Is the United States economy due for a correction?

Well it doesn’t look good in terms of both domestic fundamentals and international trade, considering:

1) The lack of U.S. investment (and political will) around green energy — along with a concurrent attempt to return to the rape-and-pillage model of extraction industries — means both that a highly innovating and job-creating sector will find a place to thrive somewhere outside of the U.S., and that the U.S. will lag behind in implementations and thus be subject to unstable resources, unsustainable production, and amplified negative externalities.

2) Nearly all categories of consumer spending are increasingly dependent on personal credit and increasing debt, and consumer debt burdens cannot increase without limit — thus demand will either attenuate in precipitous ways across multiple sectors, or competitive price inelasticity will shave profit margins to growth-choking levels.

3) When you remove some potential short-term variability, it appears that wages and job growth may remain largely stagnant over the longer run. Ironically, any potential “trickle down” to wages from a lower corporate tax rate (though there is no evidence that this will even be the case — see the next bullet) will be offset by trade protections that encourage low-paying jobs to return to the U.S. — jobs with such tremendous downward pressure on wages (from years of sweatshop exploitation and ever-increasing production efficiencies) that they will likely become the targets of automation.

4) Cuts in corporate and higher income tax rates will not stimulate economic growth — this has always been a neoliberal supply-side fantasy that has never borne fruit. Instead, we already see the amplification of a post-2008 trend where companies hoard cash reserves and buy back stock, further enriching owner-shareholders. And both globally and in the U.S., this concentration of wealth in the top <1% only exacerbates income inequality to an astonishing degree…it never “trickles down” to anyone else, but instead gets tucked away in trusts and offshore accounts — at least this is what all of the available data indicates for the past 40 years.

5) Stock market gains have been largely psychological, and are (once again) relying ever-more-heavily upon speculation and speculative instruments that either are not backed by material assets, or by extremely irrational valuations of assets.
Regulatory constraints on financial institutions are on schedule to be relaxed to pre-2008 conditions.
International trade deals are being threatened and/or scuttled by Trumpian protectionism and the “uncertainty effect” of his leadership style.

6) Intellectual capital is being jeopardized by discouraging immigrants from attending U.S. universities, an ongoing mishandling of the student debt crisis in higher ed, and a lack of investment and excellence in K-12 (alas, neither the profit motive nor aggressive performance metrics have made U.S. education any better).

7) The ongoing assault on the ACA and Medicare will almost certainly result in a shrinking healthcare infrastructure and increasing costs, even as demand accelerates with an aging baby-boomer population — and possibly an increase in disease vectors resulting from climate change. The consequence in the short term from any single one of these will be rapidly rising healthcare premiums and huge losses at hospitals that must serve the uninsured. When you combine all of these variables, I think this trend is one of the more explosive “crash inducers.” Will taxpayers be “bailing out” hospitals and insurance companies next…?

8-) As a more controversial prediction, exponential increases in product complexity, combined with ever-more-rapid product lifecycles, are inviting at best a form of consumer exhaustion — and at worst a concerted consumer backlash — in either case further reducing demand and potential economic growth.

9) As another speculation, since the U.S. government is trapped in a deficit spending spiral that will be amplified by the recent tax reforms, this will — given the current administration’s irrational belief in outdated economic models and ending “the nanny state” — likely result in de facto austerity measures similar to those that have decimated other economies. Paul Ryan and his ilk have already broadcast their intention to do just this.

….And these are just a handful of the known and possible factors. There are dozens of others all pointing in the same direction: increased market instability, excessive leveraging, inflated valuation, hampered productivity, flat or falling real wages, precipitous decreases in demand, increasing trade imbalances, and overall economic stagnation. Add to this that the Federal Reserve now has very little room to maneuver in terms of monetary tools, and anyone with a lick of sense can see the writing on the wall.

My 2 cents.

Why do many people refuse to consider social democracy a form of socialism?

A couple of thoughts on this…

1) Be careful using Wikipedia ( It is Open Source, which is good thing generally IMO, but unfortunately there are folks who have specific agendas, and who edit Wikipedia pages to distort reality in favor of their own ideology. This is precisely what has happened with the definitions and discussions of social democracy on Wikipedia. In my experience, the most extreme distortions will eventually get edited out…but again, just a word of caution. Here is a more nuanced definition that supports the reality that social democracy is, in fact, a form of socialism: Social democracy.

A lot of people really dislike the term “socialism,” because it is so antagonistic to the forms of capitalism they believe in. In particular, laissez-faire capitalists have traditionally attacked ALL forms of socialism from a position of fear and loathing — this is primarily what generated the two “Red Scares” in U.S. history, for example. So when you see folks rabidly defending the falsehood that “social democracy isn’t socialism!” or that “a mixed economy isn’t socialism!” this is frequently issuing from a strong tradition of neoliberal propaganda. For those folks who want to funnel the most profit to owner-shareholders — and away from worker-consumers — any reference to a Socialist Boogeyman in any form must be met with the frantic, frothing rhetoric and hyperbolic polemics (like the ones I myself have just employed).

Now in the U.S. in particular, there is real confusion about what a mixed economy is (i.e. that it is, in fact, a combination of socialism and capitalism), and that social democracy is a very different form of mixed economy (i.e. a much more socialist version) than other forms. A good article that covers the difference between a U.S. Liberalism that “trusts” markets and promotes capitalism, and European social democracies that did NOT trust capitalism and saught to constrain it, can be found here: The Economics Of Social Democracy. In particular, you will note that one of the main features of social democracy to “tame capitalism” is not just regulation, but moving entire industries into the public sector. This is “public ownership of the means of production” in a very clear sense. Again, though, neoliberals and other market fundamentalists will squirm and shiver into condemnatory hysterics whenever this obvious truth is clearly articulated. But alas, they are simply maintaining an unfortunate zeal for denial.

I hope this was helpful.

How would a person living in a society where every type of work is managed by robots and artificial intelligence and with no scarcity find meaning in his life?

Thank you for the question.

There are a number of positions and assertions that approach this question in different ways, among which are:

1) Humans are meaning-making critters who will always invent purpose for themselves, regardless of their situation. In fact, it is often argued that this inventiveness is one of humanity’s chief assets in the face of both calamity/deprivation, and affluence/ease.

2) Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would indicate that once basic needs are met — physical needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and respect — then what remains in that hierarchy is self-actualization. In the environment the OP describes, this self-actualizing pursuit of creativity, realizing personal potential, moral development, etc. seems like a reasonable fit for “finding meaning.”

3) Our current obsession with the materialistic and individualistic is really evidence of a moral immaturity that hinders the natural, intrinsic unfolding of human potential and transformation. Once conditions that perpetuate infantilization and toddlerization of humanity (i.e. economic materialism, commodification, commercialization, etc.) are removed, then human beings will naturally blossom into their next stages of moral/spiritual/consciousness evolution.

There are other possibilities, but I think there is ample evidence, for example, in different educational models and research that shows that self-directedness, curiosity, a sense of play, spontaneous creativity and cooperation, and a host of other positive traits are innate to human beings, and really don’t require much encouragement to flourish. However, since multiple generations have essentially been repressed in these areas, and burdened with invented constraints — rigid institutions, dogmatic ideologies, forms of wage and debt slavery, etc. — that have promoted fear and suffering above our joyful search for meaning, it will likely take a generation or two to recover and regain those inner freedoms once again. Epigenetically, this could present some real challenges — but my hope would be that humans would, in time, bounce back to our curious, adventurous, spontaneous selves.

My 2 cents.

Do capitalists and mercantilists believe and try to make "beggar thy neighbor" in trying to accumulate wealth?

Yes of course — “beggar they neighbor” has been a demonstrated propensity of both systems. I think the interesting part of the question is why this has been the case, so I’ll take a crack at that….

Basically I think this is a consequence of moral immaturity among the cultures that developed mercantilism and capitalism, and the subsequent creation of systems, cultural norms and institutions that have reinforced this moral immaturity, and kept people (and whole cultures) from “growing up.”

Now this is a very difficult topic for folks who are immersed in a “greed is good” culture, and have really never known anything else. It’s the fish-not-comprehending-the-ocean sort of situation — everyone is swimming in it and breathing it and very seldom really stepping back to consider the depravity of the situation. And there is also a lot of “pro-greed” propaganda to content with as well.

But it is possible to wake up to what is really going on…and how really, really bad it is for the human species in terms of future survival. We can only hope that enough folks will wake up soon enough to start turning the Titanic in a more positive and sustainable direction.

My 2 cents.

Anarchism: How would an anarchist society defend itself against externalities and foreign military invasion?

One reason that many anarchist cooperatives have not survived all that long throughout history has been because their emphasis — for the most part — was on peaceful cooperation, rather than aggressive military build-up. Until the rest of the globe catches up in terms of moral maturity, anarchist experiments are going to be subject to external aggression — especially if they have control over desirable resources, or are a perceived threat to established hegemony. So I think civic conditions have to evolve a bit all around the world for anarchism to work well. That said, it is conceivable that technological advances will provide superagency to smaller and smaller groups, so that a relatively tiny anarchist cooperative could say “Hey, if you invade us, we’ll unleash X technology to decimate your troops…” or some such, providing the leverage needed to achieve detente. Really, any military spending in the context of a “mentally healthy” world will come to be viewed as silliness, and when self-governance through direct democracy along with relaxation of the profit motive (and transition of private ownership back to the commons) remove the incentives and pathways for despots, tyrants, megalomaniacs and psychopaths to rise to power as they do today, there likely won’t be as much need to arm up. That, at least, would be my hope. :-)

My 2 cents.

What are some situations in which a free market fails?

There are many different type of market failure, so there are also many different situational causes. For example:

1. Price-inelastic demand eventually leads to efficiency failures — which is why many goods subject to long-term price-inelastic demand end up being heavily regulated and/or socialized.

2. Rampant speculation has led to market failures through cycles of overvaluation, undiversified concentrations of capital, over-extended leveraging, and subsequent collapse…and to overly abstracted and complex instruments that “game the system” (the post-financialized system, that is) and perpetuate this cycle. This leads to greater debt burdens, bailouts, knee jerk regulations, and tanking of economic activity (constriction of credit and capital flows, etc.).

3. Negative externalities create market failures with the costs catch up with production and are finally accounted for — often because the externalities end up being situationally imposed, widespread and inescapable across entire markets (regardless of regulatory reactions, legal actions, product boycotts, etc., which also interrupt market allocations).

4. Resource depletion is a pretty common contributor to market failure.

5. Runaway rent-seeking also consistently leads to market failures because the market was excluded from the get-go.

6. Monopolies (whether naturally occurring or as a consequence of crony capitalism) are probably the single greatest contributors to longer-term market failure.

7. Unattended markets (i.e. unregulated markets) nearly always fail — there are only a handful of exceptions to this in recorded history.

There are more situations, but those are some of the ones worth researching carefully to understand why markets to fail in various ways. Pareto efficiency is a useful standard to evaluate failure, but there are many other metrics that help us evaluate when a market isn’t working as intended.

My 2 cents.

Can spiritual awakening lead to success in business?

Maybe sometimes, at which point most of that person’s awakening will dissipate or retreat, mainly because of the demands of our current political economy and business culture. In other words, success in business generally leads to spiritual regression.

It is a bit like asking: “Will my spiritual awakening make me a better salesman?”

Well, let’s take that example. Awakening generally leads to greater compassion for self and others, more insight into skillful healing and wholeness, and less attachment to material possessions and ego accomplishments. So how would an “awakened” salesman act? They probably would try to help people — to do what is authentically best for their customers, without considering their own self-enrichment. Consider these scenarios:

“Is this a good TV?”

“Well, not really, but it’s the only one we have in stock.”


“Can your alternative therapy heal my cancer?”

“Actually no. You are going to die. But I can be a compassionate presence for you as you die….”

And so on. If what is genuinely beneficial to a customer just happens to coincide with what a business has to offer, then there is a possibility of awakening facilitating temporary success. Otherwise, it just runs counter to capitalist instincts.

You see the problem? Being a kind, compassionate, insightful and healing presence can bless others with well-being and skillful aid…but it doesn’t fit into the better bottom line landscape very well. Add to this that most people really don’t know how to handle affluence and material success without becoming corrupted by it (see Paul Piff’s research on this), and tying business acumen to spiritual awakening is sort of a fundamentally unwise idea.

My 2 cents.

What do economists think of Karl Polanyi's book "The Great Transformation"?

I suspect that would depend on the economist’s ideological orientation. I’m sure progressively-minded economists are aware of the work as a potent counter-argument to classical liberalism, and to its importance in expanding economics into a much broader interdisciplinary concern. Neoliberals probably hate it, as it slaughters most of their sacred cows.

What's your favorite economic principle?

I’ll offer my top four:

1. Price-elasticity of Demand — And, specifically, inelasticity in this context. For me, this has been a very useful tool in determining which goods and services naturally belong in which L7 Enterprise Schema ( — and which of those can reside within the Universal Social Backbone — in my Level 7 proposals.

2. Externality — The vast expanse of hidden costs that *should *inform any economic policy, strategy, tactic, etc.

3. Animal Spirits — Keynes revivification of this concept should be a potent reminder of the nonrational impulses that actually drive and shape nearly all economic activity and trends.

4. Pareto Efficiency — The starting point that led me to develop L7 Egalitarian Efficiency (

My 2 cents.


Did Locke and other classical liberals ground their theories in religious principles?

I would say that the primary influence on later classical liberals were earlier folks who grounded much of their thinking in religious principles. The philosophies of Locke, Hobbes, Paine, Smith, Price, Mill, Malthus, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Tucker, Paley and countless other influences on classical liberalism were profoundly anchored in Christian/Deist/monotheist religious convictions — albeit convictions that were moderated (or expanded, as the case may be) by the empiricism, humanism and rationalism of the Enlightenment. There are notable exceptions, of course, such as Hume and possibly Mandeville — who were nevertheless reacting to mainstream religion in much of their thinking, and so still shaped by it — but by-and-large the inspiration for classical liberalism can be traced to Christian philosophy and Deist/monotheistic sentiments. At the same time, we can also say that many, if not most of these thinkers railed against the institutional conformism and organized religion of their times. In this light, there is a certain irony that the evolutions and descendants of classical liberalism itself have become so pronounced in their essentially anti-Christian, greed-centric, hyper-individualistic ethos.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:

The Problem of Virtual Causality: Superagency, Cognitive Errors, and the Nature of Good and Evil

(Special thanks to Petyr Cirino, whose thoughtful exchanges with me inspired this particular essay.)

As daily events around the world illustrate, we have unquestionably arrived at the age of human superagency — in terms of both positive and negative impacts. On smaller scales of individuals and groups, there are the negative impacts of mass shootings, suicide bombers, toxic waste leaks, chemical plant explosions, contamination of water supplies with heavy metals, contamination of local food chains with pathogens or harmful chemicals, and other disruptions of limited scope. And of course the positive side of this local superagency includes the complex interdependent systems and services that support burgeoning municipalities and allow them to thrive. So in both constructive and destructive ways, we can easily see how complexity, technology and superagency are linked. On the national and global scale, a more collective superagency manifests on the one hand as disruption of everything from infrastructure and commerce to news and elections by a small group of dedicated hackers or activists, to the accelerating extinction of well-established species all around the planet as a consequence of human activities, to the radioactive contamination of vast swathes of air and water after a nuclear power plant meltdown, to the extreme temperatures and chaotic weather patterns resulting from over a century of human industry. On the positive side, humanity has been able to extract and distribute limited resources far and wide on a global scale, linked and negotiated disparate cultures and language around the planet to the benefit of many, and generated and shared huge amounts of knowledge and information to an impressive degree. At these larger scales, complexity and technology are also intimately entangled with superagency, but such impacts seem to depend more on the collective habits and influence of huge populations than on individuals or groups. Ultimately, it seems to have been the aggregate of individual, group and global population impacts that constitute a tipping point for the blossoming of human superagency on planet Earth.

But why does this matter?

One conventional answer is that this matters because our superagency has far outpaced our moral maturity; that is, our ability to manage superagency at any level — individually, tribally or globally — in a consistently beneficial or even sane fashion. Of course this is not a new observation: social critics, philosophers, prophets and artists throughout history have often observed that humanity is not very gifted at managing our own creative, acquisitive or political prowess; from the myths of Icarus and Midas, to the admonitions of Aristotle and Solomon, to tales of Frankenstein and Godzilla, the cautionary narratives of precipitous greed, clever invention and unabashed hubris have remained virtually unbroken across the span of human civilization. But should this perennial caution be our primary concern? Don't civil society, advancing education, widespread democracy and rigorous science mitigate the misuse or overreach of personal and collective power? Don't such institutions in fact provide a bulwark against an immature or degraded morality's ability to misuse humanity's greatest innovations and accomplishments? Aren't these the very failsafes intended to insulate society from its most irrational and destructive impulses...?

First, I would attempt to answer such questions by observing that moral maturity — along with all the societal institutions created to maintain and protect it — has been aggressively undermined by capitalist enterprise to an astonishing degree: via the infantilization and isolation of consumers, the substitution of internal creative and interpersonal riches with external commodities, the glorification of both greed and material accumulation, and the careful engineering of our addiction to comfort. But these concerns are the focus of much of my other writing (see The Case Against Capitalism), not to mention the more deft and compelling writings of countless others, so I won't dwell on them here. Instead, I would turn some attention to what is perhaps an even more pernicious tendency in human affairs, one that has persisted for just as long as all these other degrading impulses and influences. Yes, in a globally collective sense, our moral maturity and capacity for positive moral creativity has seemingly regressed or stagnated even as our superagency has increased — and yes, capitalism is largely to blame for the most recent downward spirals. But there is something more basic and instrumental in our psyche that energizes greed, hubris, arrogance and reckless destruction...something fundamental to our being that needs to be called out. Something that, by any measure, reliably contributes to all sorts of evildoing.

And of course attempts to explain the nature of evil are also not new. Many have attempted to ferret out the source of our darkest impulses, accrediting them to supernatural beings — Aite, Eris, Angra Mainyu, Satan, demons and mazzikim, bhoot and Pishacha, etc.— or describing it in terms of psychological phenomena like selfish compulsions and egotism, death drives (Todestriebe), maladaptive behaviors, severe mental disorders, and so forth. But identifying a more accurate underlying causal pattern will, I think, require a departure from these traditional frameworks. Instead, perhaps we can evaluate a series of straightforward cognitive errors that supportively interconnect, amplify and then calcify over time to create a specific, deleterious and measurable impact on both human interiority and society. Perhaps "evil" can, on some basic level, be defined as a simple cognitive mistake, and "good" as the correction of that mental error.

A Corrosive Troika Defined

With respect to causality, there appear to be three consistent factors that continually surface across the vast terrain of human affairs:

1. Misattribution of causation (as an unintentional mistake or conditioned response)

2. Intentional masking of causation (as deliberate and targeted distortions that reinforce misattribution); and

3. Willful forcing of causation (designed to support and reinforce deliberate distortions)

Together these create a virtual causality — that is, causality that is almost completely disconnected or substantially insulated from reality, while still imitating certain believable elements of the real world amid elaborate rationalizations. It is this pretend causality that entices a willing suspension of disbelief — for those who are vulnerable, coerced, deceived or conformist — that perpetuates self-insulation and additional supportive distortions. So let's take a careful look at each of these components, in order to appreciate just how instrumental they are in everything human beings think, feel and do, and how the modern age is shaping them.

I. Misattribution

Humans make this cognitive mistake so often it seems almost ridiculous to point it out: we blame the wrong culprit for our problems, and consequently pursue the wrong solutions to fix them. Add some additional, deleterious unintended consequences to these kinds of mistakes, and the resulting conditions could easily be described as "what leads to much suffering in the world;" that is, what has perpetuated much of the destruction, unhappiness, suffering, pain and annihilation throughout human history. The dangers of misattributed causation are identified in many if not most wisdom traditions — we can discern this in admonitions about judging others to quickly, gossiping about our suspicions, bearing false witness, words spoken in anger, living by the sword, throwing the first stone, revenge, showy public worship, etc., along with repeated encouragement to forgive without conditions, be patient and longsuffering, generous and caring, humble and trusting. Such concerns are certainly echoed in more recent empirical and rationalist approaches to both knowledge and socially constructive behaviors as well; for example, research in psychology around the misattribution of arousal to incorrect stimuli, or the application of the scientific method in understanding and resolving complex empirical challenges. But sometimes the obvious and longstanding begs restating, so we'll briefly address it here.

Let's consider a few relatively neutral examples, then drill down to a few more compelling, nuanced and disturbing details. For example, most reasonably perceptive adults might agree from their own direct observations, fairly straightforward and simplistic reasoning, or trusted sources of learning that:

1. Sunlight warms the Earth.

2. Submerging crusty pots and pans in water for a time makes them easier to clean.

3. Regularly and violently beating a domesticated animal will eventually induce behavioral problems in that animal.

4. A sedentary lifestyle, devoid of exercise and full of rich foods, will lead to chronic health problems.

5. Smiling at people with genuine openness and affection generally encourages openness and a positive emotional response in return.

6. A heavy object dropped from the second floor of a building onto someone's head is likely to kill them.

7. Really awful things happen to perfectly decent, undeserving people with some regularity.

8. Choosing "the easy way out" of a given situation — that is, a choice that seeks to fortify personal comfort or avoids personal accountability — is often much less fruitful or constructive in the long run than making a harder, more uncomfortable choice that embraces personal responsibility.

There are probably hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of such causal chains that most people have internalized and rely upon to navigate their day-to-day lives. We may not always be consistent in our reasoning and application of them, and there are often exceptions or special conditions that moderate the efficacy of our causal predictions, but on-the-whole we usually learn over time which causal attributions are correct, and which are mistaken. That is...unless something interrupts that learning process.

And this is where I feel the discussion becomes interesting. For it is my contention that many characteristics of modern society not only disrupt our ability to learn and predict accurate causal relationships, but actually encourage distortions and misattributions. How? Here again we will see how complexity, technology, and superagency strongly facilitate the disconnect...but also that we can add isolation and specialization to the mix as well. If, over the course childhood, my entire reference set for understanding causal relationships is defined by television and video games, and I have never thoroughly tested any of the assumptions inculcated through those media, how will I ever escape their fictional depictions? At around age eight or nine, I myself attempted to duplicate some of the crazy stunts Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner performed in Warner Brothers cartoons. I quickly learned that gravity, momentum, inertia, the velocity of falling objects, and host of other principles of physics were grossly misrepresented in those TV shows. I also learned that I did not recover from serious injury nearly as quickly as Wily Coyote did. But what if I hadn't learned any of this through experience? What I had always been insulated from real-world testing and consequences? What if I kept assuming that the fiction I was being shown for entertainment was the actual truth...?

I find this a handy metaphor for modern society, because, throughout most early stages of development, human beings can now remain completely insulated from experiences that shape our understanding of actual causality. Over the years I have witnessed young people trying to ride a horse, play an instrument, write a story, draw a picture, shoot a gun, drive a car, run a race, play a sport, build a tree house, use martial arts...and a host of other activities or skills...simply by imitating what they saw in a movie, played in a video game, or read in a book. And of course that doesn't work — because they do not understand the subtleties of the causal relationships involved. This is what competently learning a skill most often represents: appreciating all of the causal relationships that influence a given outcome, and practicing each one in turn until they are mastered individually and conjointly. What application of force, in which direction, using which tool at which angle and with what kind of finesse, results in unscrewing a rusty bolt on an old bicycle? Knowing the answers to all the steps in a causal chain, especially through personal experience, is what most reliably produces predictive efficacy over time. But if I've never actually ridden a horse, or hiked a mountain, or slaughtered a chicken, or grown food in a garden, or learned to shoot a bow and arrow, or installed a fence, or built a house, or felled a tree, or any number of other activities that might have been the common experience of folks a mere generation or two ago, how can I presume to know how the world around me really works, or how to accomplish the simplest tasks without the aid of technology, advanced tools or specialized workers on which most of the developed world has now come to rely?

Well I can't, and no amount of assistance from my iPad, smartphone or virtual assistant is going to help me develop a felt, somatic-intuitive understanding of basic causal principles — let alone more complex causal chains. I will remain blissfully ignorant of how things work. However, these same technologies also provide an ever-advancing level of virtual pseudoagency — by turning home appliances on or off, monitoring a child's activities, video conferencing with coworkers, ordering groceries to be delivered, recording a threatening phone call, troubleshooting a vehicle's error codes, managing finances, donating to a charity or political campaign, signing a petition, etc. — so that I begin to believe that I really have no need to grasp those causal principles. In fact, the increasing scope of that virtual pseudoagency begins to feel a lot like superagency itself, even though the only causal relationship I am required to maintain is the one with my iPad, smartphone or virtual assistant. Here again, complexity, technology, superagency, isolation and specialization conspire to support my entanglement with virtual causality. And if I confine myself to the same routines, the same environments, the same social groups and virtual communities, the same homogenous culture and mass is possible for me to remain disconnected and insulated from authentic causality for my entire life. So, just hold that thought if you will.....

Let's now examine a second set of causal relationships that are a bit more abstracted from direct experience, rely on more complex reasoning, or encourage us to develop greater trust in authoritative sources of information:

1. Human industry has been accelerating the warming of the planet to levels that will likely destabilize human civilization, and eventually endanger all other life on Earth.

2. Travelling through space at velocities approaching the speed of light slows down time for the traveller relative to the space being travelled through.

3. Gun ownership may make people feel safer, but as a statistical reality it places them at much higher risk of being shot themselves.

4. One of the best ways to mitigate the most pernicious negative impacts of drug addiction on individuals and society is to legalize, tax and regulate drugs, and then allow them to be administered in a controlled environment with medical oversight, and by folks who are also trained in providing treatment and resources to anyone who is willing and able to overcome their addiction.

5. Quantum entanglement (what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance") indicates an immediate relationship between particles over vast distances, potentially negating the speed of light as a limiting factor of data transmission.

6. Educating people from an early age about safe sex, family planning and child rearing, and allowing them easy, affordable access to reproductive healthcare and choices, is one of the most effective ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies and abortions.

7. Corporate monopolies can often be much more inefficient, coercive, exploitative and corrosive to civil society and individual well-being than the bureaucratic or cumbersome institutions of democratically elected governments.

8. Educating and empowering women to become more economically self-sufficient, and more intellectually and emotionally self-directed, is likely the single most effective means of raising a culture out of poverty, slowing overpopulation, and strengthening local civil society over a short period of time.

Now you will notice that this second set of causal relationships has some notable differences from the first set. Each statement has required more words for an accurate description, for example, and a deeper and broader contextualization. The causality being described can also be much larger in scope, and causal chains much more subtle, abstract or tenuous. And even as these relationships are increasingly distanced from direct experience and observation, they also tend to involve more complexity and interdependency, making them that much more difficult to grasp. Still, any reasonable person who has carefully and thoroughly educated themselves about each of these issues will eventually acquire a justifiable level of confidence in the stated conclusions, because, with sufficient attention, diligence and effort, the causal relationships actually become just as obvious as the ones in the first set.

But wait....let's return to the problem of lacking experiential (felt, somatic-intuitive) understanding about the real world. As very few people will have the chance to experience any of the causal relationships in the second set in a subjective, firsthand way, an additional challenge is created: we will then often be forced to rely on the few people who have the specialized knowledge, expertise and experience to educate us about these causal relationships. And we will need to be able to trust their judgment — and often their exclusive agency — at least to some degree, even though we may not fully comprehend what they are describing in a fully multidimensional way. And, as we shall see, this whole enterprise is subject to a host of additional influences and caveats, so that we may once again find ourselves relying on our iPad, smartphone or virtual agent to support our understanding. Once again our technology, isolation, specialization, superagency and complexity conspire to add more distance and effort to clear or accurate causal comprehensions. Now consider the accelerating complexity of every gadget, tool and system upon which we rely to navigate the complexity of our world to levels beyond our basic knowledge, and the distance increases further still. And as we anticipate the imminent expansion of virtual reality technology itself into more and more areas of our lives, we can begin to imagine just how disconnected human beings will inevitably become — from each other, from themselves, and from the causal workings of the world.

With this is mind, for many people there is also a pronounced gap of doubt between these two sets of causal relationships, with the second set seeming much more tentative, conditional or questionable. For these skeptics, it often will not matter how much evidence is presented in support of any given conclusion...especially if that conclusion contradicts their values system, or challenges certain fundamental assumptions they hold about the world, or is perceived to undermine their preferred information authorities, or pokes and prods at their sense of identity or place in society. Given the choice, the skeptic may instead opt for tolerating higher and higher levels of cognitive dissonance. Of course, the highest level of understanding about these topics may again just be armchair expertise, with no real-world experience to back it up. In such cases, it might seem easy to attribute what are essentially irrational or ill-informed doubts about complex but verifiable attributions of causation to ignorance alone — or to cognitive bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect, tribal groupthink, being intimidated by complexity, ideological brainwashing and manipulation, abject stupidity, or some other equally dismissive explanation. In fact I have made this judgmental error myself, often amid roiling frustration that someone really seems to believe that, to paraphrase Asimov, their ignorance is "just as good as" rigorous investigation and knowledge.

But this has been, I now suspect, a glaringly lazy oversimplification; itself yet another misattribution of causation. Instead, what I now believe is actually happening is something much more intricate, and much more intriguing.

II. Masking

There are plentiful reasons why an individual or group might be strongly motivated to persuade themselves or coerce others into believing that one thing is responsible for certain outcomes, when it is really something else entirely. Consider such real-world conditions as:

1. I want to sell you something that you don't really want or need, and in order to part you from your money, I fabricate causal relationships to facilitate that end. For example, claiming that if you purchase a certain supplement, you won't need to exercise or change your diet to lose weight. Or that if you make a given long-term investment, you will be able to retire from your job decades earlier than you would otherwise. Or that if you trust in the products, services or advice I am selling you, you will achieve happiness, romance, social status, or a desirable level of financial success. And so on. This is perhaps the most pervasive example of intentional causal masking and deliberate deception — except of course when the salesperson (or friend, or coworker, or public official, etc.) may actually believe that the causal relationship is real, in which case they were just hoodwinked into complicity.

2. I am confused, fearful, insecure and frustrated by an increasingly complex and incomprehensible world — a world in which my identity is uncertain, my role in society is uncertain, my existential purpose has come into question, and I am simply unable to navigate the complexity around me with any self-assurance that I have any real agency or efficacy. I am also feeling increasingly lonely, isolated and disenfranchised by fast-paced, constantly changing urbanization and leapfrogging technologies, in combination with the pressure-cooker-effect of burgeoning population density. I feel I am in desperate competition — for both resources and achieving any personal value to society — with everything and everyone around me...and I feel that I am losing that race. So I latch onto a group, belief or ideology that helps relieve the panic, and inherent to that process is my masking away the actual causes of my existential pain and suffering, and investing in much simpler (but inaccurate) causal relationships through which I can imagine that I have more influence or control. And thus I may join a religious group, or political party, or online community, and actively surrender my own critical reasoning capacity in favor of comforting groupthink or ingroup/outgroup self-justifications.

3. Some impactful life experience or insight has inspired a reframing of all of my consequent observations and experiences according to a new paradigm — a paradigm that radically departs from previous assumptions, and applies a new filter for causation across all interactions and explanations. For example, after surviving a brutally violent event, I feel the need to protect myself and everyone I care about with elaborate and oppressive safety rules, rigid communication protocols, expensive security technology, and a host of lethal weapons. After my experiences, I simply view all interactions and situations as potentially dangerous and requiring a high degree of vigilance and suspicion. In my revised worldview, everything and everyone has become a potential threat, and I must always be prepared for the worst possible outcome. In this way I have masked all causal relationships with potential calamity and catastrophe — and actively persuade others to do the same. In this sense, I have become conditioned to partial reinforcement — similarly to a gambler who wins intermittently, or a mouse who receives a chunk of cheese at arbitrary intervals for pushing on a button in his cage; whether that partial reinforcement invoked positive or negative consequences, I will insist on maintaining masked causation in order to prop up my compulsions.

4. I have made an error in judgment tied to investment of emotions or efforts, which was then followed by other errors required to support that initial error in judgment, until a long series of decisions and continued investment has created its own momentum and gravitational mass, and now seems an inescapable trajectory for my life and my identity. Perhaps I became invested in some logical fallacy or bias (confirmation bias, appeal to authority or tradition, slippery slope fallacy, vacuous truths, courtesy bias, hot-hand fallacy, etc. — see more at Wikipedia), or initially overestimated my own knowledge or competence in some area, or trusted the advice of some cherished mentor, or took on some tremendous risk or commitment I didn't fully understand, or simply fell into a counterproductive habit that initially seemed acceptable...but has led me down an ever-darkening road. Whatever the case, I now find myself rationalizing each new decision in support of a long chain of mistaken judgments, and must of necessity consciously or unconsciously mask all causal relationships to protect my own ego or self-concept.

Regardless of the impetus, once this masking process begins, it can rapidly become self-perpetuating, a runaway train of misinformation and propaganda that eventually acquires institutional structures like rigidity, bureaucratic legalism, self-protective fervor, a dearth of self-awareness, and so on. In fact, potent beliefs and indeed entire ideologies have sprung forth from such synthesis, to then be aggressively propagated by adherents, with all provable causes forcefully rejected in favor of fabrications that conform to the new, hurriedly institutionalized worldview.

Recalling the two sets of causal relationships mentioned previously, our modern context of isolation, complexity, technology, specialization and superagency certainly seems to lend itself to both the masking process and its runaway propagation and institutionalization. It has become much easier, in other words, to mask the second set of seemingly more abstracted and complex causal relationships — or to invoke vast clouds of hazy interdependencies in either set —so that causation can be craftily shaped into an occluded, subjective miasma of "alternative facts." And although deities, fate, synchronicity, mischievous spirits and superstitious agency may still be credited with many bewildering events, there is now an industrial strength, global communications network that can instantly shape and amplify false explanations for a wide array of phenomena. Via social media, troll farms, sensational journalism, conspiracy theorists, pedantic talk-show hosts and the like, we have a well-established, widely trusted platform to breed outrageous distortions of the truth. And we can easily discern — from the consistency of the distortions over time, and by whom and what they vilify — that the primary aim of nearly all such efforts is to mask the actual causes of countless economic, social, political and moral problems, and redirect the attentions and ire of loyal audiences to oversimplified explanations, straw man arguments, and xenophobic scapegoats. It is professional-grade masking at its finest.

That said, in the age of instant information access and pervasive mass media aggregation and dissemination, I would contend it has now become critical for these propaganda engines to excel beyond spinning evidence or cherry-picking supportive data, and to begin engineering events that align with a given narrative in order to secure enduring conformance. In other words, to reach past merely masking causation into the realm of actually reshaping it. This is what the deliberate, willful forcing of causation seeks to accomplish, and why extraordinary amounts of effort and resources — at least equivalent to those being expended on causal masking itself — have been spent in its pursuit.

III. Forcing

Willful forcing in this context is primarily about the intentional, frequently sustained manufacturing of causal evidence. For example, lets say I am seething with jealousy over a coworker's accomplishments, and I am filled with a petty lust to sabotage them. At first, I might attempt to mask the cause of their success with malicious gossip: what they did wasn't all that great, or they must have cheated along the way, or the boss was favoring them with special help, or the coworker must have been performing favors for others to achieve such results. But if masking the actual cause of their success (that is, their credible competence, talent, hard work, etc.) isn't having sufficient effect, and I am still raging with vindictive spite, well then perhaps arranging some fake proof of my coworker's faults or failures will do the trick. Perhaps leaking a confidential memo from human resources about accusations of sexual misconduct? Or feeding them subtly incorrect data on their next project? Or maybe promising them cooperation and assistance in private, then denying it in public when it sabotages their efforts? If I keep at this long enough, I just might induce some real failures and shatter the "illusion" of my coworkers success. This is what willful forcing looks like, and is sort of connivance we might expect from TV dramas. But nobody really does this in the real world...right?

Unfortunately, it happens all the time — and increasingly on larger and larger scales as facilitated by the global reach of technology, capitalism, media and culture. We've seen such tactics used in the take-downs of political leaders, in the character assassinations of journalists and celebrities, in carefully orchestrated attacks on government and corporate whistleblowers, in how various activist movements are dismissively characterized in mass media, and in the billions spent to turn public opinion against beneficial public policies and legislation that might undermine established wielders of power. But is any of this "forcing" creating a causal relationship that wasn't already there...? Well, as one example, if reports of what happened during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election are accurate, then forcing did occur, via DNC efforts that deliberately undermined Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton; Republican state legislatures that deliberately suppressed Democratic voters with voter ID laws, restricted polling times and places, and other such tactics; and Russian hackers that aimed to alienate Blue Dog Democrats and independent voters away from voting for Hillary Clinton. Assertions that any individual or party who appeared to be leading in the polls actually did not have enough votes to win was...well...carefully engineered to be true. This is what causal forcing looks like on a larger scale.

In a more sustained forcing effort over a longer period, the Affordable Care Act has also become a particularly potent example. In this case, there was a pronounced lack of initial cooperation from conservative state legislatures, relentless and well-funded anti-Obamacare propaganda to maintain negative sentiments across the electorate, and dozens of efforts in the U.S. House and Senate to repeal the ACA itself — all of which has now been followed by the even more deliberate defunding and insurance market destabilizing efforts from the Trump administration via executive action (eliminating ACA cost-sharing subsidies, etc.). And all of this contributed to fulfilling the causal masking that was broadcast from those opposed to government oversight of U.S. healthcare — during the ACA's creation and passage, and every day since then. In other words, years of carefully planned and executed sabotage have been forcing the invented causality of claims like "Obamacare is a total failure and will collapse on its own" to become true.

It isn't always necessary to force causal relationships, of course, to maintain lockstep conformance. There are plentiful examples in politics of people continuing to vote for a candidate or party who never fulfills any campaign promises...ever. But we must remember that masking — and all individual and collective investment in masking — only requires partial reinforcement from observations and experience, an ongoing emotional investment, a blindness to our own hypocrisy or groupthink, and a conditioned receptivity to deceptive salesmanship. So as long as there is occasional proof that some authority we trust got something right, or some attitude we hold is justifiable, or the ideology we have chosen will still offer us acceptance and community, or the rabbit hole we've ventured down with an endless chain of bad choices has few or delayed palpable consequences...well, then those who wish to influence the masses only need to effectively force causation in the rare now-and-again.

Still, I would contend that a consistent pattern of fabrication has been emerging over many decades now: first misattribution, then masking, then forcing, all eventually leading to calamity and ruin in human relations and civil society — and disruption of our relationships with everything around us — thereby generating a closed loop of virtual causality. But in case these assertions seem contrived, let's take a closer look at additional real-world examples.

Virtual Causality in Action

Initially, I considered using "trifecta" to describe this particular trio of causal entanglements, because the motivations behind it appear to be all about winning; that is, it is employed primarily to shape a status quo that either directly benefits those who crave more power, influence or social and material capital, or directly injures or oppresses anyone interfering with that desired status quo. Thus the troika often becomes the trophy, the prize-in-itself, as its inventions and propagation become emblematic of such self-serving success — in other words, a trifecta. But really, this need not be the specific intent behind causal distortions; in fact I would say that the virtual causality troika is unwaveringly damaging in human affairs, regardless of its intent. Let's examine some evidence for this....

If out of fear, discomfort, confusion, ignorance or social conformance I begin to misattribute homosexuality to a personal choice — rather than the innate, genetic structures and proclivities, which are almost certainly the reality for most gay people — and then link that assertion to tribal groupthink and an appeal to my favorite authorities, an almost effortless next step is intentionally or reflexively masking the actual causality with my own preferred beliefs. That mask may be projected into many shapes: perhaps an unhealthy or perverse interest was encouraged in a person's youth that led them to "choose" being gay; or perhaps they were sexually abused by a parent, older sibling or family friend; or maybe there are emotional, social or cognitive impairments that have led them to fear the opposite sex; and so on. There can be quite elaborate masking narratives if the need for self-justifying beliefs is strong enough. From there, perhaps because the misattribution itself is so heartbreakingly mistaken, there is a corresponding urge to force the desired, invented causation. Which leads me to author studies that "prove" early sexualization of children and/or permissive parenting somehow encourages sexual deviance, promiscuity or gender instability; or to engineer "gay deprogramming" efforts that "prove" gay people can become straight; or creating dogmatic propaganda that authentic marriage can only be between "a man and a woman," that gay parents can never be allowed to adopt children because it is "unnatural," that gay people can't hold jobs where they could potentially "corrupt" children, and other such constructions that create an environment where gay people are in some way prevented from becoming successful and happy in their relationships, families, and jobs — and indeed their overall integration in society — thus adding to my "proof" that being gay is not natural, healthy or wise. And this is how misattribution easily leads to masking, which then begs the reinforcement of forcing.

So in such a potent and seemingly enduring real-world example, the deleterious effects seem closely tied to fearful and dismissive intent. But what about the other end of the spectrum? Consider the beliefs of many people in modern culture regarding the desirability of wealth, and in particular the necessity of commercialistic capitalism to create a thriving and happy lifestyle for everyone. Much of the time, this isn't a nefarious or malevolent intent — folks may actually believe that everyone aggressively competing with each other for more and more wealth is "a good thing," and, further, that such pursuits are morally neutral; in other words, permissive of an "anything goes" mentality with regard to wealth creation. And if I truly embrace this belief, I will tend to mask my own observations about the world, about history and economics, about social movements, about government and everything else in accordance with that belief. In my unconsciously reflexive confirmation bias, I will only recognize arguments and evidence that seem to support my beliefs. That is, I will mask the actual causality behind events and data that embody my preferred causality, assiduously avoiding empirical research that debunks the travesty of "trickle down" economics, or that proves most conceptions of the Laffer curve to be laughable.

Then, because my beliefs are not really supported by careful analysis of available evidence — and are in fact thoroughly contradicted by a preponderance of data — I will eventually go beyond seeking out research, media and authorities that amplify my preferred causation, and begin to force that causation in my own life, the lives of those I can personally influence, and via my political leanings and spending habits. On a collective scale, I will vote to have judges appointed who favor corporations in their rulings, or for legislators who create tax breaks for the wealthy, or for Presidents who promise to remove regulatory barriers to corporate profits. On a personal level, I will explode my own debt burden in order to appear more affluent, and constantly and conspicuously consume to prop up growth-dependent markets. And, on a global level, I will advocate neoliberal policies that exploit cheap labor and resources in developing countries, and the ruination of my planet and all its species of plant and animal, in service to the very few who are exponentially increasing their personal fortunes. In these ways, I can help generate short-term surges of narrowly distributed prosperity that do indeed reward those who have already amassed significant wealth, and who will vociferously confirm that everyone else in society is benefitting as well...even when they are not.

In this second example, there can be a truly optimistic and benevolent intent in play — a person may really believe their misattribution, masking and forcing will have a positive impact. But the results of the disconnect between actual causality and invented causation still wreaks the same havoc on the world. For in this case we know that it is not wealth alone — operating in some sort of market fundamentalist vacuum — that lifts people out of poverty or liberates them from oppressive conditions. It is civil society, education, democracy, accessible healthcare, equal rights protected by the rule of law, the grateful and diligent civic engagement by responsible citizens, and much more; this cultural context is absolutely necessary to enable freedoms and foster enjoyment of the fruits of our labor. Without a substantive and enduring matrix of these complex and interdependent factors, history has shown without exception that wealth production alone results in callous and brutal enslavement of everyone and everything to its own ends, so that to whatever extent we fuel our greed, we fuel destruction of our society and well-being to the same degree.

Here again we can recognize that isolation, complexity, technology, specialization and superagency tend to obscure causality even as they amplify our ability to mask or force causal relationships. So on the one hand, it is more difficult to tease out cause-and-effect in complex, technologically dependent economic systems, but, once certain key effectors are identified, human superagency then makes it much easier to manipulate temporary outcomes or perceptions of longer-term outcomes. And this is precisely why the troika we've identified can maintain the appearance of victory within many dominant mediaspheres, noospheres and Zeitgeists — at local, national and global levels. To appreciate these dynamics is to have the veil between what is real and what is being sold as reality completely removed — in this and many other instances. Otherwise, if we cannot remove that veil, we will remain trapped in a spectacle of delusion that perpetuates the greatest suffering for the greatest number for the greatest duration.

As to how pervasive and corrosive virtual causality has become in various arenas of life, that is probably a broader discussion that requires more thorough development. But, more briefly, we can easily observe a growing body of evidence that has widely taken hold in one important arena. Consider the following example and its consequences:

Perceived Problem: Social change is happening too quickly, destabilizing traditional roles and identities across all of society, and specifically challenging assumptions about the "rightful, superior position" of men over women, white people over people of color, adults over children, humans over Nature, and wealthy people over the poor.

Actual Causes: Liberalization of culture, education, automation, economic mobility and democratization have led to wealthy white men losing their status, position and power in society, so that they feel increasingly vulnerable, insecure and threatened. And while their feelings of entitlement regarding the power they are losing have no morally justifiable basis — other than the arbitrary, serendipitous or engineered advantages of past traditions, institutions and experiences — these wealthy white men have become indignant, enraged and desperate. So, rather than accepting a very reasonable equalization of their status and sharing their power with others, they are aggressively striving to reconstitute a perceived former glory.

Misattributions: Recreational use of illicit drugs, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, lack of parental discipline, immorally indulgent entertainment media, immigrants or races with different values, governmental interference with personal liberty and moral standards, and liberal academic indoctrination have all contributed to the erosion of traditional family values and cohesion, resulting in an unnatural and destructive inversion of power dynamics in society and the easily grasped consequences of interpersonal and group conflict, increases in violent behaviors and crime, and general societal instability.

Causal Masking: Establishing think tanks and funding research that supports these causal misattributions with cherry-picked data; using mass media with a dedicated sympathetic bias to trumpet one-sided propaganda about these same causal misattributions; invoking religious sentiments and language that similarly cherry-pick scriptural and institutional support for sympathetic groupthink and activism; generating cohesive political platforms and well-funded campaigns grounded in these misattributions — and in the dissatisfaction, resentment and anger they evoke; and, via populist rhetoric, generally emboldening prejudice and hate against groups that threaten white male power.

Causal Forcing: The strident dismantling of public education and access to higher education; cancelling or defunding successful government programs; capturing or neutering regulatory agencies; destroying social safety nets; rejecting scientific and statistical consensus in all planning and policy considerations; and engineering economic, social and political environments that favor the resurgence of wealthy white male privilege and influence. In other words, removing any conditions that encourage equitable resource distribution, sharing of social capital, and access to economic opportunity, and restoring as many exclusive advantages as possible for wealthy white men.

Consequences: A renewal of income inequality, race and gender prejudices, lack of economic mobility, and cultural and systemic scapegoating of non-white "outsiders;" pervasive increase in societal instability and potential for both violent crime and institutional violence; mutually antagonistic identity politics and class conflict that amplifies polarization and power differentials; coercive use of force by the State to control the increasing instability; and gradual but inevitable exacerbation of injustice and systemic oppression. Adding superagency, isolation, specialization, complexity and technology to this mixture just amplifies the instability and extremism, increasing the felt impacts of ever-multiplying fascistic constraints and controls. Ultimately all of this results in increasing poverty and strife, and in pervasive deprivations of liberty for all but a select few.

Countering Virtual Causality with a Greater Good

In response to the dilemmas created by the troika we've discussed so far, I 've been aiming to work through some possible solutions for several years now. I began with a personal realization that I had to address deficits in my own well-being, deficits created by years of conforming to toxic cultural expectations about my own masculinity, and the equally destructive path of individualistic economic materialism which I had thoughtlessly followed throughout much of my life. I encountered an initial door to healing through studying various mystical traditions and forms of meditation, which resulted in my books The Vital Mystic and Essential Mysticism. However, I also realized that this dimension was only part of the mix; there were at least a dozen other dimensions of my being that required equal attention and nurturing. As I explored these facets of well-being, I arrived at the Integral Lifework system of transformative practice, my books True Love and Being Well, essays exploring compassionate multidimensional nourishment (see the essays page on this website), and the onset of an Integral Lifework coaching practice.

But something was still missing — something more causally fundamental that was hinted at in my previous experiences — and that is when I expanded my attentions to larger cultural, political and economic concerns. I began writing about the failures of capitalism, the distortions of religion and spirituality in commercialistic societies, the need for more holistic appreciations of liberty and knowledge, and the imperative of constructive moral creativity — offering a handful of what I believed to be fruitful approaches in these areas. Much of this culminated in the book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle, and then in my Level website, which explore some initial ways out of the mess we have created. Throughout these efforts, I presented what I believed to be some of the central causal factors involved in our current systemic antagonisms and failures, and some proposed next steps to actualize and sustain positive change. Of course what I have outlined in my work is just one way to frame all of these situations and factors, and, regardless of intentions, there will likely be many details and variables yet to be worked through. This is why piloting different participatory, distributed and egalitarian options will be so important in the coming decade. The main point, however, is that, just as so many others have recognized, humanity cannot continue along its present course.

So this essay regarding virtual causality is an extension of this same avenue of considerations and concerns by burrowing through more layers of the onion — just one more piece of the puzzle, one more way to evaluate the current predicament...and perhaps begin navigating our way out of it. It seems to me that recognizing the cognitive distortions behind causal misattribution, masking and forcing are a central consideration for any remedy in the short and long term. These are the specific drivers underlying much of the evil in the world, perpetuating false promises that will only lead us over the cliff of our own demise. And in order to operationalize more constructive, prosocial, compassion-centered values, relationships and institutions on any scale — that is, to counter the corrosive troika and promote the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration — we must address those cognitive distortions head on. We must end the reign of lies, and reinstate a more honest, open and well-reasoned relationship with causality. We must resist the false reality we are being sold, and open our eyes, hearts, spirits and minds to what really is.

How do we do this? Well, my own life's work describes one avenue, through which I advocate specific individual and collective efforts to reverse our downward spiral. But as I cruise around the Internet from day to day, I encounter countless and varied ideas, practices and resources supportive of positive change. Really, the answers are already out there (and within ourselves), just waiting for us to embrace them. All we really need to do to begin this journey is let go of the causal misattributions, masking and forcing that intrinsically fuel our perpetual fear, mistrust, anger and groupthink, and turn instead toward what is verifiably true — as complex, nuanced, ambiguous and counterintuitive as that truth may be. And there are already meaningful efforts along these lines within some disciplines — Freakonomics comes to mind, as do websites like,,, and — that model ways to peek through the veil of our mistaken assumptions and beliefs. We just require more of these, across all disciplines and all media, along with open accessibility and the encouragement to seek them out. How hard could this be...? Even the most concerted efforts to deceive, distract and medicate us into conformance with virtual causality will fail, if we stop consuming them.

Lastly there are a handful of feasible personal practices that will help resolve part of this challenge. I discuss them in more detail in my writings on Integral Lifework, but essentially they include reconnecting with aspects of ourselves and our environment that modern life often encourages us to neglect. For example: spending alone time in nature; creating a disciplined habit of meditative introspection; investing regular time and energy in a supportive community that shares our values; shifting how we consciously process our experiences, from fast-paced analytical decision-making, to slower body-centered felt experience, to even slower heart-grounded intelligence; making sure we have space and time in our day for creative self-expression; and additional personal patterns that unplug us from electronic dependencies, naturally attenuate modern compulsions and addictions, and encourage both holistic self-care and compassionate engagement with others. Such practices are a powerful means of revitalizing the innate resilience, intelligence and creativity that millions of years of evolution have gifted our species. By returning to our authentic selves, we can regain an inner compass to help navigate these complicated and often alienating times.

When I was a technical consultant, there was a term for carelessly hurtling forward to keep pace with current technology, implementing the latest trends as soon as they emerged: we called it "riding the bleeding edge." The allusion was deliberate, because new tech could be risky, could fail, and might lack both support and future development. Instead, in my consulting I advocated a different approach: extending legacy systems and future-proofing them, or adding new technology that would integrate with legacy systems (or run in parallel with minimal cost) that offered extensibility for future technology integration — a bridge if you will. There was nothing particularly flashy about what I was doing, but this approach solved some fairly complex challenges, lowered hidden costs (such as retraining staff on new systems, or hiring expertise to support new technologies), and leveraged institutional knowledge and existing technical competencies. In my view, we need to do something similar for modern society, slowing down wide-scale deployment of "bleeding edge" innovation, and revisiting basic legacy components of human interaction and well-being. We need to create a bridge to our future selves that leaves as few people behind as possible, while preparing us for new ways of being and doing.

But our very first step must be to abandon virtual causality altogether, and reconnect with the real world in whatever ways we can.


Following up on some feedback I received after initially posting this essay....

Petyr Cirino pointed out that a powerful influence in modern society is our immersion in the 24-hour news cycle, which often results in a strong identification with the same. To be connected at-the-hip with nearly every noteworthy or sensational event around the globe, within minutes or hours of its occurrence, has come to dominate our sense of the world around us, what demands our emotional investment and prioritization from moment-to-moment, and is a determining factor in how we interact with people we know and familiar threads of thinking, how we view the people or thinking we don't know or understand, and how we feel about our lives and ourselves. The deluge of information and "newsworthy" events also tends to distract us from more immediate causality, contributing to an ever-expanding insulation from the real world and the abstraction of our interpersonal connections. Along with other mass media, the 24-hour news cycle consequently helps fuel, shape and sustain the causal troika to an astonishing degree. So it follows that divorcing ourselves from that cycle would be a helpful cofactor in first slowing, then remedying the perpetuation of misattribution, masking and forcing — for ourselves, and in how we amplify the troika in our relationships, social interactions, thinking and learning.

Ray Harris observed that limited cognitive capacity — along with a need to protect that capacity from too much information — may also play a role in evoking and energizing the causal troika. I think this is undoubtedly true, and would include it as a feature or consequence of complexity. Specifically, I think there is a snowball effect where complexity drives specialization, specialization generates insular language and relationships, and insular language and relationships contributes to isolation via homogenous communities and thought fields. These specialized islands barely comprehend each other, let alone regularly dialogue with each other, and cognitive capacity certainly plays a role in this phenomenon. I would also include other aspects of mind that contribute to troika formation, and which are also entangled with complexity, specialization and isolation. For example: how gullible someone is, how disciplined they are in their critical reasoning, how educated they are in general, how tribal their thinking becomes, etc. Addressing these tendencies may also become part of a long-term remedy, but of course there are genetic, dietary, cultural and relational factors involved here as well. It seems that any attempts to manage the troika tendency, or compensate for it in media and communication, would therefore require consideration of a sizable matrix of interdependent factors. Or maybe a majority of humans just need to become smarter, better educated, and learn how to think carefully and critically...? Certainly, we can encourage this through ongoing cultural liberalization — we just need to attenuate the influences of capitalism in order for that liberalization to take its fullest course.

How is fascism created from "capitalism in decline"?

Fascism is created from capitalism in decline via the following mechanisms:

1. Long-term decrease in real wages (i.e. loss of buying power, social status, etc.). Over time, it is inevitable that increased efficiencies, mass production and the search for cheaper labor and natural resources are exhausted — even as profit continues to be maximized at the same time — result in workers receiving less and less in real wages. And that is exactly what has happened in the U.S. since about 1972 — even as GDP and per capita productivity increased during that period, all that wealth went to the wealthiest owner-shareholders, and never “trickled down” to anyone else.

2. Loss of economic mobility. As income inequality expands, economic mobility decreases for the majority of a given population. So while they still are working just as hard (or even harder), the opportunities for advancement or even basic financial security evaporate.

3. Fewer jobs, and lower quality jobs. In order to fuel economic growth, the consumer base must expand as production costs shrink. This creates an ever-widening capture of cheap labor and resources, and an ever-enlarging global marketshare. Jobs must of necessity either be automated or exported away from affluent countries. Innovation can sometimes fill the job gap, but usually only for short periods.

4. A resulting frustration among formerly affluent populations. Factors 1–3 lead to increasing dissatisfaction and frustration among groups that had once held the most political, social and cultural capital. They become increasingly angry that the promise of economic freedoms and opportunities — and the cultural prestige — once afforded them has evaporated. But beyond that, there is real suffering as poverty begins to take root, and especially when yet another “false promise” in the form of increasing and inescapable debt adds fuel to resentments.

5. Xenophobic scapegoating and nationalistic romanticism. Someone has to pay for this loss of status, loss of affluence, and the snowball effect of failed promises. It could be anyone…and “big bad government” is a frequent target…but it is much easier and more concrete to scapegoat a powerless, vulnerable or “foreign” group than to rail agains more abstract institutions. Political scapegoating can, after all, backfire when half of the population is the group being targeted as scapegoats — they can rise up and exercise a dominant political will. But poor immigrants or helpless refugees fleeing violent oppression are much easier to villainize — especially when they are tarred and feathered as “attacking” a proud national heritage. It does not matter that that national heritage is being viewed through rose-colored distortions…only that it is being attacked by “Them.”

My 2 cents.

What does Corporate Social Responsibility in a developed country look like?

A2A. In my experience, there are really five distinct aspects to this topic that are generally considered in formulations and assessments:

1. The intent of CSR for a given organization.

2. Its ideological context of CSR for that organization.

3. The internal and external marketing spin.

4. The efficacy of a given company’s approach (with respect to its intent).

5. The impact of CSR on the bottom line.

Only when all five of these areas are carefully assessed can we know what CSR “looks like” from any perspective. Often only one or two of these areas are examined or emphasized, which is one way to quickly skew data to confirm a preexisting bias. Taken altogether, however, we can begin piecing together the objectives and effects of CSR in a holistic way. What makes this challenging is that, in many instances, the change agents involved (top execs, board members, activist shareholders, etc.) are not entirely transparent about one or more of these components, preferring to engineer outcomes that align with an undisclosed or deliberately clouded agenda. Needless to say, CSR can be used as cover to accomplish many objectives that are not — in any way — socially responsible.

That said, when there is transparency, genuinely prosocial intent and ideology, and a skillful approach, the result can be a measurable offset to negative externalities, an improved work environment for employees, a higher quality product or service for customers, and (potentially) an increase in brand and employee loyalty from those with shared values. However, none of this necessarily facilitates one of the two extremes promoted by proponents or critics: i.e. cumbersome business processes or improved profitability. Once systems, metrics and adjustment strategies are in place, it generally seems to be the case that CSR is not that difficult to implement, but also has little impact on the bottom line one way or the other.

So really, if the intent is genuine, the results can satisfy that intent without having much influence on business at all. Which is interesting, since, if the intent is not genuine and the efforts are superficial, this can actually backfire in a spectacular way once it is disclosed (see factor #3).

My 2 cents.

Was the busting of Standard Oil necessary and or was it already losing control of it's monoply?

I see this question has already received plenty of neoliberal propaganda in response, so I’ll try to balance the scales with some sanity.

Yes, absolutely Standard Oil’s monopoly needed to end. Adam Smith was perhaps the first to write passionately about the dangers of monopoly, and Standard Oil’s 90% marketshare could have been a poster child for Smith’s predictions. After all, it resulted in:

1. Ruthless and destructive anti-competitive practices involving spying, lying, deception, back room deals, bribes, threats, physical violence, etc.

2. Careful and deliberate amplification of political corruption that supported Standard Oil’s monopoly.

3. Extraordinary, near-absolute influence over markets (price controls, supply manipulations, etc.)

4. Widespread public distaste and mistrust in the resulting consumer conditions imposed by Standard Oil.

While it is true that Rockefeller’s initial success was fueled by increased efficiencies and clever cost recovery strategies and innovation, those advantages paled in comparison to the truly brutal market manipulation that Standard Oil imposed later, when it had finagled and coerced the power to do so.

My 2 cents.

What do you think of Bertrand Russell's political ideas?

In response to this question, I read Russell’s Political Ideals and found myself agreeing with most of what he wrote. There isn’t much that is original there except Russell’s clear and carefully reasoned voice, but his assessments of the problems of capitalism and State socialism are spot-on. His proposed solutions are more about recommended principles than prescription — that is, he doesn’t offer a lot of details regarding those solutions — but again I find myself agreeing with most of his sentiments about the importance of self-governance, avoiding the use of force, the dangers of unrestrained possessiveness, the importance of creativity, and so on. The only criticism I might have is that Russell leans a bit too far in the direction of individualism, and too frequently looks to the State for intervention. In other words, he relies too heavily on the State to manage society, and demands a rigorous protection of individuality that, IMO, is corrosive to civil society. I would quote specific passages, but Quora will undoubtedly flag my post as “plagiarism” and collapse it…so, alas, I cannot back up my assertions with Russell’s actual words. :-) Regardless, however, I was impressed with Political Ideals, especially given the time period in which it was written.

My 2 cents.

Has Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom" aged well?

LOL. No the book has not aged well, except in two areas. Here’s a quick breakdown of why:

1. Friedman’s monetarism is absolutely his most influential contribution to what has remained part of an effective toolbox for government economic influence at the macro level. That section of the book has aged very well.

2. A guaranteed minimum income (negative income tax) is still a popular idea among some reformers — though usually on the radical Left — but it’s not Friedman’s original idea and is usually lost amid his other points. So I’d say that although the idea persists, Friedman’s contribution hasn’t aged well.

3. Plenty of far-right-leaning folks still carry a torch for school vouchers and resistance to government oversight of education, but the jury is still out on whether this will do anything but improve educational choice for rich people, and decrease economic opportunity and mobility for everyone else.

4. Everything else in the book (that is, the majority of his criticisms and proposals) are now viewed as utter bunk by anyone serious about economics or cognizant of recent history. Many of Friedman’s ideas ideas have been tried — all around the globe — and they have failed utterly. This doesn’t stop neoliberals from quoting Friedman, of course, so in that sense the book has “aged well” as a propagandizing tool for Milton Friedman worshipers, market fundamentalists, proponents of laissez faire economics, right-libertarians and other fervent ideologues. In the real world, however, Friedman’s ideas have been soundly discredited. So in the sense of respect from policy makers and economists, only the blindly and irrationally loyal still hold Friedman’s ideas in any regard.

My 2 cents.

Was Karl Marx actually a socialist?

There is a lot of confusion around this topic, in no small degree because pro-capitalist, neoliberal market fundamentalists in the U.S. and elsewhere have worked very hard to promote propaganda that keeps anything to do with Marx rather confused (for some elaboration on this, check out the post WWI and WWI “Red Scares”).

Here’s how I would lay things out:

The two main threads of socialism that were championed during the 1800s where social democracy and communism. Marx stepped into this debate with a theory of “historical materialism” that asserted that a specific order of evolution and revolution would occur in human society — one relating to the inherent conflict between the classes that form around different modes of production. It’s an interesting theory with quite a few salient observations about observable dynamics in history (such as the influence of modes of production on sociopolitical systems and consciousness), but it is also very simplistic…which has made if fairly easy to criticize. However, a moneyless, wageless, classless society was always the endgame of historical materialism as Marx envisioned it. And of course this would be facilitated through social ownership of the means of production…which is, of course, socialism.

But then came Vladimir Lenin, who asserted that “socialism” was actually an interim stage in the evolution from capitalism to stateless communism. And because of this interjection of differentiation, the waters became a lot muddier. Before Lenin, a more consistent differentiator between communism and socialism was that communism promoted atheism, whereas socialism did not. But after Lenin, communism was promoted as the endgame superior to socialism, and so perpetuating “socialism” per se would be — in this context at least — antagonistic to an evolution into communism. And for these and other reasons, Marx became forever disassociated with threads of social democracy that evolved in Europe and elsewhere, and which have resulted in the many mixed economies that attempt to balance the worst distortions of capitalism with socialist institutions.

Now something to note…and this is kind of important IMO…is that Marx was pretty permissive regarding violent expropriation, and pretty noncommittal about promoting specific forms of democracy. Marx did praise the democratic process he observed of the Paris Commune — which was itself aiming for social democracy — but apart from that, much of his language leans toward rhetoric like “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” In Capital, Marx does indicate that capitalism’s transformation of “scattered private property” into “capitalist private property” is inherently more violent and oppressive than the transformation of capitalist private property into socialized property: “In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.” But apart from that comparison, he gives every indication that a revolutionary transition away from capitalism is going to be messy — and not just in terms of counterrevolution. Instead Marx fetishizes the proletariat as an idealized champion of moral rectitude in an unjust class division, and the bourgeoisie as the villains who must be overthrown. And of course this could only embolden the Bolsheviks in their murderous consolidation of power, Pol Pot’s brutal methods, and so on. In any case, I think these two issues — a lackluster and unspecific promotion of democracy, and a permissive attitude (or presumption of inevitability) towards violent revolutions — were Marx’s greatest errors.

With all of this said, the one point the OP is definitely getting wrong is asserting that Marx “never says that the proletariat is justified in revolting or that society will be better off afterwards.” The whole point of Marx’s theory of history and (and advocacy of proletariat self-governance) is liberation — emancipation really — and an end to oppression and exploitation. That’s a really difficult point to miss if Marx’s writings are taken as a whole: he is completely oriented to remedying the problems of capitalism, and insists that such remedies will, in fact, arise of their own dialectic, evolutionary imperative.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this excerpt of Marx…because it is so wonderfully concise, and so insightfully accurate, in elaborating the very problems of capitalism we see manifesting in full force today:

From Marx’s Capital, Vol.1, Part VIII:

“As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and this, the international character of the capitalistic régime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”

My 2 cents.

What do Keynesian and Austrian economists agree about?

LOL. This question got a healthy chuckle out of me. About the only intersect that I can think of is that they both acknowledge the existence of money and markets. Aside from that, I’d say searching for further intersects is like trying to find common ground between the Phoenix (an imaginary bird with no empirical basis) and a Penguin (an actual bird, but one that “flies” underwater) - they are both “birds” in the broadest sense, but that’s about it. Really the Austrian School is more of an individualistic economic materialist religion that has never borne any actual fruit in the real world other than failure, whereas what Keynes observed and proposed — albeit still in the philosophical sphere that economics occupies — has been repeatedly validated by actual historic trends, policies and events.

Comment from Sean King: "…You do know that the concept of opportunity cost was borne from the Austrian School right? And the marginal revolution? It would be one thing to argue that the Austrian hasn't made any significant advances since its revival in the 70s. I'd disagree with you but I could understand that. But to outright dismiss its contributions to our understanding of markets is irresponsible."

That is a fair critical tack to take with my very brief answer — though I would say that, at least at 30,000 feet, the Austrian School has been more wrong than right in its assertions. At a more granular level, however, Menger, von Wieser et al made some pretty salient observations that did contribute to our understanding and dialogue overall. I don’t disagree with that. But there is a BIG difference between accurately observing certain components in economic forces, events or metrics, and then using those observations to create an overall system that demonstrates predictive efficacy. Big difference indeed — and that is what I was speaking to, because that is where the Austrian approach has failed, and where Keynes has prevailed.

As a separate, more specific consideration of the two issues you raised, von Wieser wasn’t the first to observe or describe opportunity cost…he was just the first to attach a very catchy phrase to it — and one that stuck. As for marginal utility, again it was von Wieser who seems to have come up with a useful term that endured, but this concept is widely accepted to have originated with Bernouilli, was then developed by Menger and his non-Austrian contemporaries, all before culminating in the work of Marshal, von Wieser et al. So I wouldn’t say you can really lay the marginal revolution at the feet of the Austrian school…only that they helped support and expand the concept of subjective valuation.

As for being irresponsible, I don’t mean to be dismissive out-of-hand, it’s just that most of what I have encountered in Austrian-leaning thinking (particularly at the Mises/Rothbard end of the spectrum) has proven itself to be utter nonsense in the realm of real-world policy consequences.

From Quora:

How can property rights be justified without appealing to capitalist culture?

This is a pretty squirrelly topic, because so many assumptions have been made over time that have no “universal” basis or ground; in other words, they don’t have empirical validity that is replicable across all cultures around the globe, or throughout all of history…and sometimes they don’t have a clear logical basis either. For example:

Theory of labor appropriation: Based on the faulty assumption that primitive peoples throughout history claimed “ownership” when they applied their labor to land, objects they created, etc. This is actually a pretty modern idea (in terms of the total span of human culture and civilization). Locke actually used the Native Americans for his example - and he was just wrong. In actuality most Native American tribes either had no conception of “ownership” at all, or a collective (tribal) view of ownership or use — especially regarding land, hunting rights, etc. Locke was, well, just mistaken — as countless others have been who haven’t actually studied cultural anthropology when making assertions about primitive cultures.

The tragedy of the commons: A thought experiment that was repeated and amplified over decades to justify ownership and private control of resources. The irony, however, is that Elinor Ostrom documented dozens of instances of “common pool resource management” in cultures all around the globe that shared a non-depleting egalitarian access to the commons without mishap…and without either government ownership or private ownership.

Property rights as “natural rights” extending from sovereignty over one’s own person for one’s survival via mixing with labor: As the Austrian School (Rothbard, Hoppe) philosophically argued variation of Locke’s labor appropriation, this really just becomes an absurd extension of individualistic economic materialism, assuming (completely without rational or empirical basis) that social agreements, cultural preconditions, cooperative prosociality and all the other hallmarks of human civilization aren’t necessary or required for human survival; that instead they can be replaced with 100% self-sufficiency. In essence, it is an article of faith grounded in individualistic (atomistic) beliefs that are not supported by empirical research on how homo sapiens has actually survived and thrived as a species. This thesis becomes even more absurd when it extends beyond “personal” possessions (a knife, a jacket, a blanket, wild-harvested food or anything used for survival in a given moment) to things that will be utilized by everyone (i.e common resources) just because the “rightful owner” was “the first to show up and claim it.” Here there is an even greater leap of faith. It’s all very silly, and Hoppe and Rothbard can never really justify their positions other than to say, well…it makes sense to them (i.e. using statements like “how could it be otherwise?”).

So we can conclude fairly easily that conceptions of private property are a faith-based enterprise that contradicts both sound reasoning and empirical facts. What we do know, however, is that private property (as either a universally accepted principle or as a feature of law) is most certainly necessary for capitalism to function, so much so that anarcho-capitalists, laissez-faire neoliberals, Randian objectivists and other market fundamentalists will scrabble tooth-and-nail to justify the concept. The irony, however, is that liberty is greatly impeded by the concept of private property; in fact we could say that private property is itself one of the most profound sources of interference to freedom that humanity has every invented. To appreciate why this is the case, I recommend this essay: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty (scroll down linked page to read it - no need to sign into Academia)

Ultimately, then, the answer to the OP’s question is: No, property rights can’t be justified in a rational or empirical way that promotes either liberty or personal sovereignty, and are actually intrinsically antagonistic to both. Private property is a very handy concept for the haves to exploit the have-nots, however…and so it evokes religious conviction among the pro-capitalist crowd.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Steeve Chaboussie: "And yet, I’m pretty sure you lock your door. I am genuinely interested with how you reconcile that with “So we can conclude fairly easily that conceptions of private property are a faith-based enterprise that contradicts both sound reasoning and empirical facts.”

There was a time when everyone in a given culture would “cross themselves” whenever someone looked at them in a strange way, o perhaps pointed at them with an index finger. There was a time when various cultures felt compelled to sacrifice animals on altars to appease their gods. There was a time when it was “common sense” that the Earth was flat and the Sun and Moon revolved around it. Today we have equally irrational beliefs that guide our daily lives. Beliefs about the importance of “knocking on wood,” or that certain numbers are “lucky” for us, or that people of a certain skin color — or accent, country of origin, etc. — should be feared, or that synchronistic events must inherently “mean” something. Our species is, essentially, predisposed to superstition, irrationality and rationalization. Which is where the fear-based reasoning that enshrines private property in law (and fences off yards, and locks doors) comes from. It isn’t rational, it isn’t necessary, and in terms of the evolution of civil society, it isn’t “natural” in the sense it has been argued to be for the last few hundred years. It is instead an invention of our superstitious, fearful, systematizing minds. That was my point.

Now, if your are asking if I participate in this delusion along with everyone else…well of course I do. Because that is currently how we have restricted freedoms in civil society to an immense degree: by cordoning off 99% of the world around us as “privately owned” and inaccessible to non-owners. People who do not respect these artificial, fear-based boundaries are considered to be “breaking the law,” and because those who willfully and knowingly “break the law” in this way generally have nefarious agendas in mind, it would be unwise not to conform to the societal standards as they have evolved — despite the ridiculousness of their underlying premise. In the same way, a nudist who believes wearing clothes is…well…just a silly convention that hides or attempts to shame the natural beauty of all human bodies will also wear clothes in public. We conform — to whatever degree we must — in order to survive.

This is how I reconcile the hypocrisy of many of my own behaviors that I fundamentally despise. I also allow people to pay me for the services I provide — I would prefer they didn’t, as I find it distasteful and undermining of relationship and trust — but there is currently no other means for me to reliably obtain food and shelter for my family. And yes, I have tried some alternatives, and admire planned communities that attempt to do the same, but we are so embedded in a commercialistic, capitalistic society that “stepping outside” of it fully is extremely difficult. In fact, the only folks I know who have done so with ongoing success have had to leave the U.S. altogether…and many of them are still struggling to live according to their principles without external support.

However, these de facto conditions of “private property oppression” are not immutable, and my hope is that more and more inquisitive and thoughtful folks will gradually wake up to the fact that these conditions need to change in order to maximize the promises of democracy and liberty. It’s why I have been working to promote Level 7 proposals. But we shall see….

The Venus Project: What do people think about the Resource Based Economy predicted by Jacques Fresco?

I see lots of encouraging intentions - in fact I was delighted to find intersections in some of Fresco's work and my own - but I also encountered quite a few problems with Fresco's proposals.

The main problematic issues as I see them:


Fresco frequently alludes to the idea that we can't solve resource scarcity issues using the same old tools that got us into the current mess. Unfortunately, he does not approach technology and science with exactly the same rigor, instead elevating them to a vaunted "solution"s status rather than acknowledging that they are really inherent to many of the challenges in modernity. Alas, this is magical thinking.

Breaking this down...As a former IT expert with some twenty years of experience with complex computing technologies, I would say that relying on computing and technology to manage production and resource allocation is extremely foolish. Technological determinism - or "technology as panacea" in this case - is a consequence of not knowing how fragile and easily disrupted technological systems inherently are, especially as they increase in complexity. A la Kurzweil and others, it's become a bit of religious conviction that some sort of tipping point "is bound to occur" that frees humanity of its labors and existential challenges. From the perspective of someone who has spent nearly half of his life installing, building, programing and maintaining all manor of technology-dependent "cybernetic solutions" to complex problems, I'm here to tell you it simply will not work. Certainly not in our lifetime...and probably not ever. It is instead a romantic religious conviction cradled in a love of science fiction...and nothing more. Well, actually, it is something more...because such reliance (on any scale) inevitably leads to abrupt and calamitous unintended consequences.

Along the same lines, the scientific method should certainly be part of a larger toolbox in problem-solving...but we shouldn't place it on a pedestal. It has been much too easy to "capture" scientific research and decision-making and processes with opposing values sets, so that science can be used to justify completely different conclusions or reinforce preexisting biases. This is in large part because - in the same spirit as Fresco - many folks romanticize "logical" deductive reasoning, imagining that it is somehow independent of emotions, interpersonal relationships, spiritual perceptions, cultural conditioning, or indeed somatic patterns and proclivities. But it isn't - reason is one small part of a larger organism we call "consciousness." The reductionism inherent to Fresco's investment in science is just a problematic as relying solely on reading pigeon entrails - it excludes too much of the human experience. To appreciate what I'm alluding to, consider reading my essays on Sector Theory and Managing Complexity.

Which leads to the next point...


Values hierarchies are a reflection of moral development; without specific attention to how we mature our ethical frameworks individually and collectively, there will be no stable solutions available to replace the current self-destructive maelstrom. Human beings will undermine any and all systems whenever their values diverge from it. This is a central consideration of my own Level 7 proposals, and unless I’ve missed something, Fresco seems to rather polyannishly sidestep it (i.e. saying instead that it “will emerge naturally” as resource abundance is actualized - see Values | The Venus Project). I don’t entirely disagree with his sentiment here, but I also think moral development itself should be a more consciously and carefully considered facet of any effective proposal.


There is very little acknowledgement of the current population problem in the Venus Project. Our planet actually can't sustain the Earth's current population at developed countries' consumption levels - even if we "build everything to last" and maximize the efficiency of production as Fresco proposes - and certainly not for the population projected over the next hundred years.'s just not possible. So reducing population has to be part of the mix...which again invokes issue #2 above. It's also a fundamental test of Fresco's target to produce "only what is needed;" folks routinely confuse needs and wants for all sorts of complex psychosocial reasons. Until families around the globe embrace the reality that it is immoral and reckless to have more than one or two children, all proposed systems will inevitable be under tremendous pressure to stratify the "haves" and "have-nots," simply out of practical necessity. Fresco tries to brush such concerns aside with his conviction that people will change their minds when presented with "scientific proof" of what they need...but again, this is more evidence of romantic idealism.

With these prominent exceptions, I actually agree with much of what Fresco says about property, currency, democracy, pilot projects and so forth. I just have different ways to address the same challenges. And that raises one last critical concern: the distributed and diffused nature of human social function. I think one reason many libertarian socialist proposals encourage reliance on community-level organization is because that is where humans are most comfortable - their circle of relationships can only be so big, and their engagement in self-governance and indeed productive activities can only extend as far as our wiring for emotional and social intersubjectivity. This sidestepping of subsidiarity is a major flaw in Fresco's understanding of human beings, which frankly presents to me a bit like how someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder might see the world; again, it misjudges the relationship between moral maturity and prosocial choices.

(See my Level 7 website for further discussion of many of the issues alluded to above….)

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Why isn't libertarian socialism more popular?

IMO there are three potent reasons for this situation….

1. Libertarian socialism is a well-rounded ideology that countervails every aspect of the current status quo. In other words, it inherently opposes neoliberalism, market fundamentalism, crony-capitalism, conspicuous consumption, economic materialism, individualism, atomism, egotism, etc. As such, it is anathema to nearly all corporate-controlled media, habituated consumer dependencies, apathetic and plutocratically captured democratic processes, and the economic patterns and civic institutions that concentrate wealth and oligarchic power.

2. The term “libertarian” has been coopted by anarcho-capitalists in the U.S., who in turn have consistently been manipulated to serve a neoliberal agenda (i.e. Koch brothers capturing the Tea Party, Friedman and Mises pretending to be libertarian, etc.). At the same time, the Red Scare rhetoric after both World Wars has poisoned American attitudes about “socialism” to the extent that most Americans don’t know they live in a partly-socialized country (i.e. a “mixed economy”). As a result, the term “libertarian socialism” strikes many Americans as confusing or contradictory…the achievement of over a century of propaganda.

3. Some libertarian socialist ideas can be difficult to explain in a sound bite; there are no libertarian socialist equivalents of “free markets!” or “no more taxes!” or “get out the vote!” or “equality now!”

Why isn’t Noam Chomsky ever interviewed on any mainstream media outlet? Why don’t high school students in the U.S. learn about the successful libertarian socialist enclaves that once existed in Spain or the Ukraine? Why isn’t what’s happening right now in Rojava avidly debated in either mainstream media or on college campuses? Well because these realities threaten the lucrative status quo…and we can’t have that, can we?

My 2 cents.

Does libertarianism lead to social darwinism?

I’m left-libertarian so I’m not a fan of Mises or anarcho-capitalism. In fact I think capitalism, private property and unregulated market environments are pretty destructive to civil society on the whole, and individual liberty in particular. But that’s another discussion. Because this question seems to be targeting right-libertarian thinking, it’s only fair for me to say I’m answering from a perspective that is critical of that end of the libertarian spectrum….

So to answer this question as amended to read “right-libertarianism:” Yes, absolutely right-libertarianism promotes a form of social darwinism. The reason is that right-libertarianism celebrates the profit motive, which inevitably encourages the following selective characteristics:

1. The lowest-common-denominator of I/Me/Mine moral function, where individualistic economic materialism subjugates prosocial traits to grubby egotism and acquisitiveness.

2. The toddlerization of consumers into perpetual dependence on unhealthy commercial products and services.

3. De facto wage-slavery (albeit contractual and voluntary) that likewise disrupts self-sufficiency and personal growth.

4. Multi-generationally amplified cognitive stupefaction via inherited concentrations of private property and wealth.

5. A persistent isolation and atomization of the individual that disrupts psychosocial well-being, interpersonal relationships, cultural capacities and skillfulness, and (ultimately) evolutionary advantages through group selection.

6. Disregard for any other externalities of commercial production (environmental pollution, stress-related illness, decreasing food quality, poor socialization, etc.) *that have a demonstrated negative epigenetic impact*.

Over time, the amplification of such characteristics through the market dynamics, products and services inherent to profit-centric owner-shareholder enterprise models will inevitably decimate the human species. It’s already happening, and the only current bulwark against a steepening downward spiral is regulatory oversight…which is also failing. As the State can never adequately react to the fluid and persistent energies of the profit motive (or worse, succumbs to its capture), this will always be a losing battle; the organs of the State are simply too cumbersome, while rent-seeking is a wily and pernicious viper. That is, unless and until: All enterprise submits to worker self-management, community level oversight, and daily democratic controls; all resources are freed of private ownership and returned to the commons; and profit is redefined to support civil society rather than undermine it. If not, humanity is doomed to become dumber, less healthy, and more ethically incompetent with each generation. There can still be competition and indeed limited markets in a left-libertarian world, but those mechanisms will be subjected to the collectively agreed upon priorities of civil society - instead of the other way around as things are today. Essentially, then, market fundamentalism has to go the way of all other forms of fundamentalism to avoid any new mutations of feudalism that can degrade our genome.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Did Milton Friedman really help the Chilean economy to prosper?

This is one of the funniest bits of propaganda the neoliberals, anarcho-capitalists and other market fundamentalists will throw around. It is almost ENTIRELY FALSE. In fact, the only reason anyone believes a “Chilean Miracle” happened at all is because…well…Milton Friedman boasted that it did. Utter hogwash though. Here’s what the consequences of 7 years of Friedman’s policies (recommended by him personally, and by his Chicago Boys to Pinochet) actually were:

1. Unemployment first increased to 14%…then to 20%.

2. Sub-poverty population increased from 20% to 40%.

3. Real wages fell by 20%.

4. National output initially fell by 15% and then only ever leveled out (never got above pre 1970 levels)

5. Per capita GDP grew only 1.5%/year, as compared to several times that nearly everywhere else in Latin America.

6. Well-paying, working-class jobs evaporated (i.e. income disparity increased across population due to a “hole in the middle”)

7. Inflation reduced from 500% to 10% (really the only good thing that happened, economically, as a consequence of neoliberal policies)

8. A handful of folks got rich.

And of course all of these metrics reversed or improved once the neoliberal policies under Pinochet were abandoned….

So basically, Friedman’s “miracle” was to devastate most of the Chilean population.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the atrocities of the Pinochet regime - but really, if Milton Friedman was such a “champion” of individual liberty, why didn’t he loudly and soundly criticize Pinochet’s murderous oppression of the Chilean people…? Utter hypocrisy. Even more bizarrely, even as Friedman would insist Chicago School reforms helped the country economically (despite all evidence to the contrary), he would also take credit for Chile’s transition back to democracy, insisting that Chicago School policies were what led to that event. But this is astounding and delusional, really, since that transition was a consequence of pressures from the rest of the military leaders, who continued (yes, even after the referendum) to insulate their power from civilian control. In other words…they just wanted to get rid of Pinochet!

The video below is one of the funniest (or saddest, depending on how you feel about mental illness) snapshots of how Friedman would later try to distance himself from Pinochet while simultaneously taking credit for imaginary “miracles.” Watching it closely we can witness how Friedman’s ego delights in his delusions:


My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Why isn't feudalism considered an early stage in the development of capitalism?

Well Marx certainly thought it was a preceding stage (see historical materialism). But really I would go so far as to say that capitalism is just another expression of feudalism - or a thinly veiled morphing of the same thing. To wit:

Lords & Nobility in their fiefdoms = Wealthy owner-shareholders, whose only real status comes from their ownership of private property, and who routinely pass that property, wealth and status on to their offspring.

Vassals & Knights = Career politicians who defend the wealthy owner-shareholders and fulfill their agendas, and who in turn have privilege and influence because of the wealth of those corporate Lords.

Serfs & Peasants = Worker-consumers who owe fealty to their political vassals and corporate Lords, must fight and die to protect the privileges of their owner-shareholders, must demonstrate lockstep loyalty to their political party, and must provide all of the labor to their corporate Lords in exchange for subsistence wages.

Homage = The tribalistic loyalty rituals demanded of worker-consumers in service to corporations and political parties. For example, at political rallies and fundraisers, or at corporate “team building” events that indoctrinate workers with a corporate brand, or in the mandatory consumption of some product or service to maintain social status.

Freemen = Small, independent business owners who will never become wealthy, but who can maintain some independence by paying rents to the owner-shareholders instead of pledging fealty.

So capitalism is really just a slight-of-hand that allows people the illusion that “anyone can become a Lord.” In reality, that possibility is like winning the lottery: very, very few people get to become wealthy owner-shareholders. So the same, essentially feudalistic arrangement continues under a capitalistic bait-and-switch deception. Sure…the same percentage of the worker-consumers could potentially earn their way to “freeman” status as peasants could under feudalism…but moving beyond that to become a wealthy owner-shareholder…well, that blessing is in largest part bestowed on the children of those who already have the wealth.

Now there is one striking difference between feudalism and capitalism: instead of a King with a Divine Right to rule over everyone, capitalism installs the striving for profit itself as the Ruler of All, and dismisses anyone who does not honor and worship greed and mammon as a witch or a heretic, wholly deserving of persecution and a lowly lot in life. In a way, capitalism exerts the same oppression of the poor as feudalism did, only justifying it with “the Divine Right of Wealth.”

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” To what extent do you agree with this Karl Marx quote?

This is one of a few areas where I think Marx oversimplifies things - mainly because he restricts the definition of “class” to an individual or group’s relationship to the means of capitalist production, and consequent self-identification and collective affinities as a consequence of that specific relationship. Because of this narrow focus, Marx then centered his ideas about class conflict around the bourgeoisie (those who control production, and benefited most from it) and the proletariat (those who don’t control production, and are exploited by it). And I think this was an overly reductive error.

As to why…well let’s start with some factors - in addition to, or aside from, control of production - that contribute to power differentials, freedoms, agency and so forth in civil society:

1. Economic status and mobility - from abject poverty to rentier, there are plenty of conditions and privileges that have nothing to do with control over production.

2. Race/ethnicity - this has a tremendous impact on freedoms, agency, opportunity, institutional bias, justice, etc. and also have nothing to do with control over production.

3. Gender & sexual orientation - ibid.

4. Native intelligence and levels of education or language ability - ibid.

5. Physical disability - ibid.

6. **Religious beliefs** - ibid (though more so in some societies or periods of history than in others…)

There are other variables, but this provides a general idea about how different “classes” of people can percolate up out of any given population, and how these class variables can potentially overlap or countervail each other. From thirty-thousand feet, Marx may have wanted to sort all of these different characteristics into his two major class distinctions, but that can result in a pretty inaccurate snapshot.

Let’s examine just one potent example to illustrate this point. A rentier does not - unless they are an activist investor - exert much control over production…if any at all. They are often purely beneficiaries of abstracted instruments of investment, having very little idea or concern about how their investments accrue, or how they impact society. So how, according to Marx’s definition of class, are they participating in class struggle? Through indulgent consumption of certain goods and services? Through supporting certain political causes? Through supporting certain types of capitalist? Okay…but what does that have to do with control over the means of production…?

Now what I do think Marx got right was that human history is very often energized by the struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed - within a given society, or between different societies. But this oppressive relationship can exist outside of the confines of control over the means of production (or exploitation by the means of production): to wit, women’s rights, or the cultural scapegoating of certain ethnic minorities, or prejudices around someone’s age or physical appearance, and so on. So while economic status certainly has a huge impact on oppressive relationships, so does the color of one’s skin (i.e. “white privilege”), or one’s gender, or whom one falls in love with, etc. Thus “class conflict” is IMO trumped by “the struggle between oppressors and the oppressed;” they may intersect, but they are not always the same.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

How did GA Cohen argue that financial inequality limits freedom/choice?

In capitalist societies (or any society supremely boundarized by private property ownership), money facilitates choice. The less money a person has, the less choices they have, until…ultimately, if they have no money at all…their choices become so limited that they have virtually no “freedom” by any standard. I expand upon the same basic ideas in my paper The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty, where I quote Cohen:

“Consider those goods and services, be they privately or publicly provided, which are not provided without charge to all comers. Some of the public ones depend on special access rules (you won’t get a state hospital bed if you are judged to be healthy, or a place in secondary school if you are forty years old). But the private ones, and many of the public ones, are inaccessible save through money: giving money is both necessary for getting them, and, indeed, sufficient for getting them, if they are on sale. If you attempt access to them in the absence of money, then you will be prey to interference.”

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What do socialists think of impossibilism, the view that capitalist reform is counterproductive to the achievement of socialism?

I think there are several issues in play, all interacting with each other to create “the perfect storm:”

1. The Spectacle - Consumers become infantilized dependents of a capitalist system, always looking for something to buy to cure their woes. Reforms are often just another “commodity” peddled by plutocrats to pacify the exploited.

2. Superficiality - Many reforms are just wolves in sheep’s clothing. Consider B-Corps or “benefit corporations:” the objective may be noble, but many companies simply jump through the requisite hoops to differentiate themselves from competitors for the sake of profit - without any real commitment to the values they say they promote.

3. Unintended Outcomes via Values Inversion - Without changing the fundamental orientation of society to prioritize civil society and collective well-being above rent seeking, all reforms in capitalism will ultimately replicate the unhealthy priority of profit over people. It is inescapable; to rephrase a well-known adage: the arc of capitalism is long, and it always bends towards greed. For more on this topic, consider reading Reframing Profit.

4. Pernicious Corrosion - Capitalism is toxic to human being and planet Earth. Why try to perpetuate it at all…? For more on this, see The Case Against Capitalism.

However, even though I feel strongly about all of these issues, I believe there is an important demarcation between highly destructive chaos and a moderately destructive status quo. In other words: complete breakdown of our current system is not likely to result in an anarchist paradise, but something much worse (and much less facilitative of socialist ideals) than building on the democratic civic foundations that have already been laid. So the goal is to foment revolutionary transformations that can use at least some of our civic institutions and systems as a launching point. For more on why I think this, consider reading: Revolutionary Integrity.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What are your thoughts on the 19th century publisher and anarchist Benjamin Tucker?

I think Tucker is important because he is representative of a flavor of individualism that has amplified itself in the U.S. anarchist tradition in fairly pronounced - if not unique - ways over time, and which continues to do so today. In other words, he is an important part of that canon. In addition, as a publisher and translator, he was also an instrumental and seminal influence in the U.S. movement, bringing truly original and disruptive ideas (such as Nietzsche and Stirner) into the fray. As a consequence of all of this, I would also say that Tucker occupied a singular position in promoting some of the fundamental errors in the thinking of individualists, egoists and anarcho-capitalists over time. These include:

1. Differentiating economic equality from equality of liberty (i.e. from individual or collective agency). We simply can’t do this and remain intellectually honest, because concentrations of wealth always result in concentrations of influence and/or formalized political power. There is simply no precedent for real-world situations unfolding differently (whether government is involved or not). Because of this, liberty is always negatively impacted by economic inequality, which becomes de facto coercion. This is an inescapable truth, and is perhaps best illustrated both the consequences of natural monopolies throughout history, and by Nozick’s theoretical elaboration on the inevitability of “voluntary slavery” in laissez-faire environments.

2. Misunderstanding the relationship between collective agreement in civil society and individual liberty (individual agency). Without the collective agreement expressed in and by civil society and its institutions (and I do not mean the State, but what can be diffused and distributed civic mechanisms), individual liberty either does not exist, or it becomes an arduous process of constant renegotiation that itself is prohibitive to agency. One the one hand, it would be like having to negotiate how to progress in a safe and orderly fashion through each intersection when driving - at each intersection, over and over again, coming to a mutual voluntary agreement about how to proceed. And on the other, the individualist anarchist is simply not recognizing the facilitation of liberty that civil society (again, ideally in diffused and distributed capacities) establishes over time; that liberty is in fact positively created by the very conventions that individualists tend to rail against. As I write in “The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty:”

“It doesn’t require much investigation to realize that… the idealized pinnacle of individual sovereignty in modern society is supported by an endless intersection of facilitative factors, like the majority of mass for an iceberg that lies below the water but is invisible to the casual eye.”

3. Being overly attached to the Labor Theory of Value and its corollary/extension via private property and labor appropriation. For me this is the least subtle problem with individualist variations of anarchism. Firstly, this belief inevitably results in the entire world being fenced off by those actively employing their own precious portion of private land for their own purposes, thus depriving anyone else of the freedom to access and use that land. This is simply an untenable proposition, given (among many other reasons) the fact that land is limited, but human population keeps growing. Secondly, what constitutes labor or utility is entirely subjective. If I spit on a stick, am I adding value? If I plant trees on my property to create artwork that is only viewable from space, can’t I claim utility in perpetuity (or at least as long as the trees are alive)? These are just some of the problems inherent to the LTV and theory of labor appropriation, making their suppositions either absurd, or ultimately dependent on the same institutionalized collective agreements that individualists strive to shirk.

4. A tendency to reject a priori, intuitive, emotional, relational and spiritual dimensions of human cognition and experience - in favor of empiricism, reductionism, solipsism, nihilism and egoistic utility. This has always been - and continues to be - one of the biggest divides in philosophy. In my view, it is inherently problematic to exclude any of the input streams available to human experience and consciousness, or claim - as an arbitrary and capricious value judgment - that only one of them has primacy over all of the others. I have written about what I think the model should be: integrating all available input streams in a balanced, careful and conscious way. You can read about that here: Sector Theory 1.0 – Todd's Take on Epistemology; and here: Managing Complexity with Constructive Integralism. (the full PDFs are also available here: Essays by T.Collins Logan)

At the same time, Tucker’s thinking is so diverse that I also find myself agreeing with at least some of it - such as his description of the Four Monopolies and concerns with what came to be called “rent-seeking” behaviors (i.e. what Tucker calls “usury”).

My 2 cents.


Why do some intellectuals oppose capitalism?

Thanks for the question Noah.

Well considering the “capital flight” of intellectualism among right-leaning ideologues over the past fifty years, I would first say that there are very few intellectuals who are not opposed to capitalism in one way or another. To be educated, intellectual and reflective almost always leads critical thinkers to question capitalist systems and principles. The few bright and often well-meaning advocates of capitalism are often required to shut down a lot of their brain power (and reject entire swaths of pertinent data) in order to fully embrace capitalism - especially in its current neoliberal configurations. The exchanges I’ve had on Quora on the subject reveal that most pro-capitalist folks are a) compliant with neoliberal propaganda and its reflexive and uncritical groupthink, b) mostly ignorant of contradictory or mitigating historical and current facts, or c) so encumbered with selective bias that they have distorted all of history and modern economic events in favor of their worldview. There are exceptions…but they are pretty sparse.

That said, there are a number of reasons why folks who lean intellectual are critical of the current brand of neoliberal capitalism. Here are some of the rationale:

1) Modern capitalism has arguably become the most destructive force in human history. In terms of its impacts on the environment, social stratification, concentrations of wealth and power, justification for armed conflicts, genetic homogenization (of food supply), injurious health conditions, etc. In other words, its negative externalities are compounding exponentially, and there is no indication that this will cease.

2) Modern capitalism is unsustainable. Currently about 5% of the Earth’s population uses approximately 28% of the Earth’s resources. As capitalism has globalized, the tensions around resources and how they are distributed has inexorably escalated and will continue to do so - as has the tension between the haves and have-nots. An inevitable tipping point will be either a) the exhaustion of resources as economic mobility spread further around the globe, or b) the extinction of economic mobility as scarcity increases or resources are depleted. There’s really no way out of this conundrum…only some creative ways to delay it (such as the financialization of the global economy, which has already been occurring).

3) Modern capitalism is inherently unjust. All the positive justifications for capitalism that once existed - the wisdom of the crowds, the tragedy of the commons, the theory of labor appropriation, interference with negative liberty, rational self-interest, markets solve problems most efficiently, wealth production, etc. - have all been either debunked entirely, or overridden by changes in how current capitalism functions. There is a lot to work through on this topic, but the consensus is that empirical data strongly suggest that: consumers are not rational, the commons has been managed without private ownership or central government interference, privatization is highly destructive to both public and common goods, consumers are manipulated en masse (defeating the wisdom of the crowds), Locke was just plain wrong about his property assumptions, crony capitalism and monopolies completely distort market dynamics, real wages (i.e. effective buying power) have been stagnant or declining in the U.S. an some other industrialized countries since about 1972, and property ownership actually interferes with liberty more than almost all other antagonists combined.

4) Neoliberal propaganda is preventing most people from seeing any of the above. (See Neoliberalism | L e v e l - 7)

There is a lot more to discuss along these lines, but my time today is limited. Please check out the Level-7 link above for more info and resources.

My 2 cents.

Comment by Henry Resheto:

"I think you got this wrong.

So called by you “pro-capitalist folks” do not owe anybody any explanation. Those who suggest alternatives do!

Let me start by stating that capitalism is not a theory, it is not even a “system”; it is simply what is.

The very term was invented by K. Mark in order to critique exiting state of affairs; in order to mock them, in order to prophesize the better world to come.

But really what capitalism is, it a simple “normality”. It is what people do when they are left to their own devices. Somebody called it a “spontaneous normality”. Spot on!

I am a computer programmer. Let’s say I negotiated with some company that I will sell them my time and perform some coding for them at the rate of $50/hour. They agreed – I agreed. We are both happy. K. Marx called it capitalism... whatever.

Now, if you want to get between me and that company and offer us the alternative form of arrangement you have to explain it to us. You have to sell it to us – we don’t own you anything. We surely don’t own you any explanation.

Judging by your headline “Libertarian Socialist” I suspect you would not like the very nature of our relationship as employer-employee. You probably think I should along with all other people at the company form a coop, and we should collectively run it. I don’t like the idea, and the burden of proof that it would be better for me is on you.

So far I didn’t hear good arguments. I don’t want to run this stinking company. I want to come, to write some code, to hand around water cooler during a break, to check Quora on my phone every now and then. And then after doing that for eight hours I want to leave with $400 in my pocket. Nothing more.

This is between me and that company - I don’t have to explain myself to nobody else."

I think you are illustrating the psychology that allows capitalism to function Henry - but your attitude has been shaped by modern culture. In contrast, humans have survived as a species because of our prosocial traits - research “prosocial traits” and “group selection.” People actually have to learn to be selfish, individualistic, materialistic and disengaged from social responsibility - and that’s precisely what commercialism teaches us to be. Why? So that we can be good consumers, of course…nice and dependent…and good workers…nice and compliant…and good debtors…perpetually in debt. BTW capitalism isn’t natural - at least no more than feudalism was - look up “primitive communism” for what existed for millennia prior to industrial society. Capitalism is basically an outgrowth of mercantilism and the “democratization” of wealth. As such it’s an understandable stage in human cultural development. But it’s only been around for a brief time, and has already outlasted its usefulness - mainly because it’s simply not sustainable. If you want proof…well wow…you’re in luck. It’s abundant. Read Thomas Pickety’s Capital in the 21st Century for starters. Or visit my website: Level 7 Overview

My main point was simply that you have come to believe a lot of things - like, for example, that you and your employer are both part of a “voluntary” exchange, which is almost certainly NOT the case - because you have been immersed in a commercialized, consumerist culture. Many people share these beliefs…but it does not make them accurate or true. For example, you do not get to choose what language to code if you want your work to be valued in the job market…that is dictated by current demand, which in turn is created by non-competitive practices, monopolies, fads and back room or board room deals…rather than rational agency or market dynamics. You also don’t get to choose how much you will be compensated - that is likewise formulated by rather capricious valuations, which rise and fall with the whim of corporate culture, access to cheaper labor, and the downward pressure of economic immobility and the current status of the economy. I was an IT manager and consultant for many years, and only saw exceptions to this with legacy systems that would cost more to upgrade than maintain - making increasingly rare legacy skill sets more and more valuable and thus tilting the scales to the employee’s advantage.

So although you believe you have agency in such transactions, you are really just a cog in a larger mechanism. You can easily be replaced with a cheaper warm body, because the corporate production system is designed specifically with that eventuality in mind. But perhaps you have “no problem with that” either - even though it holds the implication of violence (that is, does not value your contributions as an individual, or recognize and reward your commitment to a given community, and your compensation can change or livelihood withdrawn at any time). In other words, there is most certainly a coercive threat involved in such an arrangement. You may have become immune or inured to it over time - or because of a particularly resilient personal constitution you exhibit - but the threat exists nonetheless.

Further, I would assert that capitalism has done - and continues to do - tremendous harm. For anyone who truly believes in the NAP, embracing and perpetuating capitalism is the height of hypocrisy.

What are some reasons on why Anarcho-Capitalism doesn't work?

Here are the basic failure points in anarcho-capitalism, as evidenced by what we know of history:

1. Natural monopolies occur even if there is no government. And once those monopolies occur, there is no longer competition, and the advantages of a free market evaporate.

2. Voluntary contracts can still be coercive, exploitative and oppressive if there is no other way to survive except to submit to them. In anarcho-capitalism, there is nothing standing in the way of of the “haves” effectively enslaving the “have-nots” in exactly this voluntary fashion.

3. Private property is tyrannically oppressive to liberty - the “fencing off” of the world to first-come, first-serve opportunists effectively eliminates liberty and opportunity for everyone who shows up late. Multi-generationally this exacerbates capricious inequity, especially if children can inherit what they haven’t earned. The same is true of wealth accumulation and its relationship to power. Private ownership and its inevitable concentrations of capital ultimately consolidates power and freedom around a select few.

4. The profit motive has been predictably corrosive to social cohesion and civil society in its amplification of individualist materialism, rewarding of psychopathic egotism, and toddlerization of dependent consumers. It’s just not a good idea to rely on the profit motive to sustain civil society. You usually end up with despots and thugs in fairly short order.

5. For any form of anarchism to function, the entire society - down to every outlier - must voluntarily agree to whatever basic assumptions and expectations are in play for things like commerce, transportation, communication, morality and the other nuts-and-bolts of civil society to function reliably. And frankly we just aren’t there yet - the diversity of such assumptions and expectations is just too great.

My 2 cents.


Socialists: How would you deal with the "incentive" problem?

I'm asking in the context of current reality, not in a post-scarcity society. In a world of “from each according his ability, and to each according to his needs”, how would you induce people to work, rather than mooch? How do you avoid having high performers create black markets or leave?

So first I had a good chuckle over the ideological distortions among many pro-capitalist answers. Wake up folks. The data is in. This very old question has been thoroughly answered by real-world successes. For example:

1. **Open Source.** Many years ago I implemented Linux across hundreds of enterprise servers. It worked better (was more scalable, reliable and faster) than every other commercially available server environment. And all of the software running on those boxes was also Open Source. Some of it was authored by coders with pseudonyms, and supported by the faceless, nameless geeks in discussion groups. None of this software production cost anything. No one was rewarded. No one got an “attaboy” or ego boost from my implementations. All of the Linux-based environments were a product of passionate devotion to intelligent, flexible, open design. And because nearly all of the initial implementations were on old, retired hardware destined for the trash heap, there wasn’t even any capital outlay for that (it was like giving Moore’s Law a kick in the nads).

2. **Publicly Funded Research & Innovation.** Again returning to the tech industry, you know who created most of the innovations we rely upon today in our most beloved computing gadgets? Publicly funded academic and government research. Yup. And these students and researchers weren’t incentivized by the profit motive either. They were curious, or competing with their peers, or stubborn problem solvers…not folks working on commission or hoping for juicy patent windfalls.

3. **For Fun, Passion or Compassion.** There are clubs, societies, non-profit NGOs, government agencies, charities and a host of other organizations around the globe that engage the world with innovation, highly professional services, excellent products and high levels of productivity because they care. And the more they care, the harder they work, the more they innovate, the more they create…and so on.

The only reason that these obvious examples seem to be persistently overlooked by market fundamentalists is that they don’t want to see or acknowledge the obvious contradictions to their most cherished beliefs. Classic confirmation bias. In other words, the answer to “Where is John Galt” seems to be “He has no idea, because he can’t see the glaring truths in front of his face.”

My 2 cents.

Comment from Pieter Rossouw: "Great valid point. But, it’s hard to eat or drink Linux and if I wore it to town to see a movie I would be arrested. All 3 your points were made possible by wealth created by free markets affording the creators a good basic standard of living."

Ah that is the fantastical narrative that neoliberals, anarcho-capitalists, Randian objectivists and the like would have us believe. But it is false. What created the conditions for the activities, pursuits and values I’ve described was not “free markets,” but civil society. Without civil society - the rule of law, the willing sense of political obligation, the mutual generosity and support, the active engagement in society’s betterment, protections for the marginalized and exploited, the elevation of prosocial behaviors, etc. - there would be no “good basic standard of living.” There would be no social good at all…just thuggery. All of the wealth would simply concentrate in a few lucky thieves and cunning opportunists. That is the true nature of unrestrained capitalism and laissez-faire “free markets” - at least as demonstrated throughout history and into modern times. It is a lovely fantasy, to be sure, for us to believe that natural monopolies do not occur, that slavery does not occur, that oppression and exploitation do not occur, and that capitalism left unchecked does not simply result in a brutal resurgence of feudalism. But this fantasy is a distortion (and/or a nefarious hoodwink) that we need to leave behind - IMO as soon as possible, so that we can focus on what really matters.

From Quora post:

Why didn’t quantitative easing affect inflation in 2008?

A complicated issue which we can attempt to break down this way:

- First it would be good to bone up on the concept of financialization. It can be said with some confidence that the 2007–2008 financial crisis was a direct consequence of some thirty years of the U.S. converting to increasingly financialized productivity where speculation, derivatives, and debt-based financial instruments dominated profit seeking. At a fundamental level, aided as it was by loosening leverage ratios and lax oversight of financial institutions, this meant that there was “no there there” in terms of real assets. This was all pretend…psychological, high risk gambling really.

- Now if banks don’t have adequate cash reserves to cover such risky gambling, and that gambling gets exposed for what it really is (i.e. payments come due and can’t be made), then the whole game falls apart like a ponzi scheme. The “no there there” becomes a financial death spiral - lending seizes up to disrupt the credit cycle, banks and insurers go under, and economic productivity grinds to a crawl. Remember…this shift away from a production/consumption economy to a debt-servicing speculation economy meant that there wasn’t anything to take up the slack in terms of investment (well there actually was…it just wasn’t perceived to be such any longer, but we’ll get to that in a minute). So the bottom fell out, resulting among other things in tremendous deflationary pressure - especially in terms of debt deflation. [BTW, this is a classic example of how the market fails to make good decisions at a macro level…but that’s another discussion. The point is, this face-plant created a huge amount of essentially unsecured debt that couldn’t be rescued.]

- Here is where QE steps in. How do you get banks to start lending again? Well fatten their reserves of course - every dollar in reserves can lead to $1,000s in economic activity once reinvested.…what if they just pocket the money and don’t lend it out? And, well, this is exactly what happened. Credit remained ridiculously tight…ironically, for much lower risk investments than had previously been gambled upon. For example, small business loans and lines of credit just could not be got, even with a sterling business credit history. That seems odd, doesn’t it? Well it is. It’s actually ludicrous. But remember that lenders had essentially “forgotten” any other investments besides their beloved debt instruments…so they just packed QE surpluses away, like rats building a nest in the dark. But remember those “deflationary pressures” I mentioned? Well they kept holding the interest rates down with voracious psycological intensity - collateral (residential real estate, for example) remained both undervalued and in an excess supply…a supply that grew rather than diminished. Which meant there was no inflation. And because that excess supply also discouraged traditional productivity (no labor, materials or other inputs were required), economic growth remained stagnant from such inactivity as well.

- Eventually, of course, the credit cycle did loosen up a bit and businesses and consumers could get loans, which in turned began to generate more economic activity. It has taken several years, though, for those deflationary pressures to relax, and increasing collateral value and pent up demand to evidence themselves. I think it’s still pretty tenuous, still in process, still uncertain, and still sluggish.
Which brings us up to the current political and economic climate, which is happily broadcasting a renewed loosening of financial restrictions, a relaxing of oversight, and and encouragement of shiny new risky gambling behaviors. The good news, of course, is that the American taxpayers are still available to socialize the risk of Wall Street high rollers - a role they seem quite happy to accept, since they voted in 2016 to make the an unstable and unsustainable U.S. financialized economy “great again.” Weehaa!

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Was Thorstein Veblen a social democrat?

This is an interesting question to me because it exposes the critical issue of interpreting how movements/ideologies change over time - and how definitions of those movements/ideologies change over time as well (and not always in a synchronized way). If we take a snapshot of Veblen’s culminated ideas about institutional (social) economics and criticisms of rent-seeking financialization, these do indeed seem to be broadly supportive of what social democracy eventually came to embody after WWII. But at the time Veblen lived and wrote, the term “social democrat” would have been too narrow of a box to confine Veblen’s thought, as I believe it was more specifically focused on transitioning capitalism to socialism at that time. So although there are some similarities of appearance - when viewed from afar - the endgames would have been quite different. I think Veblen was much more interested in restoring industrial production and the LTV to their “rightful place” in a classical economics sense, and either taxing non-value-adding activities, or pointedly excluding them from profit-seeking and shifting them into the public domain. This could then be viewed as pragmatic socialization in the context of a mixed economy - so again this might align with what “social democracy” came to represent in the latter 20th century.

Now at the same time this would also be perceived by neoliberals as extreme “socialist” intervention, to be sure…but Veblen’s provocation of such reactions has, I think, always been and continues to be mostly about his criticisms of those self-serving rentiers, rather than about his proposed institutional remedies or desired linkage between capitalist enterprise and social value. In other words, it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Remember that any regulation, attempts to constrain monopoly, attenuate the advantages of inheritance, reduce worker or consumer exploitation, or shift speculative risk back to the speculators is a direct frontal assault on the neoliberal fantasy. Neoliberals believe that any and all profits (and subsequent concentrations of wealth) are self-justifying…no matter how obscene or destructive they may be to society itself. And since Veblen’s intense criticisms of such views are bound to resonate with Marxists, libertarian socialists, anarchists and the like, it would be (and has been) easy to overgeneralize that proposals from all of these camps share the same goals. But of course they don’t…not really. Further, would Thorstein Veblen agree with all “Third Way” social democratic formulations and trajectories that evolved later still? I dunno. On the surface, perhaps, it might seem that he would. But I suspect that he would also have a biting, snarky and insightful critique to offer about them as well.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What do Socialists think of the statement, "The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money"?

Speaking as a socialist, I think it’s a pretty stupid statement. But it exemplifies what has happened to our political landscape: the reduction of complex concepts into propagandizing sound bites. It’s how elections are won, and both Reagan and Thatcher were arguably brilliant at jingoistic oversimplification en masse. At the same time, of course, their neoliberal ideologies failed - and continue to fail wherever they are implemented. But such facts don’t discourage pro-capitalist folks from continuing to promote supply-side or trickle-down economics, austerity measures, destruction of social safety nets, and the aggressive obliteration of successful and/or popular government programs. Ironically, the most successful economies in the world are mixed economies - where socialized public sector controls and enterprises coexist with the private sector - rather those economies that lean more towards laissez-faire capitalism.

Now at the heart of the sentiments expressed by this silly sound bite is a profound conviction that welfarism, mixed economies and “The Nanny State” are all antagonistic to both wealth production and wealth accumulation. This is a primary tenet of the neoliberal belief system, and drives resentment of regulatory “government interference” in markets, a general mistrust of government bureaucracy, a constant anti-tax drumbeat, and apoplectic frothing-at-the-mouth over Keynesian economic policies or New Deal styled progressivism. But is this sentiment justified? Part of it is, sure - the interference with obscene concentrations of accumulated wealth is real. But this neatly sidesteps the reality of how much of that wealth is generated: that is, by callous rent-seeking activities, financialization of the economy, the exploitation of cheap labor and perpetuation of wage slavery, wanton destruction and depletion of natural resources, and complete disregard for any and all negative externalities. In other words, the feudal lords of neoliberalism want to oppress, exploit and despoil everyone and everything around them to amass their profit, and then prevent any crumbs from falling from the master’s table onto the floor for the rest of us. It’s a pretty nasty way of looking at the world, IMO, but it gets transmuted into the type of leadership and rhetoric that Thatcher exemplified, and into quips such as “taxation is theft.”

At the other end of the spectrum, we could say “The trouble with capitalism is that eventually you run out of other people’s labor.” But here again, this is a gross oversimplification.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What do you think about Karl Marx's Fragment on Machines?


Well I think we have waded into the “deeper waters” of Marx’s complex thought here.

To appreciate what Marx seems to be saying, we need to go back to his fundamental assertion that what makes human labor unique is the creative and knowledge value that human beings add to their work. This is a critical consideration in understanding how capitalism then corrupts, distorts and negates this value - through subsuming labor, objectifying it, abstracting it, appropriating it, alienating it, commodifying it - in this case via mechanical automation. Machines help turn people into predictable, usable, but essentially valueless and non-living variations of fixed capital. At the same time (and here Marx contradicts himself a bit - or at least provides contradictory arguments for similar ends) machinery both reduces the time that human labor is involved in a given measure of productivity, while at the same time prolonging a worker’s capacity to work. In one way or another, Marx sees this as working against capital’s own definition of how wage slaves can enrich themselves, even as surplus value (profit) is expanded for the capitalist. Thus Marx is arguing that both the qualitative and quantitative value of labor is being eliminated in service to capital, and that this is - intuitively, if not obviously - unsustainable and self-defeating.

The second part of Marx’s argument, concerning disposable time, is a bit more subtle. What I think he is getting at is that the increase in worker free time because of automation will result in greater self-development of the individual. And this development, in turn, will inherently set itself against the non-agency of automatic, mindless, lifeless labor - because “real wealth” will then be measured in disposable time, rather than wage income. The irony he points to is that the objective of capitalism is to maximize surplus labor, while a consequence of that very effort is an increase in disposable time, which is antithetical to surplus labor. Further, all of these trajectories - an increase in disposable time, an increase in soulless labor, and a desire for greater profit from surplus labor - are all fundamentally contradictory. And this is what Marx hints to be an inevitable transformative current in society. At least I think this is what he is getting at here. If someone can find the original German for these passages and post it here, I might be able to provide some better insight. Translation is an art…and not always accurate if the person translating doesn’t understand the concepts being discussed.

As to what I think of all this…I think Marx is basically correct, and that history has already proven much his assessment to be valid. I also think that he was essentially inventing language for concepts and dynamics which themselves were relatively new, which is why his wording and reasoning can sometimes be so abstruse.

My 2 cents.

P.S. As I was describing this post to my wife, I ended up summarizing it this way: “Basically if Marx watched Office Space, he would nod knowingly and say ‘Yes, yes, I saw this coming….’”

From Quora post:

What are the criticisms against market socialism?

Here’s the thing: there are many different forms of market socialism. I am actually a proponent of one form, which I call a Level 7 political economy (you might call it “market-friendly libertarian socialism”). However, I am critical of some other forms, so I will focus on one of those and describe how my proposals seek to remedy its problems.

Proudhon’s mutualism is probably the most widely-considered version of market socialism - at least when differentiated from authoritarian, State-centric Marxist-Leninist proposals. I actually agree with several components of Proudhon’s reasoning (for example, his arguments regarding property), but differ in a few important areas. One of these is the Labor Theory of Value. The LTV attempts to rigidly constrain the value of a good or service to the labor required to produce it - and then restrict the exchange to other goods and services with equivalent labor inputs. We can quickly see the problem with such a system with respect to the realities of subjective valuation - how people actually value things in a social context. You can also read about additional criticisms here: Criticisms of the labour theory of value - Wikipedia.

My answer to this problem is to create a different system of valuation that is non-capitalist, but still encourages friendly competition for some (but not necessarily all) goods and services. I call my approach to property exchange value “holistic valuation,” and it includes a host of factors - intersubjective use value, effective nourishment value, accounting for negative externalities, etc. - that redefine scarcity as “scarce quality” or “scarce safety,” and advocate consideration of perverse utility that potentiates harm. These concepts are discussed in more detail at this link: Level 7 Property Position, and in the book from which that excerpt was taken (also linked at the top of the Property Position page). Such property then can be part of an exchange economy that includes both limited for-profit and non-profit businesses that are owned and managed by workers and members - with input from the surrounding community. My goal is to include as many democratic controls as possible over larger free enterprise and the markets themselves.

With respect to various forms of market socialism, there are also other questions regarding resource valuation and management, how currency is backed, and how essential infrastructure and services are provisioned. My approach to these also departs from other proposals as well, as I advocate a Social Credits System tied to a Universal Social Backbone, to avoid the moral hazards of a social dividend or basic income. In addition, I believe it is critical to address the issue of economic growth - both as a functional dependency and as an unsustainable trajectory - which is why I also advocate Sustainable Design principles, proof-of-concept piloting, the precautionary principle, etc. Again you can explore these concepts by perusing the Level-7 website links.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

How do religious anarchists reconcile their religion and political views?

Most religions of the world (theistic or non-theistic) teach very similar principles with respect to civil authority: don’t make waves, follow the law, be a good citizen, and practice your faith on a personal and interpersonal level, rather than a political one. In fact, nearly all of them advise against overt political involvement (with respect to applying particular spiritual principles, for example), since politics is about worldly or illusionary power, and religious traditions are “supposed” to be about spiritual or ontological concerns. However, many also encourage compassionate action that could be expressed in one’s voting, or proposing legislation, or working to elect a candidate who seems to embody compassionate values.

Now in reality most wisdom traditions eventually get coopted by dogmatic “orthodoxy” and highly political institutions. This is where the worldly and political overtake spiritual, interpersonal and ontological concerns. It is in this context that the spiritual instruction of a given tradition will apply most directly to politics: that is, the politics of one’s own religious institution. Beyond that, the larger political sphere has little or no intersect with spiritual practices and beliefs (in terms of it competing with them), because it is not focused on the interpersonal. So, because the basis of your question assumes that there is a competing intersection, that is really where the disconnect resides.

In my own life, my personal beliefs and spiritual practice will continue regardless of the political environment I happen to live in. However, my investment in left-libertarian political solutions is grounded in my spirituality and informed by my personal beliefs. For me, moving away from individualistic materialism, conspicuous consumption, and corporate exploitation and enslavement is a spiritual as well as pragmatic imperative. Because I care about the well-being of my fellow humans, I would prefer they retain their personal and collective agency and liberty - and have relief from suffering - and the skillfulness with which I approach aiding others in this way is informed by my spiritual beliefs.

From Quora post:

What are the main differences between how Bakunin and Kropotkin saw Anarchism?

I think there are some important differences. Kropotkin developed the idea of “mutual aid” as a way of understanding natural forms of cooperation (in Nature and human communities) and what we now call prosocial character traits. This played a central role in his conceptions of a collectivist society. However, Bakunin’s vision seemed to retain the prevailing view that competition and reward were driving social and productivity factors - at least in part. More specifically, he still saw a role for an exchange economy, albeit where prices were set by production costs and labor value, rather than via demand. This is also, I think, why Bakunin still framed human work as something that required specific valuation and remuneration (labor vouchers) - and the question then became whether control over such valuation would lead to problematic hierarchical (and potentially bourgeois) relationships - or even resentment and conflict between different sectors of his exchange economy. By the same token, this is why Kropotkin rejected the idea of money and payment for labor - and the concept of labor value in general - in favor of free distribution and collective production grounded in the sentiments of mutual aid. In Kropotkin’s vision, there would therefore be less of a need for an exchange economy, and indeed little requirement for “work” that was tied to conceptions of productivity. We can also see a parallel contrast in how Bakunin and Kropotkin viewed violent revolution: Bakunin advocated for it almost fanatically, while Kropotkin resigned himself to the possibility while advocating careful preparations of persuasion and education to mitigate bloodshed. In one way, we could summarize their major philosophical and operational differences this way: Bakunin was still oriented to capitalistic scarcity in his proposals and expectation of both competition and conflict; whereas Kropotkin oriented his thinking around a more voluntary, cooperative, relaxed and decidedly post-scarcity system.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

How can one determine the size and variation of flows on which the incomes of ordinary people depend on in a given territory?

First I think you would need to define your terms more specifically. Who are “ordinary people,” in terms of income and spending habits? What is a “given territory,” in a macroeconomic context? Also, what is the timespan involved? The “size and variation of flows” for any combination of sectors is going to be informed by these descriptors.

Even with specific definitions, this is an especially complicated and dynamic calculation. Let’s say you could account for every sector…when you then attempt constrain those sectors to a given geographical region, the data gets a bit slippery. For example, intersecting financial capital flows with that income data, how can we arrive at a regional representation when the actual assets and exchanges could be anywhere? Imagine, for example, a person who works for a transnational corporation and receives matching 401K contributions as part of their “salary,” and where those contributions, in turn, are invested in a REIT with widely distributed assets. How would all the flows involved (the international employer’s assets, diverse investment portfolio assets, tax-deferred income, etc.) be holistically represented? And how would all of the income velocity and transactional velocity in play over time be captured for any given increment? It could be done, but not without higher quality data than is currently available methinks. Of course, such data could be approximated in order to estimate such flows…but how accurate would it be? Hence the tough nut. Then again, if you restrict this type of speculation mainly to more generalized, large-scale macroeconomic models that are both homogenous and span large periods of time, you could come up with some useful insights. At least…that seems to be the domain where economists get it right more often than not. :-)

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Why do some people think that anarcho-communism can work?

To me, the idea appears as an oxymoron. Communism requires some authoritative power (government) to be successful and anarchy is a lack of government. Am I wrong with this logic? If not, what can I tell a peer who identifies as an anarcho-communist to talk some sense into them?

Thanks for the A2A…I think.

So first off your assumption is incorrect: no oxymoron here. Your conception of communism seems rooted in Lenin’s version of a rather murderous and authoritarian form of Marxism, which was then exported to China, Vietnam, etc. Marx and Engels had envisioned a much more democratic arrangement (read up on the Commune of Paris | 1871 as an example). Also there were examples of a more spontaneous form of anarcho-communism “in the wild” in many places around the globe. Not just what happened early on in the Russian revolution, before the Bolsheviks killed off the competition and consolidated power, or what arose in Spain prior to Franco. A pretty sound argument can be made for primitive communism being the default mode of political economy in early, primitive societies. In any case, one problem was that Marx presumed some stages of transition did indeed involve expropriation, central controls…and yes, violent revolution. So there is that. But folks like Kropotkin (whom you should read) had a very different vision of distributed, diffused and self-directing communistic transitions and management. His The Conquest of Bread is a fascinating read. Before you engage your friend, I would encourage you to read that book - it’s pretty short and easy reading (unlike most of Marx).

Now your broader misconception - that communism requires centralized authoritative power - is an understandable mistake. It’s one that Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and many others also made. But I think that is mainly because revolutions involving force were the only examples or models those folks had for change - in a historical sense; their information was limited. In any case, I would encourage you to look into libertarian socialism (of which anarch-communism is a subset) for a broader understanding of nonviolent approaches to cooperative proposals. Also, you can check out my website, which also approaches political economy from a libertarian socialist perspective: Level 7 Overview.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What are Milton Friedman's debate secrets?

LOL. Thanks for the A2A. I would say they include:

1. Lie like your life depends on it. Have real conviction.

2. Dismiss any complex or nuanced positions your opponent offers as if they are an idiot.

3. Cherry pick highly selective economic data to support your position.

4. Sound very reasonable when in fact you are promoting a totally insane position.

5. Revise history to fit your worldview.

6. Smile a lot.

7. Interrupt your opponent precisely when they are summarizing really good data that eviscerates your argument.

8. Admit that your opponent is partially correct, but then accuse them of overemphasizing or over-applying that small slice of truth (when in fact this is exactly what YOU will be doing).

9. Completely exclude entire chunks of reality from your argument, and constantly speak around them as if they are unimportant or don’t exist (for example, underestimating the impact of monopolization and corporate power on market distortions).

10. Don’t have any integrity at all with your own stated ideals with respect to how you actually comport yourself (and advise on economic policy) in the real world.

11. Frequently wave both your hands at your opponents like your are casting a banishing spell.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

How can one get the best out of the wisdom of the crowd?

For Surowiecki’s assertions to hold, you need to create an environment were everyone a) shares the same motivation (i.e. will benefit in the same way from the outcome); b) is informationally, socially and operationally separated from everyone else, while still receiving the information around their choice at the same time; and c) represents diverse, widely distributed perspectives and positions relative to both the effort and the outcome. In other words, pretty ideal conditions prior to aggregation. Throw in some advertising and marketing campaigns, and the wisdom is disrupted. Social media engagement where people are aware of each other’s input or communicate about the question? Won’t work. Homogenous group sample? Won’t work. Choice or question delivered to different folks at different times? Won’t work. Opportunity for different folks to benefit in different ways from the choice? Won’t work.

As you can see, it is pretty difficult to engineer all of these variables in a consistent way. Further, if the crowd involved knows it is being observed, that tends to change the outcome as well (a variation on the Observer effect). So in one sense, the “getting the best out of crowd wisdom” likely involves remaining an unseen observer of natural crowd behaviors where all of the above variables emerge on their own - rather that inserting oneself into the mix or trying to create ideal conditions.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Is there a cause and effect relationship between supply and demand?

My answer would be “sometimes,” either unidirectionally or bidirectionally in our modern environments.

If there is pent up aggregate demand for a good that is known - i.e. has existed and fulfilled a particular utility for some time - then a new player could decide to begin producing that good, or an existing player could increase their production, or either could find ways to reduce prices on that good…all in order to meet pent up demand. This happens quite frequently in fact, and represents a unidirectional causal relationship between demand→supply. A common example of this would be established communities where there is no inexpensive housing, or that lack any grocery stores or gas stations within a convenient distance, or that only have access to one really pricy ISP. Another example would be a vast array of goods and services after a prolonged economic downturn.

There may also be what I would call “unconscious” pent up aggregate demand for a newly discovered or introduced good. A culture that has never been exposed to something that is commonly produced somewhere else - alcoholic beverages, coffee, silk fabrics, cigarettes, eyeglasses, etc - may quickly ramp up demand once exposed to that good. Likewise, a new service or product that satisfies some basic human need that isn’t being thoroughly provided for in existing society (or has been difficult to access) - such as pornography, social media, spiritual nourishment, for example - may create a boom of commoditization and consumption, and their responsive supply.

If someone invents a new good and exerts tremendous marketing effort to persuade people that they have a need (even if they didn’t before), then they may successfully create artificial aggregate demand. This also happens quite frequently, and represents a unidirectional causal relationship between supply → demand. An example of this would be pharmaceuticals marketed directly to consumers, especially where the efficacy of the drug is questionable, or the symptoms or condition are much less common than are being represented by advertising. Now of course it’s the marketing that stimulates artificial demand - not the supply alone - but in this case many such drugs just didn’t compete well with others for a given treatment, so the companies try to recover their R&D investment by gaining approval to treat conditions unrelated to their initial objective. In other words, without this preexisting supply there would be no marketing, so the causal chain remains intact.

Now I think it is important to note that these different scenarios can exist in both for profit and nonprofit environments, and among both privatized and socialized goods and services.

Where things get more interesting (to me at least) are situations that foster bidirectional causality, where a feedback loop amplifies both demand and supply. This occurs not infrequently in financial and information economies. For example, when psychological momentum builds around a speculative opportunity - such as high tech companies that could, perhaps, produce something that people want, but actually don’t produce anything at the moment (or haven’t made any profit producing what they do). And suddenly the demand for stock in these companies skyrockets - and stock values skyrocket along with that, which stimulates a boom of high tech companies entering the market that could, potentially, meet a demand that could, potentially, exist. But all of this is just make-believe. There is nothing there but a psychological demand-supply feedback loop.

It is also important to note that neither supply nor demand are the end of the causal chain. There are often many other factors in play - things like cultural capital, habituation and addiction, shareholder pressure to increase profits, macroeconomic events, etc. But if you use “supply” and “demand” as aggregate representations of economic function, then you can delve into other factors as subordinate or superior causes and effects.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What do you think of a basic income for everyone?

UBI is attractive for many reasons, but it also has some problems. Rather than going into all the pro/con details, I’ll direct you to my alternative….a Universal Social Backbone accessed via Social Credits that are tied to civic contributions. This is a setup I developed under my Level 7 political economy proposals, and you can find details about it on that site. Basically, what I envision is a system in which a certain baseline of social credits are provided to everyone - stored digitally and distributed via a Unique Digital Identifier provided to every citizen. These credits provide absolutely basic (i.e. very minimal) public goods and services that are part of a network of essential infrastructure and services in this alternative political economy. This Universal Social Backbone is run by a combination of worker-owned or member-owned non-profit enterprises that are tactically managed at the community level, but strategically managed (in terms of standards and long-term planning) in a more central way, and both management schemas are facilitated by direct and semi-direct democracy, as well as citizen’s councils appointed by civic lottery. In other words, this is a completely different setup than either socialized, centralized State systems or for-profit privatized systems, and aims to conform more to some of the design criteria enumerated by Elinor Ostrom from managing the commons. In any case one of the key characteristics of the Social Credit systems is that citizens can increase their balance of credits by being civically productive - producing a positive impact on civil society in some way. They can also be penalized by committing infractions. In this way, the available social credits incentivize civic responsibility and accountability. As to which contributions are considered the most “civically responsible” or productive, that would likely be left to individual communities to decide. It could mean, for example, active participation in Daily Direct Democracy (another feature of Level 7), or providing sound contributions to a Public Information Database (ibid) the pubic relies upon for “real facts,” or inventing/creating something beneficial for their community, or being a Good Samaritan, and so forth.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Why are bad economic occurrences generally seen as being due to “sod's law” when some economic actors are capable of greatly influencing outcomes?

There are a few angles to this IMO, depending on who is making the observation. For an entrepreneurial business owner, there is often a requisite character trait of eternal optimism that can often ignore variables with proven downsides. In a large bureaucratic corporation, there is an institutional inertia and arrogance that often refuses to adjust to new variables, even if they are known to be toxic. For macroeconomics geeks and policy wonks, there can be a deeply entrenched investment in a given economic philosophy that may prevent them from admitting certain variables exist at all - let alone admitting that they might have a predictable negative impact.

And for all of these players, we can reliably observe a “partial reinforcement” phenomenon: because their business strategy or ideology succeeded (or endured) in one situation with a given risk characteristic, they often assume this can happen again. This is why people gamble. And when the environment is dynamic and variable as in most business environments, the PREE (i.e. resistance to letting go of a belief that X behavior will produce Y outcomes, and ceasing the behavior) is amplified. Instead of recognizing this, folks will blame outcomes on Sod’s law (or Murphy’s law here in the States) - it’s a sort of confirmation bias. But you are quite correct that, in many cases, a negative outcome is entirely avoidable - even statistically inevitable. But just try telling a habitual gambler that.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:

What are some great reasons for protecting the environment?

It depends on your moral orientation. For example:

1) If your moral orientation is doing everything for I/Me/Mine, then you could justify protecting the environment because it supports your individual existence, health and goals. For example, polluting the air and water where you live will make you sick. Unfortunately this leads to NIMBY attitudes that ignore pollution or destruction of “other people’s” environments.

2) If your moral orientation is more about your family or tribe/community, then you could justifying protecting the environment to create a safe and healthy place for your family to grow up and thrive, or your tribe/community to flourish. Unfortunately this can still lead to NIMBY attitudes that impact other families and tribes.

3) If your moral orientation is around the well-being of the human species as a whole, then clearly you could justify protecting the environment for all of humanity’s continued life and well-being. However, this can still lead to unintended destruction - and harm to humans - if the connection between a given environmental impact and human well-being over time is not fully understood.

4) If your moral orientation embraces a love and appreciation for all life on Earth - inclusive of humanity - then it becomes easier to justify actions that contain or restrict environmental destruction of any kind. When all life is valued and appreciated, it is much clearer and more imperative to protect it. As you can imagine, however, this tends to create tension with the I/Me/Mine, tribal and all-humanity moral orientations, because those are not interested in containing or restricting their own behaviors for anyone or anything else.

For more about this, see: Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:

What is the most misunderstood thing about economics?

As a caveat, I’m not an expert in economics. Yes I’ve read a bit, researched a lot, written some…but one thing I’ve learned (so far) is that economics is pretty vast. Lots of different schools of thought. Lots of different angles - a lot of which I don’t have deep knowledge about. But that’s never stopped me from having an opinion before. ;-) First off I’d like to say I appreciate Austin Middleton's post here. Understanding the specific methodology being discussed or evaluated is absolutely critical. All of which brings me to my first point: I don’t think it is possible to generalize with confidence about “the most misunderstood thing” regarding this particular topic. It’s just too wily of a beast to pin down in that way. Of course that was a generalization…but I’m sure you get my drift.
That said, I’ll share some of my own personal misunderstandings about economics - or at least how my understanding has evolved over time. I suspect that others - perhaps many people - have begun with similar initial assumptions to my own. So here goes:

1. Initial assumption: Macroeconomic models and analysis have fully understood and expressed how economies function. Current conclusions: not by a long shot; there remains a level of mystery and complexity to macroeconomic interdependencies that no one has penetrated.

2. Initial assumption: the time for Keynesian approaches is long past. Current conclusions: Keynes is, thus far, one of very few theorists who seems to have made consistently accurate predictions about cause and effect at the macroeconomic level.

3. Initial assumption: game theory is a cool and sophisticated mathematical way to go about evaluating and modeling economic interactions. Current conclusions: game theory is an almost silly, tail-chasing exercise that is mainly relevant only to itself.

4. Initial assumption: It is possible to intuit or deduce the economic dynamics of a given micro or macro situation from a consistent ideological standpoint, prior to collecting empirical data. Current conclusions: Freakanomics.

5. Initial assumption: the Austrian School has something viable to contribute to economic theory. Current conclusions: the Austrian School is a silly, absurd tail-chasing exercise predicated on flawed assumptions about human behavior.

6. Initial assumption: Authoritarian State socialism is the only kind of socialism widely implemented. Current conclusions: there are nearly as many variations of socialism as their are hairs on a cat, at least half of which focus on diffused, democratic, highly distributed models without central controls, and many different models have been tested - or have occurred organically - in the real world.

7. Initial assumption: Milton Friedman was vehemently opposed to crony capitalism. Current conclusions: Milton Friedman’s entire life’s work was spent engineering the tools and techniques crony capitalists use to manipulate markets and maintain their power…and Friedman both knew this and actively participated in it.

8. Initial assumption: Adam Smith was the forefather of neoliberalism. Current conclusions: Neoliberals consistently disrespect the insights and principles Adam Smith championed.

9. Initial assumption: Marx’s conceptions of the flaws of capitalism were simplistic and quickly overtaken by the evolution of modern industrial, informational and financial economies, but his ideas about historical materialism seemed to be compelling. Current conclusions: Historical materialism is probably Marx’s greatest error and has contributed to the worst possible outcomes for socialism, but Marx’s understanding of the flaws of capitalism were spot on, and are still being vindicated today in nearly all of its manifestations.

10. Initial assumption: That the “tragedy of the commons” is an actual real-world inevitability. Current conclusions: The tragedy of the commons is more of a thought experiment that has been overapplied, and is contradicted by empirical studies such as Elinor Ostrom’s common pool resource management research.

As you can see…there are lots of facets here. We could pick any one of them to launch a lengthy discussion on what misunderstandings exist, why they exist, who seems to have them, etc. And then we would probably disagree. So, returning to my initial point: economics is a wily beast.

One last thing I would bring up is that the battles over various schools and methodologies in economics seem to be almost tribalistic or religious in nature. Like whether PCs or Macs are better computers, or whether Democrats or Republicans have better sex. It’s almost as if economics was intended to be vociferously ranted about late at night, over several beers.

My 2 cents.

(I may come back and add more topics as I think of them, just for fun…)

From Quora:

Cutting Through The Bunk: Why The World Is Self-Destructing, And What We Can Do About It

"Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large..." - Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, December 1778

Like most folks who enjoy tracking the news, opinion pieces and stories circulating on social media, I've been deluged with opinions lately. About why Trump got elected, why liberal ideals are flailing, why cultures around the globe seem to be regressing, why the working class is so angry, why there is an upsurge in nationalistic sentiment, why the global economy is sputtering, why Islamic extremism won't go away, etc. And I have to say, nearly all of the explanations I've seen or read seem to be...well...almost complete bunk. Not entirely, but almost. Even the folks that I admire and respect - and whose writing I've followed for years - appear to be missing what is obvious, and choosing instead to follow the crowd down a rabbit hole of elaborate speculation. It's almost as if our cognitive dissonance between the way we expect the world to be, and the way the world actually is, has hit a hard, thick, impenetrable wall. And, perhaps as an understandable consequence, our collective realm of thought is self-destructing along with everything else. It really feels like all of humanity is undergoing a psychotic break.

But enough of this positive, uplifting preamble. Am I now going to sell myself as the one sane voice in the wilderness? The one person who can see through the fog of delusion, into realms of pure causal clarity? Well I haven't performed any miracles lately, or won a Nobel Prize, or even succeeded at ridding our back yard of its prodigious gopher I can't assert any special knowledge or authority on the state of reality. But perhaps I can at least poke some holes in what I perceive to be a sort of mass hysteria around the current state of affairs, and inspire one or two minds to free themselves from what - to me at least - seems like a glaring oversight of several basic facts, and several fairly reasonable, even predictable conclusions about why we have arrived at this rather bizarre moment in global and domestic affairs. I've also got some proposed solutions up my sleeve.

Okay so let's start with the easy stuff....


Trump won the election for four fairly straightforward reasons:

1) Tapping Into a Deeply Felt, Enduring Anger

A large number of fearful, uninformed and relatively gullible people were really angry - and in fact have been really angry for quite a while now - and Trump tapped into that anger and channeled it to his own benefit. How did he tap in? Mainly by amplifying the blame for all white working class sufferings on a Bogeyman painstakingly propped up by decades of propaganda (see #3 below). The groundwork was already laid for Trump in this regard, he simply capitalized on it. And sure, Trump also called upon the timeworn tactics of racism, sexism, Islamaphobia, xenophobia, "pro-life" religious conservatism, and mixed these with extraordinary lies and grandiose exaggerations, even stirring a pinch of Occupy Wall Street speak into the mix. Here again there was nothing new, just borrowed ideas and rhetoric from previous streams of propaganda and populism - his opportunistic tools. I have discussed elsewhere how Trump also deployed a uniquely American flavor of salesmanship, and tapped into longstanding fears about the decline of testosterone and an ascendance of the feminine, and perhaps these were even more representative of his unique character. I've also discussed some of the other factors involved in this post. But the main driver behind the success * of Trump's nationalistic populism was anger - an anger surely shared by many around the globe.

2) Hillary Clinton's Flaws as a Candidate

Hillary Clinton was simply not a winning enough candidate. Despite her capturing the popular vote, a diverse and widely-distributed group of Democrats who showed up for Obama didn't vote at all in 2016 (about 7 million of them I believe), because they simply weren't inspired by Hillary. Another large portion of Democrats in the Rust Belt voted for Trump instead...because they really didn't trust or like Hillary Clinton. And of course when Hillary ran for President previously, she lost the Democratic primary to someone who was simply a more attractive candidate to many people. I'm not saying Hillary wasn't qualified, mind you, just that she wasn't compelling enough to mobilize voters. Imagine, for example, how exciting things could have been if a Sanders/Warren ticket - or a Warren/Booker ticket - had emerged from the primaries. Gosh golly I think some otherwise apathetic peeps might have gotten themselves to the polls.

3) Decades of Relentless Propaganda and Manipulation

A concerted propaganda effort over many years - and costing billions of dollars - was executed by wealthy conservatives (the Koch brothers, Roger Ailes, etc.) to misinform U.S. citizens about anything and everything, mainly to get them thoroughly and irrationally fired up against President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Democrats, the Affordable Care Act, marriage equality, liberal immigration policy, Black Lives Matter, protecting minority voting rights, or anything else smacking of progressive ideology, "big government," liberal elitism or the dreaded socialism. The Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, FOX News, Glenn Beck and The Blaze, Rush Limbaugh, RedState, Infowars, Breitbart, and carefully organized Tea Party grass roots activism all propagated very similar (sometimes identical) narratives about the failures and "evils" perpetrated on America by these nefarious, malevolent ne'er-do-wells. Most of this propaganda had little internal logic, and relied on few real facts, generating instead a slew of "alternative facts" that conformed with an alternative Bogeyman/conspiracy reality.

This propaganda has also made a concerted effort to vilify "the liberal media," evidence-based analysis of policies and practices, anything that sounded too "intellectual" or wordy, and even the usefulness or viability of scientific research. This was a transparent tactic to undermine contradictory perspectives that threatened the propaganda narrative - that is, a transparent tactic to undermine the truth itself. As a consequence, a new breed of Republican politician began to surface that could provide a charismatic, often hokey or folksy front for this "anti-establishment" propaganda machine, often without an ounce of real substance to back up their facade. This is part of why the ignorant and silly sound bytes of Michelle Bachman, Todd Akins, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush and others seemed to skyrocket them to popularity, and how folks who are clearly unqualified, incompetent or just plain stupid have attained positions of immense power in Republican administrations. It's all part of a clear and deliberate effort to prop up an alternate reality narrative.

We must also keep in mind that any Republicans who disagreed with this narrative or its political offspring were also rapidly ejected from the herd. Skilled, intelligent, well-meaning Republicans were quickly forced to either dumb themselves down and conform to the silliness, or switch parties, or retire. This was all about capturing and retaining political power, a hoodwinking of America to facilitate plutocracy and corporatocracy. And of course we are already seeing the new Trump administration continuing these same distortions and tactics to support their particular reality field.

4) Underhanded and illegal help.

We may not know for some time all the details about Russia's intrusions into the 2016 U.S. elections. We also probably can't know exactly how much they really influenced voter turnout and choices. We do know, however, that these actions were deliberate, well-planned and pervasive. We also know the aim was to influence the specific outcome of denigrating Hillary Clinton, and several other Democrats, so that Trump and other Republicans could win these contests. We also know Russia has been involved - and continues to be involved - in such activities in other countries. And did FBI Director Comey's actions in the weeks prior to the November vote have a significant impact? We may not know that for certain either. In addition, however, we also know that Republicans both gerrymandered many states to provide a majority in both local legislatures and the House of Representatives, and aggressively purged voting rolls of African American Democrats to similarly skew results in their favor locally and nationally. And because the margin of the election wins in some areas (Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for example) are relatively small, all of these underhanded and illegal efforts combined could easily have made a substantive difference in the final electoral vote distribution.


Of course it is. It's just been artfully stoked, molded and misdirected away from the real causes of very real problems. At whom - or what - should these folks be directing their ire? Well, let's take a look at what's really going on....

What has caused so much market instability, loss of jobs and a living wage, huge increases in consumer debt, a steadily climbing cost of living, widening wealth inequality, and precipitously declining consumer buying power? Folks, it's not any of the factors being bantered about in the media or expounded upon by most pundits and sages, and it's certainly not anything new (as just one example, real wages have been in decline in the U.S. since about 1968). The underlying problem is kind of like the air we breathe - if we were fish, it would be the ocean we are swimming through; we just can't see it because we are so profoundly reliant upon it. But it's croniest, clientist, commercialist corporate capitalism folks. Really...that's the complete, well-rounded, precise and truthful cause of all these problems. The only things that keep us from seeing this clearly are the fish-in-the-sea/elephant-in-the-room/emperor's clothes phenomenon...artfully reinforced by the carefully crafted propaganda alluded to earlier. But if we are willing to open our eyes to the obvious, this explanation is inescapable.

Let's look take a quick peek at some supportive details.

Capitalism is growth-dependent.

Our current form of capitalism relies on cheap labor, cheap resources and expanding markets to keep growing. Why? Because as standards of living increase, a tipping point is inevitably reached where domestic workers expect to be paid more than companies can afford to pay them and still remain profitable. Why? Because companies are selling products and services to the same workers who are producing them, while at the same time having to pay for other inputs (raw materials, equipment, buildings, taxes, service inputs, etc.), and of course wanting to extract profit from the equation as well. To make matters worse, public owner-shareholders who add zero value to the business itself always want to extract more and more profit for themselves. But you can't have your cake and eat it to. Finally, eventual natural consequences like market saturation, price inelastic demand, and "lower prices are better" consumer expectations add additional restrictions on profit. All of this results in a situation where, once a certain peak standard of living and affluence are reached across a large enough segment of society, there is simply no more room for profit. In this sense, the "middle class" of America is the natural enemy of capitalism, forcing free enterprise to perpetually seek cheaper inputs outside of the United States. This is one reason why the U.S., at only 5% of the Earth's population, has been using close to 30% of global resources to support its standard of living.

So without this growth, profits rapidly diminish and even evaporate. This is a primary reason why globalization has been so critical to the function of capitalism - the desire for inexpensive labor and resources, as well as new populations of consumers, has become increasingly strident. In fact, this growth-dependency can become so urgent and toxic that it causes military conflicts and trade wars in order to secure more low-cost inputs and new market opportunities. And over time, when cheap labor, cheap resources and new markets inevitably become scarce - when there is nowhere else to go - the focus of free enterprise necessarily shifts to increasing various efficiencies. And the first stops on the efficiency train are usually three considerations: labor efficiency, economies of scale, and reducing competition.

1) Labor efficiency. Labor is one of the most expensive inputs to capitalism, and there are a number of strategies to reduce costs once overseas outsourcing reaps diminishing returns. One is automation and computers that permit fewer workers - or cheaper workers with less skill - to create the same output. Another is reducing wages, often by replacing seasoned workers with a younger, lower cost workforce; or by shifting full-time employees to part-time or contract status to avoid paying benefits and taxes; or by breaking and ousting labor unions. Another is increasing the productivity of employees, through expecting longer work hours for the same pay, or restructuring salary to performance-based incentives, or using an intimidating management style of quotas and reprimands.

2) Economies of scale.
Becoming bigger - even to the point of completely monopolizing a given industry on a transnational scale - introduces many potential efficiencies and greater control of all the inputs involved. It also provides greater influence over relationships with suppliers, local governments and distribution channels. The ultimate result is not only a lower cost-per-unit, but more security and leverage over everything from workforce to government regulation. This level of control is very appealing to owner-shareholders who expect consistent profitability.

3) Reducing competition. Here the strategies are also fairly predictable. Either companies will try to position themselves as the only game in town through mergers and hostile buyouts, or they will engage in other anti-competitive business practices that provide a lock on how their products perform in that market. Common anti-competitive practices include things like price fixing, exclusive dealing, dumping products at a loss until competitors have fled the market, and intellectual property protections that guaranty exclusivity or disrupt competition (patenting crops, etc.). There are some very creative and wide-ranging options, though, and I recommend consulting the link above for more examples.

What are the consequences of these practices? Almost always these result in larger and larger monopolies, fewer jobs and lower pay, regulatory and political leverage in governments (sometimes to the point of complete capture of government), and price inelastic demand for an ever-widening array of commodities. At the same time, however, once these approaches are widely and aggressively deployed, the impetus to grow business and profits is still just as urgent...but now the easiest tools have already been used up. The available options have been shrinking. Subsequently, when stagnant or diminishing profits begin to worry investors and frustrate entrepreneurs, the focus has to shift into new territory. This might include:

1) Veblen goods. On the one hand, these luxury items can appeal to a shrinking slice of society with disposable income, who are willing to pay top dollar (read maximum profit) for goods and services with cultural cachet. Innovations in this arena can pay off much more handsomely than a new design for inexpensive mass-produced gadgets.

2) Planned obsolescence, "newer is better" marketing, and meaningless innovation. Ever wonder why everything from dishwashers and vacuum cleaners to housing and cars don't seem to endure as long or perform as well as they once did? Or why there seem to be frenetic updates and upgrades to everything we buy, which a product or service won't work without? Because it doesn't pay to make things that last, or that don't require maintenance, or that can't be upgraded. It's much more lucrative to engineer a rapid turnover of goods, or goods that require constant servicing and enhancement. If consumers can be persuaded to believe that every tiny feature, no matter how trivial or irritating, is a "must have," well then it becomes very foolish to produce anything simple, enduring or fully functional from the get-go...doesn't it?

3) Recurring consumer reliance or addictions. This is a subtler, longer-term strategy that can be very effective. Moving away from single sales to a subscription model, for example. Or medicating the symptoms of chronic conditions with expensive pharmaceuticals, instead of treating the underlying causes. Or pricy "club" memberships that lock consumers into a single source for their purchases, so that they are compelled to recoup their membership fees via that one retailer's "deeply discounted" products. Ironies abound of course. Consider, for example, e-cigarettes marketed to help nicotine addicts wean themselves off of traditional cigarettes, simply trading one addiction for another for equally negative health effects.

However, once again these strategies are only sustainable if there is a large pool of consumers still available with adequate disposable income. But, recalling that labor reduction and impoverishment is one of the prominent efficiency strategies, and that worker-consumer exploitation and dependency have already been in play for some time, existing markets inevitably will contract or become saturated. Add to this the hallmarks of "lowest price!" consumer expectations, owner-shareholder profit expectations, spreading price inelastic demand, and the other pressures we've enumerated so far, and the final straw pretty much breaks the camel's back.

What's left? Where can capitalism go from here...?

Once the easiest efficiencies, marketing strategies and product choices have been exhausted, there is only one thing left to do: abandon production of traditional goods and services altogether. The next step in capitalism's decline is financialization - that is, transitioning to a financial economy. Here profit is sought mainly through speculative investing, elaborate financial instruments, litigious enterprises (patent trolling), increased loan leveraging, and the cultivation of ever-increasing consumer debt. In other words, making money directly from money or through manipulating the law, without the intermediate step of providing an actual service or producing an actual good. And, in keeping with the previously established aims of efficiency, monopoly, dependence and so forth, owner-shareholders become more and more wealthy, while jobs for worker-consumers become fewer and lower-paying, buying power continues to decline, benefits and privileges that were once ubiquitous become more scarce, and debt-slavery replaces wage-slavery as the new norm for the working class. For most people, life gets harder, more stressful and a lot less fair; the American dream of a middle-class lifestyle becomes harder and harder to achieve or sustain. And all of this is happening against a backdrop of promises that each generation would be better off than the last.

Is it any wonder that people are really pissed off?!

But we're not done yet. Eventually, towards the end of this final phase, capitalism flails around for additional labor sources, natural resources, efficiencies, speculations, lending avenues and so forth...but these are increasingly hard to come by. The strategies just aren't working as well anymore, even as owner-shareholders are expecting greater profits, workers are clamoring for more jobs and better pay, consumers are insisting on lower prices, markets are becoming more saturated and less competitive, and more commodities become subject to price inelastic demand. The pressures on the capitalist system only increase. Which is how bubbles are formed, and why crashes occur. Which of course only pisses everyone off that much more.

However, there is one remaining avenue of new inputs, and that is to privatize public goods and anything socially owned. To facilitate this, corporations must aggressively roll back or capture as many regulatory and trade restrictions as possible. And, over the last decades, we've seen all of this playing out not only in the U.S., but globally. In the U.S., we've had the FCC selling off the public broadcast frequency spectrum to corporate bidders; school voucher programs that direct public funds away from public schools; the freezing of EPA enforcement via executive order; the SEC loosening leveraging restrictions; staunch opposition to the ACA and single payer healthcare; vociferous advocacy of privatizing Social Security....It's all clear as day. As for the rest of the world, check out the consequences of the World Bank and IMF's "structural adjustment policies," or who benefited most from our biggest trade deals. At the same time, the capitalist system self-protectively socializes as many risks as possible for its increasingly unreliable experiments, so that it can - like a self-destructive gambling addict - expend a final set of borrowed inputs for a last spasm of profit. Bailouts anyone? Too big to fail? And of course all of the stages I've described generate instability in boom-and-bust cycles along the way, which is exactly what we've been experiencing on a global scale.

Now, rather unfortunately, we are finally and irreversibly arriving at the very end of a death spiral, where capitalism has busily begun consuming itself. There is nowhere else to go. In the next boom-and-bust cycle (or maybe, optimistically, the one after that), there will be nothing left to feed into the world's economic engine. In our current trajectory, stock valuations are a consequence of magical thinking and psychological reactions, with no correlation to anything real. And, like most conditions that are not based in reality, it is totally unsustainable. Yes, it is possible that some new storm of innovations will create a new, temporary ecosystem for profit, and perhaps extend the death rattle for a few more precious months or years. But the end of capitalism is, I think, truly and irrevocably upon us.

So perhaps now it has become clear why people have become so desperate, agitated, angry, and afraid. Not just in the U.S., but all around the globe. Intuitively and experientially, they know the writing is on the wall. Human beings - even the folks who voted for Trump - are not entirely stupid. They sense the game is up, even if they can't admit the underlying causes to themselves. They are witnessing a capitalist system that is no longer generating returns adequate to support civil society - let alone the opulence, excesses and tremendous wastes of U.S. consumerism - and that system is going to take them down with it. And, as the global economy teeters on the edge of the abyss, a rallying cry of the pro-capitalist propagandists gurgles forth: "Just give us one more try! Do if for your country! It's not your fault and it's not our's the Bogeyman's fault! Just trust us and we will make you great again!" Oh yes, the worker-consumers of the world have every reason to be lividly pissed off - now and for many decades past. But unless we all work together to turn the Titanic, and soon, our suffering will only intensify and the options decrease, until all that is left of capitalism is a set of rotting teeth, gnashing away at nothing in the dark.


As folks have been waking up to the reality that our current capitalist system isn't working, a number of dead-end proposals have been put forth for our consideration. These have included:

1) A return to FDR New Deal style solutions engineered by government. This would undoubtedly soften the blow for those feeling the most economic pain, and perhaps create some temporary, well-paying jobs. Increasing taxes on the wealthy to pay for this expansion would also work - in the short run. This was what Bernie Sanders was championing. And this probably would have ushered in a temporary golden age of flourishing quality-of-life for mainstream America, possibly even expanding the middle class once again. But it still wouldn't have solved the underlying self-destructive currents in capitalism that we've explored in this essay, and so, in the long run, it would not have averted inevitable decline and collapse being witnessed. In fact, it might have even accelerated destabilization - by encouraging capital flight, for example, or by amplifying boom/bust cycles and comorbid inflationary pressures, debt burdens, and so forth. So, not a reliable long-term solution.

2) Freeing up the engines of capitalism with laissez faire reforms, reducing government deficit spending, and expanding tax cuts for the wealthy, then attempting to focus beneficial outcomes on the U.S. economy with trade protectionism. This seems to be the solution Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are offering. Unfortunately, not only does this approach fail to address the flaws in the capitalist system itself, it also exacerbates some of the more pronounced factors that undermine overall economic productivity, stability and mobility. In fact, all of these strategies have already been tried in the recent past, and they have just made things worse, and very quickly. Just follow these links or do quick web searches on "trade protectionism," "regressive taxation" and "austerity economics" for relevant disastrous examples and analysis. Oops!

3) Try to maintain a status quo crony capitalist arrangement, with a government just strong enough to facilitate corporate interests, a monetary policy that effectively controls inflation, and taxes just high enough to keep social safety nets from becoming exhausted. This is what Obama did fairly successfully, and I think it is also what Hillary Clinton would likely have done in some variation. It is a strategy that promotes stability, and stretches out the timeline of decline and collapse, likely to its greatest possible limit. If we added Picketty-inspired wealth taxes to this scenario, it might actually stretch things out for decades. But...oh well. The underlying issues we've raised here are still not addressed in any substantive way. We would still be looking at the collapse of capitalism over the longer term.

Okay...if these options would work, what's left to try? Is there a viable escape hatch?

Well that's what I've been thinking about for the past few years. And my unsurprising conclusion is pretty straightforward: we need to replace capitalism with a more egalitarian political economy. Not State socialism - absolutely not. But there are other options, the components of which have actually already been tested and proven in the real world. I provide detailed proposals and supportive information for those on my Level 7 website. But in short, consider thinking of a new political economy as you would a new kind of air to breathe...or a new kind of ocean to swim in...realizing that it will take some time and effort to fully grok all of its dimensions. Then take a steady, considered breath, and dive in.


I've summarized the basic idea of a Level 7 political economy in the acronym EPIC-SEEDS, which stands for:

E ngaged - Civic engagement and political obligation become fundamental expectations of all citizens, and are tied directly to proportional access to public goods, infrastructure, services and privileges.

P iloted & Precautionary - Starting small, proving the concept, replicating, and measuring the outcomes, impacts and externalities in a multidimensional way.

I ntegrity - Embodying the values, principles and approaches of the desired political economy in all revolutionary activism and successive phases of execution.

C ommons-Centric - Neither privatization nor State ownership, but migrating resource ownership and governance to a user-based, self-organized and self-managed model.

S ubsidiarity - Shifting the center of all decision-making, service provisioning and economic production down to the most local level possible, ideally the community.

E galitarian Efficiency - The aim of both equality of opportunity and equality of outcome for all citizens, in all circumstances.

E volved - Supporting individual and collective moral evolution beyond I/Me/Mine or Us vs. Them, to a more cohesive and compassionate We.

D irect Democracy - At all levels of government, and all levels of free enterprise, in concert with elected or appointed technocrats and managers, while holding representatives and civil servants accountable, and overriding them when necessary.

S ustainable Design - Systems designed to ebb-and-flow in cyclical steady states, without depleting natural resources, destroying cultures or ecosystems, or creating new forms of slavery.

For the full overview of what I think needs to be done - with lots of supportive information and resources on how it all works - please check out Although the website is becoming fairly comprehensive, the objective was to create a starting point for a more participatory long-term solution. So I hope you will check it out and offer some feedback. We have a long way to go, but the roadmap is clear.

*Footnote regarding the prevalence of anger: It should be noted that the angry voter percentage in the 2016 U.S. elections really wasn't that large in electoral terms. For example, Ronald Reagan won the Electoral College 489 to 49 over Jimmy Carter, whereas Trump only won 306 to 232 over Hillary Clinton. Trump's margin ranks him 46th out of 58 Presidential elections...hardly a decisive win, even when we ignore his record-breaking margin of loss to Clinton in the popular vote.

What's the most unhealthy thing that society encourages us to do?

A lot of answers on Quora have touched on the symptoms that are unhealthy, without touching on the root cause. Nearly all of the most destructive “unhealthy things” that have been described so far are the product of one thing: a belief that capitalism is the most viable economic system, and our perpetuating and participating in that system unquestioningly. If we want to move away from conspicuous consumption, unhealthy diets, addictive products, self-destructive lifestyles, an obsession with accumulating “stuff,” wanton destruction of the planet and exhausting of its resources, etc., all that we really need to do is transition to a different political economy. One where corporations are not in charge, where we aren’t programmed to solve all our problems through purchasing decisions, and where people actually participate in self-governance through democracy. One where caring about our fellow human beings takes priority over exploiting them. One where wage-slavery, obscenely disparate concentrations of wealth, and fencing off the world into private property are abandoned in favor of a commons-centric, worker-managed, more directly democratic model. One where technologies, innovations and advances are designed primarily to improve the well-being of the greatest number for the greatest duration…instead of just making shareholders happy. One where civic responsibility is mainly about enhancing the public good, rather than just championing childish individualism. There are many ways we could do this, but the primary feature of any new system will be giving up on capitalism altogether. We need fundamental change, not a facelift to hide our mistaken trust in a broken concept.

To that end I have a work-in-progress, which you can view here: Level 7 Overview. This is intended to be a participatory effort, so please feel free to send me your thoughts. Just please take time to look over what’s there first. :-)

My 2 cents.

Is it possible for the State to no longer exist?

Yes. There are a few options:

1. Let corporations take over all of the functions that the State currently provides, offering what amounts to “voluntary” contractual slavery to maintain concentrations of wealth and power in the hands of a few. This is where anarcho-capitalism, laissez-faire objectivism, and Nozick-style minarchism eventually lead, and doesn’t really present much of a difference to traditional Statism in terms of the coercive force of poverty or enforcement of the rule of law. It’s basically just stripping off the facade of political self-determination we have in our crony capitalist “representative” democracy. I find it rather humorous U.S. right-libertarianism is so critical of the “excessive and inefficient police state,” when their solutions would likely enhance corporatocracy’s interferences with liberty even more - especially as monopolies consolidate over time.

2. Maintaining a mixed economy and a welfare State, but introducing more direct democracy into the mix - following Switzerland’s hybrid setup, for example. Then, over time, attenuating the responsibilities and authority of the State, and shifting more and more decision-making and accountability to direct democracy and/or down to the community level. The problem with this approach is that, if corporations aren’t democratized and diffused in the same way, they will still represent huge concentrations of wealth and power that disrupt civil society and usurp or countermand democratic will. So this approach is, at best, a temporary fix.

3. Combine semi-direct democracy with worker ownership of production, and rapidly diffuse political and economic power out to the community level. As direct democracy is increasingly implemented across all civic and commercial institutions, centralized power will likewise become more distributed. All that remains is an examination of accumulations of private property and for-profit activities that sabotage egalitarian conditions for liberty, and gradually migrating those into a commons-centric model. For this shift to be voluntary, however, those who have accumulated much power and wealth will of necessity need to mature far enough along the moral spectrum to “gift” their accumulations back to society. In other words, we’ll all need to grow up a bit and graduate from an “I/Me/Mine” toddler mindset. Personally, I think most people have an intrinsic propensity to act prosocially and collectively for everyone’s best interest, it’s just that capitalism has arrested our natural development by constantly reinforcing materialistic individualism.

My own proposals around how and why humanity should transform its political economies away from capitalism and towards left-libertarianism can be found here: Level 7 Overview (

My 2 cents.

From Quora: