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Happy Planet Index

by rdf Mon Jul 6th, 2009 at 02:46:25 PM EST

The new version of the happy planet index has just been released:

http://www.happyplanetindex.org/public-data/files/happy-planet-index-2-0.pdf

It is inspired by the work of Herman Daly in that criteria other than GDP are used to create a measure.

Read more... (10 comments, 87 words in story)

Who profits from art?

by rdf Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 09:16:49 AM EST

With the shift from "stuff" to "intellectual property" we are seeing a new type of law emerge. It started with changes to the traditional copyright concept, first by extending it to things other than the written word and then by lengthening its duration beyond what anyone had originally contemplated.

In addition the control of copyrighted material has been extended, notwithstanding the existence of the concept of fair use. Snippets of music that appear in other's music must now be cleared for use and paid for. Even images of things in public spaces, like skyscrapers, are demanding payment if the image features in a movie.

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Adventures with Slow Work

by rdf Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 04:42:04 PM EST

I thought I'd relate some of my personal experiences with semi-custom makers as examples of what has been practical in the past. I invite others to add their own stories.

In no particular order listed below.

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The slow work movement

by rdf Sun May 31st, 2009 at 06:35:23 PM EST

In an earlier article I argued for a lifestyle which is less based upon material possessions and more focused on getting joy out of life.

Too Many People, Too Little Work

Suggesting that people work less is fine, but people still need to do some work in order to live. The question is what sort?

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Corporations Must Maximize Profit

by rdf Wed May 13th, 2009 at 07:07:47 PM EST

There is much discussion going on these days over the idea that corporations must maximize profit in order to satisfy their stockholders. Many take the position that this isn't even a choice, but that firms are required to do so by the terms of their incorporation. To do less would be to fail to properly represent the interests of the investors.

Along with this idea there has arisen a discussion of what flexibility firms have when spending money. For example, is it proper for a firm to invest in "green" technology, which may be more expensive, but which benefits society at large? Similarly can firms donate money to charitable causes or provide services (pro bono) for free?

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In Favor of Discrimination

by rdf Wed Apr 22nd, 2009 at 03:08:59 PM EST

Our libertarian friends have a steady stream of standard arguments as to why bosses should be able to hire and fire anyone they please. They then go on to say that they, personally, wouldn't do something like this and don't support this type of discrimination at their work place.

This mixed attitude shows the logical fallacy in their position. They follow some higher, internal sense of fairness (or expressed as economic efficiency), but would permit others to violate these principles. To quote the old aphorism, "what's good for the goose is good for the gander". It turns out that the vast majority of libertarians belong to the group that has never suffered from the most overt types of discrimination: white men. They are the ones who, when asked, generally say that discrimination is mostly a thing of the past in the US. Unsurprisingly those in the traditionally disfavored groups see things otherwise. For example, a 2008 CNN poll found that 11% of whites thought that discrimination was a serious problem while 43% of blacks thought it was. While it may be pleasant to think that Utopian ideas of fairness are sufficient to yield equality of opportunity, the reality, as experienced by those in the disfavored groups, is quite different. This leads to the question of what to do about this.

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Too Many People, Too Little Work

by rdf Tue Apr 21st, 2009 at 03:17:12 AM EST

The shakeup in the world financial system has brought forth a lot of hand-wringing over the future of capitalism. Most commentators devote themselves to how best to get capitalism back onto whatever their preferred path is. Thus, we see a range of ideas from improved regulation, corporate governance, compensation restrictions or, at least, review, and changes to tax policy.

What we don't see, at least among the most quoted commentators, is any examination of the basic economic foundations of modern society. I'll summarize.

promoted by afew

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Ethical Economics

by rdf Sat Feb 28th, 2009 at 10:28:35 AM EST

There is much talk about how best to get the world out of the current economic downturn. One of the bits of arcana has to do with whether tax cuts or spending will provide the most bang for the buck. The measure of this is called the "multiplier". Discussions about multipliers are what happens when economic policy is viewed as a mathematical exercise rather than as the physical manifestation of ethical principles.

All economic and policy recommendations are based upon (unacknowledged) ethical foundations. I discuss these below.

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Measuring the Economy with a Broken Ruler

by rdf Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 07:21:25 AM EST

The problem with many popular economic measures is that they are like the drunk looking for his key near the light-post. The measures are used because they are near the source of light (government data), not because they will help reveal what is happening.

The two biggest offenders are GDP and CPI (gross national product and consumer price index). I explain their defects below.

Promoted by Colman

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The Horatio Alger Myth and Class Mobility

by rdf Sat Feb 14th, 2009 at 11:46:16 AM EST

Frequent critics of government social programs raise one of the fundamental tenets of libertarian belief and I think it deserves an extended disucssion.

This is the idea of personal responsibility, especially for how far one goes in life. This is the Horatio Alger myth which was very popular during the high growth period of US history. Basically it is: poor boy works hard, succeeds in life. When this literary theme was popular it happened regularly. The US was a rapidly expanding economy, with an open frontier and many undeveloped natural resources.

Things have changed in the past few decades and this type of social mobility is much less common than before.

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What is the goal of the bailout?

by rdf Thu Feb 5th, 2009 at 02:18:48 PM EST

I claim it is to save capitalism and the investor class that funds both political parties. One of the frequent comments these days is that FDR saved capitalism by creating various government structures to keep it from self destruction.  

So what are the two sides fighting about?

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Obama being held captive?

by rdf Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 11:02:05 AM EST

In most countries there are four (or five) centers of power:

  1. The executive
  2. The legislature
  3. The judiciary
  4. The military
  5. The church

In the US the church has always wielded indirect power, although in the past four decades there has been an unusually close alliance between certain religious sectors and the Republican part. This is atypical for the US.

What I want to focus on is branch that we are taught in civics class doesn't exist: the military. The idea is that the US doesn't have such a fourth branch of government because the military is under "civilian" control. This is a convenient fiction, 99% of the military structure remains in place from one administration to the next. It is the largest recipient of discretionary federal funds, now at 54% of the budget. To ignore its influence is to make a big mistake.

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Can an honest man make a living?

by rdf Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 03:01:32 PM EST

I got three pieces of mail yesterday each of which contained a deceptive offer. At the risk of boring the reader with the details:

  1. An offer by a local law firm calling itself "The Tax Adjustment Agency" to file an appeal on my behalf over the amount of my property assessment. In return for filling out a bit of paper which contains little more than my name, address and lot number (which I can do myself for free) they will take 50% of any reduction in taxes I might get in the first year.

  2. An offer by the local phone company for a combined rate for phone and internet use, but only for six months and with no indication of what the rate becomes afterwards.

  3. A note from my credit card company stating that as they have been taken over by a new bank in the future any standard payment arrangements I may half to pay off an outstanding balance will be replaced by one in which they just deduct the minimum. Furthermore the order of which loans will be paid will be to their benefit, namely lowest interest loans first.

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Capitalism is Dead - Did you Notice?

by rdf Thu Jan 22nd, 2009 at 01:57:29 PM EST

The meltdown in the financial sector has brought forth lots of pontificating about the need to restructure the economy or, at least, the financial sector. But before this is done, one has to figure out what the present system is.

Here are some indicators:

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Where has all the money gone?

by rdf Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 01:01:12 PM EST

With all the talk of "toxic" assets no one ever asks where the money has gone. I'm going to lay out an oversimplified scenario and hope this will explain why the bailout plan won't help the general public.

Even thought I think housing was a small part of the problem, I'll use this since it is easy to visualize. A similar story can be told about commodities, and counterparty insurance schemes. The difference being that nothing tangible is behind these transactions.

Joe Homebuyer buys a house that costs $200,000 and puts in $10,000. The bank lends him the rest which he uses to payoff the prior owner in full. The bank had to get the money to lend so it either uses deposits, or, more frequently lately, issued bonds to the public. The "public" in this case was most frequently mutual funds, pension funds and other allegedly prudent investors.

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The end of an era - The Ponzi Age

by rdf Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 08:24:00 AM EST

For awhile people have been trying to name the Reagan-Bushes era by analogy to the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, etc. Well recent events which have brought it to an abrupt end have revealed what it actually was: the Ponzi Age.

The real Ponzi Scheme now in the news is just a small example of the underlying story, which is based upon government encouraged private actions.

Here's a quick outline.

from the diaries. Jérôme

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On BS

by rdf Mon Jan 12th, 2009 at 02:12:20 PM EST

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt had a minor best seller a couple of years ago with his book "On Bullshit".

Here's a bit from the publisher's blurb:

Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

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Justice vs Practicality - The Bush Years

by rdf Sun Jan 11th, 2009 at 03:44:03 PM EST

There is much talk lately about what should be done about all the illegal acts committed during the Bush administration. The Democrats are already talking about "moving forward" and not focusing on the past. This is a claim to practicality, but is just an excuse.

There have been clear indications for much of the past 50 years that GOP administrations are more willing to violate the laws. These fall into two broad categories. The easier one to deal with has to do with standard corruption. Selling government influence, taking bribes in the form of campaign contributions or promises of future employment, or favors while in office.

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Nuclear Swords into Plowshares

by rdf Fri Jan 9th, 2009 at 01:27:18 PM EST

As has become abundantly clear over the past few years there are no "good" solutions to the energy crisis. Clean coal has been revealed to be anything but. Tar sands rip up the landscape, create huge pools of contaminated water and tailings and have a low net energy yield. Corn and other plant-derived ethanol consumes resources needed for crops and doesn't yield much net energy. Oil and gas remain the most economic choices, but suffer from variable availability, price uncertainty and declining reserves.

In addition, all of these fossil fuels contribute to the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Efforts to sequester the waste gases are not available and many proposals lack scientific rigor.

Wind, wave and solar will become increasingly important, but it is unlikely that they will provide enough of a solution to meet demand. At this point I usually argue for cutting down on demand by re-framing the consuming societies so that they are not so wasteful.

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My stimulation idea - paid volunteerism.

by rdf Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 09:59:04 AM EST

The never-ending debates over how to best get the economy going again swing between tax policies, interest rate adjustments and public spending. All of these require a huge bureaucratic system to be put into motion. My plan is much simpler and can be put in effect immediately.

Read more... (13 comments, 293 words in story)
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