Wednesday, November 12, 2014

amazon post on Dr Hudson's Bubble and Beyond

He has a good summary on his blog where you can see the contents page which is an excellent summary by itself.

Dr Hudson's writings were initially hard for me to understand, but in taking the time to parse, absorb, and consider his facts and reasoning, he has filled a wide gap for me that existed between common sense and wrong-headed modern economics. I have long been suspicious of a lot modern economic ideas but did not have the expertise needed to clearly identify and logically discount the hogwash. By simply bringing common sense to economics Dr Hudson has blown my mind. I present this as praise for Dr Hudson, but it is really an indictment on the rest of the economics community that such a lone voice should rescue the "dismal science" from a sea of loonies. I have always thought classical economics was neat and interesting (if not overly simplistic and obvious) and that a lot of modern economics was being made overly complicated in non-productive ways (at best).

Those reviewers giving 3 stars seem to agree this book deserves 5 stars if the review were based on content. The price is 3 times less than college textbooks and places economics textbooks into proper perspective.

Dr Hudson is an economics and history geek who has been able to understand the ugly details of today's junk economics. He describes ideal economics by showing where junk economics is messing things up. He shows the big problem these days is that we are not writing down debts and printing money for main street or infrastructure. He cites a few authors who agree with him that Rome's collapse into an extended dark age is possibly primarily the result of not letting debtors off the hook. He explains there has been a long, intelligent, and currently-ignored economic thinking that a loan should be a partnership seeking success in a productive venture, not an unforgivable claim and interest rate on collateral that only drives up the cost of assets without improving life.

This book is a fantastic summary of this thoughts (much better than trying put together a picture from his extensive blog) and it focuses on today's pressing problems. His writing is often redundant, covering the same ideas, but it's nice to have the same things said in many different ways, bringing in different references to history and today's world. At the same time, some of his sentences are intensively compact. Economics, voters, and government are interacting so that changing one aspect affects every other aspect. Reductionism is difficult because it's a reactive, thinking system. After reading this book, you should be able to understand when the following simplistic statements are right and when they are wrong. You will not catch Dr Hudson making any of these statements nor their converse. "Free trade is good", "government is bad", "credit is good", "debt deflation is bad", "inflation is bad", "money printing is bad", "tariffs are bad".

It would be hard and painful to extract the teeth of my words below that belong exclusively to Dr Hudson. But I spend an hour of thinking for every hour of reading, so I do not know where his thoughts end and mine begin. Apology out of the way, here goes...

== Missing Progress ==
Between the lines of this book and his blog, I can see why technology and energy have increased so much since I was a child and yet life does not seem any better. Working together, we should have already had the ability to control this world to an extent we can't imagine. We are using 100 times more technology (in some vague sense) to direct 10 times more energy per person than our great (great) grandparents had access to only 100 years ago. If we can multiply these 2 factors to estimate an expected improvement in lifestyle, then our useful wealth divided by our undesired work hours should have improved by a factor of 1,000, although some of it is lost due to having to deal with negative aspects of overpopulation. I estimate our actual improvements in housing, food, health, education, and all other aspects of our "true wealth" are 3 times better than 100 years ago, and that we work 1/4 as many hours per person, so we have experienced only a 12 times improvement, leaving a factor of 1,000/12 = 83 in improvements that are missing. Dr Hudson shows that what's missing is an intelligent governing of economics.

== Need for 3rd Party ==
Dr Hudson blames politicians, bankers, and lobbies. This may add to his appeal. But I blame voters. We all seek profit, so why shouldn't lobbies, banks, and politicians? If republicans and democrats are working together to keep us divided against ourselves through our emotional push-buttons for their mutual benefit, then we should be smart enough to see it and correct it. Maybe we became too wealthy to remain vigilant about how our politics guides our economics. Creating a 3rd party seems to be the only answer. We need to remove money from politics (lobbies and private campaign funding) and take back the gifts to the banks (12 years worth of our future income taxes, $13 trillion, according to Dr Hudson, and 27 years according to his colleague Dr Randall Ray).

== Overpopulation ==
I cannot find in his books or blog where he made any comments about overpopulation or tragedy of the commons other than saying Malthus was wrong. He points out financial control of the real economy can lead to a stripping of the environment, but he does not address overpopulation, which I believe causes problems even when democracy and economics are functioning correctly. Voters and consumers worldwide do not want the biosphere destroyed, and yet we continue to do it. This is a problem for government and economics and yet Dr Hudson does not provide any guidance. We are 200 years after Malthus and in that time we created one of the 7 great extinction episodes the Earth has seen in the past 4 billion years. But Dr Hudson writes "As matters turned out, Malthus was wrong. When incomes RISE, population grows more slowly, not faster." But he also says population grows more slowly when financialization REDUCES incomes. Which is it? If incomes fall due to the negatives of overpopulation and/or financialization, will population increase even faster?

Even without overpopulation, I believe stressed work conditions enable more production per worker, and that this is eventually exported. If trade barriers are put in place to balance trade with slave-wage countries, the underpopulated, low-stress countries trying to maintain healthy and happy work environments become technologically behind. Dr Hudson does not address this. The only solution appears to be world government that allows all people to work towards increased happiness per person with some type of agreed-upon and pleasant population control instead of dog-eat-dog to death via stress.

== Computers present a new challenge ==
The need for widespread physical labor decreased with the assembly line and fossil fuels which some say started the great depression. The welfare state has been said to be the transition that got us out of it. Likewise, the computer revolution's goal is to replace human thinkers. It is not near completion even as secretaries, draftsmen, engineers, and even doctors are being replaced by computers. This increases efficiency, but if the economic system does not need human physical or mental labor but mainly consumers, what is the eventual outcome? Utopia seems possible, but economics does not seem to show us how to strive for it. How do we decide where wealth goes when only 10% of us do the useful work? Only 6% of Americans work in manufacturing, mining, and farming. Could the financialization Dr Hudson exposes be the outcome we got because we have not been able to answer this question? We promoted excess housing (3 times what we had per person in 1970) not merely because of financialization as Dr Hudson describes, but because construction has not had any improvements in productivity and requires a lot of heavy materials that are produced in the U.S. So the wasteful housing bubble was somewhat intelligent because workers needed to find employment SOMEWHERE in response to increases in productivity in other industries. But certainly we should have been able to find better use of computer programmers, mathematicians, and physicists than the financial and health insurance "industries" which do nothing to improve the median quality of life. At least the construction workers have given us more living space per person.

== Concerning the Boom and Bust ==
Like an overly large military, construction was "welfare" from the government masquerading as needed activity. Dr Hudson points out it came from mortgage tax deductions, capital gains roll-over, low interest rates, and insufficient land-value tax. These "added" government regulations are a REMOVAL of progressive tax regulations for the benefit of the wealthy, banking, and unneeded construction. They undermine the free market and RAISE net taxes on the middle class, pretending to be deductions, as Dr Hudson discusses. It raised the cost per square foot and created a bubble, along with urban sprawl that makes us more dependent on expensive cars and oil. The free market was going to correct most of the problem with a collapse. The "rich" with large houses would have lost more equity. The poor and middle class would have defaulted, destroying the finance sector which no longer provides capital for useful production. The poor and middle class would then have had a glut of inexpensive housing because no one would have been able to get loans to keep the prices inflated. This would have freed income for the rest of the economy and forced those in construction and finance to get jobs that we need. The structural changes would have been (will be) painful, but are necessary because we allowed our useful jobs to be exported. The government stepped in and is buying the toxic assets from the criminal institutions, keeping housing "expensive" despite the glut because it is now the government that is on the hook. The debt deflation is bad enough that the money printing has not yet caused inflation (M2 since 2009 is stable). But these actions will eventually destroy the dollar and government spending, hurting everyone's real income and keeping unemployment high. Voters will not realize this is the result of giving 12 to 27 years worth of income tax revenue to the banks. The government must continue printing money for the benefit of the banks instead of the economy so that the toxic assets the government now owns do not decrease in terms of "dollars". The government must keep housing expensive, decreasing the ability of the poor and middle class to spend money on the real economy.

== Democracy as a Check on the Free Market ==
Better worldwide governing is needed so that we can agree to work towards mutual self-fulfillment rather than allowing a "dog-eat-dog" evolution-based marketplace that has no way to prevent a decreasing happiness per person. Honest transactions for mutual benefit at the individual level solves the "prisoner's dilemma" at each marketplace transaction, but the entire "prison" population can increasingly suffer if these mutually-agreeable transactions lead to efficient but miserable workers. "Externalities", "tragedy of the commons", monopolies, and lobbies are known free market problems government is needed to solve, but I think the free market by itself without these problems would still lead to an efficient outcome where everyone except the 1% are working too hard for too little. So democracy is needed at a deeper level than simply fixing obvious errors in the free market. It is needed to create the middle class. Democracy leaves it up to the intelligence of the average voter which was greatly increased by books, making democracy more viable. Cheap and abundant commodities resulting from and promoting a stronger middle class is a positive feedback loop that laid a foundation of strength and wealth that overthrew older economic and governmental systems. The most successful do not "deserve" all the wealth they obtain. They are mostly riding a foundation and wave created by history and society, not by their own super-human intelligence and effort.

We should work together as intelligent kinfolk because we are. Stress and social isolation is how the marketplace has stopped unchecked breeding in the western world. Market turmoil is stopping cheap food in the 3rd world. A mere doubling in food costs will soon mean 1/4 of the world will go without. So stress and starvation is how the marketplace is enforcing blind evolution. Only votes to turn blind evolution into directed evolution can stop these subtle and unconscious "wars" that lead to death and unwanted and unpleasurable breeding controls. In Japan, 30 year olds are still living with their parents and never having had an intimate partner. South Korea has the world's largest teenage suicide rate (and other indicators) from stressful living. These are fantastically technologically advanced societies, even more advanced than the U.S. and Europe, and yet this does not seem to be an improvement in the quality of life, especially since (humor warning) they are being "forced" to living longer under these psychologically terrible conditions. My grandfather had a financially difficult life, growing up in the great depression with no education, but my family talks about how everyone seemed to be a lot happier with so little. To trade what poverty-stricken people of the old south had compared to today's super-advanced Japan and South Korea would be insane. Teenagers did not commit suicide for crying out loud. People were able to know the comforting touch of the opposite gender. Who cares if they died 15 years younger?

== Economics and Government as A.I. ==
People should realize our economics/government system is a thinking machine that follows the rules of physics and artificial intelligence (see Eric Drexler's Agoric papers). Dr Hudson's Ph.D. thesis (turned into "America's Protectionist Takeoff") is a lot about how political economy is a real science that can be used to guide the efficient (economical) use of physical resources to achieve goals (politics). This makes it a science except that science does not dictate the goals. If we don't define the goals, evolution will decide them for us. The winning economic system only wants to replace other systems. That is why the biosphere is being replaced despite our wishes. A.I. requires a "governing" entity at the top to set the goals, measure progress, and to adjust the marketplace rules for maximum system-wide profit. Designing an economic system to maximize benefits to society as a whole is not a simple problem. A governing system is needed to define and monitor a proper "GDP" per person and adjust the marketplace transaction rules to maximize it. "GDP" should measure increased happiness per person, not the FIRE sector, military spending, or excess construction. Money should be issued (and thereby allow the economy to expand) only when happiness per median person increases, and the printed money (aka government spending) should occur in places that intelligently increase happiness per median person. When an economy is causing happiness per median person to decrease, then the money should be restricted (taxed away) from the areas that are causing the unhappiness or the increase in population. World government should prevent miserable populations from economically dominating happy populations through brutally-free trade.

A free market algorithm guided by basic rule of law with zero taxation is a great efficiency-seeking mechanism that has no desire for human happiness or even economic expansion except at the individual transactions. System-wide intelligence, growth, or happiness does not "emerge". The most efficient solution is for a single winner to take all, and who's most profitable choice is to not spend any of his gains, shrinking the economy zero, even though no market participent wants this outcome. At the other extreme, equal-weight voting and taxation governing the free market could mean every person profiting and reproducing, leading to environmental collapse. So I can't declare a feudal system is without value: it prevented destruction of the biosphere by preventing overpopulation. Isn't democracy and the free market leading us full steam ahead off a cliff? We have to go beyond what Dr. Hudson discusses, and govern accordingly.

Perfection of the economy and government as Dr Hudson describes would give us a "perfection of means" but we would still have a "confusion of aims" which Einstein called "our main problem".

1 comment:

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