Friday, August 21, 2009

The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008

If you think about it for a moment, Economic Depressions (such as 1929-1938 or so) make no sense at all.

There are lots of people walking around WANTING to work so they can get the stuff they need; factories are sitting around WAITING for people to work in them. How can an economy stabilize, with economic supply equal to economic demand, at a level leaving "one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished" in FDR's immortal phrase? It does not fit the classic picture of economics we're told about on TV. What the heck is going on?

Nobel Laureate Dr. Paul Krugman explains the problem in plain English in "The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008".

In short, it seems that economies of any decent size need something like money to facilitate trade. When trading in money can be more profitable than trading in real stuff, the money trade becomes more powerful than the trade in real stuff. Disaster follows.

Of course, Krugman goes into a lot more detail, with a lot more explanations of recent events such as the economic disaster we're working with today. Rather than repeat what he writes, I suggest you just get the book and give it a read; it'll give you some new ways to think about the news.

What to do about the problem, or whether to do anything at all, is of course another question. Regulating the trade in money (banking and the like) seems like an obviously good idea but, as Krugman recounts in case after case, the profits to be made in the money trade makes regulations vulnerable to being repealed, run around or simply ignored. Worse: even well-run economies become vulnerable to problems created by other, less prudently regulated economies.

If you love mathematical equations, charts and footnotes, you won't get them here. I would like to see a more nerdish version of this work, with every paragraph citing to a source and illustrated with a bar chart or something. However, that would be a different work, possibly more valuable, except that it would be a lot slower read and therefore less likely to be read by the people who need to read it: the average person who is trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Belltown Board of Superheroes Minutes

The Belltown Board of SuperHeroes (B-BOSH) had been meeting in the back garden of the Two Bells since lunch, working through its detailed agenda at a table now littered with fragments of meatball subs and Cobb salad, in and among the never-empty pitcher of Old What's-On-Tap.

"Next and last is New Business," announced Time Freezer. "One item has been submitted: there has been a wisteriacide at the P-Patch!"

"Oh, bogus!" said Instant Karma. "How do we balance something like that?"

"Death!" urged Death Rae. "Death, but to who? and where?"

"No, wait," said the fourth member of the Board. "Remember who and where we are. In this town, we have a process to follow. Time Freezer, has a study commission been duly constituted?"

"A new Belltown Wisteriacide Investigation Neighborhood Organization will be meeting within a week, Lady No," replied the Freezer of Time. "I will seek to be put on the agenda."

Death Rae was somewhat mollified, but not ready to say die. "Are we or are we not going to zap anyone? Chopping down a helpless wisteria simply reeks of super-villainy. But I seem to remember something ..." her voice trailed off as she mused.

"Yeah, hey, is this another instantiation of the Patch Turf Wars?" asked Instant Karma. "Aren't we at, like, version 9.08 or something? We don't want the Ancient Factions getting out too far out, maybe like On The Waterfront, or bothering Old Nurse Log."

"No-one wants that," agreed Lady No, "But have we any proposals less drastic than Death?"

"Wisteria roots," mused Death Rae, "Never seem to truly die. You cut them down, and they grow back stronger than before..."

"...which will make the killer reveal himself in his rage, when he beholds the Wisteria Reborn!" Instant Karma smiled. "Death Rae, that's killer karma!"

"With that," Time Freezer swiftly interjected, "I move we adjourn sine die. Let's split the tab and take off."

"Whoa, like how will we remember all that stuff from like earlier in the agenda?" worried Instant Karma.

"Don't worry," Time Freezer smiled. "I kept the minutes."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Change the World Wednesdays

I've been enjoying participating in "Change the World Wednesdays" (CTWW) over on Reduce Footprints for two reasons.

  • Selfishly: As a writer, my hardest task is getting started. You might think that finding something that moves me to write "should" not be hard, but The Muse is legendarily fickle and when she's not there, she's not there ... don't bother calling out her name! CTWW inspires The Muse with a new topic once a week, and that's plenty enough to get me rolling. I am grateful for the help!
  • Spiritually: The subject matter of CTWW is important, timely and relevant. Rather than write about Large Theories of Sustainability, I try to write about something small and close at hand that I know about. This, I hope, makes my writing more credible and useful; it is certainly more fun! If at times I appear ridiculous, that's o.k. with me: a writer who fears looking silly is telling The Muse to go away.

I was delighted to discover today that CTWW is expanding, thus:

"Change The World Wednesday Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hi Everyone! Happy "Change The World Wednesday".

One of the goals of these weekly challenges is to get a lot of people trying the same "green" activity during the same week. So, everyone is asked to spread the word.

For most of us that means blogging about it and perhaps telling our friends and family. For one of our bloggy friends, however, it means creating a new blogcatalog group and working tirelessly to bring newcomers to the "fold".

TC of Live Smart started a Change The World Group on blogcatalog. He's already signed up a bunch of people who, hopefully, will be joining us in our weekly efforts.

But that's not all that TC has done. Realizing that linking to a blog helps to raise that blog's ranking and increase traffic, he took our list of participants ... our "Honor Society" ... and re-posted it on his blog. So, not only did participants get featured here and their articles get stumbled ... they also got featured on TC's blog.

Our weekly challenges are quickly becoming a "social network" ... so not only are we doing a great thing for the earth ... we're promoting ourselves and each other. A huge thanks goes out to TC and his great efforts. His article is featured in this week's Honor Society so ... be sure to check it out. And, stop by the new group..."

Well Done TC, and Well Done Reduce Footprints! May The Muse reward you with endless inspiration!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009


How Big Bills Get Read

Concern has been expressed about the practice of voting on bills that one has not read. How can one possibly assent to or oppose a thousand-page document that has been finalized only the day before?

The short answer is that this just another fake issue brought to you by the Iraq-has-WMDs, Terri-Schiavo-Can-Talk, Cigarettes-Are-Good-For-You crowd, but it's worth a brief think. Voting for or against a lengthy bill of which you have not read every word is both necessary and, if the effort is properly organized, wise (note the qualification).


Significant legislation is usually complex because it modifies already complex code (e.g. the U.S. Code), using necessarily imprecise natural language, in ways that humans naturally seek to twist to their advantage.

Ideally, legislation would be simple enough to fit on a notecard so we can all discuss it. For Example, "Cruel and unusual punishments are prohibited" would be a good law to have. In fact we have it, but some fans of torture have found a way to allow it anyway (at least until a prosecutor has the balls to do something about it. We'll see.)

So generally you need to state with great specificity which bits of the U.S. Code, or whatever, you are amending. The U.S. Code has grown very complicated and, regrettably, was not designed with the modularity et cetera that we have come to know and love in software. So unless you are doing something very simple and pretty sure no-one is going to try to get around it, it is necessary to write very long bills.

Since long bills are often necessary, when is a Representative or Senator going to find time to read them? Few Americans read a thousand-page book every week, but that is far less than the minimum that would be required to keep up with the legislation that must be voted up. And Congresscritter do a lot more than vote;

  • Congress holds hearings so it can learn facts relevant to its vote; surely it would be pointless to read a thousand-page bill and not have the facts on hand with which to evaluate.
  • Thanks to the financial corruption in our political system, Congresscritters much endless seek new sources of contributions. This takes time.
  • Constituent services are important and time-consuming.
  • Some members of Congress spend time with their families. Do we really want our laws made by people who don't take time for their kids?
All of the above cuts into value time needed to read those huge bills!

If you are unconvinced as to the necessity of complexity in the particular area of health care reform, I agree. A much simpler and more bill would be: "Any American citizen may subscribe to Medicare upon paying a premium to be set from time-to-time by the Center for Medicare Management". I think this would be much better than the huge "public option"bill - Read More Here - It's Definitely Worth It!.


You can vote wisely for or against a thousand-page bill without reading the whole thing by organizing a team of subordinates to do the work for you. This is analogous to how a manger runs a team that writes software. It has been the practice for a very long time.

Problems arise when bills are thrown together without giving the team time to analyze the provisions (e.g. USA/PATRIOT) or when assent is giving as a matter of obedience to party or class masters (e.g. USA/PATRIOT), but bills whose provisions have been chewed over for YEARS (e.g. healthcare) will typically be addressed by teams of legislative aids familiar with the topics.

Now I'm not going to say whether HR3200 or any of the other proposals being tossed around are wise or necessarily complex (I favor Hartmann's short-form patch to Medicare) but I hope I have addressed the criticism that HR3200 or whatever hasn't been read. It has ... just by teams, not individuals.

We don't expect Bill Gates to read every line of code before relasing the next version of Windows.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gurning About Health Care

Making ugly faces is the art and science of gurning

and it is the only science left to opponents of Universal Health Care in these, our beloved United States of America.

It's understandable. Our private health care industry is plagued by vampires who suck 30% or more in overhead out of the delivery of health care. Some of that overhead is for insanely high compensation for its CEOs, some for their perks, some to pay the salaries of clerks whose job it is to deny coverage. None of that contributes to health care; it is a privatized tax on healthcare that is completely indefensible on either economic or moral grounds. So what have they left but ugliness such as "Death Panels", "rationing" and shouting at Town Hall meetings?

It'd be funny if it weren't serious.

Meanwhile, back in reality ...

Some interesting facts about Republican "Death Panels" enacted into law in the 2003 Medicate bill:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Afterlife of a Teabag

Tea comes in little bags that we use once and throw away. But why?

These bags are good for only one use in making tea. If you "double-dip" you might possibly get a second cup but that's pretty much it. Still, you're left with a little porous paper bag of leaves. Whether you are a person who is innately frugal, or you are challenging yourself to come up with greener practices, the question is the same: What else can we do with this thing?

Our patio has a bird poop issue. The chicadees are delightfully entertaining but they frequently leave a mark. I could clean the mark off with a rag and then launder the rag, but there's something icky about that. I may not be being reasonable here, but that's my prerogative.

Instead, when I'm done with my teabag, I give any birdspots a scrub. This is just abrasive enough to lift the spot, but not so abrasive as to mar the paint. When I'm done, I tear the soiled bag in half and bury it in the dirt. The tea leaves and bird spot swiftly turn into soil and the bit of paper is not far behind. The end result is that the tea bag has had 2 or 3 lifetime achievements instead of only one; surely this is more satisfying for the teabag just as it would be for all of us!

You can think of other uses for a tea-bag scrubby. They're small, handy and come in a variety of flavors! If you're going to have them anyway, why not put them to use? (I'm not talking about turning your pad into a Boo Radley house loaded with old junk, but simply practicing the philosophy of re-using what you have anyway for something you need to do anyway: "Use it up, wear it out - make it do or do without!")

Certainly, this a small thing, and no substitute for the large changes we must make to keep our world clean and green. However, other people are working on the Big Things; few of us can come up with Gigantic Ideas on our own, but thanks to the internet, we now can share enough ideas, both Tiny and Gigantic, for them to add up to something significant.

Each of the cells of our body are small things but aren't we grateful at the result?

UPDATE: I am reminded that you can also make waste-free, one-time-use scrubbies from the residue when you have corn-on-the cob.