Thursday, June 16, 2016

Problems Update, Part Two

The Climate

This one gets a lot of play in media of all types, so I’ll assume that the details are familiar to most people by now. There is one aspect of it that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves, however. That would be the responses of the world’s governments and its big businesses.

The responses are mostly lip-service and some hand wringing. Those strategies have never solved a single problem in the history of the world. You can mix in the frequently totally stupid pronouncements and decisions of members of various governments and the business and academic communities. There’s a lot of wait-and-see, like it might just blow over without ruining everything. Now honestly, does anyone really think that there’s much chance of that?

How’s that new weather pattern working out for you, Houston?

Meanwhile, a precious few countries, mostly in northern Europe, have managed to switch over to clean renewable energy sources that are providing, even as we speak, a substantial share of their energy needs. And they’ve managed to do that with the technology that is already available, which has a long way to go before it’s really efficient. What a shame that they’ll all be ruined along with the foot draggers when the shit hits the fan. What a real shame.

The Rich

Not to beat a dead horse, but the rich are still a problem. Income inequality gets a lot of attention, but somehow the rich themselves often get a pass. They deserve closer examination.

The rich themselves should be very worried about their developing position. It is not in their own best interests for them to suck up all of the wealth and prosperity like selfish little Hoovers. There are plenty of historical examples of oppressed people getting explosively, violently fed up with an entrenched, ridiculously entitled class of non- or semi-productive oligarchs. I’ll be that you’ve thought of an example already, mai oui?

The most annoying thing to me is that people with fortunes just park them somewhere and then the fortunes magically enjoy great returns on investment. This is happening while the rest of us are grudgingly offered .78 of a percent on our bank money. Oh, and the other really annoying thing is that those people pay so much less in taxes than we do, at least on a percentage basis.

Both of those things hurt the rest of us. We’re paying our fair share of the taxes, more or less, but the rich are manifestly not paying their fair share. That degrades government services for the rest of us, like schools and the justice system. The interest that the rich appear to be enjoying will only make them richer, thereby sucking even more money out of the system of productivity and prosperity. I mean, once you have a hundred million or so, you’ve already got more than you could possibly spend or use. An additional hundred million, obtained passively over the course of less than a decade, is just more money wasted for any purpose beneficial to society.

The rich, and their descendants, will be considered the useless eaters of the future. People’s patience will begin to wear thin at some point.

The Current State Of Money Itself

The world’s money continues its slide into increasing uselessness. The whole idea of money as a medium of exchange has fallen apart. Now, money has none of the intrinsic value that propped it up in past times. Instead, money has become some kind of Siegfried and Roy Review, featuring smoke and mirrors but very little meaning. It’s disturbing.

And dangerous, too. This is what led to that collapse in 2008. Hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of value were created when actually there was no real value at all. That’s the smoke and mirrors part. When it was realized that there was no real value there, something like a trillion dollars simply went up in smoke (more smoke!).

Does anyone think that a box seat to a Yankees game is worth what they charge for one now? Or that the supreme (dubious) pleasure of watching a Lady Ga Ga concert is a good value for the money? Do you think that that iPhone is worth what they charge? How should we feel when buying a stand-alone, downloaded copy of Microsoft Word from the Microsoft Store for almost $100? Is that a proper exchange of value? They send you that turkey in a heartbeat at virtually no cost to themselves.

If I read about one more Silicon Valley billionaire who started some company that I never heard of ten years ago that was then bought out by Google for several billion dollars just to take the company off the market, or get the rights to use some small aspect of their software, I’ll scream. That money came out of the air; that company’s value had no basis in reality.

Part of the problem is that there are too many newly minted hyper-rich people with way too much ability-to-pay. Too many rich people chasing the good stuff puts the prices out of the reach of anyone with more modest means. Some of these problems are mutually reinforcing. The modern nature of money facilitates the relatively few people who accumulate vast wealth. The existence of vast wealth allows prices to be set artificially high for a great number of products and services. Somewhere there’s a dog chasing its own tail.

I’m not expert, and I certainly don’t understand all of the vagaries or our monetary system. I have no suggestions for how it could be made more equitable, how it could be made more fair to the regular people. I would only suggest that someone, somewhere apply some thinking to how the system could be returned to some kind of balance, some kind of quid pro quo, some kind of equivalence between x kilos of product A and y board-feet of Douglas fir. Then forty-five minutes of a working man’s time would be the equivalent of a ticket to a first run movie, like it was up until about 1967. (1967 . . . a few years after the silver was taken out of the money.)

(Okay, Part Two. I’ll be away for a couple of days, teaching down in Hat Yai ["Big Beach”] Thailand. I hope y’all pass a good time!) 

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