Bomb Them Into Loving Us

The Vietnamese are the kindest, most forgiving people there are. American tourists, profoundly ashamed for the millions of deaths in the American war waged in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, are gently forgiven by people who smile and say they look to the future, not the past. It brings me to tears, because we don’t deserve it.

The past is not even past. Far too many southeast Asian infants are born with physical defects even today, forty years later, compliments of the American makers of Agent Orange, which Monsanto said was safe. Every now and then someone dies, or loses a leg, compliments of Accudyne Operations, the American makers of plastic land mines that have rested patiently under the soil all these years, waiting to do their ugly deed. The found collection of large, unexploded ordnance grows slowly but steadily, compliments of the big corporations that made some forty different kinds of bombs—which we dropped by the millions of tons, millions—that did not always explode when they were supposed to.

We should give profound thanks
that the Vietnamese are not like
the peoples we are currently attempting
to bomb into loving us.

And today, none of our wars is over, not even WWII, since Europeans still on occasion dig up 1,000-pound bombs, still intact and live, even as the number of war survivors dwindles.

We should lower our eyes and give profound thanks that the gentle Vietnamese are not like the peoples we are currently attempting to bomb into loving us.

Afghanistan and Iraq are littered with various dangerous things that continue to maim children who see them as interesting objects to play with. Even if they don’t explode, thousands of fascinating things lying around were made from radioactive metal whose effects are uncertain, but certainly not benign.

If you ask what country
is the greatest menace to world peace,
the answer is always the US.

And of course, ten years later, the peace we were promised in those places does not exist, nor does it in most of the Middle East, where the people battle the most cruel and ruthless terrorists the world has ever seen, largely a product of our enlightened recruitment strategy of alienating everyone.

Yet if you ask almost anyone in the non-Western world what country is the greatest menace to world peace today, the answer will invariably be The United States of America. That’s us, land of the free, home of the brave. You might even think we don’t know what we are doing. Why can’t we bomb people into loving us?

So who are these terrorists we hear about so frequently? They are people who indiscriminately kill innocents. Young men from the Middle East see what America did to their country, and they flock to radical groups that seek revenge by killing any Westerner they can. How pointless. How cruel. They kill innocents, people who did nothing.

President Obama will not escape
the terrorist label.

But note, those innocents are our innocents, not theirs. How many perfectly ordinary Iraqis, doing their best to love their families and survive under the despot Hussain, died under the onslaught of war criminal Dick Cheney’s Shock and Awe, which was supposed to show them how great and all-powerful we are. And which quickly became a recruiting point for enraged young Muslims.

The most commonsense definition of terrorism, and the most commonly accepted one, is indiscriminate killing or injury of noncombatant innocents. Know why the US cannot accept that definition? Because that’s exactly what we did in WWII. Dresden had absolutely no strategic importance, but we firebombed it and an unconscionable number of its ordinary citizens into charred cinders. Hitler still refused to believe that the war could not be won. But instead of continuing to pound his tanks, planes, factories, and railroads into useless dust, we turned to carpet bombing civilians in German cities, where people wanted only an end to the war, and escape from the madman ruining their lives.

We are bombing them with love.
Soon they will love us.

Today, Obama alone is responsible for the ongoing terror raining from the skies in the form of Hellfire missiles launched from universally hated US drone aircraft, operated by men no doubt also adept at fantasy video games that glorify killing, from secure bunkers in Kansas or someplace. And the list of respected village leaders, entire wedding parties, funeral parties, rescue parties, and picnic outings that have been summarily executed by the American terrorists in Kansas continues to grow, to say nothing of the collateral children and others blown to bits along with the occasional militant. We are bombing them with love. Soon they will love us.

President Obama will not escape the terrorist label, and after he leaves office there will probably be countries he cannot visit on pain of arrest for war crimes, just as there are for Kissinger, Bush, Cheney, and other master war planners.

Obviously, the centuries-long American campaign to win hearts and minds by bombing the hell out of everyone has been less than a perfect success. What then is to be done?

Here’s the Republican solution: Bomb them back to the Stone Age.

A profound strategy, suitable for a bumper sticker, and certain to succeed.

There are far too many Republicans, some in positions of real power, who continue to believe that more bombs are always the best solution. Now they want to bomb Iran, no doubt killing large numbers of Persians who don’t like their own government, but whose families would quickly come to despise the US.

[P. S.: Right on cue, the day after I published this article, John Bolton published an editorial in the New York Times calling for the bombing of Iran.]

Bootstrapping 101

Conservatives are forever recommending that people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I did it! You could too, if you weren’t so lazy.

Before we get into that, I would like to note that the world is well on its way to being a permanent plutocratic two-class system not unlike that seen in the centuries of feudalism. That is, a tiny extremely wealthy elite, and the rest of us. This is coming about because of the inherent flaws of capitalism, the most egregious of which is unlimited growth of great wealth, which also allows capitalists to literally control government and everything else. Bootstrapping works poorly in such circumstances.

There are several reasons bootstrapping is so hard, aside from the factors that allow me as a white guy to do it, but not you because you are the wrong color. Those who think it’s a panacea for escaping poverty think anyone can do it just by working hard, despite the evidence of generations of hard work whose only reward has been endless poverty.

To bootstrap, you are a David, fighting a dozen Goliaths much more powerful than you. The fault is in the system, not individual motivation, and that’s before we get to questions of race. Bootstrapping as a racial question is nothing more than dog-whistle racism intended to prove that African-Americans are inferior and lazy.

Most individuals can’t escape
by bootstrapping.

The conventional wisdom says to overcome Goliath and get a good job, get an education, because a BA is the minimum requirement for the best jobs (unless you are the governor of Wisconsin). But the reason for low levels of employment, and pay that has not kept up, is not education. The unemployed American public has the highest level of education ever, and too many of the new graduates are baristas. In fact, the only shortages have been for skilled labor, not for the college educated. 

I deny that the entire purpose of education is to prepare for the workforce anyway. This is in sharp contrast to what Wisconsin’s Governor Walker—who failed to graduate from college—believes. Preparing for work is part of the goal, but a smaller part than we usually realize. The true value of higher education lies in critical thinking and a broad understanding of the world, and these things make you a valuable employee. Red state ignoramuses—some of whom are in Congress—whose archaic beliefs defy reason demonstrate that lack of thinking skills does not exactly lead to an informed electorate. Remember “Get your government hands off of my Medicare”? (And if they fail to be an informed electorate, imagine the damage they do as legislators.)

A college degree
no longer guarantees

Bootstrapping is recommended for the purpose of employment, but it would be for employment as a subject of the capitalist system. Do what we say, and we will give you a job. What we don’t say is that the pay for this job has barely kept up with inflation for 40 years, despite the enormous increase we have seen in productivity over that period. No, that money has all been reserved for capitalists. So sorry, you are not one of them.

Yet the idea of bootstrapping is a valuable one. It’s just that we must re-define what the term means. What bootstrapping must come to mean is for the entire class of those being screwed-over by the capitalist system to construct their own system that more reliably rewards them for the things that capitalism fails to do. That is, non-capitalists must embrace the idea of a very large community of people who are willing to help and support each other in ways we have only begun to define.

What bootstrapping must mean is for
those being screwed-over by capitalism
to construct their own system.

I have several times suggested ways this might occur. The most valuable of these ways is the worker-owned enterprise. In contrast to the usual capitalist enterprise, in which the entire profit of the business goes to the rich capitalists who own it, the worker-owned enterprise is entirely owned by the workers themselves. When there is profit to be paid, it is divided evenly among the worker-owners.

I suggest that a new type of workers group be formed. This would be unlike the historical labor union, which was valuable to its members only so long as its membership was large enough to be a threat to capitalist management. Rather, I suggest a much larger type of organization capable of functioning completely outside the system of capitalism, and centered on the idea of cooperation.

A useful model is Nextdoor, an online group that can be useful to the neighborhood in various ways: by trading household items, by recommending workers, stores, or doctors, by voicing civic concerns, by sharing skills, or by warning about potential criminal problems, for example.

I suggest that a new type of
workers’ group be formed.

The age of the internet is ideally suited for such a purpose, because people don’t have to live in the same place to help each other. 

An important possibility for a very large group is health care. The goal here is also to escape the capitalist trap. In today’s insurance-driven system nearly one of every three dollars is paid to capitalist insurance companies, which provide absolutely no health care. When this burden is eliminated, costs drop dramatically. They drop further when all doctors are salaried. Once a critical mass is achieved, something akin to national health care could equal the superior European systems, at far less than we pay now. This may be important if Republicans continue to deny us the benefits of a national plan.

There must be millions of possibilities for exchange of skills and materials. There are also many possibilities for things like financial advice, banking, local currency, etc. As time passes, it will become more apparent where the best options lie. It would seem to me that practically any arrangement that escapes the inherent greed of capitalism is a step in the right direction.

California Water Wrongs

There is little doubt in my mind that we are not experiencing our fourth year of drought. What we are experiencing is a return to the historic norm that kept the Southwest dry for thousands of years before we arrived. Nor is what we are up against due entirely to global warming…yet. Check out The West Without Water, by Ingram and Malamud-Roam.

We easily forget that we Europeans have only lived around here for a few hundred years, and until very recently there weren’t many of us. The brief period since we arrived the climate was wet. There were even some years of flooding so severe that Sacramento was under eight feet of water for months. In normal years heavy snowfall in the Sierras gave us plentiful fresh water, enough to irrigate the entire Central Valley and create an agricultural miracle. Enough that the European-American residents in the south were misled to believe it was always this way, and they could recreate the green, green grass of Kentucky.

Unfortunately, it’s not. Photos from space show us the difference between the green years and the returning norm. Below is the California Central Valley. Lake Tahoe is at the intersection of the two state lines you see. Keep in mind that 2013, shown in the first photo, was already a dry year.


We’ve also seen photos of California reservoirs like this one. These are boat docks. The former water level was up near the road.

boat docks, folsom76-1

An important point we must remember is that these photos do not reflect the effects of global warming. There is little doubt that global warming is a hugely important part of the picture for water in the Southwest, but the above effects can all be accounted for by an ordinary return to the historic arid norm. When global warming is added to the mix it becomes frightening.

We are experiencing a return
to the arid norm that existed
for thousands of years before we arrived.

When population demographics are added it becomes still more frightening. The California population today is forty times what it was in the early 20th century. California has five million more people than Canada.

The message is crystal clear: only radical change will prevent us from experiencing a very serious permanent shortage of water. It will threaten every part of the lives of all 40-million Californians.

But all is not lost. We can do something about it. We just haven’t, and it’s getting very late.

When you look at the overall picture of how water is used in our cities, it becomes apparent that we are simply squandering the most precious resource we have. The greatest uses of potable water are for flushing waste away, and it is lost. When we do get rain, most of it gathers on top of impermeable surfaces and washes into gutters, and is lost as it rushes away into storm sewers that carry it to the ocean. The water we use for washing clothing, for showering, for cooking…almost all of it is carried away into sewers and lost.

We are simply squandering
the most precious resource we have.

Every bit of this city water can and must be recovered and used again and again. Many scientists have been working on these problems for a long time, but we haven’t paid much attention to them because there always seemed to be plenty of water. Several very workable systems, for example, can return water contaminated with human waste to the purest levels. Other systems use no water at all for human waste, and recover all urine for agricultural fertilizer, with feces used as fuel to dry it. This is not the old outhouse; it’s an ultra-modern, indoor sanitary system.

The reason we have huge and elaborate storm water systems is simply because our streets and sidewalks are impervious to rainwater. It runs off in great quantities and must be managed. But new building materials allow water to soak quickly through. This eliminates the need for elaborate oversized storm sewers, and allows rainwater to quickly soak through to replenish groundwater. What does not soak through can be recovered and purified, although this can be more difficult to treat than household water.

People living in rural areas can easily use these modern developments, among which are new types of cisterns. Such containers allow storage of large quantities of rainwater that can even be enough to sustain a household during severe drought.

Major projects should be started immediately.

But what are we actually doing, in cities like my own San Francisco? Almost nothing. If we are doing any planning at all, word has so far not reached the public. All these possibilities are available, all have had exposure via the public press, all could be put into place. But they won’t happen unless government starts by putting them on the agenda. It would seem that major projects should be started immediately, before the situation becomes an emergency.

More Notes On Post-Capitalism

Capitalism has innate characteristics that are leading us into worldwide plutocracy. We have already crossed the threshold where the wealthiest 1% own half of the world’s wealth. This can only worsen. What should succeed capitalism is not at all clear, but it is important that we try to find out.

A key question for the post-capitalist world is, Where will the money for large projects come from if not from capitalists? I see several possible sources, among them government, ad hoc groups, citizen-government partnerships, and workers. Government is a legitimate source of initial investment, but it is not in the best interests of the country or the government itself to become the owner of most business enterprises, so any government involvement must be temporary.

The most promising source of cash for businesses, even large businesses, is the workers themselves. Worker-owned small businesses are excellent, but worker-ownership is also promising for some very large businesses. Professional managers can be hired at competitive salaries, but without becoming owners. Not that workers have a lot of money, but large numbers of workers together have a lot of money. Laws that require workers to be paid a living wage could also require that they invest some small part of their earnings in ownership of the enterprise where they work. If an initial government loan were used to start the business, worker contributions could be used to pay off the loan. This would give workers “skin in the game”, a highly motivating direct stake in the success of the enterprise.

Worker-owned businesses are a form of “socialism”, but not of “Socialism”. The very word “socialism” causes gasps of horror in the US, which is very mysterious to the rest of the world. People in the US seem to have missed the point that “Socialism” requires that the government own everything. Think North Korea. We do have a national military, a national highway system, and a national air control system, after all, and nobody thinks that’s “Socialism”. (Well, it’s true that some libertarians seem to think—against all evidence—that the military ought to be the only thing the government pays for.)

Worker-owned businesses are one of the most important responses to the worsening threat of capitalism. In a rather vague sense they are socialist, because the workers are equal in their ownership. But the company is not owned by the government. No individual can own the company or determine its direction.

The movement of capitalist investment from manufacturing to finance means that fewer workers are needed. The resulting surplus of workers places a downward pressure on wages, resulting in lower average income for all workers. This puts further negative pressure on manufacturing capitalism, because with fewer employed workers earning lower wages, the market for goods is smaller, creating a vicious cycle.

Capitalists have been allowed to shift many of the costs of their operations onto the public by calling costs they rely on such as highway maintenance, pollution, waste disposal, resource depletion, and the like “external”. These costs are socialized and billed to us. “External” costs are paid for by all of us with tax money, while profit-making costs are privatized, with all profit going to the capitalist owners.

Costs are also cut by various evasive schemes such as moving the corporate headquarters to a country with low taxes. Many of the biggest corporations pay little or no US tax. In that case the people are forced to make up for industry’s avoided costs. In the post-capitalist world this must not be allowed.

In the 2008 crash and the ensuing bailout all the losses of the “too big to fail” banks were socialized, and a year later bankers were again rewarding themselves with multi-million-dollar bonuses. Everyone lost but the bankers, although it could have been worse.

A conundrum: Much of the presumed health of an economy requires high consumer demand. High demand increases cash flow and capitalist profit. But it also has negative effects, in depletion of natural resources, increased pollution, and waste materials. In more than a few cases it’s debatable whether high demand produces a positive or negative outcome.

A truly healthy economy must define economic health less in terms of demand for consumer goods, or Gross Domestic Product, and more in terms of true physical and economic health of the population, equality, the environment, efficiency, etc.

In the recent past several attempts have been made to formalize this accounting, but none seems to have caught on, and their data are now several years behind. Even an imperfect measure gives us a more realistic picture of economic health than GDP, which counts things like the cost of imprisonment on the same side of the ledger as graduation rates, or losses from natural disasters as categorically equivalent to improved cancer survival rates.

Capitalists and bankers are in near complete control of the government today. Every member of Congress, particularly on the Republican side, votes for what capitalists and bankers determine is in their own interest, because capitalists and bankers contribute controlling sums of money for re-election efforts. (As Jim Hightower noted, “Corporations don’t need to lobby government any more because they are government.”) The continuing growth of their wealth and power will not be tempered voluntarily, let alone yielded. It is therefore necessary for a post-capitalist economy to function completely outside of this system for the foreseeable future. Only when this post-capitalist trend becomes the dominant economic mover of the country will the government be returned to the people.

Those who doubt that this degree of corporate control is real should consider a current news item, the sale of mining rights on sacred Apache grounds on federally protected land in Arizona. Mining for minerals would destroy the land forever and once again betray First Nations people, a betrayal that has been going on for centuries, and could only have come about because the enormous power of mining conglomerates has purchased enough members of Congress to make it happen. Perhaps it will not come to fruition because of the obvious illegality and amorality of the plan, but this is not certain. Similar evils have happened many times before, always in the name of profit.

A large part of consumerism serves no real purpose other than to support capitalists. It provides no benefit to the spender. I define consumerism as “spending for the support of capitalists”.

A whole industry—Madison Avenue—has developed around telling us what we must spend our money on. Often the point is to aspire to spending on “stuff” we can’t afford and don’t need. To reach upward, and spend beyond our means, which makes capitalists and bankers richer, but does nothing to improve our lives.

The post-capitalist society must instead focus on spending for things that are more worthy of our attention and our dollars. The question is how to counteract the power of Madison Avenue, which has had a century to learn how to influence us so we spend too much money on things we don’t need, and which spends billions to convince us that we do need it.

Expenses worthwhile to us include healthcare, education, and housing. Healthcare and education in particular are places where government can play a worthwhile role, as it does in advanced European and other nations. Essentially, it is far more efficient to pay for these via taxes, where the broadest possible customer base is achieved. An increasing number of nations provide free public education all the way through graduate degrees for the same reason. There is a role for government in provision of housing—we already have tax deductions for mortgage interest—but nobody suggests that government should provide housing (although even here, free housing for the homeless has been found to be a money-saving success).

Why Republicans Hate Obamacare

The reason Republicans hate Obamacare boils down to racism, as Republican positions so often do. They hate it because they think health care is a privilege, not a right. If you can’t afford healthcare, it’s because you don’t work hard enough, or you would have enough money for insurance. That being so, the government shouldn’t be giving it to you.

They hate it because it’s “socialist”, a charge that every person living in one of the many democratic countries more advanced than we are, who enjoys superior health care at half what we pay, would find utterly mysterious. What makes it “socialist”? The fact that everyone can get health care when they need it?

The idea that anyone who can’t afford our expensive private for-profit insurance should be denied health care altogether is simply more Republican dog-whistle racism. Who is naturally lazy and inferior and unwilling to work hard? Why, African-Americans, of course. Maybe Latinos too. Everyone knows that. So why should we be paying for their health care insurance? Don’t think there aren’t Republicans who would make that claim. There are. Out loud. For the public record.

The idea that anyone
who can’t afford insurance
should be denied health care at all
is dog-whistle racism.

The argument is bogus on several counts. First, there is no evidence that African-Americans (or Latinos, or anyone else) are lazy and inferior. None. In fact, around the world, poverty itself is related to long working hours.

There is no question that blacks, and other people of color, have been the victims of hundreds of years of ill treatment by European-Americans, starting with slavery, and continuing today with frequent shooting deaths of unarmed, non-threatening black men, and far too much lack of employment opportunity in anything but minimum-wage jobs.

There is deep prejudice against blacks in every part of the country. The recent federal report on Ferguson, Missouri documents that city policies and police actions victimized blacks, essentially requiring them to subsidize the city budget, and particularly victimizing the poorest.

We also forget our sordid history of murders and lynchings of Mexicans (my nomination for the hardest working people on the planet) driven off the ranches they had managed for centuries when the US absorbed the present Southwest states, as well as the ongoing ill-treatment of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Republicans cannot claim that all the many millions of American workers who cannot afford our expensive private health care insurance are lazy, and at the same time claim that the $7.25/hour minimum wage that so many of the poor earn is a living wage. Yet they do. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker flat-out states that a minimum wage is a living wage.

Republicans cannot claim that those
who can’t afford insurance are lazy
and also claim that minimum wage
is a living wage.

One would like to remind the governor that the present minimum wage has a third of the value it did when it became law, lo those many years ago, and it wasn’t particularly generous even then. I suppose it’s overkill to also remind him that his punitive and dogmatic economic policies have dragged Wisconsin’s fiscal condition down to its most dismal level in at least half a century.

The average minimum-wage worker is someone in her thirties, not a 16-year-old high school kid. The full time earnings of someone making minimum wage is $15,080. The average cost of insurance outside of the ACA is about $15,000 annually per family. That’s why the working poor didn’t have health insurance before the ACA. Most of the companies paying minimum wage will not allow their employees to work full time anyway. Laziness never enters the picture.

The conclusion is inescapable: the Republican hatred of the Affordable Care Act is pure hypocrisy, based on bogus beliefs about its beneficiaries that are belied by the facts every step of the way. It is this kind of thinking that keeps the working poor at subsistence level, and one step away from an illness that can easily end in bankruptcy and death, ruining the family’s finances and opportunities for generations.

What Happens After Capitalism?

Capitalism will eventually be superseded. It is fraught with many problems, which are coming to a general crisis level. At this point we can’t see what will take over from there, but we have some clues, and lots of reasons it must happen.

The modern world is run by bankers and capitalists as if money and profit were the reason for life. These very rich people seem to have no understanding of how the natural world functions, or that they are part of it, and that they too have responsibilities to society and the planet. The world cannot continue indefinitely in this direction without creating a disaster. We are in stark need of a theory of wealth to replace capitalism, because capitalism resists all efforts at control, and denies any responsibility for the wellbeing of others and the planet.

The reason for life, for most of us, is not money. Since the rest of us outnumber the bankers and capitalists by a huge margin, it would seem that we would have the power to simply forbid their distortions of our lives. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, because they not only have more than half the wealth of the world, they also control the laws and procedures that give them all that money, create poverty, and destroy the natural world that allows us to live.

Capitalism came about simultaneously with the mass production of “stuff”, tangible products that were sold on the open market, with all the wage minimization and stifling of competition that capitalism demands. Production of tangible products was the entire reason for capitalism.

In more recent times, the focus of capitalism has shifted away from tangible products like cars and electronics to financial products, which often have no connection to manufacturing or products used by people, and are important only to the rich. There is almost no labor force at all for these products. Virtually all the profit from them goes to capitalists alone.

As of 2015, the 1% most wealthy own as much as the entire rest of the world, a distortion that will continue to worsen with no apparent end. Once private wealth reaches a certain point it becomes a sort of self-propagating automaton. Obviously, this cannot continue forever, that is, until one person owns everything, but at this point there is nothing on the financial horizon that tells us what will change it.

Modernization of manufacturing has from the beginning been a long progression of automation that reduced large numbers of largely unskilled workers to a point where even skilled labor plays a minor role in most manufacturing. Whole factories are run with a few skilled workers, whose job it is to manage the machines that do the actual work.

But the profit from these plants still goes to the capitalists, and with the diminution of numbers of laborers, profit is considerably greater than before, a further concentration of money where it is not needed. The real social cost is borne by people who are locked out of the cycle entirely, and where the money is needed.

Since money is finite, the greater the wealth of that small percentage, the less money there is for everyone else, and consequently, the more suffering. Moreover, the extraction of natural resources that drives capitalism’s endless need for “growth” has already run smack up against the natural limitations of the planet, to the detriment of all, including capitalists and bankers. Unfortunately, as Upton Sinclair noted, it is very hard to convince a man of something when his income depends on his not understanding it, so capitalists pretend they have no responsibility for the decline of the natural world necessary for our survival, or the malignant injustice of inequality.

The people of the world do have an interest in how money is managed, but that is not their reason for living. No one expects perfect equality, that long-dead pipe dream of communism. But people do not want what is happening now, gross inequality that worsens inexorably, gradually excluding everyone but capitalists from the money cycle.

Capitalism’s successor must have the primary goal of attending to the wellbeing of all people as well as the planet itself, which is the virtual opposite of the current condition. It will allow for the accumulation of significant wealth, but there must be a mechanism of limitation, both because infinite growth is not possible, and because wealth beyond a certain point accomplishes nothing, and becomes a cancer that will destroy its host.

Capitalism’s successor must create a broad leveling, which will mean that there will not be a tiny fabulously wealthy elite, nor will there be an enormous population living in extreme poverty.

Capitalist demand for profit is infinite. No amount of wealth is ever enough. When capitalists gain too much, wages fall, people tumble into poverty, and the demand for capitalist products drops, thus creating a vicious cycle, which can be temporarily postponed by shipping manufacturing off to poorer countries where cheaper products can be extracted.

This is the situation we find ourselves in now. Capitalism doesn’t accept that there is any value to the lives and wellbeing of most of the population, because most of the population is irrelevant to the accumulation of wealth, which is the entire purpose of capitalism. This is morally unacceptable.

Our Infinity Problem

The problem of infinity cannot be solved in our finite world. The problem is far more serious than we think. It’s unavoidable, and it involves capitalism and almost everything else of importance. One could say there is no more important problem. What is this infinity problem? The infinity we seek cannot exist in a finite world. Our small blue dot of a world is finite.

It’s useful to restate the impossibility as a problem of compounding. In essence, anything that regularly increases by a percentage can only end at infinity. This includes population, pollution, use of natural resources, and of course, capitalist wealth. Everything that increases by compounding sooner or later ends up with a “hockey stick” distribution, with a sharp rise coming to the present. Everything.

The problem of infinity
cannot be solved
in our finite world.

We cannot change any of it with window dressing. A kind and gentle capitalism is not possible because the problem is in its DNA, not in its practitioners. It will require a profound and complete change of direction. No matter how benign we think we are personally, how noble our intentions, the innate attributes of capitalism compel it toward infinity, a characteristic that was well known even to Adam Smith. Capitalism must have endless growth, and the same holds for every single measure with the characteristic of compounding. It’s impersonal, in the nature of the math.

This is not a problem that will come someday. It’s here, now, and we have no choice but to meet it head-on. But of course we are not. We’re not even aware of it yet.

The commonly accepted economic goal is for 3% annual growth. That mere 3% will double the size of the economy in 24 years. The same 3% will give us an economy four times larger in 48 years, and so on. Calculating the results if population doubled at 3%—which fortunately it does not—makes the point dramatically. Try it. (There are 7.3 billion of us now.)

The problem is here, now,
but we’re not even aware of it.

This insight has enormous implications for our near future. Many of the problems that have been building for centuries have suddenly arrived at a crisis point, and none of them will be solved except by completely changing how we do things.

Scientists have been well aware of the inherent danger of compounding as it applies to global warming. Unfortunately, with attempts to avoid overstating conditions, every calculation of global warming has proven to be too conservative. But it’s all the same problem: the impossibility of infinity in a finite world.

Karl Marx’s insights into the nature of capital are a century and a half old, but they have held up, and in fact are reinforced with real data by Thomas Piketty (Capital in the 21st Century). What Marx (and even Adam Smith) intuited was the capitalist imperative of infinite growth.

Growth of wealth
for the very rich is infinite,
but wealth itself is finite.

The new insight that Piketty demonstrated is that great wealth is self-reinforcing. The richest use investment advantages that are available to no one else. As a result, wealth grows faster for them, creating worsening inequality for everyone else. This occurs because growth of wealth for them compounds, and is infinite, but wealth itself is finite.

The 1.0% most wealthy now own fully half the world’s wealth. Soon the they will own 60%,  then 70%, and so on until something stops them. The very wealthiest (0.001%) already own preposterous fortunes, which are growing at a rate significantly greater than that of the mere 1%, who are slouchers by comparison. [Addendum: The total wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by 10% in 2014, $0.65 trillion. ]

All this might extend into the distant future except we have bumped smack up against our planet’s finite limits. This little blue dot is all we have. Wealth is finite, as is everything else in our world.

There is a finite amount of oil in the ground, and good reason to think we have already pumped and burnt up the easiest half. If this were not so, why are we destroying forever many thousands of acres in Canada for a paltry blob of the dirty stuff found in sand? Why is Big Oil determined to drill in treacherous Arctic seas where they have already given us two disasters?

We have bumped smack up
against our planet’s finite limits.

The atmosphere is not infinite either. You can easily see this with every horizon photo taken from space. The blue atmosphere is paper thin, and we have been pumping it full of greenhouse gasses generated by burning fossil fuels because of our failure to understand finiteness. That has created a full-fledged worldwide disaster that is very apparent in the US with this winter’s extreme weather.

Nor is it possible for the human population to grow infinitely. Long, long ago we passed the point of sustainable population. World population today is increasing by one Germany per year. Now almost 7.3 billion, world population will cross 10 billion sometime in the ’60s. Now, even with the best science we can come up with, disaster is inevitable, and we haven’t even acknowledged our infinity problem, let alone started to do something about it.

Reliance on the infinite clearly cannot continue. Capitalism must be replaced by something, which we have scarcely begun to define, something that ends the irrational and impossible striving for infinity. The population must be reduced. Gross atmospheric pollution must end right now. The capitalist imperative must be replaced. All these impossible infinities will either be recognized and reversed, or there will be worldwide catastrophe unprecedented in our 200,000 years as a species.

It’s not optional. Either we learn how to work together to solve our infinity problems, now, or nature will take over.

Quit Calling Conservatives Bad Names

I have lots of arguments against conservatism. But however misguided I think much of conservatism is, that has nothing to do with respecting conservatives as people.

We have a long political history of calling each other names in legislative bodies, part of a venerable worldwide tradition of raucous debate. The accounts of our earlier years are full of it. The Arabs, I understand, are world-class masters. Heated argument seems to be part of the lifeblood of legislative bodies, which all over the world routinely erupt into fistfights and sometimes outright riots. But this is face to face (fist to fist?).

We have a venerable worldwide
tradition of raucous debate.

I question how much good comes from all this acerbic bickering, but this is not quite what I’m talking about. I’m talking about nasty words from people who won’t show their faces, and never propose anything positive.

The internet has given us a cloak of invisibility, behind which we can use every ugly word we can imagine and make vile and slanderous claims, allowing us to rage and curse in complete anonymity without ever suggesting anything worthwhile. This is ugly. Online commenters fill their diatribes with simplistic name calling using base language—libtards, assholes—and virtually never offer reasons for their opinion, let alone data or suggestions for a better way.

It’s not necessary to be insulting and ugly. Name calling from deep inside your magic robe does not prove your point, or even why the other person is wrong. No one will ever come around to your way of seeing things if all you do is call them names and insult them.

The internet has given us a cloak of invisibility.

My purpose here is not to berate conservatives who rag on liberals, or vice versa, but to ask liberals in particular to act in every instance as if you were seated with the person you are describing, face to face. You can make your point without lapsing into a barrage of swear words and unfounded claims about your opponent’s presumed sexual preferences or intellect, from safety inside your hidey-hole.

There are a great many things that conservatives and liberals can agree on. There are many institutions that are worth preserving, which is one of the core principles of conservatism, and we should not be hasty lest we jettison something important. These include our Constitution, how we are educated, and our duty to care for those who cannot care for themselves. But there are other parts of the conservative ethic I believe are flawed and lead to moral problems that remain unresolved. Moreover, conservatives themselves have abandoned some of their own principles.

It’s not necessary to be insulting and ugly.

The conservative platform of a half century ago could easily be the liberal platform of today. But conservatives since then have turned from believing their way was the best way to serve the people. Now they are interested only in those things that help the rich.

The presumed excessive crime among minority groups is a valid topic of discussion, but conservatives have abandoned any pretense of impartiality by blaming virtually all crime on the supposed inferiority of non-whites. Such a claim makes moot any attempt at improvement of the social setting because it assumes that the problems cannot ever be improved.

Name calling prevents useful dialogue.

But the flaws I see in conservative thinking don’t mean that all conservatives are stupid fools deserving of name calling. Even when beliefs are deeply held, they can be altered. Take climate change. In the recent past it was a (misguided) Republican requirement to claim that climate change did not exist. But once enough people found themselves ankle deep in seawater, or saw that the reservoirs were empty for the third straight year, and the world’s glaciers were going fast, they began to question what had seemed to be iron-bound, religious dogma.

It is far more important to show someone whose opinions differ from ours why they are wrong than it is to lambast them for their presumed faulty intellect. Name calling is worse than mere bad manners, because it prevents useful dialogue and improvement of the social situation.

What to Do Instead of Money

This year we will sail past the point where 1% of the population controls as much wealth as all the rest of us. We may already have passed it. What we have learned of late is that this is a bit like an atomic reaction, or a muddy avalanche: once you reach a critical point there’s no stopping it; the wealth continues to accumulate with the very rich.

Karl Marx was prescient in seeing the flaws of capitalism a century and a half ago. Regardless of the historical developments that followed, his fundamental understanding remains unchallenged.

Just a year ago, the English translation of Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century created another spark of enlightenment by fleshing out Marx’s theory with real data. But the most significant thing Piketty showed us is that the continuing concentration of wealth and the resulting gross inequality is the inevitable consequence of capitalism itself. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be any simple way to bring it under control. The 1% own half of all wealth, but that will continue to increase inexorably.

Piketty shows us that continued growth
of great wealth is inevitable.

The reasons that the very richest continue to accumulate wealth are essentially two. First, the very rich never spend any of their capital. That is, they have so much wealth that they can easily live in great luxury on just a small part of the annual earnings on their invested wealth, leaving most of those earnings to be reinvested. Second, the rich are able to invest in ways that simply aren’t available to anyone who isn’t very, very rich. These include, but are not limited to, investment requirements in tens of millions of dollars. These rarified investment mechanisms earn consistently greater returns than other types of investment, thus continually widening the distance between the very wealthy and the rest of us.

The question, which arose long before Piketty came to town, is what to do about this malignancy. This wealth grows without limit, like a cancer, but the total quantity of money is finite. Therefore, the more of it that accrues to the most wealthy, the less there is for everyone else.

Many people are trying to find a successor to capitalism, but a clearcut heir is nowhere to be seen. Until answers are found, it seems to me that the best strategy for individuals is to sidestep the capitalist trap. There are a number of ways you can do that.

The best plan for individuals
is to sidestep the capitalist trap.

Whenever possible, earn your living via a worker-owned business or cooperative, or at least a company you can buy into. In worker-owned enterprises the benefit of the work performed, the profit, is not removed to further enrich a wealthy owner, because there is no owner other than the workers themselves, who are also the investors. Every benefit accrues to the worker-owners.

Take your money away from the big capitalists. Put it in a credit union or small local bank, most of which are able to provide nearly all financial services you might need. Consider also mutual benefit organizations, “brotherhoods”, such as were common during the early part of the 20th century, and are still strong in several parts of the country. These include large family associations as well as associations of ethnic, national, professional, and interest groups.

In saving for retirement, look for investments in funds that share your values, usually called “socially responsible” funds. Be willing to miss out on gee-whiz investments in favor of less exciting investments that actually do some good and do not particularly benefit the very wealthy.

True wealth needn’t mean only cash in a bank.

Don’t stop there. Avoid dealing with dollars entirely when you can. Trade and exchange your goods and services such as garden produce and painting skills. Use a local currency if one is available, which helps small businesses and keeps the wealth in the local area and out of the clutches of Wall Street.

Redefine wealth. True wealth needn’t mean only cash in a bank. Most people who have gained a good education consider themselves to be richer for it, regardless of their income. Owning unimportant expensive possessions provides limited satisfaction at best. Having leisure and enjoyable activities is just as important for a rich life. Gardening is always a satisfying activity in itself, with the added benefit that you can eat what you grow, or at least enjoy looking at it. Make and enjoy music, dance, acting, sports.

The poor should especially be encouraged to be proactive, because to do so will provide additional real wealth for them. Yet it is the poor who are least likely to seek out such opportunities.

While various problems have arisen on the way to the “sharing society”, it’s still a concept worth working on. Some of the difficulties have arisen with informal ride sharing services, which don’t so much share rides as take business from taxi workers by neglecting crucial things like liability insurance and vetting of drivers. It seems to me that a good part of the problem is that such services are far too large to qualify for the local sharing that is most important. They have become just another extension of capitalism, minus consumer protections.

The best we can do for now may be to sidestep capitalist clutches, and be rich in other ways. The very rich will get very richer until we figure out a better way.

The Dilemma Forced-Birthers Haven’t Thought Through

It’s noble, I suppose, to imagine that no embryo should be denied life. But whose embryo are we talking about? Does this woman’s fetus have the same standing as that woman’s? If not, why not?

Over 10,000 children die daily from easily cured conditions. Mostly, though, they have the “wrong” mothers, suggesting that forced-birthers don’t really care about actual living beings, only about embryos. “That” woman’s fetus is not as important as “this” woman’s, so it’s not important when her children die.

Why do we want so many more humans to be born?
It would seem that the fewer births,
the more morally responsible we would be.

With world population having passed seven billion some time ago, we have already exceeded the long-range carrying capacity of the planet by over five billion people. What exactly is the reason we should want so many more humans to be born? It would seem that the fewer births we had, the more morally responsible we would be. Additional population means additional suffering, whereas surely our goal should be to reduce suffering.

Since Roe vs. Wade, almost 57 million legal abortions have been performed in the US. Forced-birthers would have it that every one of these would have been carried to term, thus increasing our population by 57 million. Except that by now many would have had several children and grandchildren of their own. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that the population would be greater by 200 million or so, for a total present US population greater than 500,000,000, nearly 60% greater than it is. Where do the forced-birthers propose these people go, given that we already have difficulties balancing needs for land to live on and land to grow things on, land that is warmer, drier, and increasingly covered with seawater?

Forced-birthers should also be aware that the reason prospective mothers have abortions is that they aren’t capable of the added responsibility. It is likely that many or most of them would have no choice but to surrender any child they were forced to carry to term. How do the forced-birthers propose to care for these millions of additional children for the next twenty years?

Forced-birthers have no plan
other than to force unwanted births.

The fact is, they haven’t thought this through. They have no plan other than to force unwanted births.

I propose establishment of an agency that would take possession of newborns given up by women who have been forced to give birth. These unwanted infants would then would be distributed to the people who force women to have unwanted births.

If such a plan were put into action, the first thing the forced-birthers would discover is that the supply of forced-birth babies vastly outnumbers couples seeking to adopt. Therefore, either the babies would end up in orphanages or the forced-birthers themselves would have to take the children. There would be inadequate numbers of parents in either case.

I propose an agency to accept forced births,
which would then be given
to those who would force births.

The fact is that forced-birthers are frequently believers that women with unwanted pregnancies deserve their problems, including being forced to carry a child they will never be able to care for adequately. They believe that most such potential mothers deserve whatever they get, including poverty and forced births. They never consider that more people is exactly what we don’t need.


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