Possibilities and perils

I just read an article that blew my mind. (Warning: paywall)

What Happens When Techno-Utopians Actually Run a Country | WIRED

Direct democracy! Universal basic income! Fascism!? The inside story of Italy’s Five Star Movement and the cyberguru who dreamed it up.

I will be blogging about it, but if we care to influence the future of the planet, we need to be aware of how the landscape has changed. It’s not just global warming, it’s not just a single populist leader, it is the development of fascism that masquerades as democracy.

I am very familiar with the “political philosophy” underpinning what the article is about, and wrote for years about the opportunity and the danger, and what it would take to create what I called direct/deliberative-representative democracy. Direct democracy on a large scale without protective structure is very, very likely to devolve into fascism, through the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Look it up if you are not familiar with it. Popular movements like term limits increase the power of the media and those who can buy the media. (Or, in this case, those who have developed the skill of manipulating popular, unprofessional social media. This is a current Very Big Story, about the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.)

There is no way around the Iron Law, but there are ways to harness it, but hardly anyone even recognizes the problem, much less solutions.

I may have been one of the writers who influenced the founder of that Italian movement; if not, it could have been one or more of a small group who pushed for similar ideas, such as Demoex in Sweden. This is stuff that is very appealing, but what is common is utter naivete about the dangers. The Italian experience demonstrates both the intense appeal and the depth of the danger.

“Leaderless” people are not free, they are in great danger of manipulation by people who have learned the lessons of mass psychology, and the behind-the-scenes founder of Five Star explicitly studied those concepts and used them to create personal power. Strong-Leader people are also not free, they are the slaves of the Leader. There is a synthesis possible, but it will not arise until the dangers are recognized and we pay attention to and develop structure that will ensure that we have the right to actually choose representatives we trust — and the right to take that delegation back at will if they lose the trust. The entire conventional system is based on win/lose, which defeats genuine chosen representation and becomes the dictatorship of the majority (or, often, worse, of a plurality). It can be done, but most people think and act, knee-jerk, from within the familiar, and strong-leader is familiar and so is direct democracy in small groups of highly interested people. More will be revealed.

Author: Abd ulRahman Lomax

See http://coldfusioncommunity.net/biography-abd-ul-rahman-lomax/

One thought on “Possibilities and perils”

  1. Abd – if we look at how politicians seem to make a fortune once they are in office, and the way that the problems of the little people are often ignored, there’s a pretty obvious basis for a lot of people wanting to try *something different*, in the hopes that it will be better than the current system. There’s also the problem that a politician who promises Free Stuff (at the expense of the rich bastards who everyone hates but aspires to be at the same time) will gain votes from that. Add to that the information cascades (or misinformation cascades) that spread so much faster now with social media than they used to when people read books and newspapers, and when the ethics of the journalists were more directed to telling the truth than to gaining popularity and clicks, and it’s likely that a large number of people will vote based on bad information coupled with emotion.

    There is of course another Iron Rule, and that is that if the value of your labour isn’t enough to pay for the food and services you need, then you will go broke. Covered by Dickens, in Mr. Micawber’s philosophy, where joy is earning one pound and having outgoings of 19/6d, and misery is having the same £1 income with outgoings of 20/6d. Countries in general appear to run in the deficit mode, and increasing government debt, and balance the books using the invisible tax of inflation of the fiat currency. Or sometimes they go broke, when really badly-run with a lot of corruption (see Venezuela). Set the tax-rate too high (to pay for all that free stuff) and the economy will stall unless you have resources you can sell to other countries. Putting high taxes on energy sources puts up the cost of everything else, and can shift a majority of people from Micawber’s state of joy to one of misery. This is after all the reason for the Gilets Jaunes here in France (and spreading to other countries in the EU).

    It’s easy to create a consensus based on bad information, and to get a majority following. Look at the current Children’s Strikes about stopping Climate Change. If you actually look at the data, the contention that using statistical methods over a population of thermometers using different locations and different types of sensor can give you accuracy to 1/10°C or even 1/100°C for some datasets is simply untenable. We really don’t know global temperatures that accurately, and you can test this yourself by doing your own measurements and changing the location by a few tens of metres. The statistical methods actually used purport to tell you the temperature here and now based on the temperatures measured up to 1200km distant. Just not valid. Are we getting more bad storms? No, there are no significant changes in that, but the insurance costs of them are increasing because there are more houses getting damaged and it costs more to repair them (and of course it’s cheaper to build on flat flood-pains than on hills). The logical thing to look at with the climate is what grows where. The climate has always changed, and this is a continuing process. We need to have the foresight to adjust to the changes, so there is something we can do about it, but I don’t see the ability yet to be able to change much. We should be careful when changing land-use, since that will have an effect that we likely can’t predict. There’s a hypothesis that a small change in CO2 level will affect the amount of water evaporated and that this is a severely positive feedback, but given that the majority of plants evolved to use an atmosphere with 1000-2000ppm of CO2 and we’re nowhere near that now, it seems somewhat silly to expect tipping-points and a catastrophe if the estimated temperature rises by a further 0.5°C over today’s estimate. In science, we use theory to make predictions about the results of an experiment. If the prediction is wrong, then it’s not reality that’s wrong, but instead the theory. Previous predictions (such as no more Arctic ice by 2013) of Global Warming haven’t panned out, have they? The dire predictions of the sky falling if we don’t do something in the next few years (and Life As We Know It ending in 12 years’ time) are such a misinformation cascade, and it’s four-walled on the media so of course the children are scared and want to do something. It’s a shame that the “doing something” doesn’t include building a lot of nuclear power-stations, since the kids haven’t been given the information that if you want all your electricity from solar and wind-power you’ll have to cover around 1/3 the country with them and buy a whole lot of rare earths from China. Even then there will be days where not enough energy is being generated to supply the needs, so there will be blackouts. It will also be somewhat expensive, costing a few years of GDP and thus more than doubling the debt for each person whilst making the necessary energy more expensive. Micawber again..

    In order to get to the point where a Universal Basic Income can work, the cost of energy needs to be drastically reduced and a lot of robots will need to be made and programmed in order to provide all the basics. If one country implements it, expect a lot of immigration there, too…. Otherwise, the standard rule will apply – if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Governments of whatever stripe can’t change that, though they pretend they can (whilst borrowing money to pay for it). It’s worth borrowing money when the profits as a result exceed the costs of that borrowing, and when the profit isn’t there only a fool would borrow.

    There’s a general feeling across Europe that things aren’t heading in the right direction. The drive of the EU to try to homogenise the cultures and encourage free movement (even from cultures very dissimilar) means that in your local area you are competing against others where the cost of living is lower, who can thus undercut your prices for a job. In building work, a guy I know (and have worked for) mainly employs Czech labour since the minimum wage here in France is far more than they would receive at home. Tim thus pays minimum wage and gets skilled labour, and can undercut the local builders who need to pay higher taxes. The plum jobs are for the government, where the pay, conditions, and retirement benefits are significantly better than average. In the UK, in Nottingham, the government created so many such jobs that they were the major employer in the area, and the subsequent austerity régime after the 2008 crash caused a severe unemployment problem there.

    The standard problem with democracy is that once the people realise they can vote themselves free money then it’s going towards failure. Despite that, it’s been the least-worst system of government that people have tried. Socialism always leads to failure as the state takes over more functions (Iron Law of Oligarchy again). Capitalism normally produces a small cadre of people who are stinking rich and control all the resources. Getting the optimum balance between enough socialism to prevent large-scale poverty and enough capitalism to encourage people to work hard seems to be an unstable equilibrium, and will always be heading towards one or the other extreme. I don’t know how to fix that…. The EU is an attempt to produce a benign dictatorship, as I see things, but is trying to regulate everything and thus is tending towards the USSR model. The people who actually make the decisions are all appointed and not voted for, and the people you can vote for don’t actually hold any real power to do anything. This system can work provided the people who do hold the power remain incorruptible, but the chances of that both in the present and continuing into the future are pretty slight when we look at history.

    Still, overall people aren’t happy since they are seeing their standard of living going down slowly, and the frauds that inevitably happen in the banking community are getting more publicity than they used to. It’s maybe not surprising that the various “populist” parties are gaining ascendance in Europe, that the UK voted for Brexit, or that Trump became the president of the USA. It’s a recognition that “as it was” isn’t working, and that costs have been rising faster than wages, and that in the private sector there are no longer “jobs for life” and it’s looking worse for our kids than it was for us. Anyone who appears to have the same attitudes and asks for votes is likely to do somewhat better than the old guard where we can see it’s failing. In the States, Trump is trying to deliver all his election-time promises, and is having quite a lot of successes as regards business confidence and unemployment rates. Maybe the first politician in history who’s being castigated for keeping his promises rather than breaking them…. Looks like 5-star are trying to keep their promises, too, but they haven’t the budget to do that since the country is way too deep in debt from previous mismanagement. Without the cheap power and a lot more robots it won’t be possible to have UBI.

    Interesting times…. I’d suggest popcorn futures are looking profitable.

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