About Me

A habitual technology addict and skeptic. Hopelessly addicted to politics, but without anywhere to call home. Other topics: Education, Religion, Philosophy, Freedom, Responsibility, Innovation, Literature, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

June 3, 2017

I'm Back

I didn't leave on purpose. I swear it. I just had things to do. It has been a while. I am sorry. Anyway, I still have crazy thoughts. I still express myself in a stodgy, stiff old manner that people don't really relate to.

Anyway, It has been a while. I think I need to post more often, or delete the whole mess. For now, I will not delete it. I just posted a hair-brained idea I had in response to the latest round of gloom and doom "We are all going to be replaced by machines" articles.

Read it before I published it. Meh. It is a weak attempt to address such issues. Mostly, a lot of blah blah blah. Really. Just look up distributism and then compare it to capitalism, socialism, communism, libertarianism, and fascism, and then keep in mind that all of them are flawed. We have to have a balance of some kind. That might still be a negative thing, if we implemented the negative aspects of each. But if we can find a way to balance the positives, then maybe we might get something worthwhile.

Anyway, I have about given up on ever seeing a real solution for anything come from our so called leaders in government. They don't care about us or what is right. Nobody else does, so why should they, nevermind whatever oath they gave when they took office, everyone knows those are not serious.

Automation and People and Land

I have been seeing a lot of prognostication lately about how automation is coming and robotics and AI is going to replace a lot of jobs. I even read one article saying that the haves will become a different species. I think a lot of these such articles are missing something important. Economics.

If we automate everyone out of a job, who will buy the products? How do we take advantage of economies of scale, if the scale is a handful of super rich. If owners of companies are so rich, and everyone else is so poor, what becomes of the people? What do you do with massive populations of people who don't or can't work, due to the economic and technological realities around them? Do we get to the point that we start wholesale elimination of large populations? Undoubtedly, some will see this and the answer. Genocide of such magnitude is unprecedented, but that is where the thinking of such articles lead.

I don't think it will come to that. People will not be replaced by machines in total. Sure, many jobs and functions will be. It will be painful, but people are creative. AI is not. It is not self aware. It does what it's programmers set it up to do. Again, most programs do things differently from what the programmers intended, but they do exactly what they are told. But what if our technology does get to that level where almost all jobs are replaced?

I am not sure how this whole thing works itself out, but it will have to. To feed such masses of poor will require a significant portion of the Earth's land for their maintenance. Who will pay for it? To resolve such questions will probably get ugly in some way, and the poor will probably have the bulk of the losers. I see a variety of solutions to such a dilemma , none of which are very palatable. Most of them will be some form or another of expansion of the current welfare state. Another disgusting alternative is the re-institutionalization of slavery, based solely on economic standing. I certainly hope that no governments will reach the point of deciding genocide is a good way to go.

One of the welfare state expansions that we are beginning too see is called basic income. Many nations are beginning to experiment with this concept. This money has to come from taxes and fees. If only the rich are making money, they will be who has to pay for everyone else. Still a no-win situation. The poor get an income, but become dependent on the government. They will lose incentive to work and create and make the world a better place. It sets up continued and increased tension between the rich and the poor which will eventually come to a head. The more the poor are displace by technology, the more the rich will be taxed. At some point, the rich will resist or rebel. That would lead to one of those other nasty scenarios mentioned above.

It doesn't have to be that way. Perhaps, there may be other solutions which might be worthwhile to look into. I remember reading about laws that existed in some small island countries many years ago that each family was required to grow and preserve a certain amount of food for each family member. They were required to spend a specified amount of time working their gardens. Those that could afford it could pay others to work in their garden's for them. If we step forward a couple of centuries and add technology into the mix, perhaps we find that there may be wisdom in some of the underlying principles of self reliance. This is a variation off of the theme of distributist thinking.

The key is making sure each person has access to the means to take care of themselves. This probably means some kind of guaranteed access to some required per person amount of land and water resources. It will require people to learn to work. The government would have to create some kind of equitable way of distributing, and redistributing, and redistributing again, the land and resources. It would have to be fair, and yet still make sure everyone had their required minimum. I suppose having rules for land inheritance which are different from other inheritance might be required. At any rate, there are some uncomfortable changes which would have to be made to our policies.

The interesting thing is, if we did establish such a program to support the poor, it won't prevent those who are so inclined from setting their sights higher, and seeking more than the bare minimum. If they fail, well, what better safety net than self reliance. Those who succeed can have that benefit of having other people or machines to their work to meet the requirements of such a system. It also would still provides enough of an economic structure to ensure trade will exist and therefore the capital required to create our modern wonders will continue.

Yes, it is true, there will still be rich and poor. Many will inherit their wealth. They will still have to be taxed to pay for government. The difference is, the poor will be better taken care of, have a better safety net, and still have opportunity. The taxes would not be as onerous as in the basic income scenario mentioned previously. A land distributism program would certainly not address all the problems that exist and getting people to understand and agree on the specifics will be extremely difficult. But it will be better than either hordes of unworking being paid for by massive taxes on a few rich, or the alternatives of mass slavery or wholesale genocide of those viewed as having no economic value.

January 21, 2015

Discernment and Discrimination

Discrimination is a much maligned word. People use it most often to describe unfair or hostile treatment of broad groups of innocent people. Whole sections of our federal code address the evils of discrimination. Millions of people have been victims of discrimination when seeking employment, attending school, searching for a home, or even where they shop.

However, discrimination may not be exactly what we think it is. And, it may not be all bad. Think of a related word: Discern. What does it mean? say it means "to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate". There it is again. Discriminate. So what does that mean, in a dictionary sense. Again, says it means "to note or observe a difference; distinguish accurately". So, discrimination is when we accurately distinguish the difference between things. That doesn't sound all that bad, so where does the problem lie?

To address this, we will again go back to, but do another entry. It says "to make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing on the basis of the group, class, or category to which the person or thing belongs rather than according to actual merit; show partiality;". This sounds less nice. The real problem here is the partiality, and ignoring actual merit. Our laws specifically talk about discrimination, but discrimination can be good, as long as actual merit is recognized.

We have laws that say we can't discriminate on the basis of certain group memberships. The list of groups so protected has grown, and will continue to grow. Then we have other laws saying some discrimination in favor of certain group members is required. I couldn't agree more that we should avoid discrimination against a class of people without regard to personal merit. But what about when we discriminate against that personal merit. What if we decide that the specific qualities, traits, and characteristics of a specific individual are completely unacceptable, or at least inferior to some other alternative.

I think we all must do this in some degree or another in many aspects of our life. I see this in hiring whenever I see hiring done. Companies want the best employees that they can afford. Likewise, employees want to work for the best employers. We have to make such judgement calls in many aspects of our lives. There are a few, however, that can become very controversial very quickly.

Take dealing with neighbors for example. If you live in a neighborhood, and someone moves into the neighborhood that changes the nature of this neighborhood. What if it goes from being a place you loved to live to being a place you are looking to move away from. What kind of things might this new neighbor be doing that could make such a change. What if they are dealing drugs in what previously was a very child friendly place. What if they are a hoarder that fills their yard with such massive piles of junk that you begin to have major rodent and insect infestations. What are your avenues of recourse. Do you just move away and abandon your once wonderful neighborhood and take the financial hit that comes with such circumstances.

In some places, there have been local statutes which address these issues. A common phenomenon in real estate is the use of Home Owner Associations which enforce codes, covenants, and restrictions with the ability to file leans against and foreclose on homes for behavioral problems in neighborhoods. Some cities have created neighborhood preservation services which try to regulate these problems.

But what if your neighbor is just a jerk. What do you do then. I guess you are back to moving. What if all the other neighbors feel that same way. Generally speaking they have no recourse. But perhaps they should. Now, it isn't fair to foreclose and take the property of someone just because you don't like them.

But here is a crazy idea. What if the neighbors could get together and if a high enough percentage, like, 80%, decided they wanted some other neighbor to be forced to move, they could do some kind of forced buyout? Of course, they should probably have to pay a premium for the inconvenience, like maybe 15 or 20 percent. The neighbors would have to front the cash for it. There would have to be legal protections and a very specified process to go though, but, then, the neighborhood might be able to protect itself against deterioration, even if the problem was not a health or safety issue.

Now that I have presented such a nice little fix, now lets view what are ways it could go wrong. First, lets just assume that the hated neighbor is hated only because of race or religion. Is it fair they should be kicked out of where they live just because of discrimination? Also, what about those that rent? Should they have a say? Could a landlord be forced out because of bad tenants? Should they be able to? What are the ramifications? Might we end up with completely segregated neighborhoods? Most of our neighborhoods today are quite segregated. Would it be any worse using this system? Invariably, this subject, whatever side you find yourself on, is ripe for abuse. If it were implemented somewhere, there would have to be a lot of safeguards to protect against abuse. However, by not having such a law, we do not get rid of abuse, we just make it less visible. Under such a system, perhaps, the real benefit would be bringing existing abuses and persecutions out in the open.

I am not saying I think this is the ideal system, nor am I saying I favor unmerited discrimination. I do not. I am just saying that the current system is not working. It would be interesting so see a city, or small state, or even a small country institute such a policy for a trial period and what it would result in. It might turn out bad, but it might actually turn out with less unmerited discrimination than we now have.

January 15, 2015

New Checks and Balances needed.

The US Constitution was one of the most revolutionary documents in history. Many of the ideas it enshrined may not have originated with the founders, but it was the first time they were put in place as a foundation for government. One of the most important and revolutionary ideas it put in place was the concept of checks and balances between the different branches of government. It has protected us and kept our country going, even in some of the most difficult of times. Until now. It isn't that the checks and balances are wrong, but that they have been replaced, undermined, overruled, and ignored.

The function of checks and balances serve several purposes. First and foremost, they are to keep each part of government from getting too powerful. This applies to the factions of government as well. It usually isn't a good thing to have too much power in too few hands. Checks and balances should keep power distributed. Government should be a slow process. It should be hard to create new laws, and easy to get rid of all but the most foundational of existing laws. This is the role of checks and balances. The problem is that now they seem to be broken.

Not only do they not seem to be working between the branches of the federal government, they also don't seem to be working between the federal government and the states, between states and communities, and between all the levels of government and the people. We need a renewal and fresh re-commitment to checks and balances. Not only that, we need some new checks and balances that correct the most abused places. Here are some ideas:

Federally, we need term limits all around, a line item veto, and a balanced budget amendment. And congress should get to pick undersecretaries in the departments (or something that gives them a better check on the bureaucracy). Both congress and the president need some checks on the courts, starting with term limits on all judges. The ability to overrule court declarations or to at least bring the affected laws back into the congress automatically. Also, the court should have to do their job and rule on the basic constitutionality of each law and section before it is implemented.

The states should have the ability to overrule the federal government if enough states pass the same resolutions. Also, state courts, if enough were in accordance, should be able to overrule the fed courts. State bureaucracies should have to administer any programs within the states.

Locally, the same kinds of checks that states should have on the federal government should exist between the local government and state government. Finally, all laws, policies, decisions, and so forth should be abolishable by petition of the populace, upon majority rule. The populace should be limited to eliminating existing laws, policies, and decisions, and not creating new ones.

All officers of government at any level should be subject to recall. Federal officers should be removable by those they represent. This should extend to senators in a special way, in that state government should be able to recall them, in addition to the citizenry of the state.

These ideas for new checks and balances are just off the top of my head, and perhaps the exact implementations are flawed and need to be adjusted or switched to something else, but the point is, we need to fix the checks and balances, in order to keep government of the people, for and by the people,

July 26, 2013

The Startup: Best option for retirement.

So, I am 42. I have no retirement. I had some at one point, but had some brilliant idea that if I fixed my house up (cause otherwise it would have either fallen down or been condemned) then, it would be a pretty good place for my family to live and we would have a decent amount of equity built up. So I cashed out my retirement and by the time I got the place fixed up, most of our equity evaporated in the housing meltdown, and my company which serviced the real estate and mortgage industries kind of went with it. Fortunately, we were able to sell before we lost the place, but we got a lot less out then we had put in, even though we bought a major fixer-upper and it was a pretty decent place with a little bit of key work needing to be finished on it when we sold it.

I know, long sob story. I am not the only one who lost just about everything in this downturn. We moved to Texas looking for work, which never panned out, and ate through what little we had left. We finally ended up in my parents basement and I picked up an online consulting gig. We managed to pay off all of our debt with the consulting before I got a regular job. It doesn't pay that bad, all things considered. But it doesn't have any retirement benefits, no options, no future. I should probably have opened up a IRA or something by now, but I haven't cause we have been catching up on years without insurance other things where anything that could be put off was. So, back to where I started. I am 42, and have no retirement.

Funny thing. My father was exactly at this same point when he was my age. He went and got a job with a big mega corporation, that put a decent amount into a 401k. That lasted about 10 years, and then he got laid off in his early 50s. He was able to land a similar position with a much smaller company, but it was big enough to have 401k support as well. He put in his time there and retired at 62 1/2. Turns out, what he saved wasn't enough. They have social security, and a little bit from his retirement savings, but big things keep eating into their principal. He needed at least double what he put aside, if not triple.

So, here I am in a similar situation, only no 401k. I make enough, and have no debt, but I don't have much extra. I also have no equity in a home or real estate anywhere. So, I have been figuring what I am going to need for retirement. Trying to figure out what my best options are. Where I live is very close to work, but doesn't have the lowest cost of living. The schools are good, but still have the typical problems public schools have. In any other direction from my work at the same distance, the cost of living stays about the same, but the schools are not as good and some of the neighborhoods can be quite creepy. I have 6 daughters, so, I get a little paranoid about safety sometimes. I can lower my cost of living if I go far enough away, but then the commute becomes very long, and I don't really save much.

If I were to try to get a comparable job with another company in the area, I could probably get better pay and a 401k, but when I started to do the math, I found myself looking at the same situation my father has found himself in. He worked himself nearly to the bone and when he finally retired, he doesn't have enough. So, this led me to think about what my options are, and how each of those options might affect my eventual retirement. I looked at doing contract work and freelance work. I looked at setting up my own consultancy. One option was to find a better job I could do with a much lower cost of living. There were only 2 options I came up with that had an expected outcome that exceeded my expected needs. All of the other options would use up the next 20 years of my life and leave me short of what I need.

Both of the positive options had to do with startups. First, if I were to come on as a very early founding team member or early key-hire, and the company had a successful liquidity event after 3 to 5 years, I would probably have more than enough cashable equity to cover my needs and then some. This is even more the case with the second option, where I am the founder of the startup, and it also eventually gets to a liquidity event. If it were successful, it wouldn't have to take the next 20 years either. In both cases, it is not a sure thing, but it is a big risk.

I have done startups before, but there were lots of things wrong with how the business was set up. One of which, they were primarily service oriented where I was exchanging my time for money. There is only so much you can get when you exchange your time for money. Sure, there are a few (patent lawyers?, brain surgeons?, industrial spies?, former presidents?) that can charge very high rates, but I am not one of those. While I can make a decent living doing doing service oriented work, it will never create wealth like a successful startup that has a product can.

So, since startups are not a guaranteed route to success, and the other roads are dead ends, what is to be done? Well, make sure you pay attentions to the mistakes you make, and learn from them. The thing that makes startups the best option is that, you are not limited to one. Even successful startups have a tendency to be on a short time table. A solid liquidity event often is within the first 4- 7 years. Even when it isn't, startups are very quick to adapt compared to established companies. And, then there is the whole lean iterate and pivot approach. One startup, many shots on goal. If it isn't working, take what parts do work, and try something different with them. Sounds easy right. Well, if it was, there would be tons of successful startups out there. Oh, wait, there are. Still is easier said than done. Just don't quit. Kind of a bit harder with a large young family and a day job to support them. I guess my iterations just have to move slower. But, fortunately for me, I have never been short on great ideas. I just need to get one to the point that its greatness is readily apparent.

If I can do that, I am sure I can create enough wealth and get to an adequate liquidity event. That will take care of my retirement needs. Even if my retirement looks a lot the same as what got me there. The difference, I won't be financially dependent on it's outcome, and I might just get there a lot sooner.