Monday, August 29, 2016

The Growth Trap

Every economy, every self-organizing system  which is not also self-limiting, grows until it exceeds the ability of its environment to support and sustain it.  It then collapses.

When an economy first develops, acquiring resources is difficult and expensive. There is little surplus to be invested, and growth is slow.  This is despite the fact that resources are often accessible and plentiful.  The methods of extracting the resources are primitive and inefficient  However, as infrastructure is invested in and developed, the relative cost of acquiring and developing resources decreases. More of these extracted resources may be put to other uses in the economy   

With growth, the economy is able to exploit resources at an accelerating rate.  The limiting factor is now no longer the costs of extraction, but the limitations in demand, the final uses for the resources, and the necessary distribution system, which also must be developed.

In order to extract, distribute and employ the resources, it is necessary to develop an infrastructure, There is a cost, in resources consumed, to developing this infrastructure, and there is also a cost to maintaining this infrastructure.

When resources are still plentiful and cheap to extract, these costs are relatively low.  The infrastructure grows robustly, both because it is still new, and because it can be cheaply maintained.  Consideration reveals, however, that, with finite resources, or even a finite average density of resources, there are limits to any economy’s ability to grow. 

Indeed, as the plentiful and inexpensive resources are consumed, ever more marginal resources, resources more distant and difficult and costly to extract, become necessary to expand and sustain the economy.  The infrastructure must be expanded to develop these resources, at an increasing cost.  What is more, the increasing cost of extraction increases the maintenance cost of the entire infrastructure. Less and fewer resources are available for expansion of that infrastructure, both for other uses but also the  expansion necessary to extract the ever more marginal resources.

Eventually, as the availability of resources decreases, and their cost of extraction increases, the cost in resources necessary to develop new infrastructure, and more importantly, the cost in resources necessary to maintain the infrastructure already built, exceeds the ability of the economy to extract benefits from those resources.

In the case of the modern economy, there are two relevant systems:  The real economy itself, and  the predatory financial economy which feeds off it. The financial economy diverts resources from the real economy to itself, since by its own actions, it makes finance nominally more profitable than real investment. This causes deflation in the real economy, even as the quantity of various forms of money increases without bounds.  However, this extraction becomes ever more difficult and costly, as the real economy becomes progressively impoverished.

The real increasing costs of maintaining the real economy, (and in particular its infrastructure,) and the increasing real costs of its extraction of real resources from the environment, are hidden by the mechanisms of externalization of costs, (both directly onto the environment and onto labor,) by government subsidies, by defaulted debts, and by the deferred maintenance of the real infrastructure.  These manipulations of the real economy, as well as the financial manipulations which enable them, enrich the financial and consuming sectors, impoverish the actual producers of real goods and service and render the usual indicators of economic health and prosperity at least useless and even more likely misleading.

Revised and expanded Sep 7,2016

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Survival of the Marginal Part I

Consider Darwin’s Finches.  Which changed first?  Their bodies?  Or their behavior?  And why did they change their behavior?

The idea of the survival of the fittest is a mistaken understanding of the dynamics of evolution.  It is not those best adapted to an environment who win the game of life.  It is the weak, the losers in the competition for supremacy within their environment and within their species, who in the end triumph.  The fittest either come eventually to die, clutching the residues of their spoils, or survive on as prisoners, trapped inside the bounds of the field of their victory, hemmed in by the descendants of those they once drove forth into hardship.

For when the strong drive out the weak, what happens to the weak?  In their home environment, the weak may be well adapted, both physically and behaviorally, to exploit its resources, and prosper.  However, the weak must compete against those like them, but stronger, both for those resources, and for the right to reproduce their kind.  But since they are the weak, they are outcompeted for food and reproductive rights by the strong. 

In a crowded environment, the strong  may physically drive them into the margins.  Even if the weak are not directly confronted by those stronger than they are, they may still be faced with starvation.  Certainly, they face an unpleasant choice.  They may choose to endure, and eventually die, perhaps without issue.  However, they may also choose to depart, and move out into the margins of their former environment.     

The margins will not be as favorable to the weak as was the center of the ecology that the strong still claim. The behaviors which served them in that environment will no longer be adequate, and different behaviors are demanded. To survive, the weak will be forced to adapt. (And some will be prepared for this, because their old behaviors will have failed them, and they will be ready to change.) In particular and in general, a greater variety of behaviors will be demanded. Physically, they may be mal-adapted to their new environment, and their new behaviors must first compensate for this. Different food sources must be pursued. Different locations for food and even different varieties of food must be sought, because those sources they once relied upon will no longer be adequate, if they are available at all.  None of the sources which they once depended on will be available in sufficient quantity.

Meanwhile, their enemies may follow them.  They may be forced to deal with new predators, who may see them as a new opportunity for predation.  They may be forced to deal with new hazards. And their survival will depend on their ability to adapt their behavior in response.

In the old environment, the strong of the species are in a sense optimized, or will evolve to become so, both physically, and behaviorally.  And when they do become optimized,  the strongest will be the most fit to that environment, and any individual who deviates, the carrier of any other random mutation, will be inferior in its ability to compete, and thus selected against. As long as their environment remains constant, so will the species, and for these individuals, and their descendants, the process of evolution effectively ceases.  The only remaining outlet for change, a domain of random drift, within which the external pressures of selection are essentially absent, within which genetic alterations, which still randomly occur, in no way change the functional relationship of the species to its environment. 

Those driven into the margins, however, are not optimized to their new environment, either behaviorally, or physically. And because they are suboptimal, and suboptimal possibly to a variety of different optima, both physically and behaviorally, they may have choices.  Their new environment may present them with a selection of possible niches for them to move into, for them to both adapt to and mould to their behavior. (Every time a species successfully colonizes a new environment, it alters that environment, and thus the structure and relationships of the niches occupied by the other species already occupying that environment. and of course the species themselves.)

 First they must alter their behavior so that with their imperfectly adapted bodies they may best cope with their new reality. If they succeed and survive, and have issue, they pass these behaviors on to their descendants.  Physically, the descendants slowly evolve, as the shape of the new environment potentiates net forces upon them.   These provide relative advantage to the random mutations which create the altered structures that improve the ability of the species to cope and prosper, and relative disadvantage to those which do not.  (Note the earliest generations have the greatest opportunity to change behavior, and adopt to different niches.  Indeed, a random physical adaptation which is inappropriate to the behavior adopted by the parent may lead the descendant to alter its behavior, and thus branch into an alternate niche. This suggests that branchings, rather than predominately binary, would tend to be clustered about points of colonization, when the differing  opportunities reachable to the species are greatest in availability and number.)

The forces imposed upon the colonizing species would be of two basic types, push and pull, pressures and opportunities.  Singly, these would respectively tend to be dispersive and attractive.  However combinations of opportunities could be dispersive, and arrays of sources of pressures compressive.  As a result of these environmental forces,

There is also the possibility that colonization happens into an environment where no particular niche offers sufficient opportunity for the new species to survive. No singular alteration of behaviors enables survival, but a combination of  two or more groups of techniques must be adopted if the species is, say, to acquire enough food to survive. The species may eventually come to physically adopt to one or another niche and specialize. It then may come to exploit that niche with sufficient efficiency to survive. Due to environmental forces, this may involve acquiring physical strength, over subsequent generations, and the weak become strong. 

However, it may also be that specialization is not possible, and the individual of the species must continue to exploit several niches in order to survive. Since physical adaptation to one niche will likely compromise its ability to exploit other niches, increase in the ability to exploit its environment might then be primarily a result of an increase in the varieties of behavior.  Behavioral adaptation, especially where an increase in the variety of behaviors is required, puts a premium on intelligence.  Of course, even the simplest act of colonization requires more intelligence than is needed by an optimally adapted species in its home environment.    

In the adaptation to its environment, a species acquires those qualities it needs, but in more than the quantities it needs.  The ability to meet the bare minimum of demands of the environment will not be sufficient.  Survival requires more than efficiency: In the distribution of coping abilities in its environment, the abilities of individuals in all but the lower tail of that distribution must exceed the demands of the environment.  This necessarily includes intelligence. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Rigging the Democratic Party, Continued

Below is my campaign literature for the election to be a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia at the end of July. I brought slightly over 200 copies of it to the Sanders caucus in my Congressional district. (There was another caucus for the 3 Clinton delegates from our district.) I handed almost all of them out to other attendees at the caucus. 

There were some 300 men and women at the caucus. About 30 people, including myself, had earlier, online, applied to be one of the 4 Sanders delegates.  Most of us were pretty na├»ve about parliamentary procedure, a fact that was used in a maneuver which eliminated all but 8 of our names from contention.  None the rest of us realized we would have to be ‘nominated’ at the caucus, and our nomination seconded. So none of us were. 

As for the 8 who were nominated, and seconded, these 8 were comprised of two groups of 4, each of which formed a ‘slate’ for the full quota of the delegates for Senator Sanders. They were allocated to the senator for winning the district.  While the 8 candidates were voted on individually, one slate, (the more willing to compromise with Hillary slate,) won. On average something like 170 votes to 130.

The Democrats do themselves no favors with this procedure, since it is incongruent with the electoral college, which is an all or nothing process at the state level.  The result of their procedure is not optimized to result in the nomination of the most electable candidate.  

It is, however, optimized to insure the establishment candidate is the nominee.  It minimizes (statistical) variation, (Sort of like what would happen if you scored most of the points in a basketball game say, by a score of 73 to 65. But instead of it being called a win for you, it was called a tie.) and, assuming that the “Superdelegates,” some 15% of the total, and who largely are the (Democratic) establishment, actually vote for the establishment candidate, all but guarantees the nomination of the establishment candidate, no matter what the outcome of the primaries. 

It is not enough for the outsider to just win the popular vote by over 18%. (719 is 17.7% of the 4051 pledged delegates, which are more or less determined by the primaries.) He must capture 59% of the pledged delegates, or 2390 delegates, to overcome the establishment’s Superdelegates.  

In order to overcome the 719 Superdelegates, the outsider candidate would have to win virtually every one of the 435 Congressional districts.  And some he would have to win by humongous margins, to gain enough plurality of delegates.  For a district with an even number of delegates, a close victory leads to an evenly split delegation.  To split a district with say 8 delegates, 5 to 3, the winning candidate would have to win with over 56% of the vote. (I think that’s the way it works.) To split a district with 7 delegates 5 to 2, (instead of just 4 delegates to 3) the candidate would have to win over 65% of the vote.  This he would have to do in may districts in order to obtain the necessary delegate plurality.  In the reality, this is assuming the other pledged delegates, the at large and the PLEO  (Party Leader and Elected Officials) delegates, are evenly split.

  The whole process is window dressing.   The procedure, and the Superdelegates, effectively disenfranchise the Democratic voters.  If Senator Sanders does win, it will only be because the Democratic establishment has decided that Hillary Clinton is unelectable.  Which, by the way, she likely is.  Whether the party elite realize this before the National Convention is the interesting question.  In these situations, where the individuals are committed to their positions in more than one dimension, the evidence usually does not suffice to change people’s minds.

But here’s my campaign literature.  All of it:  (2 copies a sheet, which I cut in half.)


(SIDE 1:) Any delegate we elect will bring Bernie his vote.  Go Bernie. But Bernie needs more.  Bernie’s opponents have attacked the cost and practicality of all of his positions, and this has weakened his appeal and his campaign. Just a vote at the convention will not be enough.  Bernie needs more.  Bernie needs someone who can show him how to solidify his positions and broaden his appeal. And help him turn the votes of Superdelegates at the convention.

Bernie’s plan for single payer health care is attacked as too costly. Organizations like the AMA and monopolists like Big Pharma have restricted the supply of healthcare services, and now American healthcare is simply inadequate to provide services for everyone.  This is what is driving up the price, and Bernie needs to address this by attacking these organizations and providing mechanisms for increasing the supplies of doctors, nurses, and the other things American healthcare needs.

To assure justice for all, and in particular the poor and minorities, Bernie,  as President, can bring suit against local jurisdictions for their inadequate funding of their public defender’s offices. There should  be about as much money for the public defenders as for the prosecutor’s offices in each jurisdiction.  Right now the whole justice system is just a scheme to keep our prisons filled, and with a disproportionate number of minorities. If Bernie advocates for adequate funding for public defenders, it WILL be revolutionary.

I haven’t been able to reach Bernie.  If I am a delegate, it will increase my chances of being able to talk to Bernie, and, if I can, and Bernie wants it, I will be able to help him, his campaign, and the people.  No other delegate you could elect would be able to do this.  Elect me to be your delegate.   …Help Bernie!


(SIDE 2:)  Capitalism rewards efficiency and punishes resiliency.  Capitalists seek to maximize their profits, and will do so even if it harms society.  Capitalists seek to maximize the consumption of resources, so they may maximize the profit they can take.  They do not, and in fact cannot, take the long view. Society, however, is interested in lasting as long as possible, and thus seeks to maintain the flow of resources at a sustainable rate.  When capitalists take control of government, society is no longer able to do reduce and maintain the flow of resources to a sustainable rate, and the future is consumed at an ever accelerating rate.   The interests of capitalists are not the same as society’s, and never were.  Bernie opposes the TPP, and has always opposed free trade.  Economists believe so much in free trade that they ridicule Bernie’s position, and right now Bernie does not have the arguments to fight back.  There are two arguments, however, which economists cannot answer.  The first is that under a trade deficit, the losses to producers are greater than the gains to consumers.  The second is that because all taxation is a tax on production, if a government does not tax all sources of production, production will migrate to those sources government does not tax.  This is because any producer the government does not tax will have an advantage over a producer the government does tax.  The government cannot tax foreign producers.  It can only put a tariff on imports. If it does not do this, all domestic producers will eventually go overseas, and the government will then not be able to tax any of them.   

Ask me about college tuition. Ask me about CEO pay.  Ask me about the police.  Ask me about climate change.  Ask me about the tax system.  Ask me about government and society. 

Donald Trump, who is a member of the establishment, has become the anti-establishment candidate. Hillary has become the establishment candidate.  Should the economy go South, as it is likely to do, Hillary will take the blame, and the Democrats will be crushed in the election.  The Republicans, and their wealthy sponsors, who are the actual establishment and ones actually responsible and who should take the blame, will be absolved.  The government will be largely dismantled, as will the rights guaranteed by that government.  These are the rights that protect us from the depredations of the wealthy, rights which the Republicans are already steadily taking apart.  The economic consequences of this will be terrible, even for the wealthy, because the people are the foundation of all wealth, and without the people there is none.  Even if Hillary is elected, the depredations by the establishment of the people will continue, and worsen, also to the point the of eventual economic and political destruction of the United States.  That is why I am for Bernie Sanders.  Only Bernie is truly opposed to the establishment policies, which are looting and destroying our country, and all our futures.  We must do what we can.  …. 


The ellipses are where I put my name.  Only one person asked me about anything, and that was about energy.   Since I was put off by what happened, (although encouraged by the fact that so many were participating, even if the exercise was, ah, irrelevant to the real nomination process.  That was a fact they did not know.) I gave the  larger picture some thought, and, I think, gained insight.  Altogether, a worthwhile adventure. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Taxation, the States, and Trade

The State of Connecticut, and other states, are having increasing difficulty meeting the conflicting demands  of a declining tax base and increasing need for its services.  Next year the state must cut over $1 Billion of valuable and even critical services in order to balance its budget.

A recent article in Forbes ascribes the cause of the deteriorating tax base to the imposition of a personal income tax 25 years ago. (25 Years, $13 Billion Lost: Connecticut Income Tax Continues To Fail) *

But let’s look at something else which could be a cause:  According to “State Smart,” ** the state of Connecticut, in 2014, paid out  $53 Billion dollars to the United States government in taxes.  However, that year, it only received am estimated $45 billion in benefits from the federal government. Every year the people of the Connecticut give out to other states $8 billion.  The state and local share of that $8 Billion, (about 13%) works out to about $1 Billion in lost taxes.   And that is just one year.

It is up to the state’s Congressional delegation to address this problem, if they can.  In the meantime, the state is running the race with one foot in a bucket.  While bad, this can be mitigated.  The problem for the state, since it is easier for rich people, and more generally for businesses and corporations, to move than the working and the poor, is that the state is only allowed a regressive tax system. Since Connecticut is stuck in the shadow of pricey New York City, it must also pay more for what it buys.  These are not insurmountable problems.  They mean, however, that the state must attract enough wealth generating business activities that the tax load is not so burdensome upon the poor and the working class that it cannot be mitigated by proper state expenditures. And this means the state must have tax policies, and spending policies, and regulatory policies, which are attractive to those kinds of business activities which bring in money.

For instance, Corporations collect wealth from their many operations, and the place they accumulate the most of this wealth is at their headquarters. Other business activities which accumulate wealth are corporate offices in general, laboratories and factories.  All of these activities bring money into their communities, and into the state. 

These are activities the state wishes to attract and encourage.  While it cannot directly subsidize them, (Well, nominally, it could,)  it can capitalize the infrastructure these businesses rely upon.  Investing in roads and railroads, human capital, but perhaps even more importantly efficient institutions and the resolving of conflicts, including those inevitable conflicts businesses have with the state itself.   This will reduce the many costs of doing business in this or any state, and enhance the profit margins. 

For comparison, stores, in particular chain stores such as Walmart, Home Depot, CVS, McDonalds, (and Amazon) and so forth, take money out of communities, and out of the state.  Walmart itself takes several billions of dollars out of the state of Connecticut each year, and sends those dollars off to Arkansas. Much of the money which goes to the larger cable and telecommunications also leaves the state. This loss of money the state can, with proper taxes, and by taking the part of the communities and local store owners in their struggle with these large retail chains, diminish. 

There are other activities, which themselves do not generate wealth, but merely rearrange the ownership of wealth.  These may also be taxed.  Some of these businesses, like real estate, cannot leave.  The others, since they do not actually generate wealth, may be allowed to leave without penalty to the state’s economy.  These would include many personal services of all kinds.  Most of these personal services are elective, and raising their costs would not affect the well being of most people directly.  Most especially, these taxes would not have a critical affect on the well being of the poor.  For those services which were not elective, such as child care, the needs of the poor could be supported.  Indeed, for something like child care, the state would in general have and interest in subsidizing it for all possible clients, as this would form a more attractive workforce environment and this would be something to attract businesses.

The state is in the business of allocating resources.  Taxes take those resources from one use and expenditures put them to another.  In many cases, this fulfills social needs that the market cannot fill.  Quite simply, the market simply cannot supply any particular thing or service to everybody.  The laws of supply and demand guarantee that there will always be those who cannot afford fuel, who cannot afford shelter, who cannot afford adequate food, without intervention into the marketplace.  Private intervention, that is, charity, cannot suffice. For the charitable will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to the mean and selfish.

As the production of resources within the state declines, the state must reach out to the production of other states, by attracting the functions of businesses which accumulate the production from other states.  And the state government must adopt policies which attract those functions.  It is only once this income is spent by the corporations and businesses that the state attracts, that the state can begin to collect taxes on it. And increasingly, the state becomes unable to directly tax its own production.  As due to increasing offshoring, domestic production declines, (And without tariffs, taxes cannot be collected on production in foreign countries,) competition for the remaining factories, other remaining production facilities and the headquarters of domestic enterprises, the offices and laboratories, will intensify. Only the intervention of the US government can stop this spiral to the bottom.  But in the absence of such intervention, a state government which understands this reality, and which is able to adapt to it will, for a time, prosper.

So only the actions of a government can assure that the needs of all of society are met. A government which fails in this, will eventually fail altogether, one piece at a time, as first the bottom, and then each higher level of society falls below its ability to sustain itself.  Only by capturing an adequate share of the incomes of the very wealthy can the government succeed at this. But first it must attract these incomes to itself. 

Since all taxation is against production, the government must capture all productive streams, in order to extract necessary income. Any streams it does not capture will be more competitive than those which must bear the additional cost of taxation.  When an economy runs a trade deficit, it must also tax foreign production, since otherwise domestic production will be uncompetitive with foreign production, and domestic production will be replaced, and government revenues decline.

Non-productive activities must also be taxed. Otherwise, economic activity will preferentially go to non-productive activities, since these will have the greater nominal profits.  In particular, the non-productive activities of the wealthy must be taxed, to prevent decapitalization of the economy.