Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Economics 101 (Money and Banking)

I majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, yet never learned the basics of banking and the monetary system used by the United States and all other countries.  This seems like a problem that can and should be corrected.  Wouldn't we be better served by economists who understood the monetary system, including topics such as government debt and banking that are part of everyday discourse?

I was just reviewing my own understanding of these subjects (which I acquired outside of college) and ran across this very good primer (at an MMT website):  Money & Banking.  Read this (also in textbook form here) and you'll know more about the subject than Paul Krugman.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Higher Consciousness

Humans are programmed to survive, yet our survival looks doubtful because the very aggressive traits that have made us successful seem likely to cause us to destroy each other.  Perhaps there are two schools of human survival:

  • The moral school-- We need to move to a higher level of consciousness, where concern for the species overrides concern for individuals.  This has perhaps happened evolutionarily as humans consist of trillions of individual cells (and bacteria), yet we consciously value the human more than the component cells.
  • The survival of the fittest school-- Individuals need to kill off the competition from other individuals.  This doesn't seem practical to me as humans are social animals and no one can do much by him or herself.  The best that can be done in this regard is to be part of a group that is victorious over competing groups.  However, winning groups tend to be composed of individuals committed to the group, and so we are back to the need for a higher level of consciousness.
What is "God", if not a higher level of consciousness?  Religion may be irrational, but on the other hand there is an evolutionary imperative to get beyond individual consciousness. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

The NY Times likes Republicans and racist conservatives. Their "liberalism" is simply a marketing tool.

From Atrios:
I have no idea why the New York Times keeps elevating racist dumdums to the status of philosopher genius or why the fact that someone deemed worthy of such a portrait "reads books" is notable. He's super smart, and he reads books!
The Times has been doing this for years. At some point Occam's Razor applies in explaining why the Times covers things they way they do. They like Republicans. They like racist conservatives. Their "liberalism" is simply a marketing tool (not that I have ever really thought the Times was liberal over and above rich New Yorker liberalism which isn't really liberal, but their readers think it is).
 The link above is to this article, which is about as chilling an indictment as I have ever read, in which Nathan Robinson reviews Ben Shapiro's work, and wonders why the NY Times acts as if he's a serious intellectual.

Atrios has pointed out several other examples of this in just the last week.  Here's discussion of another example from
How to Interview a Nazi -- White supremacists should be challenged—not indulged:
balance is important. Nazis should not be ignored. They are dangerous. We need to understand where they’re coming from, what motivates them, and what their strategies are. Ignoring bigotry doesn’t make it go away. The basic principles of journalism still apply: They should not be misrepresented, lampooned, or caricatured. But neither should they be indulged. We should not inflate their importance, ignore their brutality, or enable their self-aggrandizement. They are not regular politicians. Violence is central to their method; exclusion is central to their meaning.  Instead, they should be confronted, challenged, and exposed. How we engage them—and why—is an issue of political morality. This is an imperative that sits uneasily with flaccid notions of journalistic objectivity...  You can’t weigh genocide against relatively stable democracy as though any reasonable person might disagree on the outcome... The Times article failed on most of these counts. Indeed, thanks to its obsession with the trivial details of the Hovaters’ daily lives, its effect was not to expose the obscenity of their views, but rather to underscore the normality of their existence. It offered this as a revelation, as though Hannah Arendt had never covered Adolf Eichmann’s trial...  This is essentially the same mistake that the British press makes every time it profiles a jihadi terrorist. The reporters marvel that the killer in question once supported Manchester United, ate fish-and-chips, drank in pubs, and had girlfriends.
I guess this latter case is really more incompetence on the part of the Times, as opposed to their really liking their Nazi subject.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Identity Politics and Ta-Nehisi Coates

Apparently, Ta-Nehisi book has a new book coming out, and he doubles down on identity politics.  Here's an advance rebuttal:  Racism May Have Gotten Us Into This Mess, But Identity Politics Can’t Get Us Out:
Coates takes it a step farther, casting those who focus on the role economic anxiety played in 2016 as disingenuous “apologists” who only emphasize class in order to avoid their own complicity... Coates is right to highlight how race affects the level of public sympathy for those who suffer...
Race is an important factor in this narrative, but centering it exclusively risks shifting focus away from those voter concerns that politicians can actually control. Personal prejudice, unfortunately, is not one of them.
Economic justice isn’t a panacea. Criminal-justice reform, immigration, and voting rights, for example, are all crucial progressive issues rooted in identity which would become less visible if we didn’t “see race.” But without a strong class-based argument, Democrats will be left to rely on the twin engines of demographic change and racial solidarity to win in the future. Unfortunately, neither is reliable.
Although identity can, at times, serve as shorthand for political views, it provides no more certainty than a stereotype. Racial groups are not monolithic — nor are their voting patterns written in stone. It is the height of hubris, for example, to assume that non-Hispanic immigrants and non-immigrant black Americans would be equally invested in immigration activism as are certain recently arrived Latinx communities...
My ultimate quibble with Coates’s piece is with its pessimism — the presumption that the union between rich and poor whites, forged in the heat of antebellum anti-black antipathy, is America’s destiny as well as its past.
And my follow up comments:

Basically, there have been two Democratic perspectives on why Trump won in 2016:
  1. Americans are racist.
  2. Americans wanted a change in the economic status quo.
Obviously, there is some truth in each of these perspectives.  Ta-Nehisi Coates, a higly respected African-American intellectual, seems to place more weight on racism as the determining factor.  Briahna Joy Gray, the author of the article I forwarded, places more weight economics as the determining factor.  As she says:

Barack Obama’s two campaigns are a powerful model for what a presidential pitch centering economics, rather than race, sounds like. As Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Bob Dole observed, Obama’s 2012 stump speech was “very much an FDR Democratic class-warfare speech … He’s very much running on economic populist themes in tough economic times.” Highlighting class, Obama was able to win decisive numbers of white voters in crucial midwestern states. Despite his own identity, he won. Twice. Democrats should not let Trump’s racism drive them away from that effective strategy.

On Self-Driving Cars

The following observations are based upon the following article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/09/magazine/tech-design-autonomous-future-cars-detroit-ford.html.  

Here's a passage that very well expresses my concerns:

A self-driving car has to correctly identify and label millions of objects, understand city layouts and traffic laws and operate in a variety of road conditions. It has to be taught to handle everyday driving hazards (high-speed merges) and rarer incidents (objects in the road), as well as issues that would never affect a human driver (a chunk of debris that flies up and knocks out a sensor).
In order to work properly, a self-driving car also has to understand how humans behave. It needs to know the difference between a car that is idling in the right-hand lane (in which case the autonomous vehicle should steer around it) and one that is about to parallel park (in which case the vehicle should stay in its lane, giving the other car some room). It needs to predict that the jogger running toward the corner will stop for traffic, but that the kid running to chase a basketball might not. It needs to be able to navigate a four-way stop, which in polite parts of the country involves lots of eye contact and you-first hand gestures. “This goes beyond just seeing and understanding the world,” Salesky said. “It means understanding what each of the actors in the world is going to do.”
In other words, driving isn’t just a mechanical task — it’s a social act, and in order to coexist with human drivers, self-driving cars will need to develop a level of social awareness

I'm dubious that they'll be successful with a flat out migration from the current system to a system dominated by autonomous vehicles.  Rather, Ford has it right as described in the article:

Ford, in particular, believes that the first generation of driverless cars will be limited, capable of traveling only in commercial fleets inside carefully plotted urban areas. Other cars will simply get smarter without being autonomous, with features like collision prevention and self-parking becoming more common. Self-driving technology will eventually be more sophisticated and will one day be capable of full door-to-door autonomy in every possible area and condition, but as Ford sees it, that’s not going to happen overnight, or even very soon.

As cars gradually get smarter, the nation's transportation infrastructure will adapt and eventually enable a constrained autonomous driving experience.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ego and Evolutionary Psychology

Here's something I wrote (noticed and excerpted) in April 2017.  It seems to fit quite well with the evolutionary psychology books I read in September 2017...

Now for your intellectual stimulation, I bring you this excerpt from an article in the Archdruid Report:

Ethologists had discovered well before Jung’s time that instincts in the more complex animals seem to work by way of hardwired images in the nervous system. When goslings hatch, for example, they immediately look for the nearest large moving object, which becomes Mom. Ethologist Konrad Lorenz became famous for deliberately triggering that reaction, and being instantly adopted by a small flock of goslings, who followed him dutifully around until they were grown. (He returned the favor by feeding them and teaching them to swim.) What Jung proposed, on the basis of many years of research, is that human beings also have such hardwired images, and a great deal of human behavior can be understood best by watching those images get triggered by outside stimuli.

Consider what happens when a human being falls in love. Those who have had that experience know that there’s nothing rational about it. Something above or below or outside the thinking mind gets triggered and fastens onto another person, who suddenly sprouts an alluring halo visible only to the person in love; the thinking mind gets swept away, shoved aside, or dragged along sputtering and complaining the whole way; the whole world gets repainted in rosy tints—and then, as often as not, the nonrational factor shuts off, and the former lover is left wondering what on Earth he or she was thinking—which is of course exactly the wrong question, since thinking had nothing to do with it.

This, Jung proposed, is the exact equivalent of the goslings following Konrad Lorenz down to the lake to learn how to swim. Most human beings have a similar set of reactions hardwired into their nervous systems, put there over countless generations of evolutionary time, which has evolved for the purpose of establishing the sexual pair bonds that play so important a role in human life. Exactly what triggers those reactions varies significantly from person to person, for reasons that (like most aspects of human psychology) are partly genetic, partly epigenetic, partly a matter of environment and early experience, and partly unknown. Jung called the hardwired image at the center of that reaction an archetype, and showed that it surfaces in predictable ways in dreams, fantasies, and other contexts where the deeper, nonrational levels come within reach of consciousness.

The pair bonding instinct isn’t the only one that has its distinctive archetype. There are several others. For example, there’s a mother-image and a father-image, which are usually (but not always) triggered by the people who raise an infant, and may be triggered again at various points in later life by other people. Another very powerful archetype is the image of the enemy, which Jung called the Shadow. The Shadow is everything you hate, which means in effect that it’s everything you hate about yourself—but inevitably, until a great deal of self-knowledge has been earned the hard way, that’s not apparent at all. Just as the Anima or Animus, the archetypal image of the lover, is inevitably projected onto other human beings, so is the Shadow, very often with disastrous results.

In evolutionary terms, the Shadow fills a necessary role. Confronted with a hostile enemy, human or animal, the human or not-quite-human individual who can access the ferocious irrational energies of rage and hatred is rather more likely to come through alive and victorious than the one who can only draw on the very limited strengths of the conscious thinking self. Outside such contexts, though, the Shadow is a massive and recurring problem in human affairs, because it constantly encourages us to attribute all of our own most humiliating and unwanted characteristics to the people we like least, and to blame them for the things we project onto them.

Bigotries of every kind, including the venomous class bigotries I discussed in an earlier post, show the presence of the Shadow.  We project hateful qualities onto every member of a group of people because that makes it easier for us to ignore those same qualities in ourselves. Notice that the Shadow doesn’t define its own content; it’s a dumpster that can be filled with anything that cultural pressures or personal experiences lead us to despise.

Another archetype, though, deserves our attention here, and it’s the one that the Shadow helpfully clears of unwanted content. That’s the ego, the archetype that each of us normally projects upon ourselves. In place of the loose tangle of drives and reactions each of us actually are, a complex interplay of blind pressures striving with one another and with a universe of pressures from without, the archetype of the ego portrays us to ourselves as single, unified, active, enduring, conscious beings. 

The full article is here: 

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Evangelical Unitarian Universalism

Evangelical Unitarian Universalism

  1. There is a big overlap between religion and culture.  
  2. It's not cool to force your culture on others.
  3. Therefore, liberal religions such as Unitarian Universalism and Baha'ism have not spread to other cultures to the same degree as aggressively evangelical religions.
One religion that is not aggressively evangelical, and which has prospered, is Judaism.  In this era, at a time when other religions have long histories of forced conversions, Judaism has stopped all activity for active outreach to non-Jews who are not connected in some way with the Jewish community.  Judaism wants the world to be good and does not need the world to be Jewish.

Why do so many UU's desparately wish for people from other cultures to become UU?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Updated Take on the 2016 Election

By a narrow margin, Americans elected Donald Trump as president in 2016.  He represented a rejection of the economic status quo, and an endorsement of the old cultural status quo.  In other words, he was and is a populist Republican.

It is widely recognized that the most popular national American politician today (mid-2017) is Bernie Sanders, a populist Democrat.

To many it seems that the social fabric is disintegrating.  One of the main remaining planks of bi-partisan consensus is the need for fiscal responsibility -- i.e. balancing the budget over the long run.  Yet, as I have argued extensively elsewhere, this is an idea that needs to go.  Which populist faction will move forward by severing this thread of our remaining bipartisan consensus?

There has been extensive talk by the Republicans of moving forward with this, and it could catch the Democrats off guard.  Suppose Republicans pivoted on middle class tax cuts (e.g. payroll tax), Medicare-For-All, or some other such populist measure that would greatly improve life for the middle class.  Would Democrats oppose this on the grounds that the Republicans were violating an (yet another) unwritten rule of the bi-partisan consensus?

In addition to arguing against the desirability of fiscal prudence as conventional construed, I have repeatedly argued, and continue to believe, that a financial crash is in our near future.  If and when this happens, the populist pressure will soar.  Democrats should get in front of this and embrace economic populism sooner rather than later.  The cultural wars that Hillary's faction led will be reduced in significance.

The recent Democratic defeat in the suburbs of Atlanta is also relevant.  In this election, the Dems poured big money into the cultural (anti-Trump who is characterized as racist, misogynist, etc) as opposed to economic issues, but weren't successful.  This was a relatively prosperous suburb, and even the Dems were unsuccessful in winning by appealing to cultural and economic prudence.

I could be wrong.  The economy may continue to muddle along; people may tire of Sanders' economic populism; cautious centrism may become popular again with a youthful face such as Emmanuel Macron or Kamala Harris.  Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  The same day as I wrote this, Kate Aronoff published a similar take:  Don’t Fly Like a GA-06.  Excerpt:

One of Ossoff’s more well-circulated ads (entitled “Table”) found him sitting alone at a kitchen table, aping a line from Margaret Thatcher to bemoan how “both parties in Congress waste a lot of your money.” In the folksy imagery and call to reduce the deficit, he invoked a trope that’s been circulated for years by pollster Frank Luntz and other right-wing goons to justify painful spending cuts: if hard-working American families have to make tough choices about their finances, then why doesn’t Washington?
The line — as several economists have pointed out — is nonsense. Households do not have the power to set interest rates and print money; the US government does. But from a political perspective, the logic is even more troublingly misguided. That “fiscal responsibility” is a popular, common-sense stance widespread among voters is a prevailing myth of neoliberal economics, and one now embraced across party lines.
It also has no discernible base of support with actual voters. Beating the GOP will mean taking that message to heart, and giving voters a bold vision to support rather than status quo austerity politics and a madman to revile.