Never, ever take progress for granted

Not just gig economy but even piecework pay is making a (big) comeback, after a good century of dormancy. There’s no natural law that says progress is permanent. Eternal vigilance, folks! One can never be too aggressive when it comes to beating back Social Expectations Rot.

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Capitalism is to capital as monarchism is to monarch.

Myself, I’d like to see cooperation supplant competition as the main organizing principle. I do recognize that that’s a tall order. Some scenarios that fall short of #FullCommunism that nevertheless would be seen (by me) as an improvement over the status quo, might include:

  1. Building the new allocation mechanism within the shell of the old (the old one being the market). I call this approach Angel Economics (check out FB group by that name).
  2. Take the “checks and balances” approach to politics, characteristic of the United States, but treating the business community as a de facto “branch of government” and therefore a power center to be kept in check.


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Quotebag #121

If I thought I could personally win the popularity game and didn’t care about those who couldn’t, then maybe I’d be a market anarchist.
Ana Kata:
Homeowners in the US (as compared to other countries) have absurd amounts of power and influence over aspects of the community and planning they should have nearly zero input into.
Tim Wolter:
Where partisan politics, the fabled but probably real “deep state” and the intelligence world meet its a dark, creepy place.
Michael O. Church:
Perhaps we are not totally alone in the universe, but all those other supposedly intelligent civilizations are mired in thousands of years of user stories and TPS reports. Seems unlikely, right? Sure. But it’s even more absurd, if we could send a man to the Moon using 1969 computers, that we’re using supercomputers to run Jira and do “user stories” in 2017.
Rick Falkvinge:
The Snowden documents, more than anything, showed the brutal truth of today: if a type of data collection is technically possible, then it is taking place right now. That’s all that matters. If it is technically doable.


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Quotebag #120

The expression “a liberal education” originally meant one worthy of freemen. Such is education simply in a true and broad sense. But education ordinarily so-called– the learning of trades and professions which is designed to enable men to earn their living, or to fit them for a particular station in life–is servile.

Henry Thoreau, 1859

There are good reasons for young kids to want to go to the best school possible, but careerism is not one of them.
Michael O. Church

Tim H. said…
Just guessing, the new tax bill will not imperil the jobs of accountants, can’t let the riff-raff get out of hand…

Midboss57 said…
The reason why people will always have a hard time believing in the idea of reciprocity in transparency is that it that knowing the elite’s misbehavior is completely useless unless you have some way to punish them. Or to put it in this little dialogue:
Elite: I can know everything about you, peon, including your treasonous thoughts.
Peon: I also know everything about you, including your treasonous actions.
Elite: That’s cute. I also have a death squad. What you gonna do about it, insect ?
Peon: Oh… Forgot about the death squad.
Without some way for mister peon to counter act the traditional strengths of elites, ie: money, power, lackeys, brute force, he is going to be very reticent to give up his one advantage of stealth.

“For information to be free, the coordinates of the information must be free.”—James Alexander Levy

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Can UBI be done statelessly?

I asked a minor variant of that question (Is full unemployment…statelessly doable?) back in 2011. Lexi Linnell asks, Does universal basic income require a state? This is C4SS, so of course “without a state” means voluntarism-friendly. The whole way Linnell approaches the basic income question differs from mine at almost every turn. Her first question is whether basic income can be distributed without taxation. Mine is whether the level of economic development is sufficiently post-scarcity to make universal survival provisions feasible. Basically Linnell’s main concern is whether we have to participate in something so involuntary as paying taxes to a state, while my main concern is whether we have to participate in something so involuntary as pounding pavement, possibly for years on end, asking for permission to contribute to the production of products and services. Free market types have a strange sense of what is and isn’t voluntary.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not pro-taxation. All other things being equal, I welcome any efforts to abolish taxation, or even to create a “voluntary” form of “taxation.” Please note that by “all other things being equal,” I mean that favoring someone’s “voluntary” alternative to taxation doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice something of comparable or greater value from my value system. To people who derive the entirety of their value systems from something like the Non-Aggression Principle (as if it’s a mathematical axiom or something) I suppose, all values are, by definition, of lesser magnitude than “voluntarism,” so it’s automatically a no-brainer that creating a “voluntary” or “stateless society” alternative to anything is a step in the right direction. For me, the real world is more complicated and questions of values contain more subtleties.

For me the main pain point in endorsing the Resilience brand of basic income is the centrality of incentive. My particular brand of anarchism is rooted more in rebellion against human nature essentialism than rejection of (I honestly don’t see any signs of a rebellious streak in market anarchism) the state per se. The whole “humans are necessarily creatures of incentive” talking point strikes me as a statement of Skinnerian behaviorism. At best, it’s a statement of Freakonomics; a belief system I find dubious at best.

In particular, the Resilience brand of basic income relies on incentivizing businesses to participate in their scheme. The logic seems to be that businesses, by paying Resilience “taxes,” wouldn’t be just giving money away, they’d be buying access to the Resilience market, which is desireable, if nothing else, because it’s a population that has some level of economic security. The catch (and there’s always a catch) is that you generate tax revenues by spending money. “This means you have to pay the ‘taxes’ you have told the system you are willing to pay.” How is this “enforced?”

To solve this problem, one final rule is created: Anyone who sends money to an account that isn’t in the Resilience network is temporarily disconnected from the network. This has the effect of freezing their BI, as well as discouraging anyone from sending money to them. In other words, participants in the network are strongly disincentivized from transacting with anyone outside the network. The upshot is, in order for businesses to have network participants as customers, they must join the network themselves.

Therefore, businesses are incentivized to join the network because they gain access to a new base of consumers. However, since participants can set their own tax rate, why can’t businesses set their own rate to zero and avoid paying anything? While they could do this, it turns out that their customers’ BI would increase with a higher tax rate. A business which set its tax rate higher would have customers with higher BIs, so consumers will generally look for businesses with high tax rates. Presumably, this will reach an equilibrium where businesses are paying fairly high taxes but not so high that they don’t make a profit. In a sense, the tax rates themselves are set by the market.

Honestly, this sounds like the actually-existing economy. The survival of the people is contingent on the success of participating businesses. Basically, trickle-down economics.

What really depresses me about pro-market ideologues, even “left libertarians” and “market socialists,” is their knee-jerk rejection of those economic concepts that are Keynesian in nature. I think “alt currencies” may have some value to efforts to build less authoritarian (or even more “voluntary”) ways of living, but why should we gravitate to those in the blockchain family (which seem to be “hard currencies” by design, hence their attractiveness to libertarian and other “gold bug” types) rather than decidedly soft-currency approaches such as demurrage or Ripple? Why work with rather than against the idea of spending-driven economic growth? Why work against rather than with the idea that secular stagnation might be an actually-existing problem? And even if you do go with a “let’s spend our way to prosperity” model, inflation (decay of the value of “money”) seems a more simple and direct incentive to spend that cash than a set of contractual obligations. So why go with a currency that is extremely inflation-resistant by design if the system you’re seeking to create rests on some kind of “you gotta spend money to get money” logic that frankly sounds to me like some kind of pyramid scheme (as does Bitcoin).

As I read this description of Resilience, I can’t help but think, this so misses the point as to why I might see basic income as a possibly positive development in the first place. The main reason why the idea of basic income appeals to me at all is because if I have a known future positive cash flow, I can make plans (more plans than I can without such an annuity). Even if the amount falls pitifully short of a livelihood, I have the knowledge that if somehow I can budget myself to it through some combination of extreme frugality and extreme punk DIY ethos, I can cross off the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (basically the rawest of raw necessities; “the grossest of groceries,” to quote Thoreau) in a more or less definitive way, and have the sheer luxury of even thinking about the “higher” needs without the constant intrusion of thoughts of whether tomorrow’s efforts to sell myself in the competitive market economy will prove fruitful. But here’s the thing: I pursue punk DIY ethos, not only to “…[study] rather how to avoid the necessity of selling…” (another Thoreau-ism) but also to be as independent as possible from the for-profit sector (from both the buying and selling ends, frankly). What really nauseates me about the Resilience brand of basic income is that not only am I expected to accept that the profit motive and the for-profit sector will always be with us, but I must actively support some combination of businesses. Sounds to me like the motivation for inventing Resilience is one part “create proof of concept for ‘voluntary’ basic income” and thirty seven parts “kill the dream of socialism forever.” Same as goals as “bleeding heart libertarianism,” it seems, but with very different methods, of course. Which is cute, because the only reason lack of basic income is problematic in the first place is because the working class has utterly failed to gain control over all the means of production.


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Quotebag #119

Rick Falkvinge:
Information hygiene means that you’re aware not of what somebody claims to do with your data, but that you understand what they are able to do.
Michael O. Church:
Value capture: people who are good at creating value tend to be below average in the social skills involved in capturing value. So, the hardest-working and best people see most of their efforts enrich other people. This is a depressing social problem that I don’t expect to see solved in my lifetime.
Duncan Cairncross:
There is NOT a tiny creative minority!! — we — the creative — are the bloody MAJORITY!
Kira Nerys:
If all your little advertisements aren’t purged from our systems by the time I get back from the Gamma Quadrant, I will come to Quark’s, and believe me, I will have fun.
In basically all cases, a conservative NLRB will want to reduce the ways workers can coordinate with one another, and increase employer discretion to terminate employees. When I raised this point on Twitter, someone said that this might be different under Trump because wouldn’t such a ruling feed into the political correctness and whatnot that he hates. And to that I can only laugh: at the end of the day, what conservatives want to do is shift power to bosses over workers, and they are really good at keeping their eyes on the prize.
If cracking Nazi heads is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Colin Keesee:
Own and defend your belief that coding classes will lift the working class out of poverty faster than demand side economics.


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What is covert cobbling?

Covert Cobbling is an idea from sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom. It appears to be a suite of strategies for reverse engineering engines of information asymmetry. This is basically what Josie and I would like to see accomplished with what we call pubwan. I have my thought leader, Frank Pasquale, to thank for bringing this concept to my attention via a retweet. Once upon a time, I formulated a list of defining attributes for pubwan, which seemed appropriate at the time. For example, I specified that by definition, pubwan would have to be non-profit. That is because I believed (and still believe) that profit models based on information are inherently asymmetric, which would instantly defeat the purpose of implementing pubwan in the first place. Another attribute I felt was appropriate at the time was lawfulness:

In fact, pubwan should draw its sources, methods and its proposed strategies from all manner of “openist” movements. Such movements include “open systems,” “open content,” “open source” and others. Obviously, this should not be generalized to “open <fill in the blank>.” It can’t be emphasized enough that pubwan is not “open season” on any organization, practice, person or philosophy. Not all features of all openist movements are appropriate for pubwan. For example, some public licenses prohibit use of the licensed information or technology for specified uses, examples including commercial, military, classified and non-educational uses. Others allow commercial use but allow free use only by noncommercial users. Pubwan is free. Free means you don’t have to pay. Free also means there are no strings attached. Note that it is the use of pubwan resources, not their preparation, which is unrestricted by pubwan. “Pubwan activities” are subject to all kinds of self-imposed constraints, which we have already discussed in some detail. By “pubwan activities,” we mean any volunteer efforts aimed at developing or improving pubwan, its technologies, its content, the organization of its content, its accessibility, inclusivity, ethical standards, technical standards, efficacy, data integrity, integrity in general, openness, sources, methods, etc., etc., etc. Lori believes that the Cypherpunks Anti-License is generally compatible with pubwan principles. Lori doesn’t know enough about legal issues to judge the appropriateness of any statement of copyleft to any set of objectives, but she likes the general tone of the CPL. This appreciation is of course tempered by the assertion that pubwan isn’t “anti” anything. Pubwan might benefit from a licensing and copylefting protocol of its own. On the other hand, the world at large might not benefit from yet another variant on the concept of public domain.

Since that time, I’ve re-considered whether lawfulness is a viable option for a pubwan movement, for various reasons. Mainly, because applied information asymmetry has become so high-stakes, and the difference in information gathering and leveraging capabilities between the public (as in public-spirited) and proprietary spheres has become so enormous, that illicit, and even covert, countermeasures may be a necessary evil in service to the greater good of reversing the degeneration of our society into a privately managed panopticon.

As of this writing, a Google search on the quoted phrase “covert cobbling” yielded only three results, one of which appears to be non-relevant and the other two are on Twitter. A search of Covert Cobbling on Twitter appears to reveal tweets only from attendees at some conference hashtagged #4s2017. According to Colin Shunryu Garvey, Covert Cobbling is necessary methodological innovation for opening blackboxes in the 21st century. Opening informational black boxes is the specific reason I came up with the idea of #pubwan. According to Sarah Myers West: “[Dr. McMillan-Cottom] calls for covert cobbling: disciplined methodological attacks on the black box, chosen to counter limitations of an individual method.” This suggests an all-hands-on-deck sense of urgency, as well as an eclectic approach to methodology, also very much what I have in mind for pubwan. Dan Hirschman: “Covert part is old/classic, cobbling is the new part – need to combine covert qual work with cobbling from every other method,” and “So, what’s the solution? “Covert cobbling”- real and legal secrecy means you need to do covert data collection.” This adds up to a pretty vague picture, so it’s quite possible that my take on covert cobbling is wrong. If so, my apologies to persons involved.

In addition to a commitment to lawfulness, the original formulation for pubwan called for non-secrecy. I’m wondering whether to move that goalpost. I deeply cherish the idea of a true transparent society in which transparency is omnidirectional; not the sort of unilateral transparency implicit in an informational power ratchet such as the pair of mirror shades on a cop or the one way mirror in the primate research lab. But informationally speaking, we are living in very dark times. The foes of transparency and public informational empowerment know who they are. They know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. They make maximal use of both intellectual property and trade secrecy when it comes to maintaining their one-way information valves. To put it bluntly, this is war. Perhaps instead of a collegial brainstorm of ideas for making the information landscape more navigable by the public, what will be needed is an underground resistance, operating at least partially in secret, always worried about infiltrators from both commerce and state, perhaps resorting to black-hat hacks. While I’m a little squeamish about that, I consider it a lesser evil than using monetization/capital-raising to launch pubwan from idea to implementation.

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