The trouble with GI

This post is based on Guaranteed Income & Choose Your Boss (the market based safety-net) by (I think) Morgan Warstler. Like Jeff Graubart’s AFFEERCE, it is a variant on the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) idea, of the “Faustian bargain” variety. The tone of the essay is considerably more politically conservative than Graubert’s, and the attempt (I’m assuming for now there’s a sincere attempt) to appeal to the left is more along the lines of “the leftists would be fools not to love this” than “the left inspired parts of this.” In the article, the plan is referred to as “GI,” and so that convention is reproduced here. The expression “30M” is used to denote the (supposedly) 30 million people whose market value is assumed to be below minimum wage. The proposal is explicitly market-based:

Herein, I’ll explain the way it works. There’s only one way it works. Deviations on the idea without the requirement to choose a job offer priced by someone else’s ROI… ruin it immediately.

So already we’re talking workfare. The following speculation as to its outcomes is offered for small comfort:

All GI recipients are free to market themselves for whatever they prefer to do for work, but they must choose from hundreds of jobs being offered to them each week. If you don’t choose a job and work, you don’t get your GI.

In the actually-existing economy, people have (in theory) hundreds of jobs to choose from. The problem is that if you want out of one employer because they assault your dignity with piss-tests, personality tests, polygraph examinations, off-the-clock work, performance improvement plans or any of a number of other entrepreneurial strategies based on driving a harder bargain toward labor, the relevant question is not how many other employers are out there, but whether at least one exists with decidedly different business practices. Does GI mean better choices, or just more choices?

Like Bleeding Heart Libertarianism (BHL), the core tenets of GI seem to be those of laissez-faire capitalism (LFC). Also like BHL, GI is considerably more open to relaxing the “thou shalt not subsidize” tenet of LFC than the “thou shalt not distort price signals” tenet.

The underlying assumptions

Greed is assumed to be a feature, not a bug.
“The goal here is to put the greed of private bidders to work to quickly identify which of the 30M are best at the jobs they are happily put [to].”
Public sector jobs are less real than private sector ones.
Organized labor (or as I say, “the labor movement”) is assumed to be obsolete:
“Progressives should understand that having a choice of jobs profoundly changes the power structure without having to organize labor.” Note the tone, also. It could have been phrased “without labor having to organize,” but instead is phrased in a way that assumes a passive role for workers and basically implies the right wing canard about “union bosses.” “This is the neoprogressive labor moment.” If neoprogressive is to progressive as neoliberal is to liberal, I want no part in it.
The Protestant work ethic is a good thing, and idle hands are a bad thing.
European approaches to social problems are not right for America:
“It is a profoundly American way to extend the social safety net, without becoming France or pretending we’re all as innately chummy as the “you look like me” Nordics.” I try and I try to find explanations other than racism for belief that a “homogenous” society is a prerequisite for social democracy. Alternative explanations simply require too much suspension of disbelief on my part. Just sayin’
Criminal laziness is a thing

The tone of the presentation

“Good yet marginal workers now have many, many choices, where their own happiness is given much greater weight without ANY technocrat’s big agenda.”
Characterization of some workers as marginal is insulting. Look at it this way: Some blog authors are marginal. Typical symptoms are sloppy spelling and punctuation. Use of a blogging platform that is very “slick” and high-bandwidth (let alone posting at content farms such as medium.com) of course increases the level of tackiness of a blog by a marginal blogger.
“This isn’t about just the 30M. This is about how you and I become more productive when we can use the 30M to accomplish more ourselves, and what those we work for can do with our new productivity.”
Implication: The intended audience (you and I) are not the underclass, but middle class people who can suddenly have hired help at third world rates.
I think the inclusion of this graphic in the essay pretty much sums up what set of attitudes produced this dubious idea called GI:

What’s in it for left and right

What’s in it for the left What’s in it for the right
  • Fortune 1000 excluded.
  • Employers must…establish their real identity and deposit money into system before they bid.
  • Employers must accurately describe the job (check boxes) and cannot add to it after winning bid or require work not checked.
  • Feedback will be given both ways. If you are familiar with Ebay buyer / seller feedback, you understand what this accomplishes.
  • “The goal is Internet transparency.”
  • “[The scumbag slave labor bosses] are quickly exposed. No one sells their labor to them. Your real name. Your real reputation. If you want to get “subsidized” labor, you better keep most of your hires happy.”
  • There are no taxes paid by employer or employee.
  • “Upon meeting some fair criteria, the criminally lazy [sic] can be suspended from GI program.”
  • “I am proposing Internet based #Distributism.”
  • Use of Heritage Foundation research as source for information on “welfare” spending.
  • “While the govt. can’t bid it can now hire low cost services organized by SMB that hire from this pool. Suddenly the cost of public goods (clean parks, subways, etc) drops dramatically – making the cost of LOCAL GOVT. cheaper. This alone likely covers the total expenditure.”
  • “If you are working for a boss who thinks you are worth the market rate, we’ll cover your nut. Otherwise, you are in trouble.”
  • States’ rights: “I don’t have an answer for I hired her to grow my pot in Colorado, nor I hired him to sleep with me in Nevada; except that states should really be the ones running this thing.”
  • “The cold brutal fact is many Americans aren’t worth what social justice crusaders are forced to pretend. They have to stop pretending.” I’ll tell you what: I’ll concede your point (that the market value of workers isn’t necessarily enough to support socially just outcomes such as meeting the cost of living) if you’ll concede that it’s a cold brutal fact that a civilization which is not economically viable for essentially 100% of its population (a society in which existence/independence/solvency is a hard-to-attain privilege) is inherently unstable and deservedly so.

My take on this.

Generally speaking, I don’t like it. As an anagorist, I hold out hope for a non-market society. GI, like BHL, seems to be an attempt to put to rest forever any hopes of moving beyond the market paradigm. Would it serve my personal interests better than the status quo? If it worked as advertised, maybe. If not, I’d probably fare worse. I’m confident enough that I’d be in no danger of being branded “criminally lazy,” but based on my earnings and “career” advancement history so far, I’m far from confident that I’d be able to graduate from the 30M to the unsubsidized workforce. I’m very worried that failure in that would carry a stigma in a society in which GI is implemented. This is of course a social rather than economic question, but “physics envy” aside, I view sociology as equally important as economics. The law of sociology that says “no justice no peace” is as empirically valid a law of science (and therefore equally non-negotiable) as the law of economics that says “no such thing as a free lunch.” The bait is sombunall (some but not all) of the advertised features of BIG/UBI, such as the luxury of creative pursuits without independent wealth, the claim of a more informationally empowered workforce with more leverage and more choices, at least concerning the qualitative aspects of jobs, a lower threshold of value-added potential needed to ensure employability, etc. The hook is acceptance without question of market signals, particularly offers of other people’s money being an absolute prerequisite for employability at even the lowest pay grade. Ultimately, employers hold veto power. Supposedly it takes a much larger number of employers effectively to blackball a person from participation in the economy, and supposedly the transparency of the reputation system is enough to ensure that no one would face that fate unfairly, but still, buyers over sellers is ultimately the chain of command.

Ultimately, GI is not at peace with non-market approaches, and is proposed more as a permanent program than an incremental reform, and so I am not at peace with whatever movement or other political clout might some day form around GI. Are there things that could make GI less unpalatable to me? Yes:

  • Don’t make PayPal the official vendor for card operations. PayPal is a name I associate with murky and deeply authoritarian agendas such as charter cities in post-coup Honduras and Military Industrial Complex entities such as Palantir. Card operations, like reputation metrics operations, should be open source. Perhaps I misparsed the following sentence: Using Paypal and an OPEN SOURCE Monster.com style platform. I would like both to be open source, not only in the sense of running open source software, but in having open access data as a default assumption, with any exceptions to that principle being in service to personal privacy, and not to business confidentiality, or making the algorithm operate as a black box designed perhaps to produce intelligent or optimal outputs “as if by magic.” Perhaps card operations can be an open platform open to multiple vendors of consumers’ individual choices. If there is to be one official card, I’d be most at peace with the one that the #Occupy movement is working on.
  • Moving specifically to the open source version of monster.com—in addition to the requirements that employers provide proof of identity (hopefully not just to the system but to the users of the system and ultimately the public) and accurate job descriptions, I would lobby for a stipulation that participation in the artificially cheap (from the employer side) labor market requires ALL employment openings in a participating company be posted in the database. No “unadvertised job openings.” This, I think, would do far more to prevent nepotism (and its virtual equivalent, the disgusting necessity of “networking”) than even draconian enforcement of the proposed “no relatives/cohabitants” rule.
  • The idea of subsidy money as a sort of a payroll multiplier enabling some entities to obtain labor at a cost to them that is below minimum wage has a precedent in the United States in the Work Study program, in which I once participated. When I was in school eligible employers were generally either in the public or nonprofit sectors. In practice these were mostly on-campus jobs, as the college is typically by far the largest nonprofit organization in a typical college town. I helped digitize the library catalog, work which assists the work of researchers to this day. The long string of temp-agency jobs I did for numerous years after graduation were less fulfilling to me, and I would venture to say, less useful to society. For example, I don’t think of maintaining junk mail lists as a service to society—if anything it is a disservice! I understand that the underlying assumptions behind GI are basically right wing concepts such as wealth creation being a prerequisite for having the funding to implement GI in the first place, so the emphasis seems to be on small for-profit businesses, and individuals looking to hire labor. I would be more comfortable with the program if employer eligibility for subsidized labor rates were based less on business size (note that I’m already sick of the right’s “it’s really corporatism you’re against” trope) and more on, if not non-profit status, at least some kind of involvement in the “greater good,” which might be anything from the opportunity to work for a B-corporation, to the opportunity to work with open source (or better yet, nonproprietary) technology, to the opportunity to provide services which would be unprofitable in the status quo for-profit sector, such as labor intensive professional level services (basically the “cost disease” ones such as education and health care) for people who can’t actually afford them.
  • The employee-on-employer reputation metrics are implemented in a way that forbids “non-disparagement clauses” on the part of employers. People (and businesses) must be held accountable for statements, of course, but that is for third parties to determine, not for gag orders to prevent.

I’ll never give up my post-market dreams, but I could be a happy enough camper to commit to non-revolutionary anagorism if it turns out that GI affords me the following luxuries:

  • I can blog my real opinions under my real name and “get away with it,” which is to say, remain employable.
  • While I can be happy without achieving a high-status job or a job that requires highly developed skills, I cannot be happy with an employer who infantilizes me, who operates with the default assumption that a low-status or low-skill employee is untrustworthy, uncouth, un-sober, or otherwise clueless as to basic workplace decency, as evidenced by the execrable pre-employment “personality tests” that have become ubiquitous in the retail/restaurant employment ghetto.
  • Speaking of ghettos, while I appreciate that GI claims to make low-income neighborhoods more liveable (although I find the “cleaning up” phrasing of that somewhat jarring) I’d like to believe that no one will be so poor so as not to have multiple housing options, including the opportunity to move long distances on their own (as opposed to employer’s) initiative.
  • Social exclusion or discrimination based on GI vs. “real economy” status is largely non-existent, or at least non-consequential.

One point of skepticism: If Walmart is expected to automate its stores completely, and services to government are to be supplied by GI-participating contractors instead of civil servants, the resulting layoffs add to the 30M (30 million) possibly unable to hold their own in the unsubsidized economy.

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Quotebag #106

“Merely surviving is not enough to change the world, and we must change the world — change it so far that mere survival no longer has to be the sole criterion, the sole priority of our activism ”—James Butler

“The more we can tip the scales, the less it becomes about whether or not to cooperate and the more it becomes about who or what to cooperate with. The more it becomes about the difference between cooperation amongst equals and deference to authority. And then, maybe, we can start having some real talk.”—Mel

“We don’t know when and how we’ll end up being vulnerable on the web until it’s too late. Suddenly need insurance or a job? Maybe I’m not high risk but my on-line habits have profiled me as ‘risky’ or ‘not employable.’ Being a well-educated white guy won’t help.”—Greg Taylor

“Which ethnic group ‘owns’ land by right of original settlement is beyond irrelevant. None of us will ever figure out where we should go if we start reorganizing the world on this basis.”—Clarissa

“The more money you have, the more money you make. When you’re in debt, you pay penalties. It’s that simple.”—JimBoNZ

“On a side note, in no way did the Boomers steal the future from the Xers and Millennials. That stuff about housing prices and college tuition costs and non-dischargeable student debt and health insurance premiums and adjustable-rate mortgages and the death of private-sector basic research pushing PhDs into formerly BA-level jobs is Soviet propaganda designed to make capitalism look bad. It’s all lies, I tell you, lies!”—Michael O. Church

“For example, when we try to argue in favour of public education by stressing the value of degree-holders to the economy (rather than, for example, making the Humanistic argument that quality education is a fundamental right), we are endorsing the ideology of neoliberalism: when we allow the rules of the game to be set by the Corporations, the Corporations will win.”—voxcorvegis

Bottom Up, oil on canvas, by Fabrice de Nola, CC-BY-SA 2.0

“Chances are Big Data and the Internet of Things will make it harder for us to control our own lives, as we grow increasingly transparent to powerful corporations and government institutions that are becoming more opaque to us.”—Catherine Crump and Matthew Harwood

“Maybe if the government directly caused it, it can be believed — but anyone who the market’s decided shouldn’t be in possession of a life-sustaining supply of nourishment must have failed in some inherent, moral way.”—writerJames

“When I see local appliance dealers offering 5% discounts if you ‘like’ them on Facebook you know it’s the cheapest form of scrip ever printed.”—Roadkilt

“What’s great about America is that everyone has the chance to earn a good life for themselves. All that’s needed is to get a good job to earn the money to pay for the things that make a good life. Once you get that job you can start earning your good life. America’s Catch 22, however, is that you’ve got to earn that good job before you can start earning your good life.”—J. D. Alt

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What to do about Mozilla and Brendan Eich?

Brendan Eich was recently named CEO of Mozilla Foundation, which has met with some controversy, as he is a Prop. H8 donor. As a matter of principle, I think personal opinions should never be a barrier to anyone’s career advancement. In the actual world we actually live in, people do sometimes get punished in the workplace for their opinions, such as the sales rep who was fired for having an Air America bumper sticker. Likewise there are God’s plenty of small and medium sized businesses who wear their founders’ and/or owners’ faith on their shirt sleeves. John’s Lumber in suburban Detroit, for example, has as part of their hours of operation sign the statement “Closed on Sundays so our employees may go to church and spend time with their families.” Then there are numerous examples of businesses that have been used by their (usually) conservative owners as soap boxes, from Hobby Lobby to Papa John’s to Whole Foods and many more. Now I wouldn’t necessarily expect to be treated unfairly by a Christian-identified business such as John’s Lumber, but if I were an employee, I would definitely check my opinions at the door, as I do in any employment situation. I want to believe that’s the situation Brendan Eich finds himself in at Mozilla—that not only does Brendan Eich not speak for Mozilla, but perhaps finds Mozilla to be a space somewhat hostile to some causes he’s known to support. Rank has its privileges and, as shown in numerous examples above, CEO’s don’t always check their opinions at the door. Front-line worker don’t necessarily do so, but of course they’re under far more pressure to do so. I hate it when employers will use every excuse imaginable not to hire some tattooed or pierced person or some longhair, on the grounds that employees are a reflection on their employers. I want to live in a world in which it’s widely and clearly understood that employees ARE NOT a reflection on their employers, and that their own time is NOT company time, etc. Naturally, NOT boycotting Mozilla is the course of action consistent with this viewpoint. There’s still a part of me, though, that’s somewhat tribal in its affiliations, that sees any number of businesses being used as showcases of Biblical values or some other conservative cause, and wants there to be at least a few places with a payroll that push the other direction. It would be the icing on the cake if a few of these were places in which people might feel just a little intimidated about being out of the closet on something like support for something as contemptible as Prop. H8.

My own involvement in the Mozilla community has been at the periphery. I was an unpaid volunteer AMO (addons.mozilla.org) editor, which is to say, screener of Firefox add-ons on the lookout for any code which might betray Firefox users in some way. I’ve decided to take a hiatus from that activity. I developed three add-ons for Firefox, which I temporarily “disabled” (a loaded word in this context, to be sure) at addons.mozilla.org. Since philosophically, I can’t make a clear case for an all-out boycott, I’m thinking of it as an expression of disappointment than of rejection of an organization.

Will I re-join the Mozilla community, as an editor, a developer and a Firefox user. By the way, the text you are reading was posted using Midori, an obscure, minimalist, webkit-based open-source web browser which I love, but which admittedly crashes quite frequently on my system. So there’s a sacrifice right there: If I don’t use Firefox, I will use either an unstable browser or a closed-source browser. If I take my Firefox add-ons out of circulation, that’s probably more than 50% of my code portfolio. It’s hard to estimate the opportunity cost of something like that. If we assume that the probability of someone my age breaking into programming from the outside is zero anyway, then the opportunity cost would of course be zero. Open source software is a source of income for some and a labor of love for a much larger number, but even being in that larger number is a privilege rather than a right. So far I’ve found some amount of that privilege in activities pertaining to Firefox, so there’s the question of whether throwing that away is worthwhile as a way to make a statement. But of course there’s also the question of whether my relatively soft position on Mozilla’s decision is due to needing Mozilla more than Mozilla needs me. Too many questions all around. For example, I was really looking forward to participating in the Add-ons for Australis Contest. I have something I think is actually interesting and significant in the kitchen. I’m torn. I guess I have until April 15 to decide on that, although of course I won’t finish what I’m doing at all if I #UninstallFirefox

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The AFFEERCE method of business plan generation

The business plan known as AFFEERCE is a simple-yet-intricate combination of propositions. There’s a method to the madness behind its design, and it’s a method of keeping the system as a whole, plausible, accountable and reasonably consistent. So far I’ve identified three features of this methodology:

A “law of threes”
“AFFEERCE kickers, is a flimsy metaphor for those who want to kick out one of the legs of a three-legged stool. Stability and prosperity is contingent on the success of all three pillars. Lose one, and the slide of society into barbarism will continue.”
Intolerance of compromise
Specifically, compromise between free markets and income equality.
Tolerance of contradiction
Limited tolerance, but tolerance nevertheless. This is based on Gödel’s proof that a formal system cannot be both complete and consistent. In case AFFEERCE isn’t a formal system, there’s also the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that applies to elementary particles and the Strong Efficiency Hypothesis that applies to financial markets.

The mechanical advantages of a three-legged stool over a two-legged stool are obvious. The latter, for all practical purposes, cannot stand unless it is either very bottom-heavy or very precisely aligned to its center of gravity (about as probable as flipping a coin and getting neither heads nor tales). The part of the book I’ve read so far doesn’t address the (considerably less severe, but certainly real) problem posed by a four-legged stool, but suffice it to say that any three points can reliably be said to be coplanar.

It may also be that author Jeff Graubart has a mental habit of bundling things in threes:

p.10

Similar ideas are cropping up elsewhere under the banner, “progressive libertarian,” but most of those philosophies suffer from three problems.

p. 16

One need look no further than the three contemporaneous milestones that arguably provide a foundational base for the new world I will describe: the women’s liberation movement, the gay liberation movement, and the invention of the microprocessor.

Perhaps the most appealing part of this three-pronged package deal* is the refusal to acknowledge, let alone negotiate, tradeoffs between free markets and income equality. In American public policy debate, this often manifests itself in the rhetorical question (i.e. rhetorical trap): “Which would you rather live in, a security society or an opportunity society?” My answer has always been: “I refuse to acknowledge an intractable tradeoff between those two things.” Graubert, it seems, refuses to acknowledge any tradeoff. This is my kind of people, even if AFFEERCE as a whole is far too authoritarian for my tastes. It seems, in a three variable system, you can max out two variables. The Iron Law of TANSTAAFL manifests in the kicker; the poison pill. In AFFEERCE, the poison pill is total capitulation, not on the part of the Wall Street subsidiary called Washington, but on the part everyone who as fought and died for reproductive freedom (which necessarily works both ways, even among borderline antinatalists like me), including (among others) the pro-choice movement, the civil liberties movement, and the wise people who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 16, section 1.

AFFEERCE fundamental relations
The fundamental relations. From page 36 of the book.

The flaw, the imperfection, indeed the beauty of AFFEERCE is the glaring contradiction (p. 39) between reproductive control and enlightenment. So, is defense of the Enlightenment to be another casualty among bloody trail of capitulated causes left in AFFEERCE’s wake? Well, two of the three pillars of AFFEERCE are pro-enlightenment, so the fate of the Enlightenment may yet be compromise, rather than capitulation. Big deal, right?

One question that occupies me is whether the AFFEERCE methodology can be applied to things other than AFFEERCE. Would it make sense for me to try to construct a system of central principles (pillars, one of which is a “kicker”), implications (fundamental relations) between the pillars, and an irresolvable contradiction? Could such a construction give the appearance of a shared way of life, an alternative future, maybe even a code of law?

Let’s map it out as a step-by-step process:

  1. Identify two cherished ideals, both of which I wish we all could enjoy to the limit, without compromise.
  2. Identify one cherished ideal for which I would fight to the death, as a “kicker,” or as I prefer to say, “Faustian bargain.”
  3. Determine whether insistence on (2) is the roadblock to resolving the apparent intractable trade-off in (1). If not, repeat your choice of steps (2) through (3), or steps (1) through (3).

OK, now I’ll try my hand at business plan construction using what I surmise to be the AFFEERCE method of business plan construction. For my palatable pillars I choose what I’ll call inclusive production and voluntarism. For the kicker, I designate zero privacy. Here are my explanations of these pillars and what I intend them to mean:

inclusive production
This means that everyone is entitled to a job. It is a direct negation of one feature of “free enterprise” as defined by Jeff Graubart. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular “employer” must find a role for every applicant, but it does mean that an opening must be found somewhere in the economy. This may require the creation of an employer of last resort on a subsidized basis. This also doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is entitled to paid employment. This business plan is OK with unpaid internships, and possibly other forms of unpaid work. It is more important to avoid meeting the requirement with meaningless “make work” jobs than it is to avoid having an underpaid or even exploited workforce. In a way, this is the exact opposite of AFFEERCE: Getting a job to to is an absolute entitlement, while getting paid is an absolute non-entitlement.
voluntarism
This means all associations are voluntary associations and all transactions are voluntary transactions. Broadly speaking, it means nobody has to do anything they don’t want to. In this business plan, it might or might not be more narrowly defined to the crass “nobody’s holding a gun to your head” criterion of “anarcho”-capitalism.
zero confidentiality
This means that enterprises operating “within the system” are required to practice open-book accounting. By this I mean that every journal entry is in the public record. By public record I mean the Internet (or a future equivalent). The data are accessible not only to people working within the system, but everyone in the world. Since P&L (profit/loss) and balance sheets are derived from journals, this means the profitability and equity holdings of all enterprises are public knowledge, as well as a host of other details about each one.Of course, this also means that individuals enjoy no privacy whatsoever. For example, if you buy something from a participating retailer (one operating within the system) it is a matter of public record who you are, what you bought and for how much. The public also has access to your salary, your detailed credit history, the approximate inventory of your refrigerator, etc.

Is there a contradiction between the first two pillars? Absolutely. The right of someone to be hired means someone else may have to procure services they neither need nor want. Does the absolute denial of confidentiality resolve the contradiction? At first glance, it might appear that it would not. Let’s flesh out the details of the zero confidentiality arrangement. In the spirit of voluntarism, the “system” in which businesses and individuals are expected to operate should be a voluntary association. This means there is nothing at all wrong with operating outside the system. This being the case, the organization binding people and businesses to inclusivity, voluntarism and extreme transparency will have to offer something of value. More precisely, there must be clear (ideally decisive) advantages to both individuals and businesses from working within the system. The institution in question is roughly analogous to PIV in AFFEERCE. Like PIV, its functions would probably include:

  • strong authentication protocols for participants to identify themselves as within the system
  • an accounting system to record transactions, enter them into a database and make that database available to (queryable by) the public
  • this may involve doing the accounting in some novel unit of currency—I’m undecided as of yet on that detail
  • in addition to financial transactions, contracts involving in-system entities are a matter of public record
  • also, applications for employment would be submitted from applicants to prospective employers by way of the institution
  • businesses are encouraged but not required to post “requisitions” for labor prior to hiring any

For now, I’ll call this PIV-analogue “DOE,” as in “database of everything.” The publication of all contracts and all job applications is the main strategy for resolving the contradiction between inclusive production and voluntarism. The number of people requesting jobs is known. Their stated qualifications are known, and of course are much, much more verifiable than ever before. A deeply searchable database of job requisitions and job candidates should make for almost frictionless matchmaking. The division within DOE responsible for this matchmaking will be called Division of Labor, or “Divlab,” in honor of Ursula K. LeGuin, of course. Nevertheless, there might still not be enough jobs to go around. In that event, DOE will “create” jobs. Remember that jobs need not be paying jobs. That helps DOE stay under budget. One source of jobs within DOE would be for people to maintain the database, basically DBA’s and the like.

Implementation of this business plan will entail creation of a second institution, which we’ll call the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps, or “Reeks and Wrecks,” in honor of Kurt Vonnegut, of course. This institution will do the heavy lifting when it comes to absorbing surplus labor from Divlab, and will also function as the Department of Public Works of our alternative society. It will specialize in placement of people in 3D work assignments.

Now that we have our three pillars, let’s identify two voluntary consequences:

  1. Explain how each of the three pillars either implies the another, or prevents it some unspeakable catastrophe or atrocity.
  2. Identify two voluntary consequences, or opportunities that the three pillars open up to those (a) who live by them and (b) want to pursue them
  3. Connect the remaining dots. If u don’t spot the contradiction, ur not doin it right.

Here is an illustration of the relationships between the three pillars:

The linkages between inclusion (inclusive production), voluntarism and radical transparency (zero privacy) in this new business plan correspond to Graubart’s fundamental relations. Consider these first six:

  1. First, let’s establish what I mean by “thickens.” Basically, it translates to “adds fairness to.” I got this idea from the “thick libertarianism” concept: The topic is the relation between “thin” libertarianism (i.e., libertarianism understood as a narrowly political doctrine) and “thick” libertarianism (i.e., libertarianism understood as essentially integrated into some broader set of social or cultural values). I generalized this “thick” concept from libertarianism to individualism, voluntarism and contractarianism—and now I suppose there is thick transparency.
  2. I say that transparency helps make inclusion possible because I believe that if the entire body of transactions is in the public record, discrimination and other patterns of exclusion will “come out in the wash.”
  3. Similarly, radical transparency makes it likely that people and institutions that practice nepotism and other forms of favoritism will face some pressure from the public, and those that don’t will enjoy public support.
  4. Voluntarism, meaning no unwilling participants in the scheme, should mean people are less inclined to try to feed disinformation into the database.
  5. Of course inclusion thickens voluntarism.
  6. Inclusion in a voluntarist economy is more meaningful than having a “make work” job, although admittedly the latter are a feature of this business plan.

Now to identify two voluntary consequences. There are two voluntary consequences of AFFEERCE society; alternative families and enlightenment (see page 37). For my proposed business model, I’m proposing collegiality and meritocracy as voluntary consequences. Since we have Voluntary Association, Collegiality, Inclusion, Meritocracy and Extreme Transparency, we have something that can be called VACIMET. The following diagram illustrates the additional fundamental relations between these two voluntary consequences and the three pillars of VACIMET.

The VACIMET fundamental relations.

  1. Job security thanks to guaranteed inclusion in economic production frees workers to think of their co-workers less as competitors and more as colleagues.
  2. Collegiality fostered by job security and less competitive relationships between colleagues means less incentive to guard trade secrets.
  3. Transparency (open knowledge, open data, etc.) facilitates collaboration, especially interdisciplinary collaboration.
  4. Transparency facilitates meritocracy because when skills, credentials and experience are easily verified and errors in the recording of the same are fairly quicly corrected (many eyes, shallow bugs) it should be more likely for the cream to rise to the top, and less likely for the self-promotion to do so.
  5. Voluntarism means that people (at least outside the Reeks and Wrecks) are among people of their own choosing, meaning fewer barriers to collegiality.
  6. People’s can have more confidence in their choice of colleagues if they can have more confidence in their competence.
  7. There is a contradiction between meritocracy and inclusion. It never occurred to me until recently that this is the case, but I was convinced of this by Felix Stadler:The openness in open source is often misunderstood as egalitarian collaboration. However, FOSS is primarily open in the sense that anyone can appropriate the results, and do with them whatever he or she wants (within the legal/normative framework set out by the license). This is what the commons, a shared resource, is about. Free appropriation. Not everyone can contribute. Everyone is free, indeed, to propose a contribution, but the people who run the project are equally free to reject the contribution outright. Open source projects, in their actual organization, are not egalitarian and not everyone is welcome. The core task of managing a commons is to ensure not just the production of resources, but also to prevent its degradation from the addition of low quality material. We can only hope that the meritorious can find it in their hearts to find, if not merit, at least investment potential in the R&R “charity hires.”

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Quotebag #105

“Now why do we need an entrepreneur of the self? That’s because people never know as much as the market, so because we’re a flawed thinker, we must learn to transform ourselves to take in these packets of truth delivered by the market and alter ourselves to respond to them.”—Philip Mirowski

“In his book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, Mirowski concludes that neoliberal thought has become so pervasive that any countervailing evidence serves only to further convince disciples of its ultimate truth. Once neoliberalism became a Theory of Everything, providing a revolutionary account of self, knowledge, information, markets, and government, it could no longer be falsified by anything as trifling as data from the ‘real’ economy.”—Wikipedia

“I guess an analogy might be, you’re applying for work in a very New Age sort of environment, where the hiring manager says she can read auras***, and that in lieu of a conventional interview she would just evaluate you on the basis of your aura. You sit in front of her for a VERY awkward five minutes or so while she closes her eyes, goes hmm and ahhh and oh! and oh dear and you have no idea what she’s reacting to, and then she opens her eyes, shakes your hand, tells you she’ll get back to you with her decision, and then leaves. And you are left completely mystified as to what just happened or what she thought of you.”—Lindsay

“In the future, I would also expect it to require an expensive license to even operate a true, general-purpose computer with severe legal penalties for doing so without government and industry authorization.”—quoderat

“I think it’s a crime that these models are opaque and yet have so much power over people’s lives. It’s like having secret laws.”—Cathy O’Neil

“How much climate destruction is best for capital? Probably more than none.”—Out of the Woods

“We don’t need more ambition or more authorities.”—Mel

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Notes on AFFEERCE—introduction, and chapters 1 and 2

This is a continuation of my post The trouble with AFFEERCE—the preface. Again, the source of the quoted passages is AFFEERCE A Business Plan to Save the United States and Then the World (pdf) by Jeff Graubart. As before, “emphasis mine” in quoted passages.

I’ve dispensed with “the trouble with” in the title for now. I’m troubled enough with the proposal to have deep reservations, but do recognize that Jeff Graubart has thought these things through, let’s say, at least as extensively as I have my pet project anagorism. There is a process at work in this synthesis that deserves respect.

p. 12:

Bringing AFFEERCE to backwards countries will probably require thirty years of communism or restored colonialism first, but I’ll say no more of this for fear of unnecessarily alienating my readers on the right and the left. There will be plenty of necessary reasons to alienate them later on.

I’ve waded far enough into multiculturalism and egalitarianism-in-general to have an inevitable knee-jerk reaction to the phrase backwards countries. Graubart, I’m guessing, isn’t oblivious to the fact that there are any number of ways that could have been phrased. I’m inclined to wager that this choice of words is not an oversight. At this point I’ve read enough to know that provocation is part of Graubart’s rhetorical toolbox. That’s OK. After all, it could be worse. At least it doesn’t say “backward cultures,” so I’ll give Graubart the benefit of the doubt and assume this is a statement about political or economic, and not cultural, characteristics of nations. What I’m doing here is merely pointing out that this is one of my pain points (in Graubart-speak, “the kicker”). Likewise, colonialism is a practice that I see as having no redeeming value. I am, among other things anarcho-communist, but I’m guessing communism in the sense Graubart (who is explicitly a non-anarchist) means here is at least as repugnant to me as colunialism.

If it helps, at the time of the beginning of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq, part of the mindless chatter of the talking heads on the teevee kept going back to a certain talking point about “you can’t expect regime change to result in Jeffersonian democracy.” I must confess that once or maybe twice my thoughts drifted to the idea that maybe using military occupation to impose Scandinavian-type social democracy on a country might be an end justifying even militarism as a means. I didn’t entertain this thought for long because I’ve always been far more opposed to hawkishness, including liberal hawkishness or even that oxymoron called neolibertarianism, than I am supportive of sombunall key features of social democracy such as moderately high (by the real world’s standards) levels of economic security and personal freedom.

One advantage I think less wealthy countries might have over, say, the United States (which Graubart seems to be saying is necessarily the starting point for AFFEERCE) is a location where the present value of a lifetime of support would probably be well, well south of the US$600,000 that comes up in the AFFEERCE literature. Another feature that might come in handy would be the opportunity that exists in some countries to “leapfrog” some “legacy” technologies. I’m creeped out, however, by use of less wealthy countries as political laboratories, especially for non-democratic forms of politics, such as the so-called charter cities some ultra-elite interests are trying to establish in Honduras, which is in the aftermath of a coup d’état.

p. 13:

At least, the solution calls for eugenics of the marketplace, and not some horrid racial or ethnic eugenics. And it will be a democracy, so the taxpayers could decide by a super-majority to foot some of the bill for each person’s entitlement, taking some of the burden off parents.

CC-BY-SA 3.0, GabeMc

Weed out the weaklings?

Eugenics of the marketplace sounds to me like social darwinism. Hopefully the universal entitlement part of AFFEERCE dulls the cutting edge of this darwinism from survival of the fittest to propagation of the fittest. Still, the market economy is the yardstick of fitness in this particular creepy eugenic agenda, so expect traits selected for to include salesmanship, assertiveness and opportunism. Hopefully the alternative families part of AFFEERCE (particularly if adoptions become the rule rather than the exception), parentage can be statistically dissociated from genetic endowment, and the feerce edge of darwinism can be further dulled from propagational eugenics of the marketplace to “eumemics” of the marketplace. The goal of anagorism, of course, is find non-market metrics for human achievement and progress.

(here ends the intro and begins Chapter 1)

p. 18

One of the less obvious things worth remembering from this period is that due to better environmental conditions and multiple wives, children were disproportionately more likely to be born to wealth and power. Thus our species became hardier and evolution moved forward.

Child labor laws, a great humanitarian step forward, by their very nature served to decrease the value of children as members of the labor force.

David Brin has posted a lot online about the outsized influence of alpha males and their harems on humanity’s current collective genetic endowment. Thing is, Brin treats it as more of a bug than a feature, and I’m inclined to agree. The idea is that much of what some call “rent seeking” consists of attempts by those who are both economically and reproductively successful to “lock in their gains” and pass social advantages on to their descendants. This inevitably makes society as a whole less competitive and, in Brin’s view, less accountable.

I don’t buy that child labor abolition has either the intended or actual effect of decreasing the value of children as members of the labor force. Rather, it is necessary in order to make children a long-term rather than short-term investment. I happen to believe that long-term investment in children is ultimately more lucrative than short-term investment. But perhaps I’m unfairly nitpicking because I’m interpreting “value” above in the sense of “present value.”

p. 23

The result of the conflict between Children=Wealth vs. Children=Poverty is that educated, middle class families are having fewer children and the impoverished are having more, and that imbalance can only grow more acute.

I’m not that Malthusian, which is to say, not that inclined to write off impoverished people as non-agents, or not authors of their own lives. While income and education both correlate negatively with fertility (and of course parental age), so does urban residence, which is trending strongly upward among the poor almost everywhere.

p.27

Free Enterprise means laissez-faire. It means government keeps its hands off business. It means no minimum wage and no inflation. It means no corporate income tax of any kind. It means the marketplace will determine if monopolies should form and the effectiveness of collusion.

It also means no civil rights protection and no right to a job.

Those are scary propositions in today’s world, but in an AFFEERCE economy you will discover they are of no consequence at all. Even occupational safety requirements will be tossed out. However, full disclosure of any unexpected hazards is the law. Violators will see the inside of a penitentiary. Consumers are likewise protected by full disclosure even as merchants are free to sell any products they wish. Honesty is valued above all else in business and law. Merchants, employers, police, prosecutors, and even lawyers will be legally accountable for dishonest practices. Volunteer standards groups will set service and product standards. However, enforcement of these standards beyond disclosure will apply only to children under 14 years of age.

I’ve been influenced enough by Keynesianism to believe that inflation favors debtors and deflation very strongly favors creditors. I’m also “leading edge Generation X,” which means I reached working age during the Reagan years. Reagan, confronted by a particularly cruel combination of economic problems called “stagflation,” very decisively chose to prioritize inflation-fighting over unemployment-fighting. This is an economic policy I considered basically inhumane at the time, and still do. Inflation chips away at a working class person’s standard of living, while unemployment pulls it out from under them in one fell swoop. Now one group of people, in addition to creditors (i.e. bankers), who benefit from low inflation, are people on benefits; on “fixed income.” In America, these are mostly retirees, some fraction of whom were obviously a key Reagan constituency. Perhaps I must keep in mind that in AFFEERCE, everyone is on benefits, so maybe counterinflationary policy is no longer inherently reactionary.

p.28

Regardless of cost, if the parents cannot pay, the child will be placed with a family that can afford the child. Some will consider this tyranny. They should ask themselves who’s freedom are they defending; the parents’ or the child’s.

I’m have admittedly tribal tendencies when it comes to stands on issues. The inventor of what you describe (at least in terms of the politically-aware part of my lifetime) is none other than Newt Gingrich. Can non-tyrannical ideas come from tyrannical people? I have my doubts…

p. 38

(10) Competitive Advantage – Universal entitlement enables family business to compete with big business by making low wages practical.

Can’t argue with the logic. I have a very, very hard time thinking of low wages as a good thing. Universal entitlement notwithstanding, in a market economy, a low wage can only be interpreted as a price signal that’s saying your contributions are nearly worthless; that you’re not a contributing member of society. The complete abolition of wage floors strikes me as a frank acknowledgement of a belief on the part of the AFFEERCIONADOS that some people are “worth more than others.” This is also a pain point for me.

p. 42

The freedom to travel the country comfortably without a nickel to your name, to have a workforce more mobile than any that has ever existed in the history of humanity, to travel without keys, wallet or any physical identification, to not be a target for thieves, to have instant access to your own money and the free entitlements coming your way wherever you might roam, to sign contracts, transfer funds, vote, shop for your family, go almost instantly through security checkpoints, and much more, probably scares the hell out of some readers.

No doubt. Those freedoms aren’t what scares the hell out of this reader, though. Mainly the level of centralization of the VIP scheme. Having separate accounts for entitlement money and money earned (or should I say won?) in the market economy seems accentuate the distinction between contributing and dependent members of adult society.

p. 43

4. The VIP reader will send the voice, iris, and palm information, with VIP identity, sequence, date, and GPS information, encoded with its private key, to the central identity computer. Also in the transmission will be the VIP reader’s public key, encoded with the public key of the central identity computer.

I’d have thought public-private key pairs would mean there is not a need for a central computer. Admittedly I have scant understanding of public-private key encryption, so I’m not sure what the implications might be of using it as the standard protocol in both identification and accounting. I also can’t help but wonder how the currently hot topic of Bitcoin might be somehow relevant to the proposed VIP reader network. Bitcoin seems to be (among other things) intended as a proof of concept that a currency can be decentralized; not under some public or private party’s control. One of Bitcoin’s most attractive features, extreme (or not so extreme, in retrospect) anonymity, is also (to me) one of its most unattractive features—extreme opacity. While my own philosophy is generally anti-market (or at least, market-negative) there’s one feature of market economies that deeply appeals to my sensibilities; that being the so-called law of one price. This, I believe, results mainly from market transparency, although of course market competition (which I see as a minus) is also a factor. One thing that could bring VIP closer to my comfort zone, relative to the status quo or to competing visions of the future of money, such as Bitcoin, would be a demonstration that it facilitates price transparency and other aspects of market transparency.

p. 44

On a less technical user level, a typical grocery store VIP reader session might go like this. Your total will appear on the screen. You put your palm an inch from the glass, look into the camera and speak your magic word and hit the default button. Transparent to you, the retail VIP application will download the food entitlement account(s) associated with your identity. The app will debit the account or accounts for qualified food purchases. If the entitlement has been exhausted, or if there are non-qualified items, the app will download access to your personal spending account (PSA). If the PSA is exhausted, the app will access and move funds from your personal corporate account (PCA) to your PSA. In the process, the 70% flat tax for money moved from a PCA to a PSA will automatically move the taxes from the PCA to the central bank. If the PCA is empty, it will check for a default credit account. If credit is available, money will be moved from there. The store will also collect a 1% (national sales tax) NST on the non- entitlement portion of the purchase. This will go to the central bank via their accounts, not yours. Of course, there will be options where you are in more control of the transaction.

This reveals that the entitlements are (1) earmarked and (2) annuitized, or “doled out.” In short, the food portion of entitlement is, from an accounting standpoint, indistinguishable from the United States’ SNAP (food stamps) program. There seems to be an assumption that there are adults and children among chronological adults, and that the competitive market economy is what “separates the men from the boys” (and of course the women from the girls). This can only beg the question of whether supporting and supported adults have, say, the same number of votes in the government, which has been described in these early chapters as democratic. It also leads me to wonder what sorts of effects the “bragging rights” of competitive economic viability might have on cultural norms, in- and out-groups within society, the presence of pack hierarchy or dominance in interpersonal behavior, etc. I’m at least hoping that this VIP reader rings up purchases in a way that doesn’t broadcast to the room that someone is spending entitlements!

p. 45

AFFEERCE and the VIP don’t work well without each other, but together they are magic. It might be reasonable to consider the VIP a pillar of AFFEERCE, along with free enterprise, entitlement, and reproductive control. However the VIP, fifty years down the road, could be replaced by a far better technology. Free enterprise, universal entitlement, and reproductive control will hopefully remain for eons to come.

Interesting. Perhaps further along in my reading I shall learn if any particular replacement technologies have been speculated.

p. 48

In AFFEERCE, a government agency, The Bureau of Standards, through volunteer standards groups, will coordinate industry standards, and require that industries either adopt the standards of the industry, or display in a consistent way across all industries, those standards that are violated, the VOS. Omission of violated standards from the VOS and failure to properly display or get customer sign-off on the VOS constitutes fraud. The VOS is a legal document that protects against liability, so businesses will pay inspection agencies to certify their VOS. The VOS is covered in greater detail below under Regulation and Deregulation.

I haven’t gotten as far as Regulation and Deregulation, so I’m not sure. As far as standards go, the ISO (perhaps the most authoritative establisher of standards) certainly seems to be an NGO (non-governmental organization). The US Government’s standard-setting agency, NIST, has an operating budget barely over a billion dollars, or less than $4 per American.

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The trouble with AFFEERCE—the preface

In short, it’s just plain scary. AFFEERCE is an invention of Jeff Graubart, described in a free e-book titled AFFEERCE A Business Plan to Save the United States and Then the World which is available (along with other informational writings) from http://www.affeerce.org/. So far, I have only read the preface, and there is enough there to fill me with a chilling dread. In a subsequent post, I intend to proceed from the preface to the introduction. The whole book is over 300 pages long. I’m not making any promises to analyze the whole thing, but I hope to do so.

It’s seasteading

Or landsteading. More to the point, it explicitly calls for the creation of nations as a form of private property. From page 9 (emphasis mine, here and in subsequent quoted passages):

AFFEERCE is an idea that hopefully will change the world. Most peoples’ first impression of AFFEERCE will be through this book. That includes the wealthy AFFEERCIANADOS who will start the first land corporations that will create the first AFFEERCE nations. That includes entrepreneurs who will create the technology for our new world. It includes budding politicians, who will advocate for AFFEERCE in the current United States. It will include citizens of other nations who will come up with their own national business plans. It will include countless citizens who will decide on the merits of what we are doing.

I refer to technology creators as inventors, not entrepreneurs, although of course they are often both. That is a small kvetch. My major beef is that starting a nation as a land corporation makes it explicitly clear that polity is to be a business function. This is the privatization (NOT abolition) of government. From page 10:

Of course, the third and fundamental problem of all movements is how do we bring such a society about? There is only one sure way: a business plan. Relying on both the profit motive and the AFFEERCE spirit, AFFEERCE will grow into a corporation so large and powerful, it will swallow Washington whole.

A hostile takeover. Business ranks above politics.

It’s classist

The statement above that wealthy AFFEERCIANADOS will start the first AFFEERCE nations seems to imply that implementation of AFFEERCE is not something that the non-wealthy can accomplish independently of the wealthy. That alone is a non-starter for me. From the preface, page 10:

My friends thought I was nuts and said that if I was so smart, why was I so poor and not out making money in the business world (That’s what people said back in 1980). They were right. Who would listen to a pauper? So I became a software engineer and in the next 25 years accumulated in excess of a million dollars.

No, they were wrong. Being wealthy does not make a person more credible.

It’s Hobbesian

And of course statist, if that’s something that matters to you. From page 10:

Similar ideas are cropping up elsewhere under the banner, “progressive libertarian,” but most of those philosophies suffer from three problems. The first is a tendency toward anarchy, when a government is essential at this point to protect the natural rights of mankind.

Not sure at this point what the author means by “at this point.”

It’s mystical

From page 11:

Today’s physicists don’t have a clue. They have deviated from reality in ways more extreme than the alchemists of old. They hide behind mathematical equations so complex that even they don’t understand them. The fundamental problem is quite simple. They refuse to admit that consciousness is built into the fabric of the universe.

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