Dear Kids,

An A-Z Owner’s Manual for the Society We Are Leaving You

Originally composed December 28, 2011

A letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 1, 2018 made the point that not all increases in the gross domestic product (GDP) are evidence of progress. That letter inspired me to republish, on Medium, this article that takes that point to the next level, enumerating various societal functions and rating them plus-or-minus, for the effect they each have on our overall wealth.

There are not enough jobs in America and this problem is particularly discouraging for young people graduating college. To solve this problem — -to solve any problem — -you first need an explanation for the problem that is correct, and then ideas that address that explanation. My explanation is that jobs are the result of two distinct components: societal wealth and the distribution of that wealth. Some activities and phenomena in society increase wealth; some decrease it. Some increase the distribution of wealth; others concentrate wealth.

My advice to you, to try to break our current economic gridlock is to encourage those activities that increase wealth and distribution, and discourage those that decrease them. The tricky part, the one that politicians are in a death grip over, is that some activities increase wealth or distribution but only in the short-term. (The case can be made that all governance consists of balancing short-term versus long-term interests, and personal versus public interests. But that will have to wait for another chapter.) And when something emphasizes the short-term, it is absolutely invariably at the expense of the longer-term.

With that brief introduction, I offer in alphabetical order, the following words of insight into the key things you will have to deal with in this wacky, wonderful world we are handing you, to restore our economy to the point where it provides plentiful, lucrative jobs again for college graduates. Good luck sorting it all out. At the end, I’ll give it a try.


Most topics include a code attempting to summarize its impact on wealth [W], distribution [D], and control [C], rating whether we can control the factor, like this:

+W
+D
++Control

The plus sign means it adds to the wealth or distribution (+). For ‘Control’, one plus sign means controllable; two means highly controllable. An equal sign means no effect. All of the ratings refer to long-term impact, not short-term.

Automation
Every day it takes fewer people to produce the same amount of goods and services.

Sorry to tell you this, but more and bigger waves of jobs will continue to be made irrelevant by technology. For instance, the Post Office will be matching its employment to the ever-decreasing need for hardcopy mail and losing jobs by the thousands. Another example: when wifi becomes ubiquitous, thousands fewer jobs will be needed administering old-fashioned phone accounts as people abandon them for pure web communication. And another: today I noticed that my gas meter doesn’t have the same electronic box on it that enables the water company to collect data without people walking around; when the ‘gas company’ catches up, there go 50,000 more jobs. Get the idea?

Automation increases wealth dramatically, but decreases distribution of that wealth every bit as fast; see Technology. In fact, skip there now because your entire world and everything in this booklet starts and ends with technology. There’s no stopping automation; in our equation, it’s a ‘given.’

+W
-D
-Control

Cars
Given today’s pollution facts, private transportation is reducing the wealth of our society faster than perhaps any other ingredient.

Private transportation is the issue, and within that category, the real issue is commuter transportation, not simply “cars.” If we do miraculously come up with a genuinely sustainable form of energy, not just electricity generated from fossil fuels, then the only negative part of America’s penchant for private transportation will be the social (or rather, anti-social) aspects of it. But until then, cars are killing us both quickly and slowly. And if you’re exposed to virtually any form of advertising, you know we seem to be intent on building our economy by building more cars. Cars, cars, cars.

Yes, building cars, as with all manufacturing, distributes huge amounts wealth. But the whole enterprise destroys much more wealth than it creates. The fossil fuel component is the X-factor; if you’re comfortable ignoring a negative multiplier whose possible value is infinity (destruction of the environment) then cars are not a problem for you.

-W 
+D
++Control

College
One of two sectors of the economy — the other is healthcare — that have been protected from genuine competition, and is now exhibiting explosive growth in costs.

College and healthcare are the two main sectors of our economy that are immune to the international competition that has lowered prices in all other sectors of the consumer economy. When we were rich with oil and had a largely isolated economy where wealth flowed to most of our citizens, no one cared and the rising price was not exorbitant. As our wealth has been reduced by the cost of energy over the last 20 years, and our individual prosperity has had to compete with the rest of the world’s workers, the costs mounted with no real competition or controls it’s become a runaway train.

People cite various factors such as students’ expectation of being coddled in luxury accommodations or served coffee in Starbucks, the cost of professors, and the bloated administrative side, but — just as with healthcare — no one really has a comprehensive explanation. The only thing that seems certain is that it’s a highly protected system. The recent system in which families disclose their entire financial picture to schools in order to apply for aid is a telltale sign: imagine if you had to give this level of information to a car dealer before he told you the price of a car! It’s no wonder the system is broken.

The only solution I can propose is to gradually separate the instructional side of college from the accreditation(testing). In other words, you might get two diplomas: one for education and one for certification. This would re-instill authenticity and competition in the education part, and the dollars spent on it.

+W
+D
++Control

Credit Cards
Require credit card companies — and all IDs such as drivers’ licences — to use PIN numbers.

One of the scariest criminal phenomena of modern-day society is so-called identity theft. But the notion that most of our financial fraud is truly from identity theft is probably an outrageous lie. Rather, 90% the problem is “credit card fraud,” plain and simple. And if the only solution is for the credit card companies to be sued until they change their behavior, then so be it; our lawyers are asleep at the wheel… or ‘in bed with’ the companies.

Credit cards need stratified levels of security features, first-and-foremost being PIN numbers. Here are ideas for increasing levels of security:

  • If you want a card with as little security as today’s cards — none — fine; you’ll just have to pay the highest annual fee and interest rate.
  • The next level of security would be photographs and PIN numbers.
  • Next would be varying levels of spending caps, which would be lower for riskier transactions such as web purchases where one’s identity is less assured. For instance, a youngster might have a web credit card with a price cap of $100 per month.

This problem is not hard. It’s just that the credit card companies don’t want to solve it because it cuts into their business. Think about it. Despite all their ‘spin,’ they probably want the fraud. They simply pass expenses for fraud on to us as a whole. The fraud they don’t catch, we simply pay the bills… often with interest. What business would stop that?

The reason that all identity and financial cards SHOULD require pin numbers is two-fold. First, physical documents — even cards with holograms — are no longer proof of anything… they’re too easy to forge. And second, personal recognition is no longer even remotely relevant. Most of us don’t do business with a neighborhood banker, or interact with a town policeman who knows our face. A horrible news story told of a woman whose life was ruined by a roomate who stole her driver’s licence and posed as her in crimes. A pin number would have been such a simple solution. Pin numbers should be implemented on drivers’ licences, social security numbers, and every other account.

+W
+D
++Control

Electric Cars
Electricity is not, not, not a source of energy, so electric cars only move the pollution from your tailpipe to wherever the energy is generated.

The energy to charge your car’s battery has to be generated somewhere. If that is a coal-fired plant, you might be creating more pollution than even a gasoline engine. If the energy comes from a source that creates less pollution than your gas engine

However, if electric cars simply increase our reliance on individual travel then they in fact will make the problem worse, not better. It takes a lot of energy to move a heavy private vehicle around; if this can’t be done without pollution, more cars of any kind are part of the problem, not the solution.

-W
+D
++Control

Energy

Energy — the greatest component in commerce — has increased dramatically in cost in last 20 years.

Of the legitimate causes of trauma in our economy, this is the most significant root cause. Almost everything else stems from it. We must pursue every opportunity to decrease energy consumption. If you look around, it would seem that energy must be free: at my train station every morning bright lights illuminate the platform even in broad daylight for some reason; in the evening I see whole office buildings lit as if every office were being cleaned simultaneously. We probably use three times our actual energy needs in this country.

-W
-D
+Control

Government
Government is as necessary as are free market forces, but invariably gorges itself on its power.

Neither pure government nor pure free-markets were ever a genuine reality or a successful solution. They’re both imperfect, and we always had a balance of the two. And what exactly is the mistake in the punditology? Capitalism is only the engine; it was never the entire vehicle. On the flip side, governance seems to inevitably produce self-fulfilling cycles of overuse. No reasonable liberal would ever suggest that government is or should be a ‘source’ of wealth… or the engine of wealth, although its policies can fabricate jobs by distributing wealth and supporting long-term and broad-reaching values over short-term, special interests.

Which brings us to an important point of perspective: all governance consists of managing long-term against short-term interests, and personal against public interests. Government looks complicated when you focus on the details, but when trying to separate right from wrong, just keep your eye on those two angles, long-term/short-term, and personal/public… and the obfuscation of politics will yield to the clarity of reason.

=W
+D
++Control

Growth
Growth is not just unsustainable, it is the opposite of sustainability.

Ultimately a very large component of this entire problem boils down to growth vs. its opposite: sustainability. No amount of environmental problem-solving will negate the fact that the Earth only has so much space. Pick a number (of people, that is): 6 billion? 20 billion? 200 billion? When will you allow that there is some number that exceeds our collective capacity for food and health… including the health of our Earthly co-inhabitants? Think about it. Growth is the first word out of every politician’s mouth yet it is not merely unsustainable, it is the opposite of sustainable.

http://www.thecomicstrips.com/store/add_strip.php?iid=22483

-W
-D
+Control

Guns (Updated December 15, 2012)

One of two seemingly unsolvable, emotional issues that demonstrate the fascinating dynamics of American society. The other is abortion, but that doesn’t much affect jobs so I’ll stick to my guns.

America is a great nation because it has had great writers. And nowhere is the profundity of that writing more evident than in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. The most powerful words ever written are these 27 words, which have perhaps caused the death of more people than in all of civilization’s wars. Two hundred years ago, when Thomas Jefferson crafted the most powerful sentence ever written by man, not only was he demonstrating his genius at writing but he was proving to be quite a seer. The most powerful sentence, if you don’t know, is this:

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The mere wording of this sentence is remarkable for its impenetrability, providing a rock-solid wall between gun holders and any governance that would seek to take those guns away. Look: it doesn’t say “the government” or any other taker-awayer! No one can take your guns away! And it says “keep and bear,” clearly ensuring you can walk down the street with your guns. And it says “arms,” meaning an automatic machine gun, because that’s what they had in 1787.

Why is it so powerful? Because countless thousands have died under its spell. If you include suicides, 30,000 people died by guns in a recent year. Multiply that by a few years back, even ignoring the 12,000 suicides and you’ll see that the numbers dwarf most wars. But bear in mind, wars aren’t generally under the purview of a single sentence.

  • Jefferson surely anticipated that two hundred years after writing it, inner-city drug lords would mow people down with abandon, in service to their militia.
  • And I’m sure he foresaw that deranged men would walk into an Amish schoolhouse, line our children up against the blackboard and mercilessly assassinate them.
  • And I know for a fact he was smart enough to presage that six-year-olds would bring guns to school and kill their classmates. ‘
  • And that 10-year-olds would use their guns to kill their principals and teachers.
  • And that an unbalanced young man would invade a school and machine-gun an entire class of kindergarteners.

And that people would view this insanity and continue to mindlessly chant “Guns don’t kill people, people do. If we just put the criminals in jail, this will stop.” Or if we keep guns out of sick people’s hands, this will stop. Quite a guy, that Tom.

None of this would happen if people had to use knives. And why are guns an economic issue? Because the cost to our economy is somewhere between $20 billion and $100 billion per year. We tend to look at such numbers as if the yearly cost is the right way to look at it, but maybe that’s misleading. Maybe it’s more logical to think of the cost over ten years: a fifth of a trillion to a trillion dollars. Here’s a good stat I read recently: more children die or are injured by guns each year in the US than in all twenty-six industrialized nations combined.

-W
+D
++Control

Healthcare
One of 2 sectors of the economy (the other is College) that have been protected from competition, and which, now that we are no longer rich on oil is all-too-logically exhibiting explosive growth in costs.

To understand the problem with healthcare you really have to read the following lengthy magazine article by David Goldhill. After his father had a bad experience (death) in a hospital, this very smart guy (a corporate CEO), wrote a long explanation of healthcare’s problems and likely solution.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/09/how-american-health-care-killed-my-father/7617/

I’ll try to summarize the Goldhill synthesis for you. For 50 years we’ve had a system that was rich, fat, and happy (same as college education). In such as system there are no controls on cost, just a lot of people gorging off of the pie, including quite a few who otherwise wouldn’t even be in healthcare. Yum, yum, yum. Then the economy got a lot tougher, people started living longer, lots of people got fat and now don’t take good care of themselves, a few million smoke too many cigarettes… ad infinitum. Oh yes, there’s also all the uninsured folks using the hospitals for their routine healthcare. Some also blame the increasing cost on the fancy new machinery, MRIs, gamma knives, and whatnot. Goldhill makes a good argument that equipment costs are not the problem. Frankly no one knows how much each of those contributing factors is responsible for the rising costs. We’re not very good lately about rational information, but we’ll get to that under “R.”

Now all of a sudden, there’s no longer enough money to go around and healthcare is where all the inflation is because it’s one of the few things we can’t buy from the Chinese (seriously). If you don’t have health coverage and get a serious injury, it can be so bad you go bankrupt. It’s so rough out there, even the ambulance chasers and product liability lawyers have to work five days a week to squeeze enough money out of healthcare to pay for their drycleaning.

Goldhill argues that no one has had to actually pay personally — -out of pocket, that is — — for healthcare for so long that the system is functionally insane. And he’s right. One way or another consumers need to have control of the purse strings… not HMOs, but consumers. This means what is essentially called in the business a “high deductible” healthcare plan, one in which your employer helps you with insurance for medical expenses over, perhaps, $2000 per year, but that first $2000 each year is on you. While I don’t agree with precisely where Goldhill draws the line in setting his “high deductible” threshold (he sets it much higher than $2000) there is no alternative. Our system has no controls and this is the only authentic solution for controls.

One thing I think we could do to improve on his plan is to make just the preventive part of medicine truly socialized. This is sort of a no-brainer. It’s the least expensive part, and we all benefit because improving overall health reduces acute care costs. And if you think about it, preventive care is also the part that requires the least expertise. We could use medical students and volunteers a lot more. We would in effect end up with three tiers of “insurance” level: preventive, acute, catastrophic.

+W
+D
+Control

Hybrid Cars

The regenerative braking (recovering the energy of braking to charge the car’s batteries) of hybrids helps slow the rate of increase of our use of fossil fuels. Other than that, they’re just more unsustainable consumption.

Read that first sentence three times… noting the part about “slow the rate of increase.” Hybrids (electric and gas) are nothing but electric cars that also use gas. Yes, most of them use less gas than gas cars, but that’s all they do. Everything said earlier about electric cars applies.

-W
+D
+Control

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

In simple terms, fuels cells are a new, alternative type of battery. Like electricity, fuel cells are NOT SOURCES OF ENERGY, so everything said about electric cars applies, only the problem is worse because energy is lost creating the hydrogen in the first place.

Hydrogen molecules are the fuel here. But you must understand that THERE IS NO MEANS TO SIMPLY PUMP HYDROGEN OUT OF THE GROUND AS WE DO WITH OIL; the process starts by consuming either electricity or natural gas to create the hydrogen fuel! The indisputable scientific fact is that a car will go farther — -much farther — -on the original electricity or natural gas than on the complex conversion process. Don’t take my word for it, read it from a scientist: http://www.grist.org/article/letter-from-tom-gage.

-W
+D
+Control

Innovation
Contrary to political rhetoric, innovation doesn’t create jobs; it does however create wealth, which is not always without its own problems.

You’ll frequently hear that the solution to our economic woes is innovation, that it will make us more competitive with other less innovative countries and create jobs. Might innovation solve all the world’s problems? Perhaps it will find the clean way to dispose of nuclear fuel, or better yet, produce the closest thing to free energy: fusion energy. Or maybe innovation will cure cancer, or provide eternal youth. Great stuff, right? Ummm, no, not really.

Unlimited energy sounds great, but there’s a chance that ungoverned, it will just boil our ecosphere. Think about it: we miraculously harness the Sun’s own energy, fusion, right here on the surface of the planet. How much heat can we afford to generate? Or consider eternal youth (which by the way curing cancer might be very similar to in both effect and science), sounds great too. Now think about population. Getting the idea? With our planet near eco-peak, all problems end at wise governance.

And what about those expected jobs? Actually most innovation removes the need for manual labor and therefore jobs. The wealth that is created invariably provides some new forms of business activity, and it can also be spread around in other ways, but usually far fewer jobs are directly created than destroyed. The temporary jobs that are created by the latest innovation gadget, most notably the cell phone and iPad in recent years, are menial production work.

+W
-D
-Control

Jobs
(This is complex to put in a single sentence but I’ll give it a try.) We’ve reached a new level in the maturation of technology wherein automation has, in effect, completed the evolution of the phenomenon of jobs, rendering the quantity of jobs almost entirely at the discretion of society’s management… government.

You’ve got to think this through from the very beginning. In the original hunter-gatherer society there was one job per person or family, guaranteed: someone got to hunt the saber-toothed tiger or pick apples.

Then technology gave us food crops, and one person could feed many. Those who didn’t grow the food found many ways to chip in, doing things that could be traded to the farmer for food.

For the next ten thousand years, the per capita ratio of jobs truly needed has steadily decreased. Consider that a farm today can feed thousands with a handful of workers… standing of course, on the shoulders of harvester makers, engine inventors, oil drillers, and scientists. A very high percentage of people in modern society have lives of such luxury that they don’t “work” in the sense that it once meant so literally. Some obvious ones are retirees and the disabled. Less obvious are the able-bodied unemployed. Then there are those with leisurely pursuits like professional poker player, or lottery-winner.

The discussion gets more difficult when we consider professional athlete, entertainer, or in the extreme case of wealth per calorie of work: movie star or financier. Many in this elite category have in some ways worked harder than any of us to achieve their success. So they do deserve their hard-earned wealth. Do they deserve incomes equivalent to 500 lifetimes? I’ll leave that question to the audience, but I’ll provide this part of the answer: it is ONLY technology that turned their hard work into such extreme wealth, not any amount of calories expended. Mostly it is the technology of radio, television, film, and computers.

Society now has to decide whether technology can afford to benefit so few in a ratio that has almost no limit. Perhaps there’s nothing incorrect about the winners of these job lotteries getting, for instance $5 from every one of 400 million Americans. After all the money is in a bank and pays for yachts and other things that the rest of us make. They were the smart or pretty or strong or wise ones… so they SHOULD get to decide where the money goes. Right?

All right. So where does this leave us? Your generation is going to have to figure out if an increasingly smaller number of entertainers and financiers can hoard the wealth of millions. And if not, to what activities should the money be redistributed?

=W
+D
+Control

Metric System

Convert to the metric system. Only idiots argue to the contrary.

This is the ideal combination of an idea that increases efficiency and creates productive business. By converting the US to the metric system, huge amounts of business infrastructure and materials will be rebuilt, renewed, and reprinted. In the end, we’ll have better, easier coordination with the rest of the world’s physical goods. If we change all road signs to meters immediately it will only take about six months for everyone in the US to understand what a meter is. Mr. President, you want economic recovery? Stop looking for pure fiscal manipulations and mandate the metric system now.

Some might wonder if there is an aspect of artificial activity to this conversion but the reasoning goes like this. Using argument-by-hyperbole, we would not recommend repeatedly converting back and forth from metric to our current system (Imperial) simply for job activity creation. But by converting once, we achieve world-wide efficiency and create some temporary jobs in the meantime.

+W
+D
++Control

Nuclear Energy (Updated December 15, 2012)

Invest aggressively in small-scale, modular nuclear reactors. This is the only path toward solving our energy problems, and therefore all the world’s problems.

Nuclear power is dangerous, and to some scary as well, but not as bad as the alternatives. It is technology that we can control and we must simply manage it well. Even with today’s large nuclear reactors, France as I understand it does something very smart with nuclear power plants: it uses a single design for all plants, achieving better control over its costs and risks. Pretty smart. In the US we have such an aversion to centralized control that we never solve problems this way, but it’s time to start. The same phenomenon plays out in China, where a dictatorial government is able to impose centralized control, and therefore solutions, on its problems.

But the solution will look nothing like our existing, massive nuclear plants. It will be small scale plants described in Reese Palley’s book, The Answer: Why Only Inherently Safe, Mini Nuclear Power Plants Can Save Our World. I command you to read this book.

+W
+D
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Offshoring

Manual labor, even to support automation, just follows low price anywhere in the world.

It’s common to say we don’t have a ‘manufacturing economy’ anymore. But in another sense, “US” manufacturing is at an all-time high, with approximately 2 billion people producing US goods… they’re just working in China and elsewhere for an average of perhaps $1 per day.

You might also say it’s inaccurate that our manufacturing jobs have “moved” offshore. Our manufacturing jobs — middle class ones with reasonable standards of living — didn’t move. They disappeared entirely and were replaced by poverty-level ones elsewhere.

The difficult question is what to do about it? There are too many factors for a short proposal, but any country could justify maintaining core manufacturing competencies as a hedge against future global wars. In other words, while it’s hard to justify trying to fight against lower labor costs elsewhere, we might need to protect certain manufacturing sectors from completely disappearing from our shores.

+W
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Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas
Our economy has been floating on a sea of oil for the last 100 years, which created the greatest economic and population expansion in Earth’s history, and it is coming to an end because the oil itself is running out.

In an incredibly small portion of humanity’s timeline on Earth we will have exhausted what nature took millions of years to create. Poof. All gone. First we drained every drop under our own country in about 50 years. Then we took it from underdeveloped countries, and only now are paying a significant price, as our economy deflates under the price pressure and the exploited countries deal with the aftermath.

Look around you in any developed city: no source of energy other than oil produced that much concrete, asphalt, brick, steel, and glass. Wood could not. Coal could not. In retrospect we’ll see that our economy was hideously overbuilt on this ideally fluid source of money in the form of energy.

Now we are being told we can quench our unending thirst for energy by harvesting the trillion barrels of natural gas under the Eastern US, the Marcellus Shale region. Even if we can do so without shamelessly damaging the surface of the planet, this will surely destroy our climate.

-W
-D
+Control

Population
Population has reached a new level that threatens the environment, and therefore no longer creates more wealth than it takes away.

No matter how successfully we balance the competing needs to distribute wealth and keep the capitalist engine running, population will pay no attention on its own. It will constantly outrun wealth. If you think it’s bad now wait until “aging is dead”… meaning when the natural process of aging is counteracted by science.

-W
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+Control

Public Transportation

Make public transportation ‘free’ (or zero-cash). Make this the goal of your generation.

Every sensible person in America seemed to understand when gas prices dropped a few years ago, from $4 to $2, it was a great opportunity to tax gasoline for the greater good of future generations. How about $0.25 per gallon this year, followed by $0.25 raises each year. Businesses do not care precisely about costs… they care about the ability to plan and having a level playing field. So there’s nothing lost by making fuel more expensive for everyone. This money should go toward making public transportation free in major cities. Lest you think this is a revolutionary idea, search Wikipedia for “zero-cash” public transportation; it’s already a reality in many cities, albeit on a small scale. If ever there were a public good that is ready for prime time, this is it.

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Rational Thinking

Public discourse and the news seem to focus on the easy “absolute numbers” rather than uncover ratios (comparisons) that get to the bottom of issues and provide a basis for decision-making.

Just today I read a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer from a medical malpractice attorney, explaining that every month, the equivalent of more than two Boeing 747’s full of people die from hospital problems. Interesting phrasing. It looks like a relative, comparative number but it’s not. It’s really just a dramatic way of saying that about 1,000 people die from hospital problems every month. How does it compare to gun killings or vehicle fatalities? Looks like it’s about the same rate as gun killings, and about a third that of car deaths. Yes, hospitals need improvement, but they’re actually trying to save lives. So where would you put your effort… your legislative and taxation pressure: guns, cars, or hospitals?

Or consider money. There was a recent uproar over increasing the national debt. (I’m emphatically in favor of reducing our dangerous debt, but the recent issue highlights the failure to deal with ratios.) Apparently our laws provide for a debt of a certain absolute value, currently $15.194 trillion. And as a result, the law must be argued about every time we near the limit. Instead the law should be phrased as a percentage of some inherently absolute number, such as our national budget.

But the real issue we’re getting at is government income (taxes) and expenses (budget). It’s meaningless to listen to absolute dollar amounts spent on social security, medicare, or the military, or absolute tax rates, without asking for relative numbers: relative to other sectors, other countries, and other times in our past. When you hear absolute numbers, you hear nothing but the pleas of liars.

Roads and Bridges
We’ve built more roads and bridges than we can now maintain.

With our oil money we paved this entire country. Now we’re seeing that we’ve built more roads than we can possibly maintain… especially without oil money to do the job. In the last few years, news stories have told of rural areas where the expense of repaving asphalt can no longer be afforded so the roads are being turned back to gravel; one story was called Return to the Stone Age. How prophetic.

There’s one engineering thing that it’s especially important to understand. For thousands of years Man built arch bridges, supporting their own weight by mere mass of rock. But for our roads we’ve built cheaper bridges that must hold themselves up with fasteners. These all rust and vibrate to pieces in about 50 years. Wherever we built these bridges — and we continue to do so — they are falling apart. Stop building so many of these bridges, thinking we can pave every canyon in the country.

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Socialism
If you drive on my roads you’re a socialist.

This is the oft-unspoken undercurrent upon which much of the liberal-conservative debate rides.

  • Liberals believe that competition alone does not solve all problems. Capitalism left entirely to its own devices will not react quickly enough to save the environment, and will continue to concentrate wealth in fewer people. And that government spending, while it might require a constant battle against corruption, and a balancing act between entitlement (handouts for the lazy) and self-sufficiency, is our strongest tool for improving society. I personally think that the US Government — -despite all the jokes about its inefficiency — -is the most accomplished organization in the history of the world, welfare notwithstanding.
  • Conservatives are scared by the word socialism, believe that government invariably is wasteful, and note that all socialist regimes fail. They discount the fact that the highways they drive on are our “socialist” goods… and that managing where to draw the line is a never-ending choice, not a black-and-white issue.

Solar and Wind
Sustainable energy creates both wealth and jobs.

Even if it takes a lot of energy to make windmills, as long as they last long enough for a net positive energy, they pay off. It’s absurd to measure their cost competitiveness against any fossil fuel because we need to compare total cost, not just the immediate cost of extracting oil, coal, or gas. The total cost of fossil fuels includes the total destruction of our ecosystem… the cost is infinity. We must tax fossil fuels to the point where sustainable energy is not just cost effective, but unavoidable.

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Stock Market

Eliminate the profit in day trading. That is, tax same day profits at 100%.

After all the Enrons, Milkens, and Madoffs (and even scapegoats like Martha Stewart) do you understand yet that the stock market is no longer the authentic economic engine that it had been? Whereas it started as an investment system, then tranformed into an auction house, the electronic age completed its change into a manipulation machine for capital companies.

The Internet boom proved that, yes, it is a wonderfully efficient means for driving capital to a technological opportunity. But the Internet bust showed that it needs to be reined in just a bit. Should you be able to take short-term risks and get rewards? Sure. You just shouldn’t be able to get in every morning and out every evening to game the system. Simple solution: tax same-day (or even same-week) profits 100%.

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Technology
Technology empowers both individuals and businesses, but its effect on businesses is much greater.

By empowering individuals technology distributes wealth and power; by empowering businesses, it has the opposite effect: concentrating them. Along with population and the environment, technology probably completes the triumvirate defining all of what’s going on around us. Politics? Mere noise that arises from the leisure that technology provides.

Technology consolidates wealth. Yes, it also enables individuals to rise from obscurity to wealth, but that, too, does much more to consolidate wealth than spread it.

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Term Limits

There might not be any way to improve American politics more likely than imposing term limits on all elected public offices.

Our political structure is testimony to the genius of its creators but after 250 years, it has shown one imperfection that I’m sure some philosopher has worded more eloquently: it feeds on itself. Our system is optimized to prevent changes to our laws, and also to make centralized control difficult to establish. These have been good things for a long time. But now that we are in an age that requires massive problem-solving and dealing with rapid technological change, they are no longer good things.

We need to ensure new representatives in our representative republic. Only then will those inside the system stop perpetuating the system at our expense. Take just one simple example: having Congress live by the same rules as the citizens… meaning pay for their own healthcare.

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Terrorism
Address the root cause or you’ll never get out of this mess.

Here’s a clue: stop living off of the oil under other continents. They might not dress like us but that doesn’t mean they’re dumb.

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Thresholds

Thresholds — numerical limits in laws — create corruption that prevents solving problems. Stop writing them into laws.

Thresholds are specific numerical limits at which the rules of a particular game change. For our purposes here, I’m talking about laws and taxes and stuff like that.

For instance, consider a law in which employers must provide better (more expensive) employee benefits when they employ more than 50 people. This is going to cause small companies to stop hiring when they reach the threshold. Thresholds always cause corruption. The alternative is proportional rules, with smaller increments (even if the best it does is is create more but smaller thresholds). For the employee benefits example, companies could be required to pay 100% of the proposed benefit value at 50 employees, and 90% at 40 employees, or something along those lines. Better yet would be to get rid of all such complexity, but in either case be on the lookout every time thresholds are proposed.

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War
Fifty years ago, in the mechanical, non-global age, fighting a war was a good way to stimulate temporary job creation and create wealth.

It’s not anymore, it just kills wealth… and people too, if you care.

There once was something called The Second World War. It was big and everyone in the US chipped in and created a huge surge in manufacturing to build enough planes and ships to kill Hitler and the Nazis. That was when “manufacturing” still had a “manual” component in it because things were made by hand and therefore resulted in a lot of jobs.

Anyway, it convinced people for the next 50 years that war spurred the economy, so whenever things were bad, we looked for some pathetic despot somewhere and picked a fight with him. But the formula doesn’t work anymore. Despite the never-ending need for ‘boots on the ground,’ we are already at full production and we spend more on our military machinery than the rest of the world combined (yes, seriously) so war simply sucks wealth out of our economy much more than it spurs anything positive regarding wealth or jobs. The formula doesn’t work any more.

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War Between Washington and States
Our country was formed in a cauldron of argument over whether a central government is destined to become a dictatorship, but we need to outgrow this adolescence to make wise advantage of our resources in a technological, global market.

The war between Washington and the states destroys huge amounts of wealth. For instance, just the disparity in state sales tax causes unnecessary travel to purchase goods across state lines. This is currently a battleground between internet retailers and others. There are probably a hundred examples.

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Water
Fresh water is rapidly being depleted by our population growth and environmental destruction. Be careful where you choose to live.

Could it be converted from sea water? Perhaps, but we’ll just use that up too if we don’t control population and environmental destruction.

Wealth
We almost certainly have more than enough wealth for everyone, but if it isn’t distributed, even the wealthy won’t enjoy it at some point.

We’ve referred to wealth many times to this point but what is it? Wealth is the sum total of the food, clothing, shelter, conveniences, and health present in society. The more of that we create, the wealthier some people are.

Welfare
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

We end at the beginning, with those words published in 1787. You’ll have to figure out for yourself why the Smart Guys put this socialist phrase as the 26th through 29th words of their life’s work. Our modern interpretation is bifurcated. The conservative view is that reliance on government invariably breeds dependency, corruption, and waste. The liberal view is that managing society requires vigilance and vision irrespective of Man’s baser tendencies.

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So there you have it.

You are in a new age dominated by the need for problem-solving, scarce resource allocation, population control, and automation.

Notice how few items can’t be controlled at all (the ones indicated by “-Control”), only automation, innovation, and technology. Everything else is under our influence, some easier than others. Some we just have to write laws for. Some countries, counties, and cities already do a lot of these things.

Promote activities that decrease energy consumption, waste and international dependency, increase sustainability, control population, and institute term limits. Do these things and college graduates will have jobs again in about three years.

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