31 October 2011

The Worthlessness of Should

If you want to get to New York, it does little good to reiterate that you should be in New York. The first step is knowing where you are and accepting that, because how you go about getting to New York depends entirely on where you are.

This seems the paradox of change. Nothing changes until or unless you first accept where you are. You can't find your way to New York if you start out denying that you're in Florida.

And here is another curious bit about this acceptance. Not only can you start with acceptance of where you are as a starting point, you might - as you look at it for what it is rather than in light of what it should be - you might just realize that there is nothing wrong with being in Florida.

The paradox, then, is that only people who are accepting of what is can change what is.

Or so it seems to me.

29 October 2011

Blessed and Persecuted Saints

Saint Louis now has 11 world series championships.
San Diego still has the same number as when baseball started. Yep. Zero.

St. Louis has less than a million people, while San Diego has more than three million.

The only reasonable conclusion to reach is that surfing is more of a distraction to becoming a great ball player than is farming.

28 October 2011

Ron Paul is Not a Conservative - He's a Reactionary

Herman Cain and Ron Paul are not conservatives. They are reactionaries. They do not want to preserver the status quo but instead want to return to an earlier state of development. Barack Obama is a conservative.

When Martin Luther labeled the pope the anti-Christ and declared that we are all priests, he took on the status quo. He moved the West forward and away from a world where the pope could dictate what people thought and believed. The people who resisted his Protestant Revolution were conservatives, trying to hold on to the status quo.

Henry VIII followed in Martin Luther's protestant ways, declaring himself the head of the Church of England and breaking ties to the pope in Rome. When his Catholic daughter Mary became queen, she tried to take England back to Catholicism. She wanted to undo the error of her father's Protestant ways. (Which, among other things, caused her father to commit the grievous sin of divorcing her mother.) Mary, trying to rid England of the Church of England, was a reactionary. (Actually, they called her Bloody Mary because she had so many Protestants executed, but Reactionary Mary has a ring to it.)

Resist change - conservative.
Reverse change - reactionary.

By that measure, Ron Paul is a reactionary. I have trouble understanding how the policies he recommends would be much different from what we had before 1913. From 1837 to 1913, for instance, the US had no central bank, no Federal Reserve. Ron Paul would like us to believe that a central bank is the cause of things like recessions but during this period there were plenty of economic problems - including recessions AND depressions that originated in the financial sector. In any case, Ron Paul would, like Queen Mary with the Church of England, correct an error of a previous generation and rid us of the Fed. People like he and Herman Cain would love to rid us of all the ills of the twentieth century - from business regulations put in place to end egregious practices like child labor and rampant pollution to social programs like unemployment insurance and social security. They'd like to return us to the economy we had from about 1800 to 1900. That was - for those of you who skipped those chapters in your history books - an ugly time, even if considerably better than the Dark Ages to which Reactionary Mary would have returned England.

It would be fascinating if we actually had a progressive option to complement this small menu of reactionary and conservative choices.

27 October 2011

A Simple Solution for Greek Debt

Once Greece became a part of the euro zone, they were able to borrow money for far less than they had when they had to pay the going rate for Greek currency. This, among other things, led to unsustainable levels of debt that Greece simply can't afford to pay down. The government has passed austerity measures, raising taxes and cutting government spending and in the process slowing the economy and triggering riots. Even with this, they aren't going to pay down their debt. 

There are two silly options. One, they can sue all modern countries for patent infringement on concepts like democracy and philosophy. Two, they could continue to make the attempt to pay down their debt, something that might require paying about 20% of GDP per year. Both possible but wildly improbable. 

Before I make my simple suggestion for how to resolve this, let me tell you what I'm not whining about. I'm not whining about the fact that my portfolio has taken a serious hit. Again. Also, my house has dropped a huge amount in the last few years. Because of fluctuations in housing and stock markets, my net worth has dropped by tens of percent. I wish this hadn't happened but you know what? This is what it means to invest. You accept risk in return for ... well, for returns. You don't whine about the loss. You don't demand that some bank or company give you money for what your house or stocks were once worth. You accept the lose and move on. Why is it that we think bond investors should be exempt from this reality of investing? 

So, Greece cannot pay back its debt. Why not write it down? Why not pay off half or less? Investors will lose money, of course. Join the club. 

Will this create problems? Yes. Every solution will. But the sooner debt is written off, the sooner the Greek government can begin with something short of radical contractions in spending that risk triggering a recession or even depression. 

19 October 2011

My Favorite Exchange From Last Night's Debate

I do think that this exchange between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry was my favorite of the night. "Why do you think I have this outrageous Texan accent?"

17 October 2011

Just Because You Object to Abortion Doesn't Make Your Objection Objective

The debate about abortion is a debate about when life begins.

The pope argues that the purpose of sex is for procreation, not pleasure, and that it is sin to interrupt sex with any birth control that would suppress its purpose, denying life to some new soul. In a sense (and I’m sure he’d never say it like this), the pope teaches that life begins at the moment of ejaculation.

Most Protestants disagree with this religious belief. Some Protestants – essentially the religious right in the US – believe instead that life begins at conception. Based on this belief, they have no problem with any kind of birth control but do want to make all abortions illegal. And I think that they share the pope’s disapproval of sex as something to be used just for mindless pleasure.

And of course secular folks and other religious folks don't base their decision on what popes or Protestants believe. 

Now it is worth pointing out that at the moment of conception the new life doesn’t look much different from what it looks like at the moment before; whether we’re talking about separate egg and sperm or a newly formed zygote combining the two, we’re talking about something too small to see with the naked eye.

I think that this belief that life begins at conception is more defensible than the belief that it begins at ejaculation, if only because it is less comfortable to say ejaculation during a public debate. But in both cases, we’re talking about a life that has no viable chance outside of the womb, life that is less conscious of its surroundings than the simplest insect, a life that bears less resemblance to a baby than does any mammal. If we say that life begins at conception we - like those arguing it starts at ejaculation - are not arguing that it is recognizably human at that moment but instead are arguing for its potential. That is, we’re expressing a belief, not stating a fact, when we say that this is when human life begins.

Most people in the US – religious or otherwise – believe that life begins sometime between conception and birth. They don’t know precisely when but they seem to believe that at the moment before birth, life in the womb is hardly different from the new born baby it is about to become and at the moment after conception, life in the womb is hardly different from the sperm and egg it recently was. Most people believe that while it is harder to pinpoint the start of life in this nine month window, it is more reasonable to locate it somewhere other than at its extreme end points.

This question about when life begins can be answered by religion, philosophy, or science, but it cannot be answered definitely by any one of these. Different scientists, different philosophers, and different religious people will reach different conclusions about when life starts. Making this determination requires judgment.

The argument for legal abortion rests on this fact: reasonable, conscientious people will disagree about when life begins.

What do most Americans believe? Well, about two-thirds believe that a woman has a right to an abortion in the first trimester (which is to say, they believe that life does not begin until at least three months after conception). By contrast, only about a third of Americans believe that abortions should be legal in the final trimester, roughly up to the point of birth.

If we were going to use the democratic approach to deciding abortion law, we’d probably have the following:
-          A federal law that gave women in any state the right to an abortion in the first trimester
-          State laws that may or may not give women the right to an abortion in the second trimester
-          Abortion in the third trimester made illegal except in cases where the mother’s life is threatened.

Again, this is not a question about whether a woman has the right to kill a baby because she wants a better life, one with the promise of more economic prosperity and freedom. She doesn’t have that right. The issue of abortion instead stems from a legitimate question about when life begins.

The question of whether one person can kill another in the hopes of economic prosperity and freedom is instead one we should ask when questioning whether to go to war to “liberate” another country, knowing that this decision carries with it the inevitable destruction of lives that are years and decades past the point of conception. Individuals don't have that right; apparently states do.

Oh and as a footnote? Even if a person wants to base her decision about abortion on the Bible (obviously not a basis for modern law), she’ll have little guidance. There is at least one verse that mentions God knowing us even in the womb, implying that a fetus has the rights of a person. But it also states in Exodus 21:22 that if a man injures a woman so she miscarries, he should be fined. In a kingdom that meted out the death penalty for fornication, though, this punishment is fairly mild. Miscarry through violence is not an abortion chosen by the woman, by the way; this is an abortion performed against her will. Obviously, in the Old Testament they did not consider life in the womb to have the same rights as a newborn baby.  Finally, Jesus never touches on abortion or when life begins. Even if you want to base your personal decision on the Bible, you are left to your own judgment. And it is the exercise of that judgment, apparently, that so offends those who would make abortion illegal. 

Oh, and lest you think that this simple clarification should be dated and irrelevant - as I once did - I'd like to point out that the good people of Mississippi will vote on a (state) constitutional amendment that rules that life begins at the moment of conception - opinion become law.

15 October 2011

A Post in Which Your Blog Author Engages in Racism

The Republicans are like white men dancing. They've no sense of economic rhythm.

During the Bush years, Republicans applauded deficit spending, cheering for two military invasions coupled with tax cuts. Dick Cheney announced that "deficits don't matter." Fiscal policy - that mix of tax cuts and government spending - was expansionary and just created a bubble in an economy where jobs and incomes were barely keeping pace with population growth and inflation. Fiscal policy helped to create a housing bubble.

Now, with unemployment at its highest in decades, Republicans seem to think that only deficits matter. States and local governments have been shedding jobs at least as fast as companies can create them. Now that the private sector is - at best - sluggish, the Republican tilt is towards fiscal policy that contracts the economy. They aren't advocating tax hikes but they are demanding that government budgets be slashed. Sadly, the only attempt at coordination between the parties seems to be on the need for a fiscal policy that contracts; Republicans want more spending cuts and Democrats want tax hikes.

David Cameron of the UK is a smart, charismatic politician who heads the Conservative Party and is now the British Prime Minister. For about a year and a half, he's been engaged in an austerity program, raising taxes and slashing spending. His intention is to get Britain back on track. The result? Economic growth of 0.1% and the highest jobless numbers in 15 years.

Deficits matter. But not nearly as much as unemployment. Any program that has a hope of working has to first address unemployment and GDP growth AND THEN deficits. To reverse that is to risk falling into a downward spiral.

At the root of the problem is an obsolete worldview that sees the government as simply a big household. Any sane person running a household budget will cut spending in down times and raise them in good. This is not just sensible, it is intuitive. But applied to the level of the macroeconomy, it is a wildly misleading intuition, akin to the notion that it is the sun that orbits the earth rather than vice versa. What is obvious is wrong. To offset expansions that can create inflation in prices of goods or even stocks and houses, the government should actually spend less, tax more, be more austere in times of plenty. This is the opposite of what a household should do. A government should dampen economic cycles, not exacerbate them. And when times are tough, rather than practice austerity, governments should spend freely and tax lightly, stimulating spending, investment, and job creation when the private sector is lagging.

The debate between whether government should constitute 25% or 50% of the economy is  a legitimate one and Republicans have every right to argue for smaller government as counter balance to progressives who argue for larger government. That's fine. What's absurd and totally dangerous is calling for fiscal austerity, for smaller government, in the midst of a downturn. Failure to understand this distinction is either willful or stupid.

The fact of governments needing to offset business cycles is not new. This is something well known and well documented. It defines macroeconomics. And it is past time that the Republicans find their economic Arthur Murray who can teach them to hear the rhythm and respond to it. If they don't the result is going to be even more ugly.

14 October 2011

Changing the Political Conversation from Debate to Negotiation

I can't help but wonder if we've gone through three stages in our political conversation. Years ago, in stage one, politicians talked to complexity in fairly complex terms. More recently, in stage two, politicians simplified a reality they realized was complex into sound bites. Now, it seems as though politicians have come to believe their own sound bites, confusing their simplifications of it with actual reality. How else to explain Herman Cain's 9-9-9 proposal that would slash revenues in a time of chronic deficits and zero out capital gains tax but create a 9% national sales tax? 

I blame the League of Women Voters for this. They were the early sponsors of presidential debates who agreed to debating terms that essentially meant that a candidate had only to defend his position for - at most - two minutes. The debates became the forum for discussions about real issues that were, necessarily, simplified. 

Which brings me to my point. 

My buddy Eric made a really insightful comment. He asked why we have candidates debate when the real test of their time in office is their ability to negotiate across the aisle, reaching an agreement with folks who have a different ideology?

So, why not replace debates with live negotiations? Rather than have Obama debate fine points of disagreement with Hillary Clinton, why not have him come to some agreement with Eric Cantor? Or instead of hearing Rick Santorum attack Mitt Romney over some minor disagreement, why not hear him try to reach an agreement with Harry Reid?

Wouldn't a negotiation tell us much more about a candidate's ability to govern than a debate? And wouldn't it force them out of sound bites, force them to do more to acknowledge the complexity of reality? And wouldn't it tell us much more about what they might actually accomplish as opposed to just what legislation they might oppose? 

It's a fairly simple idea. But it just might make things more complex and interesting. 

12 October 2011

The debate question: Are you still deregulating your wife?

In Topeka Kansas, it is now legal to beat your wife. Or, rather, given they haven't the budget to deal with wife beaters, they've simply repealed the ban on wife beating.

I'm glad that we're finally getting some clarification on the particulars of deregulation.

California Invents a New Kind of Corporation

Here's a bit of social invention that's worth mentioning. (Thank you @Tisiwoota at Twitter for pointing me to this.)

California became the first state to legalize a Flexible Purpose Corporation and the sixth to enable the creation of a Benefit Corporation. There's a great summary by Kyle Westaway here.

Put simply, a Benefit Corporation does not have to primarily serve shareholders but can choose to balance returns to shareholders with other stakeholders, such as employees, customers, and the environment. The Flexible Purpose Corporation actually articulates a purpose or mission in its charter. It might, for instance, have a purpose of employing the poor.

We rightfully laud computers, smart phones, cars ... and tend to forget that they were enabled by an earlier social invention called the corporation. One can hardly imagine what will emerge from these new types of corporations that have even more autonomy to create what makes sense.

Why is this so cool? It will free up communities to use one of the most powerful social inventions ever (the corporation) without being bound to profit maximization. I explain it more here in an excerpt from my book, The Fourth Economy.

After the nation-state emerged as more powerful than the church, it took centuries for it to let go of the idea that its goal was the same as that of the church. The nation-state got its power from control over land, the first economy’s limit to progress. Yet for the longest time, monarchs thought it their obligation to also look after the souls of their citizenry. It would have seemed irresponsible not to. “Bloody” Mary used violence to move England towards Catholicism, and her younger sister Elizabeth used violence to move it back towards Anglicanism.
Once the nation-state became a tool for improving one’s condition in this life and not the next, once rulers gave up on dictating religion, a great deal of grief was avoided and a great deal of good could be done.
It’s probably not surprising that the newly dominant institution would think it should prove itself by meeting the goals of the previously dominant institution. Those goals become so intertwined through all of society that legitimacy depends on at least acknowledging those old goals. It is hard to imagine a Renaissance king dismissing religion as unimportant for policy, saying that he would focus on GDP growth instead, for instance. (For one thing, GDP is a measure we didn’t even have until about a century ago.)
So as the corporation emerged to compete with the bank as the most powerful institution in the West, it adopted the goals of the bank. That is, it saw its purpose as profit.
On the surface, this hardly seems problematic. It is, you might say, a fact of life. But as John Abramson points out, the purpose of pharmaceutical companies is not to maximize the health of Americans; it is, instead, to maximize profits. This is problematic. He cites a World Health Organization study that ranks the US health 15th overall in the world, a ranking that drops to 37th if that ranking adjusts for per person spending on healthcare.[1] This in spite of the fact that US healthcare costs per person are double that of any other developed nation. Maximizing profits does not automatically maximize health.
The former management gurus Peter Drucker and Russell Ackoff both have claimed that profit is to a corporation what oxygen is to a person: vital but by no means its purpose. Companies have to make profit but they don’t have to subordinate everything to it.
Robert Beyster, a man who helped to create billions in wealth, wrote that profit was a clear goal for the divisions within his company SAIC, but the goal was not profit maximization. He acknowledges that being privately held by employees exempted them from many of the pressures that publicly held companies feel to subordinate everything else to profits. (And curiously, SAIC’s performance with such an approach was such that any investor would have been lucky to hold its stock. More on this later.)
To make explicit that something other than profits should direct corporate behavior is to suggest that corporations have to define the kind of life they are trying to create for customers, investors, employees, and their community. This is – it seems – a fairly interesting starting point for any corporation.  It suggests that the corporation will more explicitly become a tool for helping the individual to create the life of his own choosing – even if that individual is not a CEO.

[1] John Abramson, MD., Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine (HarperCollins, New York, NY, 2004) 46.

11 October 2011

Ratio of Clued in to Clueless

This has the flavor of an old man's rant, but wasn't there a time when it seemed more obviously the case that the folks in charge had a clue about what to do? Is it simply because we realize how little they actually do know that the ratio of clue to clueless has fallen so precipitously? Or do the folks in charge actually look more confused of late?

07 October 2011

10th Anniversary of Afghanistan Invasion

It’s worth asking about the difference between nation-building and state-building.

10th anniversary of invasion of Afghanistan and still we confuse war and occupation, nation-building and setting up a government.

State is the government – the bureaucracy, administration, laws, standing army …
Nation is the sense of shared identity that makes a people feel more like Americans than Virginians or more like Italians than Venetians. That’s a tougher thing to create. (It wasn’t until AFTER the Gettysburg Address that we got the term “the United States is” rather than the “the United States are.”)

It seems like there are at least two errors we’re making in Afghanistan.
1.       We keep talking about a war. It’s not a war. The war quickly ended. Now it’s an occupation.
2.       We keep talking about nation-building when really all we’re doing is state building. Their sense of self is tribal, not national.

We never did nation-building in the Marshall Plan. Japan and Germany were very much nations before WWII. All we did was some economic development and some state-building. That’s a terribly impressive, but much easier, task. Or, put differently, rebuilding a government and economy within years after a war is a huge but doable task. By contrast, there is no evidence that outside forces can build a nation in just a decade or two - or even at all. History suggests that this is a task that has to be done organically and over a generation or two or three.  

05 October 2011

Words to Live By from a Man Who Just Died

‎"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big decisions in life. Because almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarassment or failure, these things fall away in the face of death leaving only what is truly important. Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked - there is no reason not to follow your heart. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition - they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary"
-       - Steve Jobs - 1955 - 2011

01 October 2011

September 2011 Tweets

The original Hawaiian shirt was actually just a tan and a sleeve tattoo.

It would probably be helpful if we had at least one growth industry other than disaster recovery. Here comes another big storm.

Fittingly, it was the only line of dialogue needed: "Stranger, you're about as welcome here as dialogue in an action movie."

Another month in which government officials express surprise at a jobs report reporting layoffs in government sector

When things go retro, I'm ready, already starting to transcribe popular YouTube videos into flip books.

One more vote for embodied cognition: sometimes a hug helps you to think better.
T-shirt idea. California Surfers - Give us a Break.

Bob Dylan quoting some old soul singer, “Money may not be the key to happiness but with enough money you can get a key made.”

Labor Day is a capital idea.

San Francisco is planning to crack down on sudden surge in nudists, debating a law that would .... require them to carry towels.

So, they closed Southern California. That would be more amusing if I wasn't trying to fly home to San Diego this evening.

Isabelle Allende, "Writing a book is like falling in love with the wrong lover." She might be talking about an abusive relationship.

Entitlement thinking. Pay into social security, think you're entitled to retirement. Pay mortgage, think you're entitled to own a home.

Ah. I love San Diego best.

B&N has a Teen Paranormal Romance Section. Isn't that redundant?

10 years ago marked the last day of American exceptionalism - the last day to believe violent tragedy only happened "over there."

Adult books, the sign says. You would think that meant no picture books.

e-autistic: someone socially unresponsive due to disinterest or dysfunction when it comes to emails, voice mails, or texts.

Well, one can only hope after last week's blackout that San Diego officials have decided on a kinder, gentler "go green" approach.

So what does it say about men that they merely like love stories?

Perry clarified that he cannot be bought for $5,000. A bidding frenzy ensued by lobbyists eager to determine just what the amount is.

Sane candidates who fight for real people still exist. Elizabeth Warren is running for the Senate. http://bit.ly/oxOs9n

To my great amusement and delight, Thomas starts a meme with my book: http://bit.ly/oNAkKt

They money we spend on health care is no match for the money spent on health apathy.

Last week power outage across county. Yesterday border closed due to structural collapse. Xenophobic vandal at work in San Diego?

Think that @im_allen_warren should found first pro football marching band.

Confucius was asked if 1 word could serve as prescription for all of one's life. After a lengthy pause he said, "reciprocity."

Biz idea: sell air guitars. Cost is ZERO plus it is a product that can be sold and downloaded online.

Celebrating the dyslexic's QuinceaƱera today.

Stimulus? What about the ATM random enhancement program that occasionally supplements someone's withdrawal by $20 .... or $20,000.

Farm Ville employs 2,000. Hmm. So you can create real jobs providing people the virtual experience of having a job.http://bit.ly/qgg6Mp

"Exit stage left, pursued by a bear." - William Shakespeare

For a quick inventory of your ignorance, just try to explain or teach.

Don't ask, don't tell ended today. That's terrible. W/o those options, how are soldiers supposed to initiate conversations? Gunfire?

Generally, the more we understand a person or situation, the more accepting we are. Now if you could just get people to understand that.

4 of the last 5 presidents (Reagan, Bush1, Clinton & Obama) were left-handed. We most trust someone who is like looking in a mirror?

REM announces split. From now, they will be referred to as R E M.

Wonder how long before email has a "like" button to acknowledge receipt and agreement w/o response. The digital nod of head.

Tonight's GOP debate would be enhanced with fact checkers and a dunk tank. 3rd lie or distortion and you go in.

At stacked for lunch. Order off iPad is cool. Calling appetizers apps in that context is just confusing.

RT @TheTweetOfGod: The Inuit have over 50 words for "visiting ethnolinguist."

I was pretty excited by Herb Cain's "Chilean model" suggestion for retirement until I realized that I had google image search on.

Undergraduate admission rate at Harvard: 6.2%. Rate at which applicants were hired on McDonald's National Hiring Day: 6.2%.

Overheard yesterday: "I'm on facebook all the time and I still don't have a clue what's going on."

If Ron Paul is president, he'll deregulate baseball. Call it brawlball. 1st move - layoff all the umps.

Fluent? He spoke French like Marcel Marceau.

Appalled that only 50% of college teams won today, legislators passed a "no team left behind" bill requiring that rise to 90% by 2020

Still working out kinks on world's fastest drive thru window. Pay swipe works but food and drink handoff at 55 mph still problematic.

Perry, like Fred Thompson in '08, is another in a series of candidates wooed then rejected. GOP the political equivalent of man-eater?

I think I'll open a Ronberto's.

We've always had something faster than the speed of light. It's called imagination.

Google's 13th birthday today. This is worrisome. First it'll pretend to know everything and then it won't talk to us.

RT @JohnFugelsang: Hi, it's Michele Bachmann, is Sen Lieberman in?- No he's not, this is Rosh Hashanah. -OK, Mr. Hashanah can I leave a msg?

RT @TheOnion: [audio] Typo Results In 10,000 Acre Wyoming Skate Park http://onion.com/ocvuZ7

We don’t know enough about the future to ever know how much impact one life can have.

The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out.

As Facebook becomes its own medium, how long before a secondary market emerges to provide fictional friends to entertain us?

Not convinced that we need a more entrepreneurial economy? Since 2000, work force has grown by 28 million but jobs by only 400,000.

A band with this name wouldn't even have to be that good to be really good: TV on the Radiohead.

Republicans think that Chris Christie should run. I don't know. Even biking or aerobics would probably help.