01 January 2025

Where to get my books

There are two options; Google Play, or the Draft2Digital publication targets. Google Play isn't available globally (though they intend to be, based on how the publisher interface sets up billing regions!). So you might need to try one of the Draft2Digital targets. Kobo seems to be a good fallback choice for availability though not for avoiding DRM.

Title Google Books2Read
The Human Dress on Google Play via Books2Read
The March North (Commonweal #1) on Google Play via Books2Read
A Succession of Bad Days (Commonweal #2) on Google Play via Books2Read
Safely You Deliver (Commonweal #3) on Google Play via Books2Read
Under One Banner (Commonweal #4) on Google Play via Books2Read

Commonweal Book #5, A Mist of Grit and Splinters, is expected to escape into the wild sometime in 2019.

05 December 2018

Loot is not growth

This is one of those things that ought to be a tautology and yet falls prey to habits.

(Rather like "greed is a sin".)

Loot is what you get, and looting is what you do, when you take something by a means other than voluntary exchange on the basis of present or threatened force.  (The threat can be implicit.)  (If you're doing services rather than goods, that's slavery.)  (Theft is when you lack sufficient force and loot by sneaking.)

Let's also remember that any commodity has two relevant prices; the extraction price (what it cost you to get it), and the market price (what you can sell it for).  You can't get away from this just by installing a looting-normalizing legal framework.

So the present pass -- the historical disjunction of our days -- occurs because the extraction price for loot has surpassed the market price of loot.  The basis of the colonial expansion economy melts into air. [1]

So you see much panicked effort to create more pro-looting legal frameworks (various US states, Brexit, etc.) and you get the last couple generations' increase in inequality as former colonial powers start in with the internal colonization.  (And you get into "is excess rent extraction loot?" and I'll say "look at the question"; yes, of course it is.)

The fix is simple and obvious (and is not wrong!) -- stop looting.  We know that, because the things that aren't loot -- education, local focus of direct investment, research both abstract and practical -- all do generate growth.  (That is, you are passing a new increase in capability into the future in the expectation that it will persist because under fair and complete accounting, you've increased the supply of value.  (ratio of benefit to cost has increased.))  If the resources that go into enforcing the looting systems just went away, never mind were redirected, we'd all be better off.  (The simple example is Utah figuring out that giving the homeless housing is less expensive than anything else.)

"Populism" is an assertion that the looting economy should continue, and the designated classes of victim should be maintained as they were in former days.  That's all.  It's not complicated.  The fix is not pointing out that the people taking that position aren't being their best selves or demonstrating able cognition; the fix is to present a status-increasing alternative.

(It's not like we haven't got a bunch available.  We need new housing stock, new cities, new transportation infrastructure, new food production, there's almost infinite work to do.)

The requirement to get there -- a recognition by the wealthy and powerful that their wealth and power is not, and cannot be, the systemic purpose of a stable and prosperous society -- has been historically challenging.  I take a modicum of hope from recognizing that this particular miracle has happened before; that's what the British landed aristocracy did in accepting the industrial revolution as an alternative to Napoleon.

But only a modicum.  People are astonishingly good at concluding that the angry storm gods can't possibly be angry with them.




[1] much of this has to do with the availability of open-loop resources (iron, copper, etc.) but it's got to do with the relative ease of getting rents from technological upticks, too.  What you're seeing with the net is massive spending to get control of something that isn't profitable.  Waiting for the starving leviathan to die isn't a good time.  And what you're seeing with millenials is a willingness to crash the system by, in effect, eating the seed corn; subsequent rents depend on a certain minimum prosperity on the part of the general population.

12 November 2018

Creatures of the binge

So the carbon binge has two phases, coal and oil.  (Which is not to say we've stopped using coal, but to say we've stopped using it for maritime propulsion.  Strait control, commerce, control of trade, yargle yargle.)

The coal phase started sometime in the eighteenth century; if you want to stick it to the first run of the The Rocket or some other date, you can, but the core point here is that we're looking at a couple hundred years; eight generations.  Everyone alive in the North Atlantic economic network, that network, its culture and its institutions and its implementing mechanisms, are if not uniformly than universally creatures of the binge.

This is going to end.  How it ends is (somewhat, a little) optional.  That it shall end is in no way optional; we are in an historical lacuna.

We're not going to keep much of anything.  Keeping "reliable food" -- not the social reality of reliable food, already deeply frayed, but the material possibility of reliable food -- is going to be a lot of work.

In a lot of ways, the great political problem of our age is to get widespread acknowledgement that we're going to have to pick a future, and work for it.  We don't have the option of keeping anybody's status quo.  An awareness of this has leaked into everybody's understanding, but is not acknowledged; it's all still lurking in the land of unsaid things.

"My social status is unknown" is unbearable; note that nigh-all of the political movements doing destructive horrible things function to create social status out of nothing and to be highly reassuring about the fixed nature of the social status of the participants in the movement.

It'd be a thing to get a conscious effort going to produce a reliable source of post-Carbon-Binge social status that doesn't rest on oppression.

09 November 2018

Economic models

There's this stylized fact that the point of the economy is to increase the general prosperity.

Since that's obviously not the case -- the general prosperity is in the "prosperity decreasing" side of the post-1980 bimodal distribution -- it's reasonable to ask what is actually going on.

This tends to collapse into a mess as people start arguing esoterica, such as about how much market power labour has.  (This is about like arguing about how much market power farmers have; it's none, and it's obviously none because productivity has tripled since 1950 and farm income (in the family farm sense) is flat or declining in constant dollars.  You know there's no political power there when they can't keep that from happening to them.)

I think it's much much simpler in the general economic case.

You can increase prosperity through innovation; it takes less work per unit useful thing.  Incumbents hate this and try to prevent it. (If you're on top of the heap, any change is overwhelming likely to move you further down the heap.)  There's the recent example of the VLSI breakout, which no incumbent anticipated and which they're still struggling to get back into the can.  Plus, it's difficult.  Especially at the end of the logistic curve (which were are at for the current toolkit), innovation is a tough way to make money.

You can concentrate; if you can get control of more of the economy, you get richer.  Nothing has changed about how the economy runs, but your degree of oligarchical status increases.  "Concentration" was the post-1970 policy goal of the US and American oligarchies; the early-20th innovation set and the Hitler's War/Great Pacific War capability investment had about spooled out, you weren't going to get anything else with predictable results.  (and indeed VLSI did NOT have predictable results.)  There are some nastier looting variants on concentration -- I just want the money, not the business -- but it's all the same basic pattern of fewer and fewer sources of decision.  (Decision and control are not the same thing!)

BUT!, you can also loot the public purse.  This is what happened in post-Soviet Russia; if you can get control of the public infrastructure and public institutions, you can obtain a lot of money.  You can pretty readily find credible analysis suggesting Putin's cabal divied up the equivalent of a trillion-with-a-T USD.  This isn't graft; this is straight up long-term control of the power to tax and to legislate.  Quite literally "give me the money".

This is the model being pursued by Trump, by the US neo-conservatives generally, by Doug Ford, and by pretty much everybody coming into politics from organized crime.

No one else is currently advancing another model.  The US Democrats, Canadian (federal) Liberals or NDP, are the parties of the status quo, and this means they're the parties of (to various degrees of humane constraint) parties of economic concentration.  Conservatives have become the party of aristocracy, which is what you get when a small group controls the public sphere for their specific direct benefit.

To change this, it is necessary to create a widespread belief that the status quo cannot persist and that some specific achievable alternative is preferable.


30 October 2018

Present necessity

So, Canadian, so we start with "peace, order, and good government".

This is a problem, because a whole lot of people have widely divergent ideas about how to define those things.  ("A settler can shoot indigenous persons if upset with them" is still a legally-protected position in Canada, for example.)

There's also the problem that "permanent emergency" is usually thought of as a political device rather than a material condition. We're moving into circumstances in which it is our material condition.  (Temperature peaks several centuries from now.  Everything gets worse until after the temperature peak somewhere.)

So, problem zero; retain enough technological civilization to keep feeding ourselves AND get through the peak temperature period.  (Just like you have to eat every day, you can't go above 35 C wet-bulb for very long and live; the solution to these problems has to be continuous.)

As these things go, we haven't got much longer with stable agriculture; if we lose that, we're done.   You can't maintain civilization during a famine.  (Innumerable historical examples!)

But we also can't do anything effective towards the "local post-carbon toolkit" and "post-agricultural food supply" problems because most of the population is intensely committed to the status quo.

What does it take to get off the status quo?


  1. prosperity; 
    • in the time of angry weather, the existing housing stock is worthless.  The remnant middle class is defined by home ownership, and they vote.  Anything that acknowledges the worthlessness of the extant housing stock or the impracticality of the post-war suburban distribution pattern is a political non-starter.  So any political solution must involve a massive public home replacement program at guaranteed values.
    • wages are too low because of rent extraction and wealth concentration; the wealth concentration is a major source of political opposition to any change to the status quo of the role of society being to guarantee concentrations of wealth.  The way in which the infrastructure changeover is organized has to produce immediate, obvious increases in the material prosperity of pretty much everybody
    • you can use less energy if you're more efficient, but you can't generally get people to accept a lower standard of living.  Hot showers, good communications, soft beds, and a varied diet are absolute requirements of any intended social reorganization because everyone knows this isn't temporary.  This is the new pattern for civilization up to and past the temperature peak.
    • really large fractions of the population do not care about the future more than they care about not feeling that they have lost status right now.  A major sales effort will be required.
  2. accounting
    • capitalism works by keeping costs of the books to increase what can be considered profit.  (If you have to pay people what they want for their homes, that mine won't make money (or happen at all), et  multi cetera.)  It turns out this is how you get most of our current problems. 
    • You can keep a market economy but you have to do the accounting accurately.  General-case emissions taxes would be a good start.  (All emissions, not just carbon.) Otherwise, the system is missing feedbacks and inevitably becomes destructive.
    • the human trick is ganging up on problems; we're darn near eusocial.  Current capitalist orthodoxy insists on individuals or corporations.  We're going to need more, and flexibly arrived at, patterns of collective organization.  Which means we're going to have to forbid the "protect wealth concentration" version, which is the social equivalent of a destructive invasive like phragmites or kudzu.
    • some model for ecological services that prices them accurately (that is, these things are expensive; killing soil by paving it should ALSO be expensive)
  3. technology
    • we've got (nigh) all the pieces
    • major challenges are all "do something that will really displace an incumbent" political problems, rather than technical possibility.
    • we need something that doesn't depend on long supply chains or just-in-time fulfillment or presume an integrated trans-national economy of several billion. Those aren't bad things, but they're not resilient things.  We need to replace the Industrial Revolution coal, iron, and brass toolkit with something a couple million people can keep going over a (relatively) small geographical area, and build up from there.  Trade is good but all the ports are going to drown; we mustn't plan on steady, high-volume trade.
  4. food
    • decarbonized agriculture; no fossil carbon anything, whether fuel, fertilizer, or pesticides.
    • post-agricultural food supply; this necessarily means management practices that increase diversity and disparity of the organisms because we're going to be compelled to optimize robustness in the food supply, rather than productivity per person (which is what mechanized agriculture optimizes).
    • diversity; the massive reliance on wheat, maize, and rice is going to end.  We're going to be eating a lot of weird stuff and need to work at getting as much of it into the future as we can.
    • bioaccumulating anything-that-isn't-food is a problem; plastics, pseudo-hormonal compounds, persistent toxins in pesticides, anything like that. Keeping a reliable food supply means not doing that.  (An organism turns food into shit; an ecology turns shit into food.  If the ecology can't turn it into food, you can't emit it.)



Systems have common properties

They can all be modelled as stocks, flows, feedbacks, and constraints.  Current anglosphere politics never mentions constraints.

So; extractive capitalism as practiced is the idea that you get rich by some combination of not permitting costs on the books, or at least by not permitting costs on your books.  Anything you can charge a rent for is an opportunity for extractive capitalism.  Flint, Michigan's created water crisis (it's a real crisis, but it happened because someone created it by means of improving their extractive position without regard to anything not on their books) is a simple example.  So is the classic "landlord won't do maintenance" tenancy problem.

This has three large problems.  One is that the outcomes are undesirable to the majority of the population, and in nominal democracies this ought to allow adjustments as to what must be accounted for when determining profit.  Two is that the available loot has diminished sharply from the 19th and 20th centuries; about the only really major opportunities involve extracting from your internal population, which is most of what creates problem one.  Problem three is that it's increasingly obvious that this whole "not including in the determination of profit" accounting is going to stop; it might stop due to a collective rush of sense to the head, or it might stop due to an extinction event, but it's going to stop.

Systems get more extreme in preference to changing to some other system.  What we're seeing with the rise of fascist politics is the absolutely standard oligarch response to "you'll have to stop looting"; genocide is much preferable to any diminished profit, and looting produces profit, so.... (Yes, really.  The purpose of a system is what it does.  If what it's doing is genocide, that's what's it's for.  The current atmospheric carbon load trend direction is unquestionably genocide.  There are lots of others.)

It's important to keep in mind that the "let's murder a minority" response isn't inevitable; it's even quite trivial to not have that.  (Raise wages until people are economically secure.  Oligarchs never pick this one.)

The prefered material outcome is for wages to rise, and the spread in incomes to drop.  This is why I like income and asset caps; no only does it remove the "if I can keep these people dying of being poisoned off the books, I can make enormous quantities of money" motivation, it makes it hard to buy political influence.  Between not being all that much more prosperous than anybody else and everybody being relatively decently provided for, buying influence gets difficult.

29 October 2018

Constructions of democracy

Democracy is a creature of the hoplite phalanx, the fyrd, the oared warship, and the regiment of riflemen.  Democratic institutions arise and prosper in conditions in which large portions of the population are required to participate in the mechanisms of territorial control.

The need for riflement stopped being so as of 1915; the need for troops and industrial workers stopped being  the case about 1970.  We've seen circumstances where democracy benefits no-one for two whole generations now. (If you're not an oligarch, you can't use the political process to improve your economic circumstances; if you are an oligarch, you can't have the law entirely as you desire.)

This is the core problem with saying "vote!"; voting doesn't get you anything you want.

It's entirely possible to fix that, but it requires a political calculation that it's better to address current material needs than to maintain the status quo.  It's not easy to get a political system to do that; the status quo is always more advantageous to the powerful than change.  (In Canada, we've got to the point where major parties are pretending to embrace change.  Be interesting to see if one actually does, rather than becoming more and more willing to commit atrocities to maintain the status quo.)