Retired software engineer. "What is that?", you may ask. It's someone who has time to blog about the weather...
By: Bogon, 8:59 PM GMT on February 25, 2011
For the most part I don't spend a lot of time thinking about politics and government. It's not what I'm about. I'm a techie, not a politico. I don't have a natural feel for politics. I've spent my life working with machines, not people. In this blog I have sought to avoid hot-button issues. It's not that I don't have opinions about politics, religion etc. It's just that, here in the blogosphere, there's no better way to provoke a flame war. In these pages I want to have a higher signal-to-noise ratio than that. I want to have a discussion, not an argument. I want to guide my readers toward their better selves. If you're looking for the lowest common denominator, look elsewhere.
On those occasions when I do find myself dwelling on such messy topics, I worry. After a lifetime spent working as a fix-it guy, I think I have a pretty good feel for when something is working or not. Religion is a crock. Our government is broken. Our economy is shaky.
In this country religion is generally regarded as a private affair. That's fine. I'll leave you to it. Knock yourself out.
Government, on the other hand, is emphatically public. It is our right and our obligation to wade in with whatever we've got. What I've got is too much regulation and too little money. I don't expect you to get all excited about my personal problems. Haply I am not alone. My plan here is to let some other guys do most of the talking.
First up is Philip K. Howard talking about how to fix the legal system.
If you don't have bandwidth for the video, follow this link for an interactive transcript. Look for the title in the top right corner of the page.
Now for my take on the pernicious influence of money on our government:
If you have plenty of money, you're more equal than the rest of us. You can afford more lawyers and lobbyists and campaign contributions, all the sorts of things that command attention inside the Beltway. That's great for you. You are living the American Dream. But where does that leave the rest of us?
Plutocracy is antidemocratic by definition. Like most kids I was raised to be a patriot, so antidemocratic trends bother me. The nation I was taught to believe in — the nation whose Constitution I once swore to preserve, protect and defend — was designed as a democracy.
Let's talk baseball: America's pastime. In old movies everybody pays a nickel for a seat on the bleachers. Now most of the old ballparks are history, and the glitzy new baseball stadia, typically named for corporations or business leaders, are equipped with skyboxes. The new aristocracy can sit in air conditioned comfort. They don't have to share a splintery bench with hoi polloi.
There is a law of economics called the Pareto Principle. One variant says that eighty percent of the wealth is owned by twenty percent of the population. That's a rule of thumb, apparently a natural consequence of human behavior. Vilfredo Pareto derived those figures in 1906. The ratio I remember from my school days was closer to 90/10. Over the last twenty years things have gotten even more lopsided. That is an antidemocratic trend. George Carlin noticed it, too. I'm not going to embed his video here, because George uses stronger language than I do. Click here if you like George and can tolerate his profanity. To my desensitized ears George's tone sounds altogether reasonable.
Here's Bill Moyers with a similar message from a man whose reputation for mild speech is impeccable.
A transcript can be found here. You'll have to scroll about halfway down, or search for the word 'plutonomy'.
My point is that America is not supposed to have aristocrats. We once had a revolution to get rid of them. Does the reappearance of a plutocratic oligarchy mean that we have at long last lost the American Revolution? How long will it be until some corporate magnate (or puppet thereof) declares himself emperor? It happened in Rome. We remember (not too fondly, I think) the Roman Empire, but we tend to forget that Rome grew to greatness as a republic. Are we condemned to repeat history?
I don't have a ready fix for this problem. I suspect that the remedy, if any, will be painful for all concerned. That's one of the reasons I worry. Meanwhile I invite you to consider how evocative the words "trickle down theory" are of the view from the bottom of a toilet.
A Mandatory Lesson for MBAs
Money segues naturally into economics, which is the last part of today's agenda. Economics is not one of the 'hard' sciences like chemistry or physics, but the laws of economics are equally effective at setting hard limits on what is possible in our world. Businesses do well to align their practices with economic principles and can only violate those precepts at their peril. The study of economics is a 'soft' social science. It's rules are often rules of thumb, like the Pareto Principle, and not exact formulae. Sometimes the right way to proceed is subject to (mis)interpretation. Avarice can skew the calculation. That does not invalidate the basic law, however. Inexorable economics will come back to bite the voracious businessman. Therein lies both the solution and the problem. Greed finds its comeuppance, but the backwash can overwhelm innocent bystanders.
I leave you with a podcast from Pavan Sukhdev, who wants to put nature on the balance sheet. Again, if you can't watch the video, here is an excellent transcript.
Updated: 9:39 PM GMT on February 25, 2011
By: Bogon, 2:27 PM GMT on February 10, 2011
Every so often, approximately every two weeks, time begins to add up. There are no obvious outward signs. With an uneaten loaf of bread you'd notice little spots of mold after a while. Milk goes sour, and there's usually an expired freshness date on the carton. Eggs... well, we probably don't want to think too much about what happens to eggs. On a blog there's just not much to go by. It's a subjective thing. Here on this blog I am the honcho, the primary instigator, so it comes down to me to decide. I don't have a set schedule. I'm not a Type A personality who is driven to achieve. Nevertheless, in some indirect and invisible way, I know when it's time. My blog goes stale. There's a niggling little alarm, a Sonalert, going off in the back of my head. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night.
When that happens, there's no help for it. I have to write a new entry. Somehow I have to come up with a new idea and commit it to paper. Well, not actual physical paper, but you know what I mean. Gotta type it and upload it, and only then can I rest easy.
Coming up with an idea is not usually the hard part. The hard part is the typing. I'm a fair typist, I suppose. I've even had lessons — for six weeks one summer at the Burlington Business College. (Come to think of it, I could probably patch up a passable post based on that singular episode alone.) The folks at BBC made sure I became a full-fledged two-fisted typist, none of this hunt and peck business. Nonetheless, as a facile interface between my mind and the digital domain, typing falls woefully short of the mark. I can think 'way faster than I can type. Therein lies the problem.
There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip.
When one door closes, another door opens.
Updated: 2:45 PM GMT on February 10, 2011