Floating Jellyfish

Live drifting jellyfish from the Monterey Aquarium. What does this have to do with anything political/economic/philosophical? Absolutely nothing. It’s just totally neat and I wanted to make sure I could get to it whenever I wanted.

American Divisions

There are probably about 60% of Americans now that believe in a much more authoritarian government. About half of those are on the far right and half on the far left. Then there are the 40% in between that are split between more or less authoritarian. Yet somehow we must all find a way to live together in the same country.

Few people are truly evil. Everyone has those they care about. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. Extended families. Best friends and acquaintances. They try to be good people, however they may define good. Some are taught what is good by their families. Some in church. Some in school. Some from learning and making up their own minds.

Throughout most of history, and far before, people were defined by what group or tribe they belonged to, a collective identity. America is the only country that was founded on the basis of ideas, not identity. The individual, not the group.

Yet these days it seems as if we're doing our best to throw all that away. You are now to be defined by your immutable characteristics. The color of your skin. Your sex. Whatever victimhood you claim. This is a huge step backwards. A retreat from civilization. A battle of all against all. How are we to build a better country on this basis?

Throwing Down My Gauntlet

This blog is my platform for my thoughts about many topics, from classical economics to the latest happenings. I'm a Libertarian and have been for forty years. While my degrees are in engineering, social sciences, particularly economics and politics, have always been an avocation. Plus, I'm a bookworm. At one point my personal library was over 3,000 physical books. That part's down to around 1,000 now, but eBooks make up a lot of what I have now and I will be setting up as a source for downloading many of them that are in the public domain.

I'm in the process of trying to recreate much of what used to be here but was lost in the transition from a broken multi-site system to the standalone blog it now is. So stay tuned for the good old content and what comes in new.

Social Security Is Not Insurance

Social Security is touted as an “insurance” program, but it is nothing of the sort.

Insurance, in and of itself, is risk management. You pay a premium, derived from the level of risk you are willing to assume, it's potential costs, and its statistical likelihood so that if the “bad” thing happens, you have some or all of those expenses paid.

It doesn't matter who runs the program, whether profit or non-profit, whether commercial or a mutual aid society, which is where almost all insurance programs started, such as the Amish continue to do now.

However, there are two, very important, differences between insurance and SS.

First is that SS has no actual assets to draw against for paying out “claims.” Every penny collected in SS taxes is immediately spent. For most of its existence, the surplus was immediately mingled with all other general funds, with nothing but a set of almost hidden bookkeeping entries made. It's not even counted as part of the government debt. There is no fund set aside to pay claims. Even mutual aid societies have, and have always had, those.

Second is that you have no legal right to any payout, even if you meet all the conditions under which you, mistakenly, thought “entitles” you to them. The government uses the word “entitlements,” but, as far as government goes, there's no such animal. It's nothing but political shorthand to make it sound better. It stands for a class of benefits that is on “autopilot” as far as budgeting is concerned. Congress passes “rules,” the administration implements the “rules,” and they aren't affected by passing budgets … except when Congress changes the “rules,” which they are legally free to do at any time.

SS is a Ponzi scheme and always has been. Money paid out today is taken from monies collected today by an ever increasing number of “investors,” with government grabbing everything “extra,” just as Charles Ponzi himself did. Or at least it was until demographics started running up against the hard limit of available new people to fleece. For most of its existence, there were far more people paying in than those collecting. The retirees up until the last 20 or 30 years, reaped a huge bonanza over what they actually paid in.

These days, you don't even get out what you put in.

Government was able to spend far more money than they took in in regular taxes. When that “extra” money started drying up is when the budget deficits and the total debt started exploding. Politicians, as politicians are wont to do, just kept kicking that can down the road, initially knowing, and recently hoping, that they would be ready to retire before the time finally came to pay that piper.

That time is here.

Demand Is Not Desire

There's a general misconception that wanting something is the same thing as there being an economic demand for it, but that's not the case. It's not unusual for a word to have two meanings that are, on the surface, very similar, but actually, depending on the context, quite different. That's the case with the word “demand.”

Human desires are unlimited, but the resources available to meet them are not. Until resources are used to create or offer a good or service and it is actually made available there is no economic demand for it. Demand can't be separated from either price or availability in economics. I might desire a general type of item. I might desire it enough to be willing to pay up to $100 for that type of item if I could get it. But if that general sort of item does get produced by someone who brings it on the market with a price tag of $500 then, for me at least, it may as well not exist.

The demand curve for an item is a theoretical construct that is an estimation for how many people are willing to buy something at a given price. The supply curve is a theoretical construct that is an estimation for how many units of an item might be made available by producers at a given price. The only place on either of those curves that corresponds to actual reality is where they cross at any specific given point in time in any specific general market.

That point is no guarantee of anything in the future, except in the most general and, often, very short term use. Costs change. Tastes change. Circumstances change. Other items become available, even if they have nothing to do directly with the item being analyzed. Most new businesses and most new products never find a price point in the market where they are worth continuing to operate or supply.

Desire does not create economic demand, nor does it create supply. Knowing that some people desire a certain kind of thing only lets a producer know that there may be a demand for it if, and only if, he thinks he can produce enough of it at a cost that is enough lower than they are willing to pay for it for long enough for it to be worth committing the resources he has available to produce it.

Why A Government Run Market Can’t Work

First, we have to accept that there is no perfect system possible. People are people, for good and ill. All we have to work with are incentives.

People who gravitate towards working for, with, or through government almost all have an urge to power, to control what people do. Whatever area of power a government is authorized to operate upon, the boundaries of that area will do nothing but grow … and grow and grow.

People who do not pay for what they get almost always abuse and/or overuse it, no matter how vital or trivial. Anytime you give something to people for “free,” they will never say they've got enough of it. There will always be a demand for more.

Everyone as a buyer wants to get the most they can for the lowest cost. Everyone as a seller wants to get the most money they can for what they sell.

People also tend to be caring, to be generous when they can afford to be, to think they are doing good, not only for themselves but for the people they care about and even people in general. But people think they know more and are more competent than they really are. They tend to oversimplify the complex and make the simple complicated. Either that or abdicate the authority to choose for themselves to those they deem smarter, more powerful, and better informed than they are. However, no one can know more or can be more concerned about any individual's needs, wants, and desires and how much they value what things, in what proportion, than that person themselves.

While there are always exceptions for every rule about human nature, these are pretty near universally true.

Anything that you try to set up that doesn't take *all* of these into account is going to fail to achieve its stated ends. It will do too much or too little. It will result in the wrong things being done at the wrong times done by the wrong people with the wrong information. No one will be happy with the results.

Top down, command and control, never works in the long run. Even in the military, which comes closest, the best structure delegates detailed decision making to the lowest level possible, to the ones with the most knowledge about the actual situation at that specific place and time in the context of the operational goals.

Micromanagers at the top in the military get a lot of people killed. Micromanagers in any large organization waste assets and misdirect efforts, whether it's in a government bureaucracy or a company. They simply *cannot* know enough to make the best decisions for others. No one, even with the most powerful computer and big data, can. It's hubris to think otherwise.

The best system to get the most good for the greatest number is no system at all. To let those who know their own situation best make the decisions. Who know what they value and how much and what their own personal goals are.

Then use the general benevolence of people to help those who cannot help themselves. Their desire to maximize their gains, even in the emotional sense, is tempered by wanting to get the most for their time and money and so weed out the grifters. To decide for themselves which charity is doing the most good in the particular area they care about with what they are given, which means low overhead and minimal waste.

Government, by its very nature, cannot be efficient. It cannot take individual situations into account. It cannot change directions swiftly under changing conditions. It cannot operate under anything but bureaucratic structures with all the power grabbing fiefdoms and resource wasting procedures that it inevitably results in.

To try to put something important under the control of a system that ostensibly tries, but simply cannot be, all things to all people, while wasting valuable and scarce resources in people, facilities, and money is an incredibly bad choice.

Health Care Redux

Health insurance isn't health care. We've linked together two systems that really don't have anything to do with one another. Insurance is financial risk management based on risk pools and statistical analysis. Health care is what goes on between you and medical professionals. The only link is who writes the actual checks to whom.

Over the last 70 years, since allowing companies to offer pre-tax comprehensive health “insurance” as a benefit in a period of wartime wage and price freezes, the two have become so entangled that most people think they're the same thing.

The big companies that offered it during WWII were highly unionized and the unions, in their post war heyday, found it to be a popular bargaining tool. Still, it took over 20 years for it to start making its way into being a general employment benefit outside of union jobs.

Then we had the whole Social Security/Medicare mashup. Social Security was promoted as the equivalent of a retirement account that you were “owed” a return from. With plenty of workers and retirement ages not long past expected lifespans it was a cheap way to get more tax money (No – you don't have any legal right to one penny of SS. If Congress were to end it tomorrow, we're just out of luck).

Tacking on Medicare was just another way to take care of dear old Mom and Dad. It was touted as being the same as insurance. But it wasn't and isn't.

In the early days, just like SS, there were lots of people paying in and only a few taking out. They could afford to cover more and more things. It didn't hurt that the most consistent voting demographic is retirees either. Geriatrics was *the* medical specialty to go into.

But then reality started catching up. The population bulge passed. More expensive and better treatments were extending lifetimes far past what had been the case initially and that cost estimates were predicated on.

Then we added Medicaid as part of the “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” programs. The claim was that if we just spent enough money on taking care of everyone in poverty now, when they needed it, we would get them over their problem time, and then they would no longer need assistance. Problem solved. The end of poverty. Needless to say, that didn't work either.

By the '90s over half of all medical costs were being paid directly by the government at various levels. Most of the rest was being paid by insurance company third parties. Almost no one paid for medical care out of their own pockets. And if you're not paying for something, you use a whole lot more of it and don't even bother asking the price, because, who cares, you're not paying for it anyway.

Over the same time span malpractice awards went astronomical. Anything less than a perfect outcome was grounds for a lawsuit. Since the lawyers took a percentage of the payout instead of having to pay them upfront, we had another component where people weren't having to pay anything out of their own pocket. Juries know it's the big bad insurance companies that would have to pay, so huge settlements became the norm. My OB/GYN in the mid '80s was paying half of his *gross* for malpractice insurance because babies and pregnant women were especially favored for big jury settlements.

Then the third leg also kicks in … So much money was being paid out to medical professionals (rightly or, in too many cases, wrongly) both the government and insurance companies started digging in their heels and denying claims on any basis they could find so they didn't have to raise premiums and taxes even higher. Doctors started spending as much or more time on paperwork as actually treating patients. Office staff levels exploded as did clerical workers at the insurance companies and government workers.

All of this additional expense has absolutely nothing to do with the actual delivery of health care, yet it all has to be charged as such. Is it any wonder that health care costs have exploded? Bloat and waste everywhere you look, all supported by what is called the generic health care “system.”

The current course is unsustainable, but no one wants to go through the time it would take to re-tool the whole mess. Free clinics and charity hospitals aren't going to immediately open up the day Medicaid ends. Voting seniors aren't going to give up their benefits willingly. Medical specialists won't be happy to see their clientele shrink. Doctors won't immediately go back to doing more pro bono work. Armies of clerical workers aren't going to be happy to find their services are no longer needed. Lawyers, especially lawyers, wouldn't be at all happy with what tort reform would do to their bottom line (and lawyers are, by far and away, the most common original profession of politicians).

There are no good solutions. One way or another there are going to be some really tough times ahead when it comes to “the health care system.”

People are going to get hurt. Those who lose their cushy jobs or benefits and those who can no longer get the timely care, if at all, they need, or some combination of the above, during the changeover in a return to a free market.

Otherwise, it will be a loss of some cushy jobs and benefits and those who can no longer get the timely care, if at all, they need or some combination of the above from that point on if the government takes full control and resorts to rationing, which they've already admitted would have to happen and has and is happening elsewhere.

At least the first option has an end in sight. The latter doesn't.

My Problem With Anarchists

The anarchist position is that the goal is to have no government, only private businesses providing all services currently handled by governments, including and especially police, courts, and military defense.

Each person would voluntarily pay for whatever amount of each service they think they need, contracted with whatever company or combination of companies they choose. Over time, these companies would develop agreements on how to work with each other when needed and would rise and fall individually depending on how well they did at actually providing those services.

Criminals will pay just restitution for their crimes as decided by independent arbitration, and any other penalty that the arbiter thinks is just and will be carried out and enforced by the security company you or any arbiter contracts with.

Civil complaints will also be decided by arbitration with the same understandings.

All of this will be handled via universally and voluntarily accepted just means without infringing on anyone else's rights and no force will be needed or used against anyone but the offending party in criminal cases or losing party in arbitration cases, and no security company will interfere with enforcing the judgments reached by an arbiter or by another security company, who are all held to the highest standards by their contractees.

People would be motivated to interact peacefully because their overriding concern is about maintaining their reputations so that others will be willing to keep interacting with them. If there's a danger, people will voluntarily band together to do whatever it takes to defend what is right and just.

More just? Yes.

Possible? Only if you can successfully get from here to there where you have multiple competing institutions, each of which has to be individually capable of maintaining the strength needed to successfully defend everyone from enemies both internal (criminals) and external (other countries, gangs, mobs, etc.) within their purview for both the current and foreseeable future, as well as the actions of all security companies and all arbitration settlements being universally recognized as definitive and enforceable by all parties that could possibly be involved on any side in any dispute.

But human nature isn't going to change and neither is the rest of the world, even if you could get any part of it to change over.

That is what I see no possibility of, for all the desirability of the end goal, and what no anarchist has made even a stab at actually laying out, step by step, that I've ever read or heard.

I read that these institutions will develop themselves … but how does the change over actually take place? Saying that it just happens somehow and everything else is going to pause while it's going on doesn't cut it.

I read that everyone will accept the arbiter's judgments and the actions of these security companies as all being beyond reproach, that people are only going to pick companies based on what's right, not necessarily what's best for their own personal immediate interests, that there will be no conflict between these sterling characters and businesses … but that's not how real people act.

I read that everyone is going to realize what is actually in their own best long term interests and be willing to pay for it … but they haven't been up until now. What fundamental part of human nature is going to change and what will change it?

In some ways, anarchists are a mirror image of the statists. If everything just worked the way it's “supposed” to then everything would be just wonderful.

But it never does. People persist in being the same kind of people they've always been. Reality doesn't change simply because someone thinks that's the way things ought to be.

Accepting the realities about human behavior, desires, and motivations has to be the bedrock of any human endeavor that has even the least chance of success. That means accepting that the bad is just as real and just as basic as the good.

Paying For a More Perfect Government.

The basic ethical ideal of a perfect state is that perfect justice is always perfectly done, but how do we pay for it?

People are not always rational. Miscarriages of justice will happen. Getting the just restitution (and costs) due actually paid by those found liable in civil or criminal cases is not always possible. People want what they want but they often don't want to pay for it until and unless they actually need it themselves.

A person who's never been in trouble with the law or has never been offended against often doesn't put a lot of value (and value judgments are always subjective) into the ongoing operational costs of a justice system. On the other hand, a person who has been sued or charged with a crime, rightly or wrongly, or has been offended against, suddenly puts a lot of value into a justice system that will give them the outcome they want, whether actually just or not.

That's simply human nature.

Accepting all this reality means that there is no perfectly just system possible. It then becomes a matter or looking at the various possibilities and finding the trade-offs that come closest to it.

Voluntaryism is great but is rarely sufficient.

The general benefits of a justice system are amorphous. They often can't be pinned down to what person gets what value or even what that value is.

A person who owes, whether to the justice system for costs or to the person to whom reparations are due, may simply be unable to ever pay them.

And all of this doesn't even start to consider the ongoing costs of a military capable of defending a given geographical area in today's world.

So it may be that some sort of tax is the most just feasible way of distributing those costs.

Then the question becomes what kind of tax.

A head tax would be the most just, based on the assumption that everyone's life is of equal value. But the reality is that many people would be simply unable to pay an equal portion of all the costs associated with even a minimalist government.

So we need a measurable characteristic that will, as justly as possible, also take into account a person's ability to pay. The monetary value of something, especially when we're considering monetary financing of a system, is the next best way.

But how do we determine an objective value for something in and of itself? We can't, since value is subjective. The closest we can come is the value that two people place on something at the time when it is actually transferred from one person to another.

That brings us down to another two choices. The tax can be assessed on the sale itself or, for durable goods or land, an ongoing assessment.

Both of them have significant problems. For a sales tax, who collects it? How do you enforce it? For durable goods or land, what do you do about the fact that some assets depreciate in value over time and others appreciate? Who decides the value at any given time? And, once again, how do you enforce it?

At this point, I've got more questions than answers. Some sort of compromise among all the possibilities has to be reached. Some sort of answers have to be decided upon. But I don't feel competent to declare what those compromises and answers *should* be.

Our Most Dangerous Enemy – The Sun

A little sidetrack into what may be one of the most dangerous natural catastrophes that will hit today's world that almost no one knows about.

Most people at least sort of know what a solar flare is – a burst of radiation emitted by the sun. What they don't know about is called a coronal mass ejection (CME).

A CME is an actual physical plasma (positive ions and free electrons) that is released from the sun carrying an incredibly powerful electromagnetic potential. They are fairly common and can range in size. But the sun is a big thing and the odds of any particular CME hitting the Earth itself are fairly small. A big one is generally thought of as a 100 year event, meaning in any particular year the odds of being hit by one is less than 1 in 100.

Prior to the electrical age, their only observable effect was the huge auroras, caused by the interaction of the electrically charged plasma and the magnetic field of the Earth itself, seen much farther from the poles than they would normally ever be. Beautiful, but possibly scary to people who had never seen one – like a big comet or supernova.

But what happens when those massive electrically charged particles interact with a conductor of electricity? I won't try to go into the complexities of how electromagnetic field effects work, but the long and short of it is that they create a current flow in any conductor. What happens when you have more current flowing through a conductor than it was designed to handle? Short circuits or even physically melting altogether.

Your home or office's circuit breaker panel is made for the purpose of handling overloads in anything it's connected to by physically breaking the circuits. Power strips and dedicated grounds are for dealing with power overloads or drops in the electrical power grid itself, such as from a nearby lightning strike.

A CME is like a universal lightning strike that hits everywhere at once and can last for days.

The last one we got hit with, in 1859, took down the entire world's telegraph system. The next one could take out almost the entire electrical/electronic system that so much of the modern world is utterly dependant on, both on Earth and in space.

Power and satellite companies get solar weather reports just like Earth weather, but the vast majority of the population knows absolutely nothing about it and would only have an average of 3 to 4 day's warning to understand and prepare to whatever extent is possible. The only reasonably sure protection is by physically disconnecting from any power source, and securely grounding everything that could have an induced current flowing through it for the entire length of time it takes for it to pass.

Unfortunately, there's no way to ground most electronics. Few installations have a dedicated ground circuit and nothing mobile (including cars and trucks – yes, they'll get hit too) is designed for it to be done at all. For small electronics the only possibility is a faraday cage – entirely enclosed in a well grounded conductive, usually copper, netting. Not many of them around and not something you can whip up in just a few days. Personally, I've got enough conductive wire for making jewelry that I could probably put something together in a few days big enough for my computer and a few small things, but that's not common. Available wire supplies to buy would be gone within hours of knowing one's coming, bought by people who already know the danger and what to do about it.

It may not happen tomorrow. It may not happen in the next 50 years. But there's no question, it will happen.

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