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Governments, governing and cooperation

by das monde Thu Apr 16th, 2009 at 05:10:27 AM EST

A while ago I was asked by Migeru to extend a comment on government and economic synergy to a diary. I am not certain whether these musings satisfy Migeru's request exactly, but it should be close.

Here is the part of my previous remark I will be discussing:

Absence of synergetic considerations in economic theories is indeed interesting. Synergies are abound in the natural world - almost compulsively. The role of government should be seen primarily as synergetic - i.e., capturing large common wins. But common interest is politically dead, and the government is unabatedly promoted as a free-rider helper. The libertarian understanding of "There is no free lunch" appears to mean "There is no synergy through governing" (but they appear to believe in a "synergy" of making money out of thin air through credit extension).

The brief history of government as "for the people" is finished and is being erased. The only "legal" cooperation is corporation - it feels like no one else is allowed to take care of own interests in a coordinated matter, or do any good to others. The rhetorical mix-up of what is a cooperator, or a free-rider, or a rentier is amazingly Orwellian in this world.

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On governments, taxes, rent and debt

by das monde Tue Mar 10th, 2009 at 06:33:38 AM EST

The conservatives like to repeat that "too much government destroying human freedom with excessive activity and taxes".

But what government do they mean? If it is so evil, how it came along and why it is staying?

I wish to suggest a clarification. It does not cover all complexity of human politics, but brings up some distinctions to the face of that impulsive tirade.

Basically, the human history saw two kinds of governments. By far the more historically frequent type is, let's call it, feudal government. It is a government by power elites - kings, dukes, priests, military commanders. There is basically no differentiation between political, military, economic and social powers there. This is a government by a small power circle, focused on preservation of its own power.

The other kind of government is, ideally, of the people, by the people and for the people. This is historically quite a recent phenomenon, up to a few classical antiquity or tribal examples. It assumes, in particular, separation of political and economic powers - but that is not a given. And there lies a problem.

Promoted by Colman, from last Thursday

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Why do the rich pay "almost all" taxes?

by das monde Wed Mar 4th, 2009 at 03:20:02 AM EST

The following exchange is from a Foxnews' show. It's a "fair and balanced" passion of Brit Hume (until recently, their anchor newsman). Speaking on Obama's tax increases:

Hume: Well it's just so dishonest because the top what, 2% of tax payers in this country pay something on the order of 40% of the taxes already. The top 5% pay 60% of the taxes already, income taxes. And the top 50% pay all but, you know they pay like 95% of the taxes. So most of the people in this country, most of the people pay almost, either no income taxes at all or almost none. That's like half the income brackets. So the idea that the playing field is somehow tilted in favor of the few is bosh!


The share of income taxes paid by the higher income people over the years has not gotten smaller under the Republicans. It's gotten larger. Why do you...

Williams: And why is that Brit? Because they're earning more money.

[UPDATE: As remarked by Jake and Daily Kos readers, Brit Hume refers exclusively to income taxes. Regular folks appear to catch up on payroll and consumption taxes.]

Front-paged with an edit by afew

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Low taxes, inflation and other demons

by das monde Thu Oct 30th, 2008 at 11:37:29 PM EST

The libertarian ideology is suffering quite a few setbacks amidst the ongoing financial crisis. Say, the governments just can't stop expensive stimulations. Maestro Greenspan acknowledged that reliance on everybody's self-interest was a mistake. And what other way is there to prevent fools to bank everyone all in than some regulation?

But one of libertarian recommendations is still never criticized: Low taxes are always good, as they encourage economic activity, job creation and what not. No one ever tells how low the taxes eventually must be, but many insist that tax cuts are always wonderful.

But do low taxes really work that wonderful way under any circumstances? Are there not any ill side effects? Any theory, however nice, has its limits of application. Whoever looked for limits of tax cut benefits?

Here below I share some thoughts, how Bush-led tax cuts might had actually fueled the current economic crisis.

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Lithuanian elections, the second round

by das monde Wed Oct 29th, 2008 at 03:07:04 AM EST

Yesterday was the second round of Lithuanian Seimas elections: 68 (out of 71) individuals seats were still open. In total, the parliament has 141 seats.

The outcome is favourable to the brightest winners of the first round. The Homeland Union/Christian Democrats picked up 26 more seats yesterday, totaling 44. The TV showman Valinskas party added 3 seats, and has 16 seats in total. If you add 11 seats of the Liberal Movement, you get 71 - the minimum majority. This likely coalition will likely be joined by Zuokas' Liberal and Center Union (with 8 seats).

In the following picture, from left to right in front: Artūras Zuokas, Arūnas Valinskas, Andrius Kubilius (Homeland Union) and Gintaras Steponavičius (Liberal Movement)

A table with results is below the fold.

Promoted by afew

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Coming Lithuanian elections

by das monde Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 10:09:14 AM EST

I was asked once to post a diary on Lithuanian parties. This week is a fitting opportunity, as Lithuania has Parliamentary elections this Sunday (October 12), and I was most of the last 2-3 weeks there. The later factor didn't help much to feel a better insider, but... political detachment is an obvious part of modern social environment, visibly convenient for the political classes as well.

Voting now underway, until 20h local time = 19h CET. Promoted by DoDo

Update [2008-10-12 13:40:8 by DoDo]: now with results.

Update [2008-10-13 12:40:0 (LT) by das monde]: Here are preliminary results of nationwide party voting (for 70 seats). 2007 out of 2034 districts reporting.

Voter participation - 1278989 (48.42%). Non-valid votes - 71747 (5.61%). The 5% barrier (derived from the number of all participating voters) is 63950. The last column gives (preliminary) numbers of candidates in run-off elections two weeks later in individual constituencies. Three individual mandates are already won.
PartyVotesPercentageRun-Off chances
of valid votesSeats Likely + Toss-up + Underdog
Homeland Union - Christian Democrats 23607119.551716+18+11
Social Democrats 14191711.7611+2 7+12+5
Order And Justice (Rolandas Paksas) 15363912.7311 3+8+5
Rising Nation Party (Arūnas Valinskas, LNK TV)18243915.1113 0+3+6
Darbo Partija (Labour Party) 1091069.048 1+4+0
Lith. Rep. Liberal Movement (without Zuokas) 685915.685 3+3+3
The Liberal and Center Union (with Zuokas) 641795.325 0+7+3
The Polish minority party 586354.860+1 2+2+0
Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union (Prunskienė) 449653.7201+4+1
Social Liberals 440783.6501+0+0
"Frontas" (Paleckis) 392203.250
"The Young Lithuania" (Right nationalists) 211441.7500+0+1
The Civic Democracy Party (Muntianas) 134401.1100+0+1
The Russian minority party 109860.910
Social Democratic Union (Marxist-lite) 103780.860
Lithuanian Center Party 84330.700

Update [2008-10-14 06:40:0 (LT) by das monde]: I made changes only in the last column now. With 5 districts to report, percentages are almost the same, though Zoukas' liberals meet the 5% barrier by mere 90 votes.

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Meet Iron Eaters

by das monde Mon Jul 21st, 2008 at 06:58:02 AM EST

This is a lazy photo-diary about people who are not allowed to be lazy.

A documentary about them won several film awards recently. The title is "Eisenfresser" ("Iron eaters").

The location is Chittagong, Bangladesh. It is very near in our globalized world.

A big sea-port, long beaches... stranded ships...

Pictures worth a thousand words - Diary rescue by Migeru

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LQD: European Romance Televised

by das monde Thu Mar 27th, 2008 at 06:36:12 AM EST

As commonly observed, the modern TV is not about news or education, especially in the US. TV programs hook up and play with most basic psychological reactions and dumb down our senses. Can't commercial TV really do no better than stimulate most basic brain circuits and entertain our egos?

Here below is an interesting view from the American continent to European TV experience. Does European TV indeed remain diverse and still enlightening, or is it getting trashy just as well? Does it indeed regularly offer not only confrontational entertainment, but likeably provokes all loving states on mind as well?

Here is the story from David Neiwert's blog:

Dave's [last post] points up just how complicit the media has become in perpetuating the kind of sticky, pernicious racial conflicts so much of the country is trying hard to get past. The deeper problem here, of course, is that conflict sells -- you really can't have any kind of dramatic narrative, fiction or non-fiction, without it. And it's very hard to get the American media to give up on a conflict narrative that's served so many social and political interests so reliably for so long -- even when it's become patently clear to everyone that that narrative is now savaging the soul of the country.

And the infuriating part of it is: It doesn't have to be this way. To prove the point, I'd like to offer two examples of how other countries are using media constructively -- and incredibly powerfully -- to actively help people get past this stuff, instead of staying stuck in it.

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LQD: Parables of Power

by das monde Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 01:54:51 AM EST

Power satisfies people, power corrupts, power moves people, power makes people despair. Why is power so important? How much does it affect humans and societies?

An important book on this subject is

The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution

by Andrew Schmookler. The author has a blog, writes also here.

The main thesis of the book is that

the history of civilization has been largely shaped by the way that, as a system, civilization has no mechanisms for restraining the raw struggle for power between societies.

I am quoting from these excerpts.

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LQD: The rise of the superclass

by das monde Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 04:31:42 AM EST

Just at the time when we start wondering how much world's developments are influenced by the richest and most powerful persons, which actually get ever more stupendously rich and powerful with ease, there appears the book "Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making" by David Rothkopf.

I haven't seen the book, but picked up some reviews from Amazon.com and an article at Salon.com.

The author is a humble insider of sorts: a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, acclaimed author of Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, now lecturing, serving at advisory firms (say, Kissinger Associates).

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Google search trends

by das monde Thu Nov 22nd, 2007 at 01:52:43 AM EST

Let's catch a wave of blogosphere interest in the Google feature that allows to track and compare frequency of various keywords in Google searches. The particular graph that is being keenly copied is the comparison of the searches for "turkey" and "diet":

So, American people look for "turkey" at around this time, and then again (a smaller peak) for Christmas, and after the New Year party they look for "diet". You can graphically appreciate the inevitability. Searches for hangover peak sharply at around New Year as well, surely enough.

You can play a lot with word combinations. Following blog links, you can find
Pokemon vs US presidential candidates,
depression vs rain & umbrella,
love vs sex,
fishing vs hunting,
snow vs fireworks,
four seasons comparisons.

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Left and Right Altruism

by das monde Thu Nov 8th, 2007 at 05:44:12 AM EST

I read sometimes right-wing commentators, to get a gist of their basic reasoning. So I stumbled upon the article

Altruism and Selfishness

by British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton,
published in the journal "The American Spectator".

Since we like to discuss here ramifications of altruism and selfishness, we may take a look at this particular perspective. The article starts like this:

THE FIRST PIECE OF MORAL advice that parents used to give their children was contained in the Golden Rule: Do as you would be done by. Christian parents backed this up with the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jewish parents with the commandment to "love thy neighbor as thyself," enlightened parents with their own version of the Categorical Imperative. It all seemed very simple.

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What is Darwinian evolution?

by das monde Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 10:40:08 PM EST

This is a quick (though long) response to a discussion in this thread. The subject jumped suddenly to Darwinian evolution. I am responding to this comment of ThatBritGuy:

I suspect there's a Darwinian bottleneck which means that species intelligence always tends towards the lowest limit needed for immediate gratification, competition and survival. In most environments that's usually going to be too low to make good species-wide strategic planning likely.

What seems to have happened with humans is that the limit rose a bit higher than usual, probably through reproductive competition - but not high enough to be truly smart.

Darwinian solutions are always short-term and instinctive, and more effective in the short term - which is fine as far as it goes, but creates a reproductive cost for the more strategic kinds of intelligence which are capable of planning ahead.

Long term solutions are likely to frustrate any number of hard-wired tendencies, and that's not going to make them popular, or likely, with individuals who don't have the cognitive or empathic skills needed to understand why they're necessary.

And so - most species won't make it. You may get a sudden die-off, or you may get cycles. But breaking out of that pattern is going to take a lot of luck, and some stray well-intentioned randomness.

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The Sputnik Trail

by das monde Thu Oct 4th, 2007 at 08:05:49 AM EST

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first successful launch of a man-made object into the space. The first satellite - Sputnik 1 - circled the Earth for 3 months, 98 minutes per orbit, and was sending the famous "beep-beep-beep" signals for 22 days. When will the glorious times of space race be back?

The anniversary is not causing much shock and awe as the original event did - the media is not seeking much educational role. But interesting facts about the first launch emerged last week. It turns out that the Sputnik was a very spontaneous success, rather than a well-planned program of disciplined "soviets".

The start of the space age. Is it over now? -- Colman

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Randomness Is There

by das monde Tue Sep 25th, 2007 at 11:15:23 AM EST

Recently I picked up a random book at the Schiphol airport, it was "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Still doubting whether I need to know more about random things, I paid for the book.

The author is a no-nonsense practitioner and educator of uncertainty, hunting at Wall Street for upshots of risk ignorance. The book considers probability not as an engineering or computational discipline; the chapter on human misconceptions about randomness is acknowledged as the least original part.  Instead, probability is introduced as a method of dealing with our ignorance and lack of certainty.

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The Pyramid Scheme of CDOs

by das monde Sat Aug 18th, 2007 at 11:02:23 AM EST

You may remember that I am kind of obsessed with seeing pyramid schemes or Ponzi financing in the glorious markets of today. With so much financial engineering going on, some reinventions of pyramid and Ponzi schemes are bound to happen.

Still, there was a feeling of surprise to dig out that the ongoing crisis with "junk" CDOs (Collateral Debt Obligations) is basically nothing else but unravelling of a pyramid scheme. The key hint can be found in the following article by Henry C.K. Liu, of May 8, 2007:

Liquidity Boom Decouples US Equity Markets from the US Economy

(aka Liquidity boom and looming crisis)

The Hong-Kong born Henry C.K. Liu is an investor and impressive analyst of financial markets, international politics and social-economic trends. He is famous for the article series on "Bubbleland Wizard" Greenspan. He wrote comprehensively about banking history, labour recourses and other matters. His recent article Why the subprime bust will spread was widely cited in the progressive blogosphere.

Henry Liu still has to write something since the outbreak of the current crisis. But his previous articles, though rather technical, have full actuality today. What is very rare among modern pundits.

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Brain circuits for politics and science

by das monde Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 06:32:40 AM EST

I am obviously on vacation. There is time for reading, but after some inquiries I decided not to bother with a temporarily internet connection at home. I check ET at an internet cafe sometimes, but there is so much good reading here that I have to dump the texts to a memory key and make some time at home.

I just read fully "Prometheus Rising" by Robert Anton Wilson. Some observations seem to be very relevant to a few ongoing discussions here. In particular, I address the discussions on modern "tribal" nature of politics (and our problems with it), and science education.

Promoted by DoDo

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Imperial Magic

by das monde Wed May 30th, 2007 at 01:08:30 AM EST

"Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called The Pledge: the magician shows you something ordinary, but of course, it probably isn't. The second act is called The Turn. The magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary. Now, if you're looking for the secret... you won't find it. That's why there's a third act, called The Prestige. This is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you've never seen before."

The Pledge. Tony Blair is wondering why Iraqis are angry on American and British troops, after so much was done for them.

[Tell] me exactly what they feel angry about. We remove two utterly brutal and dictatorial regimes; we replace them with a United Nations-supervised democratic process and the Muslims in both countries get the chance to vote, which incidentally they take in very large numbers. And the only reason it is difficult still is because other Muslims are using terrorism to try to destroy the fledgling democracy and, in doing so, are killing fellow Muslims.

What's more, British troops are risking their lives trying to prevent the killing. Why should anyone feel angry about us? Why aren't they angry about the people doing the killing?

Indeed, why Iraqis are not grateful for all the opportunities the invasion and occupation has brought them?

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Drunken Capitalism At Work?

by das monde Mon May 7th, 2007 at 06:41:44 AM EST

Most of us here at ET are capitalism skeptics, obviously.  Discussion of neo-anarchist, social oriented or Veblenian alternatives is almost escalating. At minimum, we see shortcomings of capitalism workings (like forced obsclence) - can't they be corrected?

One of the views is that unrestricted capitalism works all fine while it can be afforded - there is plenty space and resources to utilize, there are still new nations to enter the markets, any kind of growth can continue uninterrupted. Yes, capitalism is supposed to solve scarcity of resources as well - but is it not creating the scarcity problem itself, unneccesarily and at a stupendous pace?

The implication of this view that "funny" things must happen when limits of growth or resources are about to be met. I consider here a couple of examples showing perhaps that the funny times are very near. Here I give one sad example below thw fold, and two examples of other kind in comments. I know, I make the connection with greedy profit seeking by "energetic" individuals in growing economies very easily, but... These consequences are within the nature of greed-admiring enterprising culture, are they not?

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Are we all Robin Hoods?

by das monde Thu Apr 26th, 2007 at 08:13:16 AM EST

A study published in Nature claims detection of egalitarian impulses - a will to take from the rich and give to the poor. This must be driving cooperation, the researchers suggest.

Egalitarian motives in humans

Participants in laboratory games are often willing to alter others' incomes at a cost to themselves, and this behaviour has the effect of promoting cooperation. What motivates this action is unclear: punishment and reward aimed at promoting cooperation cannot be distinguished from attempts to produce equality. To understand costly taking and costly giving, we create an experimental game that isolates egalitarian motives. The results show that subjects reduce and augment others' incomes, at a personal cost, even when there is no cooperative behaviour to be reinforced. Furthermore, the size and frequency of income alterations are strongly influenced by inequality. Emotions towards top earners become increasingly negative as inequality increases, and those who express these emotions spend more to reduce above-average earners' incomes and to increase below-average earners' incomes. The results suggest that egalitarian motives affect income-altering behaviours, and may therefore be an important factor underlying the evolution of strong reciprocity and, hence, cooperation in humans.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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