1711. Two kinds of socialism

Interesting thinking.

“That’s the choice. Social Democracy or National Socialism. Good and bad. Social Democracy works. It works wonders for human prosperity, any way that you care to measure it. It’s one of humankind’s greatest creations. National Socialism, on the other hand, is the very opposite. It’s search for blood and gold leads inevitably to violence, war, catastrophe. It is one of humanity’s ugliest creations.”

– The Choice — On Techne — Medium (https://medium.com/on-techne/the-choice-4c6d598473be?source=email-b7284a18de7-1471537255098-digest.reader——0-7&sectionName=single)

Good distinction, and I like the idea of the two in tension with each other. The problem with the socialism we have had is its alliance with industrial – hierarchical – forms of social organization. Too easy to corrupt and  create privilege.  Good societies I think,  dealing with human nature, require a certain lack of integration, crating interstices where people if they chose can be freer in attitude and creativity.

1711. No more outsourced prisons?

This could be really good news.

Washington Post today

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.


1709. Development without growth.

We can grow with an economy that heats the planet and
concentrates wealth and increasingly produces goods for the 1%,
Or recognize that we have enough stuff badly distributed.
Aristotle said we can have growth without development
and development without growth. The reuse and the
redeployment of what we have is plausible
And actually attractive.

Both paths require high innovation.

Unfortunately the political and social path
for better distribution with growth does not exist
nor does The path of the redeployment of
people and the material world.

We will keep moving toward collapse until we recognize
that we need deep social innovation.
Otherwise out of desperation felt necessity
will drive us towards radical authoritarian solutions that protect elites
And militarize society.

1708. A new 10 Commandments.

I think we need a modified Christian (Buddhist, Hebraic, Islamic, Confucian, Hindu, Scientific.) attitude. And a new equivalent of the ten commandments.
1. Each day do something for the person you know who is having the worst time.
2. Each day do something for the person you know *of* who is having the worst time.
3. Each day do something about the very worst situation you know about (its ok to be myopic – just do it) in the world.
4. Network the resulting projects.
5. Teach others to participate.
6. Leave your local habitation more beautiful, at the end of the day, than you found it. Do something about it.
7. Do something, each day, to weave the tapestry of community conversations, consciously, by having at least one conversation you would not have otherwise.
8. Create culture with your children
9. Study harder beyond current affairs or narrow profession.
10. Smile honestly and enjoy this life, even in its worst moments.

1707. New opening to GardenWorld Politics.

As events unfold, this needs nearly daily rewriting.  The book is under major revision. This the new opening to the first chapter. Sorry for the length.

We are near and possibly past the point of no return on climate warming. People are divided between hysteria, depression, or tuning out. But fortunately an increasing number are tuning in and ready for news about what to do. The future for humanity must include technology, democracy, science, biology, human history, personal life, culture, civilization and a theory of governance. It has to do with putting the ambiguous “human” together with the ambiguous “nature.

But we are stuck at a bottleneck  of interlocked issues we are all aware of but in isolation from each other, not together as a system:  population, inequality, robotization,  climate, war, weak and corrupt governance,  and poor quality of life, all issues of human making on the planet, that keep us from getting to the future.  I would like to add that culture too is in decline: the appreciation of art and music, poetry and dance, architecture and landscape. The pain felt by almost everyone is not represented in the press or policy. It is all kept  numerical and cool.

The vision of GardenWorld, or something like it, is necessary to have an organizing leverage point for our efforts at making a better world. Popular culture tends to be pounding and rude, not encouraging of creativity, reflection and compassion. The book is about GardenWorld as a viable and shared image of the good life in the future on this planet in this century, what it is  and the politics of and economics and the legal structures for getting there. We cannot get to GardenWorld without some serious rethinking of politics and economics. Corporations, “bodies”, are designed to treat the society outside themselves as food to digest, not a source of partnerships among peers. Politics, which was hoped to be representative, only allows the choices it wants.

We have discovered our interdependence with nature, but don’t have a view of what to do with it. GardenWorld replaces that vacuum with a promise. Whether the world falls apart, or hangs together, GardenWorld would be helpful. It is, as the futurists say, robust across scenarios. We need an image of what we are trying to accomplish and how we want to live. There is so much green talk, but we lack a vision of how it coheres around the way we might live our lives. An uncomfortable result now is that we are both anxious to hold onto old ways and anxious to move to new ones. Should we give up on economic well being for the environment? No way most have been saying. Should we ignore the ecological impact of a full speed economy? Not wise, most would say. So we are stuck between these two plausible attitudes.

Much of the life as we have known it is over. The apocalypse is not coming. It is here. We are in it. Living it. As the weeks go by it seems increasingly more essential to understand, develop and broadcast what I’ve called it GardenWorld. We need a view of greening our world and loving our children that is aesthetic, providential, flexible, and doable. We need an image of where we could evolve to, starting in the very near future, that is positive.

We need to like each other which means we have an obligation to be likable. Adam and Eve were beautiful in the Garden of Eden,  and we have to learn how to find the garden of the future also beautiful and to find ourselves beautiful in it. We need to learn how to make each other feel secure in the world that, for a while a least, will be full of anxiety.

GardenWorld is essentially a return to the core of human life, production and reproduction, companionship, culture, and food. Early human communities grew people and used the environment to do it. Its meant knowledge of plants and animals and of each other. The use of the land was to nurture communities that blended the human and the organic in a fully engaging culture. Art and meaning were central to the project of growing humanity. Human activity was simultaneously pragmatic and aestheticized. Utility was always embedded in stories, myths and design. We have reduced too much of the land to a commodity owned by corporations for the purpose of growing more commodities.

The present emerges from the past over many generations. In one important aspect the past contains a clue to our present and future possibilities. The word for capital come from the greek cap, meaning head, as in baseball cap, capital of a country or the top of a column. For the romans it meant also a new head of cattle (chattle, cattle and capital all related words). Cattle was the main measure of wealth in the Roman Empire, as it had been for the Greeks. A new head of cattle, one plus one equals three, is hence about growth, and the question has been, who owns that cap, who gets to decide its fate and its use? The rules around cattle reproduction moved with commerce n cattle to commerce in things as the Italian city states emerged with more affluence an complex tastes in decorative things.

Hence what we mean by economy has its roots in the most profound aspect of the universe, the production and reproduction of life in all its organic messiness. Sex and growth and economy are thus deeply connected. I conclude that treating the economy as about managing growth in its organic connection to biology and evolution and the environment is the basis for GardenWorld and its politics. GardenWorld is about generativity, and how to manage it so that the next generation is, as it often has been, a blessing and not a problem.

GardenWorld is about sex and children and parents and food and flowers and art and culture and reflective adults who appreciate having lived.

We have unfortunately built up  habits and expectations that are going to be hard to give up. But as you know from experience private spaces for quit with books or friends and family are harder to find as th space of relationships is replaced by the internet of all things and we experience ourselves as points in the grid rather than as a person. To get the attention of another, which used to mean just being ourself, we now have to break trough their concentration of the flow of information they are a part of.

The idea that relationships with people and the land would replace these technologies seems a bit far-fetched though we are ambivalently attracted to such a future. In too many ways we have learned to dislike each other and to live with it. As a result we are not good at growing food nor each other.

Things we thought we like, all the technology, the availability of data, the numeracy in the accounting of things, efficiency, and industrially supplied and corporate manipulated markets are beginning to wear down and we do not know how to replace them with things that are more deeply spiritual and organic, and lets face it, humanly successful in terms of lives we are happy to be living.

The very idea of organic frightens many people. And spirituality for many is Halloween and nightmares, the mumbo-jumbo of the ju ju man whose wife is selling unwholesome looking hot food over a kerosene stove down the street in some unpronounceable city.
I am not prepared for the world I think is coming. I am too soft. Too old. Maybe too sentimental. Maybe too indoctrinated by technical perspectives to be truly warm hearted. But we will all need to extend our basic skills of material reuse and basic habits of compassion and companionship – and broad eclectic study of the world.

Quality of life choices are easier in the GardenWorld context because such a context tells us about what we are trying to achieve. If people are facing a deteriorating social and physical environment the choices they make will not be the ones that align personal well being with the environment. In moving toward GardenWorld, where alignment of the human and nature is the intent, a convergence of desires and actions is more likely. Simply being in a more natural environment, a city garden, a suburban back yard, often reminds us of who we are and how to live a little better.

Living in a por neighborhood of rundown houses does not encourage us to fix up our own. Not because it looks bad, but because the landlord will raise the rent.
The Garden of Eden beckons, but we have lost our way – Waiting for Godot – like people milling around the gate after the flight was cancelled. We act as if we no longer know where we are going, and tend to drift off, one-by-one to nowhere in particular. But I think this is only on the surface – what we are willing to show. Hidden inside our private experience I think we have a robust image – often without words – of what we want from a good life. Good people and an attractive setting. Most people, across class lines and national boundaries, would like to live in a blend of nature and civilization. Why do we not use our resources and technology – our wealth – to go there?

Most people would like to live in a blend of
nature and civilization. Why do we not use
our resources and technology– our wealth
to go there?

GardenWorld is a turn away from the rationality of production with its irrational conclusion that more stuff means more happiness. Clearly “happiness” is a deeper problem to which “more” is a pathetic and destructive answer. This book is based on the core idea that we have lost a public vision of the future and our education has stunted individual imagination for the better life. Democracy and technology no longer seem to mobilize hope, but apprehension. And yet a direction already exists in the minds of most people, and they would vote for it, if were offered by the political leaders. And it will not be, at least in the early phases. Politicians vote for what is. The hope is that people will do some inventing and creating themselves. With the Internet creating the possibility of discussing everything, including why, and how to live, the hope is not impotent.

GardenWorld is that vision, a world where advanced technology and natural growth are blended through design (including architecture, city planning, landscape planning, food, recreation and institutions, and more) in a robust economy of local and regional experimentation in restoration, development and local business initiatives, all under the guidance of GardenWorld as an intent, blending aesthetics and pragmatics. In GardenWorld health and education are seen as enablers of participation, and tough environmental regulation drives technical innovation. Doing a better job on local development and retrofitting for energy conservation, and growing green for energy and food independence creates potentially a very large number of local jobs that are much harder to export. Democracy would expand and complexify locally, moving from mere voting to conversational networks across generations and class lines.

GardenWorld is more of an intent to experiment than a plan to follow. The idea is simply, from the window box or roof top in the inner city, through the malls and the suburbs, to the fringe wilderness, we should be looking for ways to enhance the aesthetics and the usefulness through landscape design, from the micro to the macro: gardens, food, parks, paths, climate amelioration through tree planting in hot cities.

GardenWorld is not just the sum of these practical activities but an intent to realize a vision. It is how we can put together a goal, with the positive potential of technology, capital, human lives and politics. By vision I mean something like what the Impressionist painters, Monet, Renoir, Bonnard and all their friends, did for the emerging bourgeoisie middle class life – enhance every space with color and life, mixing nature and human relationships in a new harmony and meaningful discord. From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to Central Park, the British estate gardens, Architectural Digest, and the impact of simply putting flowers in our living room – bring human relationships into a better balance with plants, as food and beauty, as a core design principle, throughout our entire environment.

GardenWorld is not a plan for what you should do. It is an invitation to creatively participate as you help invent, from the very local, to neighborhood, regional, national and global as we explore how to replace the techno-mechanical image of the potentialities of the use –and misuse – of our wealth with a goal of a more humane, democratic, organic and natural environment. If this isn’t the world you want, what do you want? As Socrates asked, “What is a fit life for a human being?”

But readers might be surprised that i think Technology must be a major part of the future. The problem will be the mix technology with sensitivity to the needs of a cultural and spiritual humanity. The people who tend to develop the technology tended to see him in mechanistic and digital terms. To get the cut the logical future will require a lot of serious The people who tend to develop the technology tend to think in mechanistic digital terms. Achieving the technological future will require a lot of serious thinking.

I have been deeply influenced by Erich Fromm’s books, especially Escape From Freedom    and The Sane Society,  and GardenWorld is an answer to the question I have mulled over for a few decades:, “If we don’t escape freedom, but stick with it, what then?” Fromm talked about the ways our fears shut down our social imagination, but he did not explore what kind of realizable society might support freedom. GardenWorld is my project to explore the realizable possibilities, given our moment in history.

Many new books and articles point in the direction of GardenWorld. If I make any claim it is to showing the common source of the problems of both the Democratic and Republican leaderships to fail to respond to real needs yet, the existence in the minds of most people of a common agenda around the desirable qualities of living, and the need for a vision of GardenWorld to bring that agenda to life. I am also profoundly influenced by the work of Fredric Olmstead. He created the design plans for the Stanford campus, Berkeley, the entrances to Yosemite and Niagara Falls, the Fens in Boston, and most famously, Central Park in Manhattan. The design was always to purify the pollutions from the city using natural processes,  and in the same design, to create attractive spaces for people.

The context of current events in which I write and probably you reading is dynamic. Our leaders have a too narrow focus on extremely complex events. We have been drawn into a financialized and militarized frame of mind, rather than facing our real problems, which would support dealing with the climate, environment, strengthening the people through education and health, and thinking about the quality of life and its distribution. Better security would follow.

I am proposing three groups of ideas.

1. There exists an agenda that 80% of the population would vote for if it were offered.
2. GardenWorld is an integrating vision that already exists in the minds of many.  It would include the 80% and go beyond it.
3. Build a resonance in the public mind with 1 and 2 and a campaign to get us there.

I believe the vision articulated here, GardenWorld, has world-wide application, and there are many vital experiments outside the US we can learn from. There is a valley I’ve heard about in India where “progress” is measured by the increase in biomass and the number of species of songbirds. The US is best at being a beacon, not a bully, and our narrowed views of economy, democracy and governance, the significance of culture, and the aims of life, are due for repair.

The current situation is that the West, with empires and wars, beginning in the 15th Century with Portugal’s intrusion into the peaceful and extensive trade in the Indian Ocean, and represented now by the US and its oil, dollars, and military, has increasingly come to be seen by the rest of the world as a tragic costly culturally narcissistic outrage that did not live up to its own values, the ones the world admires: success with participation and justice. We are isolated and broke.

An alternative view is that the country is doing basically well, as we manage the world the US inherited at the end of WW2, and we are in a phase of institutional experimentation with digital tech and globalization. American productive power is still sound and, with the flow of money and ideas in the system, we can remain the most dynamic country.
There is some ambiguity about which view is correct. probably both, but the first seems increasingly salient, conscious and requiring a coherent response.

The narrowing elite in the country have an increasing share of resources available to them, and that money is used for the exploitation of existing or obvious cash producing “opportunities”. There is much less money for R&D. This is not good for business, science, technology, wealth creation, human development nor the environment. It is not a path to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. The United States is not paying attention to “..the decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”

We need to find a way to, as the musicians say, re-mix. GardenWorld, because of its existing, but latent, attractiveness, in the hopes of people across class and national lines, is very possibly the way to re-jazz our life, and to recall that the Declaration says “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

The book has six core ideas

1. The promise of a better life after WW2 has not been realized. The slavery of the field turned into the slavery of the Factory and then into the slavery of the cubicle. Progress for all turned into privilege for ever fewer in a great game of musical chairs. Chapter 1 and 2. The image of the future and the promise of progress have languished, under the pressures to adapt to “modernism”, through a failure of imagination, leadership, and resources.
2. Both major political parties are stuck. Chapters 2
3. Political attitudes are a way of saying “no” to the whole system when “no” is not something people can vote for. Chapter 2.
4. There exists a political agenda that 80% would agree to. Not an agenda of mere platitudes, but deep, dealing with real issues. (See chapter 1,5,6,7). It requires mixing a new business climate with environmental rigor, and using health and education as enablers. At the simplest, simply turning downward the rising curves of inequality and environmental degradation would be sufficient for a vast increase in hope. Chapter 8.
5. An analysis of why we are in this jam. The merry-go-round economy, working for those who are in it, but marginalizes those who are not but having to compete  in the brutal life denying game of musical chairs, Chapter 2.
6. A vision is necessary to make the 80% solution come alive and be evocative. GardenWorld, a blend of the organic and the technological, entrepreneurship, and serious environmentalism, oriented for human development, is that image. Chapters 3 and 4
And there are some more philosophical, historical and psychological discussions in chapter 7, 8, and 9. And some specific discussion of economics and technology in chapters 6 and 8. Chapter 7 is a riff on human nature which is really what it is all about nurturing.

The context as I write, most observers agree, is  that:
The economy is making the rich richer and the poor poorer in almost every country (including the Middle East, creating the conditions for chaos there) and that the legal structures of corporations are a major factor. Everyone now knows this and frustration with the politics is increasing. The plausibility of global climate change is also now conventional wisdom. But the actionable conclusions have not been architected by the politicians. There is no easy win win, solid and difficult choices will be made. The idea and practice of democracy have been corrupted and nothing yet replaces them. The Internet is in trouble. Security in a crowded world is better achieved by diplomacy and pinpoint police professionalism than by militarism, but the militarists, driven by those who want to protect the current bad distribution of assets, are in the ascendency. All these problems affect the local quality of life.

The long term divides more or less among three major scenarios .

1. Technocratic centralist control of the world economy as a single integrated machine, a police world with strong media control. This is a new feudalism with corporations and a weakened system of national state. A population scared by climate and migrations, will be attracted to this, maybe even demand it.
2.  A shift toward more participation and democratic unfolding and the supporting human development in health and education, toward GardenWorld. This is regional networked market democracy. This scenario fits our philosophical tradition and does not have to invented but renewed.
3.  And, of course, one must add, the possibilities of collapse where human needs overwhelm the social system.[i]. Rwanda, Syria, Ukraine, and too many american cities are already there.
The book proposes that GardenWorld, the second scenario, is the viable and more attractive possibility. To get there, as I’ll describe in Chapter 3, might require some more aggressive changes, such as rethinking corporate charters, the way interest on capital works, the way Congress works, land use, and international cooperation. Great progress can be made simply by shifting the rules enough so that increasing concentration of wealth and income stops and measurable and visible decreases are sustained. Rethinking bureaucracy, as Gore rather successfully attempted with the National Performance Review, and a better distribution of resources from the Federal to the local level are probably also necessary.

“Sustainability” has emerged as a consensus word to describe where we going, but “sustainability” for a farmer or soap manufacturer is different than sustainability for a bank or a brokerage house. This second group, the financial houses and extended broker relations, depend on expansion of economic activity beyond population growth and force all of us to align with that financial agenda.

Financial services, which ought to be the oil that makes investment function, is about 15% of all US economic activity, and pulls out  about 40% of the profit. This is intolerable. GardenWorld helps give meaning to sustainability, making clearer what can be sustained and what cannot. Choices have to be made. One of the first and most oft-cited definitions of sustainability is the one created by the Brundtland Commission, sustainability “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” A good starting point, but need is too often limited to economic need, such as “basket of goods”, and not the requirements of quality of life based on a better human understanding.

Aristotle wrote a little book, Coming to Be and Passing Away, in which he argues that we can have growth without development, and development without growth. (fn) Pondering this may be the key to the 21st century. When I read it I felt intense relief. It gives license to think beyond the usual growth or climate trade off we are mostly stuck in. Development without growth? The rearrangement of what we have, not extracting from earth or each other. Development without growth provides us with an opening to a more interesting, humane, intelligent, intuitive future we can start on now in this first decades of the 21st century, as we replace more with better. What really is quality of life for humans and the planet, and what have we sacrificed that was precious for growth and the rat race?

We can have growth
without development,
and development
without growth.

There may be a deep continuity running from Napoleon, Bismarck and then Lincoln, through WW1, WW2, and the Cold War to our present situation. Communism and Fascism (think Mussolini) were attempts to solve the problem of how to integrate capital, corporations, governance, status and power. Those attempts fortunately failed. They both tried to be technocratic and control oriented. But the problems of the organization of the state and the corporation, elites and the people, capital and benefits, are unsolved, and current politics may be a replay of the 20th Century, showing we are stuck in an endless loop, “sustainable” in the worst sense. Market capitalism in the US and its partnership with government might be a third attempt to solve the problem of capital and technology, and it too might be failing through narrowing ownership and increasing militarization.

How will we negotiate the difference between the growth forces and the development possibilities? I’m convinced that getting to a sustainable future is possible and attractive, but the story needs filling out, a lot of creativity, a lot of seriousness, and lot of tolerance. In particular, to protect and give hope and some measure of security but the many of us who are not developing time to thinking about it. They didn’t ask for this. GardenWorld is an attempt to provide an integrating vision for action that creates a vibrant and attractive economy without technocratic and bureaucratic over-control, and with concern for the environment and quality of life.

Simply think of what it would be like if our cities and towns were organized like most college campuses, with green space between buildings, where walking to work and small stores is possible, in the midst of green space that mediates between humans and nature, rich in species variety and providing local niche crops. Connections to the global through a ubiquitous Internet would be even easier, and It is entirely within our means to do this local design and global connectedness for everyone. And we may be forced to.

Recent work in hierarchies and meshes, networks, self-organization and emergent phenomena, led by writers like Prigogine, Castells  and de Landa, and Chris Alexander’s ideas about liveliness in architecture, provide some helpful ideas for thinking about the future. It is not a question of hierarchies or networks, but how to combine them. Not one issue at a time, but integrated interdependent multi-feedback loops and emergent effects should change the way we think about historical causality and politics. Ideas do help. But the current political leadership is still framed by Democrats and Republicans who, fighting, like Don Quixote over what is not real, define a nearly imaginary landscape of issues, while the real world lies spread out in the face of their voters many of whom see through the fog what is happening, and have no adequate response available on the ballot.
Let’s combine the quality of life vision of a GardenWorld with the practical task of wider participation in income, wealth, education, and health in a vital economy of entrepreneurship and technical innovation that is environmentally and humanely sensitive.

1706. News from the dark side while seeking the light.

I think we live in a time when everything that needs to be said has been said. The problem is that all this writing  does not cohere into a new culture  adequate to the emerging realities. Certainly we can expect the reaction, creative or destructive, will tare  time. But do we have time? Thos who survive will say we did, those ho did not, will say we did not have the time between emergence -climate, inequality, population, automation, failure of governance – to save them.  Here are just a few from yesterday.

*Government Statistics May Be Wrong, But They’re Not Manipulated – Bloomberg View


The admission here is that things lie GDP are suspect because the concept is weird, measure some things and not others, and the data is so approximate.

*Kevin kelley long now.Digital is just getting started — The Long Now Foundation — in Medium

View story at Medium.com

Every possible surface that can become a display will become a display, and will study its watchers. Everything we encounter, “if it cannot interact, it is broken.” Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) will become the next platform after smartphones, conveying a profound sense of experience (and shared experience), transforming education (“it burns different circuits in your brain”), and making us intimately trackable. Everything will be tracked, monitored, sensored, and imaged, and people will go along with it because “vanity trumps privacy,” as already proved on Facebook. “Wherever attention flows, money will follow.”

*Rosa Brooks Examines War’s Expanding Boundaries – The New York Times

Tales From the Pentagon
By Rosa Brooks

So the ubiquitous flow of tech into every corner of your previous existence. Instead of being a person, a mere node in the intersection of information streams And war everywhere. You can feel the guns and their potential.

Too many people. What to do with them? Our solution has been to hire them to make uselesss things in mega quantities so they can have the income to buy the few necessities to survive. But if we stop the production, what to do with the people? Many people respond with “they can….”. But ther is no path of transition specified, nor imagined.

The way through and out might exist. We need to work for it.



1705. Vonnegut in 1988

Sometimes  others are so clear.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 1988 Letter to the Future More Relevant Today Than Ever Before – EcoWatch


Ladies & Gentlemen of A.D. 2088:

It has been suggested that you might welcome words of wisdom from the past, and that several of us in the twentieth century should send you some. Do you know this advice from Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: ‘This above all: to thine own self be true’? Or what about these instructions from St. John the Divine: ‘Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment has come’? The best advice from my own era for you or for just about anybody anytime, I guess, is a prayer first used by alcoholics who hoped to never take a drink again: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’

Our century hasn’t been as free with words of wisdom as some others, I think, because we were the first to get reliable information about the human situation: how many of us there were, how much food we could raise or gather, how fast we were reproducing, what made us sick, what made us die, how much damage we were doing to the air and water and topsoil on which most life forms depended, how violent and heartless nature can be, and on and on. Who could wax wise with so much bad news pouring in?

For me, the most paralyzing news was that Nature was no conservationist. It needed no help from us in taking the planet apart and putting it back together some different way, not necessarily improving it from the viewpoint of living things. It set fire to forests with lightning bolts. It paved vast tracts of arable land with lava, which could no more support life than big-city parking lots. It had in the past sent glaciers down from the North Pole to grind up major portions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Nor was there any reason to think that it wouldn’t do that again someday. At this very moment it is turning African farms to deserts, and can be expected to heave up tidal waves or shower down white-hot boulders from outer space at any time. It has not only exterminated exquisitely evolved species in a twinkling, but drained oceans and drowned continents as well. If people think Nature is their friend, then they sure don’t need an enemy.

Yes, and as you people a hundred years from now must know full well, and as your grandchildren will know even better: Nature is ruthless when it comes to matching the quantity of life in any given place at any given time to the quantity of nourishment available. So what have you and Nature done about overpopulation? Back here in 1988, we were seeing ourselves as a new sort of glacier, warm-blooded and clever, unstoppable, about to gobble up everything and then make love—and then double in size again.

On second thought, I am not sure I could bear to hear what you and Nature may have done about too many people for too small a food supply.

And here is a crazy idea I would like to try on you: Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem—how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on—during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature’s stern but reasonable surrender terms:

Reduce and stabilize your population.
Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
And so on. Or else.
Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now? Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians. For all I know, even bag ladies and bag gentlemen will have their own personal helicopters or rocket belts in A.D. 2088. Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

Kurt Vonnegut


1704. Why is it that the game favors owners but not labor?

Provocation  40 

Economics should distribute the gains of economy in some reasonable way.

How come we have billionaires who integrate technical research paid fr by the public trough research grants or “Defense’”contracts?

And create a game out of large social investments made by others? The employees are educated by others. The landscape where the business is  created by others (thinking of Palo Alto).

But more, the richness would be impossible except for the large number of people who participate in the product (think of iPhones). Obvious the iPhone would be impossible without. A large number of players. But the fruits in extreme wealth accrue to only one or a few. Reasonable? How does it happened? Just rules of the game? When a soccer team wins a game, all the players get the credit. Can we change the rules? Where is economics on this?

1703. Economic formalism becomes the new rules of the game.

provocation #39

Economics begin early, as accounting, perhaps as notches on a stick and then keeping track of cattle, oil and grain in communal storehouses.

This led to contracts and taxes and on to trade and the development of risk models, all well developed by  China, Greeceand Rome.

Adam Smith lifts the village market and division of labor to universal principles and the purpose being a

“branch of the science of a statesman or legislator [with the twofold objectives of providing] a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people … [and] to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue for the publick services.”

But as Smith ‘s contemporary, David Hume wrote

“It is a violent method, and in most cases impracticable, to oblige the labourer to toil, in order to raise from the land more than what subsists himself and family. Furnish him with manufactures and commodities, and he will do it himself. Afterwards you will find it easy to seize some part of his superfluous labour, and employ it in the public service, without giving him his wonted return. Being accustomed to industry, he will think this less grievous, than if, at once, you obliged him to an argumentation of labour without any reward.”

Because of the movement of science into numerical analysis, and this method was being extended into things like the circulation of blood, some saw the possibility that economics could be paraphrased in mathematical terms. From Smith to Ricardo to Marshall (and the bracketed Keynes) to Samuelson. This was a relatively small number of people with a huge impact on society. Their attraction to formalism and competitive careers in the Academy had a huge impact on society.

The resulting models became more abstract and left out everything that could not be quantified. The shift in focus was from markets in food and land to financial markets where the numbers were easier.

The academics needed careers and bureaucracies needed more sophisticated planning.

But as the descriptive models of the flow of interest, prices, wages, replaced the broader discussions of the political economy, the descriptions became the new rules of the game. These developments from Adam Smith on. Had a huge impact on the nature of society as the game of Financial economics became the core game of society.

The question has to be, who was this for? It would make economics look like a science about another natural object and hence out of the reach of politics, whereas politics was about pesky distribution and justice.

We have a constantly changing economy (Schumpeter)) and an economics of equilibrium and rationality that is completely static,

So far, many agree. But

What should we change the rules of the game to?

And how can we do it?