Facts or Feelings?

Left or right? Democratic or Republican? Progressive or Conservative? These are the choices we supposedly make as we consider our political philosophy – our outlook on the nation and how we vote. It’s one end or the other, with a fair amount of room in the middle for those who see room for both.

But that doesn’t seem to be what divides us politically anymore. The sharpest division seems to run between something like optimism and pessimism, either staying the course with a few tweaks or smashing the system to give room for something totally new to come along. Yet even that doesn’t seem to describe it.

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Resetting the Middle East

Let’s imagine a foreign policy based on promoting freedom, stability, and peace. Let’s assume that our drive to energy independence makes this not only possible, but desirable. Let’s assume that we no longer use our military to “protect vital resources” or some other euphemism for imperialism as we come to respect and develop a truly free market globally.

With these assumptions our view of the Middle East, in particular, changes dramatically. Like many situations in this rapidly integrating and evolving world, it demands attention to fundamentals – both our principles and an examination of the real powers which shape the world.

In the Middle East there are really only three permanent powers which have survived the test of millenia – Egypt, Turkey, and Persia (Iran). No matter who or what has swept through the region, these three have always been there. They are the best place to start when considering how we promote what matters most to free people around the world.

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Player Piano

Another bizzy summer day demands a repeat.  This one from 2014 is always timely, and hits on a theme discussed at greater length in Part 2 of People’s EconomicsWork in the Next Economy

Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 novel “Player Piano” was more than his first. It was arguably the first “dystopian utopia” novel of a world carefully described and proscribed for everyone involved. Those with technical degrees were the masters of the carefully planned world, and the rest either joined the army or worked for the “Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps” building infrastructure. Government took care of everyone, but not all were happy. Rebellion steeped under the calm surface in both the working class and the unchallenged rulers.

It’s hard to not think of such a world when reading “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” from the Pew Research Center and Elon University. A survey of 1,896 experts in technical areas were asked what they thought the future world of employment might look like – how much automation might displace workers and how many jobs it might create. The results read something like Vonnegut imagined – enough so that a little anxiety about the next economy is justified.

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The Future of Work

It’s generally assumed that the biggest issue this election is job creation. That is interesting given how the economy has already created 14 million jobs in the last six years.  More interestingly, as we’ve pointed out, we’re getting close enough to full employment that it’s hard to imagine where enough workers will come from.

Then again, it isn’t hard to imagine a job shortage. As we also have pointed out, the key issue when it comes to jobs isn’t trade deals or unfair labor practices – it’s automation. Robots build our stuff, computers file our paperwork.

If we want to seriously talk about jobs, the first thing we have to realize is that the short-term is probably covered by the coming worker shortage as Boomers retire. That’s the good news. Over the longer haul, however, automation of various kinds will replace more and more workers. That will take careful attention to what’s going on as well as a completely new definition of “work” to get us through the other side.

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Progress and History

There’s no doubt that the United States is in a period of transition. But from what to what else? Through the last 16 years the economy has been tough on everyone – except the very wealthy. The most recent few years have been a time of terrible social upheaval. Pessimism is understandable.

Yet if we look back through history there is a lot of good reason to believe that everything does move in cycles. Business cycles which seem permanent eventually give way to better opportunity. Social upheaval does usually reach a consensus and progress is made.

Hope comes naturally by taking the Barataria view that cycles are real and that the economy is really nothing more than a social arrangement. Sure, it’s the dismal one with all the numbers and the brutal one that defines rich and poor. But at the heart it is only about turning our personal “values” into a socially convertible “value”. How it changes through generations and lifetimes defines us even as we define what this thing called an “economy” really is.

This essay is a continuation of the previous piece, Spring is Coming! as a cycle on my personal political philosophy and read of history.

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Countering BS Arguments

The Republican Convention is over – but, of course, the arguments will continue. If you watched any of the speeches, especially the gloom ridden rant delivered by Donald Trump, you may be wondering about some of the horrifying statistics thrown around. Is America really in such peril, with such incredibly high unemployment and violence in the streets?

The short answer is no, not at all. We’re at a turning point, as we’ve shown many times. The long Depression which started about the year 2000 is coming to an end. We’re literally at the glass half full stage, for us optimists. It’s fairly easy to counter that it’s half empty if you’re a pessimist, and there’s no reason we can’t have great time arguing about those perspectives while draining down a few pint glasses of beer if you’re so inclined.  But there’s also no reason to tolerate those who say the glass, or our great nation, is somehow completely empty.

You may run into some of these arguments in social media, a family gathering, or from the cranky guy at work who is really into talk radio. They are easy to refute if you have a few facts and figures under your belt. Here are some of the most common and pressing arguments that everything is bad and/or worse under Obama and how they can be refuted.

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Fly the Flag

For Independence Day, I can never do better than this old story I love to retell as often as I can.  Enjoy the holiday!

The misunderstandings and suspicions melted away, as they always do, after a few litres of liquid bread that the Germans call “Bier”. Harald was very honest in his German way, a kind of honesty that was spelled out in long, silent pauses as much as words. “With all of these different people and cultures, what is it that makes you Americans?”

I swallowed my beer to give me time, and the perfect answer came to me:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

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