More Blue model Blue Growth

Saw an op-ed in the Indy Star that started out asking what Romney would say to a police group about explaining why we don’t need more police on the beat.

Juxtaposed with an article elsewhere pointing out that violent crime is at a 40 year low after a significant reduction for the last however many years and that even none violent crime is decreasing.  And this during a recession!

An argument can be made that this is because there are more police and more prison cells than ever before.  Or it could be because police patrolling practices with focus on trouble spots and keeping feet on the street are inherently more effective than the blanket patrol car and large precinct office staff model that preceded it.

However given that most police forces are unreconstructed and there are vast opportunities for more effective use of the people on hand, the need for more police is to me; at least unclear and possibly even preposterous.  As WRMead at ViaMeadia might say this is just more Blue model thinking, pressing for more Blue model growth.

Given that historically locking thugs up just opened niche for other predators to move in, it’s more likely that video games are absorbing a lot of youth time that used to be spent getting into trouble.  And its harder to make crime pay these days unless you have to be savvy, connected and have the gear to do it right or you get no payday.  And with the prevalence of violence in the criminal strata, it seems to me that the number of fools willing to take up the life has to be somewhat limited.

The biggest concern that I have is that a permanent criminal culture could develop, one that is all but self-sustaining, like the preceding and overlapping welfare culture.  This culture is so isolated from the larger american society that its members do not see themselves as having an interest in or path into the society at large because its alien and in some senses very cold and unfeeling.  In the criminal culture life may be ugly and short but it may also be very much focused on immediate gratification and the id of the young men who are its principal actors.

 

Democracy is an Outcome not an Input….

In this months The American Interest is a fascinating perspective article that like any profoundly effective piece opens ones mind to a better way of thinking about a topic, in this case democracy and the ‘liberal societies.’   The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy    The main threats to democracy lie within liberal societies themselves. by Vladislav Inozemtsev

Its more of a monograph than an article, it’s talking to the reader about taking a different perspective on a whole classes of issues. In short as my title says Democracy historically emerges after life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have already emerged within a society not before.  Also he points out that liberal (in the old sense of societal and economic freedoms) societies emerged in homogenous and élite societies and then democracy was implemented to create a stable and responsive gov’t that would last.  Only later as the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, equality before the law, became ingrained, and the polis became generally literate and self-reliant did the right to vote become general.

But as the right to vote became general its strength became debased.  As the right to vote was given to many without a strong tie to the society it became more and more populist and a tool of those able to manipulate it.  

Some societies have developed that are quite ‘liberal’ in the old and robust meaning of the world without democracy (Singapore is one example.)

Many societies have developed democratic trappings but they are not at all liberal (Russia is one example)

Some societies have had democratic trappings dropped on them and then have started to tear themselves apart because there is no homogenous polis, (Iraq, many of the African states)

If you are at all interested in the topic read the article, its one of those pieces that opens the mind to a better perspective that might lead to insights of importance.  unfortunately its all too likely that the right people won’t get the message…

 

Historical Perspective and Narrative

20120221-220832.jpg

Walter Russell Mead’s blog serial Beyond Blue, currently at #5, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs (from which the pictures in this piece come) is a fascinating monograph putting the changes our society/economy is going through into perspective. Dr. Mead’s explanation goes back to the 19th century:

In the 19th century, government promoted the rise of the family farm, selling cheaply and ultimately giving away millions of acres of farmland, and promoting the rise of railroads (which could carry the produce of western farms to world markets). In the 20th century the government promoted the rise of large, stable corporate employers that offered armies of white and blue collar employees lifetime employment and a bevy of benefits.

And later this:

Currently, the American legal and regulatory system is set up to bind as many people to employers as possible. The government wants you to be a wage slave and sets up a regulatory framework that keeps as many of us as possible yoked to bosses and management. The IRS doesn’t like the self-employed, fearing they many conceal income. Banks and credit card companies view such people with suspicion, and it is notoriously difficult for start ups and part time enterprises to have access to formal finance. Many services are hard for the self-employed to get on terms like those made available to employees of large corporations: from health insurance to retirement planning, many things are harder and more expensive for the self-employed. The payroll tax system is brutal: the self-employed pay both the employer and employee halves of Social Security and Medicare taxes, almost 20 percent of income and likely to go higher. Many cities will tack on unincorporated business taxes, mass transit taxes, and other interesting feudal exactions and dues.

The gov’t used(s) the current ‘Blue Model’ in some senses as a social damping mechanism because it provides for a more hierarchical top down command system (of interest in the Cold War climate of the 50’s to80’s) while also providing a relatively efficient economy and outlets for frustration from the masses. This model has worked since the collapse of the 19th century model….the great depression…but itself is now becoming unstable/unaffordable in its turn because it requires too much command and control.

Too much how? Well now that a high percentage (all high value) workers have been amplified by basic literacy, information systems and other technology, they are capable of much more than the drudge work they used to perform at the command of a ‘supervisor’ and demand / need more autonomy. Many organizations accommodate and move on and up. Others keep the older structure or some bastardized version and sink into the muck. Companies that almost have to operate in the old mode because they deliver one sort of highly regulated good or another, get radically more expensive compared to near peers operating outside the penumbra of regulation and lose relevance and competitiveness at a steadily increasing speed. Look at the post office, once the epitome of efficiency.

What a New Model education would Disrupt

Megan McArdle’s take on change in higher Ed. Ms McArdle blogs and writes for ForbesThe Atlantic and has a lot of interesting insights on economics, politics and societal change, more libertarian than conservative her opinions are well reasoned with a dash of humility.

(corrected don’t know what I was thinking. Ms McArdle is at The Atlantic not Forbes, sorry about that)

The Decline of Violence

From Reason Magazine, I hope this is beginning to percolate, it’s actually a perception I’ve had for a long time, that violence of all sorts is declining not increasing.  The perception of greater danger is completely due to the news cycle and our reduced tolerance to violence of all sorts because it is so much less common today than it was even when I was young (and as ancient as I feel I am not THAT old.)

The article is an interview with  Harvard University cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker in his new book The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, where he claims that “You are less likely to die a violent death today than at any other time in human history. In fact, violence has been declining for centuries.”  

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Read the book I have not yet so this is not a review, just a commentary on my own observations and thoughts.

A couple of anecdotes:  Growing up I heard repeated references to kids fighting, but mostly it was reference to the generations before me. I never got into a fight (I was a big geek living in the suburbs so maybe not representative) I was only struck twice by other kids in my whole school career, both events were unprovoked single ‘hits’ due to me being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In my family’s early days in the US (mid late 60’s) I distinctly remember my father driving us down a country road someplace in southern Indian and seeing two large farm hand types going at each other with bare knuckles with a ring of what looked like relatives and friends surrounding them. This had been typical in the generations before mine but is rare today. Where it exists it is professionalized and as such the repercussions of the violence are ameliorated and diffused (nothing personal about this beating I’m giving you hey mate?)

I hate to say this but all evidence indicates that in our natural state we’re not peaceful types (despite what fringe utopian greens think.) Hunter gatherer clan life was one of constant warfare with nature and other clans (this can be seen even today in the few places where this life style still exists.)  As we moved to more sedentary life violence was reduced.  Again this can be seen, there was and is a distinct difference in the violence levels of farmers vs herders.  As states developed they tended to damp violence, a dead serf is an unproductive serf, also the ‘justice’ of a third-party tended to defuse feuds and vendettas, which had remained very prevalent (and still survive.) Then the violence of the hierarchical despotic governments was gradually ameliorated by various forms of government based on order and not raw power, again a dead serf is not very productive.  Psychologically we began to be able to perceive others points of view as literacy gave us limited insight into the ways others thought and perceived the world.  As mercantilism developed there was more reason to see ‘the other’ as a possible source of value and not a threat, defusing a great deal of hostility.   Then the enlightenment came with the spread of various forms of representative government and a sense of people at all levels of society having worth. Violence of all sorts began to be seen as an evil in and of itself.   Today we are the beneficiaries of a virtuous circle that this long chain of change has wrought, where the less violence we experience the less tolerant we are of the behaviours leading to violence, and so on.

Of course there may be dangers to this: 

  1. We could become so intolerant of behaviours that we begin to make intolerant and anti liberal laws.
  2. In the land of the disarmed lotus eaters the thug with the shiv rules.
  3. Not all places will experience the same cycle or at least not at the same rate and time.  Are we seeing this with Europe vs MidEast, is it a threat  because it leads to self disarmament and then scenario 2 on a large-scale.
  4. People become disinclined to stand up for their rights because all those around them see ‘standing up for something’ as code for unacceptable pre violence behaviour.

But on the whole I like where we are today.  The only real problem I see is that many of us do not take advantage of the opportunities because A) we perceive violence as increasing not decreasing B) lack of self-confidence in one’s ability to deal with violence.  

Now a curious though (stream of consciousness being what it is) do A and B in conjunction with the very real decrease in average violence explain the increasing prevalence of concealed carry laws?   Given the decrease in violence in general does it make perfect sense to have armed citizens able to provide deterrence pressure on the remaining ‘thugs for life’ in society?   It could be argued either way but I think that it is a sensible question to ask.

Charge Your Phone (and Your Car) from Afar

Charge Your Phone (and Your Car) from Afar – Technology Review.

This has been coming for some time but as the tag line says at the end, “…It’s going to catch on superfast…”  This may well be the technology that electric cars were looking for. Think about it coils at stop signs and stop lights, etc, or even in charging lanes.  With the technology of the battery and electric propulsion at its current level this should make the electric car a reasonable investment.  The problem is the deployment, investment, but spread out over time and geography and with the expectation that you’re going to have diesel, gas and LNG vehicles around for a long time I think you can see a realistic road to electric nirvanah.

In the Developing World, Solar Is Cheaper than Fossil Fuels – Technology Review

In the Developing World, Solar Is Cheaper than Fossil Fuels – Technology Review.

          The sudden interest is fueled by the advent of relatively low-cost LEDs, …., powering lightbulbs required a solar panel that could generate 20 to 30 watts, …. LEDs are far more efficient. Now people can have bright lighting using a panel that only generates a couple of watts of power…  

         But such technological improvements aren’t quite enough to open up the market. High-quality LED systems, with a pair of lamps and enough battery storage for several hours of lighting, cost less than $50. The systems can pay for themselves in less than two years, but the upfront cost is still too steep for many people. 

         Eight19, a company based in Cambridge, U.K., is one of several companies offering some type of payment plan to make the systems affordable. Customers pay $10 for the solar lighting system,….Then they pay a weekly fee for the power it generates.

It is a truism that new technology often needs a new business model to make it really pratctical.   This is an interesting and promising approach.