Monday, February 29, 2016


In her desperate attempt to escape the labels of "war criminal" and "Wall Street sellout," Hillary Clinton likes to trot out her longtime support for micro-lending.  The story of Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank is pretty well known because it has been featured favorably in the big USA press like CBS.  In their telling, this bank has empowered women to free up their entrepreneurial passions and has brought prosperity to the rural poor of Bangladesh.  Yunus and his bank were even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for the achievement of putting a small smiley-face on neoliberalism.

Under the happy talk of micro-lending, unfortunately, we are still talking about a scheme to drive the poor into debt (as if they don't already have enough problems.)  And while I am certain that the Grameen Bank's rates are better than the rural loan sharks will offer, we are still talking about 20% in 2016.  Considering the prices for commodities are falling which removes income from rural economies, interest rates should be less than 1% (unless the goal is only to enslave people.)  Usury is a vicious business—there are sound reasons why Christianity considered it a sin worse than murder for its first 1500 years.  Happy talk can change the subject but it cannot change the facts—20% loans cannot be repaid with honest enterprise.

Bill Clinton actually took it as a compliment when folks would compare him to Grover Cleveland.  Cleveland was a tool of Wall Street too so the comparison is pretty good.  And for services rendered, the most Predatory of the finance capitalists have made him goofy rich since he left the White House.  Hillary has done all right for herself shilling for the likes of Goldman Sachs so perhaps she aspires to become Grover Cleveland squared.

Thomas Frank over at Harpers has written a fine piece dissecting the latest outburst of Radical Chic.  It is hard to imagine what it must be like to be so rich and out of touch that 20% micro-lending seems like a good idea.  Hillary Clinton, meet Melinda Gates.  You two have SO much in common.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

HAWB 1791-2001 Alexander Hamilton and the Apple I-phone - How America Was Built

In October 2015, I posted HAWB 1791 - Alexander Hamilton rejected Adam Smith. What I am posting today could be titled HAWB 1791 - Alexander Hamilton rejected Adam Smith Part 2. My October 2015 post mostly discussed Hamilton's refutation of Smith's advocacy of free trade. Near the end, I presented Hamilton's argument in favor of direct government intervention in the domestic economy, by excerpting from European Origins of the Economic Ideas of Alexander Hamilton (Arno Press, New York, 1977), by Robert James Parks:
One of the doctrines of the physiocrats which Smith had accepted was that of non-regulation of business, with a neutral policy toward its growth. Let alone, neither encouraged nor discouraged, industry would seek its most useful and profitable employment. Against this hypothesis, Hamilton offered several objections. These were that the supposed tendency of industry to seek its most profitable employment was inhibited by the force of habit, the spirit of imitation, fear of new ventures, the intrinsic hazards of new enterprises, and the unfair competition created by the bounties and subsidies given in competitive nations. Experience teaches that men change habits only slowly and reluctantly. It is the job of government to encourage and speed up change. He argued that capital is cautious, and can only be made venturesome if the government removes some of the risks.
"Experience teaches," Hamilton wrote in Section VII of his December 1791 Report to Congress on the Subject of Manufactures,
that men are often so much governed by what they are accustomed to see and practice, that the simplest and most obvious improvements, in the most ordinary occupations, are adopted with hesitation, reluctance, and by slow gradations…. 
The apprehension of failing in new attempts is, perhaps, a more serious impediment. There are dispositions apt to be attracted by the mere novelty of an undertaking; but these are not always the best calculated to give it success. To this it is of importance that the confidence of cautious, sagacious capitalists, both citizens and foreigners, should be excited. And to inspire this description of persons with confidence, it is essential that they should be made to see in any project which is new—and for that reason alone, if for no other, precarious—the prospect of such a degree of countenance and support from government, as may be capable of overcoming the obstacles inseparable from first experiments.
I have to admit: the idea that it is the role of government is to actually "encourage and speed up change" startled me. It is far outside the confines of what is now accepted discourse in politics and economics. According to Ronald Reagan, whom conservatives like to venerate as the greatest President ever, government is the problem, to be hampered and crippled as much as possible. As Parks points out, this policy of Hamilton--of the government actively prodding the economy forward--puts the lie to the claim that he was a conservative. And of course, the very idea that government is the source of progress is complete anathema to libertarians. But Parks' summary of Hamilton's argument presents us with a very important, even, crucial, point: that the free enterprise system under laissez faire is actually not that innovative and entrepreneurial without the support and nurturing of government. And the numbers back this up: as its economy was deregulated and financialized over the past four decades, the USA economy has become less capital intense (less capitalistic) and less entrepreneurial.

But the idea that the government should encourage and promote change dovetails nicely with my emphasis on the role of science in the political economy of a republic:
....what wealth really is, is the human power of thinking: reason, investigation, hypothesizing, testing, figuring out why things are the way they are -- and then figuring out how that new knowledge can be used to change the way things are.... Without the constant development of new science and technology, any society will become impoverished, and will eventually collapse. Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, examines how societies descend inexorably into collapse when they ignore environmental limitations and mismanage their natural resources. The key point that most readers of Diamond miss is that a society’s environmental limitations are defined only within a fairly specific period of time based on the prevailing technological mode of that society’s economy. Any society that remains stuck in one technological mode will eventually bump up against environmental limitations: what is considered a resource and how much of it is readily available and usable.... So the most important economic activity a society engages in is the pursuit of new scientific and technological knowledge that allows that society's economy to avoid environmental limitations and inefficient misuse of natural resources. This is one of those wonderful, mysterious paradoxes of life: basic scientific research has no measurable immediate payback but nonetheless is THE most important economic activity that occurs in a society.
In case you doubt the utility of basic scientific research, consider this graphic from Mariana Mazzucato, professor of the Economics of Innovation at the University of Sussex, and author of the 2013 book, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths:

Mazzucato writes in her book:
....Apple was able to ride the wave of massive State investments in the 'revolutionary' technologies that underpinned the iPhone and iPad: the Internet, GPS, touch-screen displays, and communications technologies. Without these publicly funded technologies, there would have been no wave to... surf. 
Even the now-famous SIRI voice recognition and response capability was originated as a government project: In 2000, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contracted with Stanford Research Institute (SRI) to coordinate the efforts of 20 universities (most of them publicly funded) in a project named 'Cognitive Assistant That Learns and Organizes' (CALO). In 2007, SRI began to effort to commercialize CALO by forming SIRI as a venture-backed start-up. In 2010, Apple purchased SIRI outright, to incorporate the CALO technology--originally developed by government--into the iPhone.

I have no doubt that Hamilton understood the connection between the advance of science and technology, and economic growth and development. Later in the Report on Manufactures, Hamilton provided his view of what was meant by the Constitutional mandate to "promote the General Welfare." It is highly significant that he does as he explains why the government has the power to actively promote manufactures.
A question has been made concerning the constitutional right of the Government of the United States to apply this species of encouragement, but there is certainly no good foundation for such a question....

...the power to raise money is plenary and indefinite, and the objects to which it may be appropriated are no less comprehensive than the payment of the public debts, and the providing for the common defence and general welfare. The terms “general welfare” were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported in those which preceded; otherwise, numerous exigencies incident to the affairs of a nation would have been left without a provision. The phrase is as comprehensive as any that could have been used, because it was not fit that the constitutional authority of the Union to appropriate its revenues should have been restricted within narrower limits than the “general welfare,” and because this necessarily embraces a vast variety of particulars, which are susceptible neither of specification nor of definition.

It is, therefore, of necessity, left to the discretion of the National Legislature to pronounce upon the objects which concern the general welfare, and for which, under that description, an appropriation of money is requisite and proper. And there seems to be no room for a doubt that whatever concerns the general interests of learning, of agriculture, of manufactures, and of commerce, are within the sphere of the national councils, as far as regards an application of money. (Emphasis mine).
Because science and technology is always advancing, it was impossible for Hamilton and the other framers of the Constitution to foresee what a concern for the General Welfare might entail. Indeed, it would have been foolish to even try. Thus, it is "left to the discretion of the National Legislature to pronounce upon the objects which concern the general welfare." For example, it would have made no sense to enact a government program, anytime during the 1800s, to put a man on the moon. Indeed, it would have been seen as "lunacy." But by the 1960s, when the development of metallurgy, material sciences, astrophysics, radio communications, electronics, chemistry, aeronautics, and a host of other scientific and technological fields had advanced far beyond what they were just a few decades previous, it was absolutely fitting and proper that we make a commitment to land men on the moon, and return them safely to earth.

Indeed, as I hope to write in the future, the manned space program was one of the key factors in the development and commercialization of semiconductors and computer chips.

It is only be reclaiming the entire conception of American republican political economy, with the crucial role of science and technology, that we can begin to accurately judge and fully understand just how dangerous and damaging are the anti-science ravings and posturings of conservatives, and the anti-government yowling of libertarians. Yes, they are anti-science and anti-government, but in the full incandescence of history, they are revealed to also be deeply anti-American.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Upon reflection

Did some serious thinking on my long drive west.  I am very concerned that my big project is not progressing nearly as fast as it should be.  I had this ambitious idea that I could continue posting on this blog while simultaneously producing an instructional video on how to deal with climate change—only from an informed Producer Class perspective (this is harder than it looks which explains why it hasn't been done yet.)  The idea was to still have this active blog to promote the video when finished.  Now I am certain I cannot do both.  It would be a damn shame if I could not complete the video after all the effort sunk into it so far.  So that is where my creative energy must go.

Here is the new schedule for the real-economics blog.  I will still post at least once a week on Monday.  Additionally, I will react to significant shifts in economic news but I will only create a supplemental post when something unusual happens—like some country makes a serious attempt to leave the neoliberal orbit, some breakthrough in green technologies brings a meaningful solution into view, some tax is levied on financial speculation, or some major financial criminal gets sent to prison.  I do not intend to cover the elections.

In addition, Tony promises to post more often in those empty spaces I leave behind.  Since the regular readers enjoy his work as much as I do, this alone should keep the blog alive until the video project is done and we start banging on that drum.

Wish me great concentration and high energy!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

To the critics of "Bernienomics"

Last Saturday, Tony crafted a brilliant piece on why the collection of mediocrities who have lately so miserably mismanaged the USA (world?) economy were wrong to criticize the economic proposals of Bernie Sanders.  I mean, we find fault with Bernie's proposals around here but it is because we believe they are not nearly large or sweeping enough to cope with the very real and obvious problems facing humanity.  For example—Sanders believes we should spend a $trillion fighting the problems caused by climate change.  We believe the figure should be in the hundreds of $trillions.

So it is not so surprising that we look on the declarations by the protoplasmic failures of recent economic policies, that Sander's ideas are impossible because they are too ambitious, as wrongheaded in the extreme.  And we welcome analysis by others who share these viewpoints.  Today's analysis by Ron Baiman is an excellent example.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Russia's crazy central bank policies are creating havoc

To read the western press, Vladimir Putin is pursuing policies that are so far off the charts, he might as well be considered a madman.  And yet, when it comes to economics, his policies are so relentlessly conventional (in the sense of Harvard / U Chicago conventional) that his economy is suffering quite unnecessary self-inflicted wounds.

This makes no sense whatsoever.  Here is a country that is quite boldly taking on the USA military industrial complex and the whole imperial State department.  "Serious" folks are talking about a threat of a new Cold War if not another nuclear standoff.  And yet when it comes to standing up to the banksters and their ideological whack jobs, Putin is a pussy-cat.  To watch his economy careen from one disaster to another, you might wonder if he isn't somehow on the payroll of Goldman Sachs.

This paradox has not gone unnoticed.  Here we see an outsider, Jon Hellevig, and a Russian, Sergey Glasyev, both making significant criticisms of the absurdly bad job Russia's central bank is doing.  But so far, Putin is backing his crazy central banker.  Go figure.

Monday, February 22, 2016

HSBC stays in The City

We are not big fans of the HSBC bank (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) around here.  This is an institution that was born in the imperial corruption of the British opium trade in China and they haven't done much to improve their image since.  (Tony included their criminal past in his Who Murdered Capitalism post.)

Recently, HSBC had a chance to move their legal headquarters from London to Hong Kong.  They chose London—largely because of the heavy investment they have made in corrupting the British government over the years.  The City of London is well-known for its "tolerance"  for financial crime.  The HSBC vote of confidence will only further cement this reputation.

The second article is from Reuters which claims that there are some who wish HSBC had moved their headquarters to Hong Kong so it seems there are "reasonable" people who think that it is legitimate competitor for City tolerance for criminality.  That also sounds about right.

The tragedy of allowing such a gang of criminals to make economic decisions for the rest of us is intolerable.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The debate over Bernie Sanders' economics and five questions by which to judge any economist

The most lively pie fight on the political blogosphere the past two days is over the forecast of the effect of Bernie Sanders’ economic policies by University of Massachusetts-Amherst economist Gerald Friedman. According to Friedman, if Sanders’  policies of free college education, national health care, new infrastructure spending, and increased Social Security benefits were actually implemented, the result would by a eye-popping annual GDP growth rate of 5.3 percent over ten years, with a net increase of 26 million new jobs.

Four former heads of the Council of Economic Advisers, under Presidents Clinton and Obama—Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Christina Romer, Austan Goolsbee, and Alan Krueger—posted a joint letter to Sanders and Friedman, denouncing Friedman’s study for making “extreme claims… that cannot be supported by the economic evidence.”

The graph below shows how successful Tyson, Romer, Goolsbee, and Krueger were at doing forecasting themselves. In two words:


That graph is taken from David Dayen’s article on today’s website of The New Republic, The Pious Attacks on Bernie Sanders’s “Fuzzy” Economics. It is a relentless smack-down of the honesty and competence of these critics.
For example, the 2010 EROP, overseen by then-Chair Christina Romer, made real GDP projections of 4.3 percent in 2011 and 2012, and 4.2 percent in 2013. This was wildly optimistic. According to Federal Reserve Economic Data, the actual real GDP growth rate in 2011 was 1.6 percent; in 2012, 2.2 percent; and in 2013, 1.5 percent.
Goolsbee’s claim in March 2007, after the housing bubble peaked and foreclosures began to skyrocket, that “the mortgage market has become more perfect, not more irresponsible” is perhaps one of the worst economic arguments of the past several decades.
In my judgement—and I have been writing about economics since the late 1980s—Tyson, Romer, Goolsbee, and Krueger are all failures, with no professional credibility left. Sound harsh? Well, actually, I think the same about almost every professional economist these days. Recall that in October 2009, the Huffington Post revealed that over half of all professional economists in the United States have been paid by the Federal Reserve in some form or another.

Back in the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the Fed did not have the stranglehold on the economics profession it has now. Do you agree with Tyson, Romer, Goolsbee, and Krueger that it is outlandish to forecast 26 million new jobs in ten years? Well, try this out for size: in the winter of 1933-34, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civil Works Administration (CWA), created over four million jobs in just one month

Earlier today, Illinibeatle posted about David Sirota’s little exercise in journalism of tracking the sources of income for Goolsbee and Tyson. Turns out they are doing quite well, thank you very much, in their cozy positions on Wall Street.

Now, this did not sit well with certain Hillary supporters. After all, they have been screaming to high heaven that Hillary has not been significantly influenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars she has “earned” giving speeches to Wall Street banksters. (Though it must be galling to have it pointed out that this is exactly the same position taken by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court in their infamous Citizens United decision.)

Back in January 2008, when I assessed the economics teams of Edwards, Kucinich, Obama and Clinton (Who will tell Wall Street to shove it?), it was precisely because of Goolsbee’s position as candidate Obama’s top economic adviser that I concluded that if elected President, Obama would most likely surrender to Wall Street and fail to reverse the past four decades’ descent into economic neo-liberlaism, a.k.a. radical conservative “free market” and “free trade” economics.
Looking back at that post right now, I think I called it exactly right:
None of the candidates – Republican or Democrat – are talking about these financial crises, and the economic onslaught they portend…. the next president of the United States is going to be dealing with an economic collapse. The extreme level of economic hardship that will likely result is going to make the population more open to radical solutions…
And I stand by what I forecast then:
Either we demolish the power of Wall Street and dismantle the structure of speculative finance and return to industrial capitalism and a Keynesian goal of full employment and wage growth, or the United States will cease to exist as a free, democratic republic in the next ten to twenty years… There is NO solution to these financial and economic crises within the presently accepted economic belief structure of U.S. elites.
So, the question of who is an economic adviser to which candidate for President, and where that economic adviser derives a livelihood, is not only a legitimate public concern, but is a crucial measure of how fit a particular candidate is, to be the leader of the free world.

Let me suggest that there are a few questions that comprise a short test of whether a particular economic adviser is going to help lead us into further neo-liberal economic deterioration and ruin, or will be a source of ideas and advice that will help us begin to rebuild our deindustrialized and decapitalised economy so that we have the capacity to begin to build the new $359 trillion world economy needed to solve the problem of global climate change.

1) Did this economist foresee the financial crises of 2007-2008?

2) Did this economist foresee that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Obama Stimulus”) of $831 billion was woefully inadequate?

3) Does this economist recognize and accept the conclusions of the scientists and engineers who have “worked the numbers” on solving global climate change, that we need hundreds of trillions of dollars of new investment in clean energy and transportation systems over the next couple decades?

4) Does this economist recognize that the single most important power of the global elite straining to protect the status quo at this time, is that elite’s monopoly over the creation and allocation of money and credit?

5) Did this economist oppose NAFTA and other free trade agreements, and warn that they would create a “race to the bottom”?

The answers to these questions, in my opinion, will easily peg any particular economic adviser as competent, or incompetent.

I am pretty sure that Tyson, Romer, Goolsbee, and Krueger failed all five of these questions. But, from the amount of echo-chamber posting of their attack on Friedman’s study, there are apparently a lot of people out there, who like to think they are liberal and progressive, but who don’t have a clue about how to judge economic competence and policies.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Has the Fed screwed up once too often?

Today's treat is Michael Hudson being interviewed by a Finnish journalist on that most important of subjects, the Federal Reserve.  The most obvious fact about Fed policy moves is that while they can quite easily slow down the economy by committing industrial sabotage, they have absolutely no mechanism for getting it going again.  Some of those assets these neoliberals so gleefully destroyed took decades to build and yet those ubër-fools seem to believe that lower interest rates to the banks (and not the real economy) will actually fix things (or so they say.)

The fatal flaw in their reasoning is that because the Fed is the banker's bank, they believe that if the banks and the stock market is flourishing, they have done their job well.  The rest of us do not even exist for their calculations.  Which is too bad because we do socially and economically important things and if we don't thrive, eventually they don't thrive.  So now we see the Fed in policy meltdown because their belief in magic has failed them just as their irresponsible financing of de-industrialization has exploded in their faces.  35 years of wrecking things has taken its toll.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Iceland jails their banksters

Easily the worst effect of not prosecuting financial crime is that it sends the message that there are different rules for banksters than for the rest of human enterprise.  Personally, I am not hopeful that the pirates of finance can be rehabilitated—scams are all they really know and nothing else will be so profitable.  But it is socially unacceptable to send some kid to prison for 5 years for knocking over a gas station while letting off million-dollar fraudsters off with a symbolic fine.  And yet this has been the rule since the 2008 financial meltdown.  Only Iceland, it seems, has been an exception.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Well, that was interesting—notes from an adventurous road trip

I made it home—something that is never guaranteed when taking road trips in winter.  They are usually doable but are often the sort of adventure that was a lot more fun at 25.  This one turned out to be no exception.

As late as last Friday (5FEB), I was having serious doubts about this trip.  The primary reason for this venture was to share the Denver Superbowl experience with an old college roommate.  As such, it was an act of pure whimsey—and I am not a whimsical person.  The arguments against this trip included cost, the possibility of driving in hazardous weather, and the very real possibility that I was going to a celebration where everyone would be angry about the outcome—the Broncos were betting underdogs and have a history of choking in the big game.  They lost to the Redskins 42-10 in 1988 and to the 49ers 55-10 two year later.

On the other hand, this was an opportunity not to be missed.  My "home" team the Vikings suck so bad, they could replace gravity.  So my rooting interest goes to Green Bay and Denver because over the years, they have shown themselves to be very good at playing an extremely complex game.  It's just better for my heart to have my small rooting interests directed at teams that at least understand the game.  Besides, my old college roommate and I are now in our late 60s and such an opportunity might not come again in our lifetimes.

The Broncos have the ultimate home-field advantage—altitude.  Do the math.  The ball behaves differently in thin air and reduced gravity, and so do human lungs.  It is a far more effective to train at altitude and play at sea level than the other way around.  The difference between winning and losing at the pro level is tiny and usually less than the difference caused by altitude.  So the Broncos have run up impressive won-loss records over the years to the delight of their crazy-loyal fans.  Then they go to the Superbowl and lose 55-10 because as a small-market team in the hinterlands, they have had coaches who have gone all conventional wisdom in the big game—so the high-flying tactics from their mile-high base camp don't even come into play.

The current coach is a former backup Bronco quarterback to one of the great players at that position and current GM, John Elway.  Apparently they got along swimmingly as players and seem to be on the same page as management.  Because of the fact that current quarterback, Peyton Manning, is a LONG way past his prime, there was little option but to go conservative and hope for a few breaks.  This time, they got them and the Broncos led from beginning to end.  The people at my party were very, VERY happy.

On Tuesday, a reported million people showed up for the victory parade.  Actually, I have no notion of how they count these things and they would have probably reported 90,000 if it had been an anti-war rally, but it was enough to make watching it on the local TV a good choice.  The hazard there was listening to the on-air talent try to make winning a football game into a demonstration of civic virtue.  Folks in fly-over land like to do this—Packer fans are notorious for this behavior as well.

While in Denver, I also wanted to check out their new sociological experiment—legal recreational pot.  Apparently, Colorado law leaves a lot of discretion to the counties and Denver decided to go all Libertarian and let a thousand small businesses bloom.  The result is that streets like Colfax Ave. have at least one little boutique-sized shop every two blocks or so.  Most sell both medical and recreational pot with medical prices lower and following different rules.  For example, someone with a medical card can legally purchase two oz. (56 grams) a DAY. Since a regular recreational user could easily consume less than 5 grams a month, this is a very generous amount.

The boutiques sold approximately 20 varieties of pot.  I heard rumors of big shops but I had insufficient time or curiosity to check them out.  Because of security concerns, a sales clerk is assigned each customer which after a lifetime of self-directed shopping, was pleasantly different.  Denver has been a center of a hippy culture since the late 1960s and that culture is well represented in the boutiques.  Starting with the names.  I went to one called "Kind Love."  Seriously.  The sales people I met were 25-50 yo women who had the manners of staff at a nice Colorado restaurant.

The rules for out-of-state tourists are much tighter—no more than 7 grams per day can be purchased.  There seemed to be much apologizing for the discrimination against outsiders.  The explanation was that surrounding states were not happy about Colorado becoming a pot export center.  So the rules for tourists with out-of-state IDs assume in-state consumption.  But it's plenty generous and tourism is booming—largely because of legal pot.

Colorado is the future mostly because the tax revenue legal pot has generated will be envied by every revenue-starved state and municipality in the land.  And for all the scare-mongering, legal pot has produced very few actual social problems and has eliminated a bunch of others.

All good things must end and on Thursday, I headed back to Minnesota.  This time I hoped to cut the 900-mile (1448 km) drive in half by visiting an old St Paul neighbor who has retired to South Dakota.  This meant leaving the freeway at North Platte for a drive north to central SD.  11 miles (18 km) south of Valentine Nebraska, my car sputtered and died.  It was daylight and in the low 50s so it wasn't dangerous but I had no cell phone service so getting help meant waiting for a good samaritan.  Soon a couple of young men in a large pick-up stopped to help.  They had the right cell service so we called the roadside assistance # on the back of my insurance card and arranged a tow.  The question was where to tow it to.  My samaritans suggested the Ford dealer, but when we got there, they politely informed me that they did not want to fix a crippled 20 yo Lexus LS.  The tow truck driver suggested an independent mechanic described as "political" who seemed willing to try to help get me back on the road.

Sure enough, when we got to the garage, Rush Limbaugh was blaring on the radio.  But the owner walked out with his computer reader, performed a few tests, and declared that the fuel pump had failed.  He could get a new one over-nighted from Denver and promised to have my car running by 5 pm on Saturday.  My friend from South Dakota came to rescue me so I had a place to stay for two nights.

Saturday afternoon, we headed back to Valentine but when we arrived, our mechanic did not have the car running.  In fact, he had not found the way to remove the old fuel pump and he had been working for several hours on the problem.  He also had some paid-for tech service on the line to advise him how to remove the fuel tank because the pump was inside.  Unfortunately, the advice was wrong.  So the decision was made to try going through the back seat.  My friend and I used to fix our own cars in our younger days so we were able to help him remove the seat, which being a Lexus, was more complicated than it needed to be.  But sure enough, when we figured how to remove the cushions, there was a round door and behind it, the access to the fuel pump.

The last thing our mechanic needed at this point was anyone watching him so we went to eat at the nearby McDonalds and kill some time.  Eventually we went to check on progress and while the car was not yet running, he was putting it back together.  I took over the job of reassembling the trunk and the real mechanic went back to getting the motor running.  We both wanted this job DONE!  He wanted to go home, and I wanted to beat some bad weather moving into SE South Dakota / SW Minnesota.  I figured I had it beat if I left at 5 pm.  But it was now past 8 pm and I am getting really nervous.  But soon my car was running.  I paid my very fair bill, shook the man's hand, and headed out into the night.  485 miles later I was home.

It is difficult to overstate just how good a mechanic Bob from Valentine Nebraska really was.  He correctly diagnosed the problem in a car he had never seen or worked on in less than ten minutes  He persisted in figuring out a problem even when his tech support failed him.  He didn't break any of the expensive parts holding the car together.  And two hours after I left his shop, I was blasting along I-90 at the speed limit of 80 mph (129 kph) into a 35 mph (56 kph) quartering crosswind.  Valentine Nebraska is very fortunate to have a man so richly endowed with Producer Class virtue.  I may have found the man's politics odious, but since I cannot imagine a successful society without plenty of people just like him, the question then becomes—how does one get such a man into a political coalition without destroying his Producer Class sensibilities?

The band of snow I was fearing had indeed arrived over SE South Dakota.  And about a hour before Sioux Falls, the snow showers started.  But the road was too cold for anything to stick and the wind was sweeping it quite effectively.  Soon after crossing into Minnesota, the snow showers were replaced by a classic ground blizzard as the snow already on the ground was whipped into a froth.  Fortunately, the roads were empty and the sides visible and I was driving the road through the towns of my childhood.  Astonishingly, I still remembered it even in swirling snow.  By 3 am, I was through the snow bands, the temperatures had dropped to 11°F (-11°C), and the winds had calmed to nothing.  Suddenly I noticed how tired I was but the roads were now completely familiar and by 4:30 am, I was home.  It took a couple of hours to unpack and shower and a couple more before the adrenaline wore off enough to sleep.

I still haven't caught up on my sleep but soon.  There's some interesting stuff going on and even short adventures provide new insights.  So I will have some new energy for this blog and my other BIG project.

Glad to be back.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On the road

Hoping, among other things, to get some new perspectives.  Will still try to post this week but nothing is promised.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Steam-Age solar

Morocco has just opened (probably) the last steam-powered solar energy electrical generating station.  There probably won't be more because these things are ridiculously expensive to build.  It takes a lot of sunlight to turn water to steam but as a country that borders on the Sahara, available sunlight is not the problem for Morocco.  It just that the collectors which must be spread over a wide area are spendy indeed.

The latest high-efficiency PV cells are already far more cost effective than steam.  This situation will probably get more lopsided in the future.  But this doesn't even begin to address the issue of whether large-scale centralized power generation is a good idea.  We'll still need a grid.  But it looks like generation should almost be as dispersed as consumption.  This does not bode well for any centralized solar production including a revival of Desertec--the scheme to harvest power from Saharan solar sites and ship it to Europe.

The bigger lesson here is that solar power is a moving target.  This plant in Morocco was probably the logical, state-of-the-art choice when the decisions to build it were made.  This may be the last such plant but it will probably NOT be the last idea proven excessively expensive or even foolish between the decision to build and the working outcome.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Syngenta updated

We have been following the Syngenta story around here since last summer.  It turns out that our "local" seed company (owned by a Swiss multinational) has become too valuable to resist.  When I first wrote about them last summer they had come damn close to inking a deal with Monsanto.  I mention this little factoid in my post and within a few days, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes a puff piece about what a perfectly lovely company Syngenta is and what an ugly rumor is talk of a sale to Monsanto.

So today, I see this piece about the sale of Syngenta to the Chinese.  It is easy to understand why the Chinese would want to own a company with a proven track record of increasing crop yields.  What makes this deal so jaw-dropping is that their $43billion offer was for a cash sale.  That is a serious pile of money for a seed company but compared to most transactions on Wall Street, this one actually makes sense.  What Syngenta does is so valuable it borders on priceless.

Which is why this "done deal" faces some serious hurdles.  The USA could easily say that plant genetics is a strategic asset—or at least as strategic as the tools used to build chip-fab equipment and deals for things like that have been blocked.  It should also be noted that Monsanto has bought a lot of clout in Washington over the past 25 years or so.  It is likely they still covet Syngenta and could pull strings to block the deal to their own advantage.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Multiple Regression Analysis

To get my degree from the University of Minnesota, I was required to take four quarters of upper class and graduate-level statistics.  I was NOT happy about this requirement but it only took a couple of classes for me to change my mind from "Do I hafta?" to "This is the future of knowledge expansion—this is probably the most import subject I will take."  So what changed my mind?

The absolute pinnacle of the social sciences at UM was the psychology department.  In 1939, it produced a testing device called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) which was soon put to use by the War Department.  It is still in use and copyrighted by the University of Minnesota.  What made the MMPI groundbreaking was that it was the first big test that had used a math method in its design.  That method was called Multiple Regression Analysis.  It was very tedious and labor intensive to use, but a small army of diligent grad students wielding slide rules had been employed to produce the original version of the MMPI.

By the time I got to my stats class in 1972, they still taught the wisdom and power of Multiple Regression Analysis only by now, the social sciences had their very own IBM 360 so no more doing this tedious math by hand.  I was caught up in the excitement.  My teachers not only believed in Multiple Regression Analysis, they believed that using high-powered computing, they were on the verge of a new golden age of human knowledge.  It also helped that for a mere $5 lab fee, I was able to play with one of the most advanced computers on earth.

Along the way, I began to see folks abusing Multiple Regression Analysis.  They would ask almost any questions they could imagine was remotely relevant, run the math, and circle the high statistical correlations on the printout.  Only then would they look to see what had influenced what.  When I saw that happen, I became even more interested in learning statistical methods because it was quite apparent that knowing how stats are generated is perhaps the most important skill one could have in an era where stats would show up in almost every important science and public policy debate.

So now I see a really smart guy point out the abuses of Multiple Regression Analysis and suggest that studies that use this method are probably so flawed, they should come with warning labels.  There is absolutely nothing in my education that would make me believe he is wrong.  In fact, I have long suspected that even the "sainted" MMPI was garbage.  This is a method that probably should have been strangled in its cradle.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The invisible poverty of America’s working class

Is the political backlash of poor whites this election the outcome of the decades-long war on the USA Producer classes?

Well, that's one way putting it.  Since the Carter administration, there has been a war on the productive middle of the country.  Some pirate would show up with some hot money, loot a local factory of any loose assets, ship the jobs to China or Vietnam, and escape with his ill-gotten gains.  This often took less than a year.  The folks who worked in that factory faced a slow-motion death sentence.  It doesn't take long before they have lost homes, transportation, spouses and families.  Then they start to lose their health.  In the meantime, they have tried everything they could think of to arrest their falls.  They may have retrained to become a computer repair person or an energy rater.  They drew food stamps or unemployment for as long as that lasted.  Of course nothing that lame can possibly replace the job they recently did so well.

The descent into non-personhood is quite obvious.  When the unemployment benefits run out, they are no longer counted as unemployed.  If they lose their banking services, they are not counted by the world of credit and finance.   Society is sending a VERY strong message—your life is worthless.  So these worthless nobodies are rendered so invisible, not even academics are interested in counting them.

The white males who have been victimized by the deindustrialization of USA face one more sinister attack on their personhood—the accepted party line which claims that white males are privileged and the root cause of the most serious social problems.  That critique may apply to the latest member of Skull and Bones, but it most certainly does NOT apply to someone whose means of existence has been snuffed out by Predators.  It does serve to silence any possible valid complaints in the minds of our august defenders of political correctness, however.  "Your town was destroyed and your life destroyed," argue the lefties who would have once championed the cause of these dispossessed people, "but it was so obviously your fault.  Critical theory says so"

It happens that the invisible people have not just died as planned, but their miserable lives have now shown up in the health and mortality statistics.  This hardly means that our academics and state statisticians are suddenly going to see these people again.  My bet it that this health study will be swept under the institutional rugs.  Can't have anyone questioning why it was OK to destroy the lives of innocent people who only wanted to do a good job, now can we?  The Predator Classes have been hiding the damage their atrocities have caused for a millennia—why would they stop now?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Remembering the shuttle explosion 30 years on

On Jan 28, we passed the 30th anniversary of the Shuttle Challenger exploding 73 seconds after liftoff.  There was an orgy of remembrances as almost anyone who was alive "recalled" where they were and what they were doing when they found out.  An astonishing 17% of the USA public claims they saw it happen live—astonishing because the only network that showed it live was CNN and in 1986, they had nowhere near that sort of market penetration.  But this is really a minor quibble because once the shuttle blew up, the clip was shown endlessly for weeks.  So it is quite easy for someone to "remember" that they saw it live because they were probably only off by a few minutes.  (Here's the CNN footage I never saw—until Youtube.)

I was watching some pre-launch coverage on TV from my home in St. Paul, MN and fuming that I wasn't going to be able to see it live—we certainly didn't have CNN. It was ridiculously cold and I knew the weather pattern that had given us -25°F (-32°C) had pushed all the way down to Florida. When I heard it had gotten below freezing in Cape Canaveral the night before, I just assumed that everyone would have to good sense to wait until everything had properly warmed up.  There were freaking icicles hanging off the shuttle, for goodness sakes.  A youth spent trying to start cars with carburetors in sub-zero temps had taught me a LOT about the behavior of mechanical things in the cold. So I went to have breakfast figuring they would postpone the launch at least an hour.

I came back to the replays of the Shuttle blowing itself to bits. "You idiots," I screamed, and started a curse-laden rant that lasted nearly an hour. Then it dawned on me—the space program is a sun-belt activity. These people know nothing about cold. Besides, even I didn't know the explosion was cold-related. I had just jumped to that conclusion because it was so cold outside my house and had been for days.

Turns out my hunch was accurate. It was an O-ring that failed and it WAS cold-related. Moreover, the Morton-Thiokol engineers back in Utah were warning about that very issue when the launch went off. We weren't geniuses—we merely had experience with the cold. An easily avoided accident had killed the astronauts, traumatized a nation, and dealt the space program a nasty blow.

I had some seriously mixed feelings that day.  Of course, I was stunned to watch seven lives end in an ugly explosion.  On the other hand, I was putting the final touches on my first draft of Elegant Technology and had just spent five years immersing myself in the sad facts of USA's deindustrialization.  Watching a bunch of greenmailers and other economic pirates systematically destroy the muscle and sinews of the USA economy had been a profoundly depressing experience.  This was especially true because I was having a difficult time finding anyone else to believe how serious it had gotten.  So there was this small voice inside of me that went, "YES!  NOW they will understand that it was a huge mistake to turn the USA economy over to the pirates—and their academic whores who were making excuses for why only good could come from deindustrialization.  If a disaster caused by industrial carelessness in rocket science didn't demonstrate the dangers of giving control of an industrial-based society to devout industrial saboteurs, what, pray tell, would?"

It would be difficult to be more wrong.  Little changed—in fact it would get much worse.  Thirty years later, the USA is a country where it is almost impossible anymore to imagine building something so complex as the shuttle.  Listening to the proud-to-be-ignorant folks running for president, it is almost impossible to imagine them passing the science tests we used to get in seventh grade.  The USA as a shining example of Enlightenment thinking is GONE.

Perhaps the saddest outcome of the shuttle disaster was that the engineers who tried to warn NASA that it was FAR too cold to launch basically had their professional lives destroyed.  There's a nasty price to pay for suppressing genius and boy, are we paying it.  What follows are tributes to the engineers who tried hardest to stop the shuttle disaster.  We should remember them as victims of Institutional stupidity—as much as the shuttle crew who died that day.