The present system will not continue as it is. It will change for better or worse to something else. The revolution will occur by evolution.

Things will likely get better. Individual people will have more knowledge and power. Most people will educate themselves via the internet. People will be able to make things with their 3D printers — household items like spoons, dishes to smart phones and guns.

Violence will continue to decrease. Stephen Pinker has shown that violence of all kinds has declined and he has suggested reasons why. One of the reasons is people are getting smarter. And the increasing knowledge and intelligence  as they continue to increase will continue to trend violence down.

Democracies and economic systems will also change. Instead of government handouts to the unemployed, societies will pay such people, and people in general, to do certain tasks, certain work, that a smooth running society will need them to do.

First of all smooth running societies will need more and more educated people. People will be paid to educate themselves in general, and in specific areas that need knowledgeable people. One example is voting. People will be paid to educate themselves about candidates and issues before they may cast a vote. They will be paid to do this work. If you don’t want to vote, that will be OK, but you won’t be paid. We already do not allow people to vote whom we consider not mature enough. 17 year olds cannot vote since we have decided they arn’t smart enough. So we already have a smartness test for voting. We will be just refining the test criteria.

Other things will be done to eliminate the influence of money on voting and politicians.  Maybe congresspersons will only be allowed to receive contributions from the districts/ states they represent. Or maybe voting should be organized as tournaments where the voters must demonstrate a level of knowledge about the candidates before they can vote.

There are huge fundamental disagreements and misunderstandings about our current economic and money systems. So society will need many educated people to sort all this out. People will need to be paid to study, research scientifically and objectively all these questions about how these systems are organized so that so that all people receive all the resources they need, all the human necessities so that they can develop themselves maximally in whatever positive contributary ways they want. 

We already claim to believe that people should be rewarded for work. We just need to recognize that society needs people to do some new kinds of work and therefor society should pay people to do the work required.

Unity of Individual and Community

I posted the following comment at Naked Capitalism today as a comment to Yves Smith’s post on passion.

“In other words, your circumstances do not create your mental state. You do.” — Yves Smith
“…a separate ego is an illusion” — Ven
“Is it still possible for an individual to be a specifically identifiable personality with values, time for personal development and pleasure, and self administereds agenda within the flow of a society/world where profit is law?” — El Snarko
“We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest” — Einstein
“ …’western’ values of the sanctity of the individual” — crazyman
“Consider for a moment the phrase, the opposite of solipsism. In solipsism, you are ultimately isolated and alone, isolated by the premise “I make it all up.” But at the other extreme, the opposite of solipsism, you would cease to exist, becoming nothing but a metaphoric feather blown by the winds of external “reality.” —number 9
We must stop trying to put primary emphasis on only one of the two: individual or community. It is not one or the other. It is both. It’s not or. It’s and. But this is not enough. We need to go further. It’s not two things: individual and community. It’s one thing. To even think of it as two things is wrong because two implies separateness. And individual and community are not separate or separable. We are social creatures. A human being totally isolated from any contact or communication with any other human would cease to be human. Almost everything we know and are comes from the community we are raised in. And if we are lucky we may build upon the knowledge and work accumulated by all those who came before us and we might make some individual contribution to our community. Not only are individual and community inseparable in practice — in our actual lives — but they simply cannot be separated conceptually. It is absurd to try to separate them. When you try to separate them, when you try to understand one without the other, you cannot understand either one. [End of Comment to Naked Capitalism]

I should add: And today our community is the whole world, all of humankind, and even the biosphere.

This is relevant to the revolution we must have in that people need to come to understand that the individual pursuit of the individual’s well-being — with no or little thought to what happens to others well-being — is not the ultimate, the privileged, the one and only goal it has become in much of the world. Individuals do not, can not exist outside a human community. Individual well-being is limited, diminished by a poor, ineffective, messed up community.

Besides there is not even such a thing as “the individual pursuit of the individual’s well-being”. Almost nothing is done individually. Almost everything an individual does is done with others. All our progress, all the things we make, almost all the knowledge we use to make things, to do things (provide services) comes from others both the living and the dead. Yes, on rare occasions some individual puts together knowledge, information, ideas of other people in a new or clever or creative way to create some new knowledge that is or will be of great value to huge numbers of people. This is wonderful. Sometimes it seems like magic. But in a smaller version this is what humans do every day in their lives, their jobs — working with others. There is some problem to be solved, a mistake in a design that must be corrected, a telephone pole blown over by the wind that must be fixed — How to do it? People use the knowledge and information they mostly have gotten from others and they work together in a small team maybe, to discuss and consider solutions till they find one they are willing to implement. Human creativity occurs in the daily life of all of us, not just in the rare grand discoveries of people like Newton and Einstein. But no matter. Even the daily creativity we all do is built upon knowledge and information we have gotten from others, those who came before us. It is only because we are ordinarily not aware of the vast store of knowledge and information we depend on, that our cultures, our communities build up and make available to us that we perhaps rate our own contributions so highly.

It is really, really, really arrogant and ignorant to ever, ever say: I did it all by myself.

Games and Organizations

Yesterday, as a comment on the Naked Capitalism blog, I wrote:

“Competition is cooperation because all those participating in a competition are behaving in accordance with agreed upon rules. Conflict is fighting — trying to harm or kill someone. Some people don’t seem to see the difference. So we need agreed upon rules for corporations and individuals in their economic behavior if it is to be competition rather than conflict. Capitalism or whatever system we have needs more competition, less conflict, more rules. Every system, every game needs rules or it turns into destructive conflict. Most people don’t understand this. Yes, let’s get rid of all regulations. Let’s have a game with no rules!”

I want to elaborate on this a bit.

Is the world economy a game? Or how much is it like a game? How is it different?

I am thinking here of games as sports games like baseball, football, soccer, basketball. All these games have definite rules of behavior which all the players must know and understand and agree to follow. These games have officials or judges who observe the behavior of the players and they assess penalties for violations of the rules. These are team sports. Each team consists of several individual players who mostly cooperate with the other members of their team in playing the game. Each team gets points for various accomplishments by its members and each team tries to prevent the scoring of points by the other team. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. Generally a team has a coach who’s job is to suggest strategy and tactics.

Over short periods of time the rules of each of these games are fixed. But over longer periods, the rules evolve. That is, all those participating in the games agree to make small changes to the rules. Then we have a slightly different game.

 All these games have spectators. They really should be considered as part of the game if we look at the game as a whole as a system. What is the purpose of a game? As a system in our culture, what does a game do? It encourages and develops human excellence in the players. The spectators come to see and encourage and celebrate the human excellence demonstrated by the players. If the game didn’t have clear rules that the players and spectators can easily understand, or, if there were too many violations of the rules, the players and spectators will be turned off and will no longer be interested in such a game.

In the world economic and political system there are many more players and teams. And the relationships between individual people and various teams are much more complicated than the simple rules of the above team sports would allow. But we can still look at corporations, governments, and other organizations as teams. As with sports teams, individuals within any one of these organizations are supposed to cooperate with one another in the accomplishment of the purposes of the organization. Any competition is supposed to be between organizations. Within and among corporations and nations the rules are excessively complicated, often out of date (old laws), not uniformly inforced, and most participants (people, corporations, nations, and other organizations) do not know or understand or agree with the rules! Not a very good game. Not pleasing to look at.

But if we do look at the whole world economic and political system as a game, what are the points? How are accomplishments scored? Governments, nations used to compete (rather conflict, fight, war) for territory, for exclusive trade with other countries, etc. Corporations are supposedly competing only for money. But money can’t be the whole story. At least some corporations must have some purposes besides making money. At least some corporations must make some goods or services like food, houses, health care or we would all be dead. You can’t eat modern money.

Economists reduce everything to money — for example Gross National Product (GNP), per capita income, etc. But these measures are inadequate because they ignore the details. Money spent on cleaning up a nuclear disaster has the same weight as money spent building a house. Average income ignores gross income inequality.

So in the case of the world political and economic system, the rules are so poorly defined that nobody has any clear idea what the points are. So if it’s a game, it’s not a very good one. It’s not one in which we can celebrate human excellence.

What’s the purpose of the world economic and political system? First, who ever asks this question? Almost nobody. If the question is asked, some people will say there is no specific purpose because it wasn’t designed or built by any one person and so it has no purpose. It just is. It developed and evolved over the history of humanity.  Some people will say that yes it is a system that evolved and although not designed by any one person it is still appropriate to say that it has a purpose and this purpose can be determined by the main things the system does. And what the system does is mainly the following. It produces food and other human physical necessities — goods — and necessary human services like education — and it DISTRIBUTES these (poorly) to the human population.

We need to build a world system with clear rules for corporations (and all other human organizations) and a system of points for their competitions so that a corporation gets points in proportion to its production and fair distribution of the human necessities. Money ain’t it.

Then maybe we will have a game where we can really celebrate human excellence.

Emotions and Thinking

Emotions and thinking go together. We use emotions in our thinking. They are inseparable. How they go together in various individuals influences the effectiveness of the individuals’ thinking.  The magnitude of the emotional response should be appropriate to the situation we are thinking about. In this there is great individual variation. Sometimes the wrong kind of emotion is used. More often it is the amount of the emotion that is wrong.

The type and amount of emotion a person associates with a thought or action is a measure of the importance the person places on the thought or action. Seeing a snake close by is more scary for most people than seeing a rabbit. Being physically injured is more fearful than being yelled at.

Emotion is contagious. An angry person elicits anger in many of those around him. Fear and anger are emotions which are very often used in inappropriate amounts. Anger is actually physiological and psychological preparation to physically fight. Many people use too much fear and anger in many aspects of their lives. They are thinking with too much fear and/or anger. This in itself is a distortion of (correct or appropriate) thinking. If a person has an “irrational” fear of spiders, that person may do unnecessary or harmful things such as spraying too much cancer causing bug spray in their house. If a person has too much fear of people they don’t already know, they may avoid people they don’t already know. Other people can see the emotions we are having. Emotions show on our faces, our tones of voice, bodily postures, and the words we speak. When other people see the type and amount of emotion we are having, they often will experience that same emotion. This is the contagion of emotions. So a person who approaches a stranger with fear may very well elicit fear towards himself in that stranger. And there is the possibility that the stranger’s fear, when perceived by the first person, will reinforce or make his own fear greater. Similarly for anger. Similarly for hatred. Similarly for disgust and contempt. But also, similarly for happiness, openness, acceptance, confidence, compassion, empathy, and love. In all these emotions contagion often occurs and mutual reinforcement can occur.

The key to effective thinking and action in all cases is the appropriateness of the types and amounts of emotions attached to, associated with, the thought or action. (For background see “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman and see “Emotions Revealed” by Paul Ekman.)

I am now reading “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky. This book is about the stress response in animals and humans. Sapolsky provides a broad and detailed physiological and psychological description of the stress response based on recent science. This is relevant to emotions and thinking because the stress response is what excessive fear or excessive anger or any strong emotion produces in people. Actually the stress response is, or is a part of, any strong emotion. This is because emotion is by definition the body and brain’s reaction to events and to thoughts. And this is what the stress response is — increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, tensing of muscles (facial and bodily expressions of emotions), increased alertness and attention to the perceived event or situation, turning on the sympathetic nervous system and turning off the parasympathetic nervous system, secretion of epinephrine (adrenalin) and norepinephrine, secretion of glucocorticoids (cortisol, etc.). So when we speak of emotions and when we speak of the stress response we are pretty much talking about the same things. The different emotions correspond to different variations of the stress response.

There is an aspect of emotions and of stress responses not yet mentioned. And that is our feelings when emotions and the stress response occur. We all know the feeling of fear. We know what it feels like to be angry. We know what it feels like to be happy. The feeling is not the same as the emotion — the bodily changes. Yet the feeling comes with the emotion. The feeling actually is our perceiving of the bodily changes actually occurring — increased heart rate, increased muscle tension, increased alertness, etc. We feel the changes in our body. (Read Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux for discussion of this distinction. Not everyone makes this distinction.)

Where am I going with all this? I want to show that poor thinking leads to many social problems. In particular thinking with excessive emotions is a very bad way to think and to live. Yet many people go through their whole lives fearful of all kinds of things. Others go through their whole lives angry at almost everyone and everything. Many hate. As a shortcut I call all this thinking with fear and anger. But remember what I mean is thinking with excessive or inappropriate fear, anger, etc.

For a zebra running for his life to avoid being killed and eaten by a lion, a full-blown stress response is appropriate. For a human couple planning some activity together, a full-blown stress response is almost always not appropriate. Yet many humans argue rather than discuss all kinds of matters day after day. They think with fear and anger. Why is this bad? For one, too great or too frequent stress responses cause many health problems. Beyond that thinking with fear and anger by a human couple or between two groups of people is much less likely to lead to an agreement between them. (See “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg.) This is because although an event that causes a stress response can pass — be over with — the adrenalin and cortisol secreted into the bloodstream stay high for some period of time after the event that initially caused the stress. This is called the refractory period (see Ekman). The important point is that during this refractory period, the person’s attention is still focused on the event and similar events. So it is very hard for them to think about anything else. So it is hard to move on. It is hard for them to make progress to a solution that would otherwise be satisfactory for both of them because they are still distracted by whatever caused their fear or anger in the first place. The fundamental fact is: After thinking with fear and anger, our thinking about anything else is seriously degraded during the refractory period. Furthermore, if the stress response to the original event is great enough, if our fear and/or anger is great enough, the event, along with a large amount of fear and/or anger will be stored in our memory, to be retrieved and reviewed and worried about indefinitely. So it is not just the initial refractory period that messes people up. It is also their memories stored away with excessive fear and anger, which when recalled can cause a stress response similar to the original one. This can go on indefinitely (consider post traumatic stress disorder, an extreme example).

So if Osama bin Laden had not thought with hatred (or contempt, or disgust, or …) or if vice president Richard Cheney had not panicked (thought with fear) after 9/11, then we might not have had depraved torture and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

OK, so poor thinking leads to many social problems. BFD. We already know that. So what? What can we do about this thinking with fear and anger? Isn’t this human nature? We evolved from some ancestral primate. Many primates — chimpanzees and baboons — organize themselves in hierarchies where there is a lot of fear and aggression. If it (thinking with fear and anger) is natural in them, then maybe it is natural in us too.

Implicit in the above line of thinking, at least for most people, is the idea that the emotions we express are a matter of genetics. Our genes make us do it so there is nothing we can do about it. Genes are involved but they are not the whole explanation. The capacities for fear, anger, and other emotions are built into our bodies and brains, mostly by our present genes. But what we fear, what or who we get angry about, who we hate, and by how much and under which circumstances — these things come from our environment, our culture, through learning and our development. THEREFORE THEY CAN BE CHANGED. We are not doomed by our genes to be as fearful and as angry and as hateful and as aggressive and violent as we presently are. This stuff is learned — either actively as in school or passively absorbed from our cultures, our traditions.

This is a big deal because the science references above prove that our emotional and stress responses are very variable, and most importantly that we can control them, that we can learn to control them as to what circumstances and to what degree to use them. For a zebra being chased by a lion, the stress response is automatic. For many present day humans it is also automatic most of the time. But many people today have learned to not think with fear and anger. Already some Buddhists completely eliminate anger from their lives. There are effective anger management courses. There is psychotherapy for phobias like fear of spiders, fear of snakes, etc. There are effective negotiating and communication strategies that do not use fear and anger. (See Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non Violent Communication” and others.)

How is this relevant to the revolution we need? It means we can greatly reduce and essentially eliminate thinking with fear and anger from all of our cultures. This will improve human health worldwide, improve social interactions, ultimately eliminate hostility, aggression, and violence. This is a big part of the revolution we need, but only a part. We still have to evolve a new economic system that provides a just and fair distribution of the human necessities to all people, we have to get our democracies back from the 1%, preserve the environment, and accommodate ourselves to the earth’s limited resources. But improving our thinking will help us a lot both in terms of social groups and in each individual life. The fact that thinking better in general, and thinking without fear and anger in particular, will lead to more satisfying and productive lives for the individuals who make the changes in their own lives — this will cause more and more people to adopt improved thinking. So this is a self spreading meme. It has Daniel C. Dennet’s frequency dependent fitness. (See “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” by Daniel C. Dennett.)






The Fairness Principle

We are always changing our systems. Every new law changes something. Why do we make these changes? The easy answer is to make things better. Better for whom? Ideally better for everyone. But often the changes made are designed, consciously or not, to make things better for some individuals or for some class or classes of people with no consideration as to what the change does for the system as a whole, and no consideration as to whether there are any benefits for everyone else.

We need a new principle to be used when designing and considering changes to our economic and political systems. This principle should be something like: No change should benefit one group at the expense of everyone else or at the expense of other individuals or groups. This principle should be applied especially to the production and fair distribution of the human necessities. We can call this the Fairness Principle.

The human necessities are those goods and services every person needs to develop fully as a human person. Specifically these are: Food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, opportunities to associate with, cooperate with, work with other people, maximal individual freedom consistent with the well-being of others, and non-violence. And this production and fair distribution of these human necessities must be done within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources and the preservation of the natural world.

If there are many people whose basic human needs are not satisfied, then these people cannot contribute as much to the production of the goods and services we all need. We want a just system. We don’t want a system where there are a lot of freeloaders — people who get the benefits of cooperative work but who don’t do their fair share. This is one side of justice. The other side of justice is that the system must assure that those who work have all the resources they need to do the work they do. This is why we want every person to have the human necessities.

The principle that no changes to our system should be made which favors particular individuals or groups over others is a kind of Fairness Principle. Why should we accept this principle? Because it seems unfair to change our system so that it takes away (or does not provide) goods and services from some people to give them to other people. This is more unfair if the goods and services taken away are human necessities. Then those whose necessities have been decreased become less able to contribute to the whole and the system works less well and everyone may be affected. If it is not human necessities that are taken away, then maybe it does not matter. So fairness in the distribution of human necessities is what matters most.

There could be rather immediate benefits if the above fairness principle were applied to the crafting of new laws. We can imagine a constitution where it would be required that laws conform to the fairness principle. Then courts could review laws and void them on the grounds of unfairness with respect to human necessities. Or maybe the courts or some new institution (maybe a part of the legislation system) would analyze and say yes or no to proposed new laws.

So special interest legislation could be reduced greatly. There already is some rule that is aimed at preventing legislation naming a specific individual, corporation, locality as the beneficiary of a law. Our legislators go around this rule by adding enough conditions so that only the desired individual or corporation or location qualifies for the benefit. But clearly the legislators could decide not to allow such fakery. The legislators already make all kinds of rules for themselves that the laws they write must conform to.

We all know our legislators are not going to make these changes any time soon. But don’t dismiss the idea just because it will not be implemented soon. I am exploring how things could be, not how they are likely to be next month or next year.

Many people recognize that our legislators have been bought and paid for by the rich, the 1%. Legislators write and pass legislation favoring those who contribute to their campaigns, their party, or who do favors for their family and friends. It is proposed that if we could only “get money out of politics” we would solve this problem, get our democracy back, and then start making the progressive changes we all want. It is more complicated than that. There has to be a revolution not only in the minds of the voters but also in the minds of those who are supposed to be our representatives.

What kind of different ideas must our legislators acquire? One idea is the Fairness Principle.

How can we help them change their minds so they make new laws to change our systems to systems that are better for everybody? For now we must continue thinking, researching, and writing.



Abandon all economic theories

Economic theories often claim to be about the way things are, as if they were objective scientific theories about the real world of human group behaviors —  as if they were about how we actually produce and distribute goods and services. But some of these theories have another element to them. And that element is: how things should be.

How can we distinguish whether a theory is a description of how things actually are, how our systems actually work as objectively observed and scientifically verified, and when a theory is attempting to say how things should work? When is a theory attempting to describe what people actually do versus what they should do?

It seems that most economic and political theories (and it is impossible to separate the two) have a lot of “should”s in them. Few if any have no “should”s.

Governments exist. Many of the “should”s have to do with the role of governments in our systems. How much should governments be involved in economics? Some people (some capitalists) say governments should have no role or a minimal role; some people (some communists) say governments should make all or most economic decisions. Clearly both extremes do not describe how any actual systems actually work. Governments always have some role. They make and enforce laws which constrain human behavior. Stop on red, go on green, be careful on yellow. And enforce contracts. And no government can make all economic decisions. Governments don’t know enough and they can’t possibly manage everything. They don’t have enough information and even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to put it all together and use it. So many of the “should”s are about the roles of governments.

Every law is a “should”. If a law were not a “should” then it would be a description of actual behavior and it would not need to be enforced.

Many “should”s are about individual behavior. Traffic laws, for example are about individual behavior. Most individual behavior occurs with or in groups of other people — in families, clans, tribes, towns, cities, clubs, associations, partnerships, corporations, states, nations. Many of the “should”s are about these groups, these human organizations.

“Should”s are not only laws. Customs and habits that most people (in some group) follow most of the time are also “should”s. Human life is full of “should”s.

Some “should”s take the form of: You should behave according to theory X because if everyone behaved as specified in theory X, then good thing Y will happen. Classic capitalists said that if everyone would pursue his own rational self-interest, then the resulting system would be the best for everyone. If everyone is greedy, then the resulting system will be best for everyone. Classic communists said that if you let the central government make plans for all the types and amounts of goods and services to be produced in some period of time, and if everyone follows the plan, then this will result in a good and efficient system that will be best for everyone. If everyone just works and obeys orders, everyone will be taken care of, it will be the best for everyone. Note that in both cases “best” is not clearly spelled out and there was no proof, no valid argument, that the “best” could be actually attained. Note also that in both systems many people were and are left out — their situations became worse.

There are many reasons why any preplanned social system for the production and distribution of goods and services will not work as expected. The main reason is we cannot predict the future at least in detail. And human behavior changes. Technology changes. Cultures change. Nature intervenes. Accidents and disasters happen.   

So we cannot dream up an ideal system with specified roles and rules for governments, corporations, organizations in general, and individuals, and claim that if every organization and individual behaves as specified (everybody and every organization always follows the specified rules), then the result will be the best for everyone. We can’t even claim it will be good for everyone, or for sure better than some other system. There is no such thing as perfection in such matters.

We cannot get 100% compliance with any set of rules and laws. At present huge numbers of laws are ignored by individuals and corporations and are not enforced by governments. So any such predesigned system would have to be built with the assumption of less than 100% compliance. And since nothing stays the same, since culture, technology, nature, and human nature are always changing, always evolving, any preplanned and highly specified system will not continue indefinitely to produce the same results it once may have produced.

So any system we might contemplate implementing must not be too highly constrained. It must have mechanisms to allow it to co-evolve with evolving nature, human technology, human nature, and culture in general.

In a sense we already have some of this co-evolution. Not so much in our theories (which are often presented as static, highly specified, and unchangeable), but in our practice. We are constantly changing our laws regarding our economic and political systems. The goals, purposes of the new laws are often to benefit or favor certain individuals and groups but not everyone. Sometimes the purpose of a new law is to make our practice (our operational system) conform better to one of our simple theories such as capitalism, communism, socialism, libertarianism, “the Austrian school”, Keynes, or the theories of any particular economist. But often, behind such a purpose is the more basic goal to benefit some individual or group.

We need something else beyond these simple, highly specified, over-constrained systems as the goals for our system changes, as our law changes. We don’t need any more theories like those listed. They are all simple-minded, limited, and do not (or would not) work very well for most people. Each may work well for a subset, some class or classes of people, the rich or the powerful, but often make things worse for most people.

We need a simple, clear, direct goal for our system changes, our law changes: We should design our system changes, our law changes to our economic and political systems, so that to the best of our abilities, the resulting system is better for everyone. We must eliminate the middle men — the simple-minded theories (which are mostly fake covers for benefiting the few at the expense of everyone else) — and we must aim clearly and directly at the goal of changes that benefit everybody.

Clearly since we will have no theory to guide us (and even if we did, it wouldn’t help), and we cannot predict the future in detail, we will have to use trial and error, which is the scientific method. That means we make our best estimate, our best guess, as to what to change. Then change it and look at the result. Check whether it made things better for almost everybody. (We must not get hung up on seeking perfection in every single step. Perfection is an illusion.) If the change made things better for a large enough number of people (and not just a few individuals or classes) then keep that changed law. If the change only benefited a few individuals or classes, then reverse that change and try something else. Trial and error. There really is no other way.

When I say abandon all the above theories I mean abandon them as exclusive overriding dogmatic systems. There surely is important knowledge about how human organizations work and can work, both internally and in cooperation with other organizations (for example maybe money, markets, property, contracts, laws, incentives, technologies, education, safety, redundancies, etc.) and this knowledge should be the basis for our best estimates and best guesses when changing our systems to make them better for everyone. In any case we must start with whatever we have now. No system as complex and interconnected as the present world system can be “overthrown” and a new one built from nothing.

Finally I want to spell out in more detail what the goals of our world economic and political systems should be: The goal should be to change our systems step by step as above into systems that provide almost all human beings with the human necessities which are: sufficient water, food, clothes, shelter, education, health care, opportunity to work with others to contribute to the welfare of everyone, maximal liberty consistent with the welfare of others, nonviolence — and all this consistent with the earth’s limited resources and consistent with preserving the natural world from further degradation and destruction.

We cannot know now if it is possible to reach such a goal. Nor can we know now that it is impossible to reach such a goal. To find the answer, we must try. We can measure how close we are to each of these sub-goals. This is something economists can do since they can stop wasting their time generating grand theories. Surely great progress can be made. Reaching the goal is not the main thing. The main thing is to keep moving our economic and political systems toward these goals. Let’s have a directed evolution. That will be a real revolution.


A password is not a physical thing.


“Basically, if the password is a physical thing she has, than the Fifth Amendment does not protect it. But if the password is deemed to be something the defendant knows, it is protected.” — From John Fontana of ZDNet quoted by David Sirota in commenting on a criminal prosecution in Denver

The password is information. Therefore it is not a physical thing because information is not a physical thing. Instances of information occur on or in physical things. The physical things on or in which information occurs are of course physical things. So if she had written the password on a piece of paper and she still possesses that piece of paper with the password written on it, then, by the quote, the 5th amendment does not protect that piece of paper from being handed over. But if the password is not stored in, or recorded on, any physical substrate but her brain, then, by the quote, the 5th amendment protects it.

Information is not a physical thing.

The password as information can exist on or in many substrates at many different places and at many different times. The instances of the password as information can come and go like a wave in water: electric or magnetic charges in a computer, tiny dots on a CD or DVD disk, pencil smudges on a piece of paper, or ink on paper, or some patterns in her brain, or sound waves in the air if she should speak the password out loud in a courtroom. The connections between all these — what makes them all instances of the same information (namely her password) — is that these various patterns on all their variable substrates are convertible from one to another by specific more or less known processes. For example she knows how to speak the password out loud. That is she can convert the password pattern in her brain into sound waves via speaking. The sound waves travelling through the air to another person (who understands her language) will be converted to a pattern in the hearer’s brain that will be another instance of her password information, assuming it was heard and understood correctly. The patterns in her brain and in the hearers brains will not be identical. At best they will be similar. Same for two instances of her password written on two pieces of paper. They may be similar. They will not be identical.

Her password is not a physical thing she has. There are instances of it from time to time somehow recorded as various patterns of neuronal activations in her brain. Rather it is a collection of instances here and there, and at various times, with some instances in her brain and some instances outside her brain. Note that when the password is spoken that instance of the password as a pattern of sound waves in the air between the speaker and the hearer exists only for a second or so whereas if the password had been stamped on a bar of gold in some bank vault, that instance might last for hundreds of years. The collection extends over space and time. The collection is not attached to any point in space or any point in time. The collection may have physical things in it from time to time, but the collection is not a physical thing.

(This post may not seem to be connected with How to Make a Revolution, but this example gives a good opportunity to talk about the nature of information — what information is. And since my emphasis is on how information spreads through cultures, this is relevant.)


Cooperation First Principles

In the previous post (10JAN12) we reviewed a few kinds of cooperation: educational, a military unit, sports, and corporations. Here I want to back away from the specifics and look at cooperation from first principles, mostly from communication — the transfer of information and the construction of new information.

In a group of cooperating humans communication is essential. No communication, no cooperation. In a cooperating group of humans chunks of information are sent from one person to one or more other people in the group. Information is also sent from any one person to him or herself when that person is quietly thinking by him or herself. Chunks of information received cause a reaction of one kind or another in the person receiving the information. The information goes into the brain of the receiving individual. How far in does it go? What does it do in there? Sometimes information heard “makes no sense”. If the receiver does not know the language of the sender then the information can’t go in too far, it can’t be connected with any other information already there, except for the receiver to note that he can’t understand the information. Or maybe the receiver has been exposed to the language casually in the past so that the receiver can recognize that the language for example is Chinese or German from the sounds alone. But the specific information in the spoken words cannot get into the receiver’s mind. Similarly if the sounds are not loud enough or they are distorted by background noise or the speaker, in which cases the receiving person asks the sender to repeat the message, to resend the chunk of information. So the chunk of information received now makes sense to the receiver. This means that the receiver connects, associates this incoming information to some information already there in his or her mind, to some category that the new information is about. Next the receiver makes further associations and connections to and from this new information, and after some amount of processing — thinking — decides to accept or reject — says yes or no to — the new information. The acceptance or rejection may depend on whether the new information has been sufficiently connected to the truth category (all the information in the person’s mind that he or she considers true). Or the information may be accepted on the basis of the respect or trust the receiver has in the sender. Or there can be many other reasons, many other methods, other processes, the receiver uses in the decision to say yes or no. If the decision is yes, then the information received is connected more strongly to other information the person uses regularly in running his or her life — it becomes operational, it is used or useable in thinking and other activities.

In summary new information is accepted or rejected depending on how well it fits in with information already in the receiver’s mind.

If the new information doesn’t fit in well, the receiver may respond to the sender expressing his disagreement partially or totally, asking for clarification, or suggesting a reformulation. In this way, this back and forth, can continue for some time between two people communicating with each other, cooperating toward some purpose, some goal or goals. A beautiful example is Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman who collaborated for years. See Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.

In this communication the chunks of information going back and forth are changing as the conversation continues. And as the conversation continues the information content of the two minds is changing. Each person to the conversation is fitting into his or her mind information received from the other. They each will often have developed a more or less similar understanding of the subject matter of their conversation. Or they may have developed a plan that they each more or less agree upon to reach their individual and joint goals. Or they may be building something as they are communicating like building a house. Or they may be doing something together like hunting.

The above discussed two people communicating cooperatively. It can easily be extended to several people. But not to too many people. One thousand people couldn’t have a casual conversation where each person could have his say at some point after many other people have spoken. Nor could each person even hear each other person. There are just too many people. Twenty people are probably too many. Fifty surely are. To have a cooperative group of more than about 20 people some structure for the group is needed. Structure means rules. Rules as to who can speak when, and for how long, and on what subjects, etc. There are formal and informal rules. Formal rules are written down somewhere. Informal rules are not. Informal rules are what people do by habit without thinking about it. Even in a two person conversation there are informal rules such as: ask for clarification if you don’t understand; and generally begin speaking only after the other person has stopped speaking or has paused; and a good conversationalist pays attention to the emotional responses of his listener in order to avoid having a conversation only with himself, etc.

There are many possible different structures for a cooperating, communicating group. A group could have a facilitator whose job is to keep the group following its rules. It could have a leader who directs or dominates the discussion. A leader (in contrast to a facilitator) leads the group discussion in directions he chooses rather than letting the directions evolve from the group discussions. This can produce groupthink where the other participants avoid expressing ideas they know the leader does not want to hear, and so the group may not benefit from the knowledge of all the members. See for example the formal rules for general assemblies in Occupy Wall Street and the other Occupies.

Beyond this kind of structure of rules and different roles for some of the individuals in the group, a large group may be partitioned into subgroups, with each subgroup having a sub goal. For example a design team for a complex system such as an automobile may have sub-teams for various subsystem designs such as for example: the electrical system, the power system (engine, drive train, etc.), interior, exterior, brakes, etc. Of course the sub teams must communicate cooperatively with each other and the overall design team.

Almost all complex human activities requiring the cooperating work of large numbers of people will have their communication structures divided into substructures paralleling the system/subsystem structures of the things they are building, making, producing — automobiles, satellites, houses, buildings, movies, food production and distribution, education, research and development, provision of health care, sports, etc. This is because information must precede actions.

This is not to say that any one person, or even a few people designed, or could design any of these systems or subsystems. Present day designs build on previous designs. There is evolution of both systems and their designs (the information and knowledge used to make, build, produce, etc). Compare a Model T Ford with a Prius. No way could there be a Prius if there had been no other automobiles before it. So when we speak of the design team for a Prius we must include a huge number of people no longer living — huge numbers of people who designed and built automobiles in the past. This is not just about automobiles. It is about all complex human activities. All are dependent on the similar activities that came before. Any large cooperating group of people is the result of an evolution, a building on top of whatever came before it. And it would not be the way it is if what came before had been different.

So cooperation itself is evolving. So any explanation of cooperation which does not take account of this evolution is incomplete, deficient.

Cooperative groups are everywhere.


In almost all cooperative groups different members will have different knowledge and different abilities. Those members of the group who have more or better knowledge or abilities about the attainment of the group goals, or are better able to communicate, or who have more charm or charisma than other members of the group are likely to  have more influence than those with less. They will be leaders. The others will be followers. Leadership is variable with time and circumstances. So who the leaders are and who the followers are can vary with time and circumstances.

The leader-follower relationship is characterized by a greater flow of information from the leader to the follower and acceptance of that information by the follower than in the opposite direction — from the follower to the leader.

In an educational cooperating group, the leadership of the teacher, in having more knowledge than the students is essential to the function, the goal of the group — to produce educated students.

Sometimes the success of cooperative groups is decreased or limited by deficiencies in the leader-follower relations between members. But for now let’s focus on what’s happening when a cooperating group is working reasonably well.

In the teacher-students cooperating group, the group will be working well when the teacher has the relevant knowledge, can communicate well, and maybe has charm or charisma and is able to maintain the motivation of herself and she is able to increase or maintain the motivation of the students at a high enough level. The students must do their part in increasing or maintaining their motivation to learn, to accept the information, knowledge, being offered, presented, by the teacher. Critical to this is that the students must have already been prepared by having acquired certain previous information and knowledge. The new information and knowledge being presented by the teacher is built on this previous information. New knowledge can only be accepted and acquired by a person if the person already has the foundation which the new knowledge can be connected to. A baby cannot say the words of a language until after it can make the specific sounds of the language. A student cannot understand (accept and acquire) algebra if he or she does not already understand arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Any motivation a student has to learn some subject will be destroyed if the student does not have the required prior knowledge.

Students must also have their basic human needs satisfied if they are to be motivated to learn. If they are hungry or overfed, or too cold or too hot, or worried about their safety at school or at home, if they have a less than nurturing home environment, if they have severe enough mental or physical health problems, all these can be distractions and interruptions to their motivation to learn in school.

Basic human needs must be satisfied for all the members of any well-functioning cooperative effort, not just teacher-student cooperation. In almost any cooperating group some educating is going on simply because information flows are not equal between every pair of members. But it isn’t educational in the sense of acquiring formal knowledge, rather it often takes the form of instructions about how to do some specific things. Knowing the prerequisites can be important for members in any cooperative effort just as in formal education.

In the educational cooperative group the cooperation level could be improved by teaching the students (at the appropriate times in their development) about cooperation and motivation to cooperate. For example students should be taught to recognize when they don’t have the prerequisites for understanding certain ideas or subjects. Many student’s understanding of their difficulties in understanding something new is limited to something like “I don’t get it”,  when the real reason may be one or more of the following: 1) They don’t have the prerequisites maybe because they didn’t understand or they don’t remember the prerequisites from the previous year, or maybe they were absent a few days before; 2) Maybe they can’t hear the teacher very well; 3) Maybe they can’t see what’s written by the teacher; 4) Maybe their thinking and attention is interrupted by worries about home life, their friends, or any kind of worry or obsessive thoughts. If students were taught about their own motivations and attentions they might be better able to recognize the reasons they “don’t get it”, and thus be able to do something to “get it”, to understand, to comprehend what is being taught. There has been much research on education. I would guess that the above is known and practiced by many.  I present the above only as examples of a few things deducible on the basis of information flows and how knowledge is built up.

The basic military social unit is an example, in its ideal form, of a very simple cooperating group. One person — the leader — gives orders, and all the others obey (carry out without question) the orders given. In a sense there is only one mind at work here, that of the leader. The followers in this military unit are mere instruments of the leader. But no human group operates this simply. First the follower soldiers must understand and accept the orders. Sometimes they don’t understand. Sometimes they don’t accept. In the real world they may question the order, they may ask for clarification. So the order itself may be negotiated. In carrying out an order the followers must rely on their own knowledge and experience and there is often much give and take among the followers as the orders are carried out over time in the combat or other situation.  

Sports — soccer, football, baseball, basketball, boxing, ping-pong, hockey and much more — is a large area of human activity. Sports is often seen as conflict — fighting. Yet it is a major example of cooperation. In team sports each team is a cooperating group, and the two teams together (and with officials and spectators) form a bigger cooperating group, and leagues of teams form an even larger cooperating group. Competition — two or more individuals, or two or more teams playing “against” each other —following previously agreed upon rules of the game — is cooperation. Competition is cooperation. Conflict and competition are not the same. Conflict is fighting. Fighting causes — and intends to cause — injuries, physical and mental, sometimes death. Sports like boxing that in the past had an explicit purpose to cause physical injuries have in the present moved away from the intention to cause harm by changing the rules of the game and by use of safety equipment. So sports which were once conflict, either actually or metaphorically, have moved away from intending to cause physical harm to the participants. They are now competition, not conflict. Competition is a test, a procedure, to determine which of two or more individuals, or two or more teams, does something better. Who can get the highest score — the most points calculated according to some rules from the number of touchdowns, runs, baskets, etc.

Every sport has rules — explicit and carefully defined rules that all the players agree to follow. And when there are ambiguities in the rules or accidental or intentional violations of the rules, there are officials, judges who make the final decisions on the score, points lost or gained, etc. So sports is a cooperation because all the players, officials, spectators are working together toward goals — each team to get the highest score, each judge to make the correct decision, the spectators to observe and celebrate human excellence.

No cooperation is perfect. Cheaters exist and they sometimes get away with it undetected by the officials. But the rules of the games have been evolved (and officials added) specifically to deter cheating. So cheating is minimized. If there were too much cheating in any particular sport people would lose interest in it because it would obscure the goal of the competition — to observe and develop human excellence.

Sports is a good example of a kind of cooperation among humans that depends on carefully developed, defined, and refined rules that all individuals involved are expected to follow. We can call such groups structured cooperating groups. Actually all cooperating groups are structured more or less.

Previously we talked of cooperating groups in terms of information transfer back and forth, between and among the individuals in a cooperating group. Communication is essential to cooperation. Sports is an example where most of the communication (information transfer) is non-verbal. In sports most of the information transferred between and among the individual players is visual:  Locations of other players, location of the ball, direction of motion of other players and the ball, emotional information given off by body movements and tensions and facial expressions. None of this is verbal in either the mind of the sender or the mind of the receiver.

The corporation is another example of cooperation, more or less. Corporations are legal entities. They are defined by laws made and enforced by governments. They are — or are supposed to be — constrained by the laws (rules) applicable to the creation and operation of corporations. A corporation also has rules it makes up for itself — its purpose, the kinds of activities it does or will do, its methods, its structure (most likely hierarchical), and many more. There is great flexibility in what corporations can do and how they are organized. In this sense they are much less structured than a sports team. On the other hand, since the range of activities a corporation can engage in is so much greater than what a sports team can do, in this sense a corporation may have much more structure than a sports team.

Corporations have evolved from simple and very limited and constrained cooperating groups operating according to a specific charter (rules) granted by a king, to something a few individuals can create by filling out a few forms and paying some fees, to multinational corporations larger than some nations both in terms of the numbers of people in each and money (gross national products and gross receipts). Individual corporations (or small groups of them) influence and dominate national governments. (I don’t say “control” because “control” implies 100% and nothing is 100%. But the percent of influence is very large.)

To explore all the actual forms of cooperation that occur in modern corporations is a task beyond my abilities (and maybe any single person’s abilities). But much research has been done on management, organization, and group behavior in corporations. For now, I refer you to Daniel Goleman’s book “Working with Emotional Intelligence” from 1998.

Voting and Influence in a Cooperation

We might say that the earliest social unit was the mother and child. Next would be mother, child, and father. Or maybe we should say that the earliest social unit was the mother and father, since at least chronologically these two had to cooperate to produce a child. What matters is the different examples of cooperation. In some cases cooperation is required by biology. Mother and father must cooperate. Then later mother and child must cooperate. Both cooperations must occur if the child is to survive. It might seem that mother-child is not an example of cooperation because of the great inequality, because of the helplessness of the newborn baby. But it is nonetheless cooperation. The mother must do certain things — feed the baby, keep it warm, safe from the weather. But the baby must do certain things too. It responds to and mimics facial expressions and sounds produced by the mother. It interacts with its mother to learn language and other behaviors. So this is indeed cooperation. Is it one person, one vote? Well, what are the votes here? The mother could vote “No” and walk away, and the baby will die. The baby might be defective in some way and not be able to make and maintain eye contact with the mother in which case if the baby survives it will be socially defective, with little or no language, little or no ability to communicate with other people. In the main form of voting in a cooperation — saying yes or no to an incoming chunk of information — accepting or rejecting the incoming communication, both mother and baby do it. As the mother teaches the child the facial expressions and bodily movements and sounds and words of the language, both say yes and no to the expressions of the other, to the information being offered by the other. This is the process of teaching and learning. So in this sense each has an equal vote. But even in this simple group consisting of two people it seems to make sense to say that the mother is a leader and the child is a follower because there seems to be much more information going from the mother to the child than from the child to the mother. In the beginning of the interaction, the cooperation, the mother has all the information (language, etc.) and after some time the child has acquired a lot of it. This characterizes the leader-follower relation as one of information flow from leader to follower. Now of course information flows back from followers to leaders, but the idea is that more information flows from leaders to followers than vice versa. And this information which flows from leaders to followers influences or directs the followers’ behavior — this information is accepted by the follower, it becomes part of the follower’s operational information.

So from the beginning already human cooperating groups will have had leaders and followers. This is not surprising since family and clan groups have people of many different ages, experience, and knowledge levels. And how could it be any other way since the groups we have in mind here must have the older members passing on the essential group information to the younger members if the group is to continue to exist as old members die off. These kinds of leader-follower relations are educational relations.

Are there other kinds of leader-follower relations in cooperating groups besides educational ones? Surely yes. What are some examples? Consider a group of men hunting animals to kill for food. Leadership might float depending on circumstances. The man who first see an animal they might go after, or the man who is closest to it might momentarily be transmitting much more information to the others than they are transmitting to him. So he is a momentary leader. Consider an individual in a group who discovers a new food (or anything useful to the group). She might be a leader for a while. Consider someone who more often than other members discovers new things. She might have more influence than other members of the group, not only with respect to the things she discovers, but in other respects as well —  she becomes a more permanent leader.

Now, as we know, cooperation is a more or less thing. It is extremely unlikely to be 100% (perfect cooperation, whatever that might be), and if it would seem to be 100% for some period of time, it will deteriorate sooner or later. This is so for several reasons. 1)  The goals of the group are not 100% understood and agreed on by all the members; 2) Communication has errors — the speaker may make a mistake in converting what she wants to say into what she actually says; her words may be distorted in transmission; and the listener may misunderstand what he hears; 3) The motivation of members varies with time.

Consider number 1) above. If the goals for the group as understood and accepted by all the members are similar enough, no big problem. On the other hand, big differences bring big problems. If some members of the group also have a personal goal of benefiting personally from the activities of the group (similar to the agency problem), then cooperation toward the groups goals, or at least the attainment of those goals may be diminished, compromised. Everybody has personal goals. Among these are having the human necessities to survive and develop oneself. The reason for cooperating in the first place was that by working together the members thought they could reach some common goals that would benefit them all. The ideal of a cooperating group then would seem to be to separate out, to keep aside, the personal goals of the individual members from the group goals. But, do you see the contradiction here? Each individual member must have a personal goal of working together with the other members toward the group goals. How to resolve this? It seems the analysis so far isn’t enough. We need to dig deeper.

Since each individual member of a cooperating group must have the goal of working together for the group goals, the personal goals of the individual members — if we want an effective group — must be consistent with the group goals, at least in the sense that if a member is working for one or more of her personal goals, that should not work against, it should not diminish or subtract from the effort or attainment of the group goals.

In other words, if cooperation is to be reasonably effective, personal individual goals and group goals must be compatible, consistent, coordinated, integrated. Is this possible? Yes, of course this is possible. This is proved possible by the fact that reasonable and quite effective cooperation has occurred in the past in every human culture and it is occurring now almost everywhere we look. We almost always do things with other people. We are hardly ever alone.

Clearly we can separate work toward our personal goals from work toward our group goals by time slicing. Example: You work for a corporation. Let’s say you work from 8 am until noon, have lunch at noon until 1 pm, and then go back to work for the corporation from 1 pm until 5 pm. Then you are working for the group goals from 8 am till noon, you are working toward your personal goal of surviving from noon until 1 pm, etc. Time slicing is not by any means the only way to integrate your personal goals and group goals so as to not diminish the attainment of either your personal goals or your group goals. It is often the case that working toward your group goals helps you attain your personal goals as for example when you are paid with money to work in a corporation and you can use that  money to buy some of your human necessities like food. Working towards your goals of having enough human necessities (think of food, clothing, education, health) can help with the attainment of your group goals (think of a job). Actually you must have enough of the human necessities or you will not be able to work toward group goals such as in a job, or any other cooperative activity. If you are starving, if your health (physical or mental) is very poor, if you don’t know enough, you can’t contribute very much to almost any cooperating group.

So individual people most often can and do have compatible individual and group goals. And the individual members’ continuous voting — saying yes or no, accepting or rejecting suggestions from others in the process of working toward the group goals most often works well to steer the group toward the attainment of the group’s goals. This democratic process, this process of group members voting about their individual actions and the group’s actions and methods and sub-goals is how group thinking works. It mimics individual thinking. It can be better than individual thinking for the obvious reason that there are multiple minds working on the problem. It is most definitely parallel processing.

But it — this cooperative thinking and democratic processing — sometimes goes wrong. When and how does it go wrong? What are the conditions? What helps it go right? 

OK, enough for today. Here are a few other questions I would like to address.

What are some recent changes in the evolution of our cooperation?

Is it always a “one person, one vote” system? And what does this mean?

There will almost always be some individuals whose vote — whose words and actions have greater influence on other members of the group than some other members. There will almost always be leaders and followers. So how do we avoid leaders who are self aggrandizing at the expense of the group? And how do we avoid lazy followers or “freeloaders”.

What about the agency problem — the problem of members of an organization (for example a corporation) who take resources out of an organization way out of proportion to their contributions through for example pay or theft or fraud?

The democracy of cooperation.

In the previous blog, 2JAN12, I said:

“Our formal democracy seems at present to be pretty much blocked for us. But in all societies there is an informal democracy of communication and cooperation which is much more important and which is the foundation of the formal democracy. Societies don’t work very well without it.  Our system now depends heavily this now worldwide communication and cooperation system.”

What is this “informal democracy of communication and cooperation”?

A number of people join together in order to work toward some goal or goals together. We can call this  a human group or a human organization. The individuals in the group are cooperating, more or less. It is more or less because nothing is perfect, cooperation is rarely 100% however cooperation is measured. Cooperation requires communication among the members of the group. They must all have more or less the same goal or goals. Working together requires communication to coordinate the group members’ activities, their behavior. So cooperation can never be perfect because communication is not perfect since information transfer always has a possibility of error, and understanding of goals will never be 100% alligned. So there are degrees of cooperation.

This then is the democracy of cooperation.

Humans are social creatures. We cooperate, more or less. How did we get this way? We became what we are now through two processes of evolution: biological and cultural, genetic and memetic. The biological, genetic evolution gave us our bodies and basic physical structure. The cultural, memetic evolution gave us our thoughts and ideas. Actually it is not as clearly cut as this because each evolution affected and affects the other. Cultural evolution could only build upon the capabilities biological evolution gave us. But also, cultural evolution fed back on and influenced the biological evolution of our bodies and brains. So it is really only one evolution where the biological, genetic evolution has morphed into the cultural, memetic evolution. Cultural, memetic evolution is occurring vastly faster now than biological, genetic evolution. Cultural evolution has overwhelmed biological evolution.

So, our biological and cultural evolution led to our cooperation in groups. Through science, technology, art — all human activities — cultural evolution continuously adds information and new knowledge for us to use. So our cooperation has much more information to communicate among the individuals in a human group. In a word, our cooperation, how we cooperate, is also evolving. Consider the speed, even the acceleration, of the recent evolution of corporations.

Since in order to cooperate a group of humans must communicate with one another, the size of the group and the locations of the individuals were constrained by the means of communication. For a long time the size of a group of humans working together, cooperating, was limited to that of a family or small number of related families — a clan or tribe — because they had to be able to speak to one another. This also required that the individuals be physically near each other.

Not any more. The individuals in a cooperating human group can be almost anywhere on the surface of the earth (or near earth in space). And the size of a communicating, cooperating group is no longer limited by the distance a single human voice can go before it can no longer be heard by another person. Note the Mic check of Occupy Wall Street. Nor is the locations of the individuals limited by the necessity of being physically close to a speaker.

So every human group has its informal democracy whereby the people in the group vote with their communications, their speech, and their actions, their behavior. Other members of the group receive these communications and observe the behavior of the other members of the group, and then react in one way or another. This ongoing evolving process influences the behavior of the individuals in the group and thus the resultant group behavior toward its goals. This is legitimately a kind of democracy.

Is this informal group democracy a “one person, one vote” system. It would seem to be unless there are some rules, some structure that the members have agreed to that would say otherwise. It is also true that in many even informal groups, some individuals often have more influence than some others. This can occur if some individuals have more or better knowledge about the goals or how to attain them, of if they can communicate better, or if they have more charisma, more charm, or by whatever combination of qualities more people listen to them than they listen to others. Similarly for some copying the behavior of others. Also some individuals for whatever reason do not choose to participate as much as others.

So we have identified two ways in which groups of humans can deviate from what we may call equality of voice or one person, one vote. First there are often leaders and followers. (Notice we can’t separate the two. There can be no leaders without followers. There can be no followers without leaders.) Second, the group may have agreed on some rules, some structures which allow more influence to some members than other members. For example a teacher in a classroom is a leader, the students are followers most of the time; A coach of a sports team is a leader, the players are followers, but also sometimes a player may be also a leader that other players follow; In a company organized in a hierarchy of units (for example some number of sections organized into a department, some number of departments organized into a division, etc.) the managers of the units are each leaders (or should be) with the other members of the units being followers, but like the sports team there can be leaders within the group of followers.

In many societies, in free societies, being a follower or a leader is almost always a voluntary action, since in the absence of promises otherwise (contracts), anyone can quit the group at any time. (Being a leader or a follower is not always a voluntary action because a person may not be aware that he or she is a leader or a follower, but they can still quit if they don’t like how the group is operating or they don’t have its goals.) A teacher can quit, the parents of a young student can send the student to another school, students can quit paying attention while remaining in class. A coach can quit, players can quit. Employees can quit their company, or quit in place just like students. A person can even quit a horribly authoritarian oppressive system, at least mentally, as some concentration camp members did in WWII. To quit the group is the ultimate no vote.

We still have the freedom to form new groups: Freedom of Assembly. We can form new clubs, associations, new partnerships, new corporations, for profit or not for profit. We can form new religions. The number of people in each and their physical locations are no longer limited as they were in the past.

If our present political/economic systems are not working for us, we can form alternate or parallel systems which do work for us. This indeed is what is already happening as more and more people are excluded from participation in our present systems through unemployment of all kinds, through lack of education, through poverty. People form co-ops of every kind and legal and illegal (black) markets. People form subcultures which exclude outsiders. People “turn on, tune in, and drop out” as Professor Leary said. One way or another people make other arrangements when the “official” systems don’t work for them. There are many, many possibilities. The occupy movement with its general assemblies and its internet dispersed non-physical form is a baby to be nurtured. And if this one doesn’t work out, there will be others.



It’s not hopeless

We were examining some self-limiting beliefs. We were asking how people can get rid of such beliefs. One such belief is that “It is hopeless”. This is closely related to the belief that “It is impossible”. The difference is that the first refers more to a state of mind of the speaker while the later seems to be more a statement about the external world, the real world. But both say something about mental states and something about the real world. So what is hope? First it’s a feeling. It’s a feeling we have when we are in a particular mental state, a particular state of mind. We are in this mental state when we assess, we estimate, we guess, we have the opinion that something is possible, that something, some situation, some state of the world, which is not the present state, which may be unlikely, could still occur, could still happen. We believe it is possible. We have sayings like “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” So to say something is hopeless is to believe it is not possible.

How do we know what is possible? In our present context, how do we know what other systems besides our present system are possible? We are trying to counter the opinion, the belief, that our present system is the “best possible”. So this opinion allows that there may be other systems but they are not as good as our present system, or if there were other systems as good as or better than our present one, we couldn’t get there from here. They might say “There might theoretically be better systems than ours, but they wouldn’t work for us. Human nature would prevent them from working.”

Many times people with these kinds of opinions are imagining some kind of system vastly different from our present system but they can’t imagine how it would work. Often they can’t imagine how our present system works because they really do not understand how it actually does work to do all the things it does. Some economists might claim that they understand how our present system works, but they don’t, since they only may understand fragmentally how their models work. But their models are too far removed from reality. Actually no single person can understand in detail how our vast and interconnected human world works.

The real problem with “It is hopeless” and “It is impossible” is in the minds of those who believe this way. They lack knowledge, imagination, or both. Anthropology shows that there are and have been cultures including economic systems that seem to work as well as our present system. It is legitimate to point out that the scale of our present world culture is vastly greater than all past systems. But the existence of different systems proves different systems are possible and some of them might be better than our own in many ways.

There are more immediate ways to see that better systems than our present one are possible. First look at our immediate past. Second imagine our immediate future. In many ways the capitalist/financial systems we had 50 or so years ago were better than what we have now. And given the glaring and obvious-to-all problems with our present systems who can honestly say that no improvements can be made to our present systems. So if we can see even just a few improvements to our present system, then the present system is not the best one and it is not the best possible one either.

Those who have maximum doom and gloom, those who see catastrophe just ahead, already admit by their gloomy predictions, that great changes are possible. It is just that they are imagining negative changes rather than positive ones. It is true that complex systems on their own are more likely to deteriorate than improve. But they are not “on their own”. We can change them. We do it all the time with every new law passed.

It is not hopeless. It is not impossible. We can change our systems one step at a time to build better systems, incrementally, evolutionarily, cautiously, safely, non-violently.

You want another proof significant change is possible? Here is one: The system we had around 1970 was changed incrementally, evolutionarily, non-violently into the system we have today. The trouble is this revolutionary change (to neoliberalism) was not cautious enough in some matters. We changed some things that were working well which shouldn’t have been changed. There were bad unforeseen consequences. (There are always unforeseen consequences, and some can be good.) And some of the changes were deliberately made to improve the welfare of some classes and individuals at the expense of others — to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. It can be argued that this revolution was not completely non-violent since wars were ongoing, and there was a lot of violence in our domestic (US) society. But there was no direct force, coercion, violence used to change the laws that morphed the capitalist/financial/political systems of 1970 into the systems and institutions we have now.

Hopelessness is a mental state similar to depression. Your imagination is focused on all the negative things that could happen. Your imagination does not consider good possibilities. Depression leads to inaction, more depression, and death if it isn’t turned around. The hopelessness/depression process is a self reinforcing process, a negative downward spiral. It can be hard to stop the downward spiral by yourself. If you can’t get out of your depression by yourself, you should get help from a doctor or a therapist.

So how do we help people to get out of their hopelessness about our economic and political systems? First we can spread the knowledge and information presented above and any other rational arguments showing the unrealistic nature of the hopelessness mental state. If that is not enough, then we help them focus on their own mental state and help them understand that maybe they need professional help if their hopelessness continues for more than a month or six weeks. If their hopelessness comes and goes, during some time when they are not overwhelmed by hopelessness, we help them focus on their own mental state, help them understand it, help them recognize triggers which bring it on, go over the facts and arguments presented above, and see if this is effective in avoiding hopelessness/depression.

So the revolution must provide therapy? Well, in a sense yes. This may seem odd. But as we have been saying over and over, the revolution is about helping people change their minds about some very important things. This is what therapists do, advertisers do. To believe that our present systems are unchangeable is a serious error in thinking. It is as serious an error for us as a group — humanity as a group — as it is for an individual to believe that their life is no longer worth living.

Our task as progressives, as revolutionaries is to help people (including ourselves) make the changes in our own thinking so that enough of us change our actions, our real life behaviors, so that through politics, through our jobs, through what we say, what we write, through our art, through our interpersonal relations, how and what we communicate to all our friends and associates, how we organize ourselves into all the groups we assemble into — till enough change has occurred in enough individuals, in what we know, what we believe, and how we think, that it will be correct to say that we have changed the whole system into a better one, one that is closer to our goals of social justice.

We must not get hung up on apparent obstacles like the fact that our present political/electoral/representational system has been captured by the 1%. Yes it is an obstacle. I don’t have a detailed answer to remove or go around this obstacle. Perhaps no one does. But that does not mean we can’t remove it or go around it. All this means is we must work on it, keep working on it, try stuff, try again. And we will make progress.

Our formal democracy seems at present to be pretty much blocked for us. But in all societies there is an informal democracy of communication and cooperation which is much more important and which is the foundation of the formal democracy. Societies don’t work very well without it.  Our system depends heavily on this now worldwide communication and cooperation system. We vote with our actions.

When the US was formed there was no way a democracy could be implemented except through delegation to representatives who could gather together in one distant physical place to make decisions and pass laws applicable to the whole group. That is no longer necessary.

Today there are many other possibilities. It is not hopeless.


There is only one best economic system and it’s the one we have now.

“There is only one best economic system and it’s the one we have now.” This is a belief that many people have. There are other versions of this basic idea. This belief and others are obstacles to changing people’s minds. And that is their purpose — to be an obstacle that has to be removed, to keep other ideas out of peoples’ minds. It is a characteristic of cults to have such obstacle ideas as part of their belief system. Thus a well-functioning cult will have two sets of ideas, information, and beliefs. The first set consists of ideas, information, beliefs, and some knowledge about some aspects of the real world. The second set will have some ideas, information, and beliefs about their whole system of ideas and beliefs. The above example illustrates this. It is not about the real world. Rather it is about economic systems of thought. It says there is only one economic system and it is the best one. The purpose of this statement is to keep believers in the system from considering alternatives, to keep their minds closed to any ideas from outside the cult, the present economic system. Such statements don’t have to be logically consistent and coherent or true; they need only to be believed. A well-functioning cult will have many such ideas. They want a wall around their cult’s ideas. They want to keep outside ideas out. This is all to protect and preserve the cult. Cults do not rely only on the truth of their ideas — and cults may have some true and useful ideas — but they also rely on their walls, their obstacles, their cult protecting ideas and beliefs, to keep the cult going as long as possible.

Some other cult protecting ideas of economics: 1) It is science. (Very little of economics is based on fact or experiments; theories are not verified against reality.) 2) It is based on authorities. (Keynes vs Samuelson vs Friedman etc. The authorities are glorified almost into saints. So there are sub-cults in economics.) 3) It is claimed that economics is “special” in that it doesn’t have to operate like other sciences. For example Friedman’s infamous statement that assumptions don’t matter. 4) Economists promote the idea that economics is very difficult, specialized, dependent on high-powered mathematics, and that only highly trained (indoctrinated) economists can validly comment on economics. (Economics is indeed often difficult to understand because it is often inconsistent, incoherent, the assumptions are unrealistic, much of the mathematics is presented through simplified diagrams that obscure illogic, and in general the arguments and reasoning are sloppy. No wonder outsiders have a hard time understanding it. But economists don’t understand it either. They just believe.)

Cults in general often present incoherent, inconsistent, illogical arguments to their followers. The followers are told that these arguments are important, that they must understand and accept them. When the followers cannot understand arguments that are impossible to understand, they may conclude that they are ignorant (or this may be suggested to them by the leaders), and so they accept the beliefs the authorities claim follow from the impossible arguments. The followers have now been trained to just accept what the authorities say. There is a simple phrase that captures this process: Conned by bullshit.

OK, so how do we overcome the obstacle that many people have in their minds — that our present system is the only one possible? We must discredit most economists and most economic thinking as we have known it. How do we do this? First point out all the flaws, mistakes, illogical thinking that we can find in economic thinking.

Second point out all the failures of our present actual systems which were supposedly guided by the economists and their theories. There are many of these: Booms and crashes in general and the latest one in particular; no present system provides 100% employment; the present system is decreasing education; wars continue; unjust laws are enforced; excessive prison populations; grotesque wealth of the 1%; scarcity of human necessities among the poor of the world; environmental destruction, waste of human resources, etc.

Third counter the cult insulating ideas in the minds of the cult leaders (the economists) and in the minds of their most important followers (the 1% and their enablers — the politicians, the functionaries, the business leaders, lawyers, other professionals, and in everyone else we can.

Point out some simple truths like: We have not always had the present economic system. Therefore others are possible. And actually our systems are always changing, evolving, through accidents, technological changes, and deliberate changes through new laws.

Much of the above has already begun through the writings of some economists (e. g. Steve Keen) and blogs like Naked Capitalism and blogs it links to. This is significant because the ideas expressed in these books and blogs are spreading somewhat into the mass media. Remember there are no 100% barriers to ideas. Information leaks, always. No cult can keep out all new ideas. No newspapers, TV, other media, and journalists bought and paid for by the 1% can keep out all new ideas. Ideas will seep, then trickle, then flow, and maybe flood in.

We can do our part by: Learning and understanding as much as we can about how our systems work and how they might be changed, and about all the ways we can help people change their minds, and then spread the word and repeat, repeat, repeat, analyze, investigate, expose, discredit, ridicule, counter misinformation, patiently, calmly, civilly, coolly, thoroughly.

And when the revolution gets more organized we can implement more formal educational programs first in our own revolutionary organizations such as people’s assemblies, and later maybe in other schools, colleges and universities.

Here is my proposal for a new course to be taught in every economics department in the world: “Economics as a Cult and How to Dismantle It.”

A Plan for the Revolution

I say “A Plan” instead of “The Plan” because there are many paths to our goals. What are our goals? One of the first steps for a revolution is to state goals almost everybody can agree on. Almost everyone has a strong sense of justice, fairness. Rather we have a strong sense of unfairness. We easily sense when someone isn’t doing their fair share in any group activity — work, games, life in general. We don’t like cheaters, freeloaders. So if our goals are based on justice and fairness, most people will easily agree with and accept our revolutionary goals. Stated simply we want a political and economic system that fairly distributes the goods and services produced by people working within the system fairly to all people in the system. The first half of fairness is that everyone who can work should work. The other half of fairness is that the system should provide, one way or another, the things people need in order to be productive. In order to be physically and mentally productive, people need water, food, clothing, housing, health care, education, minimal coercion and violence, and maximal freedom to interact with others consistent with the integrity and well-being of others. Any system we build must be consistent with the earth’s limited resources and must be consistent with preserving the natural world. Our goal is to have such a system, to build such a system, to step by step modify our present system so that after each step, the new system is closer to the goal.

Our goal system will not be perfect. No human system is perfect. It is not a utopia. There will always be problems. There will always be things that could be improved. In the real world there are always limits. In the real world nothing is infinite. We cannot know for sure that we will be able to build such a system. We can only change our present systems, move them, one step at a time, in the direction of our goal.

Next we must spread the idea of our goal to a large number of people, to a larger and larger number of people. We must convince enough people that it is possible to take the first steps toward our goal. We can show them that the first steps, and later steps, will already in and of themselves, lead to benefits for almost everyone.

In order to take the first steps we must convince people to give up some of their limiting beliefs such as: 1) There is only one best economic system and it’s the one we have now. 2) It is hopeless. 3) Positive change is impossible. 4) Our present situation is a reflection of human nature and human nature is fixed so we can’t change anything. 5) Nothing’s wrong with our present system. 6) This is the way it was meant to be. 7) We are not smart enough to do it. 8) Our democracy has been high jacked so it’s hopeless. 9) It will take too long. 10) The mass media are owned and controlled by the 1% so it’s hopeless.

These and many other similar beliefs are real and are real obstacles to change. We must use all methods we have, consistent with our goals, to convince people to move beyond their limiting beliefs. To be consistent with our goals we must not use violence, coercion, lies, or any other methods detrimental to mental or physical health.

What are some methods we can use to help people change their minds? Education in the broadest sense of the word. Spread the truth. Expose error. Use the internet, social media. Infiltrate the mass media. The 1% owns the mass media and think they control it, but they don’t control it 100%. Nobody controls anything 100%. Use videos, humor, music, art in every form. Use and further develop memetics, the science of the spread and evolution of ideas. Work on the 1% or the lesser rich. I doubt they are monolithic. They are not all stupid. Some of them (and we would not need many) might see the wisdom of our revolution.

All the while we are helping people get over their self-limiting beliefs, we also work to spread ideas that speed up the process. We spread ideas that improve people’s thinking and decision-making — for example the knowledge about errors in human thinking and decision-making in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. We spread ideas that improve people’s interpersonal communication — for example the knowledge about how to deeply understand other people and work with them in Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Non-violent Communication”. We spread knowledge about how our thinking and emotions work together when we make decisions and choices — good ones and bad ones — for example in books by Antonio Damasio (“Looking for Spinoza, Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain”, “The Feeling of What Happens”, “Decartes’ Error”), Joseph LeDoux (“The Emotional Brain”), Paul Ekman (“Emotions Revealed”), Daniel Goleman (“Emotional Intelligence”). When people have more correct and useable knowledge about how to think better and make better decisions and choices, and when they know how to deeply communicate with other people, they first of all will be less subject to propaganda. This, if nothing else, will diminish the power of the mass media.

As more and more people learn to think better and make better choices and decisions for themselves they will more easily accept new information and knowledge to replace many of their limiting beliefs mentioned above. People need both — both new knowledge about the social world, knowledge about how the present systems work and what new systems are possible — and new knowledge about themselves, how they can think and choose better, so they can reject misleading and false propaganda, and get out of their trapping and self-limiting thinking.

So the revolution is about spreading new information and knowledge to people about our present social/political/economic systems, how and in what ways they might be changed, the revolutionary goals, the step by step method, the obstacles to change in our present systems, possible ways to overcome all these obstacles, as well as new information and knowledge about how to improve their own abilities to understand themselves and improve their own thinking and choices.

Next we will look in more detail at the obstacles to change and how to overcome them.

What if …

What if … . What would be some consequences for nations that were closer to the goal of a just distribution of human production, a just society, where almost everyone had sufficient food, clothing, housing, education, and health care, freedom from coercion and violence, maximal freedom of thought and behavior consistent with the freedom and rights of others?

Let’s assume 1) That we have changed our economic and political systems so that the cycles of booms and busts have been damped down greatly. We will have a much more stable system. Notice I am not hypothesizing any kind of absolutely stable or static system. Our systems will still evolve. They will change. It is just that we will avoid, or make it much less likely, that there are destructive crashes of the system — at least crashes of those subsystems that provide for the just distribution of the human necessities just described. There will still be innovations, discoveries, inventions, intellectual, informational, artistic creations. There will be a whole economy above and beyond and in addition to those subsystems that assure the production and just distribution of the human necessities. The subsystems that assure the production and just distribution of the human necessities will be the focus of stability and redundancy (back up systems) to minimize the effects of internal or external disturbances to these basic and critical systems. These systems and all other systems must operate within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources and within the constraint of not further degrading the natural world.

Let’s assume 2) That there will be useful and productive employment for anyone who wants it. And we will have designed the production and distribution processes not only to be efficient with respect to goods and services produced, but also in terms of the physical and mental health and well-being of the workers.

Society needs skilled, talented, knowledgeable people in many, many areas and in many levels of accomplishment. Maximum variety will provide maximum benefits in terms of human development and creativity. Intangible things like human services, artistic, scientific, and informational creativity will be valued as well as tangible goods.

So let’s assume 3) That people will be paid to educate themselves in all these areas.

Education will be everyone’s first job. Actually education is already everyone’s first job except we don’t get paid for it now. We can pay students starting in the first grade with 100% of the pay going to the parents and in following years smaller percentages to the parents as the students can be more responsible with their own money. Then later further education will replace unemployment if the system should sometimes or periodically not have jobs for all who want one. People can be paid according to the progress they make. Education will be the default job.

So we have three specific things that could be easily evolved from our present systems: 1)More stability; 2) Zero unemployment; 3) Paid education. As stability increases, as unemployment gets closer to zero, as paid education can be offered to more and more people, these changes will change people’s beliefs and behaviors about the future, they will see more easily that the revolutionary goals are achievable, and the revolution will be speeded up.

In addition imagine 4) That almost everyone has sufficient food, clothing, shelter, health care, that society is much less coercive, and less violent. Now we haven’t proposed any details how these can be accomplished yet, but the increase in productive work that results from 1), 2), and 3) above, will be one means by which we can move toward a just distribution system that satisfies these human needs.

Then, if education is a paying job, and if everybody who wants a paying job can have one, then many, many more people than today will want to work. They will be incentivized to participate in the system and the production of goods and services will be increased. And as the revolution spreads the just distribution goals through larger and larger populations, almost all people will adopt these goals as their own and will thereby be eager to develop themselves through education and work.

Welfare, government handouts, charity will be eliminated or at least reduced greatly. (We may have to keep giving government handouts to the large banks and corporations if we don’t regulate them better and seriously change our money system.) Almost everybody will have a livable wage job. Retirement as we know it today with all its uncertainty, planning, saving, ceasing productive work — will fade away. Older people, and younger people too, will be paid to do productive work consistent with their physical and mental abilities, and if they can do no productive work, their human necessities will be provided as it is (or better than it is) today. We don’t want to waste any human capacities.

If the system is more stable, even as it continues to evolve, if people can see that their basic physical needs — the human necessities — are and will be taken care of, then there will be much less incentive than there is now for people to hoard, be greedy, be trying to get as much as possible now for themselves no matter what happens to others. So even the rich will come to see that the revolution will be good for them too. They won’t have to waste so much of their lives hoarding and gambling with money.

The revolution is a self-reinforcing process.

Eliminate Unemployment

What would it be like if there were no unemployment? I am not talking about so-called full employment. Full employment is the euphemism for 5% unemployment that economists use. What a cop-out. They have no theory that allows 0% unemployment. They have given up trying to reduce unemployment to zero. This is just another example of how deficient economics is. Another example of epistemic closure. Another example of being trapped by your ideology. The idea of 0% unemployment cannot even enter their minds for consideration. According to the dominant economic ideologies zero unemployment is impossible. But it is not impossible because we, at least, can conceive of it. We can, at least, try to build a system with zero unemployment.  

Let’s imagine such a system. What would it be like? What would be the advantages of such a system compared to the present system, or any system, where at any time one in every twenty people or more, who want to work, who are actively trying to find a job, cannot find a job, and thus more or less waste their time, do next to nothing productive, do not contribute to the general welfare, feel useless and unneeded?

First more goods and services would be produced. When there are people going hungry and even starving, when people are not protected from the variations in the weather and climate by clothing and adequate shelter, when people’s health deteriorates because of injuries, disease or old age, when people do not know enough to take care of themselves or to contribute to the welfare of others, there are unmet needs for more goods and services. Specifically there are needs for food, clothing, housing, health care, and education. Surely there is work to be done. And it will require work to design and build new systems, new organizations, new institutions to train and educate and coordinate those now unemployed so that they can get to work providing the goods and services just listed. New skills and knowledge will be required to do all this within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources and within the constraint of not further degrading our natural world.

The following steps might begin the process of modifying our systems so that anyone who wants a useful and productive job gets one. First pay people a little more than they receive now from their unemployment insurance (or the equivalent in other countries) if they educate themselves in some job related skills or even any job unrelated education that truly interests them. This can be financed the same as the present unemployment payments are now. Courses could be offered at zero cost to the participants over the internet. Participants would be tested and graded to measure their progress. Methods would be implemented to prevent cheating on tests or other gaming of the system by personal interviews and tests if automated methods were not enough. The courses would be designed to require an effort equivalent to the effort for a full-time high school or full-time college or a full-time job.

If, after unemployment payments run out, a person still cannot find a productive job with a corporation or a government, then that person would be allowed to continue in the education program at the same pay by a government. Pay could be scaled by progress being made as measured by course grades to maintain incentives to work at acquiring productive and useful skills and knowledge.

Governments would create jobs by paying people directly or through corporations organized to provide necessary or useful goods and services. The education system just described would provide some of the jobs. A sort of job of last resort, a job if you can’t find any other. Because, really, educating yourself is a job. It takes time and effort. It produces a useful result — a skilled or talented or knowledgeable person who can contribute to his or her own welfare as well as the welfare of humanity as a whole. It is a simple-minded idea that the only person who benefits from a person’s skills, talents, and knowledge, is that person, and that therefore, he or she must pay for it. We don’t ask babies to take out loans to pay for their care and early education into our cultures. We don’t ask grade schoolers, or high schoolers either. To make our complex societies work well for everybody we need a wide variety of people with different skills, talents, and knowledge at multiple levels of accomplishment. To develop skills, talents, knowledge requires time and effort — work. We should pay people to do it.   

Don’t get hung up on questions of how to pay for all this. It doesn’t matter how as long as it works in a more or less consistent system that we are evolving from our present systems. Pay with taxes or pay with fiat money or pay some other way (except probably do not pay through debt financing as at present, since unregulated debt creation may be a source of many of our current problems). The point is to try stuff, build institutions and organizations that work so that everyone who wants a productive job can have one.

When people say “Well, that’s all fine and good, but how are you going to pay for all this?” they are just showing the limited thinking imposed by the grand economic theories and our present actual systems and practices. Our present systems and practices are not the only way to do things.

In addition to producing goods and services needed, people who do useful work feel good about themselves. There is considerable evidence that people want to contribute, want to work with others to make things, create things that are useful and enjoyable by others as much as themselves. Consider all the people who make art of one kind or another, often with no real hope of making any money from it. Young people who make music together, people who play and watch sports. Consider all the people who work at jobs not just for the money but also because they want to help others. There are many such people in many professions. Most of the people most of the time want to do their fair share.

As mentioned yesterday, total employment would dampen the booms and busts that occur in our present system.

There would be less crime.

There would be less boredom. There will be even less boredom if all jobs can be matched with the skills, talents, knowledge of the people doing them. Giving people as much freedom as possible in how they educate themselves might make it easier to match jobs to interests.

There will be more confidence in the future since people will not have to worry about having their incomes randomly cut off by being unemployed. People will be more confident about raising a family.

There will be less unhappiness, less depression, less mental illness, less violence, more peace, less thinking with anger, fear, hostility, and hatred. Just think about it! What a payoff!

And we haven’t even talked yet about how to encourage those who don’t want to work to do something useful for their lives. The program outlined above will in and of itself move many people now not in the workforce to join in and get a life.

Benefits of a more just system

First let’s imagine fixing a few of the big problems of our present systems.

Suppose we fixed the business cycles, the cycles of boom and bust that have been happening for hundreds of years. These cycles involve a period of calm and more or less stable business activity. Then gradually business activity picks up in one or a few areas — for example housing or commercial real estate. Prices rise, employment increases, credit, money increases. The process accelerates. More and more houses are built. The prices rise faster. More labor may be needed than is available further driving up labor costs and prices. More and more credit may be extended. People get the feeling that they need to buy a house as soon as possible before the prices increase beyond what they can afford. Some people speculate (gamble) by buying property with the hope of soon selling it at a higher price and making big profits.

In the real world (as contrasted with mathematical theory) nothing can keep increasing forever. The process can run out of labor, raw materials, buyers of new houses, credit and money can be limited for various reasons. Something will slow the process down and actually reverse it when more and more people see that there is a bubble occurring and realize it is deflating. Prices drop, fewer houses are being built, workers are laid off, credit is limited further, buyers hesitate, the speculators try to sell as fast as they can. All these decreases feed off each other to speed up the decreases. So the bubble pops, there is a bust, a crash. This is the boom and bust cycle.

It may be hard to believe but these kinds of cycles have been occurring for hundreds of years. They seem to be inherent in our economic systems. Yet economists, bankers, business people claim to be surprised whenever we have a crash. After every crash they claim that they now understand the problem and that they have fixed it so it won’t happen again. But it does. The cycles keep repeating. This is another proof that economics as presently understood and practiced is baloney.

I doubt if anyone has “the” answer to the boom/bust cycles. According to the grand theories, the static, the equilibrium models, booms and busts do not exist; they never occur. Yet they are characteristic of the systems we have had for the last several hundred years! From what I have read, these boom bust cycles may result from any or all of the following: the system’s emphasis on all individuals always making more and more money, unrestrained credit, charging interest on loans, emphasis on perpetual growth (no growth can continue indefinitely), the money system itself (with the hodge-podge of illogical self-contradictory ideas about the money supply, restrictions applicable to the days of a gold standard which do not apply today but which still seem to be fervently believed by some people today — see Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and “Stabilizing an Unstable Economy” by Hyman P. Minsky. Since the theories are bunk, we have to try some things that have not been tried before.

Both the boom part and the bust part of the cycles seem to be self reinforcing processes. It would seem that we need to add to our systems some governors like Watt’s steam engine governor which slowed down the steam engine when it went too fast and which allowed it to speed up when it went too slow. Or maybe an economic thermostat.  Surely our economic experts can come up with some automatic economic stabilizers we could try. Or is it that they don’t want to do anything that would limit moneymaking during a boom?

But what would it be like if these cycles could be squashed — slow down or stop the boom before it can get too big and then there would be no crash, only a gentle slowing down. Then employment would be more steady. People could plan their futures better. Not as many people would suddenly be fired. People would be more confident about being able to get a job when they finished school. Businesses could plan better. Prices would be more stable. In general the system would be more stable. You would think that with all the emphasis economists put on stable states and equilibrium models that they would actually try to do something effective to automatically damp down these destructive business cycles.

More stability gives people more confidence. Doubts about what crazy things the system is going to do next discourage planning, discourages action, discourages investments in productive activities, and it increases speculation. A variable and chaotic system discourages people from educating themselves because they can’t imagine what their future will be, they wonder whether the things they might learn will prepare them for an available job. People will have less trust in the system; they will live more in the present; there will be less incentive to discover, invent, or create new things. Loss of your home, your property, your job often lead to hopelessness, depression, physical and mental illness, loss of or decreased social interactions, hostility, anger, sometimes violence, sometimes crime. People are more negatively affected by a loss than they are positively affected by an equal gain (Daniel Kahneman’s loss aversion). So our erratic system causes much unnecessary suffering. And it wastes human resources.

An unstable system holds back human development. A more stable system promotes human development.

OK, for now let’s assume we have fixed the business cycle. Next, what would it be like if we could eliminate unemployment once and for all.

First Steps

In the step by step evolution revolution, what might be some of the first steps? There are many, many  possible first steps we could take in moving away from our present system towards the just distribution we want. We should not spend too much time debating which of several possibilities is the best one to try first. Think about it, analyze it, yes. But remember there is no perfection. There is no way to know which of several possibilities is best. We cannot accurately predict the future in detail. (See Kahneman’s chapter “The Illusion of Validity”.) There is no grand theory to guide us. We have only our goals to guide us. The only way is to try something that seems like it would move our systems in the direction we want. If, after we make the change (in our laws, in the way our system works) we look at the result after some trial period. If the modified system is closer to our goals, keep the change; if it is not, or if there are negative unintended consequences, then reverse that change and try something else.

Here are some possible first steps.

Change our unemployment insurance system so that when people are unemployed they get more money if they go to some school to improve their skills and knowledge.

Go back to a free education system for all people through college and graduate school.

Limit credit creation since unrestrained credit creation by banks seems to be a root cause of cycles of booms and busts, bubbles and crashes.

Separate commercial banking from financial speculation (gambling with other people’s money).

Limit the level of allowed derivatives. No more derivatives of derivatives of derivatives …  No more CDO’s squared, etc.

Devise and implement a system for electing legislative representatives that does not depend on candidates spending (or others spending for them) large amounts of money.

Eliminate victimless crime laws.

All time in jails and prisons to have an education component, say, eight hours per day developing useful skills and knowledge.

All education to include significant components for developing interpersonal communication skills, developing improved thinking, eliminating precursors to the various mental illnesses such as phobias, paranoia, depression, etc.

Pay people a livable wage to educate themselves to a level that allows them to be productive members of our societies as if educating oneself were work, since it is work.

Change the money system. Adopt Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Governments speed up research and development of non-carbon emitting energy production. Tax carbon emissions.

Break up large corporations. Beyond a certain size corporations become less efficient. When they are too large they are dangerous, too powerful, destructive of the well-being of others, uncontrollable, the leaders can’t possibly know what all the parts are doing, and they have the same deficiencies as communistic systems — they are too complex for central planning to work, they are subject to looting by employees, executives, and others.

Tax excessive inherited wealth out of existence or down to some reasonable size. Heirs surely don’t do anything to “deserve” their inherited wealth.

Reestablish the rule of law.

Establish a practical concept of just law whereby courts could declare laws or parts of laws unjust and thereby nullify them. Laws would be unjust if they mainly benefited select individuals or groups and harmed the people as a whole or the system as a whole. The details here would be critical, but the idea does not seem impossible.

Require Congress to declare war per the Constitution and to reauthorize each war in each country yearly. War would mean any military, covert, or other activities carried out by any agencies of the government whose intent is to capture, detain, torture, physically harm or kill people or to destroy other people’s property.

I could go on and on, but this is enough for now to give you some ideas about how we might begin to change our systems to move them closer to our goals of a just distribution system. Remember each of these is a possible first step. Some are bigger steps than others. And of course other people have good candidates too. There are many good ideas. We might try several at a time, but we must be careful because if we try to change too many things at once, we run a greater risk of negative unintended consequences (or maybe some positive unintended consequences). And if the outcome is good, we may not be able to separate out the effects of each action. So we shouldn’t try too many at once. Then after some period of time when we have had enough time to verify that the changes made have moved our systems toward the just distribution goal, we can evaluate, estimate, analyze, guess, a second step and then try it for some period, etc. Maybe the evaluation period will be built into the law — for example the laws to try a step might be written to expire after two years, or five years, or whatever seems reasonable; and if the step wasn’t successful, don’t renew the law. Thomas Jefferson suggested that all laws expire after twenty years. That still might be a good idea.

Step by Step Revolution

Why do we have to have a step by step revolution? Are there other ways that would work? When we look at our present systems, we see that they need to be changed in many ways. Look at just a few of the ways our present systems are making things worse for people instead of better. Unemployment is high and not coming down quickly; in many countries it is increasing; and in a second economic downturn it will be getting worse. Economic crashes are occurring more often and they are getting bigger. We expect inflation, but maybe there will be deflation first. The near future, the next few years, seems unpredictable. Will there be another crash and another great depression? Those who are employed don’t know how long their jobs will last. Young people wonder why they should go to college when there may be no jobs for them when and if they graduate. College expenses have been increasing faster than inflation and students must take out loans that they will not be able to pay back for many years. The housing market has been messed up in multiple ways and no one has much confidence that owning a house is a good deal any more. Environmental degradation and destruction continue unchecked. New wars continue one after another. The banks which caused or hastened the crash continue essentially unregulated. In any case they always find new workarounds for any regulations. They violate our laws, local, state, and federal and are not punished, whereas ordinary people, the 99%, are arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned for minor victimless offenses. The politicians and government officials are bought and paid for. Our democracy has been hijacked. Many people mindlessly absorb ridiculous propaganda from the TV and have no clue how they are being used by the rich. And the government/corporation complex operates in secret and is taking away our rights, our freedoms, slowly, one at a time, so we don’t notice.

I could go on, but too much of this listing of what is wrong with our present political and economic system can lead to defeatism, inaction, gloom, and mental depression.

With so much that needs fixing, we could crudely conclude that we must overthrow the whole thing —  get rid of it all at once, once and for all, and replace it by some better system we build from scratch. That may sound good but it won’t work for several reasons.

If we should get rid of the present system, what is the new system that we would replace it with? We just described in a few previous posts that the grand economic theories don’t work. And nobody can design a whole new economic and political system from scratch. We could not possibly know how such a newly designed system would work unless we could see it actually working. All such systems can only come into existence through evolution — they are built up from what came before, they are built by changing, by adding to, or deleting something from, what already exists, one step at a time. Real human systems are too complicated. That’s why no grand theory can describe or explain them. That’s also why we can’t just overthrow our present political and economic system all at once. It’s too complicated. Everything is interconnected with everything else. We are all interconnected with everyone else. That quasi-mystical idea that “all is one” has a real world practical meaning. If we were to destroy our present systems all at once, we would all starve.

So we don’t really have a choice. We must proceed step by step modifying our present systems. This will still allow the possibility that the system that results after many, many careful steps may be quite far removed from any economic system we now know. In other words we can still make big, significant changes and as a result arrive at a much different system than we have now. We can have a big revolution accomplished through multiple small directed evolutionary steps — steps that through trial and error bring us closer to our revolutionary goal of a just distribution of the human necessities.

There are many problems with our present systems for which, right now, we have no, or very few, ideas as to how to fix them. You will notice that I sometimes consider just our “economic systems” and in other places I write “economic and political systems”. This is because the economic and political systems are different although in practice they are inseparable. The evolutionary revolutionary process described above suggests that we use the democratic process to change our laws at each step. But how can we change the laws to produce systems that move us closer to our goals if our democratic processes have been captured by the elites, the rich, the 1%, the zealots for the present failed systems? There are some ideas out there, but I haven’t explored them enough yet to say anything now.

Also it will be helpful to examine some possible first steps. And it will be helpful to discuss the benefits for all of us if we should develop systems that bring us close to our just distribution goals.



Why No Theory?

Why do we want to construct a new economic system outside the framework of any grand economic theory. There are several reasons. First two of the grand economic theories — Capitalism and Communism have already been tried and each failed. Each failed to provide a just distribution of the human necessities. Secondly, all these grand theories are built upon some conception of a fixed human nature. Human nature is not fixed. We are not genetically determined. Human behavior depends on culture as much as it depends on genetics. Human behavior, and thus human nature, is variable over cultures. If a grand theory, based on some assumptions of a fixed human nature, were a true description of human economic behavior, then every culture would have that same economic system. They clearly do not. So any grand theory based on assumptions of a fixed human nature cannot be a true description, an accurate model, of any economy.

So, not only are the individual grand theories wrong, but the whole framework on which they are based — a fixed human nature — is wrong. For example capitalism is based on an assumption that humans base all their economic decisions on a kind of greed — always trying to maximize their individual welfare, their individual utility. There are huge numbers of people in the world today who think this way, or try to. For them almost every decision is about money. But not everybody does this. And even those who think they can make economic decisions this way in many cases they do not. In many cases they are not greedy — they actually want to be generous, be helpful toward other people, and often they do want to avoid harming other people. So the fundamental premise about human nature even for those who believe that everyone is greedy, or should be greedy, is wrong. Beyond this people cannot behave, in many, many situations as the theory postulates. The theory of maximizing your individual utility — called utility theory — is impossible to actually follow in many circumstances. In many situations we do not know, we cannot calculate what our individual utility is. So we surely can’t maximize it. It has been well-known that utility theory is impossible in practice for more than 150 years. Some of the contradictions and absurdities of utility theory have been demonstrated experimentally and described in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.

Furthermore these theories are not clear as to what their goals are. Each theory presumably describes a complex of human behaviors, human interactions, human communication pathways — a system — that results in the production and distribution of goods and services by people for people. The theories were created on the assumption that the system already existed (at least for capitalism) and it was the job of the theory to describe the already existing system accurately, even scientifically, and/or mathematically, so that the theory could make accurate predictions. The idea of a goal or purpose of the system didn’t even come up. It was just assumed that there was one, and only one, system existing that had to be described, characterized, modeled, mathematisized, etc. It was not as if anyone had a choice. It was in a kind of afterthought that Adam Smith added the idea that in the capitalist system he described an “invisible hand” would ensure that the results of the operation of this system would be good for everybody. Well, they weren’t and they aren’t.

In reality the goals, the purpose of the capitalistic system is to allow and encourage all individuals to try to get as much money, property, and influence as they possibly can for themselves with almost no concern for what happens to anyone else. This is the main goal of the capitalist systems, their real purpose.

Well, now we know there is not just one such system. There are many variations of capitalism. Every capitalist country has its own version with some socialism mixed in. Communism came and went in less than one hundred years. And of course capitalism has evolved as all human institutions do. The theory has not kept up with the real evolving systems because, for one thing, it was wrong in the first place. It is so quaint to talk about shoemakers and bakers and a pin factory when there are corporations larger than countries and collateralized debt obligations squared.

Our economic and political systems evolve. We change them with every new law adopted. We change them almost every day. Why do we change our laws so much? Right now it is often done to accommodate special interests — to give tax breaks, reduce regulation, give special favors to individuals and corporations who contribute large amounts of money to political parties and candidates. So we change our laws to give favors to a limited class of people — mostly the 1%. Sometimes a law will be passed that has the goal of providing some benefits to some larger class such as the poor, or the middle class, or in very rare cases laws may be passed with the goal of making the whole system work better for everyone. Sometimes laws are passed with the goal of making the system better conform to some economic theory. So we change the system in ways that are haphazard, quasi-random, biased toward helping special groups (especially now to helping the rich get richer and the poor and middle class, the 99%, get poorer).

So what is the obvious change we need? We need to change the goals of all our system changes, of all the new laws we propose and pass. Every law should have the goal of moving our system in the direction of providing a just distribution of human necessities to all people.

It should not matter what such a system is called. To try to categorize the new systems into one or another of the dying grand theories is a waste of time and energy, and worse it just leads to confusion and needless arguments. (See for example the recent discussions about Libertarianism at Naked Capitalism.) If the new systems build on bits and pieces, old ideas, from some of the old grand theories, that’s fine as long as they move our systems toward the just distribution goals.

This is the non-violent revolution we want. First accept and spread the goal of a just distribution of human necessities. Then use the goal to constrain changes to our systems so that all changes move us toward the goal. Since this is trial and error, we don’t know how long it will take, and of course the “error” part means sometimes when we implement a change, it will move us farther from our goal, or it will have unintended negative consequences, and so we will have to reverse that change. This is surely no worse than what we do now. For example the repeal of Glass-Steagall — which allowed banks to gamble with depositors’ money — should probably be reversed.

The changes we make now are generally not consistent with our goal. They are not consistent with each other either. They often cause waste of human and natural resources. They make things worse. Our evolution is just drifting. We don’t know what we are doing. We don’t know where we are headed. We don’t have any purpose except mostly self  aggrandizement.

We can create economic and political systems that move us, step by step, non-violently towards our just distribution goals. But first we must throw out all the dead and dying grand economic theories.