches my general science knowledge. For example, when I watch Neil Degrasse Tyson discuss climate change in his Cosmos episode on Venus, it fits with other things I know about science. On the other hand, when I hear a critic call Neil Degrasse Tyson a shill, I wonder who this critic shills with his false claims. In my view, climate change denialist arguments use cherry-picked data to back their claims. They've put their money into slick persuasion rather than sound arguments.

I also take on faith that humanity has both the technology and the ability to reduce the effects of climate change. We can't stop what's happened or what's going to happen, but we can certainly slow it down and adapt to it. What we can't do, is ignore it. Doing so would result in calamities far greater than the inconveniences we'll face if we put our efforts into tackling climate change now.

Technology and ability aren't enough however. A firm will and cooperation are required tools as well. At the moment these tools are in short supply amongst human societies. But I think attitudes can change.

Historian, Walter Sheidel writes about social collapse in his 2017 book. He shows how hunting and gathering societies must cooperate to survive. People in such societies own little besides clothing and tools. Once people began farming and herding, surpluses developed. Where there are surpluses, humans tend to create hierarchy, one result of which is Capitalism. People in hunting and gathering societies owned little besides clothing and tools. Once people began learning to farm and herd, surpluses were able to develop. Where there are surpluses, humans tend to create hierarchy, one result of which is Capitalism.

Sheidel notes that survival level societies are less innovative than hierarchical ones. Indeed, innovation was one of the advantages of our Capitalist society. During the Cold War, this advantage was promoted in public service announcements which claimed that Capitalism is superior to Communism because it encourages competition resulting in innovation and greater choice for consumers.

Now that communism is not considered the threat it once was, it might be worth considering what can be accomplished with cooperation. I believe when societies become overly hierarchical, power bottle-necks competition and opportunity, and causes poverty and ill-health. Where hierarchy was once an advantage, now it gives diminishing returns. As more and more wealth and power is held by fewer and fewer people, competition and innovation must diminish as well.

In any case it's time for my conspiracy theory. Most Americans haven’t seen significant wage increases since the early 1980s. However those in the top 20 percent have found life fairly easy. One thing, there's what, eight billion people on the planet now? Fixing the climate will mean sacrifices, and even if we make them, what will we do about all those people?

I remember a biology class experiment using two fruit fly couples. We put them in a closed environment, gave them plenty to eat and drink, and let them do their thing. They reproduced and then they reproduced some more. Soon there were generations of fruit flies living in a little closed dish. Then a couple of them died. And then they all died. They befouled themselves. Their garbage killed them. Like us — we’re getting plastic into everything. It's in shellfish. It's in fish. It's in us. So even if we start fixing the climate, we’re still drowning ourselves in our own garbage. What if Ebola or something killed most of humanity, then we wouldn’t have to do anything about climate change. Right? If we just sit back and distance ourselves from the rabble then maybe they’ll all kill themselves and solve the problem for us. And if a poor girl like me can have such a thought, imagine what wealthy people think. They’ve got more to lose than me, nicer houses, nicer cars, etc. (actually nannies like me just have school debts, not cars and houses).

And even for people who aren’t wealthy, trying to wrap your mind around all the problems humanity currently faces is enough to wish humanity extinct. Mostly. Naturally one would want a few people around and if one were rich, hung out with the cool kids, or had insider knowledge about the conspiracy, one might be able to avoid personal catastrophe oneself. But it doesn’t need to be a conspiracy, there are other ways to deny climate change. Waiting for Jesus is a good one. But I think it’s time to face up to it. If we work together we can handle this. Or die trying.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Hopes of glitz and glory

The The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
Fiction, 448 pages

Whatever your politics, numbers don’t lie. Too many are displeased. Something stinks in Washington. During the early 1870s, two writers also suffered offended nostrils and together wrote a novel about it. Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner called their era the Gilded Age. That’s gilded, not golden. Their era lacked the solidity of deep values, having instead only a golden coating upon an unworthy foundation.

The book begins before the Civil War but largely details the years that follow. Historically this period marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, and some of the book’s characters are among its unwitting victims. This period saw massive capital investment in railroads and machinery as well as massive displacement of small business men and landholders. While the book’s events occur at the beginning of the age, its title lent its name to the era itself.

There are parallels here to our own age. At its height, the Gilded Age brought about massive income inequality. Some grew enormously wealthy while masses of others suffered in dire poverty. Since the 1980s our own society has moved in this direction as well. While the incomes of the top ten percent have stayed even with the living costs, those of the bottom 89 percent have not. The incomes of the wealthiest among us have soared, yet unlike Icarus, they show no signs of falling toward Earth. The technology sector with its high salaries distributed among relatively few workers echoes the effect of industrialization, though some writers fear that this time workers won’t eventually share its benefits after robots and AI eliminate their jobs.

The book touches upon industrialization as several of its characters seek speculative wealth from a new railroad line. However the bulk of the action takes place in Washington DC. Laura and her brother, George Washington Hawkins, as well as the ever optimistic and ever impoverished, Colonel Beriah Sellers, enjoy the patronage of the pious Senator Dilworthy. Since the book contains much satire, the reader is not overly surprised when Laura approaches the good senator in his study as he reads from an upside down Bible.

Washington in 1873, just like today, is a place where corruption prospers. Unlike that of today, however, the corruption is almost quaintly innocent. This book was the first novel from two authors who would subsequently write a good few more. It’s not their best. That said, it’s not that bad. Twain at his worst is better than most and Warner also writes well. However, the work doesn’t flow as well as what one would expect from authors with email and modern equipment. I’m glad I read it though. Along with satire it packs plenty of drama and provides a taste of what life was like in earlier times.

Friday, January 08, 2021

About those First Amendment rights


On January 7, 2021 Senator Josh Hawley tweeted:

“This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It's a direct assault on the First Amendment. (Yada, yada, yada) We'll see you in court.”

 Let’s take a closer look at this. Hawley mentions “Simon & Schuster,” “they” and “sedition” all in the same sentence. But, publisher Simon & Schuster has not accused Hawley of sedition. Hawley’s chief accuser is a PAC called The Lincoln Project which represents disgruntled current and former Republicans. Is his grammatical ambiguity Hawley’s attempt to write in Orwell's Newspeak? It's certainly Orwellian to contest votes for which there’s no evidence of voter fraud, but I digress.

 Anyone who occasionally glances at publishing news will know that publishers regularly cancel contracts. They do this for a variety of reasons, but the chief reason is future profits. Publishers are capitalists you see. They’re in business to make money. Perhaps we'll never know the 'true' reason S&S made its decision. Whatever the reason, it's not fair to say, “It's a direct assault on the First Amendment,” because once it passes through a publisher, speech isn’t free anymore, but sold at a profit. At various points in my career I’ve met people who say this sort of thing. Most have an inflated sense of self-entitlement. That seems to be a characteristic of the ruling class, people who like Hawley, attend expensive colleges, suffer from affluenza, and threaten to sue people. The ruling class has a name for those who stormed the Capital naively believing that taking selfies and destroying property will somehow change election results. They’re called sacrificed pawns. They're meant to be lied to, cheated, used and discarded.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Wrong name. Right problem.


Systemic Racism is not a good name for it. It’s not a formal system and there is no formal name. And yet it’s there, flowing through our culture like kerosene saturating a dry rag.

 It’s in the things we don’t think about. Pointless commentary, children’s rhymes, ethnic jokes, in the things we don’t realize we’ve said. Those things get inside our heads and it doesn’t occur to us to get them out.

 And in some cases, those things pollute entire organizations. Take the Kenosha, Wisconsin police for example. There is no excuse for the appalling crime committed on August 23 by its officers. And yet I don’t blame the police, at least not entirely.

Our culture is ailing and the disease has worsened in recent years. Many Americans are a paycheck or two away from being homeless. This is stressful for people, including police officers. That doesn’t excuse violent behavior, though it may help to explain it. There’s plenty we can do to change policing laws and weed out bad cops, but police thuggery is a symptom, not the root of America’s problem.

 Money is the problem. Too little is a problem. So is too much. Those with too much think of themselves as winners and of those with too little as losers. If the cops kill a few losers, it’s a small price to pay to maintain law and order.

 And what is “law and order”? It’s the maintenance of an unjust status quo. That’s what the president means when he uses those words in response to “Black lives matter” Those words don’t address justice. They address social control. During the 1890s, Tom Watson tried to unite poor blacks and whites politically. He said, “You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.” Let’s replace law and order with social justice before someone touches a match to a kerosene soaked rag.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Studebakers and Capitalists

When I last visited South Bend, Indiana, I assumed it was for the first and final time. But karma doesn’t work that way. It puts one in situations one never expect for reasons one rarely understand. Karma brought me here once more. Last time I was here there wasn’t time to visit the Studebaker Museum across the street from our accommodations at the Avanti House. But this time we ventured inside.

Within the museum’s walls are some very shiny and cool old cars, mostly Studebakers. But there are also old horse carriages. Studebaker began as a blacksmith shop. Later it built carriages. Ultimately, the company decided to hedge its bets by manufacturing automobiles in addition to carriages in case “horseless carriages” were more than a passing fad. Studebaker’s first car was electric, a quiet vehicle that didn’t foul the air. But the public demanded gasoline powered cars. In time Studebaker made those exclusively.

Among the museum’s carriage collection are several that transported American president’s. Of these carriages, two provided the last rides taken before their riders were assassinated. A somber coincidence perhaps. Karma can do that.

If the museum can be said to tell a story, the story is this. Companies have natural life cycles. Studebaker began as a simple blacksmith shop. It took risks, but also gave the public the products it desired. It grew from a one-person business to become a major automobile manufacturer. However, when its fortunes changed in the 1960s, it went out of business. This is capitalism in its pure and natural form. It takes risks, pleases consumers, competes and innovates.

There is a myth that circulates among us. It’s that markets should be self-regulating and free. Economist Robert Reich points out that markets have always had their rules, such as those governing bankruptcy and loan terms. Karl popper notes that without regulations, seemingly free markets would develop consumer strangling monopolies. Markets should serve consumers, not profiteers. I believe the free market myth is a disguise for class-entitlement thinking. Too much winning convinces some of the wealthy that they are deserving of what falls to them. Because they deserve what they ultimately get, class-entitled people are willing to bend rules by seeking favorable treatment from the government and others. When they talk about a free marketplace, they mean one free from environmental rules that force their industrialists to pick-up after themselves. It’s like they say, “We make chemical products. The remaining hazardous waste is an unintended byproduct that’s not our problem.” Staying focused on the product and not on the damage it causes, leads oil company executives to bury reports on climate change while misinforming the public.

There are some who say capitalism works best when it’s unregulated. I don’t believe it. We live in a complex world. Regulations are sometimes needed. Studebaker began small, gave the public what it wanted, took risks, changed with the times, grew large, then died a natural death. This is how it should be.

Unfortunately the same wealthy men who advocate unregulated marketplaces also advocate tax breaks and handouts for themselves. These wealthy men feel entitled to special advantages. They’ve forgotten that capitalism is entwined with risk. In order to convert more oil into money, some of these men misinformed the public about climate change. The lies have worked to some degree, but the tide of opinion has changed — most people are now convinced that climate change is real and imminent. Sustainable, green technologies are being birthed and implemented. Ultimately businesses based on obsolete petroleum technology will decline and die. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work. Competition drives innovation and innovation drives economic growth. Dinosaurs that prefer lying to competing and innovating deserve to disappear.