Google, the patent non-troll

Scott Santens, a.k.a. 2noame, of UBI (unconditional basic income) movement fame, has clued me in on a website called progress.org. Their agenda seems to be a synthesis of Georgism and Aust(e)rianism, and their recruiting strategy seems to be baiting progressives with a domain name like “progress.org” and switching them with the “it’s really corporatism you’re against” admonishment that progressives have already heard a million times from the tea party types, the left-styled libertarians, the other anarcho-capitalists, etc.

The link posted by Scott is to this piece on whether money for nothing will spoil you. Intra-site clickbait drew me to this piece on Google’s recent publicity stunt involving Google somehow wanting to be a patent hoarder without being yet another patent troll. I left a comment there, in case anyone is interested.

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Confession

I sincerely hope the 21st century turns out to be as humiliating for supporters of free (and “freed”) market ideology as the 20th was for supporters of egalitarianism.

If this makes me a bad person, oh well.

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Thesis

Thesis: There are abuses of humans that arise from economic phenomena, that do not have their root in the political process.

Identifiable groups that are attacking that thesis: Conservatives, neoliberals, classical liberals, laissez-faire capitalists, anarcho-capitalists and “left” libertarians.

Questions: Any questions?

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Microcredentials in the Angel Economy

Microcredentials are a hot new topic in the roiling debate between those who want to make credentials more meritocratic and those who want to make them less relevant. I haven’t taken sides in that debate, but I want microcredentialism to be more than a passing fad. I want to see microcredentials produce results that impact the real world, as I think it’s a Capital idea.

Basically microcredentials, like credentials in general, are supposed to serve as proof of attainment of skills by individuals. Microcredentials aim to document single, specific skills, rather than bundles of skills that are taken to comprise all the skill requirements of an occupation, which is the typical intent of occupational credentials such as journeyperson cards, occupational licenses and professional degrees. A microcredential, on the other hand, might certify someone for one specific task, and that one task might be a tiny fraction of their overall job description.

Of particular interest to me is the question of how microcredentialing might fit into a strategy for implementing an anagora, or non-market non-state economy. So far, I have proposed two schemes for implementing an anagora. I call these Angel Economics and VACIMET. Angel Economics is an idea some anonymous other came up with that I decided to expand on and adapt to the anagorist cause. VACIMET is something I made up in jest as a satire of Jeff Graubart’s Capital idea called AFFEERCE. Both Angel Economics (AE) and VACIMET are strategies to create a third way which is neither a market nor a command economy; a planned economy which is not centrally planned. VACIMET is basically AE presented in a style that imitates that which Graubart uses to present AFFEERCE, so they’re basically the same thing. AE/VACIMET makes some use of credentialism as it classifies the performers of tasks in economic production in a three-level hierarchy (in the bootmaker sense) as apprentices, journeycritters or masters. Apprenticeship in AE/VACIMET differs markedly from apprenticeship in the actually-existing economy in that AE/VACIMET apprenticeship does not seek to create artificial scarcity, and does not seek to be a guardian of trade secrets. Exclusion from economic production, even via “natural” market competition, is anathema to anagorism. So is institutional secrecy, as one of the principles on which anagorism rests is thick individualism, or an unconditional privileging of the agendas of individuals over those of institutions. Apprenticeship in AE/VACIMET is similar to apprenticeship as we know it in that there is a desire for on-the-job training, because we want a real-world focus, and because the inventor of anagorism (yours truly) has a burning desire to make the school-to-work transition less intimidating, and believes the existing protocols for that are so (if you’ll pardon my French) fucked that an overhaul of society itself is needed, including a brand new economic system.

Here are the blog posts so far about Angel Economics and VACIMET, of which I wrote all but the first:

My approach to workforce training and development in the Angel Economy is as follows:

One way to start this project would be to spread the word about your idea of angel economics. Attract as many people (or angels) as you can. The first thing to ask of your participants can be to use matrices and graph nodes to model their own jobs. Hopefully their jobs aren’t so monotonous that the whole workday isn’t built around a single process operation. In any case any person’s current actual job in meatspace should be able to be modeled by listing materials used in each on-the-job activity, as well as internal and external ‘customers’ dealt with, etc. Additional information to obtain from each participant would include jobs or trades they would be interested in learning, as well as any for which they are expert enough to teach. This lends itself to creating a many-to-many relation mapping participants with occupations, in which each instance of person-in-an-occupation can be preliminarily tagged as ‘apprentice,’, ‘journeycritter,’ or ‘master.’ Sure this brings rank, and potentially rankism, into the equation. Consider it the kind of ‘authority’ that implies expertise and nothing else. In the angelic social structure we are modeling of course, apprenticeship is more purely for the purpose of instruction, and undertaken without the usual emphasis on bondage, servitude, entry barriers and trade secrets. On-the-job training, of course can be seen as another process to be modeled.

In incorporating microcredentials into Angel Economics, I think the operative words above might be “instance of person-in-an-occupation.” Replace “occupation” with (narrowly-defined) “skill” and retain the apprentice-journeycritter-master ranking, and we have a system that, if nothing else, is combinatorially interesting. As the job-modeling process is described in my first Angel Economics proposal (emphasis added):

The first thing to ask of your participants can be to use matrices and graph nodes to model their own jobs. Hopefully their jobs aren’t so monotonous that the whole workday isn’t built around a single process operation. In any case any person’s current actual job in meatspace should be able to be modeled by listing materials used in each on-the-job activity, as well as internal and external ‘customers’ dealt with, etc.

In a microcredentialed AE/VACIMET, single processes would be sought out; not avoided. If the process at a particular workstation involves some constellation of micro-skills, it could conceivably be staffed by a group of one or more people who have the full micro-skill-set between them. Note that AE or VACIMET, by definition, involve no proprietary information technology and no proprietary data. Without this precondition, breaking work down into microtasks and microskills can only produce nightmarishly dystopian outcomes. Consider the proprietary platform called WorkFusion (h/t Manna subreddit on Reddit):

WorkFusion lets users standardize knowledge processes into online workflows comprised of microtasks, the simplest unit of work. WorkFusion provides an extensive library of both machine tools and human worker instruction templates which users can drag-and-drop into workflows using a graphical design tool. WorkFusion comes equipped with pre-built knowledge process workflows, which users can customize.

This is actually pretty much how I would describe the combination of AE/VACIMET with microcredentialing. The key difference is that in AE/VACIMET, the “users” are not a separate entity from the “human workers.” To get an idea of just how diabolical WorkFusion is, consider the following (from the same page):

WorkFusion is integrated with the leading online talent marketplaces, including Amazon Mechanical Turk, Craigslist, Elance, oDesk, and uSamp. WorkFusion sources and qualifies workers from this combined market by posting microtask job listings onto these marketplaces simultaneously, selecting the best applicants across all markets based on a user’s demographic and qualification requirements and on the results of qualification tasks administered by WorkFusion. WorkFusion then databases each worker, creating a vetted, on-demand, dedicated workforce for the enterprise.

This is the current trend in work under capitalism, and is the sort of dystopian nightmare our descendants can look forward to if we don’t effect a major overhaul of economic allocation and coordination.

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The catch-22 of frugality

Frugality can be a matter of necessity or choice. Also, it can mean frugal use of money, but also of other resources such as land, energy, time, etc.

It would seem that high-density housing makes relatively efficient use of land and energy. It would also seem that it costs more than low-density housing. A frugal person (especially one who is frugal out of necessity) would prefer small living quarters over large living quarters because less land, in theory, costs less money, and less square footage costs less money to heat. Less house or apartment should also be less expensive when it comes to maintenance. So why can’t we have what, by the yardstick of frugality, would be the best of both worlds; a small house on cheap land? Perhaps part of the reason is because many people, especially successful people, have finally figured out that high density living is more desirable than low-density living, and so America may well at some point join most of the world in having suburban ghettos instead of urban ghettos. A more insidious reason might be a built-in property of the market mechanism itself:

conserve what’s most expensive

Market actors have the strongest incentive to conserve those resources that are most expensive, so developers will make more effort to use every square foot effectively in places where land values are high. This also affects the ideological tug-of-war between advocates of sustainability and advocates of growth (i.e., affluenza). The fossil fuel apologists and other right wingers love to gloat that “the greens love high fuel bills.” I suppose we love high energy costs to the extent that we believe that high energy prices are the most effective incentive for energy efficiency and energy conservation. Being an anagorist (market abolitionist) I’m not sure I buy that theory about how “incentives work.” At any rate, high-density development in a cheap neighborhood seems to be too much to ask of the market. Is there some Iron Law of Economics to the effect that a walkable neighborhood in the U.S.A. has to be either a college town or a ridiculously gentrified east or west coast city?

the (first) customer is always right(est)

The frugal consumer will generally buy used, not new. Same for those who try to practice “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The designer of a product such as a house or car is thinking primarily about the first buyer. Someone who is in a position to be in the market for a new car is someone who is basically established—has steady-eddie income and established credit. This goes at least double for someone in the market for new-construction housing. These consumers are in most cases upper middle class and up. To the extent that these manufacturers and developers are thinking about the second hand buyer, they’re thinking in terms of maximizing resale value. While this means meeting the needs of at least a portion of the people who aren’t looking at new, it probably means the more affluent portion of that population, more than the less affluent. And of course the second-hand customer is “righter” than the third-hand customer, whose wants and needs are at most an afterthought.

is there a sweet spot?

Is it possible to build small-square-footage housing on cheap land? Is it possible for an affordable (that is, cheap) neighborhood to have high population density? Perhaps that’s how it was in the “pre-war” era, except that back then the market’s verdict was that high population density had negative utility. Is it possible to design an automobile in a way that prioritizes fuel economy and durability with high priority and purchase cost with medium to high priority, while de-prioritizing “performance,” “luxury,” etc.? It certainly seems to me that the constraints standing in the way of such a set of design priorities come from economics, and not science or engineering.

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Does work undermine freedom?

John Danaher asks, “Does Work Undermine our Freedom?

As soon as I got as far as the title “Employment as a Limitation on Self-Ownership,” I reflexively thought of Abolish Human Rentals (Support Worker Cooperatives) Personally, I don’t buy the idea of “self ownership” as I consider “self” (myself, yourself or anyself) as being in a category entirely separate from the category of ownable stuff. I think slavery is something that should not be made light of, so for that reason if no other, I prefer “human rentals” over, say, “wage slavery” (an oxymoron) as a description of what employment is and does.

Despite my rejection of the term wage slavery, I consider myself (among other things) an anarcho-syndicalist, so I believe that a workplace that is both worker-controlled and cooperative is an absolute prerequisite for work not undermining our freedom.

The second phrase that grabbed me is Karl Widerquist’s “effective control self ownership.” This idea sort of captures how I think of these things, but is unfortunately a self-ownership-based model. I think more along the lines of the probably similar-but-not-the-same “capability approach” of Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum et al. The approach emphasizes functional capabilities (“substantive freedoms”, such as the ability to live to old age, engage in economic transactions, or participate in political activities). One area where I differ from this is that I crave the freedom not to engage in economic transactions. It should be noted, however, that this attitude is borne out of frustration in my experiences with the market economy, especially the labor market. If gainful employment were a lower-hanging fruit, as it were, perhaps I would be able to see free markets as friends rather than enemies of freedom.

Concerning the two prior categories of anti-work arguments: “intrinsic badness arguments (which claimed that there was something intrinsically bad about work) and opportunity cost arguments (which claimed that even if work was okay, non-work was better)”

Substitute “transaction” for “work” and I would agree with both arguments. My philosophical bent is utilitarian (specifically negative utilitarian) and both the above arguments are basically statements of rank-ordering of preferences. That which is better is preferable to that which is okay, for the exact same reasons that that which is not intrinsically bad is better than that which is. With me, it all boils down to rank ordering of preferences. Employment is what exists at the intersection of acts of work and acts of transaction. Employment is what transforms work from an end in itself to a means to an end. I like how S. Zoutewelle puts it:

Sure we need to survive, but let’s acknowledge the desperation under this drive to take everything we do, are or think and try to get cash for it. It reminds me of a young child who shows her father a drawing. He playfully offers her a dollar for it and 15 minutes later she comes back with 5 more. What got lost there in between the first spontaneous artwork and the 5 subsequent calculated ones?

The bottom line is this: In America today work is both a requirement and a privilege. It is a requirement because the world doesn’t owe you a living, and it is a privilege because the world doesn’t owe you a job. This is a property of every market economy.  There is no reason to believe that a “freed market” economy would be any different in this respect.  As far as I can see, the non-aggression principle directly implies work being both a requirement and a privilege, and these two things directly imply that survival is a privilege (and not a right). In other words, the non-aggression principle (NAP) implies social darwinism. This is why I think anarcho-capitalists, not left libertarians, are the true guardians and heirs of the non-aggression principle.  It’s also why I reject the NAP and why my antistatism of an antilibertarian variety.

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Quotebag #114

kyleserikawa:
One of the things that sometimes seems to get lost when people talk about the power of the market to create efficiency is that a free market requires that information be shared and freely available and understandable by everyone. When information is withheld by one side or the other of a transaction, or when different customers for a service or product are unable to compare prices, the metaphor of the invisible hand breaks down.
mawil1013:
There used to be, ‘Company Towns’. There are now, ‘Company Nations’ where every aspect of human life is governed by the whim of those at the top.
kollapsnik:
Competitiveness is what fufflers like best to exploit. Most non-fuffled life forms choose cooperate, out of an innate sense of self-preservation. Among the more evolved humans, competition is a display designed to please the gods, not to defeat your own friends.
Poor Richard:
Automation can easily exhaust any resistance we have.
byte-smasher:
The constant feeling that I could do much more for this world than I can possibly ever get payed for, if only I didn’t need to waste all my time doing things I can get payed for… There are few things so soul-crushing as the knowledge that this feeling is not mine alone, but is in fact commonplace.
robocopper1986:
all those bright well meant ideas drowning in a cestpool of advertising, warmongering, pron and what not.damn you interwebs you were the chosen one to lead us from darkness into light but kinda got high and wondered off…
From Arse To Elbow:
In a society where labour is increasingly superfluous, “work” becomes a positional good rather than an economic imperative. You can see the early stages of this in the shift to unpaid internships and the increasing cost of tertiary education.
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