Giving People Money Eases Poverty

Our analyses thus far have yielded a fairly simple story:
throughout the crisis, the level of hardship faced by U.S.
households can be directly linked to the federal government’s
response. Despite historically high unemployment, in July 2020
we found that rates of hardship were stable—and in some cases
declining—following the roll-out of Coronavirus Aid, Relief,
and Economic Security (CARES) Act income support programs
such as Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) and expanded
unemployment insurance. Hardship remained relatively stable
into early fall 2020 before increasing markedly in November and
December 2020 as the economic recovery stalled and Congress
delayed action on further relief measures. The trends we see in
these hardship data are consistent with trends in other metrics
of well-being during the crisis.

umich.edu (PDF)

…This really shouldn’t be news. I am flabbergasted that it is news.

The Indicator from Planet Money – The Jobless Benefits Experiment – June 28, 2021

These people who are being kicked off of their unemployment benefits are going to be out on the street in record numbers, that is what is going to happen. Poor, starving people living out on the street with the other homeless people who represent a vast swath of the population that have been failed by the American dream.

minimum wage in Texas is still 7.25 an hour. 

That isn’t a wage. That is a joke.

Hat/Tip to pacesconnection.com

Unpowered Center

This is the way I saw the structure when I first noticed it under construction two decades ago, driving through one of the many new power centers that were popping up at the edges of Austin. I didn’t see it as the empty shell that would soon be filled with consumer goods that the average tech junkie would be clamoring for. I saw it as it sits now, a building that was aged and worn from twenty years of hard use, cast aside like an empty cardboard container that only existed to hold a transitory meal of convenience. A tribute to the vanity of consumer culture, unloved and abandoned.

spotify

This is life in the city. The structures that seem to erupt suddenly out of the landscape and briefly exist as bustling hives of industry that are almost as suddenly vacant and decaying, a blight on the landscape that was perfectly fine the way it was before the bulldozers showed up to turn a farmer’s field into a parking lot. What, exactly, did this structure offer that wasn’t available at the local mall? The local mall that is now also abandoned or repurposed into something else?

Now the power centers sit just as idle as the malls started doing a decade and more ago, and the real estate developers are looking for the next big thing that they can get us all to go to and spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t the same behavioral patterns that hollowed out the centers of our cities back in the sixties and seventies. Maybe it is time to stop seeking the next new, shiny thing and take a look around at what already exists that we can make suit the needs of the moment. Let the corporations and the land developers starve. The people don’t need them if they can’t serve the needs of today.

Fear Unaccounted For

I’ve found myself yelling at podcasters and news hosts for the last week or so as they muse about what is keeping people from going back to work. Strangers stare at me in the park as I appear to be yelling at myself. It is not an attractive behavior. Even my family is worried about my mental health.

It isn’t the unemployment benefits that Republicans and the Right are self-defeatingly targeting in their red states:

All Things Considered – Conservative Economist Blames High Unemployment On ‘Richer’ Benefits – May 16, 2021

…and it isn’t the minimum wage being too low, as the Democrats and the Left are asserting:

facebook.com/RBReich

The wages are too low, but that isn’t even half of the equation. Fear dominates the markets right now. Breadwinners aren’t willing to go out and risk death for any wage if they don’t have to. Their families rely on them to keep them all afloat. So they will wait and make sure the water of commerce is safe before they will re-enter it.

If you want people to get back to work you are going to have to convince them that their families will not starve without them if they were to die doing whatever it is they do for a living. For example: we need to expand and increase survivor’s benefits from Social Security so that every American who has a family that relies on them for their survival will be able to be at peace with the fact that at least their families will be cared for in the future.

If we did this, insured that families would not go hungry or homeless if the breadwinner dies, and we increased the wages, then you would see people returning to work in droves. Without it you will have to bribe them with dollar figures much higher than what businesses are offering now. A few piddling extra thousand dollars ain’t going to entice people back into the workforce, and making the poor suffer will only make you, the state leadership, the target of their suffering. Look to see red states become more purple in the future if that behavior continues.

This episode of On The Media:

On the Media – The Ghosts of the Rust Belt – May 14, 2021

…will explain everything you need to know about the delusion that Americans have ever had good, steady jobs that paid well. The haven’t and they won’t until they get smart about politics and economics.

facebook

Featured image: What is Thalassophobia?

texasstandard.org

The Enron Legacy

there were many factors that went into creating the energy disaster with which Texans are now dealing. But at least in one respect, the problems in Texas are a product of an approach to the energy business that Lone Star State companies like Enron pursued at the end of the 20th century.

wapo

Ken Lay was George Bush’s best friend, back when George Bush was governor of Texas. That was what Ken Lay would tell you, if he was still alive today. The story is more slanted now that Ken Lay has been convicted of felony crimes and his flagship business, Enron, went bankrupt and took $40 billion dollars and the fortunes of thousands with it. Also, Ken Lay is conveniently dead of natural causes, so it is easy to blame him for all of the greed that was behind the drive to deregulate the energy sector in the United States.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (book) (movie)
Movieclips Classic TrailersEnron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) – Nov 20, 2013

It is because of Ken Lay’s friendship with Governor and then President Bush that the Texas and California electrical grids ended up being the mess that they are today. It’s just taken longer for Texas’ grid to fall apart than it did California’s, which has been on the ropes since Enron arranged for it to start suffering rolling blackouts back at the turn of the century.

I watched/read The Smartest Guys in the Room when the movie/book came out back in 2005. The story itself was just another nail in the coffin of my belief in market solutions, the death of my libertarian delusions. Every time that the fraudsters finally convince someone in authority to deregulate, it doesn’t take long to prove that government regulation had been there for a very good reason after all. Enron bought energy companies and then created energy markets for their power to be sold on. That was what those regulations stood in the way of, huge profits on Wall Street.

One of the last acts of desperation in the failing business that Enron became after its meteoric rise on the stock market was to turn off power generation in California’s electrical market in order to drive up the price of electricity and put money in the pockets of Enron executives and traders. Enron created rolling blackouts on purpose in order to profit from the suffering of California citizens. One of the last acts of desperation of the Texas Public Utility Commision during the recent winter storm was to set the price of electricity high enough on the Texas market to inspire power generators to turn on their excess capacity and flood the Texas power grid in their time of need. It’s just too bad that there wasn’t any capacity to be had because the power generators hadn’t bothered to insure against freezing by weatherizing their supply systems. Just too bad that electric energy generators and their investors were more interested in profiting off of the suffering of Texas citizens than they were in spending money weatherizing against winter storms that they hoped would never show up, but still manage to show up about every ten years anyway.

KUT 90.5 – Texas’ Power Grid Was 4 Minutes And 37 Seconds Away From Collapsing. Here’s How It Happened – February 24, 2021

kut.org

Shares of Macquarie rose 3.4% in Sydney on Monday after the company raised its profit outlook. They are now down 2.8% over the past 12 months.

One customer told the Dallas Morning News that his electric bill for five days stood at $5,000, the amount he would normally pay for several years of power. Another told the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate that he had been charged more than $16,000 for February.

wsj.com

It is also too bad that Texas’ hostility to federal regulation caused it to seek an isolated grid through ERCOT, which meant that most of Texas went without power when it’s isolated grid went down and no one could send it power to keep it afloat. Unless you were lucky and lived around El Paso, which (along with Amarillo and the panhandle) are not under ERCOT and consequently only saw minor interruptions in service.

This is what happens when you make the essentials for survival into profit-driven commodities; commodities that no one can understand how to profit from unless they are scarce enough to drive demand over available supply. When there is more demand than there is supply of the essentials some people won’t survive. The death toll across Texas due to the winter storm and resulting power outages is still unknown but is likely to be well over 100 people, and a bank in Australia made 200 million off of those deaths.

Texas is misnamed. Texas (tejas) supposedly means friend or ally. Nothing could be further from the truth than seeing Texas as your friend or ally. That is the ploy of the confidence man, the demand to trust him even though he seems to be oilier than all get out. The Texas mascot should be the irresponsible teen who wants to shirk all the day long because he can. It should be the grasshopper that whiles the summer away instead of storing food for the winter. Like the grasshopper and the irresponsible teen, Texas is always unprepared for adversity because of these infantile behavior patterns. Texas is a great place to be young and healthy, because there are no worries about tomorrow here, and no requirement to save anything for that day of need. Texas is a horrible place to be old or sick in because there is no place to go when you reach your hour of need. No allowance for the slackers that we pretend to be fond of, but throw out in the cold the minute that things get tough.

The true beneficiary of Texas largesse is the corporate raider, the false priest, the con artist. Texas is made for thieves. Personal and corporate greed are rewarded here, rewarded more highly than any human virtue. Just look at Ken Lay. He understood what Texas was for. He rode that pony hard and put it up wet counting on not being there when the tax man came for his cut. He died a millionaire, of the diseases of old age he could have avoided if he had straightened up and flown right. Why bother? No one gets out of this life alive.

The Enron legacy is ERCOT and every other Texas boondoggle ever hatched. Every scheme that amounted to nothing more than stealing from public coffers and crafting a golden parachute for yourself. If we had those billions that Enron stole from us, that the deregulation scheme stole from us, we wouldn’t need to go without water or power, the average Austinite wouldn’t have to be out there hand-delivering necessities to people on the verge of death during a pandemic. This lunacy has to stop. The question is, will we pay attention long enough to make it stop?

Featured image from twitter.com/austinenergy

Guaranteed City Services

The power went off about 2am while I was having a soak in the tub before heading to bed. I grumbled and then rinsed and dried myself off in the dark and climbed up out of the tub to get dressed again so that I could go find the flashlights and the hurricane candles and make sure the house was set up for several hours of life without electricity in the middle of a nearly unprecedented winter storm.

This is the second time in a month that the power has gone off here at the house. It’s off at the school across the street too which has never happened before, and that bothers me. The school is on a seperate grid set aside for essential services. Most Texas schools were built to be shelters for harsh weather as well as their main purpose as schools, and they are largely self-sufficient architecture if properly maintained. The power being out there was a signal that this was not the ordinary squirrel chewing on transformer wires kind of problem.

The power stayed off until 4:38am. It came back on while I was washing dishes by candlelight. Weirdly that is the same thing I was doing the last time there was a power outage. The power stayed on for ten whole minutes and then it went back off again. I’m going to start a fire in the fireplace soon and start cleaning the shotgun in preparation for the zombie hordes that should be milling about by the time everything thaws in a week. I hope all of you have your zombie plans ready.

This is getting to be a too frequent problem. If I wanted to be on my own for power I would live out in the country. I don’t live in the country because I want services from the city to work when I need them too. I’d like to not have to buy solar cells, a battery backup and a generator just because I as a homeowner can’t rely on the city to keep the power on. This is why we pay taxes. We pay through the nose so that the services we need are there when we need them.

Yes, this is unprecedented weather, a never-before seen type of winter storm for this area. I get that. But this is the second time in a month, and that time the weather was normal and the power was still off all day. The city needs to start making sure that basic services stay on all the time, and just FYI that also includes the internet in this day and age. It’s time for a rethink, as the saying goes. Let’s start getting the city to pay attention to what is really important to us as citizens. What is that?

  • Shelter for everyone.
  • Clean water for everyone.
  • Food for everyone.
  • Electricity for everyone.
  • Healthcare for everyone.
  • Information services for everyone.

When it became clear to me that climate change was a thing some time around 2010, I started thinking that the municipalities and states needed to start making plans to deal with unexpected weather conditions in the future, because we really don’t know what will happen as the planet warms up. Winter storms stalling out in the Southern regions of the United States are perhaps a completely unlikely event to contemplate, but that is what the word unexpected means, and that is also why they changed the nomenclature from global warming to climate change, because the net effect may have been hotter temperatures worldwide, but the individual weather patterns will include things like what we are seeing right now. We need to be planning for this kind of event in the future, and we should have started these plans twenty years ago or even earlier.

We’ve waited too long and now it is time to play catch up, and we’d better start doing the planning in earnest or we’ll be seeing rolling blackouts all summer and winter in the years to come. People dying to unforeseen climate events is something that we should not just be accepting blythely like we are doing right now. How many homeless will freeze to death tonight? How many of them have died so far this year?

In a year marred by uncertainty and loss, homeless Austinites and advocates gathered Sunday morning to remember and read the names of the 256 homeless Austinites who died in 2020 – an increase of more than 70 deaths compared to last year.

Along Auditorium Shores, dog tags representing each life lost were nailed to a memorial live oak on the banks of Lady Bird Lake. The silver tags fluttered and jangled with each gust of wind on the blustery morning, while Austinites on the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail went about their Sunday exercises largely unphased.

kut.org

Will it top 400 in 2021? 500? When will we say enough?

February 18, 2021 – I wrote the original portion of this article Sunday night, early Monday morning, by copying parts of text that I had written on Facebook and Nextdoor earlier in the day Sunday. I was using my phone as a hotspot while typing on my laptop and it was the only connection to the outside world that we had in the house at that time. Not too long after my 5 am post, the phone and then the laptop went dead, and I had no power to charge either of them (other than sitting out in the SUV we borrowed from a friend due to the terrorist squirrels attack on our car. I’ll be writing that article shortly, I’m sure. If the power stays on) until Wednesday afternoon when we were woken up from the pretty poor sleep we were getting without our cpap machines, woken up by the sound of the high temp alarm going off on the chest freezer that sits just the other side of the wall from our bedroom. So that makes just under four full days without power for us here in Austin.

Most of the food in the chest freezer will be of questionable safety and will have to be thrown out, and that goes double for the contents of the refrigerator. We moved most items that we needed to keep edible to the porch, which remains colder than the refrigerator even today, Thursday the 18th.

That is 59 hours without power thanks to the Texas electric grid manager’s (ERCOT) unwillingness to provide or find additional power to keep the electricity on for most Texans. The death toll from freezing will not be known for some time (90 days per the Statesman article quoted further down. -ed.) and the cost of life among the homeless population may never be known. Nor is this winter storm over. I noticed flakes of snow falling again today as I washed dishes in my freshly boiled tap water this morning.

Boiled tap water? The boil water notice was instituted yesterday as the assessments of the damage that the lack of electricity for four days has had on our local infrastructure revealed that the power had been turned off at Austin’s largest water treatment plant, and that water pressure remains under low pressure conditions. Low water pressure means that contaminants can be siphoned off of toilet tanks or leaks in cracked water lines, rendering the once potable water in the lines potentially life-threatening. The boil water notice will probably remain in effect here for several days.

I’m still no more confident the power will stay on than I was when it came back on the last time. It may be still on now, but how long will it be before ERCOT or the PUC once again screw up and Texas is subjected to blackouts because of it? This has happened several times, pretty much every time that the weather goes below freezing for long enough for the non weatherized portions of the electricity grid to freeze and then fail to provide power.

When I wrote about this issue on Nextdoor several people displayed a complete lack of knowledge about the subject of the electric power grid in Texas. People like this guy:

So you’d like Texas to invest hundreds of millions (or possibly billions?) of taxpayer dollars to expand capacity to meet the power needs created by a single day of once in a century weather?

The problem is not capacity that needs to be built into the system. The problem is weatherization. Weatherization that has been pointed out as being needed before, but that Texas’ electricity council has never done anything to address:

Morning Edition – What Went Wrong With The Electric Grid In Texas? – February 17, 2021

So this is a very frustrating narrative, and largely because it is true that some of the solar and wind farms were producing less than you might have expected because of the extreme cold, but a lot of them were actually overperforming expectations as well. Simultaneously, almost an order of magnitude or almost 10 times as much of the thermal system – so coal, gas and nuclear – actually shut down because of the extreme cold, due to things like instruments freezing, et cetera. So I think the overall point here is all of the fuels were really, really struggling. And as the governor mentions, renewables being about 10% of the grid, the other 90% of the grid was not available in the way that we expected to, either, and in a way that was very, very far outside of what we expected to see fail.

NPR.org

The weatherization issue is a known problem and it is an old problem. In 1989 Texas faced power outages due to freezing weather impairing the electrical grid. It happened once again in the 1990’s and in 2011. Now it is happening again because ERCOT and it’s member corporations have still not complied with suggestions made by the national electrical regulating body more than a decade ago.

As another commenter pointed out on that thread on Nextdoor, this is because ERCOT was set up specifically to allow Texas to avoid federal regulation. This is possible because all of ERCOT’s activities are inside Texas, which means its activities are not interstate commerce and thusly cannot be regulated by federal authorities. ERCOT passed on the recommendations from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to their participating electrical power generators, but few if any of them were followed:

Moreover, some of the same equipment, the report noted, had failed during previous cold snaps. One in December 1989 prompted the state’s grid operator to resort to system-wide rolling blackouts for the first time.

“Many generators failed to adequately apply and institutionalize knowledge and recommendations from previous severe winter weather events, especially as to winterization of generation and plant auxiliary equipment,” the 2011 report said.

The failures have already spurred a tangle of finger-pointing, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott calling on leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, to resign.

bloomberg.com

The wikipedia page I linked under the acronym ERCOT above appears to have been written from press releases and from ERCOT’s own website. It is pretty hard to find any information on this obscure agency that isn’t filtered through their own internal lens. A local news station has just recently published a story that claims that several board members don’t live in Texas and one board member purportedly lives in Canada:

A KXAN analysis of ERCOT’s board revealed a total of five members do not live in Texas. Along with Telberg and Cramton, board members Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, Terry Bulger and Raymond Hepper do not appear to live in the Lone Star State.

Anesetti-Parra’s professional social media account shows her location as Canada, Bulger’s ERCOT biography lists his home as Wheaton, Illinois and a University of Pennsylvania law school biography shows Hepper calls Maine home.

kxan.com

What is clear is that ERCOT has proven that it can’t manage Texas’s electrical generating grid with any reliability and needs to be scrapped and replaced with another organization that is mandated with ensuring that power stays on for the average Texan even when inclement weather is affecting the region.

This is not a big ask. This is not asking the government to invest billions of dollars providing excess capacity, although re-investing the millions of dollars of profit that these corporations have taken out of Texas in the future of Texas and in Texas’ ability to sustain the necessary systems for power generation and delivery would be a completely justifiable demand.

I’ll start simple. I’d like the state to stop denying that climate change is real. It’s all around us and affecting us more and more each day. Stop pretending that science is political. Science is real and climate change is real and we are just going to have to learn how to deal with this new reality that we have created. I would like a task force to be set up to spitball and then solve similar issues to this one we are living through now, and then they need to set up preparations to deal with similar crisis in the future.

There will be another crisis this summer from the heat and there will likely be one next winter from the cold. Once in a century storms seem to happen every other season these days. It is time to get off of our collective asses and go about setting up the systems we will need to survive this new and rapidly changing climate we find ourselves in. Austin should probably increase their investment in the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, and possibly start backing current plans to expand that station to generate more power. That would be a good place to start. On the other end of the spectrum Austin and Texas should allow and/or encourage households and businesses to install battery backup systems for their solar power systems, so that households and businesses can draw on their own power during peak demand cycles. Completely the opposite direction from where Governor Abbott is currently agitating energy to go, demanding a reinvestment in oil and natural gas:

Beau of the Fifth ColumnLet’s talk about windmills in Texas and cars on Mars – Feb 17, 2021 (I’d like to thank Facebook for making it so buttfucking hard to link videos inside Facebook that they’ve forced me to go out and subscribe to Beau’s Youtube Channel that I didn’t even know he had in order to get a working link to this video that I originally found on Facebook. Facebook video, a major driver of video subscriptions for Youtube. Google should be paying you. -Ed.)

(When South Australia Went Dark, Some Politicians Blamed Wind Turbines. They Were Wrong, Too.)

In the meantime we still don’t have running water. Luckily we started having drinking water delivered a few years ago because Austin tap water had started tasting weird and didn’t look to be improving anytime soon. At least I could still wash dishes and clothes in it, as well as cook with it, while it was running. I really miss water at the taps that we could drink as well as do all those other things we need water to do in the average human home. Looking forward to the time when we can once again take basic necessities for granted as being guaranteed by the governments we elect to make sure we have what we need to survive.

If you elect people who hate and fear government to run government, you get bad government.

Bad government has consequences. Bad government can’t handle a crisis, won’t help its citizens (not can’t help its citizens, won’t), and can only blame others for its endless failure.

And you don’t have to look any further than what’s happening in Texas right now to see it.

facebook.com/Stonekettle

We made the Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word on MSNBC Feb. 18th & 19th . A clip from Rachel’s show is the featured image. Here are some links to the screenshots (Instagram link 1 and link 2) I took from the Thursday Feb. 18, 2021 show.

The last commenter on the Nextdoor post I cribbed a portion of the text for this article from kept passively/aggressively implying that we had better shut up about wanting the power to stay on if we didn’t want to pay more for our electricity here in Texas. After about the fifth version of this reply being posted in the thread, I asked her to answer the question “is it a prosecutable crime to allow someone to freeze to death in their house by turning off the electricity? Yes or no?” She never responded to the question.

Hector Nieto, public information officer for the county, said the medical examiner’s office was busy processing at least 86 cases from Feb. 13-20 to determine the causes of death. 

statesman.com

Here is a story from the Feb. 25th Texas Standard:

texasstandard.org

Tap water was declared safe to drink citywide in Austin on the 25th. There were three other stories about the aftermath of the storm in this episode of the show.

Trump Impeachment Anniversary

A year ago today, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

In his plea to Senators to convict the president, Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead impeachment manager for the House, warned “you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country.” Schiff asked: “How much damage can Donald Trump do between now and the next election?” and then answered his own question: “A lot. A lot of damage.” “Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald “How much damage can Donald Trump do between now and the next election?” and then answered his own question: “A lot. A lot of damage.” “Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will… protect our national interest over his own personal interest?” Schiff asked the senators who were about to vote on Trump’s guilt. “You know you can’t, which makes him dangerous to this country.’’

Heather Cox Richardson

A year later, a month away from Trump’s ouster from the White House after losing the election to Joe Biden, the damage that President Trump has done is all around us, impossible to ignore:

The Senators who voted to acquit President Trump are accomplices in the murders of all of the people who died unnecessarily this year. They are accomplices in the theft and corruption that they have enabled over all of the span of the Trump administration. The most corrupt administration in the history of the United States, hands down. They are as guilty as Trump is when it comes to the destruction of the US economy, a destruction that they are now stoking in hopes of destroying any chance of Biden being able to be successful in reviving the country before 2022.

These are the kinds of people that the Republican party sends to Washington. These are the values of the party of the Moral Majority laid bare. President Trump is actively working to destroy the country, and Mitch McConnell is helping him. Who wants to bet that the slowdown in delivery of the Pfizer vaccine isn’t Caudito Trump lashing out at the American public who rejected him?

Rachel Maddow won’t say it, but I will. I will go so far as to suggest that this is not only possible but probable. When Trump and his Republican lackies are willing to risk the kinds of global destruction we are potentially heading for right now if the United States collapses in upon itself in an orgy of self-destruction, what it means to plan for the failure of the Biden administration, the notion that a petty narcissist would stop delivery of life-saving medication out of spite is entirely believable.

What Trumpismo and its supporters have done is prove that Adam Schiff and the Democrats who impeached President Trump a year ago undersold us on the hazard that the country could face in his hands. If only we could go back in time, what would we say to them? What could we say to the Republican base that might possibly have changed their minds?

Is This It?

In the cool light of an impending winter’s day, watching as the world economy spirals down the drain of the Coronavirus pandemic; as the various nations of the world including the vassal states of my own country flex their muscles to assert their dominance, and lastly in light of the naked insanity of our president and his supporters, is it completely reasonable to ask the question:

Is this it? Is this the end of us?

The question could be answered in a number of ways. Parsing the question, it depends on what you mean by the word us. The human race will continue on, and the world will continue spinning just like it always has. In that sense the answer is no. No, it is not the end of us. Some form of government will continue. Other nations will take over our leadership role. This process has already started and will continue whether we want it to or not.

A different take would be to observe that every empire in history has fallen. They rise, and then they fall. We watched the Soviet Union dissolve before our very eyes just over thirty years ago. This could be the point in time where the empire that the United States maintains falls apart.

Maybe our empire should fall apart. Maybe we shouldn’t have an empire in the first place? I’ve been warning people for years that the US is one major crisis away from ceasing to exist. Some people laughed when I first proposed this problem back in the day, the problem that the United States is a paper tiger.

A paper tiger in that, the American people don’t want an empire. They never have wanted one. The federal government in Washington D.C. established one anyway. They did it in our name, at the urging of power brokers of previous generations. Stealing the lands of our neighbors and putting native peoples to the sword in a fair approximation of England or France or any other empire-building nation of previous generations.

We have built a military that is unrivaled in the modern world, spending blood and treasure at a phenomenal rate to the benefit of our corporate masters and even to the benefit of the assembly line workers that build all the armaments that we currently deploy. We can, with pinpoint precision, remove any threat that we recognize as a threat with that military. We can do this and we have done this, right up to this point in history.

We are the wealthiest, most powerful nation in recorded human history. How can we just cease to exist?

…and here we are laid low by a virus, the simplest form of life on this planet. Life so simple that it barely qualifies as life in the first place. It is a little bit of replicating code that has evolved to use the larger bits of life around it to make more of itself without ever knowing what it was doing. It just does what it does, and we can’t stop it.

We can’t stop it. Not with jet planes or nuclear weapons or all the money in the world can we stop it. We can’t stop it unless we accept that we have to stop it, and then make that the thing we need to do now instead of building jet planes and nuclear missiles. This is the biggest crisis we’ve faced in our lifetimes, bigger than the crash that happened in 2008 that we still haven’t recovered from. It is possible that we are living through the greatest crisis in recorded human history, when our children’s children look back at this time through the lens of history.

The future of the United States as a political entity is a small thing compared to the effect that a pandemic can have on the human psyche. In the end that is really all that matters. Unless we can grasp the threat we face right now and answer that threat. Unless we put aside the petty dictators and their Trumpismo’s and focus on the real threat, the fear that this virus inspires in us all and the impact that its continued existence unchecked in the world represents, then the United States will be done for in spite of its globe-spanning military presence and its corporate reach.

…and just maybe, in the end, that is the way that it ought to be.

Featured image: IFLScience How Long Do We Have Left Before The Universe Is Destroyed?

Embracing Post-Scarcity

…and then he asked me,

As if those shows you watch would get aired without a profit motivation? Would they even have been made? Would Netflix exist? Would Facebook? You take a lot for granted.

I had to admit, he had a valid point. Not that I agree with him, but the point is valid on its face. Every television show, every radio show ever created was created the way they were to specifically address the advertising model adopted by broadcasters in the early twentieth century. All of them exist the way they do because their creators and the networks that paid for their creation were speculating on audience appeal and the value of that appeal on the advertising markets.

I find it amusing, when listening to public radio podcasts, that they stop for an advertising message at precise intervals. Those intervals are dictated by the broadcasters who understood just how much information the listener or viewer could assimilate at one time before being lost in the narrative. You can have this much information and no more, because we need you to pay attention to this next advertisement! Leave the audience hungry, so that they will tune back in after the pause in order to hear the rest of the story.

Public radio and television networks (and especially podcasts. No podcasts need to follow this formula unless they too count on advertising to pay for their content) do not need to stop for an advertising message every fifteen to thirty minutes. They just do that in order to conform to the standards for commercial broadcasts and the advertising model that has proven to be largely unworkable in the post-scarcity economy that the internet is the harbinger of.

The Wife and I have mused together several times over nearly a decade about what this impending switchover to post-scarcity economics implies. Gene Roddenberry and his chief work of fiction, Star Trek, do not do more than imply that inhabitants in that distant future no longer understand what money is and why we ancients could never get past the need of it.

The Wife has asked this very question when I have posed what the impending advent of a freedom dividend or universal basic income(UBI) or guaranteed minimum income (GMI) would mean to the average person. What will the world be like, when people no longer have to work to survive? No one knows, because that economic state has never existed in human memory. But it is about to happen, one way or another.

The world economic system throws off enough human value, measured in increments of whatever monetary system you want to use, for the entire world to be provided with the means to survive without having to work. The operative phrase there being having to. Work will still be done, because people need to work. They just won’t starve or be kicked out of their (modest) residences when they don’t. We already live in a post-scarcity economy, we simply do not have the benefits of that economy spread equinomically across all the participants.

The right way to get out of the problem that we are in now, the problem of false scarcity, is the only real question here. The question is not whether or not we can get out of this delusion of scarcity that the wealthy who run the world make sure to indoctrinate their workers with. How do we do emerge from scarcity in a way that the creators of all the things we use on a daily basis finally do get the benefits of their creations? That system has never existed before in history.

In Fields of Blood (Karen Armstrong, 2015) the point was driven home early in the book that the agrarian state was based on the direct confiscation of the farmer’s work. In example after example she paints the inescapable portrait of the leaders of these states confiscating the work of the providers and creators in order to live more comfortable, secure lives, while only marginally providing security and stability for the people that they live on top of.

In the recent science fiction novel, New York 2140 (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2017) the author projects a future where these economic thieves are still making a fine living off of the suffering of other people, even though a good portion of the world’s population is living a marginal existence in the flooded remains of our former coastal cities. I don’t want to spoil the ending of the book, so I won’t go into how the world changes over the course of the novel, but I don’t need to in order to make the point that I want to make in mentioning the book here.

That point is this; we can stop these profiteers, these pirates, we can stop them here and now and just avoid that future altogether. All we have to do is adopt an economic strategy that lifts all boats by design. A strategy that modifies itself as the economics around it shift from decade to decade. That strategy will take the form of a UBI or GMI, but that is just the beginning. The question then really does become, what next?

Well, the creators will continue to create, for one thing. The farmers will farm, because that is what they do. When they get wealthy from their efforts at creating they will either stop doing that or find someone else to help them do that. Someone who is still just bouncing along on subsistence. The farmers are just the beginning of what has become a very complex social structure since the days when Abraham first conjectured that the problem with society was that it stole all of his work, and set off to create the perfect agrarian state. A state that ended up never existing. Dozens of religions have been founded on his simple observations, and still we struggle with the beast that is scarcity and the fear of scarcity.

To answer the question from the beginning of this article, would these shows exist? I have to point out that most people who create do that because that is what they do. The Wife makes movies, has been part of some fifteen films over the span of decades of her life, and she’s never made a dime off of any of them. It would have been nice to make some money from them, that just isn’t the reason she does it. It isn’t the reason that anyone working in film or television or radio or the theater does the work they do. They create the things they do because that is what interests them, and there is a place for them to make these things and so contribute to the world, so they do what they can.

I write because that is what I do. I also don’t make any money off of it. It would be nice to make money; but again, that isn’t why I do it. I didn’t create architectural documents to make money. I did it because drafting and computers and escaping my dysgraphic limitations were what drove me. When I couldn’t do that anymore, and being faced with ceasing to be relevant to the world because I could no longer do the thing I loved, I found a way to do the thing I had always wanted to do. Write. Writing is the thing I had always wanted to do but couldn’t do because I had to feed a family, and writing without a computer interface is an impossibility for someone who has the kind of dysgraphic problems that I have.

The space in which to reinvent myself was provided by socialism, which is why I say that I was Saved by Socialism, and having been given that space and discovering that I had to do something in order to keep living in the here and now, I taught myself to write in much the same way that I taught myself computer assisted drafting (several times) I can now bring my ideas into existence with a word processor for them to be discussed or puzzled over by anyone who runs across them.

This personal revelation of mine is a part of why I keep telling people who clearly are angry about being forced to do a job they don’t want to do, to just stop doing it. Just stop. Wait. Wait as long as it takes for them to get that itch. Some people will never notice the itch. There is no help for those people no matter what I might say here. Most people will get the itch and they will be driven up off the couch and out the door in pursuit of something to do with themselves that feels meaningful in the grand sense of meaning, and not in the personal sense of meaning which amounts to “what can I distract myself with next?”

I want, more than anything, for everyone to be allowed to sit down and say “I’m not going to do that anymore.” …and then have them be forced to admit that sitting at home doing nothing is not a useful, rewarding life that you can be happy in. Because until that experience is a realistic possibility the delusion of scarcity and its fear will drive people to keep working at things that they don’t find rewarding but feel that they must continue to work at anyway unless they want to starve, their children to starve, live on the streets, etcetera.

They are convinced that if they don’t work the world will come to a standstill. Even the Wife says “the world will come to a standstill, won’t it?” I want to see their faces when they realize that the world keeps going on anyway, turning once around its axis each day, traveling once around the sun each year, even though they have decided not to participate in life any longer. Because it is at that point that we really will have arrived at a post-scarcity economy.

GDP Shrinkage

This is the news that President Trump doesn’t want anyone to notice right now. This is what has his rapidly thinning hair on fire.

The Indicator from Planet Money – GDP -32.9%???!!! – July 30, 2020

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released second quarter gross domestic product data today. The number shows how much the economy has grown in a given quarter. And in the second quarter, the BEA says, the American economy grew at an annualized rate of…wait for it…negative 32.9%.

…this is why he is talking about postponing or cancelling the elections in November. It isn’t because of the COVID hazards. It isn’t because of any other reason that people might toss around in an attempt to obscure his motivations.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

Caudito Trump knows that the economic success of the average American is what they will be voting on in November, those people who aren’t interested in politics, health or climate change anyway. Everyone else (the average wage-earner) is going to vote on their own economic status, and right now the average person’s economic status is not good.

They’ve been out of work since March. They have rent due. They are running out of food. They are terrified of catching the plague that is sweeping the nation. Too terrified to send their kids to school, with good reason. The economy is melting down all around us and the Party of Trump is busy trying to talk about budget overruns and how we can’t afford to keep paying people to stay at home as if they have any choice in the matter now.

The Democrats are rolling out election strategies in states they haven’t even bothered to contest in decades. They are campaigning all across the nation in ways that haven’t been seen before, their candidate running double-digit polling projections. Remembering 2016, the Democrats will not lay back and expect votes from average working people. They are going to go out and ask these people to support them, and they probably will.

President Trump has to know that this is not good news for him. He is smart enough to see that writing on the wall. That is why he is talking about postponing the election. Plain and simple. Nevermind that he can’t do it. He will try every trick that he can utilize to see that the election, when it occurs, is contested. This is why he is talking about the insecurity of mail-in ballots. This is why he will roll out the specter of brown people voting against him. Non-citizens voting. He will try to tamper with the counts, stop counts from happening, stop the mail service from delivering ballots.

None of this matters aside from the parlour game that it has been and will be. Oh, he’ll do any number of things to try to stay in office, but unless he can make the count go his way, he ceases to be president on January 20, 2021 anyway.

Why is this? Because the system is more than the election. Barring a winner in a contested presidential election, on January 20, 2021 the president of the United States will be Nancy Pelosi. He can’t stop this from happening. A majority holding for the Trumpists in the Senate can’t stop it. His term of office ends on that day, and the presidency will pass to the successor to the office.

Then the real work begins, for the first time in I don’t know how many years. New Year’s Eve can’t come soon enough to suit me this year.

Featured image: Screenshot from fred.stlouisfed.orgtwitter.com

That is what is called a precipitous drop.