Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unconditional Basic Income

Revolution: the only solution?

"There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it 'resistance' – movements of 'people or groups of people' who 'adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture'. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups'.
Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of 'friction' to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have 'had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved', he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, 'if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics'. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but 'really a geophysics problem'."

This article is mostly about how important immediate action against human activity that is encouraging climate change. But the part that is of interest to me is that scientists are concluding that the only way to alter the way humans are acting is through revolution.  I'm certainly not sold on the idea, but it's an intriguing point. Does the fact that we are allowing our only home, earth, to become uninhabitable to ourselves indicate that our current political and economic systems can only be altered quickly enough by revolution? 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shadow economy saves the day

"RT: According to some reports, the shadow economy in Europe today is worth more than 2.1 trillion euros – how much of a concern is this? 
Felix Moreno: Of course, they are all estimates and it’s all approximate, but it’s around that size.  In Spain it’s around 20% of its economy. In Greece it’s harder to estimate but some say that it’s between 19% and 20%. It is a concern for governments since they are having so much trouble to raise money at the moment and they are attempting to tax their citizens to oblivion. But it’s not so much concern for citizens somehow managing to survive, thanks to a shadow economy. "

Call it the shadow economy, underground economy, or System D. People provide a service to others without consideration of the government - no paying taxes, no getting building permits, etc.  When people can't find regular work, or the system is corrupt, this is where people go.  So when you hear Spain has 40% unemployment, well, that might not be quite correct.  They might be hard-working, just outside the statistics of the government.

If there is gainful employment, and the taxing system is fair, the shadow economy should be small. When the shadow economy is so large, you know there is a problem.

Monday, October 28, 2013

If you want me to work, pay me

"Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so. Let’s call the first 20 years of my career a gift. Now I am 46, and would like a bed.
Practicalities aside, money is also how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting. And of course when you live in a culture that treats your work as frivolous you can’t help but internalize some of that devaluation and think of yourself as something less than a bona fide grown-up."

I'm still pondering this rush to do work for free. Many people do it just because we like helping others, or we enjoy a challenge, or maybe we just like a challenge.  But meanwhile, this spirit of helping screws up our system of how people make a living. Recently I heard on the radio a guy who makes a living partially by doing cleanup after a storm.  He was bemoaning the religious organization there with better equipment than him, that was doing the cleanup as a religious service, gratis.  It made it harder for him to make a living when people rushed in to do the same work for free.

I don't really see a problem with this if there is some baseline income for everyone.  Swizterland is thinking of trying this so maybe we'll find out of this could work.

But this article did make me notice that it is SOME occupations, not all, where people think you just might give away your work hours.  Writers and graphic artists seem some of the hardest hit.  But for all of us it's a tricky situation to have more and more occupations hurt by people who are just trying to do good.

Friday, October 25, 2013

germs just want to be free from anti-biotics

"…For a long time we’ve seen Gram negatives develop resistance to antibiotics, but we had other tricks up our sleeves. We had other antibiotics that we could use.
Increasingly, though, what we’ve seen is that they’re developing resistance even to the agents that we’ve been sort of holding back and only using in the most serious infections. They were our last, best line of defense, and we now see some of these Gram-negative organisms that are resistant to even that last line of defense.
What that means is that we’ve had to actually reach back into the archives, if you will. We’ve had to dust off the shelves [and revisit] some older antibiotics that we haven’t used in many, many years. We stopped using them because they were very toxic, and as new antibiotics came about that weren’t so toxic, we of course stopped using these older antibiotics."

well great.  When there's no defense against some diseases, that throws us way back to the Dark Ages where "doctors" ran around looking like this...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Extremist politicians can destroy the world; here's a list of them in the US

"Any responsible leader who put the country's interests ahead of his or her own political career would obviously have voted to support this bill. After a needless 16-day shutdown and high-volume threats, the best deal possible had been cut, and it would have been the height of irresponsibility and selfishness to actually send the U.S. into default.
And 285 members of the House did, in fact, vote to pass the bill — which is why it passed. These "yea" voters included all of the Democrats in the House and some of the Republicans. Today, America should send a big "thank you" to all of these folks. They put the country's interests first, just the way any responsible leader should.
But 144 members of the house did not vote to pass this bill."

You really want to prepare for change when extremists take over.  But you also need to stand up and fight against such extremism, or they could plunge the entire world into economic chaos.  My own congress woman Kristi Noem is on this list.  Be sure that I will try hard to make sure she is voted out of office.

Amendment 14, section 4 of the Constitution states: "The validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."  What these extremists did was place their own agenda in front of the Constitution that they swore to uphold.  Why are they in Congress?  Why did they run for their seats?  It makes no sense to me, and maybe not even to them.  But it cannot stand that they violated their oath.  It cannot stand that they chose personal opinion or goal over the simple foundation of our country.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teaching students by guiding, not drilling

"Juárez Correa didn’t know it yet, but he had happened on an emerging educational philosophy, one that applies the logic of the digital age to the classroom. That logic is inexorable: Access to a world of infinite information has changed how we communicate, process information, and think. Decentralized systems have proven to be more productive and agile than rigid, top-down ones. Innovation, creativity, and independent thinking are increasingly crucial to the global economy.
And yet the dominant model of public education is still fundamentally rooted in the industrial revolution that spawned it, when workplaces valued punctuality, regularity, attention, and silence above all else. (In 1899, William T. Harris, the US commissioner of education, celebrated the fact that US schools had developed the 'appearance of a machine,' one that teaches the student “to behave in an orderly manner, to stay in his own place, and not get in the way of others.”) We don’t openly profess those values nowadays, but our educational system—which routinely tests kids on their ability to recall information and demonstrate mastery of a narrow set of skills—doubles down on the view that students are material to be processed, programmed, and quality-tested. School administrators prepare curriculum standards and 'pacing guides' that tell teachers what to teach each day. Legions of managers supervise everything that happens in the classroom; in 2010 only 50 percent of public school staff members in the US were teachers."

"That’s why a new breed of educators, inspired by everything from the Internet to evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and AI, are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process.
At home in Matamoros, Juárez Correa found himself utterly absorbed by these ideas. And the more he learned, the more excited he became. On August 21, 2011—the start of the school year — he walked into his classroom and pulled the battered wooden desks into small groups. When Paloma and the other students filed in, they looked confused. Juárez Correa invited them to take a seat and then sat down with them."

This is definitely an intriguing method of teaching.  I hope research proves it beyond doubt, and we're smart enough to implement it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

how does a guaranteed base income sound? Switzerland might try it.

"Here's a deal: Each month the Swiss government will send every adult a check for about 2,500 swiss francs (roughly $2,750) — no matter their need or income."

"In recent studies in Africa and India, Widerquist said giving people unconditional monetary gifts often increases labor.
'A basic income, in a way, frees you to improve your skills and your efforts and do something that actually makes a bigger contribution to economy,' he says. "

My concern of late has been that so many things being done for free now used to be only done by people as their "job."  Why should people who do good things just because they want to not be paid, while people who have a title indicating that's what they do get paid to do it?  Same result, different incentive. 

If there was a liveable base income for every person and/or family, there would be no need for any unemployment or sustenance programs.  Imagine what that would save right there.

So I don't think it's a dumb idea.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Choosing to live poor, and being creative

"Price is part of a long tradition of eschewing the American dream of a house with a white-picket fence, from 1920s hobos to 1960s hippies. Nowadays, groups going back-to-basics are just as diverse, such as live-off-the-land types like Price, punky street kids, and twentysomethings living in modest group homes known as intentional communities. But they all have something in common: They’ve chosen poverty.
Some, like Price, have lived this way for decades. For others, it’s a decision spurred by the recession and its exposure of economic precarity. Either way, it’s often a political choice, one that questions a consumerist, deeply stratified society."

I don't know. I like hot showers.  It's nice having a steady, predictable income too.  But hey, it's good to know there are alternatives to the rat race, eh?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Infrastructure; the skeleton of our nation

"This dangerous scenario is not merely some abstract concern. Investment shortfalls mean that much-needed maintenance and modernization are not being done and our infrastructure systems are deteriorating. For the most part, this isn’t something dramatic you will notice overnight, but a gradual worsening of conditions over time. Your commute will become less reliable. Your shipments will take longer. You may experience more electrical outages and water issues. Occasionally, we will observe tragic events like the collapse of bridges seen recently in Minnesota and Washington. The deterioration of infrastructure has direct and indirect costs, sometimes measured in human lives. Naturally, a systemic failure presents an incredible direct cost.
Each infrastructure sector is linked to another. A failure of one adds pressure to another. For example, deteriorating conditions on our nation’s roads may shift goods to travel by rail or barge on the inland waterway system.  As we look onward over the next generation, the gap between allocated investment in surface infrastructure and the necessary funding widens. By 2020 the overall cost of deficient infrastructure will grow to $1.2 trillion for businesses and $611 billion for households under current investment trends."

Those who scream "we can't spend tax dollars!" don't seem to mind if we go back to the ages of serfs and lords, where everybody else just works to keep the wealthy  lifestyle of the elite, while the rest of us live in intolerable conditions.  The country has a need for infrastructure just like a family does.  Or a city.  Or yourself, for that matter.  If there is no basic structure underlying any of these, then all your time is spent working on what the infrastructure should be providing. Transportation, communication, water, etc. are simply essential. Not paying for them or their maintenance sets us all back.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How to teach kids, from those doing it best

The recent book The Smartest Kids in the World, by Amanda Ripley is an attempt to glean information from countries that have improved their education system and even surpassed the U.S. (which nowadays isn't as big of a deal).  Ripley doesn't just talk to school administrators and teachers.  She doesn't just talk to theorists and test makers. She talks to students!  And foreign exchange students at that.

In Finland the "government abolished school inspections.  It didn't need them anymore.  Now that teachers had been carefully chosen and trained, they were trusted to help develop a national core curriculum, to run their own classrooms, and to choose their own textbooks.  They were trained the way teachers should be trained and treated the way teachers should be treated." (p. 90)

"One thing was clear: To give our kids the kind of education they deserved, we had to first agree that rigor mattered most of all; that school existed to help kids learn to think, to work hard, and yes, to fail.  That was the core consensus that made everything else possible." (p. 193)

Ripley follows three American exchange students who go to Finland, Poland, and South Korea.  We learn a lot from their perspective.

This is an excellent book that should start the ball rolling for getting US schools back on track.