Thoughts and Things

This is my blog for random thoughts on the events in my daily life.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Why some of what Trump and Brexit says almost seems to make sense

Ok... before I go any further, let's make it clear that I support Hillary, and staying in the EU (which doesn't really matter, because I'm Canadian, and can't vote for either thing anyway).

Trump has gained more support than anyone thought possible, and the UK just voted to leave the EU... How is this even possible?

Trump has said many ridiculous things, but his main message is consistently focused on how he's going to "make America great again". Which means, from what I can tell, he's going to make it so that white middle class families can get decent jobs again. That doesn't actually sound so bad if you're a white family who is struggling to maintain their middle class status. Heck, he hasn't even said white... you could actually pretend he isn't all racist all the time, and extend that to everyone.
Let's pretend that Trump actually had a clear policy platform and didn't contradict himself or spew racist and misogynistic views at every turn. The concept of "de-globalizing" the economy to reign in the established elite actually starts to sound reasonable. With the Panama papers, the exit of manufacturing jobs to cheaper labour markets, diminishing wages, and skyrocketing CEO salaries, you can quickly see why Trump's story is sticking. Brexit is tapping into the same story, as is Bernie (although with less racism and misogyny).

So how do we re-write the story? Is "de-globalising" the right way to go, as suggested by Nigel Farage and Donald Trump? Should we be putting up walls and trying to return to the whitewashed days of imagined glory? (the 50's for Trump, and the days of colonialism for Nigel) What is it about these days of imagined glory that appeals so strongly? If you're struggling in our society, either to make sense of the progressive social mores, the rapid expansion of technology, or the new economic reality that we are living in, then it becomes much easier to buy into the picture of past glory.

Bernie's brand of socialism aims to use government and taxes to try to reign in the wealth focusing. Unfortunately Chavez, Castro, and many others have soured the socialism soup, at least in the public eye. While Bernie was able to gain considerable support, he was not able to clinch the nomination, in part, I think, because of the incredible effectiveness of the anti-communist campaigns of the past.

So, how do we go forward? Our society is producing more and more wealth, but we can't seem to figure out how to share effectively. Big government and taxes seem like a good solution to some, but with the cronyism and corruption that has plagued other socialist governments, there is a legitimate reason to be skeptical. Going backwards seems like a good solution to others... but... well... it doesn't really work, and despite the effectiveness of the rose-coloured glasses, the past wasn't always that great.

I personally think a combination of government and transparency, combined with a negative income tax for lower earners seems like a good solution, but we're likely to disagree on that... Lets try to disagree with civil discourse, rather than violent thuggery, ok?


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Pipelines - Stop Protesting Them and Stop Encouraging Them

Ok, so we've got a hot topic here. How do we protect the environment and "encourage" pipelines and why?
Many of my friends and people that I look up to are against pipelines because they are infrastructure that requires extensive investment, which would be better spent transitioning to a more sustainable economy. Ok. Good point.

What is the response then to those who are looking for work, and being told that the economy is down because of oil prices, but getting access to tide water would make our oil production more competitive, and help revive that same oil economy that used to employ them?

For this reason, primarily, I think that we need to stop being anti-pipeline, and start being pro sustainable economy. I know that sounds like the same thing... but the message is not the same.

The first step is to continue to promote the message that global warming is expensive. The number of denialists is diminishing daily, but what does it mean? Well, it's going to be expensive to deal with the effects, by many estimates billions in Canada, and trillions globally. Let's start hammering that home, so that carbon taxes look like they're not going far enough.

Next, what does a sustainable economy look like? (and no, I'm not talking about us all becoming teachers) The jobs that the oil patch produces, jobs for people who don't mind working hard, for long hours, when the pay is good, and the necessary education is limited, those are the jobs we need to consider replacing. Those jobs will need to exist for some time to come, as those are the people that will drive the construction of the infrastructure that is needed to support a sustainable economy. Eventually though, we can expect a decline in jobs that require hard physical labour and little education as technology continues to innovate. At that point we need Mincome, or negative tax, or whatever you want to call a guaranteed income, which will allow people to work at whatever they want, including creative jobs that we haven't yet thought of.

The question is what will be the economic drivers of tomorrow? Infrastructure building, teaching, etc. are part of the economy, but they're not the fuel in the economic engine. Manufacturing, agriculture, and resources are Canada's historical strength. The number of jobs in agriculture is dropping as technology makes large scale farming more and more efficient. Resource jobs are tied to cyclical price trends, and can be difficult to make sustainable while competing in a global market, however, I think they are still a good chunk of the jobs of the future. Manufacturing is being driven out of Canada by a lack of labour protection in other countries, and a rush to the lowest cost labour markets, which Canada just can't compete with (and shouldn't). To be competitive Canada has to lower the cost of energy, and resources necessary in the manufacturing chain, and/or work to raise the cost of labour globally (no small task, but worth considering).

It seems the well paid oil jobs of the future don't exist (no... there aren't going to be enough wind farm and solar field jobs in the short term to replace the oil patch, but they may help east the transition). Forestry, mining, agriculture, and manufacturing jobs are all getting shipped to places where the pay is less, and environmental protection is lax, or they are being lost to more efficient automated technology. So forgive the oil industry it's attempt to keep those high paying hard working jobs, and look to ways to encourage resource and manufacturing industries to try to fill the gaps, at least in the short term. Pipeline jobs only have so much time left, especially once the accountants start assigning the cost of global warming to the oil industry through mechanisms like carbon tax, but let economics drive the decline, because protests are just pissing off the people who used to be able to make such good money in the oil patch. Put energy into supporting a more complete accounting, and better protection of the commons, rather than stopping something that currently has a strong economic impetus.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Education is Not the Solution

... although it should be available to all who are interested.

Look, while I'm very happy that I got an education, and I very much value the opportunity to have a job that relies on my abilities that are based on my education and intelligence (i.e. my geekiness), I'm beginning to have my doubts about the value of our pro-geek culture.
Let me put it this way, if I was in school, and struggling with math, and everyone around me was telling me that I needed to be good at math, I'm going to look for alternatives. Right now the alternatives are looking less and less appealing all the time. Do I really want to become a fast food worker who goes to church and is forever in debt? Fast food workers are starting to unite to insist that their value to society be recognized... but other articles are very dismissive of this value, and insist that such movements may start to disrupt the system.

So, lets consider that, while education and critical thinking are valuable, they may not be best for everyone, how do we ensure that other strengths are valued in society, and people who do not excel at education or critical thinking, are allowed, and valued for, their ability to contribute to society in other ways? How do we make sure that the value we put on fast food workers, is truly reflective of their value to society when compared to the value of an executive?

While I don't have any magic bullet solutions, this is a critical topic for the left and central political movements to consider, as it has become a dividing issue between the right and the left. It is imperative for a progressive movement to make sure there is room for those who don't want to educate themselves any further, who want to belong to a community that helps them discern between right and wrong, and who are hard working, and valuable members of our society, whether or not they have a post-secondary education. The progressive left needs a coherent and simple enough rhetoric that anyone can feel comfortable that they are joining a moral group that is representing their concerns.



Sunday, June 08, 2014

Following up thoughts on Distributed Politics

Distributed Politics - A Local Global System, based on the people you know.

This paper is intended to explore the idea of an alternative, internet based, electoral and political system.

Currently the governing system is made up of a number of people, who propose and debated policies in a house of representatives. These representatives are elected, and are supposed to representing the rights and wishes of their constituents. They are often affiliated with a party of people that are intended to have similar views on a variety of topics. With the increasingly complex and busy world we live in, there has been a decrease in the discussion of policy and an increase in the focus on the personal characteristics of the party leaders.

To improve the transparency of the system and increase populist engagement, it is proposed to introduce a system of Distributed Politics, which this paper aims to explore.

Voting is completed through a web-portal, which can be accessed at home, or in publicly available internet accessible spaces (i.e. libraries). A person can vote over a longer period of time on any proposed policies/projects that are applicable to their local. This includes; block, neighbourhood, city, region, province, country, continental, or global. Policies remain unimplemented until they receive a minimum number of votes (for, against, or neutral).
The number of votes required is related to the area and population affected. Typically political boundaries remain static (with a border changing only when both sides vote to change it).

A block is defined as a geographical unit with approximately 150 persons living in it. Blocks can have a population of +/- 75 people without having to change their boundaries. If the population of a block hit’s 225, then the block is split in half, creating new blocks of 112 and 113 people.

Each block will elect (majority) a block representative, who will partake in neighbourhood debates, and will vote on the neighbourhood representative (transparently). Each neighbourhood representative will participate in citywide debates, and will participate in the election of a city leader, and so on. Policy is still passed through the vote of individuals, but is debated through the representative, or, if the representative feels that an individual that they represent can better present the case for or against the policy in question, than the representative can defer their debating privileges to that individual. To pass a policy, it must be voted on by at least %5 of the population in question.

Each leader will hold “town hall” meetings on a monthly basis, both digitally and physically to present new policies, voting results, solicit comment, host debates, etc.
Each block representative will be given 1/3rd of their time, at their existing salary, to conduct the affairs of the block.
Each neighbourhood representative will be paid a salary equivalent to the mean + 25% of the income of their neighbourhood, and the position will be full-time.
Each city representative will be paid a salary equivalent to the %95 student-t distribution of their city.
Each provincial representative will be paid a salary equivalent to the top paid city representative + 5%.
Each country representative will be paid a salary equivalent to the top paid provincial representative + 5%.
etc.
No person can represent two positions, and the terms are a minimum of 1 year at the block level, or 2 years for levels representing larger populations. Elections are held annually at the block level, with the incumbent representative gaining 1.25 votes for every vote they receive.

Anyone can present a policy for review by their block representative, who will spend part of their time helping to improve the presentation of these policies, and part of their time crafting their own policies for presentation to the neighbourhood representative.

Regarding which types of policy get’s handled at which level, this is determined through discussing the effects of the policy, as well as assessing the geographical area of impact.

With regards to taxes. Taxes are determined through weighted averages, and policy driven tax rates. Each block is responsible for paying tax on their income, which is weighted by their personal income level compared to the incomes in their block. Their tax = Policy driven tax % * Personal Income + (Block Average - Personal Income)/2. Each block is responsible for paying to the neighbourhood, Block Tax = Tax Rate * Block Income + (Neighbourhood average - Block Income). Each neighbourhood is responsible for paying the Neighbourhood Tax which = Tax Rate * Neighbourhood Income + (City Average - Neighbour Income). Tax rates are directly tied to budgets, and are voted on alongside the budget. Tax rates for an individual are determined by comparing the total sum required for the various budgets to the income/asset levels of the previous year. Assets are considered taxable income if they are transferred (i.e. sold/bought, inherited). The rate that taxes are paid on asset purchases is ½ the income tax rate, but asset sales are taxed as income (i.e. the seller pays tax on the income generated by the sale as it is considered part of their income).

Annual budgets are presented at every level. An additional %50 of the annual budget shall be held in reserve against potential budget over-runs (which still have to pass policy elections, but this ensures against tax collection mid-year).

Policy is used to represent any group decision, deference of responsibility to a representative, in principle project approval, project review process, etc. And can be intensively prescriptive, or extremely limited and defer the majority of responsibility to the representative. Representatives are responsible for promoting their point of view with regards to policy, and proposing new or revisions to existing, policies.


So... now that I've got a first, rough draft, of some thoughts, I guess the next step is to see if they have any validity. Do they? Is there a similar proposed system or active system like this? 

Phase 1 of the system implementation would be to start building a web-site that would present currently proposed policies to it's constituents, and essentially try to act as a poll for a current representative, including a forum for debate, and a wiki/document space for interested parties to post their opinion/research/propoganda.
Users would need to be verified through as secure a method as possible, potentially something similar to the federal government's tax system.

Phase 2 would be to refine the above proposed system, and implement it on a city-wide scale, with the goal of eventually moving to larger and larger venues.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Random Thoughts on Electoral System Reform

So... a quick lunch hour blog.

I was reading this article and thinking that a big part of the problem is that media/advertising has left the realm of product promotion, and entered into other parts of our life, i.e. politics. That's just crazy.

The more I think of it, the more it seems like the article is hitting the nail on the head, we're busy, we don't have time to delve into the issues and make educated decisions, so we pick the pretty face, or the sound bite that grabs our attention. This is nuts. It awards the flashiest catchiest and sometimes stupid policies/politicians/platforms...

I'm an optimist though, and I think we still have the capacity to pull up before we become a global Idiocracy. I think the internet, while exacerbating our downfall, is also a tool for the future. We exist in a world where we can get access to anything, and express an opinion on it. Why aren't we using that for our politics? Why are we so attached to electing someone that is like us? Screw that, I want someone who's smarter and more educated, and who's leading a team of experts. How do I get that?

1. Voting is done via internet. Internet access is provided to everyone either directly or through public facility access (i.e. libraries)
2. Voting is done on specific policies and/or platform points (for and against), and is done over a longer period of time. With every user having to click to confirm that they've actually read the policy/platform point in question. The party/person in charge is the one who get's the most votes. Each policy/platform point provides a space for links to popular web-sites/social media for unstructured debate, and links to supporting evidence/rationale as compiled by the party. (i.e. a pro-life policy would potentially provide statistics, scientific articles, etc. supporting the policy)
3. During non-election periods, a party can pass a policy even if it doesn't have popular support (as determined through the still active system described in point 2), but they must clearly state that they are doing so. (Sometimes the masses are stupid, and it's better to have decisive leadership)
4. Funding must be transparent and limited.
5. Peer reviewed journals should be carefully considered to ensure that they're beyond the influence of concerned capital concerns.

The result of this would be that "boring" policies might get only a few votes, while others might get massive attention, resulting in a lively debate. The quality of the evidence/rationale would be a determining factor (rather than the looks or fidelity of the person supporting it). Ad campaigns supported by industry would still potentially exist, but any party/person endorsed advertisement would need to be separate (with transparent funding). No policy is boring to the people it affects, unless they don't really see the difference with or without the policy, and you should only get to vote if you actually read enough to care.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The place of Environmental Development

After reading the first bit of Paul Hawken's "Blessed Unrest" I find myself wondering about how we view the environment and why it is different from how we view economics. Having grown up in a home where environmental awareness has always been an important issue, and environmental activism has been important, I find myself wondering if various mainstream thoughts surrounding economics and science have been unduly influenced by the environmental movement. The increasingly evident necessity of incorporating our surroundings into our accounting is something that may have been actually hindered by the view of the environment as the cause of a movement, rather than an increasingly well understood aspect of our daily lives.
For example, rather than hugging a tree, understanding it's part in creating the air we breathe, leads us to weigh the cost of cutting down the tree against the benefits.
Arguably though, we would not be in a position to have investigated the costs of cutting down the tree without the environmental movement... Chicken or the egg?

Anyway, will probably develop this more later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A French - Canadian Wedding Party

Well, two of our closes friend, Luc and Emilie, got married on May 26. They arrived back in Canada on Tuesday, and we had a bit of a party for them last night...
It was a blast.
The crowd was relatively small, which turned out perfect, as it was an excellent mix of people. Thanks again to all who came and partied hardy, it was an excellent group vibe (yes I know... sounding like a flaky Hippy from the Koots).
The endurance shown by those who lasted with us until the end (circa 4am) was excellent.

The long awaited breakfast at Havana's this morning was a great follow up to the late drunken evening as well..