29 Nov 2016

Interdisciplinary incentives

Continuing from this morning's other post...

In my most recent newsletter (subscribe here!), I wrote:
I'll be presenting at an interdisciplinary education conference in Amsterdam in February. I'm still surprised and dismayed at how hard it is to get academics to talk outside their disciplines (like economists talking to hydrologists), let alone outside the ivory tower. The reason is (a) it takes work to translate jargon into the common tongue and (b) a total lack of professional incentives (i.e., publish or perish), which explains why so much academic research brings few insights (partial analysis is useless) or impacts (inaccessible means unconsidered).
To this, Ed Dolan replied:
I agree with your interdisciplinary comments. One of the pleasures of being retired is being liberated from some of those constraints. I have been giving a series of talks at a local discussion group of almost all retirees in our small town here. At the latest one (Free Trade under Fire) there were about 40 people, at least 10 with PhDs in various fields (only one other economist) and another dozen or so with advanced degrees in engineering, law, or medicine. More than an hour of lively and insightful discussion following the slideshow. In contrast to a discussion with students in the audience, the participants had not only opinion but experience. In contrast to a faculty seminar within an econ department, or at an econ conference, there was no feeling that the discussion was a competitive event in which the goal was to ask questions that made the discussant look brilliant and the presenter look stupid.

The economist as public intellectual

Gordon Tullock (1984):
Most economists only occasionally give lectures to something like the Rotary Club. I am suggesting that this aspect of professional life be sharply increased. Furthermore, I am suggesting that you become an expert on some rather obscure topic instead of giving your lecture to the Rotary Club on what is right or what is wrong with Reaganomics. This is indeed a change from the normal academic life but not a gigantic one. I am not suggesting that you devote immense amounts of time to these joint projects, merely that you do indeed devote some time to them. In a way it may be a pleasant change from the more profound and difficult work that I am sure mainly occupies your time.

[snip]

Even if there were no beneficial impact on your career, nevertheless, I would urge it on you. All of us are, to some minor extent, charitable and this is a particularly convenient way for economists to work out their charitable feelings. Getting rid of the British Columbia Egg Board* might not impress you as a major accomplishment, but individuals can expect to have only small impacts on the massive structure that we call modern society. It is likely that you will do more good for the world by concentrating on abolishing some such organization in your locality than the average person does—indeed, very much more. It is an unusual form of charity, but a form in which the payoff would be high. But although such work falls squarely in the path of virtue, it also has positive payoffs. You can, to repeat my title, do well while you are doing good.
Bottom Line: I'm glad to have such a distinguished thinker as an inspiration for my work.

* The BCEMB, sadly, is still screwing Canadians ... just as the milk and alcohol boards are.

24 Nov 2016

For whom are fisheries managed?

A fisherman writes [edited for anonymity]:
I want a license to fish X. I made an application, but they said I would have to buy out an existing fisher. The cost of which would be approximately one million dollars even if anyone would sell.

The X fishery was developed approximately 25 years ago out of experimental licenses that were given to those that took part in the experimental fishery. Those fishers have formed a group, but they have never fully caught their quota for X in all those years.

I proposed that I be allowed to fish only the average of the past five years uncaught quota by fishing where the "group" did not chose to fish. Ultimately this was rejected.

I am asking for some advice on attacking this situation. From your perspective is there a reasonable argument that I could put forward?
In reply, I wrote:
It seems that the regulator is defending the property rights of the existing folks as a means of (1) protecting their (cartel) profits that would fall if you brought X to market and (2) potentially protects the X fishery from pressures on other places that may serve as nurseries for the commercial catch.

The purpose of cap and trade is to keep the fishery sustainable and profitable -- not to allow entry by those who may like to make money. The only angle I'd predict you could get would be to introduce some innovation that promises enough profits that you could buy out an incumbent. But, as you said, that's a lot of money.

My only suggestion is that you work for a permit owner who wants to retire, perhaps on a partnership that transfers quota to you over 10 years... like an apprentice.
Bottom line: New fishermen do not have the right to start fishing in sustainable fisheries.

23 Nov 2016

Interesting links

I stopped "speed blogging" about a year ago as I switched to twitter and (for my students) Facebook. Now that I am off both (except for tweeting for Life plus 2 meters -- without much success), I will return to posting interesting links here.
  1. The Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty (free membership :)
  2. I donated $100.22 to the American Civil Liberties Union. Trump tower's ZIP is 10022
  3. The "Lex Mercatoria" (private merchant courts dating from the 1450s) never existed
  4. The power of peers: self-evolving institutions that aid development
  5. Basic income lowers risk and raises productive fulfillment
  6. "We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump"
  7. Yes, you can be too successful as a startup (eatable cutlery!?!)
  8. Michael Lewis on the intellectual foundations of MoneyBall
  9. Trump the Troll (analysis by cyber-psychologist) is now paying fraud damages. He's also making business deals with foreign leaders to benefit himself his daughter. People who voted for "the guy who makes deals" may not have realised that he wasn't talk about making deals for them.
  10. James C. Scott: "I was trained as a political scientist and the profession bores me, to be frank. I am truly bored by mainstream work in my discipline, which strikes me as a kind of medieval scholasticism of a special kind. People ask me about the intellectual organization of my interdisciplinary work, and I have to say, it’s the consequence of boredom and the knowledge that so many other things had been written about peasants that are more interesting than anything political scientists have written about them, that I should go to those places and learn these things and read things outside of the discipline like Balzac and Zola, novels about the peasantry and memoirs."
H/Ts to MV and CD

22 Nov 2016

Do lawn rebates work? Yes but badly

This story explains how California water agencies spent $350 million subsidizing lawn removal so that people would should might use less water.

While this program was a success in terms of spending, I'm not sure it was either efficient, sustainable or equitable.

In terms of efficiency, it's clear that higher water prices would encourage people to use less water on all margins, i.e., by watering less but also fixing leaks, etc.

In terms of sustainability, "the jury is still out" as there's no sign that (a) use in those households fell (the rebound effect) or that (b) use by neighbors didn't consume the savings.

In terms of equity, you have to ask "who paid $350 million?" and answer: ratepayers who saw increases in their bills. Assuming that that wealthier ratepayers were the ones with lawns (and the cash to pay the rest of the cost to rip them out), then the implication is that poorer ratepayers subsidized the richer ratepayers. Not exactly the way it's supposed to work.

Bottom Line: If you want people to use less water, then raise the price. If you want to protect the poor from price increases and the utility from revenue fluctuations then read this.

21 Nov 2016

So I'm sitting in my armchair...

Anne frank is on her bike going to school, the economy continues to suffer from trade disturbances, and the streets are tense. People pass each other warily.

Our leaders say they can protect us but how are we safe when the neighbors hate us?

It's not just Trump. The whole world is in the thrall of nationalist-populists who promise to "take back" sovereignty and wealth from neighbors making the same promises. Those zero sum negative sum games cannot work, by definition. When they fail, those populists will try to avoid the people's anger by shifting blame onto minorities and outsiders. In the resulting conflict, everyone will lose.

We've been here before.


Bottom Line: Voltaire (born 322 years ago today) wrote: "War is the greatest of all crimes; and yet there is no aggressor who does not color his crime with the pretext of justice."

Monday funnies

At least the kids can make us laugh...



More: The bucket terrorist and drinking physics

19 Nov 2016

HyperNormalization -- the review

I've watched, enjoyed and learned from Adam Curtis's other documentaries ("Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" and "The Century of the Self") but his most recent, "HyperNormalization" is extremely timely, as it starts with a trend of deception in the 1970s that delivers Trump's victory just 10 days ago.

Perhaps the most important part is that social media companies -- which make money from serving advertisements (and thus want you to visit and click often) -- are entirely fine with (a) misinformation, (b) echo chambers, and (c) personalized reality.*

Their goal is not to show you the truth or to force people to face and engage over different perspectives. The goal of companies like Facebook, Breitbart, Twitter, Huffington Post, et al. is that you get angry and click a lot. Do those clicks force others to see your perspectives and insights? No, because they also isolated by the same algorithms. The resulting segmentation into isolated communities yelling online does nothing to affect life and policies in the real world, where the 1 percent are left to find new and interesting ways to deepen their power and increase their wealth at a cost to all.**

Can you make Facebook work for you, like the protestors at Tahrir Square used it to help their rebellion? I don't think so, since The Algorithm is NOT optimized to help you. It's designed to make money.***

Bottom Line Helpless anger and depression is not a bug. It's a feature. I give this documentary FIVE stars for revealing a lot of fact to be fiction.

* Years ago, I said that Facebook could NOT be good for users, as its revenue model was not subscription charges but advertisements. I joked that FB would only be able to make money by blackmailing people like me with personal information, but now I see that FB is *still* making money off of me b/c every article I share or click on generates money to facebook from the media companies that depend on Facebook for readers (and thus people to click on THEIR advertisements).

** I wrote this in 2010:
FB is often Fakebook, a place where people create their perfect version of themselves. That's not an issue per se (we all like to see our best sides), but this exercise can get out of control, so that people spend more time living in an imaginary world and less time face-to-face with people who see them in all their dimensions, good and bad.

*** I got so angry writing this, that I deactivated my Facebook account. (No, you can't delete your profile because Facebook, like the Hotel California, can never be left. FB will use your data forever.)

On choosing to "deactivate," Facebook The Algorithm argues with you, using psychological manipulation. First, there's the guilt trip:


Then there are arguments against your reason for leaving.



I just said "other," i.e., Facebook's advertising model serves companies, not me.

Addendum. "It’s time to get rid of the Facebook “news feed,” because it’s not news" and "Mark Zuckerberg – Dead At 32 – Denies Facebook Has Problem With Fake News" and "Facebook should hire me to audit their algorithm"

H/T to RM
For all my reviews, go here.

17 Nov 2016

All studies intending to use a virtual water strategy to solve problems of water scarcity may stop now.

That's one of the conclusions of this straightforward paper [pdf], which explores how food (and other) production requires more inputs than just water (land, labor, capital, etc.) to be efficient and sustainable.

This critique is exactly the same as my critique of energy-water nexus perspectives. Their focus on energy/water interactions (rather than all uses contributing to "overuse") means that the analysis is biased and probably wrong.

H/T to MV

15 Nov 2016

Trump, the commons and migration

As I've said many times, economics is to markets as politics is to communities. Thus, you can find countries where private goods are well provided relative to public/common pool goods because markets are working while political institutions are failing.

I moved to the Netherlands because I preferred to live in a country where the people worked together to protect those without the "market power" necessary to buy private solutions to their vulnerabilities, i.e., to the poor, the sick, the old and young.

Now the US has a president-elect who not only disparages vulnerable groups but promises to mess up markets to "help" other downtrodden groups. This is not the right way to go, but -- much worse -- Trump is not even interested in helping the middle class compared to helping lobbyists and crony capitalists.

Trump doesn't care about the commons. He made his money as a real estate developer whose private profits depended on subsidies and tax breaks that often undermined communities

What we are seeing, in other words, is the results of a Baptists and Bootleggers campaign in which Saint Donald the Baptist promises to use his presidential power to help the underemployed and discouraged white middle class while actually delivering all the power and policy decisions to corporate lobbyists (the Bootleggers) who will make bigger profits off the backs of those exact people.

We have seen this before with Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and so on, but most Americans would not know this because most Americans have neither visited foreign countries (compare passport holding with state voting here) nor follow news from those countries.*

Indeed, Trump's rapid betrayal of his supporters nearly duplicates the reversals of Brexit leaders -- but many Americans won't even know about those broken promises as they've been told that Brexit is a great idea (Fox: "How Euro elites are trying to kill off UK independence").

This September article calling for "Trexit" is even clearer in its parallels:
Every corrupt, greedy, entitled, fat-cat creep is lined up to hand a bag of cash to Hillary. Because they know if she wins, “THE FIX IS IN.”

They know under President Hillary the country is up for sale. They know they’ll own the president of the United States. They know she’ll hand them the keys to the taxpayers’ vault.

On the other hand, Trump couldn’t care less about their resume, pedigree, title or wealth. He’ll throw them out the door on their butts. They’ll get rich under Hillary. They’ll starve under President Trump.

They fear Trump because they all feed at the public trough. Because they are all part of the slimy, corrupt system rigged against middle class Americans.

Trump threatens to upset their apple cart. He will turn their worlds upside down. He will end their gravy train. The jig is up -- all of their fun at the people's expense ends on November 8th if Trump is elected.
Well, this article -- like similar articles from Murdoch-owned papers in the UK -- is wrong on its most important point: Rather than "starving the greedy fat cats" President-elect Trump is using his "independence" to pander to the fat cats of industry.

It looks like Mr. Art-of-the-Deal can't wait to give away American's money to the One Percent (e.g., 99.6% of income tax cuts will benefit them). What will he say as he does it? Perhaps the same thing he said in the debates: "I'm smart for paying no taxes" [because I keep my money and the country can go to hell]. Trump's experience in turning investors' $billions into $millions for himself (via serial bankruptcies) suggests a terrifying precedent:  As "Commander-in-Chief," he is likely to waste America's income and assets on silly ideas that make him look good but leave everyone else (except his business political partners) worse off.

Looking outside the US, don't forget that Putin is just charmed to his socks to have Trump as President, as now he can dominate the "near abroad" without the pesky Americans blabbing about NATO or human rights. He will probably be even happier when Trump leaves Syria to him and removes sanctions related to Ukraine, so he can get rich while killing even more civilians.

So, yeah. Trump is just about the worst person to put in charge of the commons in the United States (adios environment!) or the world (adios American protection of Europe, S Korea, Taiwan, let alone free trade).

A friend replied to my plan to exchange my American passport for a Dutch passport, saying "America needs people like you... and you will have more stature as an American than as a Dutch." On the former claim, I'm not sure that enough Americans really want my help; they seem to prefer a lying, sexist, racist and incompetent "leader". On the latter claim, I'd prefer to carry the Dutch brand to the American one.

I came over here for a job six years ago and decided to settle here (buying a house) just over two years ago. I made that decision because I think the Dutch do a better job at protecting, building and sharing their commons. Like many migrants, I decided to stay here because "this land is made for me." I was born and raised in America, but I no longer recognize myself in it.

Bottom Line: Nobody wants to leave their home country, their memories and their people behind, but some choose to migrate because another land offers them a better life.

* Addendum: Check out this (negative) correlation between passport holding and Trump voting

14 Nov 2016

Monday funnies

Perhaps a little post-modern perspective on our new world order?
Prinn, Stephen Q. J. (2016). "Marxist capitalism, capitalism and surrealism," J. Postmodern WTF, vol 12(3):23-33.

1. Expressions of rubicon

The primary theme of the works of Fellini is not materialism, as surrealism suggests, but submaterialism. Bataille suggests the use of the postcapitalist paradigm of narrative to attack sexual identity.

It could be said that Sontag uses the term ‘textual narrative’ to denote a structural reality. Lyotard promotes the use of predialectic nationalism to deconstruct archaic perceptions of society.

Thus, the premise of surrealism states that context comes from the collective unconscious. Derrida uses the term ‘cultural neodialectic theory’ to denote the difference between sexual identity and society.

In a sense, if textual narrative holds, the works of Fellini are empowering. Marx suggests the use of surrealism to analyse and read class.
Get your own postmodern insights here.

H/T to TR

10 Nov 2016

Presidential priorities

Based on exit poll interviews with 25,000 voters, we get this set of priorities:*


Bottom Line: Trump supporters (as a group) want someone who can bring "needed change" but don't care about that person's experience, good judgement, or care for them. The people have spoken.

* As to the method behind this question ("What's the most important quality of the candidate you voted for?"), I assume it takes each voter's choice of ONE quality, then compares the percentage of people for each candidate that identified that quality. Thus, 90 percent of people who said "experience" is most important voted for Hillary, while 8 percent of people saying "experience" voted for Trump.

Trumped up policies

I can't really put a limit on how many potential probable bad policies we're going to see from a three-way alliance of Trump in the executive office, Republicans holding the House and half the Senate, and 1-3 justices appointed by Trump to the Supreme Court, BUT I'll keep (and update) a list of predictions here:

Within 100 days:
  • Keystone XL approved
  • EPA ends regulation on CO2 emissions*
  • US withdraws from climate talks.*
Within one year:
  • ACA (Obamacare) repealed. Poor have Medicare; middle class screwed.
  • Republicans in the Senate routinely use "the nuclear option" to override Democratic filibusters, to give the Donald what he demands ("for the people," of course).
  • ICANN "freedom" is prevented by a R vote. Freedom arrived Oct 1, 2016. #thanksobama
Within one term:
  • Roe v Wade overturned.
Bottom Line: One man can do a lot of damage when strong (wrong) ideologies are set against weak institutions.

Addendum: Coyote predicts Rs will have "buyer's remorse" within 6 months, as Trump implements policies too radical for them. I think they will be too drunk with power to break off. Tyler Cowen is far less pessimistic than I am.

Addendum2: I may have been too optimistic: "Basically, Trump has promised an America-first, drill-baby-drill energy policy. He has promised unfettered production of coal, oil and natural gas and to "bring the coal industry back 100 percent." ... For his energy and environmental policy team, Trump has selected one of the nation's most prominent climate contrarians, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to head his EPA transition. Ebell worked on policy for the tobacco industry before his years of work opposing environmental regulations and sowing doubt on climate science. Trump is also reported to be considering Harold Hamm, chief executive of fracking industry leader Continental Resources, for energy secretary, and Forrest Lucas, co-founder of oil products company Lucas Oil, for interior secretary."


* Myron Ebell of CEI is leading the team to staff the EPA (a commenter said this on yesterday's post, but I read it elsewhere). I had a few emails with him at the end of Jun 2012. He's a skeptic of Anthropogenic CC (AGCC), i.e.,

Him:

I'm not sure what your point about climate change is here. Global warming does not lead to more extreme cold events, and global cooling does not lead to more extreme hot events. The longest and most extensive Arctic temperature data sets are in Alaska. Igor Polyakov has compiled them. They show that Alaska was warmer in the 1940s than in the 2000s. Temperatures the last few years are headed down again. That's why Nome was frozen up this fall and the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas have a lot more ice this summer than in the past couple decades. As for the other side of the Arctic, recent melting near Hudson's Bay has revealed tree lines much further north than today. That shows that some hundreds of years ago (ending about 800 years ago), it was warmer than today for an extended period. If warming hasn't stopped, then perhaps in a couple hundred years there will be trees growing there once again.

Me:
  1. That's not the most extensive temp record.
  2. Core-based records show warming
  3. Trees (or haddock) are not a good sign for an ecosystem built on another climate
  4. Your comments about warming/cooling and "extremes" makes no sense to me, in the context of thermodynamics...
More important, why are you guys arguing with scientists? Why not reduce the harm of policies that lead to more energy use, building in flood plains, agricultural subsides, etc.
  1. Are you funded by any of the "denialist" sources?
  2. Are you actually interested in US -- as opposed to global -- policies?
The only reason I talk to CEI is b/c I think we can make common cause in some areas, not b/c I see no role for government or international cooperation... and I'm a libertarian-environmental-economist!

Him:

Polyakov’s is the longest temperature station dataset record. The Arctic Climate Impact Commission report that the bureaucratic duffer Bob Correll chaired excluded the involvement of most Arctic experts and then published a temperature record that began in 1950. When challenged, Correll replied that there weren’t enough stations before the second World War. In fact, there were two to three times as many stations as there are today. I would be very careful about making assertions based on ice core records. The advance and retreat of the tree line is a very good indication of temperatures in the Arctic. When there is no ice cover and no permafrost, forests return over time. We are a long way away from Arctic temperatures that allowed the tree line to advance to where it was during the Medieval Warm Period.

We don’t argue with scientists. We follow the scientific debate. And we rely on a lot of the chapters in the IPCC Assessment Reports. They are of highly variable quality, so need to be used with care. The most discouraging things about the global warming scientific debate are the endless claims of the modelers (who use models that have no forecasting ability for GMT, regional change, or impacts) and the repeated readjusting of the temperature data by GISS and NCDC.

We have been one of the leaders in opposing policies that raise energy prices, reduce access to energy, and force people to use less energy. We have been active for decades opposing federal flood insurance and similar policies that subsidize building in flood plains and on beaches. We have always opposed the farm bill and have spent quite a lot of effort trying to get rid of environmentally destructive subsidies, such as the sugar program and the ethanol mandate.

Our funding comes from a wide variety of individuals, corporations, and foundations.

We spend a lot more time on U. S. than on international policies.

I’m very pleased you talk to us. We look forward to co-operating with you on those issues where we have much in common. We work on specific issues with people who are much further from us politically than you are. For example, we co-operate closely with Friends of the Earth in trying to get rid of the corn ethanol mandate and subsidies. They of course support the mandate for advanced (cellulosic) ethanol, which we of course oppose. And Greenpeace recently signed a joint letter with us, even though they spend a lot of time smearing us in the media.


Me:

Thanks for all the information. I am not going to get into the science debates, except to point out that any scientist who could show the huge majority of his fellows to be wrong would not only get massive attention and funding, but endless apologies, etc.

That's how the scientific method works, of course. We saw it recently with the debunking of the autism-vaccine claim.

I see zero sign of such debunking by AGCC deniers. There's no world conspiracy of scientists aimed at securing funding. There's not even a cabal of ideologues who want everyone to wear a hair shirt.

So, how about we make a gentleman's bet ($1) that AGCC is happening. We can close in some time in the next 20 years, I reckon.

Until then, let's work on the low hanging fruit:
We have been one of the leaders in opposing policies that raise energy prices, reduce access to energy, and force people to use less energy. We have been active for decades opposing federal flood insurance and similar policies that subsidize building in flood plains and on beaches. We have always opposed the farm bill and have spent quite a lot of effort trying to get rid of environmentally destructive subsidies, such as the sugar program and the ethanol mandate.
(do you support Pigouvian taxes aimed at local pollution resulting from energy? Burning coal, for example?)

Him:

[no reply]

9 Nov 2016

Trump's election was a long time coming

On Sept 12, 2001, I wrote ...
It is clear, as the reaction to this tragedy develops, that many people were killed or hurt and MANY more are scared, mad and/or upset...Americans, in general, do not have alternative life experiences from other cultures. For many of them, this attack was the first time that the outside world has directly intervened with their lives. It seems that many people are handling themselves in a way that deserves tremendous respect and pride, but I have some fear of anger replacing what's "right".

[snip]

Before we go off and start shooting (or nuking) all the "rag heads" (as Howard Stern's listeners want), perhaps we should consider where the perpetrators are coming from in terms of their anger at what "America" has done to them. It's too bad that US citizens are not called upon to make the decisions that the government makes for them, because, if we knew more of what was happening (there is a clear lack of coverage and bias in most of the US press/television - against Muslims), it is likely that the USA wouldn't be responsible for as many messes as it is.
Sadly, what we got was a "crusade" led by ignorant and ideological "neoconservatives" that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, more chaos in the Middle East, increased human rights abuses, and so on.

The (not-unrelated) global financial crisis that began in 2007 added economic misery to political instability. The rise of Occupy and the Tea Party in the US (and their failure to get traction), the implosion of cooperation in the Euro-zone, the backlash against free trade, and collapse of climate change negotiations ("now is not the time") can be traced to the blame game and half-cocked responses to economic troubles.

Although 20008 US elections were nearly decided in favor of "Drill Baby Drill" Republicans, Obama was elected president. The joke was "everything's fucked, so they gave the job to the black guy." Although Obama did not deliver as much hope and change as he promised, he did a damn fine job under the circumstances. Perhaps the greatest barrier to his good ideas was the knee-jerk reactionary opposition of the Republicans in Congress who blocked everything they could -- even ideas that they had proposed (the original design of "Obamacare" for example) or norms that had held for over 200 years (voting on the President's nominee to the Supreme Court).

The Republicans' scorched earth policy -- and the related propaganda and lies in an increasingly biased media -- deepened the divisions across American states, thereby turning a republic of "e pluribus unum" (from many, one) into two sides, Red and Blue, each striving to "take back control" of Washington DC so that they could force the losing side to accept their agenda. To me, this process began with FDR's centralization of power in the 1930s (via the Commerce Clause), the rise of "win at all costs" electioneering in the 70s (from "dirty tricks" to Reagan's manipulation of Iranian hostage release) and 80s (the Willie Horton ad) and 90s (Newt's Contract with America, Clinton's impeachment).

Although Hillary was obviously more qualified for the job, she bore the triple burdens of sexism, lies and partisanship as she faced an opponent who promised that Americans could eat their cake and have it. (Watch his final video advert if you want to see how he presses the fear and pride buttons.) I'm sure that The Donald knew he could win after seeing Berlusconi win, Putin lie without consequence, and Sarah Palin's dimwitted policy pronouncements. Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) gave him an excellent chance of winning for his constant appeal to fear, and Brexit more or less showed how angry people would vote against their own interests, to "send a message."

These results are horrifying to the thoughtful among us who see cause and effect, who consider rights to come with obligations, who prefer to negotiate from strength rather than use it to abuse the weak, but they are exactly the results that fearful, nationalistic, bullying people like Donald Trump love.

And they are not novel, as we can see from the writing of H.L. Mencken:
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
And in the words of George Carlin:



The winners from yesterday's election results will not be the American people. The winners will be the demagogues, bullies and oligarchs who prefer theft over trade, violence over negotiation, and lies over honesty. (Putin was the first head of state to call and congratulate Trump.) Even the Onion cannot spin itself too far from the fact that Osama Bin Laden would be pleased: "FBI uncovers Al-Qaeda plot to just sit back and enjoy collapse of United States"

I am glad that I am watching these results from Amsterdam, as I could not imagine waking up today in California without facing a serious emotional crisis (even with the help of recreational marijuana!). I wrote this on Facebook:
The worst mistake was deregistering when we went back to Canada. Not only did i lose my 30% exemption (now I pay taxes like a proper Dutch!), but I also restarted the "5 year clock" for application for Dutch nationality. So, I have another 2.5 years to go. Until then (and perhaps long after then), I do not plan to visit the US.

I cannot think of a worst case scenario under a Trump-led government (with the supreme court and Congress in his pocket), as one-party states (Egypt, China, Russia, Turkey, et al...) are known for harming both their citizens and neighbors.

The most likely parallel I can imagine is the election of Hitler in 1933, which -- combined with disastrous anti-trade, nationalist policies -- led to WWII. [The New Yorker agrees]

This result is no surprise, but the result of the 1% getting so greedy that "the people's revolt" has brought a populist into office with a mandate to "do something" that is (a) likely to harm those exact people, (b) likely to help the 1% and (c) harm most inhabitants of the planet. #newworldorder
Bottom Line Trump's presidency adds momentum to an racist, nationalist, fascist trend towards a Dark Age that will make 99 percent of us poorer in heart, mind and home.

ps/There is a slim chance that Trump, with the support of the Republican-controlled Congress and Supreme Court will "Make America Great Again" in some yet-to-be-announced way (a la Nixon goes to China). I'd be thrilled, but I'm not putting more than 10 percent odds on that. I'm putting 90 percent odds on Trump being worse for the world and for the average American (based on both his history and the party he's working with). I hope I'm wrong, but I'm not usually wrong.

pps. If Trump is a real revolutionary outsider then he will appoint Michael Moore as SecLabor and Lawrence Lessig as AG. #realrevolution

8 Nov 2016

Dear Americans -- your choices have impacts

You can't even mark this as sarcastic...




Read more on the (German) author's story -- and the death threats he received...

4 Nov 2016

2 Nov 2016

I voted for Hillary Clinton

Economists say that voting is "irrational" because the likelihood of one vote affecting the outcome is zero, and that's particularly true in my case.

(My California absentee ballot adds about 0.0000001% to Hillary's 100% chance of winning California.)

But there are other reasons to vote.

The first most important is that voting, by forcing us to make a decision, also forces us to think about the candidates or topics at hand. Although those thoughts are not going to deliver the wisdom of crowds,1 there's still some benefit to us and our community from having at least an idea of the people and policies that affect our lives.

Second, voting helps politicians understand how popular (or not) they or their policies are. A landslide approval (or defeat) makes it clear where they -- and others -- are going right (or wrong). California's 1982 vote on the Peripheral Canal was interesting for the northern population's 90+ percent opposition to a canal. Sadly, that issue is "back in play" due to the assiduous lobbying of farmers for unsustainable withdrawals of water to be delivered to them by other people's money. It would be great if California voters would punish the politicians helping special interests over the majority of the population next week.

Third, voting keeps us involved in the people or policies that we supported or backed, just as we pay more attention to news from the schools we attended, the countries we visited, etc. That attention means that we are more likely to make a better choice when a similar situation comes up again.

Moving to the candidates, I am voting both FOR Clinton and AGAINST Trump.

In favor of Clinton are her experience and [hard-to-see] leadership skills; the against (her email shenanigans, paid speeches to Wall Street, etc.) is not very remarkable to me when held up against common practices in US politics.2

Against Trump is everything I stand for. He's a lying, sexist, racist populist authoritarian.3 Even worse, he has no concept of economic policy, as can be seen in this open letter from 370 US-based economists [pdf],4 which rebuts his misleading lies in two pages and ends with this:
Donald Trump is a dangerous, destructive choice for the country. He misinforms the electorate, degrades trust in public institutions with conspiracy theories, and promotes willful delusion over engagement with reality. If elected, he poses a unique danger to the functioning of democratic and economic institutions, and to the prosperity of the country. For these reasons, we strongly recommend that you do not vote for Donald Trump.
Although I can't be certain, I am pretty sure that Trump as president would be a disaster for the US population (including the "less-than-college-educated white men" backing Trump), as well as the world. It may be good for rich people who can capitalize on the resulting chaos (a la Oligarchs in Putin's Russia), but I'm not in that class. Even if I was, I wouldn't want to destroy my country (or see my native country destroyed) for such a tiny personal benefit.

Bottom Line: Don't vote until you think of the direct impacts of your vote. If you're mad "at the establishment" then don't put an egotistical lunatic in charge of the establishment.

  1. The wisdom of crowds works pretty well for simple questions. In the classic case, someone asked 100 people "how much does that bull weight?" and the average of their guesses was within 1 percent of the actual weight. That method does not work so well with "should we elect George Bush president?" or "should the UK leave the EU?" as those questions involve multiple factors as well as unknown future events and decisions. (I voted for Bushes in 1988 and 2000, but not in 2004, as I found out how different terrible Bush II was.)
  2. The US system was already screwed up by gerrymandering that has resulted in 97 percent re-election rates in the US Congress (I was shocked to not see Barbara Boxer on the California ballot; she decided to step down as Senator) as well as the baleful impact of money on campaigns (and thus dependency of candidates on donors who want something in return).
  3. I have some background working with real estate developers (here's my paper describing their impact on water and urban sprawl), which helps me see how The Donald doesn't care about the wreckage of his projects, as long as they make him money.
  4. I would have signed it if if I was working in the US.
Addenda: Here's an environmental economist's perspective on how bad Trump would be, and Mathbabe discusses how Facebook distorts news and views to worsen partisan divisions (connecting this post with my post on anti-social media).

1 Nov 2016

Technology will not save us

Technology can be used to overcome many obstacles. It killed distance by letting us speak over phones or fly to distant cities. It saved lives by bringing new medicines and techniques. It made us rich by multiplying our labor output.

But technology cannot overcome "human weaknesses" that must be addressed by changes in our habits, beliefs and instincts. Those can only be changed by introspection and analysis, combined usually with some formal rules of behavior. That process explains our "civilizing progress," but its challenges and setbacks reveal how difficult progress is.

Just 6 months ago (give or take), I wrote how we humans could use the daylight savings time disaster-of-a-policy as a test case for reforming our international systems of governance, thereby making it easier for us to help refugees or tackle climate change. If we could fix that silly, self-imposed confusion, then who knows what we could do!?

But this weekend, I noticed that the clocks on our computers had changed* and thought: Hey, maybe technology (or the internet of things!) would eliminate my confusion every six months. Could we use technology to fix up climate change? But, no, I realized. My wall clock didn't notice the sun coming up "earlier," and I didn't really get an extra hour of sleep. I don't want to know how many other habits, systems and agreements were jostled by our self-imposed "jet lag."

Bottom Line: Technology is excellent, but it's not a solution to human problems. We still face greed, violence, and stupid rules, so we need to make sure we develop our people skills to match our technological advance.

* Note that yours may not have changed. (DST is worse than you think!)