inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #0 of 209: Introduction (jonl) Thu 28 Dec 17 07:41
    
Time again to kick off the new year with a two-week conversation
about the state of the world (an intentionally, perhaps comically,
broad scope of coverage, inviting a range of discussion focusing on
facts, alternative facts, more or less informed opinion, and
exploratory projection).

Your primary interlocutors:

Bruce Sterling is a futurist, journalist, science-fiction author and
design critic. He is best known for his novels and his seminal work
on the Mirrorshades anthology, which defined the cyberpunk genre. 

Jon Lebkowsky is an activist and writer/blogger focused on the
future of the Internet, digital culture, cyber liberties, media, and
society. He is currently part of the Polycot Associates digital
co-operative.

Others are invited to add questions or comments. If you're reading
this and not a member of the WELL, you can send your comment or
question to inkwell at well.com, to be posted here by one of our
hosts.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #1 of 209: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 31 Dec 17 07:50
    
2017 was a nervous year of overwrought blustery political cultures,
a year of normalized psychosis amplified by media distortion, a year
in which we all learned to live in the upside-down, losing our hats
in the process of flipping. 

Wary though I am of year-end top-ten lists, I couldn't help
assembling such a beast as a way to organize my thoughts and
generally keep track. These were the blips on my radar...

1. The normalization of deceit in US politics, melting reality into
surreality, a postmodern politics constructing "alternative facts"
and liquid narrative. Donald Trump is in the lead here
(https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/23/opinion/trumps-lies.html), and Russian propaganda engines have contributed many bits of misinformation and disinformation. Reliable, accountable news sources have been labeled "fake news," undermining the credibility of accurate news reporting vs false narratives polluting the information ecosystem. Don't get me started about Fox News (and a shout out to Shepard Smith, still trying to practice real journalism in that difficult context.)

2. Mainstreaming of fringe whack, dismissal of evidence-based
research and science, resulting potential for institutional rupture.
Alex Jones at Infowars accurately says "there's a war on for your
mind!" Hopefully Jones and his ilk aren't winning.

3. Climate change kicks into higher gear while we argue whether the
scientific consensus is just another shaggy apocalypse story, or
whether economic interests have priority over human sustainability.
Meanwhile ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, and extreme
weather events probably related to climate change are wreaking
havoc. (I say "probably related": always important to note that
weather and climate are different but related things.)

4. The blockchain, still confusing, with use cases unclear, has
become more of an established phenomenon, even as Bitcoin seems
imperiled by the expansion of an apocalyptic bubble. Related: hard
currency is increasingly replaced by plastic cards and electronic
transactions (electronic fiat), but not so far by cryptocurrency.
Will there be meaningful and sustainable alternatives to fiat money?
See the infographic at
https://holytransaction.com/blog/2014/07/bitcoin-vs-banking-infographic.html

5. Platform Cooperativism. Emerging interest in egalitarian worker
co-operatives meets platform-based business structure (as in gig
economy platform-based powerhouses Uber and Freelancer.) Platform
co-ops have multistakeholder governance that is, as with worker
co-ops in general, more democratic and inclusive. See
https://platform.coop/about - "Platform cooperativism is a growing
international movement that builds a fairer future of work. It’s
about social justice and the bottom line. Rooted in democratic
ownership,co-op members, technologists, unionists, and freelancers
create a concrete near-future alternative to the extractive sharing
economy."

6. #MeToo: Sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein
triggered an avalanche of similar reports by women and some men,
shining a light on a whole, previously hidden, culture of misogyny.
As a male, I was shocked to hear how widespread were sexual
aggression, objectification of women, and general insensitivity in
the 21st century. We still have some growin' up to do, obviously...

7. Net neutrality interpreted as damage, and routed around by the
Trump/Pai FCC, arguing that net neutrality rules are heavy-handed,
stifling the Internet. In fact, net neutrality was a support for
digital freecom and equality. It's not clear yeat how this will play
out: most likely result is that the Internet will be more expensive.
(See https://boingboing.net/2017/12/26/creeping-blackmail.html.)

8. UFOs get real, Oumuamua suggests a rendezvous with Rama scenario.
As the  supposed asteroid Oumuamua shot through the solar system,
its odd properties caused speculation that it might be an alien ship
or artifact. Meanwhile the government revealed a secret UFO study
program and two F-18 gun-camera UFO videos. A boon for the
credibility of UFO research, at least, though Scientific American
says "The world already knew that plenty of smart folks believe in
alien visitors, and that pilots sometimes encounter strange
phenomena in the upper atmosphere - phenomena explained by entities
other than space aliens, such as a weather balloon, a rocket launch
or even a solar eruption."
(https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-truth-about-those-alien-alloys-
in-the-new-york-times-ufo-story/) 

9. Transportation meltdown, probable ascendance of autonomous
vehicles and mass transit. The transportation infrastructure in many
parts of the world isn't up to managing the increasing load, and
individually-owned vehicles burning fossil fuels, as primary
contributors to the climate change problem, seem less sensible
(unless you're a climate change skeptic and/or fossil fuels
enthusiast). Some cities are adjusting urban infrastructure away
from support for individual vehicle traffic, and all sorts of
transportation alternatives are under consideration - even gondolas,
which do a great job of moving people up and down mountains.
Something's gotta give... I suspect a combo of increasing use of
mass transit, more "transportation on the fly" services like Car2Go,
ascendance of autonomous vehicles, and - of course - more bicycles
on the thoroughfares. 

10. Psychedelics reconsidered for therapy, especially the treatment
of depression and PTSD. When I first heard about LSD in the sixties,
it was through and account of Cary Grant's therapeutic use of
psychedelics, before hippies took it to the streets. (Grant's use
was recently documented in a Guardian article,
https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/may/12/cary-grant-how-100-acid-trips-in-
tinseltown-changed-my-life-lsd-documentary) LSD and other psychedelics became class 1 drugs (i.e. illegal) via the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This means that, in the eyes of the government, they have no accepted medical use - so your physician or psychiatrist can't prescribe LSD for therapy. However there's a renewed interest in therapeutic use: see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/upshot/can-psychedelics-be-therapy-allow-re
search-to-find-out.htmls Will psychedelics be legal to prescribe in the near future?
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #2 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 31 Dec 17 10:05
    
I’m in Ibiza.

Nobody parties in Ibiza in the winter.  That’s why I’m here.  I’m on
an island at work on a long, difficult novel.

Few things can bore me more than novelists blithering about their
imaginative masterworks and how much they suffer during the creative
process.  So never mind the baroque, overladen novel.  Just take it
for granted during this year’s SOTW that, if I seem breathless, it’s
because I’m dead-lifting an anvil backstage.

I figured this interregnum would and must occur; I just never knew
it would happen in Ibiza.  During last year’s speech at South By
South West, I was cheerly describing the debased state of current
affairs, and how this seemed to me to offer a golden excuse to
disconnect from my usual fevered trend-tracking and tackle some
private creative issues.  So, I did that.

I’ve abandoned my usual stomping grounds of Torino, Beograd and
Austin.  I’m rent-sharing an apartment on a small, hippified,
Spanish Mediterranean island, where I live mostly on seafood,
sausage, cheese, olives and Ecuadorian plantains.  I know there are
other creative people working on Ibiza, because I can kinda smell
‘em, but I’ve got nothing to do with ‘em.  I’ve got it figured that,
just like me, they mostly hide out from the tourists.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #3 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 31 Dec 17 10:06
    

I’ve grown rather fond of Ibizan culture, meaning the lifestyle of
the actual Ibizans who stay here, rather than the trampling,
sequin-clad, globalist hordes who arrive by ferry, jet and private
yacht.  If you were, like, Spanish and born under Franco, it must
have been discombobulating to realize that your modest island was
gonna get culturally dominated, more or less forever,  by disco
dancers.  But the Ibizans show an admirable dignity about that
prospect.  They don’t vividly despise the uncouth invaders to the
point of near-mania, like their maddened, radical cousins over in
nearby Barcelona.  

The Ibizans can’t do much to “take back control” Brexit style (or
Catalonia-style) — because they’re like some island-bound Captain
Cook swamped by vast hordes of hula-dancers.  But it’s genteel here
in Ibiza. It seems okay.  Even though the harbor is infested with
foreign billionaires on big yachts, and while many local Spaniards
are clearly shattered by the finance crisis and dirt-poor, there’s
no class warfare.  No sirens, no barbed wire, few videocams, no
gunfire and ambulances.  

There’s one corner downtown where three or four token lunatics hang
out on cardboard, strung-out and begging.  Sometimes one of them
bellows old Bob Marley lyrics.  Even they don’t spoil the general
mood much, as the cops seem to leave them on exhibit there as some 
public lesson not to overdo it on the party pills. 

So, for a couple more weeks, for the extent of the yearly Inkwell
show here,  the state of my world  is Ibiza and The Well.  That’s 
kinda okay. They’ve clearly got some commonalities.   It may be
rather somnolent, old-hippie territory, but I can see that my future
golden years may contain a lot of experience of this kind.  I don’t
mind that. Should it happen, I know I’d be lucky.

Nice to be here, folks.  Thanks for dropping by.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #4 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 31 Dec 17 10:07
    

With that groundwork established, well, I’ve got broadband in
Lotusland.  Smoking hot Ibiza broadband, even.  So there are certain
worldly issues that I must pursue, for fear of missing out.

For 2018, two of ‘em are Dubai and Estonia.  I can’t watch the whole
world while writing fiction — and the whole world watches me now,
frankly, it’s burningly keen on the customer surveillance and snipes
at me with targeted data.  But Dubai and Estonia are two places
about the size of Ibiza.  Two dinky little niches in odd corners of
the world.  Yet they’re both bone-level convinced that they are
Futurity.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #5 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 31 Dec 17 10:07
    

I don’t believe either of them, but I’m always interested in people
who make that claim — “We’re the future.”  They’re not resentful in
Dubai or Estonia, they’re not looking backward; that’s what I
appreciate.   They don’t yearn to make themselves great again,
because they’ve never been great.  They’re not trying to take back
control of anything, because they never had any control.  

Both Dubai and Estonia are in situations that, looked at
objectively, are just chock-full of bloodthirsty menace.  Estonia
was crushed to paste by both Nazis and Stalinists, and Muslim
fundies would cheerfully behead every soul in Dubai.

Yet boy, are they perky.  It’s weird how upbeat, shiny, and
future-evangelical they both are.  Dubai and Estonia, these tiny
countries, say and do things that look like they come from two other
planets.  I’m waiting for the day when they announce an alliance.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #6 of 209: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 31 Dec 17 11:19
    
Toggl, the timekeeping app, is a tool I use daily, and I imagined
for the longest time that it was a Bay Area startup. A Toggl staffer
with the title "Customer Experience Optimizer" asked me for a face
to face meeting, and as we were sipping coffee and talking use
cases, I learned that Toggl is based in Estonia - she was touring
the USA, where I assume most of their customers reside. Turns out
Estonia is "tech powerhouse," per Fortune mag:
http://fortune.com/2017/04/27/estonia-digital-life-tech-startups/
"Estonia offers a glimpse into what happens when a country abandons
old analog systems and opts to run completely online instead." It's
"the first country in the world to declare Internet access a basic
human right." I'm ready to book a flight...
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #7 of 209: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sun 31 Dec 17 21:31
    
And Estonia allows digital citizenship!!! E-Residency....been a
member for 2 years.....cool idea

Dubai, geez, I have been watching Internet City almost from its
inception. Now, THAT is the future....or at least one, which most
definitely, will be taking place here on good old planet Earth....

Throw in trillions in oil dough, and two expanding new
markets...dash of fundamentalism and the sure knowledge of knowing
you are right!!, and you've got yourself a good ole fashion
war....whoppee, we're all gonna die....Country Joe aside, folks seem
to think that 2017 was soooo bad, it couldn't possibly get
worse....well, I'm here to tell you, you ain't seen notin' yet
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #8 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 1 Jan 18 08:39
    
Yeah, the e-residency E-Stonian thing interests me a lot, because
it’s such a weird and deliberate hack of the European immigration
problem.

Nations always “stand with” oppressed populations, but no nation
really wants its population to physically stand next to migrants. 
Nobody abolishes passports and flings out the welcome mat for the
planet’s sixty million refugees. 

 Even millionaire migrants, like the ones who flock to Ibiza here,
seem to be getting more problematic, in strange ways.  

It’s not just that the locals resent them; they do a little bit, but
interestingly, the tourists don’t seem to like each other very much
any more.  They get off the boats, make a few discos while looking
at screens, then get back on the boats.  And those are the
foreigners who cheerfully throw money around, instead of arriving
with belt-bombs full of nails, to go stand somewhere in a crowd.

With e-residency, you’ve got the Estonians trying to play financial
games with this new psychological situation somehow.  They’re not
creating a common offshore money-laundry, they’re aiming for
technically talented Koreans, Ukrainians and such, who are using
Estonia as a national cloud and a business services platform.  And
to get Euros and bank them.

There’s no pretense at all that “e-residents” are gonna integrate
into Estonian society, or learn their impossible language, or ever
live there, or even visit there.  But it is an Estonian soft-power
emanation.  They seem to see it as some shareable aspect of their
own predicament.  “Would you, too, like to be Estonian?  Well, this
is as Estonian as we can possibly make you, without getting sticky
stuff on us.  Also: probably Russian-proof!”

The guys who run the e-residency program, who are Estonian
government officials, are just a small cluster of wacky 30-something
coders who work out of an old wrecked bakery.  The offices of WHOLE
EARTH REVIEW used to look better than their offices do.

Estonia also seems to be keen on national outer-space initiatives,
which is endearingly Space Age of them.  There aren’t many of them,
but they’ve got charisma.  Sometimes that’s all it takes.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #9 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 1 Jan 18 08:40
    
They've also been babbling about an Estonian cryptocoin lately, but,
well, everybody says that this season.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #10 of 209: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 1 Jan 18 11:28
    
And Estonia allows digital citizenship!!! E-Residency....been a
member for 2 years.....cool idea

Dubai, geez, I have been watching Internet City almost from its
inception. Now, THAT is the future....or at least one, which most
definitely, will be taking place here on good old planet Earth....

Throw in trillions in oil dough, and two expanding new
markets...dash of fundamentalism and the sure knowledge of knowing
you are right!!, and you've got yourself a good ole fashion
war....whoppee, we're all gonna die....Country Joe aside, folks seem
to think that 2017 was soooo bad, it couldn't possibly get
worse....well, I'm here to tell you, you ain't seen notin' yet
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #11 of 209: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 1 Jan 18 11:30
    
Adding to Jon's list....let's not forget there is an opiod crisis,
here in the US of A. Don't know how the rest of the world is faring
drug-wise....Bruce, observaitons???


Re Estonia...I look forward to visiting my E mother country...when I
get back from Asgardia....you can even join imaginary countries in
outer reaches of the galaxy, AND BEYOND !!1  Buzz Lightyear goes
digital...

Seems like everyone is doing everything, except for having a real
life.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #12 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 18 10:42
    
As I’m staying here in Ibiza, I ponder its relationship to Puerto
Rico, which is another small, yet significantly modern place, like
Estonia and Dubai.  

Ibiza and Puerto Rico may seem polar opposites, since one of them is
widely known as a rich guy’s playground and the other is
half-prostrate with the worst electrical blackout in American
history.

Parts of Puerto Rico look quite like Ibiza, though.  Puerto Rico is
prettier than Ibiza,   it’s the “mountainous tropical fishing
paradise,” it abounds in luxury hotels.  Imagining privileged chunks
of Puerto Rico as recreational Ibiza is no stretch at all.

Imagining Ibiza as Puerto Rico is a grimmer prospect, but Ibiza does
have some small, decrepit inland villages that are pretty shabby. 
Spanish separatist political trouble could impoverish Ibiza
overnight.  Even a fuel embargo, or a shutdown of air travel, could
bring hard economic times in a hurry.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #13 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 18 10:43
    
Ibiza won’t get huge hurricanes like Puerto Rico, but Spain suffers
bad droughts and big wildfires as the parched climate of the Maghreb
moves north into the Mediterranean.   There’s not a whole lot to
burn here in ibiza, but Ibiza’s got a dense hillside scrub that
looks quite like Southern California.

Los Angeles is better off than Puerto Rico is, despite the Thomas
Fire, the largest wildfire in Californian history.  I’m thinking
that’s mostly about California’s disaster-response logistics.  If
Los Angeles had the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, the city would
have been aflame this year.  L.A. would have burned like San
Francisco in 1906.

If Houston had the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, Texans would have
despaired from Houston’s massive hurricane  floods of 2017. 
Houstonians would be leaving Houston in droves, much like Puerto
Ricans are leaving.    Puerto Rico is what America looks like when
America can’t mechanize its way out of climate crisis.  The scene is
bad there, not because Puerto Rico is unique, but because it’s a
harbinger.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #14 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 18 10:43
    
A political crisis for a small place like Ibiza — just remove the
money, shelter and logistical resources of a nation-state — might 
mean a crushing blow from climate-crisis unnatural disaster.  It’s
not just that “poor people suffer most,” it’s that becoming poor, or
even just becoming small, or forgotten, can throw you into
accelerated danger from the advancing scope of the trouble that
threatens everybody.  

This cruel aspect of modern geopolitics may be underestimated.  If
you’re a micro-state, a failed state, a frozen conflict zone, people
may have the ability to bail you out from the planet’s general
troubles, but would they bother?
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #15 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 18 10:43
    

We stayed in Sardinia this year while the island was on fire in a
drought.  We worried about that, and thought maybe it would be more
sensible to stay in Torino.  It turned out that the Alpine valley
forests upwind of Torino were also on fire, later the same year. 
And boy, did that Alpine wood burn.  It burned far worse than
Sardinia.  Downtown skies in Torino turned leaden gray with smoke,
California style.

The Turinese made a lot of alarmed Puerto Rico noise during their
emergency — “Where are the fire trucks, where are the fire
helicopters?  Don’t we pay taxes?  Have you forgotten us?”  

Well, those advanced machines do exist, but they’re pretty busy
elsewhere.  You see, nobody ever thought you would need that many. 
Why don’t you just drag yourself out of global trouble with your own
local bootstraps?  Everybody thinks that about the other
complainers.  Until it happens to them.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #16 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 18 10:49
    
I'm also quite the fan of "Asgardia the Space Kingdom," though it's
basically one guy using a small satellite to write a glorious
fantasy narrative for himself.  I've read worse science fiction
novels than "Asgardia the Space Kingdom," but Stanislaw Lem would
have briskly polished off the notion of Asgardia in about four
pages.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #17 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 18 10:56
    
https://asgardia.space/en/

*That's "Asgardia," for those who haven't yet seen it.  It's kinda
the Juicero of space colonization.  

For what it's worth, I think "Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli" is quite sincere;
he's not some Initial Coin Offering huckster, he's more like a
Tsiolkovsky visionary with enough cash to build himself a spaceship
in a bottle.  

I kind of envy his enthusiasm, actually.  It can be fun to be Don
Quixote, as long as the windmills don't crack your poor head like an
egg.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #18 of 209: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 18 11:16
    
*Everything Estonia thinks you need to know to start your own
Estonian E-Residency.

https://medium.com/e-residency-blog/heres-how-you-can-create-an-eu-company-wit
h-eu-banking-anywhere-on-earth-cbba47386489
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #19 of 209: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Tue 2 Jan 18 11:21
    
11. Work still has no future.

The expectation that someone who is willing can get an honest day's
pay for an honest day's work has broken down. There's a huge power
imbalance in favor of the "job creators" who would prefer to create
wealth in ways that create as few well-paying jobs as possible.

When we talk about this in terms of the GINI coefficient we focus on
what's going on in the upper three quintiles of the wealth and
income distributions. The lower quintiles are where we're creating a
permanent underclass that lacks economic choices (including the
ability to move to take a new job), health care, education, and a
stable future.

The opioid crisis is an emergent feature of this breakdown of the
social contract. So is economic stagnation, now that the US economy
isn't driven by consumer spending from the working class.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #20 of 209: Administrivia (jonl) Tue 2 Jan 18 11:47
    
This conversation is world-readable via this link:
http://bit.ly/SOTW2018

Readers who have a burning desire to add a comment or question, but
are not members of the WELL, can send to inkwell at well.com, and
we'll post here (within reason).
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #21 of 209: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 2 Jan 18 13:53
    
Austin, Texas, where I live, has what's often called a "vibrant
economy," a lot of wealthy people, high employment, culture on
steroids, very little to complain about, aside from the persistent
and frustrating transportation gridlock.  When you live in an urban
center like Austin, you're going to be out of touch with the
problems of smaller cities and towns where economies are barely
propped up, and jobs are scarce. As are "job creators," in those
smaller towns.

Department stores are shutting down in Hermitage, Pennsylvania:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/first-this-town-lost-its-macys-
then-sears-now-all-eyes-were-on-jc-penney/2018/01/01/644ea4a2-ecb7-11e7-b698-9
1d4e35920a3_story.html?utm_term=.f59725e43172  Imagine how you'd feel if all the major retail outlets in your city started disappearing, especially if retail is the third largest employer.

Trump won the presidency (narrowly) by speaking to voters in towns
like Hermitage, and convincing him that he has their back. He
doesn't, of course - I don't think anybody does, right or left.
Bernie Sanders, maybe, or Elizabeth Warren... but I suspect even
those two are out of touch.

And a storm is coming.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #22 of 209: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 2 Jan 18 15:05
    <scribbled by jonl Tue 2 Jan 18 20:26>
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #23 of 209: Jon Lebkows (jonl) Tue 2 Jan 18 15:05
    <scribbled by jonl Tue 2 Jan 18 20:27>
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #24 of 209: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 2 Jan 18 20:42
    
Libertarians have been energized in the Trump era - as CNN wrote
(http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/24/politics/being-moody-libertarians-freedomfest/in
dex.html), they're sensing opportunity despite skepticism about Trump the man, and the power of the presidency. He's promising to shrink government, and to libertarians big government is the problem.

I've worked with libertarians, especially around net.activism, but I
don't have much depth with libertarian thinking. But I thought it
was important to add a libertarian perspective to this latest "state
of the world." To that end, I asked my friend John Papola, a very
smart guy and vocal libertarian, to contribute something. I'm
posting it below.
  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #25 of 209: John Papola (jonl) Tue 2 Jan 18 20:43
    
Jon asked me to weigh in with my thoughts on the state of the world
as a vocal classical liberal / libertarian. There’s a lot to be
thankful for in 2018. Despite popular misconceptions, absolute
poverty is declining worldwide and has been for over 40 years.
Global equality both under the law and as a matter of real
consumption and quality of life is increasing. By every measure of
welfare we can attempt to quantify, things are heading in an
incredible direction. And yet, we have the rise of ethnic
nationalism, protectionism, and sympathies for “socialism” which
are, to quote Friedrich Hayek “simply a re-assertion of that tribal
ethics whose gradual weakening had made an approach to the great
society possible”. 

What accounts for this bizarre disparity?

Like any complex problem, the causes are many. Our rural-urban
cultural divides are more stark than ever. Our education systems
aren’t preparing graduates for a rapidly changing world. The costs
of physical mobility are rising. In the face of all these forces,
it’s time we acknowledge the fact that our expectations of the
political process have long outpaced its inherent ability to
deliver. We wait for government to offer solutions it won’t and
can’t provide. In far too many instances, government policy is a
root cause of our problems or making existing problems worse. And
yet we have been conflating society and the state for so long that
most people can no longer tell the difference between the two.
People look to the President of the United States not as a person
with an important but limited and particular job, but as a god-like
emperor. All outcomes in our massive, complex society are
attributing to him/her. Economic growth. Jobs. Individual happiness.
The moral character of “the nation”. All are attributed, for good or
ill, to the executive.

Such grandiose talk has always been with us, but as the role of the
state has grown larger and more complex, the difference between this
linguistic fiction and actual reality has become more jarring. No
president or party can measure up. Political promises have grown to
match expectations for god-like power, but the capability of our
politics, of government as an institution, to deliver hasn’t. It
can’t. And so our politics oscillates from one increasing
disappointment to another, with our culture dividing itself along
political lines with increasing intensity as a result. Trump.
Sanders. Brexit. Le Pen. These are symptoms of our unrealistic
expectations.

Why can’t politics/government deliver?

Today, we’re faced with the political equivalent of Brook’s law,
which states that adding even more people to a late software project
actually makes it later, rather than speeding up development. We’re
long past negative marginal returns on the state. And the reasons
why are multifold. 

The most fundamental flaw in centralized command-and-control systems
like very large firms and governments is the knowledge problem.
Knowledge exists in individual minds and is particular to time and
place. Central planners simply can’t gather and process the massive
amount of particular insights necessary to create centralized
solutions with anywhere near the customization or effectiveness of
decentralized ones. This is a big problem in large firms but it’s
made far bigger and more fragile at the governmental level.
Efficient planning at national-scale takes more than angels, it
takes omnipotent gods. And even then, one size will rarely fit all.
Decentralization isn’t perfect nor appropriate in every single
instance, but in most cases its a superior approach. 




The second problem is accountability. The single greatest regulator
of behavior is the ability of one party to walk away. Abusive
relationships are sustained by the abused party’s belief (or
reality) that they can’t leave. A company’s quality of service tends
to directly correlate with how easily its customers can shop
elsewhere. For this reason, I define freedom as the inverse of the
cost of exiting an undesirable situation. We’re more free to leave a
bad job, than leave a bad country. Competition and the ability to
exit are the best form of accountability we’ve got. Voicing your
opinion is, at best, a crude and sloppy second. Just ask an
unsatisfied parent leaving a public school board meeting if voice
matches exit. Or ask a 2016 voter. 

Along similar lines, government’s weak accountability leads to a
perverse response to failure. Politics in practice tends to reward
failure rather than learn from it. It’s called the ratchet effect.
Few things in life are more permanent than a government program.
Failed programs and agencies more often than not end up being given
larger budgets and even more responsibility. The department of
education has seen its budget and power grow decade after decade
even though it’s impact on educational outcomes appears to be zero
(and in many cases negative, like the collapse of discourse and due
process on college campuses). 

Because of these forces, the tragic history of well-intended
progressive reform has been to build an administrative state that
stifles competition, empowers the politically connected and induces
the very inequities the reformers are seeking to alleviate.
Economist Bruce Yandle calls this the “bootlegger and baptist”
dynamic. The baptists want prohibition to end a scourge of
socially-destructive drunkenness. The bootleggers support it because
it will restrict supply and line their pockets with ill-gotten
profits. This is why the most heavily regulated industries end up
being the most oligopolistic and consumer-hostile (healthcare,
finance, transportation, K-12 education, etc). Airline executives
long for the era of the Civil Aeronautics Board for a reason.(see:
https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2011/12/09/143466204/the-friday-podcast-the
-nasty-rotten-airline-business)

Okay, so what are we to do about it? 

Let’s stop expecting politics to solve all our problems. It can’t.
Presidents don’t “run the economy” so let’s stop talking about it as
if they do. Society is not the state, so let’s stop treating those
of us opposed to political “solutions” to problems as if we’re
therefore, ipso facto against any solution at all. But this reality
also means that each of us needs to embrace being a problem solver
with more vigor than ever. If you’re passionate about a problem,
make it your business to solve it, not just figuratively but
literally. 

Where politics has failed, business can succeed.
 
For example, in America, few subjects cause more political conflict
than how to educate our children. Our current system has deep
problems that are leaving increasing numbers of kids ill prepared
for our changing world, especially for the poorest communities. And
yet our K-12 is monopolized by political solutions, largely in the
name of providing access to the poor. There’s another way. As James
Tooley documented in his incredible book “The Beautiful Tree”, many
of the poorest children on earth in communities from India to Africa
to the Middle East are currently being educated more effectively by
private schools than the free government alternatives. Up to 70% of
families living on as little as $2 a day in India and elsewhere are
choosing to send their kids to a private school run by an
entrepreneur (often an accidental one who began as a tutor) instead
of the free government school. This is just one example, but I
believe it’s one of the most striking.

If people in the poorest communities in India can step in to provide
a business alternative to a broken political government education
system, surely Americans can too for just about everything. It’s
time to expand our conception of the purpose and definition of
business. Business isn’t merely a profit-maximizing endeavor.
Business can and should be our process of discovering sustainable
solutions. Why? Because business is the most social process we have.
Because at its best, business is about serving others. Return on
investment is an important scorecard but hardly the only one.
Private charities are businesses organized around alternative ROI
and revenue models. The old adage, that every business is a people
business is true. It’s about conserving resources and maximizing
value created. It’s about trial and error. Most individual
businesses fail and that process is the core of why business as a
method and a process succeeds. 

Business solutions can even heal our tribal divides. Business as a
process doesn’t care about your ideology or your creed, your race or
your gender, except as an opportunity to offer something unique. It
busts through tribes and borders to expand the market and punishes
our natural bigotry with quick competition. Throughout history,
global commerce has been an engine for overcoming xenophobia and
expanding our horizons. I hate you. I trade with you. I learn that
you’re a person too. I don’t hate you as much. Where businesses
finds a reason to discriminate, it is more often than not in the
name of super-serving a particular rather than excluding one. Where
it is purely a reflection of an owner’s tribal prejudice,
competition and reputation stand ready to punish them. 

Where political solutions necessarily create winners and losers,
businesses can and do co-exist solving the same problems for
different people with different needs in different ways. I’m a Mac
user. If computer choice worked like political “choice”, I would be
forced to use a PC and resent the 90% majority of PC users for
imposing it on me. Business enables Mac and PC to co-exist and even
get along just fine over family Christmas dinner.

No system is perfect and no complex problem has a singular solution.
The task of human progress is one of continual evolution and
adaptation. Our institutions should be up to the task. It’s time to
make society our business.
  

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