American Fall

This is a sequel. Read American Spring first.

“We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation.”

– Will and Ariel Durant

In 2016, the American Republic birthed a second political party.

This came as a shock to the prosperous, college-educated Elites. The four horsemen of technology, trade, immigration, and bailouts had let them manufacture products, labor, voters, and money at will.

The people ruled the things, the politicians ruled the people, and the bankers ruled them all.

Elite America clustered on the temperate coasts, connected by airplanes and fiber optics. Its vision of open markets and open borders was supposed to eventually integrate the commoners in the interior.

But the Internet had turned media into a choose-your-own-reality adventure. Crowd funding and crowd media let the masses self assemble. Masses who had lost their livelihoods to trade, immigrants, and mechanization, and lost their culture to the march of progress.

The idealists, led by Bernie, were the first to storm the gates. It took the full might of the Media, the Party, and the Financiers to throw them from the walls. On the other front, Populists led by Trump broke through and seized the Republican banner.

The new Populists shared little with the old Republicans. They didn’t want to roll back entitlements and saw the culture wars as a distraction. They no longer wanted to send their children to fight wars declared by the Elites. They were tired of subsidizing naked gambling on Wall Street. They were out of sympathy for the wretched masses huddled at the border.

The great fake war is over, and the Republicans lost.

Now, the Populists are rallied behind Trump – a reality TV star who built a brand out of building brands. With slowing growth, they want to put America and Americans first. Never mind that high walls and high tariffs won’t stop the robots from taking all of the jobs in the end.

With the Bush dynasty failed, the Elites have consolidated behind a second Clinton. “L’État, c’est moi,” they say.

If the New Democrats remind you of the old Republicans, consider that they both always had war, immigration, bailouts, and trade in common. The poorest now unexpectedly find themselves sheltering with the neocons, the Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, lobbyists, and every nervous foreign regime dependent on American financial and military largesse. Mirroring an unstable Middle Eastern state, an uneasy alliance of elites and minorities rules over the angry masses, even as the blue-collar workers and trade unions slip out the back door.

The Libertarians, the Greens, and the Socialists find themselves homeless once again, now joined by a moral minority.

This is the first battle, the beginning of a long war. Just as the rifle and the printing press once did, the technologies of crowd media and crowd funding have redistributed power between the Populists and the Elites.

Minorities, Elites, and white males have already picked sides. The remaining battles will be fought over white women and their issues. Just as the British Empire, and not Britain, fought most of its wars, the shock troops for the Elites are the most threatened and vulnerable minorities in the populace. The Elites set the strategy, the press issues the orders, and the poor take to the streets.

The Elites have money, media, colleges, institutions, and numbers. Through histrionics they will defeat Trump, through demographics, the mob. As for the displaced, let them eat quinoa!

Any victory in November will be short lived – the Populists, on left and right, are here to stay. A future leader somewhere between Trump and Bernie could unite them to victory at the ballot box. If not, and if the Populists are convinced that the system cannot be redeemed, a true American Spring may be upon us.

History’s classic solution is either politics distributing prosperity or revolution distributing poverty. Thankfully, the last real insurrection was settled 150 years ago. All that remains of that dispute is the re-enactment called Sunday night football.

Disturbingly, the gun owners, the police, and the military are in the wrong demographic. Who, the Elites wonder, is sitting on the hundreds of millions of guns and over a trillion bullets out there? How, exactly, are the unarmed Americans going to disarm the armed Americans? Even for the blissful turkey, Thanksgiving eventually arrives.

Technology-created prosperity may be a third way out, but technology displaces one generation as it prepares the next. The abundance that it creates is hardly a substitute for the self-determination and meaning that people crave.

Ultimately, it may be the Elites that sue for secession. Just like Syria and Iraq, perhaps America is two countries now – the coasts and the center, the city and the country, the Elites and the Populists. Social media and identity politics reinforce tribalism, and expose the absurdity of ruling sea to shining sea from a single iron throne.

If a new Berlin wall were to go up, we’d have to put it somewhere in Austin.

Perhaps a stable solution exists. In the meantime, it’s war in November, the most polarized election in memory. Trump’s demand is simple – “America first!” So is Clinton’s warning – “Après moi, le déluge.”

American Spring

A one party system ran the United States, and the United States ran the world.

The US had checks and balances – governing required consensus, and the people were freed from kings. To protect speech, the framers left out a rule against conspiracies to monopolize the vote.

Political parties formed to monopolize the vote. The losing parties kept ganging up until only two parties remained. Resembling vast and immortal corporations, they consolidated all political power.

The parties need mass media to win elections. Media literally intermediates reality and programs voters by framing the acceptable parameters of any debate. Mass media costs mass money.

The elites, a plutocracy of the top few percent, bought the parties. So cheaply in fact, that they bought both.

The elites are merely people that went to the right schools, grew up in the right neighborhoods, and came from the right money and the right families. It’s not a formal conspiracy – rather an intricate and distributed system, organized by the invisible hand of the market, voting with dollars and newspaper ink, and controlling the country all the same.

Within some parameters, the elites argue – bombs from the air or boots on the ground? How much should we tax income?

Mostly the elites agree to keep power with elite institutions, controlling the masses who cannot be trusted. Yes to wars, yes to mass surveillance, yes to bailouts, yes to war on drugs, yes to war on terror, yes to endless copyrights, yes to monopolies and oligopolies, no to term limits, no to wealth taxes… On these and others, pick R or D, there are no choices.

The Elite Party runs the system and it basically works. The elite stay elite. Income may be taxed, but wealth compounds. The most belligerent and implacable of the masses are sent to fight in mercifully distant wars. Crime happens in other people’s neighborhoods. The prisons are full and everyone is being watched. The pie expands, slowly and un-evenly, and all is well.

One weakness – the presidency is a single office of great visibility and power, directly and democratically elected. One person, one vote. Regardless of education, ethic, breeding, knowledge, achievement. Is everyone actually, really, equally qualified to vote, the elites wonder?

The elites lock the crown behind two massive gates – it costs a billion dollars to run for president. And incalculable, favorable mass media exposure.

This works well – so well that the elites get lazy, handing off presidential power within dynasties – between fathers and sons, husbands and wives.

Statistically speaking, what are the odds that the two most qualified candidates to be president out of 300 million people are siblings? Or married?

Barack Obama interrupts an in-process coronation. Using hope, change, and emerging alternative online media, he organizes and brings new voters to the polls. But back then, it still takes television, money, newspapers, and the party apparatus. He can’t and doesn’t do it alone, and eventually joins the elite.

Today, it’s a different world. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook let one human broadcast to billions, without permission, without censors, without delay. Social media makes mass organization and resistance possible.

The Arab Spring is just one consequence. The American Spring of 2016 is another.

Social and alternative media dominates and disintermediates mass media. Every column brings a hundred rebuttals. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are stood like commoners next to bloggers, begging for tweets, likes, and votes. We are all journalists and editors now.

Bernie can play this game. The MoveOn crowd organizes effortlessly using the new media.

Trump can play this game. The reality show vet generates outrage and impressions, tweeting as he goes.

Meanwhile, the Internet kills the political ad. Everyone is online – skipping, blocking, or just mis-clicking.

Bernie spends a bit on ads. Trump doesn’t bother.

It’s not just publishing – the Internet lets anyone donate little bits online. Bernie taps the crowd – over a million dollars a day from small donors! Again, Trump doesn’t bother. He just self-finances.

The mass media barrier is down. The money barrier is down.

A mob is pushing Bernie. Trump is pulling one behind him.

The elites are livid. They sneer at the masses – Uneducated. Socialist. Racist. Luddite.

Throughout history, elites and plutocrats have feared direct democracy. One-person, one-vote logically leads towards mob rule. Socialism. Tribalism. The masses are always “crazier” than the elites. The elites like the status quo, so they pull policy towards the center. It’s the masses that want real change.

YouTube killed TV and Twitter ate the news. Donald’s tweeting from his jet and Bernie’s kickstarter went viral. Software is eating politics and the elites have lost control.

Now we see “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The neatly labeled bundles of “Democrat” and “Republican” are going to get re-assembled by the voters, one vote at a time instead of one dollar at a time.

Sanders’ voters think the rich stole their money. Trump’s voters think the illegals stole their jobs.

There is no more establishment. Like all things Internet, social media and crowd financing are unstoppable. Every large future election will have outsiders out-organizing, out-raising, and out-raging the establishment.

America is going from a republic of elites to a direct democracy. Look to your left, and look to your right. Wake up – the people are here.

Update: Read the sequel, American Fall.

Towards a Literate Nation

“Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will move the earth”

– Archimedes

To reduce unemployment, we need to lever up.

Not like Wall Street did, through debt, but like Silicon Valley does, with tools.

Leverage magnifies your actions and increases your productivity. You can get leverage through:

  • labor (people work for you)
  • capital (money works for you)
  • tools (machines work for you)

We’re trying to help labor. We don’t have much capital. We must give tools to the people.

All of the great modern tools for productivity – the printing press, the factory, the movie studio – require capital and coordination to use. The computer is the first tool since maybe the stone axe, that an individual can use to gain massive leverage, without permission from anyone else.

The modern computer can help in every endeavor – even if you don’t use a computer at work, you’ll soon carry a $50 smartphone in your pocket. You’re banking online, learning online, communicating online. The computer, and now the smartphone, make everyone more productive.

This is why Silicon Valley doesn’t have enough people, when the rest of the nation doesn’t have enough jobs.

Now computers are simpler. More ubiquitous. Cheaper. More accessible.

And we can teach people how to use computers, through computers, using tools like ShowMe, CodeAcademy, Bloc, and so on.

Let’s create the world’s first, completely Digitally Literate Society. Not a nation of programmers (maybe someday) but a nation of people who are comfortable with the most powerful tool ever invented by mankind.

Let’s do it quickly – train them in three months from start to finish. And cheaply – for free.

We can create the program at Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Harvard, etc. We can teach basic proficiency – use online applications like Google Apps, Search, DropBox, Email, Online Banking, Travel, Ordering supplies, etc. Some basic creation – create your own web-site. Research questions. Solve problems. Learn to learn.

Google, Amazon, and Apple will loan us the tablets. Companies will pay us to have people learn to use their apps. An app marketplace where companies pay society to educate society.

Apple, Square, DropBox, Twitter have created beautiful software interfaces. iPad and Android have made the hardware accessible. Today, it is not just cheap to build a company. It is cheap to re-build a person.

Let’s create the world’s first digitally literate society. The world’s most desirable workforce. If that won’t generate employment, nothing will.

Perpetual Stimulation Machine

The economic stimulus is a farce, as should be obvious to anyone who cracked open their Econ 101 textbook or ever ran a lemonade stand.

Where is the $150B going to come from? Reduced spending elsewhere (wash), increased taxes (same as reducing spending from the private sector – worse than a wash), borrowing from abroad (raises the price of capital for private businesses, or causes inflation, resulting in a wash), or printing more money (inflation / reduced purchasing power, which depending on what it does to inflation expectations, can be worse than a wash).

The fact that hundreds of millions of people believe this and that journalists and politicians constantly spout something so egregiously false at face value is a disappointing indictment of the masses.

In their honor, let us create the Perpetual Stimulation Machine! The government should inject more and more money into the economy. As it injects more, the economy will be stimulated, GDP will increase, government tax receipts will rise, and more stimuli can be injected!

In fact, I think just such economies are underway in North Korea and Cuba.

Note: Those who argue that money will be moved in a stimulus package from savers to spenders skipped Econ 102. Savings get loaned out and spent as well. Savings = Investment

Note 2: The stimulus is probably the oldest fallacy in Economics – the Broken Window Fallacy, which is also the same as the “Wars spur Growth” fallacy.

Securitize Citizenship!

People hate immigration and immigrants as it’s seen as competing with newcomers over finite resources in a zero-sum game. This argument is flawed on many economic levels, but let’s overlook that for a moment. Let’s give everyone a stake.

Suppose that we gave every US citizen an extra passport – a blank one. Within certain common-sense restrictions (i.e., no terrorists) each person could sell their extra passport to a would-be immigrant. You could give it to someone deserving, or patriotic, or brilliant, or whoever would just pay you a lot of cash. You could perhaps exchange it for a foreign one. Likely, markets would emerge to value and trade these things, and people would pay or promise future earnings streams (personal IPOs in the best case, indentured servitude in the worst) to get into desirable countries.

But now think what would happen if a country enacted bad trade or tax policy. The sum of all of the value of the passports would equal the capitalized value of the government of the country. Poor policy that reduced this value would result in the demand, and therefore the price, of passports falling. Your passport and your extra one would probably be your most valuable possessions, worth millions of dollars. Poor government policy would lead to massive negative feedback from the citizen-shareholders.

In fact, certain un-monetizable policies would now reveal their costs, and we could see the value of pro-choice v. pro-life, certain environmental policies, etc. If your government isn’t doing things the way that you want, you can always sell your passport and get out, but likely the poor government would be ousted by citizen-shareholders first.

Finally, in the fanciful stretch case, countries that have shown themselves to be astute economic managers could engage in hostile yet peaceful takeovers of the publicly-traded passports of poorly managed countries. If each passport entitled you to one vote in a democracy, China could buy India, put it on the same economic program that has worked well for the Chinese, and perhaps even sell it off for a profit later!

Hong Kong is Civilized

Free wifi in the airport, need I say more? Ok, what is stifling about airports and modern travel is the lack of control. Stand in line. Wait. Sit on the plane. Fasten your seatbelt. Put away your tray table. Close the windowshade. What is web-surfing? Here’s a blank location bar – now go, wherever you will. As in the Matrix, when your body is confined, the mind wishes to roam. Many a government could ease the suffering of its citizens by offering them mental freedom when it imposes physical confinement. The web is powerful and American in its origins in that it exports the one classic American virtue – freedom.

American Culture

A caucasian and U.S. born friend once opined that I was lucky to have been born in a great culture (India), and that Americans have no culture. Not so. She has been living in it for so long that she is a fish in the American cultural ocean – it’s invisible. People leave the world in droves to come to America, for the culture. The culture of freedom, individual liberty, open-ness, and protection from the greatest slaughterer of mankind, government. I’ll take that any day over colorful clothing and spicy food.