Friday, December 31, 2010

Symbionomics -collective action gets a foot up

I don't know who these people are, but I like the project. Internet Collective Action is a favorite subject of mine (see It's a quick and cheap way for like-minded people to collaborate on any type of project. If there's a way to make that even easier, I'm all for it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2000 vs. 2010

Things have changed much more than you may realize in just 10 years. Cell phones, fast internet connections, and urbanization have grown quickly. What will the next decade bring?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The USA; eating itself alive

50 million of us don't have health care (

40 million of us use food stamps (

We rank 30th in infant mortality (

Our students rank 17th in science (

And yet, we have 57,000 troops defending Germany (

NASA had to spend $500 million on a project it wanted to drop (

We're doing it to ourselves. We could be spending our money on health (BETTER! We spend much more per patient than any other country), education, and infrastructure. Instead we spend it on wasteful big projects, like $100 billion on a missile defense system that still doesn't work (

Our priorities have obviously been thrown off track somewhere along the way. I don't know how to fix it, but THAT is what we should be discussing; what are our priorities? Can we agree on that?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The future of newspapers

I love Clay Shirky. He distills information and comes up with a completely different way of looking at things. And then his ideas seem like common sense.

Shirky thinks the current, 20th century format for newspapers will never last. There's no point in even trying to keep that idea going. The Internet gives you the precise information you want, rather than having you buy the classifieds, news, etc. when perhaps all you want is the sports. Advertising is mostly going to the Internet as well, so the income stream for newspapers is dwindling.

In this article, the big question is, who will pay for investigative journalism? If newspapers can't afford reporters anymore, who will do the reporting? There are many possible answers to that, and Shirky essentially says let's try out as many as we can and see which ones work.

Meanwhile, is a possible alternative. It's a nonprofit devoted solely to investigative journalism. So far it seems to be doing well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Simple economics; the rich hoarding means no monetary circulation

This seems so simple to me. If a tiny minority hoard the money supply, then there is no money circulating. Just like blood in our bodies, money has to circulate to keep an economy going. So giving those minority of hoarders a tax BREAK is the opposite of what needs to be done to get the economy circulating again.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

US citizens die needlessly so we can protect Germany?

Budget cuts are done to those in need. Why not cut the military budget and stop defending Italy, Germany, Japan, and other countries that don't need protecting anymore? We have over 33,000 troops in Japan, over 57,000 in Germany, and almost 10,000 in Italy, just as examples of wasted defense spending. Why are we there? None of these countries need our defense. [source:]

Can't we spend our money on Americans who need help, instead of wasting our defense money on countries that have economies at least as viable as ours? Where did our priorities get so screwed up? We HAVE to take a break, lay out our expenditures, and cut what we don't need anymore. We DON'T NEED to be defending Germany! Who are we defending them from?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sometimes a ray of light makes the future look better

When I started going to the Project Chanology protests and seeing all the young people stepping out to help fix a social problem, I was greatly encouraged about the future. This video encourages me as well.

The LAST thing you want in society is complacent, passive citizens. The BEST thing is active, informed citizens. Which type do our schools produce?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

corporations do the bidding of US government?

the State Department asked Paypal to close down Wikileaks' account. Paypal said sure, why not? Mastercard closed down Wikileaks' account because they claimed wikileaks was doing something illegal? Really? What has Wikileaks been convicted of? Or even formally charged with?

The spineless reaction of corporations to the US government's powerless requests is stunning. Is this how things work in the dark? Corporations working directly at the behest of the government? Isn't there a term for this; fascism?

If that's the kind of stuff going on out of sight, then we need some group to bring light to these actions hidden from the public. Some kind of whistleblowing group... oh wait...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bold Thinking on how to Re-boot the economy

Don Tapscott wrote a book on collective action that helped me write my Project Chanology article. He has co-written another book, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, that argues that many current institutions need to be completely reworked.

My books-to-read stack is pretty high already, but I hope to read this book soon.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Moral Economy; What “The Invisible Hand” Left Behind

The Moral Economy; What “The Invisible Hand” Left Behind

by Jeff Jacobsen

Philadelphia 1777 was a hot spot for revolution. The colonials had banded together and started their historic effort to pry a new nation from the clutches of the British.

But the banding together did not preclude a community from going after one of their own, even a known patriot. Thomas Boylston was such a neighbor on Britain's enemies list. But he also tried to take economic advantage of the war by withholding coffee and sugar from the local marketplace in order to create a higher price for his commodities. The community chose otherwise for him. Abigail Adams wrote that around 100 women confronted Boylston at his warehouse, took his keys after an argument, and left with their booty, as “a large concourse of men stood amazed silent spectators of the whole transaction.” [Nash, 2005, p. 232]

If one was inclined to believe that this was a unique occurrence from those times, one would be wrong. Three merchants in Longmeadow village raised their prices on sugar, salt, rum and molasses while many men were away at arms. The incensed citizens warned “every man whose actions are unfriendly to the common cause of our country ought to be convinced of his wrong behavior and made to reform, or treated as an open enemy.” When one of the merchants refused after being confronted, a mob took his supplies, sold the commodities at a fair price, and left the funds on the merchant's kitchen table. [Nash, p. 233-4]

This view of community before private gain was brought to the colonies from Britain. All through the 1700s and into the 1800s are many examples of such community “riots” against merchants, farmers and millers who would hold their products hoping for rising prices, or ship their product to London where they could sell for more. When scarcity grew, mobs would look for those who were hoarding. The sheriff of Gloucestershire, England in 1766 wrote of such a mob;

They visited Farmers, Millers, Bakers and Hucksters shops, selling corn, flower, bread, cheese, butter, and bacon, at their own prices. They returned in general the produce [i.e. the money] to the proprietors or in their absence left the money for them; and behaved with great regularity and decency where they were not opposed, with outrage and violence where they was: but pilfered very little, which to prevent, they will not now suffer Women and boys to go with them. [Thompson, 1971, p. 111]

These actions, which have come down to us as “riots,” were in fact the local community attempting to enforce what they saw as “the law” when authorities would not. This pre-Adam Smith notion that community could come before private commercial gain is known as “moral economy.” Moral economy was codified under Charles I in 1630 in the “Book of Orders.” The Orders were a response to a previous time of crop failure that led to starvation. The Orders required the local magistrates to attend food markets and make sure that the poor were “provided of necessary Corne... with as much favour in the Prices, as by the earnest Perswasion of the Justices can be obtained.” [Thompson p. 109]

In other words, the Orders directed that community needs supersede the financial advantage that farmers and millers may gain from times of shortage.

Such concern for community has been left far behind in today's economic theory dominated by Adam Smith's “invisible hand.” Smith's view, according to modern interpretation, is that the self-interest of the marketers along with supply and demand in an open marketplace will adequately distribute goods. The combined effect of this open interaction of buyers and sellers is like an invisible hand that works to maintain a viable economy. This “Laissez-faire” environment, in which government has little or no input, magically distributes through the marketplace those materials where and when they are needed. Since it is the self-interest of the merchants that make the “invisible hand” work, governmental or mob actions that go against this self-interest are seen as detrimental to economic workings.

Not long after Adam Smith's theories were growing in popularity, Charles Darwin published his work on evolution. Darwin's theories gained the shorthand of “survival of the fittest” to explain why some physical attributes were passed on to their offspring. An animal or plant with new attributes that gave them advantage toward survival made them more “fit” and thus more likely to pass on their genes.

Social Darwinism, mostly attributed to Herbert Spencer, derived the notion from “survival of the fittest” that those who survived and thrived economically were thus the “fittest” and those who could not survive were deficient and thus should dwindle in favor of the “fittest.” This notion led to the opposite of moral economy in that the poor and needy were seen as deserving their place in life instead of being viewed as fellow citizens who need help. Andrew Carnegie, the great steel magnate at the turn of the 20th century, believed in social Darwinism;

If his friends, subordinates, and competition suffered in this battle for survival, such was evolution. There was no room for sympathy; after all, Spencer concluded that when the struggle begins “all start with equal advantages,” and then those with natural ability excel. [Peter Krass, p. 154]

Thus, interfering with this social struggle was seen at interfering with Nature.

Economic history is complex, with many philosophical influences such as Smith and Darwin above, and other forces such as mechanization, emigration, weather, wars, and so on. Moral Economy was a philosophical theory that the community was more important than the economic opportunities of any person or business. Smith, Spencer, and others gradually influenced economic theory to favor the free market over community, ostensibly because the free market would supposedly take care of the community in the long run.

In the 1840s Ireland's “potato famine” began. Under control of the British government at the time, many mistakes were made in attempting to overcome the causes of the famine. One of these was the application of the laissez-faire (meaning let it be) economic theory;

Throughout the entire Famine period, the British government would never provide massive food aid to Ireland under the assumption that English landowners and private businesses would have been unfairly harmed by resulting food price fluctuations.

In adhering to laissez-faire, the British government also did not interfere with the English-controlled export business in Irish-grown grains. Throughout the Famine years, large quantities of native-grown wheat, barley, oats and oatmeal sailed out of places such as Limerick and Waterford for England, even though local Irish were dying of starvation. Irish farmers, desperate for cash, routinely sold the grain to the British in order to pay the rent on their farms and thus avoid eviction. []

One million Irish died and one million fled the famine.

After the US Civil War, corporations took on more and more power and size, gradually swelling to huge monopolies that controlled rail, oil, steel, and other commodities. Government was no check on corporate power, and in fact, as Kevin Phillips writes, “for roughly three decades beginning in the 1870s, government would be subservient to corporations and financiers, its role usually that of servant and police force...” [Phillips, p. 210]. The concentration of wealth put power into the hands of a few corporate magnates such as Andrew Carnegie, who made his money in steel. There was little consideration for the average citizen, and in fact, Carnegie throughout his life continuously sought to pay his employers less and less and disregarded their safety in favor of profit.

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company and creator of the assembly line system for building products, was probably the most progressive of all corporate magnates. He paid good wages for the time. In 1916 he decided to forgo dividends to stockholders and instead lower the prices of his automobiles, thus making them accessible to those less financially able. Immediately, John and Horace Dodge, large shareholders in the company, sued, claiming that profits belonged to shareholders and no one else. The case Dodge v. Ford set the precedent that “managers and directors have a legal duty to to put shareholders' interests above all others and no legal authority to serve any other interests...” [Balkan, p. 36]. In other words, a corporation has no soul. It's only interest is to make a profit for it's shareholders. This is far from moral economy. In fact, it is the opposite of moral economy.

In the 1970s this amoral principle was clearly exposed by the case of the Ford Pinto. The Pinto had a design flaw that at times led the fuel tank to rupture in a rear-end collision. Ford conducted a “cost/benefit analysis” to decide if it should spend funds to redesign and upgrade the fuel tank, or to pay out the assumed number of lawsuits that were projected if no change was made to the car.

The controversial numbers were those Ford used for the "benefit" half of the equation. It was estimated that making the change would result in a total of 180 less burn deaths, 180 less serious burn injuries, and 2,100 less burned vehicles. These estimates were multiplied by the unit cost figured by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These figures were $200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury, and $700 per vehicle equating to the total "societal benefit" is $49.5 million. Since the benefit of $49.5 million was much less than the cost of $137 million, Ford felt justified in its decision not to alter the product design. The risk/benefit results indicate that it is acceptable for 180 people to die and 180 people to burn if it costs $11 per vehicle to prevent such casualty rates. On a case by case basis, the argument seems unjustifiable, but looking at the bigger picture complicates the issue and strengthens the risk/benefit analysis logic. []

Ford Motor Company, the soul-less corporation that by law must put profit ahead of community, did just that. They weighed the lives of 180 people against profits, and chose profits.

The decision to put profit over people is not uncommon. Another example is drug companies, who in the year 2000 were ignoring tuberculosis, while researching 8 drugs for impotence and 7 for baldness. [Bakan, p. 49]. They go where the money is, not where the societal need is. Enron's price manipulations of electricity, BP's recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and many other examples could be given where the cost/benefit analysis of the corporation does not factor in human or environmental damage. Profit is the sole motivation, as is required by legal precedent.

So, has the modern economic theory given us a better world? In some ways, yes. But the point of this article is that it has been done at the expense of the moral economy. The needs and even just the protection of the community have been thrown aside in deference to lassaiz-faire and profits. I would like to suggest that moral economy can and must make a comeback before amoral corporatism does any more damage to society.

There have been suggestions on how to do this. Most media and governmental entities use the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, to gauge how well the country is going. This is simply the aggregation of all the goods and services produced by the country in a year. It is an economic indicator. In 1990 the UN proposed the “Human Development Report” which considers “how economic growth translates - or fails to translate - into human development.” [] This expanded into the Human Development Index, which looks at health, education, and living standards, rather than simple economic output. “The breakthrough for the HDI was the creation of a single statistic which was to serve as a frame of reference for both social and economic development.” [] The well-being of the people, not just business, with the HDI would have to be scrutinized and accounted for.

Another change that could help bring back moral economy is to remove the amorality of commercial corporations. Joel Bakan in his book The Corporation, warns that changes will be difficult, but he provides some suggestions. These include incorporating public-purpose corporations rather than for-profit corporations. Public-purpose corporations, such as the Postal Service, have their social agenda built into their charter. They are not designed solely to enrich their shareholders but rather serve a useful societal role.

Bakan suggests stricter enforcement of corporation charters by the government. Every corporation is a creation of the government. Every charter can be revoked by the government if that corporation is found to be harming society instead of helping it. Government should look more at the societal cost-benefit analysis of a corporation rather than it's job-creating ability or contributor to GNP, and revoke its charter when it is harmful to society.

Finally, the public must weigh in on the dangerous results of our current corporatocracy that has such influence in Congress and within government agencies. The government should be listening to the people more than corporations, but the people need to be politically active for that to happen.

Current economic theory counts dollars to see how society is. Moral economy required that the social well-being of the community must be accounted for as well. We will be a stronger, healthier nation when we look back in history and rediscover the value of ourselves rather than just our pocketbooks.


The Corporation, by Joel Bakan, 2004

Carnegie, by Peter Krass, 2002

The Unknown American Revolution, by Gary B. Nash, 2005

Wealth and Democracy, by Kenneth Phillips, 2002

“The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” by E. P. Thompson, Past and Present, No. 50 (Feb. 1971), pp. 76-136

(photos of child labor)

Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith

Why don't we dump fossil fuel subsidies?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is protesting a useful way to gain change?

I believe protesting is a sort of way to "vote" by showing the strength your position has amongst the populous. So in that respect it is useful.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

TSA begins random waterboarding

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration today announced random waterboarding of passengers at the Las Vegas International Airport. The stricter scrutiny was a result of a rash of called-in bomb threats recently in Las Vegas.

Thad Tacker, regional director of TSA for the Western U.S., said "we need to make certain as best we can that no one getting on our planes is a terrorist, or a phone-in terrorist."

Approximately every 100th passenger is randomly selected for the waterboarding procedure, which can take over an hour. Selectees who miss their flight are provided a ticket to the next flight to their destination, and an "I've already been waterboarded" voucher.

Theresa Falls of Henpeck, Wyoming was one of the first passengers waterboarded. "It was so horrible, I thought I was dying!" said Falls. "I confessed to probably everything I've done wrong in my life, but still they kept accusing me of making phone threats." The ordeal lasted 25 minutes before TSA officials let her go with a warning that her confessions were on video. "What will they do with that video now? Why do they need to keep my confession? I'll never fly again," she said.

In its history TSA has never caught an actual terrorist. "But," says directory Tacker, "we are confident this new procedure will garner the best results yet."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wealth And Democracy, by Kevin Phillips

I highly recommend Kevin Phillips' book Wealth and Democracy. He compares our current (well up to 2001) financial dive with similar falls in 17th Century Netherlands, 18th Century Spain, and 19th Century England. It's a useful historical review. It's also jam-packed with interesting historical tidbits about US economic history. Here's my favorite quote:

"The peril of any utopianism, of course, is how it suspends rationality and pursues a dream. In the case of millennial American conservatism, the political dream, for all its responsiveness to the tangible self-interest of rich constituencies, has been the illusion of markets as potential parliaments rather than descendants of carnivals, as rational decision-makers rather than precarious litmuses of human nature." (p. 371)

Monday, August 16, 2010

the economy has already been destroyed

David Stockman, Reagans' money man, says the GOP has already destroyed the US economy. Up next; class warfare.

While everyone is looking for an economic "recovery," I'm afraid where we are now is where we'll be for quite some time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

the US should heed Eisenhower's warning

The Military Industrial Complex has us by the balls. Even though the rest of the country is reeling from the recession, military spending keeps on going. We now spend more on defense than the rest of the WORLD does. Why are we so paranoid? Who is after us?

We could easily cut our defense spending in half and perhaps save our teetering economy. We have no need to be spread all over the world like some old-time imperial power. We could close bases in other countries, cut back on mammoth projects designed to fight the nonexistent USSR, and start using soft power instead of destructive wars.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Some challenges to the Wisdom of Crowds

Two books to get you started on the idea that groups of otherwise unconnected people can accomplish amazing things: Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, and J. Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. As a quick example, the computer language Linux was essentially written by programmers who didn't even necessarily know each other, but contributed as much and as often as they desired to create a part of the whole.

So "crowdsourcing" is becoming a cool idea. Have a problem? Post about it on an appropriate web site, and let the vast masses out there offer solutions. Often times, you'll get a pretty good result.

This can go overboard though. As an example, when Allen Greenspan was head of the Federal Reserve, he deferred to "the Market" as being smarter than he was. He thought that there should be little regulation of the Market because the communal mindset was always smarter than any other input. Well, we know how that worked out.

Another problem is that a crowd is not a collection of people who mind-meld and then become a smarter unit. Instead, crowds often turn into mobs, or unthinking masses that follow one another over the edge.

What this shows is that yes, the crowd can create amazing things like Linux. And yes, the crowd can turn ugly and instead destroy things. Basic rules and boundaries are required. The group Anonymous, for example, took on the Church of Scientology. At first they just randomly did things to annoy the church. But then they decided on a few basic ground rules; nothing illegal, protest monthly, wear masks to keep anonymity, etc. With these basic rules, people who never knew each other magically began effective protests and actions against Scientology that have continued for 2 years now.

So yes, I believe in the Wisdom of Crowds. But only if there are rational basic rules laid down for the action that is proposed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

the best explanation EVER for health care reform

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

thousands rally for health care reform; media misses it

Universal health care will solve most of the healthcare issues. Insurance companies are already raising prices over 30% annually, 30 million Americans are without coverage, and yet people still fight against health care reform?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Robin Hood Tax?

A simple, intriguing idea. The banks get kid glove treatment from our government, so asking them to give a little back is not outrageous.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

what if we started a Peace Department?

Sure, I'm not the originator of this idea. But the SS Comfort sitting off Haiti got me thinking once again. What if our Navy fleet was mostly hospital ships and freighters carrying water and food? I mean, there's hardly any military in the world that can get close to coming against us. Can't we slice off, say, 20% of the military's budget and use it to prepare to help the next country that has an earthquake, tsunami or whatever?

Imagine us as a country known for helping people, with no recompense. Who would care to attack us?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Move your money to a community bank!

A movement is rapidly growing to give up on the banks that are Too Big to Fail, and turning to community banks, where service and accountability still exist. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. We can vote with our money for which type of banking system we get; one run by fat cats who only care about their bonuses, or local people who care about service and the local community. It's an easy choice.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

does technology help protesters or the government more?

An interesting debate is going on between Clay Shirkey, whose book "Here Comes Everybody" I used in my research on Anonymous, and Evgeny Morozov, a writer who often covers Internet issues. I'll list the urls of the debate in order, I hope:

Morozov critiques Shirkey's sunny view of technology:

Shirkey responds:

Morozov responds:

I'm on Shirkey's side here, but it's an excellent point to add that the government can just as easily use new technology as any protest that forms.