Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The problem of wealth

Protestors all over the country are demanding greater accountability from the small percentage of Americans who control the vast majority of its wealth. It is only the latest installment in the debate which has gone on since the beginning of human social life.

In a group of social animals, leaders emerge based of clear-cut abilities that give them dominance over the lesser members of their band. As humans evolved, their brains not only gave them more tools with which to manipulate their environment and each other but also superstition and flawed logic with which to create belief systems that would perpetuate the dominance of certain humans and their descendants regardless of the actual abilities of specific individuals.

Dreamers who believe in the unstoppable power of hard work and initiative, and the self-correcting nature of a completely free market are confident that the concentration of wealth is not a bad thing at all, and that it simply gives all the hard-working strivers a goal toward which to work. Taxation is not the way to break up this clot of wealth. They haven't said exactly how the free market will provide the leverage. They're simply confident that the government should not be used as part of the solution.

Compare that point of view for a moment to the pot-smoking teenager who does not want his parents to come into his room. Of course he doesn't want adults coming in telling him he can't indulge himself as he wishes. He may even be making money on a little commerce in his chosen field. If you object to the example of an illegal drug and illicit commerce, substitute chronic masturbation and a stack of Playboy magazines. As distasteful  as that habit may be to contemplate, it's still legal as far as I know. And it creates jobs, as our little wanker buys publications to stimulate his imagination and suitable lubricants to ease friction. It shares another characteristic with immense wealth, being that it is done exclusively for the gratification of the one at the expense of whatever else has to be neglected during the pursuit of it.

Like any metaphor, it can be beaten to death. Flogged too hard, as it were.

Most shorthand economic arguments being tossed around today are based on incorrect assumptions, like the notion that rich people are the only job creators. Anyone who buys goods or services is creating demand. Demand creates jobs. Existing jobs need demand to keep them viable. I create jobs.You create jobs. We all create jobs. Hurricanes and earthquakes create jobs.

The margin of error in the debate grows even larger because we're looking only at dollar amounts. A million dollars today is less money than it was ten, twenty and thirty years ago. Who knows what it will be worth in ten more years. Money is just a number. A $100 bill and a $1 bill produce exactly the same amount of heat and light when you burn them. The difference to us is entirely the result of what we make them represent.

Numbers don't lie but people certainly use them as part of many falsehoods and misdirections. Because actual currency and verifiable value are only a small part of our financial world, clever fabricators have developed --derived, if you will -- numerical rat-mazes based on theoretical principles that sweep a few digits at a time into one person's column instead of someone else's. It's done in a room as sequestered from reality as our fantasizing teenager's bedroom, yet its consequences are vastly greater.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mid Autumn

 Canadian cycling blogger Rantwick holds a foliage photo contest every year. He passes a magnificent maple on his daily route that inspired him to put it up against all challengers. It's all for fun. Shown above is my own challenger. It has usually reached this state of disrepair by the time I manage to ride over there with the camera. This year, high winds and the strange, slow progression of color conspired once again to strip many leaves while some still remain green. The cloudy day didn't help.
This photo of the rapids at Effingham Falls goes under the heading, "Why I Live Here." For all the inconvenience, this area has managed to remain fairly pretty and undeveloped thanks to small environmental initiatives and a major lack of anything resembling a strong year-round economy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Power doesn't necessarily corrupt but it tends to select for corruption.

As an evolutionary characteristic, power enhanced breeding success. Social customs developed from animal behaviors before the emergence of conscious thought. After the development of language, the power of bullshit could be added to physical qualities such as size and combat skill. Along with thought and reason comes misdirected thought and faulty reasoning. Along with the naturally-occurring errors these can generate, they provide leverage for manipulating people through mistaken perceptions.

Fair-mindedness would cause an ethical leader to step down over certain issues in which a corrupt leader would look for some way to excuse remaining in power. Because various margins for error coincide nicely to provide these justifications, the traditions of leadership tend to accumulate greater tolerance for corruption up to a certain point. Beyond that the dirt becomes obvious. This might not cause a leader to topple if the leader can command enough forces to stay on top of the heap, but it commits that leader to the role of despot rather than merely "flawed" or "controversial."

Uncorrupted leaders still manage to operate even now. Because they tend to limit themselves through their ethics they are still in the minority, where they can be expected to remain. The system as we accept it still favors people who grab for power and cling to it tenaciously. We even praise the qualities of energy and ambition as signs of the ever-valued work ethic almost regardless of the outcome.

Where a would-be leader of old might need to command fighting forces to bolster that ambition, now the seeker of power needs to command money or solicit donations of it. While this can be less destructive in the obvious sense of riding roughshod over the countryside pillaging, it raises corruption to new importance as the supplicant makes deals in return for financial support.