Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s king and the world’s longest-serving head of state, turns 85 years old today. King Bhumibol, also known as Rama IX, has ruled Thailand for more than 66 years, and is a popular figure throughout the country.
Well, yes, I suppose it does look that way, given if you get caught sending text messages that don’t approve of the king, you can get twenty years in prison. Still, good to see Instagram covering corrupt regimes. I’m looking forward to their highlights of photos from North Korea and Bahrain.
I'm not a fan of monarchy, but the king is extraordinarily well-loved in Thailand, and implying otherwise is silly. I can't even imagine where the North Korea comparison came from.
"In this essay, we outline a cognitive approach to democracy. Specifically, we argue that democracy has unique benefits as a form of collective problem solving in that it potentially allows people with highly diverse perspectives to come together in order collectively to solve problems. Democracy can do this better than either markets and hierarchies, because it brings these diverse perceptions into direct contact with each other, allowing forms of learning that are unlikely either through the price mechanism of markets or the hierarchical arrangements of bureaucracy. Furthermore, democracy can, by experimenting, take advantage of novel forms of collective cognition that are facilitated by new media."
Let's say the Los Angeles city government has an empty lot they want to get rid of. They want something that will maximize economic return, in order to provide jobs and tax revenue (it might be worthwhile to dive into what measure of economic return they should use, but we'll ignore that for now.) Additionally, they're risk-averse and need to be able to generate public support for the plan in order to make it happen.
Now, which one of these plans will they choose?
Engaging a large, well-known real estate developer who provides a nice 3D rendering of the shiny, multi-million dollar mixed retail/residential development he'll build
Selling off subdivided lots piecemeal to smaller developers or individual owners
They'll always choose the first. The additional administrative complexity and risk involved in the second make it a non-starter. And, in this understandable way, they make the rich richer.
The government makes a ton of decisions beyond selling land that similarly impact the concentration of wealth, and an analogous process usually holds - if we need to regulate banks, for example, who should we turn to for advice? A million small players, or a few big bankers?
So, on average, government decisions will tend to be made in concert with large existing interests, and will tend to increase the concentration of wealth. I think this problem is structurally unfixable, and provides some of the justification for redistributing wealth.
"I have never understood why Financial Stability should be an objective of public policy. Desirable, measurable outcomes of benefit to the public should be the objectives of public policy. Stability is a silly and impractical goal in a capitalist economy ... One strength of the US banking system from the 1930s to the 1980s was that failures were dealt with quickly and certainly. Foreclosed properties had to be sold by banks within two years of repossession, leading to a quick and certain reallocation of assets from failed borrowers to new owners. The FDIC swiftly and mercilessly shut down failed banks ... with forbearance now institutionalised at all levels of the US economy, we are seeing Japanification instead of recovery. And it is even worse just about everywhere else where dominant banks are much more influential."
I've been simmering on this point for ages, waiting for someone to speak my mind for me. Regulations are not just an imposition on markets - the choice is not between free markets and regulated markets. Markets are constructed by multiple sets of regulations, beginning with property rights. The regulations we choose have consequences for who can enter markets, how those businesses can operate, and on what market outcomes are.
Whenever someone argues for de-regulation, they argue for removing a small piece of this whole edifice. They aren't arguing for truly free markets, they're arguing for a specific rule change that will have (usually clearly identifiable) winners and losers. These same people will often later be found to be advocating for greater regulation in some other area, in the name of punishing wrongdoers.
My first economics class made the simple point that rent control artificially limits the supply of housing, creating shortages. What was never mentioned in that class was that that in many cities regulations make building houses, especially low-income housing, nearly impossible. Ending rent control without making it possible to build more housing means that we are choosing to make housing more expensive, period.
That's why it's so laughable when banks kindly request the government to stay out of their business. Financial markets above all grow out of the regulations that define them.
"... half the workers of the world -- close to 1.8 billion people -- [are] working in System D: off the books, in jobs that were neither registered nor regulated, getting paid in cash, and, most often, avoiding income taxes."
"... people in the European countries with the largest portions of their economies that were unlicensed and unregulated -- in other words, citizens of the countries with the most robust System D -- fared better in the economic meltdown of 2008 than folks living in centrally planned and tightly regulated nations."
I wanted to share this in Google Reader, but that's gone now. Anyway:
PBA Official 1: Okay, we've sent text messages to at least 400 delegates, and they're all going to come to court tomorrow to protest the arraignment of our brother officers. We've called this meeting to decide what signs they should hold up for the myriad news cameras that we expect to be there. I'll open this up to the floor - any ideas?
PBA Official 2: How about 'Just Following Orders'?
There are two types of 'shared deliberation' in contemporary society, one that's focused on resolving conflicts between individuals over competing goods, and another (which he's championing) that's focused on building the common goods that we need qua being a member of groups.
Because we're so good at the former, and so bad at the latter, we have virtually no resources in our politics for asking what we owe each other, and so we mostly talk about what we're owed ourselves.
Check the link for a bit more. I'm searching desperately for a video or transcript.
I shit you not. It's like crazy Republican whack-a-mole right now.
Here's the thing though: in their minds, as long as what they say doesn't actually discredit them completely (this should, of course) then saying crazy things only helps them. It makes the right look more like the center, since it's now being compared to the far-crazy right.
Liberals are afraid to advocate anything that Republicans might use to tar them as "out of the mainstream", which completely cedes the debate. If you're negotiating to buy a car, it would be stupid to start by offering more than you want to pay, but this is essentially what Democrats often do.
"In 1839, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected slavery in a decision that found that a slave named Ralph became free when he stepped on Iowa soil, 26 years before the end of the Civil War decided the issue.
"In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated “separate but equal” schools had no place in Iowa, 85 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.
"In 1873, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination in public accommodations, 91 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.
"In 1869, Iowa became the first state in the union to admit women to the practice of law."
And in 2009 ...
This is sort of like the part in the kung fu movie where the humble baker busts out and flattens some bad guys; then you find out he used to be in the imperial guard.
McKinsey put together this cost-benefit chart of greenhouse gas abatement methods. The width of each box is the estimated impact in reducing greenhouse gases, the height is the estimated cost. So everything below the line saves money as well as reducing greenhouse gases. I assume this takes initial capital investment into account. Here's the text of the study.
There are usually hidden costs to technology changes, and political dimensions that make purely technocratic analysis like this less than a slam-dunk. Framing the discussion around relative cost-benefit data is a good place to start, though. There are a zillion initiatives that might make sense individually, but that shouldn't be near the top of the list of priorities. These initiatives will appear as congressional earmarks - the green economy will be a political economy. We need people in the discussion nudging us back to the highest carbon ROI investments.
Addressing the environment is the major reason Chu took on this job.
These problems provide a tremendous opportunity for the DOE, but it comes with a burden: we can not fail.
We can’t be completely overwhelmed by the short term economic woes; we need to still find a path to solve our long term problems. The DOE has to invent transformative technologies that will allow us to get to the next level of energy independence.
I used to talk about how I wished I could get a fortune-teller to read my palm and tell me what career I should pursue, "rather than some long torturous journey of self-discovery." Never happened. The journey's been good, anyway. A couple of things I've read have, explicitly or implicitly, triggered the self-discovery theme again.
Dani Rodrik on "self-discovery in practice" in Ethiopia: "...entrepreneurship in a developing country consists of discovering the underlying cost structure--what can and cannot be produced profitably. Initial investors in a new line of economic activity face a great amount of uncertainty, since foreign technology always needs some local adaptation. Plus, their cost discovery soon becomes public knowledge--everyone can observe whether their projects are successful or not--so the social value they generate exceeds their private costs."
Random internet commentors on Kenya's new media bill: this bill has received a lot of negative media attention in Kenya, due to increased government censorship powers in the bill. The comments section of this post has attracted a lot of smart, well-informed Kenyans. Interestingly, they don't seem to trust the media much more than they trust the government (see comments about the media's "hate propagation" during the post-election violence.) Anyway, no specific key phrases here, it's just fascinating to watch democracy evolve through debate and power struggle. And the debate is as much about Kenyan identity as about any abstract principles of democracy, because if those principles had no purchase on people's values, they'd never take root.
He's going to do battle with a tidal wave of manure, armed with a teaspoon and a bully pulpit. California broke my heart when it passed a gay marriage ban. But: I'm going to let myself enjoy this win for a few more days. Or possibly the rest of my life.
Saving this to read fully because I think it has a lot of relevance to my work. Organization-building is job number one here. The vast majority of One Acre's interactions with farmers are handled by Kenyan field officers. We live and die by the effectiveness of our field officers.
Roy: while i totally agree with why obama is and should be the choice, i personally feel bad for hillary; it is quite remarkable that a woman has (or had) a shot to win this thing, and i don't know why ppl dislike her so much. i mean, they are both great candidates.
lukas: yeah i agree
Roy: but anyway some in her camp are saying that she should drop out soon if the margin is too wide
lukas: hillary does have a certain unfortunate lack of charisma
Roy: ya, i've been trying to pinpoint it, but to no luck. i mean, she is a fairly concise and strong speaker, and she comes across very intelligent
Roy: somehow though she seems frigid
lukas: and she's just not inspiring you know?
Roy: i guess. it's too bad that in fact the elections are really driven by these media driven characterization of the candidates
lukas: well no i think that part is important actually - not the media-driven part, but the inspiration part
lukas: basically i think we need someone who can motivate popular support for their positions if we're going to escape the dem-rep bickering
lukas: and i think obama is that guy and hillary isn't
Roy: i suppose. i don't quite know that i trust the population to take more action just because they like the president; that said, so many ppl dislike hillary in washington that it would be polarizing
Looking at Obama's political record OR the confirmation bias in action
I got excited about Barack Obama before I knew a lot about him. Obama has only been in the Senate for three years, so his voting record doesn't have too much that's interesting yet (although his votes against his party have some interesting nuggets.) So I have to look for little kernels that shed light on what's unique about his record.
Update:this Times piece is the most comprehensive look at Obama's record I've seen, going back to his community organizing days and with actual insight about what he achieved as a legislator, rather than just a list of votes.
Update: get past the velociraptor jokes and there's some great discussion in this reddit thread.
This discussion in praise of idleness prompted me to think about how the Greeks (according to Hannah Arendt) separated their activities into two parts, labor and work. Labor is those activities required to support life: getting food, shelter, etc. Work is basically political activity: arguing, voting, taking part in the life of the city.
I've struggled myself with how to achieve deep alignment between my values and my work, with the assumption that it's best to do one thing that is simultaneously my job, my passion and my push toward a better world. Having a corporate job that pays, and doing non-profits on the side, looks like a lesser alternative.
But the Greeks had an entirely different starting point. For them, taking money for political activity would cheapen and degrade the experience, and put your motives under suspicion. The basis of a political life is the freedom to reason and act apart from pure self-interest. So they serenely and proudly built on the very separation that I've been wondering how to eliminate.
The more antagonistic a person is toward the traditional order, the more inexorably he will subject his private life to the norms that he wishes to elevate as legislators of a future society. It is as if these laws, nowhere yet realized, placed him under obligation to enact them in advance at least in the confines of his own existence. The man, on the other hand, who knows himself to be in accord with the most ancient heritage of his class or nation will sometimes bring his private life into ostentatious contrast to the maxims that he unrelentingly asserts in public, secretly approving his own behavior, without the slightest qualms, as the most conclusive proof of the unshakable authority of the principles he puts on display. Thus are distinguished the types of the anarcho-socialist and the conservative politician.
- Walter Benjamin summarizes every "Conservative senator in sex club shocker" article until the end of time
Brad DeLong argues that Scott's Seeing Like A State (crudely summarized, a critique of high modernist social engineering) is really in the tradition of Hayek and should be honest about it, instead of casting aspersions on free markets. Henry from Crooked Timber draws out the differences:
[Scott] is much more interested than [the Austrians] are in the actual political processes through which markets come into being ... markets – even and perhaps especially Hayekian markets – don’t exist in an institutional vacuum – and the institutions on which they rely are going to shape the extent to which they succeed or fail in making use of local knowledge.
So: what goes on behind the curtain that keeps the show running? And what eggs were broken to make this omelet?
The length of copyright for recorded music will stick at 50 years. I'm glad that those of us arguing for sanity in IP law can show that limiting copyright terms isn't some communist pipe dream - it's been done, and it was based on hard-headed cost-benefit analysis: "Economists calculated the net present value of the 95th year of copyright at less than the net present worth of a lottery ticket."
That NPV argument is the right one, too: the purpose of copyright is not to enrich the Walt Disney company 95 years after Walt's death, but to create an incentive at the point of creation.
Boring, land-locked Republican citadels like Phoenix growing at the expense of the cool cities. Although I'd like to have more detailed data - ok, the Interior Boomtowns are generally Republican, but within those, how is that broken out? How culturally conservative can Las Vegas be, for example?
I'm dreading Eli Broad's massive downtown ego extension. Give LA a center, are you kidding? "I was fearful we would have unplanned development there that would create a mess" - something's happening here, and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Broad?
I want a bullet train to the Bay as much as anybody, and arguing that you can't invest in rail because "the voters are crying for relief from congested freeways" is the very definition of myopic, but Governator's got one good point: if you can't attract private investment (for a state-sponsored monopoly ... with a glut of capital looking for an opportunity ...) maybe time for a reality check.
From Foreign Policy: "...John B. Bellinger III, Condi Rice's top legal advisor, has entered the ring with a series of lengthy posts defending the administration's conduct. In response to the routine criticisms lobbed at the administration for its seemingly indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, Bellinger argues that so long as we are engaged in distinct, parallel wars with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, detaining "enemy combatants" is appropriate. This raises the obvious question: When do these wars end? The responding bloggers, including the venerable David Sloss and Eric Posner, are grilling Bellinger on this question, judicial review of the detentions, his own role, and related legal issues in the war on terror. The entire debate, a rare instance of the Bush administration engaging its critics seriously and at length, is not to be missed."
Not the really good stuff, Baker didn't actually put Bush over his knee and spank him. Ok, who knows if the meeting ever took place at all. But it's a good story, and he and elder Bush had some role in Rumsfeld getting fired apparently.
"'Political jokes weren't a form of active resistance but valves for pent-up public anger.'" And the understanding that inspired such humor makes the inaction that accompanied it all the more unforgiveable: "...the country wasn't possessed by 'evil spirits' nor was it hypnotised by the Nazis' brilliant propaganda, he says. Hypnotized people don't crack jokes."
Before you make the understandable misinterpretation, I think the Daily Show et al provide a valuable service in exposing the vapidity of current political discourse. But if it's a narcotic (it is) let it be an amphetamine, not an anaesthetic.
Cato Institute paper arguing against terrorism alarmism
Many people have argued the "terrorism is more a political tool than a real threat" angle before, but this comes from a respected right-wing think tank (albeit libertarian, thus not totally in step with the current GOP.)
corporate checks and balances?
I think there's a central but seldom-stated disagreement in arguments about markets and corporate power: to what degree do the interests of corporations coincide? I think most - well, most liberals anyway, would argue that the areas in which the majority of corporations share a common interest should be carefully watched in a democracy. Liberals that are extremely suspicious of corporations often appear to believe that firms' disagreements are superficial, and that on important issues they operate monolithically. Market-friendly liberals like me disagree, and while I could come up with examples in both directions, it seems like something that could be systematically addressed.
Tons of statistics in a bunch of categories, with different visualization options. Very interesting feature that shows you which variables are correlated with the variable you're looking at. Shame you can't look at things over time.
A U.S. Marine (L) and sailor (R) hug loved ones aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard during a deployment at Naval Station San Diego December 6, 2004 in San Diego, California. About 6,000 U.S. Marines and sailors are deploying to Iraq aboard 6 ships and a submarine as part of a massive troop rotation. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
"I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principals and empiricism," Suskind writes. "He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
It's considered unfashionably shrill to refer to the Bush administration as fascistic, but this is pretty clearly the language of totalitarianism. Indeed, in her seminal 1951 book "The Origins of Totalitarianism," Hannah Arendt wrote, "Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it."
We create our own reality... I bet Napoleon felt the same way before he invaded Russia. What word do you use to describe someone simultaneously arrogant, stupid, and very powerful? Evil?
I feel like everybody debating politics on the Internet watched the same Saturday Night Live political debate sketch, the one where Dan Akroyd starts his rebuttal with "Jane, you ignorant slut." Only they thought it was real and used it as a template.
I'm sure he's grateful that American troops are risking their lives to ensure Iraqi security, but the absurd gap between Bush's rhetoric and the way the invasion and occupation have actually been executed calls for bucketloads of snark.
See, the reason I don't have a readership is because whereas a good blogger, reading an article like this one, would post a point-by-point rebuttal, I just post something like "George Lakoff sucks." And he does, he really does.
Why Vaclav Havel is our era's George Orwell
"... at that moment, I was overwhelmed by an intense feeling that this dear man belonged to a world that I no longer wish to have anything to do with ... the world of cunning shits."
Kim Jong Il (the illmatic)'s LiveJournal
"Dear diary. Bush still doesn’t ‘get it.’ I tried making my feelings clear but he’s too busy ignoring me, he is such a jerk. Everything in his life is just Saddam, Saddam, Saddam and I am sick of it.
On the plus side, I think my hair looked pretty good today. Also I went frolicking at Paektu Mountain and the rainbow came out again. After dinner some of my subjects sang me a song because I invented Outer Space."
I heard three crowd comments when I was in New York. Two of them were predictable: "Go back to Iraq!" and "Get out of New York! You're not wanted here! I wish you had a loved one that died in 9/11, then you'd know what time it is."
The third was a hotel doorman to another hotel doorman, watching the stream of protestors: (in strong accent) "These are the real Americans right here...all the rest is just bullshit."
"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--'I see no probability of the British invading us'; but he will say to you, 'Be silent: I see it, if you don't.'
The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood."
Leaving Iraq aside, Bush has arrogated power to himself that no one should have. If terrorism will always be a threat, the power to make war on a state you believe aids terrorists is the power to make war on anyone at any time.
*Text originally at http://kinkade.ws/cwt_alt/resources/e-texts/lincoln/02.htm - that site now taken over by a not safe for work photo site...
a mathematical model of "self-segregation"
"In the simulation I've just described, each agent seeks only two neighbors of its own color. That is, these "people" would all be perfectly happy in an integrated neighborhood, half red, half blue. If they were real, they might well swear that they valued diversity. The realization that their individual preferences lead to a collective outcome indistinguishable from thoroughgoing racism might surprise them no less than it surprised me..."
Depressing as a prediction, encouraging as an explanation.
Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm
"In this paper I explain that while free software is highly visible, it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands."