What is even happening?

I, like many of you out there, are really wondering what the hell is going on right now. Has our country gone crazy? Have we elected a man that is going to bring ruin down on us all? Should we protest? Should we resist?

To put it bluntly, this is something our country hasn’t seen before. We’ve had issues before where there were disagreements over how to run the country, but there really weren’t blatant attempts to completely destroy the current political infrastructure in place. There was an implicit acceptance that while you may be a Democrat and the President a Republican, you’d still do your job and be trusted to do so. That trust has been breached. Furthermore, there were norms to ensure that the experts at least had a crack at what was going to be turned into an Executive Order, but that’s gone now too.

Our Executive Branch has gone crazy, the rest of the country hasn’t, well maybe the silent majority of the Republicans in office have, but everyone else is still doing the right thing.

You see, I think that America should be a shining light on the hill. Our ideals and values, in many ways contentious, really have the opportunity to lift people out of a rough life and into something that is greater. Right now, we aren’t even a flash light shining on a puddle of mud as a government. As a people, we’re doing right by our ideals. Protesting, one of the most American things you can do; welcoming refugees, originally, the US was founded by refugees or asylum seekers – it is only right we continue in this vein. Fighting injustice and oppression – we’ve gotten this wrong, a lot, but we also have had a history of continually moving in the right direction, despite our fits and starts. We Americans are doing this now in the face of what is only the beginning of push back from Trump.

We have a pretty clear idea of what will happen to anyone that is a government official and they refuse to obey trump. They will be fired and if possible I’m sure trump will figure out a way to prosecute that individual. Today, trump fired Sally Yates for up holding her oath as a public servant. His response is absurdly juvenile and was clearly penned by the president himself.

Trump's note for firing Sally Yates

Trump’s note for firing Sally Yates

This is an embarrassment, but this is the type of person that we are dealing with here. I don’t think that this is even a partisan issue at this point either. When the president of the US decides that he can ignore the rule of law we’re at the point where the government itself is at risk of no longer being a democracy. I believe that we can put aside our differences here and protest together. Pushing for Mike Pence or other subordinates to impeach trump. If he is unable or unwilling, I believe that an organization like the ACLU will ultimately sue to impeach trump regardless. However, this is a time when the leaders on the right need to stand up and say, “No, country before party, we will not be pulled into a dictatorship, we are a democracy. In a democracy you must obey the rule of law.”

Should you protest, though? I think this is a really personal question, but I think that you must protest in some form or another if you want to see this stop. There are many ways to protest that don’t include holding a sign, but you must at least commit time, energy, and possibly money instead. I have already donated $20/month to the ACLU and another $10/month to an anti-corruption organization (which is non-partisan looking to elect both D and R). You can write, you can tweet, you can also run for office. There are a lot of ways to stop this, but you need to decide what you can or cannot do. For me with my travel, it’s difficult to get my bearings in whatever city I’m in to effectively protest. Instead I will write, donate, and support anyone willing to make a difference. I am also working on a podcast with a few friends. The goal, like my goal on this blog, isn’t to preach or really push my ideals, but to try to educate so you can make your own informed decisions.

So, let’s make America the shining light on the hill. Let’s fight against corruption, fight to level the playing field so that everyone has an equal chance, fight so that women feel like they have control over their own body, and to fight to make sure that we can take in those huddled masses.

Democracy, Corrupted

Several years ago I read a great book called¬†Republic, Lost by Lawrence Lessig. Wrote a blog about it back when Occupy Wall Street was a thing. Lessig has since ran for President and subsequently dropped out of this year’s race, but I think the points in his book are a salient now as ever. His platform was to eliminate corruption government by changing campaign finance laws. Of the remaining candidates, I believe Bernie is the only one that has portion’s of Lessig’s platform in his. As I mentioned in my blog a few days ago, money influences people even when they don’t believe that it does. In fact, simply having a conversations with someone can either normalize or prime a certain behavior. For example, a lobbyist may call from the cable industry to discuss some topic that’s going to be up for vote in some time, they also mention donating to the next election cycle. That same day an unrelated bill may be up for vote that tangentially impacts the cable industry, because of this priming the politician will be more sympathetic to the cable industry than they may have been otherwise. In some cases this type of priming or normalization can result in some pretty disastrous policies for the American people.

This is a horrible problem caused by us vs. them mentality of current politics. It’s also caused by the need to raise money. The ability to disenfranchise voters is powerful, because it robs them of their voice and replaces their voice with a special interest voice. These voters aren’t being disenfranchised for no reason. This is a systematic effort to eliminate the influence of a group of minorities that would push for dramatic changes in the criminal justice system. This impacts a large number of groups, private prison companies, law enforcement, lawyers, etc. As the Pennsylvania Republican points out at the end of the segment, this voice has serious impact on the direction a state can go in a general election thus impacting policy.

All of the other things I write about are the result of policy, which fundamentally comes from who is in office. When elected officials abuse their position to prevent other people, who I might not agree with, from voting our Democracy is corrupt. It is important to note that the actions described in the video above, while likely coordinated by the RNC, happens at the state and city levels. These are areas that people, myself included, largely ignore when thinking of voting. With so much focus on the national elections, these smaller roles largely don’t seem to matter to voters. These policies impact us as much, or in some cases more, than national polices. These are the policies that prevent cities from deploying their own broadband or the lead to the militarization of police departments in cities like Ferguson.

Lessig started a group called Mayday.us which highlights candidates, mostly at the national level, that are working for eliminating corruption in government. I supported them last year and plan to do so again this year. I also believe it is time for me to get more actively involved in this and other movements to address the fundamental corruption issues in government. This is truly the only way to level the playing field so that the best ideas win out rather than the biggest budget.

Stupid laws, poor Decisions, and corruption

Uber and Lyft have been all over the news lately. They’ve been getting pushed out of city after city. They have had rulings go against them, like one in PIttsburgh today. The ironic thing is that the Judges were completely sympathetic to the people of Pittsburgh and Uber/Lyft, but had to rule in that way because of the way the law is written. I think it’s fair to say that the judges believe that if the people of Pittsburgh want these services they will have to work with the city council to have the commission responsible for Taxis change the rules so that Uber and Lyft are legal. Uber plans to running through the holiday weekend, in a similar fashion that they are in Austin, Texas where the services are also illegal.

The Supreme Court of the US has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in a case around if a privately held company has to pay for birth control based upon religious exceptions. However, there have been a lot of points indicating that there is hypocrisy in their approach. Through their 401(K) they own stocks in companies that manufacture birth control. They are willing to pay for vasectomies and vVagra, which seem incongruent with their beliefs. To be internally consistent Hobby Lobby should be against paying for vasectomies as well – the only difference between them and the Pill is that it is on the man not the woman. Should the results imply that Hobby Lobby must be internally consistent and be forced to divest those stocks and be prevented from paying for vasectomies? I’m not sure, but I think that there could likely be a lawsuit over that – forcing Hobby Lobby to explain the rationale of refusing to pay for one over the other. Which may have a different unintended consequence of hours getting cut to Wal-Mart levels and no one getting insurance except for salary employees.

Apparently a DOJ antitrust lawyer was invited to a big Comcast shindig for the Olympics. The only reason the person didn’t go was because of the rules put in place to prevent her from going. I think there are two ways to interpret this. First, she’s sincere and wants to go, but is aware that it could look bad for her and Comcast if she went. Second, she’s sincere and is saying that it would be corrupt if she went even though it did look like a lot of fun. I can see both sides, but I think it’s pretty fair when people assume this is part of the general corruption within the US government. Where the government has a revolving door between the regulated and regulators. How can you hope to not have general corruption though being a decent person. You get to know the people you’re working with and you want to help them because that’s what good people do. It’s the most likely type of corruption to happen – corruption through complicity.

All in all, these three stories don’t play well for the US being a shining light on the hill. We’ve seen the MIddle East blow up of late and there’s a lot of discussion as to why. One reason is that we’re trying to push democracy on people that aren’t ready for it, however, are we even ready for it? Each of these stories shows that we have broken laws that could be captured by business or other entities. I think that for a country to export their version of democracy they need to have their house in order and show how well the system can work. I liken it to process improvement. Porsche is one of the best examples around this – they became some of the best Lean consultants in the world through fixing all of their problems first. You need to build credibility and show you can execute, then you partner with a struggling supplier and build the change together. You cannot force it down their throat.

Our system is broken in many places and the past few weeks really highlights that.

Economics, Philosophy and Science

The Occupy Wall Street movement has spawned a great deal of branch protests. It has increased our awareness of economic, educational and governance issues. We have seen a series of aggressive police actions and amazing responses from victims. Historically, universities have been a sites of unrest. Berkeley had it’s riots in the 60’s, there’s the famous Kent State shooting picture and there are many other examples. What do much of these have in common? The state has used it’s authority and power to overly aggressively clamp down on protesters. However, violent protesters can’t be accepted, but non-violent protesters cannot be met with force. It’s part of our heritage to protest the government.

However, it’s important to understand what we’re protesting and why. It was clear from the beginning of the OWS movement that most of the people didn’t really understand what they were protesting. Very broad general things like Wall Street making too much money or the fact that no one has gone to jail. I think it’s important that for protesting to be effective the leaders and a majority of the protesters need to be well educated on what it is exactly they are protesting.

In this case the protesters needed to be educated on economics and philosophy/morality. Why economics, those guys are like the bad guys man? Well, sadly, to have an actual conversation with these people you need to speak their language. You don’t have to actually accept their assumptions as true or accurate, but you need to be well educated on the topics. Additionally, if you are well educated on economics, you’ll know there are different capitalist perspectives on economics that indicate that a more equal society is a safer and happier society. Using evolutionary economics, policies can be crafted to help protect economies from crashes. In addition, being educated in slightly beyond the basic supply demand curve, it will help prevent the wool from being pulled over our eyes. This will also allow more members of our society to enter public discourse and understand and speak intelligently about the topics that impact all of us. People will actually understand what socialism and communism actually mean.

In addition to a good economic ground work, we also need to understand some basic philosophy. People are accused of moral relativism, we need to know what it actually means (morality is flexible based on the situation) and how that impacts people’s actions. We also need to know when our leaders are behaving morally, immorally and what sort of freedoms we should be giving to people. Our country is founded on the philosophical ideas of the enlightenment. The US government was founded on rights, which all people should have regardless of sex, race or whatever. This includes speech and protest. If these are within our rights, then we need to protect them from people that believe it is their right to physically assault you when you exercise your rights. Morality and ethics can also drive our legislature to define laws based on humanist principles to ensure living wages and the right to live for all people. Or at least the need to create the social mobility claim to have in our society. Decreasing costs of education reduces the initial burden after school which allows people to take more risks, which may allow them to move from one social strata to the next. These should be done for moral reasons and because education and research has been shown both neoclassical economics and evolutionary economics to be a huge driver of sustained economic growth.

We also need a strong scientific foundation, which will provide a healthy dose of skepticism for government and data published by any group on either side. It gives the tools to decide if we should accept these data or open our tool box and figure out where the flaw in the data is. Science is the driver of current economic growth. It is what allows the next big break through at the platform level. We’ve had several platforms, coal, steel, rail, and we’re currently on the silicon platform/computing platform. To develop new platforms we need to continue to drive to the frontier of science.

Our founding fathers embodied these ideals. Jefferson was a philosopher that wrote his own version of the bible. He and Franklin were both accomplished scientists. All of them believed in the rights of the people that exist not because they are given to them by the government, but because they are natural rights all people have. It is important that we acknowledge these rights and make sure we are educated in these topics to ensure an actual debate over the problems we’re facing as a society. Without being educated in the importance of these topics we’ll begin to argue based on the best sound byte and not on the content of the message.

In closing, all people need to become literate in these topics to provide the best foundation for an argument. Without being able to speak the right language, you’ll sound like whining children that’s wondering like a child lost in the woods, or out of your element if you will. With these tools, anyone can talk coherently and powerfully against the very things our own government protests in other countries.

Are democracies or autocracies better with technology Management?

According to neoclassical economics knowledge is a non-rival (I can use it without preventing you from using it) and non-exclusive (available to everyone) resource. This has two impacts on their economic theory. First, the actual impact of research and development is excluded from economic growth and is ignored. Second, that any company should be able to pick up and produce any technology. Both of these points are relatively ridiculous. For two reasons. First, we know that research leads to the formation of new companies. Second we know that most companies cannot produce any product and many companies that produce products outside their expertise fail at it.

From a neoclassical perspective democracies are terrible at sharing knowledge and technologies. Democracies have a slew of laws that regulate access to technology form monopolies for specific technologies if they have something called a patent. Additionally, there are other contracts that can get in the way of sharing of knowledge in a way that is neoclassical. Non-disclosure agreements and non-compete clauses. If you aren’t allowed to discuss a specific technology with other people, it prevents knowledge from spreading and being shared to other companies. If you aren’t allowed to compete within the same industry after you leave a company, it prevents you from using that knowledge in a positive way at another firm.

These laws have been put into place in our democracies to ensure proper protection of technologies for firms. It’s designed to prevent the spreading of tacit knowledge from company A to company B. As a company this is incredibly desirable. Without these protections some research would be worthless to conduct. Knowledge spill-overs would cause prices to fall to cost or lower as firms compete for market share. It’s great for consumers, but bad for firms.

So what happens in China? Well according to Make it in America, China requires many firms to hand over their Intellectual Property to the Chinese state. What ends up happening after this is that the Chinese government sells the information or gives the information to one or more Chinese company. These companies tend to be made up of former employees at the company that made the product before. This allows tacit knowledge transfer to the firm and a fast ramp to compete directly with the inventor of the technology. The knowledge is freer in China than it is in the US because of this. This increases competition and may be impacting the cost of goods like solar panels.

In a way this type of behavior forces companies to compete based on the actual costs of the technology. This is what is expected in the neoclassical theory. All prices will eventually drop to the marginal cost of a product with near zero profits for the producing company. In a perverse way, this is a “freer” market than ours because it comes closer to the non-rival non-exclusive knowledge base.

In my next blog, I’ll discuss this topic more.