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Unicycle Update: Democracy as a Force of Nature

The evidence of experimental science to date confirms that the forces of nature are everywhere asymmetric. No pure symmetry has ever been found. Unicycle introduces the logic of asymmetric change to explain the evidence and why our symmetry-based math has failed to grasp a vital ethical connection between humanity and the environment.

Nature's Democratic Pi

Democracy as a force of nature

A fresh understanding of natural law is now available to validate the dream of the Founders in the Declaration of Independence: to establish “among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

The math is elucidated with an interdisciplinary narrative fiction, including mythological tales. The stories gain a realism of their own through the deductions. Nature comes to life, along with the characters as they work on the book by a river in Maine.

The title, Unicycle, is an image of the need for extra balance (and comedy) the closer one gets to the nonexistent absolute symmetries of purity, whether secular or divine–to avoid collapse into the ubiquitous rebalancing polarities of change. Unicycle is a handbook to Mother Nature’s moral compass.

Mississippi River Project

Mississippi River Project | A Gathering of Stories

by Morgan Rogers and Emily du Houx

Click HERE for the video and to learn more!

We’re building a boat and traveling the length of the Mississippi to create a floating, multimedia portrait of the river. More…

The Confidence Trap: Donald Trump wants to be a dictator. It’s not enough just to laugh at him.

A list of reminders excerpted from the Guardian article by

He cages children, he holds a military parade, he muses about being president for life. Yet we fail to see him for what he is…

Demonising a group – in this case, migrants – as an alien threat, an army of invaders, so intensely and for so long that eventually any fate, no matter how brutal or inhumane, seems deserved, even when it is inflicted on that group’s youngest and most vulnerable members. Breaking up families, caging children in hot, fetid, disease-ridden camps – this is what dictators do…

What dictators always do: he’s building a hereditary dynasty… Those images [of Ivanka Trump] at the G20 looked absurd to us, but they will take their place in the showreel, so that, come the 2024 or 2028 elections, they can be used as proof of Ivanka’s supposed experience on the global stage.

It’s all there, if you can bear to look at it. From the kleptocratic impulse – Trump pushing to meet foreign leaders at his hotels, so that he can profit – to his undisguised admiration for his fellow strongmen…

Legitimising, the slave state Kim [Jong-un] rules so bloodily…

Palling around with Mohammed bin Salman, even though the UN and the CIA both agree the Saudi leader was directly responsible for the violent murder of US resident Jamal Khashoggi…

As for the simpering deference Trump shows Vladimir Putin, it’s a wonder Trump’s supporters describe him as a strongman at all…

Draw up a checklist of the semiotics of dictatorship and Trump ticks every one.

He muses out loud about being president for life, saying it would be “great”.

He’s indicated often that he would not accept the outcome of an election he lost.

He’s threatened to jail his political opponents.

He has the despot’s attitude to the truth – lying routinely, even about trivial matters, partly to demonstrate power.

So great is his sway over his devotees, he can make them believe even what is provably false.

And he has the despot’s contempt for a free press, forever railing against the “fake news” media and all but abolishing the White House daily briefing, which at least aimed to hold successive administrations to account.

Note his abuse of power to pursue vendettas against the companies that own media organisations that displease him: seeking to raise postal charges on Amazon, as retaliation against the Washington Post, owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; and moving to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger to hurt CNN.

The most chilling moment of his encounter with Putin last weekend came when the two men bonded over their shared loathing of journalists: “Get rid of them,” Trump said to his Kremlin counterpart, perhaps envious of the toll of 26 murdered journalists notched up in Russia during the Putin years.

His disregard for the rule of law is also that of the autocrat. His aides simply ignore subpoenas to appear before Congress…

In the name of his invented migrant “crisis” at the southern border, he became the first US president ever to declare a national emergency solely to circumvent the authority granted to Congress by the constitution. “That was a pretty straightforward authoritarian power-grab,” according to Kristy Parker, a former Department of Justice lawyer now with the Protect Democracy advocacy group.

Why don’t we see all this as the behaviour of a would-be dictator? Part of it is a language problem. The archetypal despot lodged in the collective imagination does not speak English. Dub a Trump speech into, say, Italian, show it in black and white, and perhaps then we’d spot the similarity.

Part of it is that Trump has not been able to do his worst. No elections have been overturned, no dissidents jailed, no journalists arrested. The restraints of the US system have, so far, kept Trump in check.

Yet that can lull us into a false sense of security, what political scientist David Runciman calls “the confidence trap”: the belief that, because democracy has withstood past threats, it will withstand present and future ones too.

Red meat for thought

Trump breaks up the Party, Jonathan Chait:

“The most incredible detail of all, the one that reveals just how blunt the Trump con is — his campaign did not even bother to completely remove the wrappers from the steaks they purchased. The steaks still had the labels from the local butcher from which they were purchased.”

After further thoughtful analysis and succulent links, Jonathan Chait concludes:

“Virtually the entire Republican apparatus will follow Trump sooner or later, because without the voters, they have no power. And those voters have revealed things about the nature of the party that many Republicans prefer to deny. Whatever abstract arguments for conservative policy — and these arguments exist, and a great many people subscribe to them earnestly — on the ground, Republican politics boils down to ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason. Once a figure has been accepted as a friendly member of their tribe, there is no level of absurdity to which he can stoop that would discredit him. And since reason cannot penetrate the crude tribalism that animates Republicans, it follows that nothing President Obama could have proposed on economic stimulus, health care, or deficits could have avoided the paroxysms of rage that faced him.

“The paranoid mendacity of Joe McCarthy, the racial pandering of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and George Bush, the jingoism and anti-intellectualism of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin — all these forces have embodied the essence of American conservative politics as it is actually practiced (rather than as conservative intellectuals like to imagine it). Trump has finally turned that which was always there against itself.”

 

A Conversation With Joseph Stiglitz

From an interview in The Atlantic by Gillian B. White:

In the ongoing conversation about the growing divide between the rich and poor, there are few voices as prominent as the Columbia professor Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.

In 2015 alone, Stiglitz wrote two books on the topic, The Great Divide and Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy, based on years of research and expertise about the intersection of economic theory, markets, and policy. Each book highlights a series of problems and challenges that have led to the current state of economic inequality: a faulty tax code that rewards the rich and hampers the poor, an increase in behavior that boosts the economic gains of only a few while extracting more capital from the majority, and a misplaced focus on altering the economy in a way that benefits shareholders, executives, and investors, but not the average worker.

…..

Joseph Stiglitz: The observation you have is what most people are experiencing. GDP is just the sum total of the output of the economy, it doesn’t say how much of that is going into whose pocket. In the first three years of the recovery, 91 percent of all gains went to the top 1 percent. So the bottom 99 percent saw nothing. Many were actually becoming worse off: Their balance sheet had been destroyed, their major asset has been their home and the value of their home had gone down anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. Then came QE [quantitative easing of interest rates by the Fed], and it created a stock-market but the average American has very little in the stock market. Overall ownership of stocks, is much more concentrated than the concentration of wealth itself, so QE was basically a gift to the 1 percent.

The people at the bottom are not doing very well, and wealth inequality, in that sense, has gotten worse.

White: You were a vocal Janet Yellen supporter for Fed chair … Is the Fed moving monetary policy in a direction that helps the average American right now?

Stiglitz: … Now they know that 4.9 isn’t full employment, there’s weak labor market. They should have focused more on improving the channel of credit to make sure that money was going to small and medium-sized enterprises They should have said to the bank—like some other countries have done—if you want access to the Fed window you have to be lending to SMEs. You have to be making sure the money isn’t going to land speculation, real-estate speculation, not going abroad, not going to hedge funds, and so forth. Whether Janet could have done this on her own, I don’t know, but she was following the standard macroeconomics view that asks how deep is the downturn and then using the one set of instruments they have, which is lowering or raising interest rates. The interest rate is not the right issue, the real issue is making sure credit is available to expand the economy. Just using the interest rate is not going to have a first-order effect on the economy as a whole. You’re encouraging people not to focus on the really critical thing.

White: So are you not at all concerned about negative interest rates?

Stiglitz: Well that’s a continuation of this single-minded focus. Lowering the interest from 5 percent to 0 didn’t bring a robust recovery. Lowering it from 0 to minus 1/2 percent isn’t going to do it either. And as you start getting to these very low interest rates, you introduce some distortions into the economy. There’s some evidence from some European countries that it actually led to less lending activity. They’re just focusing on this one variable as if it was a magical number, and I think it would be great if every American small business could go out and borrow at a negative interest rate, we would have a recovery. But that’s not the interest rate that they’re facing.

…..

White: Early on in The Great Divide you ask who is to blame for the crisis and the inequality that grew after it. One of the answers you say are economists. To what extent do you feel economist and economic theory is culpable for the crisis? What is the role of an economist going forward?

Stiglitz: The prevalent ideology—when I say prevalent  it’s not all economists— held that markets were basically efficient, that they were stable. You had people like Greenspan and Bernanke saying things like “markets don’t generate bubbles.” They had precise models that were precisely wrong and gave them confidence in theories that led to the policies that were responsible for the crisis, and responsible for the growth in inequality. Alternative theories would have led to very different policies. For instance, the tax cut in 2001 and 2003 under President Bush. Economists that are very widely respected were cutting taxes at the top, increasing inequality in our society when what we needed was just the opposite. Most of the models used by economists ignored inequality. They pretended that macroeconomy was unaffected by inequality. I think that was totally wrong. The strange thing about the economics profession over the last 35 year is that there has been two strands: One very strongly focusing on the limitations of the market, and then another saying how wonderful markets were. Unfortunately too much attention was being paid to that second strand.

What can we do about it? We’ve had this very strong strand that is focused on the limitations and market imperfections. A very large fraction of the younger people, this is what they want to work on. It’s very hard to persuade a young person who has seen the Great Recession, who has seen all the problems with inequality, to tell them inequality is not important and that markets are always efficient. They’d think you’re crazy.

White: If you had to pick the biggest area of concern when it comes to inequality. What would it be and what would be the first step for fixing it?

Stiglitz: I think the change in labor law that has weakened bargaining rights of workers obviously has a very adverse effect. But there are two major things I would focus on: one is education. When you don’t have equality of opportunity because you don’t have equal access to education, it just seems so outrageous …

The second major issue: 50 years after the march on Washington, 150 years after the end of slavery, we still are suffering from the legacy of that, and we have problems of inclusion. Racial inclusion, gender inclusion, and that dimension of inequality is so undermining of our society.

Read the whole, succinct interview here…

 

Learning to Love (Tolerate?) Big Government

Justin Fox:

In December, Gallup asked 824 U.S. adults this question: “In your opinion, which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future — big business, big labor or big government?”

Sixty-nine percent responded “big government.” That was down from 72 percent in 2013, but otherwise higher than at any other time Gallup has asked.

What exactly has big government done to these people?

The article includes some links like,

Hacker and Pierson’s new book is aimed directly at this fantasy, but I’m torn on whether it will do much to dispel it. Hacker is a professor at Yale who first came to national attention  with his 2006 book, “The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream,” which described how governments and businesses had shifted retirement and health-care risks onto the backs of families. In 2010 he collaborated with Pierson, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, on “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class,” a book that I liked a whole lot.

Justin Fox’s book, The Myth of the Rational Market, is a succinct history of the power, creation and destruction of ideas and some of the wreckage that goes with it and “describes with insight and wit the rise and fall of the world’s most influential investing idea: the efficient markets theory … Carries readers from the earliest days of Wall Street to the current financial crisis, debunking the long-held myth that the stock market [representative of markets in general] is always right in the process while intelligently exploring the replacement theory of behavioral economics.”

On Multipliers, via Mark Thoma

Chris Dillow:

On multipliers: Richard Murphy writes:

[The government and OBR] believe that austerity generates growth and so cuts the deficit. The trouble for them is that all the evidence shows that the opposite is true: cuts shrink national income and government spending increases it.

This has attracted cheap abuse from some… Such abuse is wrong, and misses the point. It’s wrong, because – in the context he is writing about – Richard is right to claim that fiscal multipliers are big. There’s widespread agreement (pdf) that multipliers are bigger in recessions (pdf) than in normal times. For example, Lawrence Christiano, Martin Eichenbaum, and Sergio Rebelo say (pdf):

The government-spending multiplier can be much larger than one when the zero lower bound on the nominal interest rate binds.

The fact that Osborne’s austerity has failed to cut the deficit as much as expected is wholly consistent with this. Bigger multipliers than Osborne assumed meant that austerity depressed output by more than he expected thus making it harder to reduce borrowing.

…..

The political point is that Labour supporters should not rely upon a big multiplier as a case for fiscal expansion. And … Lots of leftist policies … can be designed without reliance upon fragile claims about the macroeconomy.

Read more here.

And not all ethical considerations need short- or medium-term macroeconomic validation. But as proposed in my book, Unicycle, if nature has an ethical sense of direction, and markets are necessarily rooted in nature, then there is a right way to go in macro.

 

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