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20161224 – The Inner Life of Markets
The main idea of this book is to review history of development of economic thought after WWII and attempt to provide guidance for future development. The period covered by this book was period when Marxist ideas of superiority of central planning, so popular earlier and actually implemented in many countries at the cost of hundreds of millions of deaths, proved to be spectacular failure, while ideas of relatively free markets proved to be not less spectacular success. However authors’ ideas are far from unequivocal support for the free market. They rather believe that free market is susceptible to failure and requires a wise guidance of somebody outside and above its trivialities.
Introduction: Terms of Service
Here authors discuss their intentions in writing this book and it comes down to providing a guide to “Terms of Services” for the world we live in, the word saturated with multitude of markets.
1 Why People Love Markets: R. A. Radford’s Stiff Upper Lip and the Economic Organization of POW Camps
This is tory of spontaneous development of primitive market in POW camps in Germany and Japan where inmates exchanged their rations and everything else they could use. The point here is that even in such conditions market function actually saved lives by automatically allocating resources to the individuals who needed these resources most, consequently improving effective use of these resources. This analysis is very powerful because various camps had various rules allowing markets function or forbidding it. The result was higher level of survival in camps with functioning market.
- The Scientific Aspirations of Economists, and Why They Matter: How Economics Came to Rule the World
This is about mathematization of economics in the years after WWII. Authors see it as continuation of Pareto work and intermixes it with general mathematization of strategy via theory of games at RAND. Authors consider Paul Samuelson with his General Equilibrium to be the most important economist of this period. They also mention Ken Arrow and his mathematical prove of Equilibrium existence theorem. However Arrow’s theorem required postulation of a number of highly unrealistic assumptions that actually made it all into abstract play with no practical meaning whatsoever. Authors briefly discuss input of Robert Solow with his various grades of capital, Gary Becker with his human capital, and Josef Stiglitz with his prove of ability of inconvenient reality to destroy Equilibrium, rending them model useless.
- How One Bad Lemon Ruins the Market: That’s for Me to Know and for You to Find Out (But Only When It’s Too Late)
This chapter is about the role of information disparity between buyer and seller also know as Market for Lemons thanks to George Akerlof’s article. It discusses application of these ideas in E-commerce, specifically E-bay operations. At the end of chapter authors conclude that information disparity is unavoidable as well as existence of individuals happily applying it to unethical uses.
- The Power of Signals in a World of Cheap Talk: Face Tattoos and Other Signs of Hidden Qualities
This chapter is about power of signals uses an interesting story about gang tattoos serving as powerful signal of belonging that capable completely define individual’s live and death. After that authors review typical market signaling methods with special attention to mixed signals and cost of signal as method to support its validity.
- Building an Auction for Everything: The Tale of the Roller-Skating Economist
This is about auction theories that become very popular late in XX century. It reviews a number of various types of auctions, their advantages and disadvantages.
- The Economics of Platforms: Is That a Market in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?
This is about the old economic notion of platform that recently become highly popular due to Internet with its preponderance of platform as the most effective form of monopoly in contemporary world. It discusses pre-internet platform of credit cards and theory of two-sided markets and role of platform as necessary intermediary between sides developed by Jean Tirole.
- Markets Without Prices: How to Find a Prom Date in Seventeen Easy Steps
This chapter is about the huge market, which has a lot bigger role in human live than anything else: market where voluntary exchange of goods and services occurs without intermediate use of money. It includes dating, all kinds of interactions between kin and kith, and charity. Authors review applications of newly developed algorithms for matching of everything and everybody from school dance couple to doctorate students assignments, to school choices. This is based on work of market designer Al Roth.
- Letting Markets Work: How a Hardcore Socialist Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Market
This is kind of extension of the previous chapter with a small quirk about how reality forced even hard core socialists, dedicated to non-monetary work in capitalist society, accept necessity of market driven solution if they want to achieve positive results. Examples reviewed here are from simple school problem of lack of enough hooks for overcoats that could be resolved by assigning price, to distribution of free food, which becomes much more effective with quasi monetary system. It also includes retelling of Al Roth’s story about kidney exchange market. Finally it looks at the new Internet based markets for sharing such as Uber and Airbnb.
- How Markets Shape Us: The Making of King Rat
The final chapter is about negatives of market that makes human selfish and unethical in search of winning in competition.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a nice review of history of economic thought, but I think it is highly deficient because it completely ignores a very serious branch of economics represented by Ludwig von Mises who completely rejected the very idea of use of mathematics in economics because he saw it as the science of human actions, which are unpredictable and unquantifiable. In this view equilibrium is not possible because human wishes are tend to change every second, making any idea of aggregate demand ridiculous on its face. In this view money is just one of many intermediate goods necessary to achieve final result of satisfying human wants. Another very important and missing part of economic thought is Friedrich Hayek’s idea of markets as process of use of distributed information to satisfy human wants versus central planning as use of concentrated and necessary heavily curtailed information to fit information processing ability of a few individuals at the top and consequently incapable to satisfy human wants or even reasonably well evaluate them. The final part of the book about negative consequences of markets that makes people selfish and unethical authors somehow forget or just not capable to understand that alternative to markets (voluntary exchange) is involuntary exchange that is robbery either by unorganized gangs or by organized government. In either case the idea that robbers either as couple armed guys on dark street or highly refined and well educated members of central planning committee, would be unselfish or ethical sounds to me as highly implausible.
20161217 A Field Guide to Lies
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate a number of tricks used to misrepresent data in order to lead reader to preordained conclusions beneficial to data presenter. In short it is a nice guide to methods of creating “facts” and “proves” where there are none or spin real facts to such extend that they become irrelevant.
Introduction: Thinking, Critically
The brief introduction promotes the idea that users should not blindly trust any pseudo scientific ideas supported by graphs and numbers, but rather critically analyze what these data really show.
PART ONE: EVALUATING NUMBERS
The first step in this review is the test on plausibility. The sample of impossibility: something is down by 200%. Obviously nothing could be down by more than 100% at which point it becomes 0.
Fun with Averages
This is about typical misuse of Average vs. mean (same as average) vs. median (50% above/below) vs. mode (most frequent – pick of distribution). There is very nice example of company salary / bonus for owners income presentation manipulation to convey different points to different audiences.
This is about the use of graph with typical manipulation reviewed such as: Unlabeled Axes, Truncated vertical axis, Discontinuity of Axes, Improper scale of Axes, Double Y-axis with inadequate scales.
Hijinks with How Numbers Are Reported
This is about technics for misleading numerical data presentation such as: use of cumulative data to hide changes with nice example of cumulative sales data to hide drop in sales, plotting on the same graph unrelated data to imply correlation where there is none, use of deceptive illustrations and extrapolations with hilarious example of extrapolation decrease in coffee temperature to absolute 0, variation in data precision with nice example of manipulating birth data to prove point, and final trick – special subdividing with nice example of manipulation of statistics of heart disease death by subdividing them into categories in order to move another type of disease to the first place as cause of death.
How Numbers Are Collected
This is about manipulation of data collection in order to achieve preordained results such as: sampling biases, Participation Bias, Reporting Bias, Lack of standardization, Measurement error, and inclusion of unverifiable data.
This is a nice analysis of use of probabilities. It divides this use into classic probability based on symmetry, frequency probability based on known outcome, and subjective probability based on opinion (Bayesian probability). After that author briefly goes into the basics of statistics with probably most important point being that conditional probabilities are not invertible meaning that if probability of B is higher after A occurred, it does not mean that occurrence of B does not increase probability of A. Very good example number of car incidents at 7am vs. 7pm.
PART TINO: EVALUATING WORDS
How Do We Know?
This is a small chapter on veracity of quotations and expert opinions. The key phrase here is “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.
This is about identifying truthfulness of witnesses and real knowledge of experts. Author somewhat support trust into licensed experts, degreed experts, governmental experts, experts certified by prizes, authoritative publications and similar establishment supported validations. However he also provides some meaningful advice such as: True expertise is always narrow, Check website domains and links to find out who is really behind catchy name, Check for time relevance of websites, Take into account institutional bias.
Overlooked, Undervalued Alternative Explanations
When evaluation claims, take into account alternative from suggested reasons for factual events. Exclude non-provable and therefor meaningless explanations: like “Aliens did it”. For research result check existence and validity of control group, sample sizes, selection criteria, and overall statistical validity of claims.
This is about misinformation packaged to look like a fact. Author provides examples of step-by-step building a misinformation case based on accumulation small plausible, but not necessarily correct statements. One of very popular misleading technics providing facts without link to big picture something like “double number of hurricanes in area A during last year means huge increase in X” without mentioning that previous year there were 1/10 of average number of last 100 years, meaning that X is not changing or maybe even decreasing. Another very nice technic of persuasion is to provide a number of weakly related correct facts in congestion with false statement one wants to promote. Here is a nice example for selling bottled water:
PART THREE: EVALUATING THE WORLD
How Science Works
This is a nice small presentation of formal methods of deduction and induction.
Here author discusses sample limitation leading to illusory correlation, framing probabilities and risks, and believe perseverance when contradictory evidence is heavily discounted. As example author provide story about link between autism and vaccines.
Knowing What You Don’t Know
This is a brief discussion of 2X2 Known / unknown matrix popularized by Rumsfeld with stress on need to minimize unknown/unknown, which is the most dangerous form of ignorance.
Bayesian Thinking in Science and in Court Four Case Studies
This is another brief discussion this time on Bayesian thinking: conditional probabilities.
Four Case Studies
Here author provides 4 case studies to demonstrate difficulties of decision-making and supporting information selection in contemporary world overwhelmed with various data often presented in such way that it is very difficult to obtain valid representation of reality. The cases are:
- Author dog’s fatal illness and related decision making process
- Reality of moon landing
- David Blaine’s presentations of non-breathing or ice cube frizzing
- Pattern recognition in in periodic table and use of statistics in Standard Model of Particle Physics
Conclusion: Discovering Your Own
The conclusion is the call to use one’s own intellectual facilities to recognize misleading information and data presentation because the world is filled with agenda currying presentations and lack of vigilance would lead to costly mistakes in decision making.
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my opinion it is a very valuable book, even if for me personally there is very little new in this presentation. Having spent first 37 years of my live in Soviet Union, that really had Orwellian ministries of truth and propaganda was considered a necessary tool of mass education, I learned to read between lines, decode graphs and tables to identify truthful information that these graphs and tables where designed to hide. However such training was not available for everybody so lots of people in western world get lost without such skills and often buy into all kinds of misrepresentations causing them significant harm in many areas from dietary behavior negatively impacting their health to political behavior negatively impacting their material well-being. Paradoxically author of this book on more than one occasion demonstrate his leftist leaning, clearly demonstrating how it impacts his judgment in presenting examples of misleading.
20161210 – Upside of Inequality
The main idea here is that growing inequality is not really such a big problem and it is overstated anyway. Moreover inequality is the engine behind the risk taking, innovation, and economic growth would not happen without it. The usual ideas of leftists that incentives do not matter and success is unearned, but rather is matter of luck are just plainly incorrect. Some other myths, which are not true, are:
- Economy has slowed down because there are little opportunities for investment;
- Middle class is hurt by progress;
- Class mobility has declined
The real solutions are change in immigration laws to promote high skill immigration, decrease marginal corporate tax, and apply full accounting for redistribution and government services that would show quite different picture of inequality than the one promoted by leftists.
Here author refers to his previous book “Unintended Consequences” where he expressed concern that massive blame of the free enterprise system for crisis of 2008 would lead to slower than necessary growth. The point was that high risk / high reward economy is more productive and more efficient than low-risk / low reward one. His point is that Keynesian interference into economy could not create growth because it stifles innovation and discourage savings by inflating money supply. This book is designed to demonstrate power of incentives in moving economy ahead via innovation and risk taking that would not occur in environment of heavy redistribution.
Part I: THE WORLD AS WE FIND IT
Chapter 1. The Causes of Growing Inequality
This chapter confirms growth of inequality with a nice graph:
Here are reasons:
- Globalization: Larger economy rewards stars more even if it decreases cost to consumers: CEO of company with 500000 employees receiving 0.001% of sales as compensations would get millions per year, while CEO of company with 5 employees would starve at this rate of compensation.
- IT disproportionally benefits most productive people and decrease needs for capital. Here is the graph for this:
- Compounding success benefits most productive individuals, by attracting more investment in their intangibles such as knowledge and experience:
- Increased risk taking increases inequality because even if increasing majority of new enterprises fails, the few who succeed would succeed with bigger returns, sometime in billions.
Chapter 2.The Reasons for Slowing Wage Growth
The same dynamics have negative effects on average wage growth:
- Globalization brings competition from poor countries where similar talent costs much cheaper.
- IT and low skill immigration directly restrict wage growth at the bottom and in the middle.
- Trade deficit strains economic capacity and consequently reduces wages even further.
Overall trend for commodity labor is to equalize over open global markets and that is what happening: highly paid American labor wages stagnate or even going down via inflation, while developing countries labor wages such as China are growing dramatically.
Part II: DEBUNKING MYTHS: Mitigating Inequality Is Not the Solution
Chapter 3.The Myth That Incentives Don’t Matter
Here author makes a point that growing literature about psychological drivers of risk taking and achieving success are stronger than pecuniary rewards do not really consistent with real live experience that demonstrates that without material rewards innovation and risk taking disappear, even if it does not happen immediately. Movement in both directions has compounding effect so results become obvious only over time. Correspondingly redistribution does not stop innovation right away when most established innovators would continue do what they like, but it would decrease numbers of individuals moving into these activities. Author also points out that high payoff of success does not impede reality that the most benefits are eventually going to consumers.
Chapter 4. The Myth That Success Is Largely Unearned
This is the challenge to idea that top earners not really earn their compensation, but rather get it by using their positioning in the business structure: something like CEOs get their compensation defined not by investors but by other CEOs sitting on the board of their company. In exchange they return the favor by voting for high compensation as directors on the board of some other company. To contradict this author presents study that income of CEO did not really grew as proportion of their companies’ income, it is that companies become much bigger. Similarly money managers’ compensation directly related to volume of funds they manage and these volumes increased dramatically. Another point author makes is that CEO job is highly risky, difficult to get, and is usually one time shot after long carrier of acquiring necessary knowledge and experience, so compensation should cover this risk. Overall high-risk high reward pays off for companies and here are some graphs to prove it:
Chapter 5. The Myth That Investment Opportunities Are in Short Supply
This is about high corporate profits and unwillingness of corporations to invest them back into economy. The inference Keynesians make from this is that government should confiscate unused capital and redistribute either to poor who would increase consumption or just use for more government spending. Author makes important point that in reality investments do not wait for demand, they create demand by providing more and new goods and services that customers did not know they want. The amount of examples is infinite from cars to smart phones. The real constrain is government interference with regulations, confiscations, and limitation of rewards that make such investments not worth trying. Author also looks at government interference into banking business where imposed demands on landing to unqualified borrowers led to crisis. Finally author criticizes an idea of starting economy up via infrastructure investment by referring to Japan huge spending over decades with no productivity growth to show for it.
Chapter 6. The Myth That Progress Hollows Out the Middle Class
Here author reviews and rejects idea that progress hollows out middle class. Here is the graph showing relatively small shift in income distribution over decades:
Finally author discusses cultural changes dependency on economic changes such as increase in women participation in labor had decreased value of marriage for them or dramatic increase in college education leading to inflation in value of college degrees.
Chapter 7. Myth That Mobility Has Declined
The final myth author challenges is decline in mobility. He does it by comparing US mobility with Denmark and finding no significant difference except at the very bottom, where Americans tend to stick relatively more, except for whites who have the same rates as in Denmark:
Part III: THE WAY FORWARD
Chapter 8. Our Moral Obligation to Help Those Less Fortunate
This is about poverty with usual inference that poor should be helped, but the problem is that help decreases incentives to work, acquire skills, and get out of poverty. The interesting point is that with all this help in terms of access to goods and services American poor actually are rich by international standards. However psychologically it does not help because people live by local standards and to be poor is devastating, even if American poor are fat, have cars, air conditioners, and unlimited access to entertainment and communications.
Chapter 9. The Limitations of Education
This is somewhat non-traditional take on education that starts with denial of inferiority of American schools to higher-scoring international schools. It is actually not that difficult to prove. One just has to be a little bit politically incorrect and look at test scores European-Americans separately and see that they are not worse than for children in European schools. The same applies to Asian Americans. After author looks at charter schools, other attempts to improve education, and comes to somewhat trivial conclusion that the best way to improve education is to filter out bad teachers and promote the good ones. He also makes a point of denying direct positive impact of increased levels of education on economic performance of the country.
Chapter 10. Real Solutions
Here author provides solutions for the problem of slowing economic growth based on American traditional openness as society and support for risk taking to achieve highly rewarding results:
- High-skill immigration should substitute low skill illegal and family based immigration
- Lower marginal corporate tax rates
- Allocation of all government expenses to households instead of middle-class tax cuts. Here author provide a table to demonstrate redistribution by counting in government services and taxes:
MY TAKE ON IT:
There are a lot of reasonable points here especially about incomplete accounting of transfers and government services, importance of incentives, dependency of investment opportunities on preponderance of societal attitudes, and needs to change nature of immigration. However some of this in my opinion is not justified such as ignoring prevalence of self-dealing by upper classes in control of other people’s money. Whether it is CEO that receives ridiculously huge income in exchange for providing ridiculously huge income to another CEO when voting as a Board Director on compensation, or it is politician in control of public resources using these resources and government power to create foundation for future multimillion income as lobbyist, it is the human nature and expect these people to link their income to their productivity would be unreasonable. I think that inequality is a very important issue not because it hurts economy, but because it creates foundation for all kind of leftist demagogues to undermine or even explode structure of society and therefore it should be minimized as much as possible. However this limitation should be achieved not by decreasing incentives, but rather by making them clearly linked to results of individual actions so negative results should lead to negative returns. When in addition to CEO making millions as 0.001% of company profits we learn about CEO loosing millions as 0.001% of company loses them issue of inequality would go away. I guess the best way is when owners run companies. In the case of huge public corporation when it is not an option I would like to see CEO based compensation limited to some multiplier of average salary of company employees with 100% profits/losses transferred to owners who then may or may not decide provide additional compensation to CEO as they wish. I doubt that this way anybody would complain about inequality, even if total compensation goes in billions.
- Compounding success benefits most productive individuals, by attracting more investment in their intangibles such as knowledge and experience:
20161203 Big Gods
Luckily author summarized the main idea of this book in succinct list of eight interrelated principles:
- Watched people are nice people.
- Religion is more in the situation than in the person.
- Hell is stronger than heaven.
- Trust people who trust in God.
- Religious actions speak louder than words.
- Unworshipped Gods are impotent Cods.
- Big Gods for Big Groups.
- Religious groups cooperate in order to compete.
Chapter 1 Religious Evolution
It starts with brief review of Mormon’s history as real live well-documented example of creation of the new and highly viable religion. Then author discusses necessity of religion as glue that allow to keep together big groups of unrelated people when initial sources of cooperation evolutionary developed such as kin selection are not sufficient anymore to protect group from free riding and selfish, group detrimental behavior. For some reason author considers development of Big Gods in agricultural societies as puzzle to which he outlines solution: prosocial character of religions supported evolutionary fitness of big groups as whole and allowed for practically unlimited scalability of such groups.
Chapter 2 Supernatural Watchers
This chapter starts with specific human ability to use mind theory to predict actions of other people and human tendency to assign agency to just about any conceivable entity or object. This creates very solid foundation for accepting god(s) as reality, even if individual has no direct contact with them. A very interesting point here is that god(s) are normally treated as personalized entities with all limitations typical for humans, despite theological notions of omniscience and unlimited power. This idea confirmed by MRI analysis and other research that demonstrated activation of parts of brain related to mind theory when individuals think or discuss god. However even if circuits in brain used for gods and for other humans are the same, people perceive gods as continuously watching entities hiding from which is just impossible. Author describes quite interesting research demonstrating that gods perceived to pay much more attention to moral and other violations of norms than to neutral actions and behavior.
Chapter 3 Pressure from Above
This chapter presents an interesting approach by characterizing religion as presented more in situation than in person. Basically it means that human actions occur under influence of multitude of forces and true believes are only one of them. Consequently the behavior consistent with believes is highly dependent on circumstances of the moment. Author provides description of a number of experiments confirming this idea. Author also reviews mechanics of Supernatural monitoring with Carrots and Sticks used to achieve conformity. Typically sticks are by far more powerful factor.
Chapter 4 In Big Gods We Trust
This chapter explores connection between prosocial religions and trust with true believe being very significant factor in generating trust in individual honesty and integrity without which long distance trade and many other business transactions becoming if not impossible outright, then very complex and cumbersome. This explains to significant part distrust of atheists comparatively to believers in other gods, even if these gods are hostile.
Chapter 5 Freethinkers as Freeriders
This chapter is looking at contemporary situation when powerful governments, which take consistently increasing role in monitoring behavior and enforcing norms, challenge gods. There is also dependency here on levels of development of a country when more developed countries have relatively uncorrupted governments assuring that game is playing by the rules, while in underdeveloped countries governments are thoroughly corrupted leaving people only hope on gods for interventions to correct the wrongs.
Chapter 6 True Believers
This chapter looks at critical requirement to separate true believers from pretenders. Since true believers enjoy trust from other people who convinced that gods enforce good behavior, they have non-trivial opportunities for benefiting from deception. Author reviews solution for this problem: high cost of proving one’s true believes. This is achieved by high level of burdens from tithe to self-mutilation that true believers voluntary subject themselves to. This cost also facilitates feeling of belonging to chosen group that is strongly reinforced by music, dance, and overall pageantry of religious ceremonies.
Chapter 7 Gods for Big Groups
This is a bit of historical review starting with the first known large-scale religious artifact at Gobekli Tepe created by hunter-gatherers even before mass transition to agriculture. Author believes that it is evidence that big gods are not a product of agriculture, but rather a contributing factor to such transition. The discussion here also moves to specifics and differences between Gods of small groups and Big Gods of big groups. This difference is mostly in the nature of religious concerns, with Big Gods much more concerned about group cohesiveness and conditioning of individual to promote group interest first, rather than help individual. Correspondingly rituals become more group oriented and standardized and punishment more strict. Author also reviews history of supernatural policing of moral behavior that becomes a serious concern in big groups.
Chapter 8 The Gods of Cooperation and Competition
This chapter looks at religion as a tool to increase group evolutionary fitness by creating a moral community, supporting military effort in intergroup competition, maintain internal stability, and assure group growth by promoting high levels of fertility and attracting converts.
Chapter 9 From Religious Cooperation to Religious Conflict
This is about another side of religion – religious conflicts. Author sees it as a very complex process in which on one-side religions engender conflict because of their very nature to divide true believers from wrong believers, which is practically inseparable from conflict. On other hand they often promote tolerance and call to avoiding violent conflict. The final point in this chapter is that religion has inherently sacred views that could not possibly be negotiable and therefore contain seeds of conflict that due to the very fact of unacceptability of “false” believes could last practically forever.
Chapter 10 Cooperation without God
The final chapter is about possibility for societies do well without religion when monitoring and punishing transgressions roles are taken over by government that had become much more powerful with development of contemporary technology and bureaucracy. It now can be successful in controlling people in areas that governments of the past could not. At the end author analyzes various characteristics of atheism and concludes that, with prosperity typically intertwined with secularization of society, such society has better claim on future dominance. However they have demographic disadvantage since people in such secular societies care most about their own happiness even at the expense of creating and raising next generation, so they are typically in serious demographic decline, which opens vacuum for more religious group in societies to fill and take society as whole over.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that religions are a very valid and necessary tool for making society into one unified group capable to succeed in fight with another groups for resources in intergroup competition. It is also absolutely necessary and very effective tool for achieving internal cohesion in societies that depend on sacrificing some people’s live to provide for others being it military aristocracy, intellectual elite, or industrial management. However when society and technology move into situation when such sacrifices are not needed any more due to technology and knowledge that allow automate all processes not enjoyable for humans, proper behavior outside of established sphere of privacy can be automatically monitored, and military conquest becomes impossible due to weapons of mass annihilation, the religions themselves become redundant and are going to expire. As to demographic weakness of secular societies, the process of creating and rising the next generation in sufficient numbers could and probably will be based on joy and satisfaction that many people can obtain from this process, especially if many negative problems related to it: medical, financial, opportunities costs, and such would become things of the past.
20161126 – Specialization and Trade
The main idea of this book is to look at economy from the angle of specialization and division of labor that become the key feature of contemporary economy. In process author demonstrates impossibility of central planning and government controlled economy to produce effective and efficient results. Author also provides suggestions for solutions mainly in form of promoting better balancing between market and government controls in mixed economy.
Author defines it as re-introduction to economics with specialization being the main character in the story. He refers to Adam Smith and his famous example of specialization leading to dramatic increase in productivity, but does not stop there. He also stresses dynamic character of specialization bringing in Schumpeter’s “Creative destruction” to demonstrate that lots of events in economics could be explained by detailed analysis of specific changes in specialization patterns over time.
1.Filling in Frameworks
This is about meaning of economics as whether it is a science or not. Author’s infer that it is not a science strictly speaking, but rather interpretive framework for understanding economic events because any economic statement always starts with “all other things being equal”, which is in and by itself moves it out of possibility for falsification because all other things are always unequal. Obviously any theoretical construction, which is not subject to falsification, is not strictly scientific.
2.Machine as Metaphor
This is the critic of the idea of economics as machine, subject to engineering. The point here is that economics actually deals with human action, which makes mechanical approach invalid.
3.Instructions and Incentives
This is the critic of the idea of planning as controlling tool for economics even at the enterprise level. The reality is that the prices derived from supply and demand processes define economics and coordinate human actions within its framework. The planning, even if conducted with supercomputers, could not possibly handle complexities of the real live because of distributed character of relevant information, leading to grave mistakes and producing staff that nobody needs, while neglecting staff that people want.
4.Choices and Commands
This is a comparative analysis of market system and central planning, which historically failed in resolving information problem, incentives problem, and innovation problem. Here author provides a nice small 2×2 table of what one could get by using/not using price system and/or commands:
Obviously we are mainly in “Mixed system” with huge variances in proportion of mix, but quite stable pattern of results: minimizing commands and maximizing pricing consistently leads to better economic outcomes.
5.Specialization and Sustainability
This is a very interesting discussion about market price being the only tool that could support sustainability of economics and any attempts to override it leads to failure.
6.Trade and Trust
This chapter is directed against strict libertarians who believe that market by itself is solution for everything. Author’s opinion is that government together with NGOs is absolutely necessary to force people to play by the rules.
- Finance and Fluctuations
This is about financial intermediation, the value it brings to economy, and its necessity for maintaining stable patterns of specialization and trade.
- Policy in Practice
This is critic of typical approach to “market failure” using housing crash as an example.
- Macroeconomics and Misgivings
This is restatement of idea that that economy is way too complicated to try Keynesian approach for controlling it. It also provides author’s suggestions on using analysis of specialization in trade to provide subtle corrective impulses, as needed, rather than use crude Keynesian and/or monetarist tools.
- Concluding Contemplation
The main conclusion is that we live at the time of extreme specialization that created correspondingly complex economy, which could not be effectively managed by using Keynesian equations because these equation way too simplified to match complexity levels of reality. Author’s proposed alternative is to use small intervention needed to promote trust in trade, overcome inherent instability of financial system, and establish better balance between constructive and destructive forces in economy needed to avoid or at least alleviate boom and bust cycles.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book’s ideas are pretty much consistent with my thinking on economics in terms of its high level of complexity that makes it impossible to manage effectively by using simplified mathematical modeling, socialist central planning or even Keynesian government interventions. However I do not agree with ideas of even minimal government controlling interventions because it would always and inevitably going to be done by human bureaucrats in their own interests distorting economic reality and decreasing effectiveness of the system as whole. I believe that violence and coercion (government) should be used only to protect property, enforce legally admissible contracts, and collect information that some participants in the system would try to hide so everybody would make decision based on reality rather than illusions.
20161119 Life on the Edge (Quantum Biology)
The main idea of this book is that live is not based exclusively at chemistry level, but that it rather based at lower level of elementary particles so laws of quantum mechanics had to be used if we to understand its nature and key difference between living and non living objects.
This starts with an example of a robin. The bird is flying for thousands miles using highly developed orientation mechanism based on magnetic fields. The mystery is how exactly this mechanism works and it brings in an idea of insufficiency of chemical processes for explanation. The real explanation comes from quantum mechanics via process of fast triplet reaction that kind of connects electron level to chemical reactions level. This example is only one of many that demonstrate continuity of nature from one level as described by specific human modeling to another. Basically the point is that it is humans who have different models for different levels of understanding of nature so mechanics for big objects is analyzed separately from chemistry at molecular level, which in tern is analyzed separately from quantum mechanics at particles level, but live is a complex phenomenon that crosses multiple levels and therefore could be understood only via new modeling combining chemistry, biology and quantum mechanics.
- What is life?
While nobody really knows beyond typical answer that “we know it when we see it”, this chapter reviews some previous ideas like life force, which it rejects and tries to define it as a process qualitatively different from normal chaotic processes described by chemistry and molecular statistics. While at high level we have quite solid model of genetic replication and selection, we have a big whole below that because so far we cannot replicate process of creation of new cell from non-live materials, even if we can easily differentiate between living cell and dead cell. In short we can build new forms of live by manipulating genes in existing living materials, but we cannot recreate living material itself and this is the area where quantum biology is aiming.
- The engines of life
This is somewhat technical chapter about enzymes as engines of live, which are catalysts for all processes more or less explained by transition state theory (TST) and insufficiency of chemical explanation of live. The inference from this is the necessity to go to lower, quantum levels for explanation of a living cell processes by using quantum tunneling.
- The Quantum beat
This is highly simplified explanation of what actually is quantum mechanics in relation to particles / waves movement within living cells. Basically this is used to explain how captured photon’s energy is transferred into living biomass at microscopic level.
- Finding Nemo’s home
This is a bit different approach: using process of smelling, when minuscule amount of chemicals serves to transfer and decode information about environment, to demonstrate that understanding is not possible without involvement of quantum mechanics.
- The butterfly, the fruit fly and the quantum robin
This is return to author’s initial question of robin’s magnetic orientation with explanation based on quantum entanglement and spin.
- Quantum genes
This chapter reviews genetic transfer of information using just 4 keys: Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine, but then moves to reviewing quantum explanations for bond between them.
It starts with the story of the Chauvet cave where some very ancient art was found representing one of the oldest samples of human consciousness. Author discusses kind of physiology of conversion of idea into human action and then moves on to neural networks and quantum computers where bit represented by qubit, which have more states and could therefore contain more information than a bit.
- How life began
This is an interesting approach to the process of the beginning of live. The point here is that there was probably a long, now completely disappeared, molecular scaffolds of primitive replicators that are a lot simpler than the most primitive living thing currently existing. Author believes that understanding of random creation of such super primitive replicators could come from quantum mechanics analysis.
- Quantum biology: life on the edge of a storm
The final chapter is about the place of quantum mechanics in general human modeling of environment and its explanatory and predictable power as it is related to live. Author provides somewhat unusual points on live vs. death as live being grounded at the quantum level and death meaning disconnection of living object from this level. It is nicely illustrated in these couple of pictures the first representing live and the second death:
Another point here is that with future understanding of live at quantum level it will be possible to create live from the scratch, directly from non-live materials.
Epilogue: quantum life
The final point is that even if quantum mechanics level may not be as deeply linked with biology as presented in this book and many biological processes are fully explainable at higher, molecular level; the application of quantum mechanics to biology will still produce new and unexpected knowledge.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It seems to me that ideas presented in this book are mainly valid, just because division of nature into different levels analysis: mechanics, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics is nothing more than need to handle complexity of nature at the level accessible for human understanding, which is quite limited by evolutionary achieved level of complexity comprehension. The next step would probably be development much more powerful Artificial intelligence that would be to able analyze complexity of nature as whole, synthesize complex models of high predictability power and then dumb it down to the level of human understanding.
20161112 Intelligence and how to get it
The main idea of this book is that IQ of not genetically inherited, but rather is the product of combined influence of genes and environment, with environment including education having much bigger impact than genetic endowment. This idea discussed in polemics with Bell Curve, Twin Studies, and other supporters of preponderance of genetic IQ. Correspondingly author infers that increasing one’s IQ is quite possible and education is the way to do it.
1.Varieties of Intelligence
This is discussion of IQ tests, what exactly they measure, and various types of intelligence. It provides a very nice graph describing dependency of two main types of intelligence on age with Fluid intelligence being raw, generally knowledge independent ability to solve intellectual problems and Crystallized intelligence being more knowledge/experience based ability:
2.Heritability and Mutability
Here author defines two camps as one consisting of environmentalists who believe that IQ heritability provides 50% or lower impact on achievement level, and another view, which he believes is outdated, it is 75% or more. He provides a table of metadata demonstrating correlation between IQs of variously related individuals:
Author makes a very important point that genes are not singularly defining factor in intelligence or any other human characteristics because they are expressed only via interactions with environment so complex that it is not even conceivable to break down result into specific components. The final point author makes is irrelevance of heritability to mutability.
- Getting Smarter
This chapter discusses improvement in general IQ over period of time (Flynn effect) and data demonstrating high dependency of IQ on schooling or lack thereof. Here is graph demonstrating this:
- Improving the Schools
Since author believes in direct impact of schooling on IQ, he looks at factors that define quality of schooling: Money, class sizes, teachers’ quality, instructional technics, and such. He also provides recommendation how to use schools to produce smarter people.
- Social class and Cognitive Culture
This is detailed review of impact of class on cognitive abilities and IQ. It include a number of factors mainly unrelated to genetic endowment such as:
- Nutrition and other biological factors
- Cognitive culture of environment
- Socialization for factory for lower classes and socialization of professions in middle and upper class
- IQ in Black and White
Similarly to class author believes that IQ variance by race between black and white mainly caused by environmental factors. It includes economic barriers, cultural positioning as low IQ group, and parenting practices that stint intellectual development by providing for example several times less words during childhood development by parents of working class than by parents in middle class. Probably the most important here are examples of black success at the North before civil war and mass migration from South that undercut it. Also very interesting is the story of Caribbean immigration that produce as good economic outcomes as any group of whites.
- Mind the Gap
This is a review of multiple external interventions aiming to improve cognitive abilities of lower class black population, its many failures like Head starts and few successes as KIPP academies.
- Advantage Asia?
This is overview of Asian success in all things educational with interesting point that actual IQ is not higher than for other groups, but it is well compensated by higher level of effort. There is also interesting part about difference between Asian and European cognitive processing.
- People of the Book
This is practically unavoidable chapter for any book about IQ related to Jews and their outstanding intellectual achievements. Author reviews a number of theories, but basically gives up on explanation stating at the end that whatever is Jewish advantage in IQ, the actual achievement is higher that could be explained by this advantage and had to relate to very specific culture and values,
- Raising Your Child’s Intelligence…and Your Own
The final chapter provides some pedagogical advice on how to raise children so they grew up smart by promoting training for Fluid-Intelligence, Self-control, effective tutoring, and providing incentives for hard work, but avoid rewarding activities that have intrinsic value for a child.
Epilogue: What We Now Know about Intelligence and Academic Achievement
Author summarizes book by once again rejecting strong hereditarian view and stressing value of culture and education in enhancing whatever endowment one has.
In Appendix author provides some experimental data starting with a nice statistical graph:
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting book, but I think that the whole IQ issue is practically irrelevant for contemporary world and even less so for emerging world. The point of IQ at the beginning was to find way easily and cheaply identify cognitive abilities of individuals in order to achieve the most efficient match for tasks assignment in military or industrial environment. We are now moving beyond industrial environment, mass conscript armies, and such, all of which quickly becoming things of the past, so the original objectives are now practically defunct. With Internet and availability of all information including multiple education classes, testing tools, and, most important, advance of self-selection of activities, the test of IQ intelligence becomes not just outdated, but plainly meaningless, unless we intent maintain some kind of artificial “meritocratic” system when merits are defined by IQ tests. I believe that we are moving to the world without elite, maybe even without elite colleges, in which we will stop treating people as attachments to tasks. My guess is that over time IQ test will become harmless curiosity exercise like crossword puzzles, rather than live defining test.
20161105 Kelly, Kevin – The Inevitable
The main idea is to use author’s extensive experience as technological writer and editor to analyze the direction and nature of development for our increasingly computerized and digitalized civilization and present it in disassembled form of 12 specific processes with some more or less specific prognosis of future condition for each of them.
Here author defines his intent as to uncover roots of digital change and try to foresee societal impact of this change. Philosophically he defines this change as switch from products to processes and this book pretty much describes 12 high level processes or forces that he believes will form the future of humanity.
Here author uses his experience as editor of Wired to discuss continuing change in technological landscape, which is constantly upgrading unlike very stable landscape of the past. He calls this state “protopia” kind of rejection of notion of utopia and dystopia, that is condition of constant becoming but never to become some final permanent condition.
This process means adding some cognitive function implemented by using computer to practically all aspects of live from daily routine activities to entertainment and big choices of live. Practically it also includes substitution of humans by robots in all conceivable areas of activity.
This is about constant flowing of information via computer networks with clouds containing everything that could be digitalized and 3-D printing producing material goods as needed on demand.
This is kind of addition to the flowing when humans and computers constantly screen the flow of information to select what they need at any given moment. It also would include constant screening of personal health parameters and/or anything related to selected activities either productive or recreational.
Here author promotes idea that future contains dramatic switch from ownership mode of resource allocation, production, and consumption with accessing mode when goods and services provided as needed without taking ownership in order to use. Simple example: use of driverless Uber car instead of car ownership.
This is a vision of the new world overcoming self-interest via open source software, cooperation, sharing of information on Facebook, Instagram, and such. Strangely enough author believes that he was indoctrinated in free-market individualism, when, as practically all educated people in America, he was indoctrinated with collectivism, based on ideal of all powerful and all benevolent government run by unselfish expert public servants in the best interest of population, which consists of similarly unselfish, enlightened but somewhat dim people who need continuing guidance. Consequently it is not surprising that anything that smells like sharing and voluntary job without pay he celebrates as wave of the future and everything that is driven by self-interest is suspicious as retrograde and probably evil.
Here author reviews filtering processes and provides very nice and concise presentation of existing filters:
his is very interesting and important piece because filtering could be a huge tool for supporting peer to peer services by allowing use of AI to select very specific services for a person both to produce for small and precisely targeted audience and to consume from reliable source who knows one’s preferences. However it could be and actually is powerful tools for conditioning people to do whatever elite wants them do, even if it is extremely harmful.
This is another process that always existed, but at current level of computer and communication power is becoming qualitatively more effective, allowing just about everybody produce just about everything by remixing existing bits and pieces of information.
This is about interacting with computerized virtual reality. Here are trends that author expects to expand this area:
This process is expanding all the time and eventually, in author’s opinion would lead to a number of beneficial abilities:
This process already achieved significant success with Wikipedia and Google search allowing finding answers with ease not even conceivable a half century earlier. With development AI of IBM’s Watson type the level of complexity of QA becoming dramatically higher, providing support for increasingly high level of functionality. Actually the crux of human intellectual activity will move from finding answers to posing good questions and author provides a nice list to define what kind of questions are the good ones:
The final chapter kind of summarizes author’s vision of the future as one highly integrated human-computers network, albeit still saturated with barriers and monopolies either corporate or governmental. However these barriers will be breached and on the long run we’ll achieve soft singularity with AI.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find technological ideas presented in this book quite convincing and generally consistent with my take on future technological development. However I think author significantly overestimate possibilities for cooperation and labor without compensation and all these open source kind of things, but it is relatively insignificant problem. The main point is that with all these processes humans cease to be standing alone entities and becoming self-controlling and self-directing parts of one network based on AI running everything that is required for meeting objectives defined by humans.
20161029 The rise and fall of American Growth
The main idea of this book is that century and a half from 1870 until 2014 USA went through periods of huge growth and dramatic changes in Total Factors of Production (TFP) and consequently quality of life. However level of growth and improvement was unequal concentrating in period 1870-1970 with dramatic slow down in period 1970-2014 despite temporary spike in 1990s. This slowdown is inevitable due to multiple headwinds that American society encountered and so far failed to overcome. Author proposes a number of ways to fight these headwinds, but he seems to be not very optimistic that they will be implemented and would really help.
- Introduction: The Ascent and Descent of Growth
This is the book about change in the temp of American growth from high levels of change in productivity, output, and living standard in century from 1870 to 1970 and dramatic slowdown afterword. The main point is that this special century brought in changes in productivity and quality of live that could be implemented only once and would not be possible to match in the future such as implementation of electricity, automated water supply, sewer, and substitution of animal power of humans and horses with mechanical power. All following up progress that occurred after 1970 is a lot less dramatic, occurring at much lower speed, and mainly incremental. Author believes that it is the way things will continue to be in the future.
PART I. 1870-1940–THE GREAT INVENTIONS CREATE A REVOLUTION INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE HOME
- The Starting Point: Life and Work in 1870
This chapter describes demographic, production and consumption situation in 1870. All of this changed dramatically over the next 140 years from work being mainly manual in agriculture to work being mainly cognitive and in services, while consumption from food and clothing as main items to services and entertainment and communication goods that did not existed in 1870. Here are a couple of tables:
The next 7 chapters provide detailed review of all aspects of human live in America and how they dramatically changed over this period:
- What They Ate and Wore and Where They Bought it
- The American Home: From Dark and Isolated to Bright and Networked
- Motors Overtake Horses and Rail: Inventions and Incremental Improvements
- From Telegraph to Talkies: Information, Communication, and Entertainment
- Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Illness and Early Death
- Working Conditions on the Job and at Home
- Taking and Mitigating Risks: Consumer Credit, Insurance, and the Government
Entr’acte. The Midcentury Shift from Revolution to Evolution
This is about unevenness of progress that occurred, from high level of growth in productivity and output to stalling and then decline of speed of growth:
PART II. 1940-2015–THE GOLDEN AGE AND THE EARLY WARNINGS OF SLOWER GROWTH
This part provides detailed review of the qualitatively new goods and services that were invented and implemented during these 140 years and how they dramatically changed quality of live:
- Fast Food, Synthetic Fibers, and Split-Level Subdivisions: The Slowing Transformation of Food, Clothing, and Housing
- See the USA in Your Chevrolet or from a Plane Flying Above
- Entertainment and Communications from Milton Berle to the iPhone
- Computers and the Internet from the Mainframe to Facebook
- Antibiotics, CT Scans, and the Evolution of Health and Medicine
- Work. Youth, and Retirement at Home and on the Job
Entr’acte. Toward an Understanding of Slower Growth
Here author restated the important point of growth stalling starting in 1970s mainly because of dramatic changes such as electricity, water, sewer, cars, and instant communication that can happen only once and further improvement such as computers, smart phones and such being intrinsically of significantly lower value.
PART III. THE SOURCES OF FASTER AND SLOWER GROWTH
This designed to demonstrate that slower growth and improvement is inevitable and we should learn to leave with it and maybe even love it.
- The Great Leap forward from the 1920s to the 1950s: What Set of Miracles Created It?
This is look back at 1920-70s as the period of fast growth of TFP and implementation of the second industrial revolution based o electricity and mass manufacturing.
- Innovation: Can the Future Match the Great Inventions of the Past?
The brief answer is “No” because Internet, computers, smartphones, and such are inferior to previous achievement in their impact on human lives. Author also discounted fast growth of 1990 as somewhat temporary deviation from overpowering trend for growth slowing.
- Inequality and the Other Headwinds: Long-Run American Economic Growth Slows to a Crawl
The final chapter analyses in details what author calls headwinds: inequality, education, demographics, and fiscal problems and concludes that they will cause slowdown of increase in productivity and consequently improvement in income.
Here are a couple of nice graphs demonstrating changes in growth of productivity, compensation, and Total Factor Productivity (TFP):
Postscript: America’s Growth Achievement and the Path Ahead
Here author provides what he believes would be effective remedy against headwind factors, which are typical for moderately leftist approach: decrease inequality by taxing more, increase minimum wage and earned income tax credits, legalize drags, and decrease incarceration; provide better equality of opportunity via increase in educational spending and further nationalization of education. Author also proposes non-leftist measures of decreasing regulations and licensing requirements to provide for more opportunities. Here is a nice summation for his recommendations.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a wonderful and very well documented account of changes in productive abilities and quality of live in American society, albeit somewhat pessimistic in regards to its future. From my point of view this pessimism is not justified. One reason is the mistake of measurement: there is huge improvement between having no electricity and its availability, which is the unique event that should be put outside of measurement of progressive improvement. From this point on increase in availability of electricity at decreasing price is measurable as amount of money spent per unit of energy including minimization of environmental impact. This way it could be demonstrated that we have still lots of space for improvement. It is quite conceivable that traditional material needs could be fully satisfied at negligible price so no more improvement will be feasible and Artificial Intelligence would completely substitute humans in all routine tasks, even complex cognitive task in legal and medical professions. However the human need for intellectual and emotional consumption from self-actualization in interaction with other people could not have any conceivable limit, leaving plenty space for progress. The only real barrier that had to be overcome is the structure of society currently built on selling and buying labor, the process that rapidly becoming meaningless. In my view as soon as it would be supplemented by equal and marketable property rights for natural resources, the shackles will be taken away and improvement in quality of live will grow at increasing rate.
20161022 A History of Warfare
The main idea of this book is to answer question “what is war?” and demonstrate that it is not continuation of politics by other means, but rather it is separate phenomenon related to politics only in very special circumstances applicable only in Western society and only in very limited period of time. This phenomenon is mainly cultural and changes from people to people and from time to time. The society’s culture defines all aspects of war making and is always based on available technology whether it is horse and chariot or horse and saddle or stone axe or tank and nuclear weapon. Eventually war becomes outdated and for humanity to survive the global politics and diplomacy should remove war as method of achieving any conceivable objectives.
This is the story of author’s personal involvement with military and war mainly as historian and professor at Sandhurst Military Academy. The main point here is that from extensive interaction with military professionals, studying or teaching in the Academy, author learned that war is a tribal affair, when in contemporary world tribe is substituted by military unit.
- War in Human History
The first question author explores here is Clausewitz’s definition of war as a continuation of politics. He rejects this idea, initially analyzing behavior and attitudes of irregular forces as Cossacks and then moving to idea of war as culture that he discusses using examples of Easter Island, Zulus, Mamluks, and Samurai. After that author looks at Western culture that somehow developed new and unusual methods of conflict resolution without war: via politics, democracy, and diplomacy. While for extended time Western culture developed as two parallel and somewhat segregated parts of war and non-war with war being rules based method of continuation of politics, now with invention of nuclear weapons it moved to complete elimination of war. This idea worked fine, albeit not right away, and so far there were no wars between countries with dominant western culture since WWII However it had a very limited success when non-western countries and cultures are involved.
Interlude: Limitations on Warmaking
In this interlude author discusses limitation on war that always existed, albeit highly diverse at different times and in different places. He looks at geographical, climatological, economical, and religious factors that caused these limitations.
Here author explores human nature to answer question “why do men fight?” He even looks at biology, neurology, and anthropology trying to answer to this question. He discusses ideas of primitive warfare versus civilized, and then reviews results of anthropological research on existing hunter-gatherer tribes like Yanomamo and historical research on Aztecs and Maoris. The conclusion is that war between tribes for territory historically had a constant presence, but was very limited and often quite ritualistic, mainly because of absence of economic resources that tribe could allocate to war and very limited benefits that such war could produce. Only with development of agriculture war become a very productive way to acquire resources such as land and slaves for victorious tribe, leading to creation of states with significant stress on war making abilities, eventually leading to creation of civilization.
This interlude looks at fortifications and siege warfare and their development over time.
This chapter is about use of animals – mainly horses and related technology. It looks at historical use of horses initially in chariots and then later developments of cavalry. The main point here that use of horses supported military superiority for people who managed to do it earlier than others starting with Egyptians and their chariots and all the way to Mongols and armed Knights. Eventually horse people’s military declined quite dramatically due to improvements in various projectile technologies from crossbows to firearms.
This is discussion of various types of human organizations for military purposes. It looks at European armies of XIX centuries with their ability of population mobilization, militarized societies as Cossacks, feudal military gangs based on relationships, mercenary armies, and others from point of view of MPR (Military Participation Ratio). Author also discusses issue that often missed in historical writings – special personality types geared to soldiering.
This is discussion of technology and tactics on battlefield. It looks at historic development of materials used in close manual combat encounters from bronze to iron with tactical use of phalanx and psychological / sociological conditions required to support this tactics. It also reviews Greeks amphibious strategy that allowed numerically inferior Greek forces to succeed against Persians. Lots of attention also paid to Roman imperial military, its successes and its role as prototype of future mass military forces. At the end author analyses medieval Europe, which militarily speaking, was continent without armies that were substituted by poorly organized feudal gangs involved in limited scale warfare with fluidly changing sides.
Interlude: Logistics and Supply
This is review of development of logistics from earlier natural form when armies lived off the land by plain robbery that could support only minimal concentrations of troops to XX century warfare involving complex planning, production, and transportation operations when millions of people work under top down command structure. The results were highly effective in terms of ability of one society practically annihilate another, but highly inefficient due to impossibility to control systems of such level of complexity.
The fire here means pretty much chemistry used in warfare either in form of direct use of fire as Greek fire, napalm, and such or use of chemistry to send projectile or produce explosion. Author looks at interplay between gunpowder and fortification, development of firearms and their application, and, most important, change in use of violence caused by simplification of its use. This simplification, when use of firearm becomes as deadly in hands of poorly trained conscript as in hands of professional soldier, led to creation of mass armies of XIX and XX centuries. Eventually with development of nuclear weapons the war lost meaning as a tool to acquire resources because losses would exceed any conceivable gains for all sides. Consequently it kind of suppressed in Western societies and put under restrain by international law that would probably be valid only as long as countries with secular and pragmatic values have overwhelming control over nuclear weapons.
There is no simple way to define war since it is different for different cultures and peoples. However the war as we know it is mainly Western way of war and it become outdated and inapplicable because currently achieved level of weapons power makes it meaningless. However another types of war: guerilla wars, religious wars, and other will force international community to continue use of peacemakers and peacekeepers who should learn to use all form of warfare starting with the most primitive.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that war should and could be eliminated from human live, but it is possible only if developed western countries reassert dominance of their civilization, if necessary by use of force, to establish world wide its cultural achievements dearly paid for in blood and treasure over the centuries: peaceful conflict resolution through negotiations, tolerance to ways of other peoples, and forfeiture of any attempt to dictate to others how to live, what gods to believe in not only at the level of societies, but at the level of individuals. In my view currently the main impediment to the peace is paradox of extreme tolerance to intolerance demonstrated by Western countries. Whether it is Islamic supremacists or Communists or some other *ists who use violence to force other people to comply with their ideas, the outcome will always be war as soon as they feel ready to initiate it. The only way to stop war is extreme intolerance to intolerance so it would be eliminated before it acquired enough power to start a war.
20161015 Does Education Matter?
The simple idea of this book is that there is no clear evidence that growth in formal education has direct positive impact on the economic prosperity and that current massive growth in government expenses on general formal education and workforce training by all countries is not really justified. A very interesting point is also made that when business get involved in government’s educational decision making it does not add value, only when businesses spent their own money on workforce training the results are somewhat positive.
- A truly world-beating industry: the growth of formal education
This is mainly statistical chapter showing that education scale grew exponentially all over the world. Here are a couple tables to demonstrate this:
- Elixir or snake oil? Can education really deliver growth?
The answer to this question is not unequivocal: it is clearly linked to greater income, lower unemployment, and other good things for individuals, but there is no such clear link for society as whole and this chapter demonstrates why: mainly because there is no demonstrable link between productivity and formal education. It seems to be function of changed occupational structure that actually responsible for income increase:
- A great idea for other people’s children: the decline and fall of vocational education
This chapter is about vocational education that politicians and overall elite promote for lower classes, but not for themselves. Author shows that it is normally not working and rational teenager with lower level of cognitive skills is better off getting general education, rather than vocational training.
- Does business know best?
This is UK specific discussion about government getting business involved in training in order to make it more relevant to needs of employers. The conclusion is that when big bureaucratic organization of government colludes with big bureaucratic organization of big business the result is use of public money to satisfy needs of bureaucrats in both of these organizations.
- Why worry about training
This is about British specific workforce training effort and support for this from government. The point here is that it is too much specific for workplace and too flexible depending on companies and technology so government should stay away from it. Besides there is no evidence except for special case of Germany that apprenticeship really makes big difference in employment and growth.
- The tyranny of numbers and the growth of the modem university
This is about massive growth of higher education based mainly on general idea that education is good, which is strongly supported by voters consequently allowing politicians to pump money into it without any serious consideration for cost / benefit evaluation. Here is a nice graph demonstrating growth of participation:
Author makes an interesting point that the main outcome of this is that higher education lost its meaning as indicator of higher cognitive abilities for employers:
Author also demonstrates that higher education still remains highly dependent on economic class of family.
- Pyramids and payments: the higher-education market
The last chapter demonstrates that in current winner takes all environment education is retained its selective function, only it is shifted from educational level to specific educational institutions with huge increase in educational expenses supporting this shift: Advantage level of just getting MBA decreed to low significance and now is provided only by MBA from Top institutions only. This is leaving majority of lower income young people at the same relative level, only at much higher cost. Here is table demonstrating it:
Overall conclusion is that education does matter, but it is possible to overdo it and that is what developed countries achieved, so their people are getting less for more during last decades of exponential growth of higher education.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I generally agree with conclusions of this book, but for somewhat different reasons:
- What is called education in non-technical fields is more often than not is just indoctrination when students do not know elementary facts, but carry very strong opinions based on misrepresentation of reality. Obviously this education has very little value on free market, even if it provides access to relatively small number of government-sponsored positions.
- The whole notion of education is unreasonably tilted to obtaining some set of knowledge usually meaningless for future activities, rather than concentrating on developing self-education abilities that would allow individual successfully reeducate oneself to whatever requirements are presented by the market and real live demands.
My second point is logically leading to an idea that if main function of education is to teach student to self-educate, then 2 levels education should be supported with first level learning generic minimal skills such as literacy, numeracy, philosophy, sociality, communication skills, and personal psychological, physiological, and financial management. The second level should be self-education under supervision for whatever subset of knowledge individual is interested in at the time, with stress on ability to prepare oneself for market success. After that education should be mainly self-directed and continuing throughout the live, allowing individual to change whatever he or she needs to change, like in my case: country, language, culture, multiple locations, and business activities (professions).
20161008 – The Fractured Republic
This book is designed to analyze current fracture of American republic and propose solution. The fracture is coming from strive to return to the ideal past that never really existed: progressive paradise of FDR or conservative paradise of Reagan. The solution author see is to lower the stakes for both sides and move to more decentralized solutions without dismounting institutions of big government, but rather bringing them in line with more decentralized society that we live in due to internet, easy communication, and other features of contemporary world.
PART I: OUT OF ONE, Many
1: Blinded by Nostalgia
This chapter is about nostalgia of both parties: Democrats for 1960s with its “wise” government, powerful unions, and liberal Supreme Court overriding constitution at will, while Republicans long for 1980s with Reagan’s “Morning in America” and victory over communism in Cold War. Both sides have selective memories picking up what they like and forgetting what they do not. Author rejects this nostalgia on both sides.
2: The Age of Conformity.
The age of conformity that both liberals and conservatives are nostalgic about is time for about 25-30 years after WWII when the whole industrial world but USA was in ruins leading to nearly complete lack of competition and huge needs in American products elsewhere in the world. This created conditions when it was enough for everybody: high paid union jobs, high profit for government supported monopolies, moral cohesion of society based on trust in government ideologically supported by XX century collectivistic craziness. Obviously it was unsustainable because other countries eventually restored their industry so competition put end to this paradise.
3: The Age of Frenzy
Then come age of what author describes as frenzy from late 1960s until early 2000: failures of Vietnam war, civil rights movement, oil embargo, seemingly successful progress of communism in USSR and around the world, and, the most important, increasing competition of low wage countries. Consequently cohesiveness of society failed. A century of communist / socialist propaganda and continuing advance of individuals carrying these ideas into ideological institutions of society: education, entertainment, legal system, and journalism brought its fruits. On one side it was liberalization of thought and behavior resulted in retreat and weakening of traditional values, while the new collectivistic values were not strong enough to assert their power on everybody via government coercion. While the move of the country to the left was temporarily interrupted by Reagan counterattack and following hiatus when even democratic president of leftist persuasion declared that era of big government is over, this movement restarted with the new century when undeclared alliance of left and right elite was reestablished.
4: The Age of Anxiety
However after relatively short period it began unraveling when leftists recognized what they believe is opportunity to establish complete control over the country: mass immigration from the poor countries of individuals brought up with strong collectivistic ideology and mass movement of population from active mainly independent market based productive activities to mainly parasitic existence either on welfare or within some governmental or quasi governmental bureaucratic structure. The partial dissolution of elite alliance moved country to the higher level of polarization. Here is a couple of graphs demonstrating this:
PART II THE NEXT AMERICA
5: The Unbundled Market
This chapter is about contemporary status of America economy. The main point here is that what used to be V shaped demand for labor when low and high skill level jobs were plentiful, while middle level was substituted by automatization is not a case any more. Now much more functional computerization and automation moves to substitute human labor at all levels of complexity. Obviously it makes everything cheaper and better for consumers, but practically eliminates labor. In view of this continuing struggle between public and private sectors for share of economy becomes bitterer every day. Author seems to propose non-trivial for rightist solution: to diminish fight over public versus private and move to promoting decentralization even if it is in public form. He also proposes to empower mediating institution as means to balance market, which produced lots of losers, without undermining prosperity and freedom, which are always deteriorate when public option under government control expanding in some area of society.
6: Subculture Wars
This chapter is about cultural division constantly increasing in America due not only to ideological struggles, but also to technological changes when instead of 60% of population watching the same show on TV in 1950s because there were no alternative, we now have hundreds of shows going on so even the most popular attract a small fraction of population. Author looks at multiple areas of culture to analyze trend and support his thesis that culturally America become hugely diverse, while political life lags behind and remains way too centralized.
7: One Nation, After All
The final chapter is designed to provide concise diagnosis of current American problems, some recommendations for solutions, and prognosis of future outcome. The problem as author sees it is weakening of intermediate political structures and unreasonably strong empowering of two opposites: government and individuals to do things that they are not competent to do. The result is society that is not working for its members and political polarization that prevents implementation of corrections. Author sees remedy in doing away from extreme centralization and extreme individualism and moving to localization and diversification of power that would allow to move to more competent governance and functional society much better adapted to contemporary technological, ideological, and political realities. Oh, and by the way he believes that conservative political movement will find way to move country in this direction.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this description of recent American political history and contemporary situation quite interesting, even if I agree neither with this logic nor with this recommendation. I think that obvious nostalgia often expressed by both left and right if mostly rhetorical tool to demonstrate where they want society to go. The real issue is that methods of creation and allocation of resources that both left and right promote are not adequate for contemporary technological levels achieved by humanity, while political structures cannot satisfy psychological and ideological needs of individual members of society in which traditional objectives of any human group such as physical survival are taken for granted and practically pushed into background by much more complex requirements for self satisfaction and psychological happiness.
The reason leftist ideas of big centralized, benevolent, and all powerful government cannot satisfy people is due to two problems: one is that government consist of humans who are always act in their own interest and the second one – complexity and dynamics of needs of millions of people and activities that required to satisfy them are so complex that no conceivable centralized hierarchical system could handle them. Only market system proved positive ability to do it at least much better than any other system.
The reason why conservative ideas of unlimited free market with somehow benign regulations would work just fine to meet human needs fails in reality is that they ignore recent technological development that increasingly makes humans uncompetitive as providers of productive labor. Since all market exchange is based on interactions between property owners and labor sellers, only one side remain valid –property owners, while labor sellers are made redundant by machines, the free market could not provide any resources for this people. There is no reasonable solution for this problem presented by conservatives so far, just unfounded believes that human labor will always be in demand.
Paradoxically leftists have solution, even if they do not recognize it: bureaucratization of labor sellers capable to obtain educational level necessary to take place in hierarchy and welfarization of those who cannot. However I believe it is pseudo solution, which is not going to work because humans could not be happy either being a small cog in bureaucratic machine or idle recipient of minimal resource allocation.
My suggestion of equal, unalienable, and marketable (rent only) rights for natural resources would make everybody property owner, therefore providing them with ability to obtain resources on free market at least at average level of natural resources consumption and, very important, leave them with ability self-direct their actions and succeed or fail using their human ability for pursuit of happiness.
20161001 The Pentagon Brain
The main idea here is simple: to present the story of DARPA and how it developed from its Cold War roots into technological driver of American power.
THE COLD WAR
Chapter One: The Evil Thing
The story starts with 1954 test of thermonuclear bomb. The power of the bomb was significantly underestimated leading to nearly catastrophic consequences for participating scientists in nearby area. It also describes some complexity in decision-making caused by ethical and moral considerations, but also by technological uncertainty of consequences.
Chapter Two: War Games and Computing Machines
This is about von Neumann, first computer, and research in Game theory used to define strategy for Cold War
Chapter Three: Vast Weapons Systems of the Future
This chapter is about sputnik scare that significantly increased amount of resources allocated to military research, especially to ballistic missiles
Chapter Four: Emergency Plans
This is about generally unknown research on survivability of society after massive nuclear strike: “The Emergency Plans Book”. After reviewing multiple scenarios conclusion was: it is not possible to survive. It eventually led to MAD strategy and attempts to find some kind of accommodation to prevent nuclear war by all means necessary short of surrender.
Chapter Five: Sixteen Hundred Seconds Until Doomsday
This chapter is about one of the first close calls of nuclear age when technology could cause nuclear exchange if not human intervention. One of the consequences was creation of Jason Group of top scientists to tackle wide variety of technological issues related to national security.
Chapter Six: Psychological Operations
This is about another, softer side of science use in Cold War struggle. It is related to William Godel and his role in psychological operations in Korean War and beyond. It includes side story of Dulles’ son Allen who, as young lieutenant, was wounded in Korean War and had his brain permanently damaged.
THE VIETNAM WAR
Chapter Seven: Techniques and Gadgets
This chapter describes Kennedy’s flexible response doctrine and how it led to Vietnam War. It also describes several related military research programs specifically supporting this war: various gadgets including new firearms specifically designed for Vietnam conditions. The most important effort however was chemical defoliation program.
Chapter Eight: RAND and COIN
This chapter describes ARPA non-government affiliate: RAND corporation and how it provided sociological research in support of counterinsurgency. It used experienced anthropologists well familiar with Vietnamese people, culture, and language. They come up with very good recommendations especially against the program of strategic villages. Unfortunately military and political bureaucracy rejected these recommendations.
Chapter Nine: Command and Control
This is about paralleled development of computerized control system. It was a SAGE system developed for control over strategic nuclear forces, but it also traces J.C.R. Licklider who became one of the most important computer scientist involved. One of the programs he led was related to computer analysis of behavioral patterns applied to counterinsurgency operations.
Chapter Ten: Motivation and Morale
This chapter brings in another personality Leon Goure, who seems to be a spoiler in psychological operations overriding scientific anthropological research and implementing ad hoc non-working solutions.
Chapter Eleven: The Jasons Enter Vietnam
This is review of Jasons’ participation in Vietnam and projects that they worked on from analysis of use of nuclear weapons to defoliation of jungles.
Chapter Twelve: The Electronic Fence
This chapter is about electronic fence along Ho Chi Minh Trail – one of the most consequential Jason projects. This was a set of electronic equipment that could collect and transfer information remotely practically without human intervention.
Chapter Thirteen: The End of Vietnam
When Vietnam developed into large-scale fight within American society one of the consequences was leftist attack against Jason scientists on campuses that eventually led to distancing Jasons from ARPA. Moreover the very existence of ARPA was threatened by investigations and overall attempt by communist sympathizers to permanently cripple American military power.
OPERATIONS OTHER THAN WAR
Chapter Fourteen: Rise of the Machines
This is about technological transformation of military that occurred during and after Vietnam War. It involved not only hardware, but also human training that begin to be conducted using computerized simulators, therefore allowing people to obtain experience without actual risks and expenses related to field training.
Chapter Fifteen: Star Wars and Tank Wars
This chapter is about star wars ideas and their impact on simulation technology, specifically for armored warfare.
Chapter Sixteen: The Gulf War and Operations Other Than War
This is about successful confirmation of American military development in 1970-80s that led to easy victory with insignificant loses in Gulf war, but also a non-military defeat in Somali, which demonstrated moral and public relations unpreparedness of US military to conduct operations against guerilla opponents acting among civilians.
Chapter Seventeen: Biological Weapons
This is a review of seldom-discussed issue of biological welfare. It presents story of Soviet scientists who worked on bio warfare and changed sides when USSR start falling apart.
Chapter Eighteen: Transforming Humans for War
This is about biological research to develop a new soldier who would be smarter, stronger, and more efficient on battlefield. It also reviews result of war game Dark Winter testing scenario of terrorist biological attack by Saddam against USA. Results indicated 3 mil American casualties from smallpox.
THE WAR ON TERROR
Chapter Nineteen: Terror Strikes
This is about 9-11, but with an interesting twist: attention and even panic caused by false positives for biological weapons. An interesting point is that DARPA did not fail because surprise came not from technology.
Chapter Twenty: Total Information Awareness
This is about tentative program for government to know about all information flows and PR disaster it caused.
Chapter Twenty-0ne: IED War
This chapter is about expensive high tech attempts to fight cheap low tech IED warfare with little real success. It also discusses social science side of counterinsurgency effort.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Combat Zones That See
This is about more technical details of Iraqi war
Chapter Twenty-Three: Human Terrain
This is about human side of war. It again brings in social science and attempts to build awareness about humans in war zone and their behavior.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Drone Wars
It is story of drones, but it is not limited to it. The autonomous and remotely controlled devices from extremely small to very large are the future of American war making.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Brain Wars
This is about human brains damaged in the war, but also about artificial brain that can control machines without human being on site. Obviously it creates huge problems not least of them being how not to loose control over AI killing machines.
Chapter Twenty-Six: The Pentagon’s Brain
The final chapter is about DARPA interconnection with corporate world and mutual need they have. It also points out to future development that comes down to the idea that “battlefield is not the place for human beings”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is quite interesting story of relationship between science, corporations, and American military that resulted in significant superiority of American military over any other country. Unfortunately leftists dominant in American elite often vilify the scientific military research, resulting in limitations on its progress. Not less important is historic inability of American society to deny its enemies either Communists or Islamists access to results produced by American technological research. Consequences are severe, for example transfer of American nuclear technology to Soviets led to trillions in expenses, tens of thousands of Americans killed in Korea, Vietnam, and other places, and millions of people perished in struggle against Communists or under their rule. So far, despite regular transfer of technology to enemies, Americans were lucky to avoid catastrophic damage, but this luck may not hold forever. I wish this issue would be treated seriously and technology and knowledge would be transferred only to civilized democratic people, but I do not expect it to happen at least until really catastrophic events occur.
20160924 The Rational Animal
This book is kind of counterargument to currently very popular idea of behavioral economics that human thinking is often not rational and therefore not effective in dealing with challenges of contemporary live. This counterargument based on two insights: The first is that whatever human approach to economic behavior is, it developed as result of evolutionary success and therefore has deeper rationality than formal logic could provide. The second one is that such seeming irrationality comes from the fact that at any given moment any human is trying to achieve multiple evolutionary goals, which realistically could be in conflict, so decisions are made as compromise between these goals selecting the best mix of actions for this particular time and space.
Introduction: Cadillacs, Communists, and Pink Bubble Gum
Why did Elvis gold plate the hubcaps on his Cadillac?
This chapter provides examples of human irrationality of famous people, posits question: why did they do it, and establishes direction of inquiry that authors believe would allow answer this question.
1: Rationality, Irrationality, and the Dead Kennedys
What do testosterane-crazez skateboarders have in common with Wall Street bankers?
This chapter introduces idea of deep rationality as synthesis that allows overcoming two usual approaches: humans as rational econs vs. humans as morons too stupid to behave rationally. Authors propose notion of deep rationality: humans as animals conditioned by evolution to act in such way as maximize their evolutionary fitness in fast changing, unpredictable environment when criteria of action is not optimization, but rather “good enough to survive.” In short – humans are rational animals with rationality defined as such actions that increase chances of survival.
2: The Seven Subselves
Martin Luther King Jr. had a multiple personality disorder? Do you?
Here authors discuss seven subselves, each of which works to achieve a specific evolutionary goal:
- Self-Protection Subself from other animals including hostile humans
- Disease-Avoidance Subself
- Affiliation Subself – humans survive in a groups so the survival of the group as important as individual survival
- Status Subself – If group survives then individual survival depends on status inside the group
- Mate-Acquisition Subself
- Mate-Retention Subself
- Kin-Care Subself, obviously the most important kin being one’s children
Here is a nice graph for priorities somewhat based on Maslow ideas:
3: Home Economics Versus Wall Street Economics
Why did Walt Disney play by different rules than his successors?
This chapter explores interaction between different subselves and other people and entities. It analyses human economic behavior based on 7 subselves, each of which requiring somewhat different approach, resulting in very dynamic patterns of integration depending on circumstances.
4: Smoke Detectors in the Mind
Why is it dangerous to seek the truth?
This chapter concentrates on mistakes and biases that each of our evolutionary subselves is prone to make. This is very interesting and somewhat counterintuitive approach. The question is how humans treat truth and accuracy of reality representation and answer is: as mainly irrelevant to action. In other word the lie that helps to survive preferred to the truth that would lead to demise and it is not only for external consumption, but also for internal individual believes. Author look at all 7 subselves as to what kind of biases and self-deceptions they promote.
5: Modem Cavemen
How can illiterate jungle dwellers pass a test that tricks Harvard philosophers?
This is a discussion of how our understanding of subselves could help to make better decisions. This chapter includes multiple examples of human logical mistakes and inconsistencies and then provides suggestions on how to avoid them: by using understanding of evolutionary meaning of our approaches and consciously modifying them to fit new contemporary environment when we are not hunter- gatherers any more, but rather members of complex groups interacting with environment via sophisticated technological systems.
6: Living Fast and Dying Young
Why do people who go from rags to riches often end up in bankruptcy court?
This is look at how subselves change human behavior at different stages of live from childhood to old age. The main point here is that all humans are different not only from individual to individual, but also for the same individuals during different periods of live, when different subselves become dominant in defining behavior. Authors identify 3 main stages during lifespan when different types of effort become dominant: somatic effort, mating effort, and parenting effort. They also discuss here fast and slow strategies and thinking that varies greatly between different individuals depending on their genetic makeup and environmental circumstances.
7: Gold Porsches and Green Peacocks
Do people buy a gold Porsche and a green Toyota Prius for the same reason?
This is exploration of mechanism of human decision making, quite correctly pointing out that whatever decisions are made they are always in interest of decision maker. As example for analysis authors use buying Porsche vs. buying Prius: the first one signaling wealth and prosperity, while the second signaling communitarianism and environmentalism. In actuality both behavior serve the same purpose: to demonstrate one’s fitness to the group one wants to belong and be accepted.
8: Sexual Economics: His and Hers
When is a gain for the goose a loss for the gander?
This chapter looks at variation of approaches to decision making between men and women and links it to different evolutionary goals that inherent to each sex. As usual this comes down to men distributing their sperm as wide as possible and women capturing a partner good enough to raise children. The interesting and not trivial point here is about jealousy: men jealous at women’s sexual infidelity, while women jealous at men’s emotional infidelity. Finally mating behavior is as much defined by supply and demand as any other human activity involving interaction between people and exchange of goods and services. When there are too few women as in American West in 1880s, men are chivalrous, respectful, and trying to please women as much as possible, while women are selective and powerful. When it is low supply of men as usual happens after big war, men are selective and often neglectful, while women often had to limit their search for reliable men and accept sex without commitment even if it means to have children to rise on their own.
9:Deep Rationality Parasites
How do snake oil salesmen exploit deep rationality?
This is an interesting look at our vulnerability: how knowledge of human subselves allows some human successfully exploit others. The examples provided mainly from sales strategies: selling diamond by creating the need where none existed before or drug advertisement campaigns or books like: “xxx, they do not want you to know”. The recommendation for counteraction: know thy enemy, know thy situation, and know thyself.
Conclusion: Mementos from Our Tour
In conclusion authors provide some mnemonics to remember their ideas and 3 lessons:
- Don’t assume other people are morons
- Rational self-interest is not in your self-interest
- Don’t leave home without consulting your other selves.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a great approach to understanding of humans, their behavior, and results of this behavior. I think it clearly supports my believe that humans are way to complex and dynamically changing to try any attempts to control and manage them externally whether these are relatively soft attempts of American elite to “nudge” people into the “right” economic behavior for their own good or murderous concentration and “reeducation” camps of communist countries where alternative is either “right” behavior or death. The logical conclusion is to assure that people have resources to do what they want and forget any ideas about some elite thinkers knowing and having justification to force their ideas on people. I do not think that there is any non-destructive alternative to freedom with resources.
20160917 Government Failure
The main idea of this small book is to concisely present key points of the Theory of Public Choice through 3 essays of its intellectual founders. The main point of this theory is that humans remain humans and care most about their own interests regardless of whether they work in private or public sector. Consequently it makes rules of market competition applicable to public sector, providing, however, that in this case the competition is not for market share and profit from selling goods and services to consumers, but for position in political / bureaucratic hierarchy with most power to obtain and direct public resources in one’s own interest regardless of whether it is beneficial to anybody else or not.
PART I: THE THEORY OF PUBLIC CHOICE Gordon Tullock
1. People Are People: The Elements of Public Choice
Public choice is scientific analysis of behavior of individual with respect to government, which comes down to transplanting the general analytical framework of economics into political science. This theory rejects the dominant view of bifurcated human behavior that posits that when moved to political arena individuals magically forfeit their own self-interest and act exclusively in the interest of public. Instead it views politicians as individuals good at being elected into the office and stay in office generated both monetary and psychological benefits not different from any businessman on the market. Author looks at specifics of democratic versus nondemocratic government, their costs and benefits, and how politicians pursue their interest depending on the nature of political market. In the summary the Theory of Public Choice lead to conclusion that government inefficiency if not a bug, but the feature and the best way is to minimize government sector to the areas of absolute necessity where market solutions are not feasible such as military and legal systems.
2. Voting Paradoxes
This is review of electoral systems and their paradoxes. One example of paradox is selection A over B over C over A due to sequence of binary choices. Another example is British system when parties have constantly build coalitions in order to obtain majority. Author looks in a bit more details at Proportional representation and Single-Member Constituencies systems. Finally author discusses multi-dimensional character of politics when different constituencies put different weights on issues.
This is a very important concept for group decision-making when members of the group exchange votes conditioned on support for each other issues. Generally it results in benefits exchange at the expense of people not represented or weakly represented in decision-making group, leading to expansion of lobbying. Author refer to Reagan’s tax cut as example of victory of common interest over special interests, which happens extremely seldom, unlike multiple victories of special interest that occur practically on daily basis.
4. The Cost of Rent Seeking
This is discussion of rent seeking (government granting of special privileges) and its cost. Author admits that we do not have adequate methods to measure cost of rent seeking, but there is plenty of evidence that it is tremendous and naturally growing with each expansion of government regulation and interference into resource distribution.
This is review of Bureaucracy and its power that in such developed countries as USA and UK actually accedes power of politicians. Obviously Public Choice deny the notion that bureaucrats’ objective is public good or institutional interest as deeply contradictory to empirical evidence. Author stresses his attitude to bureaucrats as not bad, but rather just normal people whose activity is necessary for functioning of big organization public or private. He just rejects notion of bureaucracy as a group of idealists working for common good and promotes empirically valid notion of bureaucrats as self-interested individuals whose actions may or may not be in public interest, but are always in their own interest.
6. Tax “Avoision”
“Avoision” is combination of all legal and illegal methods used to decrease one’s taxes. Author goes through examples such as mortgage deduction, adjustment of corporate structure to minimize tax, cost of multiple loopholes designed to encourage individuals and entities to act in interests of bureaucracy, and even cost of underground economy that exist exclusively to avoid taxes and regulations imposed by government. The conclusion is that Avoision is quite often beneficial for society because it add goods and services that otherwise would not be created and even puts some restrains on government, which could be good or bad depending on what government does.
The final chapter of this part is about interaction between local and centralized government entities and advantages of federalism: more responsive to people local governments combined with high concentration of resources in central government. Also voting with the Feet is very important feature of federalism that allows voters reward or punish local government by moving in or out of its jurisdiction. Author strongly support federalism and express some dismay that movements in recent years is mainly to centralization.
PART II: AMERICAN APPLICATIONS Gordon L. Brady
8. Protection in International Trade
This is review of application of Public Choice theory to international trade. It mainly discusses how personal interests of bureaucrats and politicians sometime support, but sometime impede free trade depending on their constituencies despite generally accepted idea of its benefits.
9. Internet Governance
This chapter reviews Internet as unusual area of minimal regulation and how bureaucratic interest keep pushing to increase in it. It is written a while before Obama’s attack against Internet freedom, but it is quite obvious it was long in coming.
10. Public Choice to Telecommunications
This is an interesting case when Telecommunications that were developed at the pick of bureaucratic power in 1930s got to be regulated to monopolistic level. The most interesting part of this natural experiment was review of benefits created by deregulation of this area. The process of deregulation, as consequence of new technology not covered by regulation and complex political logrolling, is especially interesting as an example of potential decrease in bureaucratic power by setting up various groups of bureaucrats against each other competing for higher rent.
11. Public Choice to Environmental Policy
The final chapter of this part is about environmental regulation and EPA. Created as tool to rule in externalities of industrial production, which harmful effects become obvious to population, it quite successfully put break on most obvious harm caused by emission and pollution, clearly providing for public good. However as any bureaucratic organization it immediately expanded in search of rent and power, eventually becoming a huge impediment on economic development via multiple costly regulation without and meaningful impact on improvement in environment.
PART III: PUBLIC CHOICE IN BRITAIN Arthur Seldon:
12. Public Choices or Political Sovereignty?
This is an interesting discussion about Political Sovereignty in view of the Theory of Public Choice. It stresses that ratio of individual decision making versus collective decision making has great impact on quality of live in any society. It shows in some details in regard to public goods, redistribution, and welfare how increase in collective decision-making actually means increase in decisions made in the interest of bureaucracy at the cost to population, leading to increasing reluctance of population to curry this cost.
13. Government Intentions and Consequences
This is discussion about distinction between public and private interest that author believes to be fictional. In reality the only interest that exist is always private interest and “collective” practically means interest of bureaucrats and politicians. Author also debunks myth of Collective Superiority using example from British history of welfare and public housing.
14. Overdependence on the Welfare State
This is British specific history of welfare state development and harm to population in caused.
15. The Weakening of the Family
This brief chapter is about negative impact on family from expansion of welfare state to the level when bureaucrats substitute parents. The only reasonable solution created by this expansion of government is remove bureaucrats’ power over family live.
16. Voters versus Consumers
This is about perception and actions of politicians depending on their values. It practically means that politicians consistently value voters much higher than consumers, creating condition for intentional promotion of unjustified fear and resentments so politician could use them to win election, even if in reality it causes real harm to their voters as consumers causing them for example to avoid Genetically modified food, which has much higher quality and lower price than conventional.
17 The Political Fate of Economic Federalism
This is about current centralization of government at the expense of federalism. Author reviews this process and its consequences and concludes that it leads to rejection of democratic government and attempts to escape to open markets.
18. The Escapes from Overgovemment: Political Power Yields to Economic Law
The final chapter is about future and unsustainability of infinite government growth that increasingly hurts population. Author strongly rejects an idea that the choice is between Government and Anarchy and stresses new opportunities to escape excesses of Public Choice and expand sovereignty of the public.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The Theory of Public Choice is the great achievement of political thinking that while still mainly in infancy will eventually become dominant due to the simple fact that growth of government and bureaucratic abuses of individual will, supports rent seeking on the large scale, and creates opulent political / bureaucratic enclaves such as Washington DC becoming richer, while population becoming poorer. It will inevitably force people to reject socialist / statist ideas of XX century as unworkable. The only problem here is that while correctly and wonderfully clearly describing Public Choice of bureaucrats and politicians it does not provide solution for this conundrum. I, on other hand, think that I have one: equal marketable (time limited rent only) rights for natural resources that would provide all individuals with resources and allow for automatic selection via market mechanism of individuals most capable for effective and efficient application of these resources to generate goods and services. I also think that limitation of government to its legitimate area: use of violence to prevent and/or retaliate for violence, enforcement of legitimate contracts, and acquisition of factually correct information to support individual decision making, would dramatically decrease abilities of bureaucrats and politicians to seek rent and to use other people’s resources for themselves.
20160910 The End of Doom
The main idea here is that doomsayers who consistently over the years declare that humanity is moving to catastrophe either due to overpopulation or mineral resource depletion, or cancer epidemics, or genetic engineering were wrong every time for as long as this alarmist industry exists. Being wrong however did not prevent them from reaping huge benefits in form of academic positions, grants, prestige awards, and publishing success. Actually it is pretty much a reliable way to become rich. Consequently author states his believe that human resourcefulness will again prove all them wrong in current cycle of doom predictions.
- Peak Population?
This starts with review of “population bomb” prediction so popular and so profitable for its promoters in 1970s. Author reviews these predictions and actual development to demonstrate how they failed: green revolution of modified crops, decrease in birth rates with increase in survivability of children and education levels of women. Author also makes a very interesting point that with development of welfare society children became kind of luxury that people spend their resources on without any expectation of significant material returns, instead of children being the only source of resources and protection in the old age as it was the case in the past.
- Is the World Running on Empty?
This chapter is about pick oil scare and multiple other picks in natural non-renewable commodities that never ever happened in reality. The important point here is that richer society is normally cleaner society and it also uses a lot less natural resources due to more efficient technology. Eventually humanity will move to sustainable processes, but there is no rush because we have plenty of resources with demand for them per unit of output going down quite dramatically in practically all areas.
- Never Do Anything for the First Time
This is about the latest craziness called precaution. By and of itself it kind of makes sense, stating that one should not harm. However if taken to extreme it is used to prevent any actions and/or improvements in technology or processes. Author makes a good point about seen and unseen when, for example, not allowing new treatment bureaucracy assures that nobody will be hurt (seen), but prevents a lot more people from being saved (unseen). Obviously it could not be possibly trial of something new without errors so the only way prevent errors is to stop all trials and froze humanity in place.
- What Cancer Epidemic?
This is about a number of health scares and their methodologies, which typically are highly misleading and self-serving. In this regard “cancer epidemic” is a very good example. Typically stated number of increase in deaths from cancer often miss any age adjustment and do not mention simple fact that significant part of population that used to die in young age from all kind of diseases typical for their age now live long enough to get old and to die from old age diseases, pushing up statistics for cancer or Alzheimer higher and higher.
5.The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?
This is about another craziness – fight against genetically modified food. Needless to say that humans do not really use natural food since beginning of agriculture. It is the new method of gene selection done in laboratory by genes splicing rather than in the field by selective breading what scares the heck out of functionally illiterate activists. Needless to say that highly profitable organic industry supports these protests not because of illiteracy of its leaders and scientists, but rather for profitability reasons.
- Can We Cope with the Heat?
This chapter is somewhat different from previous chapters because here author agrees with doomsayers about global warming. He repeats their regular trope: more greenhouse gases in atmosphere (true) inevitably lead to warming (questionable) that will cause dramatic negative impact in the future as shown by computer models (unknown, since models being highly unreliable). However author seems to be capable maintain reasonable approach despite his conversion, so he goes through counter argument: warming not happening over last 15 years, lack of observable damage from climate change, low probability of catastrophic warming even according to models specifically designed to prove it, and finally unreasonably high cost of extreme measures to stop CO2 production. Most important, author seems to understand ideological rather than practical approach to the warming that dominates leftist environmental movement and correspondingly ideological approach of their free market opponents. His recommendation is to encourage economic growth so future generations have resources to handle climate change if it does occur and has negative consequences.
- Is the Ark Sinking?
Here author briefly looks again at multiple doomsday scenarios from the past and their current status in corresponding area and finds that lots of staff actually getting better: farmland use is decreasing, forests are growing, cities are incorporated into natural environment rather than substituting it, and so on. Actually he even trying to debunk idea of “pristine and benevolent nature spoiled by evil humanity”. Such nature never really existed. It is and always been tough and unforgiving randomly changing environment in which complex interaction of material components, energy, and time regularly eliminate species, create new ones, runs some of them through bottleneck of survival, and sometime allows some to expand dramatically.
His conclusion is optimistic: humans managed to survive and prosper for a long time in environment they poorly understood by fixing problems one at the time as they presented themselves. There is no reason to believe that with contemporary technology and science humanity would not be able to continue its success. The multiple panics created by ideological environmentalists and supported by bureaucracies usually used to transfer more resources to these groups, increase their power, and most often are detrimental to everybody else. Eventually humanity will overcome its nature consumption phase and switch to sustainment mode when nature will be not a source of raw materials, but “arena of human pleasure”, but this future state should come through economic growth and prosperity, not from restriction and raw political power of ideologues.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a very nice review of environmental scares and their consistent failure to materialize. This book is pretty much in tradition of Julian Simon, whom I consider the most profound ecological thinker and who believed that the only really limited resource is human individuals and their capability to invent and implement good ideas. Despite multiple self-enriching schemas of leftist ideologues and their supporters, humanity seems to be able to limit damage they cause, especially in democratic societies. For example it is highly teachable and is something ironic that damage caused by population bomb promoters was very limited to non-existent in democratic societies in which all they could do was to scare a lot of people into buying their books and tolerate bureaucratic transfer resources to themselves, while totalitarian China actually implemented one child policy leading not only to suffering of huge amount of people on the short run, but also to looming demographic catastrophe on the long run. Overall this book is a nice reprieve from stupidity of political environmentalism.
20160903 The Spirit Level
The main idea of this book is to present a nice collection of data linking inequality with everything bad one can think about from obesity to murder rate and consequently convince reader that inequality had to be eliminated or at least dramatically decreased in order to improve quality of live for everybody. The method of inequality correction is usual: big government with political will for equalizing.
PART ONE Material Success, Social Failure
- The end of an era
This is about the end of era of materialism, which is consistent improvement in material wellbeing. Authors believe that contemporary western society achieved limit when material improvement does not provide for improvement in quality of live. Here is typical “evidence” they provide to support this view:
Obviously people in Tanzania or Vietnam are as happy as people in USA despite huge difference in resource availability. Besides authors really believe that there environmental limits to growth.
- Poverty or inequality?
Here authors make the point that inequality is more important characteristics than income in defining quality of live:
- How inequality gets under the skin
In this chapter authors analyze how exactly inequality causes deterioration of quality of live. Here are reasons:
- High Anxiety
- Impact on self-esteem and social insecurity
- Impact on pride, shame, and status
- Threats to social self
- Destruction of community with defined place for individual
PART TWO The Costs of Inequality
All chapters in this part pretty much about negative impact of inequality on all aspects of people well being from trust between people to obesity. This thesis illustrated by a bunch of interesting graphs showing relation between levels of inequality and other aspects of human live.
- Community life and social relations
PART THREE A Better Society
- Dysfunctional societies
After presenting correlation between inequality and everything that is conceivably bad authors trying to analyze alternative explanation of correlation via external factors. They look at ethnicity, society history, and social class. They generally reject all other explanations and provide a separate discussion on causality of inequality – everything bad correlations. This explanation is pretty much comes down to: inequality correlates with everything bad so it must be causal. Even such seems to be obvious causal link as poor health – inability to work – low income is rejected. They also reject direct influence of ideology, but consider its indirect impact via: neoliberal free market lead to increase in inequality causing everything bad to occur. However authors admit that they really cannot prove causality and claim that it could require impossible experiment by dramatically changing level of inequality in some country and observe results.
- Our social inheritance
This is look at social impact of inequality such as difficulty of real friendship between individuals with high difference in status and negative impact on human relations by perceived unfairness and strict hierarchy. Authors bring in research on chimps versus bonobos, ultimatum games, and anthropological research of Paleolithic societies and their social structures. They also discuss human duality of individual and group survival both of which are necessity for humans.
- Equality and sustainability.
Here authors link everything to ecology sharing their dream for “steady-state economy”. As usual this dream includes hope to decrease consumption of the “rich people” who work too much and consume by far more than other people. Here is their graphic representation of this idea:
- Building the future
This chapter is about what should be done to decrease inequality, after authors put blame for it on political development. Interestingly enough they point out that level of taxation seems to be irrelevant providing example of low tax New Hampshire with very high quality of live and health. However they see solution in politics of society that would force equality on people and suppress corporate power that authors believe promotes inequality. They also see solution in non-profit corporations, trade unions, and employees ownership. However ultimate do-gooder should be big benevolent government that would have political will to make people more equal.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The data set provided in this book is nice, but ideology is somewhat stale. In their passion for equalizing authors somehow manage completely ignore that huge equalizing experiments ware conducted and on the huge scale: Russia, China, and many other countries that were taken over by communists with immediate and drastic decrease in inequality to such level of equalization that even amount of available food was made equal. Probably authors ignore it because it makes their thesis of inequality causing everything bad kind of ridiculous if compared to millions of deaths caused by extreme equality. Another interesting phenomenon, typical for all socialists, is authors’ completely blind spot to inequality created by government and myriad “non-profit” organizations. It seems to be that huge amount of resources spend on building palaces and providing good live for government bureaucrats, politicians, non-profit CEOs, and Union bosses somehow is not counted into inequality. For them a multimillion private 12 seats plane compared with economy middle seat in jumbo jet is huge example of inequality, while government jumbo jet used to carry one important politician to play golf over weekend is not. Especially egregious example is calculation of Gini coefficient without taking into account control over resources by bureaucrats and politicians, so for example country like Sweden, where a few hundred people at the top of government control about 60% of country’s resources, has lower levels of inequality than USA where similar number of top politicians and bureaucrats control just over 30% of all resources. With this approach one gets a ridiculous result when something like North Korea where current Kim controls 100% of country resources somehow has Gini coefficient less than USA, rather than 1, as it should.
While agreeing with findings that inequality hurts people and causes health and other societal problems, I think that most important part is missing: causes of inequality. People are not equal, but this inequality could not cause income/wealth ratio in millions. The real cause of inequality is government that forces on people such rules of game that allow some individuals acquire control over huge amounts of resources, while leaving others with nothing. I think it does not matter whether this control is implemented via mechanism of private or government property. What does matter is real control over resources.
My approach to fixing this problem would be to equalize natural resources availability and making people who use more than average to buy this right from people who use less. With no restrictions and no redistribution of produced wealth the inequality between people would be limited to difference in productive abilities and luck, that could not possibly be that huge, therefore removing all these negative problems that authors wrote about.
20160827 Finance and the Good Society
The main idea of this book is to provide kind of guide to contemporary finance, its professions, operations, and objectives. It divided into part I describing who does what and part two pretty much describing positive and negative consequences of these actions and motivation behind them. The bottom line: finance is necessary and effective tool of economy without which contemporary world would be impossible despite all problems it causes and generally negative attitude of the public caused by recent financial crisis and bailouts.
Part One Roles and Responsibilities
- Chief Executive Officers; 2. Investment Managers; 3. Bankers; 4. Investment Bankers; 5. Mortgage Lenders and Securitizers; 6. Traders and Market Makers; 7. Insurers; 8. Market Designers and Financial Engineers; 9. Derivatives Providers; 10. Lawyers and Financial Advisers; 11. Lobbyists; 12. Regulators; 13. Accountants and Auditors; 14. Educators; 15. Public Goods Financiers; 16. Policy Makers in Charge of Stabilizing the Economy; 17. Trustees and Nonprofit Managers; 18. Philanthropists;
The first part is somewhat trivial going through 18 different types of participants in financial operations and creating necessary framework for such operations: from education, lobbying, and regulations all the way to actual operators such as traders, bankers, and investment managers. Probably the most interesting part of these small narratives is description of incentives that people have in each of these professions that more often than not deviate quite considerably from formally advertised objectives of organizations that operate in each area.
Part Two Finance and It Discontents
In part two author goes into somewhat philosophical review of financial operations, their meaning, and positive / negative outcomes.
- Finance, Mathematics, and Beauty
This is about the beauty of mathematical representation of finance. It is mainly based on ideas of the beauty of symmetry. Too bad it remains purely theoretical because real world includes all kind of imperfections that pretty much make this beauty not really applicable.
- Categorizing People: Financiers versus Artists and Other Idealists
This is about type of people who are doing finance. Contrary to usual few of it being area of either boring and honest types or cunning crooks author provide examples of financially effective artists, revolutionaries, and philosophers.
- An Impulse for Risk Taking
This is about risk taking opportunities provided by finance and type of people who take it.
- An Impulse for Conventionality and Familiarity
Correspondingly this chapter is about financial types that counter risk taking by conventionality and familiarity. In a word it is about security provided by finance so it contains a piece about entitlements such as social security.
- Debt and Leverage
This is about the logic of debt and leverage and how it used in finance. Quite appropriately it discusses financial crisis of 2007 and dangers of overleverage. Interestingly author tries to establish new notions of odious and salubrious debt one if detrimental to social welfare and another promoting it. By adding moral dimension to a debt, author calls for more regulations required to use it to assure prevalence of salubrious debt.
- Some Unfortunate Incentives to Sleaziness Inherent in Finance
Obviously author had to address typical approach to finance as something sleazy. He does it here by comparing it to gambling, but at the same time trying to explain that some financial operations look sleazy only because people do not understand their meaning and purpose. He practically begs not to overreact to sleaziness, by restricting financial operations to the level of understanding of regular people.
- The Significance of Financial Speculation
This is an attempt to explain merits of speculation as financial tool that is necessary to improve functioning of markets. He discusses various corporate forms that limit liability and makes suggestions how to improve existing process by regulation.
- Speculative Bubbles and Their Costs to Society
Obviously it is not possible to discuss finance and not discuss financial bubbles, which author does in this chapter. As it seems to be usual for him, he sees remedy in regulations by wise bureaucrats who somehow superior in judgment to market participants.
- Inequalities and Injustice
This is discussion about how finance lead to inequalities through compensation bubbles, supporting family dynasties, and just plainly benefiting rich for being rich. He gives a nice example of book by rich that are immediate bestsellers because they are written by rich (Trump, Oprah). He suggests usual remedy against inequality: progressive and estate taxes.
- Problems with Philanthropy
This is about financial implications of philanthropy and its limitations. It is mostly about tax exemption and other initiatives to do it.
- The Dispersal of Ownership of Capital
Here author discusses government policies to disperse capital starting with land allocation policies and then going through support for home ownership, retirement accounts, and employee ownership of business. He believes that it support dispersal of capital that prevent concentration of economic power.
- The Great Illusion, Then and Now
Here author discusses what he calls the great illusion: idea that military power provides for national advantage. He looks at history and practically expands this idea to cover all forms of aggression including in business and life. At the same time he stresses that interconnectedness implied in finance if the way to counter aggression by presenting much better return on effort than aggression and wars.
Epilogue: Finance, Power, and Human Values
At the end author discusses relationship between financial wealth and power and how over XIX and XX Centuries power moved from hands of aristocracy into hands of the rich. Actually it seems to be not that bad in terms that it is much better when power struggle occurs not at the battlefield, but on financial markets leaving to mainly bloodless financial battles transfer of power between players, especially when this process often increases overall wealth creation for everybody. Author believes that the future prosperity depends on maintenance of existing and creation of the new forms of financial institutions that would help to resolve existing contradictions and provide supporting system of democratic finance for individuals to achieve their goals.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is 30 thousands feet description of finance, its role in society, and players who fulfill this role. Overall I think it is a very good idea to move as much as possible human interaction related to creation, distribution, and exchange of resources to financial area where it could be done peacefully, effectively, and even relatively fair. The only serious disagreement that I have with author is his highly positive attitude to bureaucracy and regulations. I think that any regulation is limiting ability for business to function effectively and efficiently. Instead of reliance on wise bureaucrats to make decision and setting framework for decisions that people are allowed to make, I would rather limit bureaucratic interference to enforcing contract with specific designation of some contracts that would not be enforced. I would also leave to government power to obtain financial and other business related information and provide estimate of honesty and trustworthiness of economic players. In other words I would leave all decision making with people and use bureaucracy only for contract enforcement and effective informational support of decision-making both of which require ability to use violence or at least threat of it.
20160820 Here Comes Everybody
The main idea is that contemporary computer technology dramatically decreased cost of distributing ideas, accessing information, communicating, and organizing collective actions. All this together leads to dramatic changes in society including methods of organizing groups, setting their objectives, and achieving results. This change is occurring right before our eyes.
CHAPTER 1 – IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO FIND A PHONE
It starts with the story of lost cell phone that finder refused to return. The well educated and reasonably well to do owners started campaign on Internet shaming the finder and even initiated legal action. This resulted in eventual arrest of the finder and return of the phone by police. The story is used to demonstrate the ease of access to distribution of information and ability to communicate to practically infinite amount of people without high cost as long as communicator has ability to attract attention and stand out in huge flow of information. The main point here is that technology practically not only removed limitation on one to many type of communications, but also converted it to many to many type of communications with the power residing with communicator most capable to bring people to his/her side by own personality and content of communication.
CHAPTER 2 – SHARING ANCHORS COMMUNITY
This chapter look at another huge change in human ability collect and use information, make decision, and organize synchronized actions of multitude of people. It starts with analysis of two way communication network between individuals and then proceeds to describe spontaneous generation of visual report about Mermaid parade in New York with pictures provided by multitude of independent individuals using organizational website. The resulting report was by far more detailed than anything provided by professional reporters without any significant loss in quality of pictures. The second part of chapter looks at managerial history from initial organizational charts and strict hierarchical structures that supported practically all activities of industrial age and concludes that it is rapidly becoming outdated, opening way to the new organizational structures based on peer networks. The hierarchical structures of industrial age were effective in organizing collective actions of multitude of people, but they also carried huge cost of professional bureaucracy and deterioration of information during transfer from one level of bureaucracy to another. New peer networks have practically no costs and transfer information without any distortions.
CHAPTER 3 – EVERYONE IS A MEDIA OUTLET
This starts with the reference to cost of publishing in newspaper age, stressing positive side of it: high levels of professionalism that resulted from very limited access to ability publish one’s opinion. Internet removed this cost, allowing everybody to publish own opinion regardless of the quality. The interesting deviation here is reference to medieval scribes and their currently lost skill of calligraphy, killed by printing press. The eventual result of printing press was wide availability of high quality reading material and disappearance of profession.
CHAPTER 4 – PUBLISH, THEN FILTER
This chapter is about another side of the process. During industrial age with its high cost of publication the filtering of information and quality control was done upfront before publishing. Now it is turned upside down because compression of time: it is so easy to publish that any delay puts one behind the curve, consequently it makes sense to publish first and only then filter. All this causes revolutionary changes in culture that are currently in process with very unclear future outcome.
CHAPTER 5 – PERSONAL MOTIVATION MEETS COLLABORATIVE PRODUCTION
This chapter is about interplay between personal effort/motivation and resulting collaborative production. Author uses example of Wikipedia to analyze individual contribution and quality of interaction in what he calls unmanaged division of labor. Two graphs nicely illustrate his points:
CHAPTER 6 – COLLECTIVE ACTION AND INSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES
This is about challenges that spontaneously organized groups could pose to legacy institutions and organizations. It starts with the story of Boston Globe uncovering evidence of catholic priests molesting children and being covered up by the church. It caused lots of publicity, but real change occurred only when self-organizing activist groups put pressure on the church. The main point here is that molestation and cover up went on for centuries, but there were no organized power to counter it. Only when technology allowed easy organizing the power of multitudes become overwhelming and forced action.
CHAPTER 7 – FASTER AND FASTER
This chapter is about speed with which people can organize into a group cooperatively acting to achieve some specific objective using Internet and communication tools. The examples reviewed are: flash mobs in Belorussia demanding political change, protests in Philippines, on the flight organizing of stranded air passengers who managed to reach CEO and force actions, and blitz information distribution about the arrest of Egyptian activist. The tools and speed which they could be used are continuously improving, which changes nature of cooperative actions regardless of their type.
CHAPTER 8 – SOLVING SOCIAL DILEMMAS
Here author looks at possibility that new technology could optimize solving of various social dilemmas by increasing speed and scale of iterative solutions. Another point here is that new capabilities allow much better opportunities for socializing. One does not need to leave house to meet multitude of people, discuss something with them, and agree on some actions. It all could be done online now. Author also looks at downside: losses from substituting professional work with unpaid amateurish work, damage to existing social bargains, and finally the most harmful – empowering terrorist and criminal networks to collect and distribute information and disinformation on the mass scale in order to achieve their objectives.
CHAPTER 9 – FITTING OUR TOOLS TO A SMALL WORLD
This is elaboration on interconnection of the world with stress on the quality and diversity of connections. Instead of complete interconnection, in reality it is more like connection of clusters. It has a nice graphic representation of this:
CHAPTER 10 – FAILURE FOR FREE
This is another very important point: due to the decrease in cost of publishing and overall information processing, the cost of failure is also decreasing, opening huge opportunities for trial and error methodology of discovery that was not available before. In the past high cost of attempt inevitably led to significant part of any effort being planning and modeling. With current environment it could be substituted with actually trying.
CHAPTER 11 – PROMISE, TOOL, BARGAIN
This chapter is about use of social tools and issues that arise in process of their use. Author discusses some of these issues, especially issue of governance using example of “White bicycle”, LA times website, and a few fan groups of TV shows.
The final word here is to stress value of social networks and technology that made them possible. At the same time it stresses needs for managing, however loosely, such networks and danger of government interference. It also discusses future of collective actions: spontaneous organizing of people around some issue that become possible due to technology, stressing that it is much easier to do for protesting, than for productive cooperation.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a very nice review of issues related to newly created abilities to generate and distribute ideas in process creating groups of self-selected individuals based on interests with no relation to location of its members, their wealth or lack thereof, their background and anything else. This is something new in the history of humanity and I believe it will lead to dramatic changes in how society works, opening way for a lot more free society than it would be possible to imagine before. Obviously this would require new methods of resource generation and distribution because current methods are becoming increasingly obsolete, not capable to provide level of resources people consider appropriate, and consequently could loose legitimacy much faster than ever before due to tremendous increase in flow of information between people that makes any notion of accepting one’s place in the society as given outdated.
20160813 Wired for culture
The main idea here is to review balance of power between genetic makeup of humans and cultural constructions that they create and internalize via socialization. Based on the review of history of human biological and cultural development author proposes general solution to the problem of creating stable and effective society through self-organization of free individuals with common objectives and shared results.
INTRODUCTION: The Gamble
At the beginning author provides an interesting summary of culture: everything that humans do and monkeys don’t. After that, however author moves to clarify that he sees humans as carriers of two somewhat supplemental, but somewhat contradictory informational sets: one defined by genes and another defined by memes or in other words by culture. The human history could be seen as process of change of balance of power between these two sets with culture slowly taking upper hand not only by defining human actions, but also by creating completely new artificial environment that did no exist in nature. This fact should be considered the main differentiation of humans: other animals mainly adapt to existing environment, while humans consciously build their environment within framework of nature. Author introduces notion of small tribe as cultural survival vehicle built on the top of human bodies that are physical survival vehicles.
PART I • Mind Control, Protection, and Prosperity
This part is to answer question of how our cultures have been able to organize us into small tribal groups: cultural survival vehicles.
CHAPTER 1: The Occupation of the World
This chapter starts with review of human biological history including multiple relatives such as Neanderthals then switching to history of humans expansion throughout the world and elimination of all competitors for the same ecological niches – the process accompanied by constant generation of new cultures and languages within confines of small tribes. Here author’s attention is directed at development of multiple cultures as survival vehicles based on genetic functionality of humans that allows acquiring language, ideas, and norms of behavior from whatever culture they are born into, essentially becoming an integral part of the tribe. Author also looks at culture’s impact on flow of genes and flow of information and ideas both inside and outside tribe. The final point is that humans not only were able to support demographic rule of two (meaning stable numbers of people in next generation), but dramatically exceeded it, multiplying all over the planet in nearly infinite number of local ecological niches.
CHAPTER 2: Ultra-sociality and the Cultural Survival Vehicle
This starts with discussion of visual theft when observers copy some invention or process without any benefits for inventor. Author calls this social learning and defines humanity as ultra-social species versus eusocial insects. From here author traces development of cooperation and its biological roots – all the way from DNA-RNA “cooperation” to complex patterns of cooperation and altruism between humans.
CHAPTER 3: The Domestication of Our Talents
This is somewhat unusual and interesting approach to role of individual within society. Author characterizes humans as domesticated to fulfill a specific role in the society mainly via division of labor, which opens opportunities for individuals to use their specific abilities to maximize both total resource generation in society and their own share of these resources. This follows by usual discussion about born vs. made with reasonable conclusion that it is both. The final part is about cultural impact on our genetic evolution and discussion of future technological feasibility to actually define our own genetic makeup.
CHAPTER 4: Religion and Other Cultural “Enhancers”
This chapter looks at what author calls cultural enhancers: religion, art, music, and such. All these enhancers create environment that provides necessary intellectual and psychological benefits (brain candy) from belonging to some specific cultural tradition. Author pays special attention to ideological, mainly religious part of culture to discuss potential pluses and minuses for individuals and, most important, cultural survival of the group as unique entity clearly distinct from any other similar entity of humans.
PART II • Cooperation and our Cultural Nature
This part is an analysis of cooperation between individuals often completely unrelated as key to effectiveness of culture for survival.
CHAPTER 5: Reciprocity and the Shadow of the Future
This chapter looks at reciprocity as a source of cooperation. Initially it is somewhat going into linguistics analyzing the phrase “God Save The Queen” as set of replicators where each word can survive only as a part of the phrase. After that it goes into 4 modes of being social: altruism, selfishness, spitefulness, and beneficial cooperation as in prisoners dilemma. Author highlights a strategy that he believes moved humanity for a long time: win-stay and lose-shift. Also the issue of fairness and trust is analyzed as a beneficial set of rules that support intragroup cohesion.
CHAPTER 6: Green Beards and the Reputation Marketplace
This is analysis of individual evaluation method of reputation as the tool necessary for cooperation. The analysis here is based on hypothetical scenarios such as green beard being genetically assigned symbol for specific behavior. The analysis goes through multiple behavioral patterns: nationalism, reputation development and marketplace, morality, shame, self-sacrifice, parochialism, and xenophobia. All these are tools used to achieve effective cooperation, which is the key to our success as species.
CHAPTER 7: Hostile Forces
This chapter is about conflict and it starts with an interesting idea that the main function of our big brain is to handle interactions and conflict of interests within and without groups of our species, rather than manage interactions with nature and environmental forces. Our huge advantage obtained from this highly expensive part of our bodies is ability for social learning and accumulation of knowledge and know how that allow us not only adjust to existing environment, but also change environment to adjust to our preferences. Author stresses two important characteristics of humans: the first is that social knowledge became so complex that nobody really has complete knowledge of any technology and the second that we are still in process of continuing evolution that could be accelerating with our newly acquired ability to consciously direct it.
PART III • The Theatre of the Mind
This part analyses how culture formed individual ability to use it in order to obtain advantage in resource acquisition.
CHAPTER 8: Human Language – The Voice of Our Genes
This is an analysis of human language and its use. An interesting point here is that humans are the only beings that have something to talk about: stories about past that allow reordering of experiences real or imagined, which in turn allow planning and design of future actions. Author goes a bit into biological details of DNA and their relation to language. There is also discussion about power of the language with reference to Cyrano de Bergerac and language role in forming and maintaining our identity. The final and quite interesting point is about extinguishing of languages and increasing use of English as lingua franca of the world, but not in its pure form, but as a skeleton language around which continuously growing flesh of adapted words and rules develops a natural universal language of humanity.
CHAPTER 9: Deception, Consciousness, and Truth
This chapter uses quite interesting approach to use of language. It looks at it not as communication tools that supposed to transfer truthful information, but as cooperation tool that used to build believes and actions instrumental for our survival. Whether communications transferred between individuals are truthful, deceitful, or anything in between is actually irrelevant as long as objective of survival is achieved. Here author looks at stories of use of deception by criminals, spouses, and even by newly born babies. Babies’ deception is genetically based: all babies are born looking the same and only after few months of development they begin demonstrating individual similarities to their parents. It seems to serve purpose to prevent rejection by adult males who could have doubts about their parenthood. The baby who was able to hide similarities to other man from father of the family long enough to create reliable bond, has better chances to survive. Another interesting discussion here is about self-awareness and self-deception both of which could be powerful tools for survival.
PART IV • The Many and the Few
The final chapter is trying to understand how humans who are optimized for live in small tribal groups manage to create large scale stable societies that includes billions of individuals who generally accept rule of small elite and more often than not comply with rules established and directives issued by this elite.
CHAPTER 10: Termite Mounds and the Exploitation of Our Social Instincts
Author compares large-scale societies with termite mounds and tries to identify difference in mechanisms that make multitude of humans and termites work together. He looks at idea of trust to others, but rejects it as unrealistic. He seems to prefer explanation of cultural experience of interaction with others when people learned how interact by looking at interactions between others. Actually this is mechanism well developed in small tribal societies that practically scale-free. Typically we behave as is we live in small tribal society with dynamically changed personalities who behave according to specific roles. However author points out that our ability to create large-scale societies does not explains why they were created. After that author discusses role of local rules in self-organization of large-scale societies and economy of scale that seems to be promoting increase in size. Author also looks at mechanics of dictatorial regimes and their live cycles, especially revolutionary processes just before regime dissolution. Finally author discusses individual behavior in the group, specifically subordination to authority, rejection of authority and social ties between people that pretty much define societies. The final world about effective scale-free society construction is: “creation of strong clues of trust and common values and then encourage the conditions that give people a sense of shared purpose and outcome”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It’s very nice review of cultural development of humanity with, also very nice, recommendations of what needs to be achieved. However it is not going into issue how to achieve it. The idea of continuing recombination of genetic and cultural characteristic in various forms of human society is quite interesting and could be a source of large-scale research on actual historical societies and how they were using specific genes and cultural memes during their live cycles. If it were done, we would probably find quite a few similarities in process of society formation, development, maturity, and eventual destruction, leading to better understanding of processes in our own society and, hopefully, better management of its live cycle.
20160806 Listen Liberal
The main idea here is that liberals and their democratic party lost their meaning as protector and supporter of lower classes and turned into elitist movement, which, while still using the same rhetoric, acts in the interest of educated elite and quite often doing it to the detriment of lower classes.
Introduction: Listen, Liberal
The liberals and their political organization – Democratic Party was losing its original position as defender of large masses of laborers, unions, and poor for a while, with Obama’s leadership being a big disappointment. Instead of reversing this process this administration had been increasing its speed. Author calls on liberals to listen to his warning because alternative will leave them in minority and away from political power when majority eventually understand that they become an elite party.
- Theory of the Liberal Class
Here author presents his understanding of Democratic Party, as Party that should be “Party of the people”, but turned into “Party of High born and Well Educated” that claims right to rule mainly based on their superior knowledge and expertise. Unfortunately it is more pretense than reality, which author quite convincingly demonstrates by analyzing track record of failures of the Best and Brightest.
- How Capitalism Got Its Groove Back
This chapter represents a brief history of change in Democratic Party that resulted from its failures in 1960s and 1970s that left country with ailing economy, defeat in Vietnam, racial riots, and overall doom and gloom. These failures gave opening for Reagan Republicans to restore some sanity and improve situation practically in all areas.
- The Economy, Stupid; 4. Agents of Change; 5. It Takes a Democrat
This part retells story of Clinton’s New Democrats who moved to supporting international capitalism, free market, and even declared the end of Big Government. Author clearly considers New Democrats as traitors of the liberal ideology and to working population that was traditionally democratic base. The treason in author’s opinion, also includes Clinton’s support of Law and Order that together with Welfare reform practically amounts to racism because it forced many blacks to work even if wage is so low that would not significantly exceed amount of handouts, plus many blacks were incarcerated for previously ignored or lightly punished crimes. Overall author characterizes Clinton presidency as “The Disastrous Success”.
- The Hipster and the Banker Should Be Friends
Here author looks at the current Democratic Party that lost its working class roots and become party of Blue Billionaires, Hipsters, and Artists. He discusses work of Richard Florida and his ideas of deindustrialized, “creative” economy based on financial services. Needless to say, that this vision went down the drain with crisis of 2008.
- How the Crisis Went to Waste
This is another aggrieving narrative of lost opportunities that author believes leftist had with crisis of 2008 when democrats had all legislative and executive power, but failed implement massive change on the scale of New Deal. The key problem here in author opinion was Obama and democrats become too cozy with Wall Street and practically betrayed working class in the interests of elite.
- The Defects of a Superior Mind
The “superior mind” is obviously Obama. Here author reviews main achievements of Obama’s brief (2 years) period of nearly complete control: Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and Stimulus. Quite surprisingly for the leftist, author seems to understand that government regulations normally created mainly in interest of big business and are pretty much negotiated deals from which democratic politicians get cover to present themselves as defenders of their voter’s interest, while established and well-connected business interests get opportunity to suppress competition. Author also complains that Obama and his administration were too “smart” to bring decisive changes and limited themselves to marginal tinkering.
- The Blue State Model
Here author responds on democrats’ claim that they do all that is possible at federal level where they are limited by republican opposition by looking at some states where democrats have unlimited control such as Rhode Island, Chicago, New York, and such. He does not really look at disaster of inner cities that are controlled by democrats for at least half of century, but rather concentrates on small upscale, elitist and very prosperous “innovative” part of population: people linked to elite universities, high tech enterprises and such. However he also points out to formerly prosperous, but now devastated manufacturing and services communities of low-tech middle class. Under democratic rule that these people voted for, they practically get destroyed.
- The Innovation Class
Here author looks in a bit more detail at “the innovative class” that become so prosperous under democrats and concludes that this prosperity came at the expense of old middle class because huge raise in productivity kills jobs. The interesting example is Wal-Mart that killed small retailed shops substituting middle class shop owners with low working class employees, which now in turn seems to be getting killed by Amazon that moves retail on line and substitutes low class retail employees with even lower class cheaper warehouse employees and robots.
- Liberal Gilt
Here author looks on seems to be standard pattern of democrats: enthusiastic idealism turning into disappointing results. He also goes a bit into psychology, pointing out liberal’s need to feel good about self and in this line he analyses Hillary as typical representative of this need. The interesting thing about it is that do-gooders are pretty good in convincing poor masses to vote for them, then do well by enriching themselves, feeling even more good, but in reality leaving poor masses even more poor after all said and done.
Conclusion: Trampling Out the Vineyard
Author restates the main objective of this book by picturing Venn diagram of interests’ intersection between Democrats, Plutocrats, and Meritocrats. He refers to Martha’s Vineyard as real live representation of this intersection of people and their interests. There is no place in Marta’s Vineyard for regular Americans either of middle or lower classes and this could doom the party and liberal movement. Author wants to change it, but could not come up with anything other then: “ Let’s strip away the Democrats’ precious sense of their moral probity” to force them understand how “starkly and how deliberately Democratic party political leaders contradict their values”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a painful book for any liberal because it nicely shows that Democratic Party is just a corrupt machine, mainly serving needs of political bosses and connected to them plutocrats and meritocrats. I personally do not like term meritocrats applied to people main merits of which are credentials from top-level colleges, but it is not an important point. I also think that author misses on the very core constituency of Democratic Part that in reality provides most important support and controls it more than anybody else – bureaucrats. However putting this aside, it is a nice demonstration of the first part of revolutionary formula: the people at the top cannot rule as usual. The other part, mainly left outside of the scope of this book, is that people at the bottom do not want to tolerate it as usual any more. However there are quite a bit of evidence that it could be a situation that we are moving to. Historically speaking, thanks to democratic system of rule, America did not know violent revolutions (original revolution was against foreign power and civil war was actually a war between two societies with different cultures and economic systems). So I would take this book as another evidence that we are coming closer to typical American peaceful revolution in ballot box when election of significant majority of representatives of the new power nearly completely changes rule and function of the state, while maintaining formal structure of the system. Last time it was successful revolution of the new powerful class of bureaucracy against declining class of plutocracy known as New Deal. This time it could be a revolution of new increasingly powerful class of independent market participants against declining bureaucracy supported by desperation of lower classes whose quality of live dramatically deteriorated, similarly to the period just before the revolution of New Deal.
20160730 American Betrayal
The main idea of this book is to assert and provide supporting evidence for the historical fact that American left were closely linked to Soviet directed international communist movement and provided Soviets with all conceivable forms of support including espionage, transfer of military know how and equipment at the scale unprecedented in history. Moreover, Roosevelt administration was saturated with communist agents and sympathizers to such extent that even strategic plans and their execution overall was geared up to support Soviet strategic goals to establish communist political control over Europe and Asia.
INTRODUCTION: “THE BEGINNING”
This is a brief tribute to individuals such as Chambers and Dr. Wirt, who initiated fight against communist infiltration and uncovered at least some communist agents and sympathizers. It also briefly touches mechanics of successful attempts to discredit such people by leftist intellectuals in media and government under control by Democratic Party.
This chapter starts with contemporary condition of extreme political correctness that successfully neutered American attempt of ideological resistance to Islamic supremacist movement. Author links it to the raise in American politics such leftist personalities as Obama with implicit help from Republicans such as Bush. Author also narrates her personal experience with PC limiting her ability to discuss issues as public personality on CNN. Author states that this PC environment of ideological control over discussion by leftists moved her to investigate historical background of leftists’ influence in America. It led to some unexpected discoveries and raised question that seems to be inconceivable such as “Who really won WWII?”
This chapter starts with period of late 1980s when Cold War ended. Author described supersensitive attitude of Bush administration designed to alleviate ideological consequences of economic and political self-destruction of Soviet System. She describes process of negotiation between Bush and Gorbachev when both sides seems to be the most concerned to present Soviet Union as equal power rather then looser asking for help. One of the most impressive things for author was very limited knowledge of Gorbachev about American land-lease program when USA practically saved Soviets by their massive supplies and reluctance of American leadership stress failure of Soviet system. This “ideological collaboration” combined with tremendous increase in real knowledge of Soviet system, made possible by temporary opening of Soviet Archives after demise of Soviet Union, prompted author to start a serious research of leftist movement in USA and to discover the scale of its influence in American politics and treasonous character.
Here author traces her own development from somewhat leftist background to reevaluation and consequent interest in question of why while USA won Cold War internationally it was loosing it internally when counterculture seems to be overtook traditional culture just about everywhere. Interestingly enough it came to her from strange cultural development that made crimes of National-Socialism well known, while crimes of International socialism, that were by level of magnitude bigger, where practically unknown leading to acceptance of such communist killers as Mao, Che, and Castro as positive symbols in American culture. She start looking at vilified McCarthy era and found that lots of claims of this anti-communist fighter were later supported by Soviet secret documents that come to the light in 1990s. Not less startling was her discovery that communist infiltration was really covered up by top politicians and bureaucrats of American government.
This chapter is review of KGB and its predecessor activities in America based on a number of books that used open archives, including Mitrokhin diaries. These activities were by far more complex and successful than anybody could imagine. Author also looks at activities of soviet apologists such as Davies who provided propagandist support to Soviets from inside America’s top mass media organizations either due to their ideological inclinations, just plain treason, or both. Finally author looks at Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, finds it incredibly mild, and concludes that noise around it created by western leftists shows that soviet propaganda took deep root in American culture.
This chapter is review of Roosevelt’s land-lease program as applied to the soviets. It demonstrates that not only this program was huge, but also that soviets often were given priority over needs of other allies, and even over needs of American military. Moreover it was transfer not only all kinds of material, but also technical knowledge of all things military and, most damaging, including nuclear research and supplies. Author also claims that the closest and most important aid of Roosevelt – Hopkins was quite possibly a Soviet spy with direct connection to Stalin.
This chapter looks not only at patterns of soviet deception in media supported by western intellectuals, but also at patters of suppressing and distorting history to build a narrative in which communism of if not a great idea, then at least not a virulent one. Author looks at Office of War Information that was saturated with communists and played a big role in distribution of communist propaganda by American government.
This is detailed review of Harry Hopkins role as the closest adviser of FDR and even at times practically substitute president. It provides quite a bit of information on Hopkins interference on the behalf of Soviets, his probable connections with soviet residents and even direct link to Stalin. However it is not completely clear to whether Hopkins was a spy or just ideological friend of soviets, but it does not makes lots of difference. The final results: most of Europe and Asia under Soviet control, and nuclear technology transferred to USSR, providing it with power not only counter much more economically developed West, but also keep expanding communist empire under nuclear umbrella. This chapter provides multiple examples of western politicians systematic refusal to counter soviets from the story of Katyn in 1940 to ignoring soviet violation of nuclear treaties in 1970s.
This chapter is about huge contrast between treatment of dissidents by soviets and by the west. In one case it was deadly concentration camps, outright killing, and even political assassinations abroad, while on western side there were “heroes of Hollywood” who bravely refused “to name names” and paid a severe price of doing their work under pseudonyms after being “blacklisted”. Needless to say, that this severe punishment was supplanted by adulation of all “decent” meaning leftists in top levels of American elite.
This is review of strategic direction of WWII as conducted by FDR administration. Author makes case that in reality it was subordinated to Stalin’s strategy to achieve significant expansion of communism in Europe. The two polar approaches were Churchill’s intention to expand strategic offensive from Italy up North through Balkans, cutting off Red Army from massive invasion of Central Europe that was passionately contradicted by Stalin’s intention to direct Western offensive to the Western part of France so it would be as far as possible from Central Europe, creating opportunity for Soviets to conquer its Eastern part.
This is another aspect of the war – potential of German resistance against Hitler. Author’s thesis here is that FDR ignored and even sabotaged opportunities presented by resistance from German military and intelligence. She seems to believe that demand for unconditional surrender was to stifle such resistance and removed possibility of elimination of Nazis by German military and early end of the war.
This chapter if about Americans and others left behind in hands of Soviets. These were American POWs liberated from German camps by soviets that were transferred to Stalin camps with American government willfully ignoring their plight. Similar fate expected later POWs of Korean and Vietnam wars that where transferred to Soviet hands by these countries.
The final chapter comes back to parallels between historical weaknesses of West in the face of communist ideology and current weaknesses in the face of Islamic supremacist movement. Author also laments decline of American Republic, growth of big government, and limitations on economic freedom. She believes that it is time to stop this decline and return to Americanism with its individual freedom
as foundation of society.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book definitely expanded my understanding of the scale of socialist / communist impact on American development in XX century. It is interesting that one could reasonably claim that this ideology practically won elsewhere including USA, but then self-destruct not because it encountered a serious ideological opponent, but because it is so severely detrimental to economic, scientific, and psychological wellbeing of people that it just could not possibly work. It is funny to see how each victory of this ideology either Nationalization of economy in Britain in 1940 or Obamacare in 2014 in USA wind up harming wide majority of people and eventually gets rolled back in subsequent elections, even if it take a dozen of years. It is not that funny to see victory of this ideology in countries like Russia there is no tradition of democracy and therefore feedback between actions of politicians and reaction of population is slow, painful, and takes 70 years and tens of millions of lives before it gets undone. However in every case it does gets undone and will always get undone because it contradicts human nature and therefore could not possibly work.
20160723 Significance of Frontier in American History
This is a collection of essays written from 1893 to 1910 and covering dramatic changes in American society. The end of frontier meant the end of unlimited supply of agricultural land that fed not only immigration from Europe, but also formation of immigrants into Americans – peoples with strong individualistic core and deeply suspicious of government who had very little use for it. So the main idea was to recognize and then describe what is coming next, which was big government democracy.
I The Significance of the Frontier in American History
This is a key article in this collection. It describes history of American frontier and how it defined American culture. There is a very interesting point on difference between French and British approach: French was a trading frontier that did not encroach on Indians territorially, while British was a farming frontier that practically took land away from Indians and created settlements of Americans continuously pushing further and further West. The key factor was a very cheap land that provided ownership opportunity for everybody because all attempts to limit squatting and maintain elite ownership of land failed. Another point was that frontier promoted formation of American identity out of diverse European identities of new immigrants. Yet another point was increase of internal market and corresponding decrease of dependency on Britain with western expansion. However further west individual land ownership was decreasing and state nationalized control increasing because over time government power increased. However as long as western frontier existed it was main source of democratic nature of America, maintaining continuous tension against Eastern elitists and Southern slave-owners.
II The Problem of the West
This is about problems of the West circa 1896 as problems of American development. Author looks at the West not as geographical notion, but rather as a special type of social organization and culture. He again reviews history and West vs. East vs. South and concludes that its continuous expansion created a very special circumstance and with completion of Western movement the problem is to work out social ideal and adjustments for the whole America.
III The Significance of the Mississippi Valley in American History
This is detailed review of development of Mississippi Valley from sociological point of view with its movement from practically unrestricted competitive individualism to powerful democratic government build on culture developed in conditions of freedom.
IV Social Forces in American History
There are nearly 20 years between the first and the last part of this book. The end of frontier was far in the past by 1910 so author could discuss dramatic changes that occurred after frontier was closed. The most important was industrialization of America that led to switch of the main American type from a farmer into employee, sometime immigrant from rural farming family, but sometime new immigrant from Europe. The Country became interconnected by railroads and communication lines supporting huge amounts of goods, services, and information moving between people all over the country. This merge of country into one huge network of markets led to dramatic increase in federal government and its limitation on individual freedoms, especially in commerce. Author points out that cultural change that occurred also was in core American values: if for the pioneer the source of resources was unlimited nature around frontier and government was an evil that limited his use of resources, then for employee government become necessary protector of democracy and his access to “fair share” of resources produced by industrialized economy: “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
For me these old essays are interesting not only as historical artifact, but as eyewitness description of period in American history not unlike ours when old method: back then expansive farming being substituted by industrial economy regulated by big government; while in our time this big industrial / service economy is falling apart due to automatization and globalization and it is not clear what will be next. I hope that eventually idea of unalienable and marketable (rentable) equal rights for natural resources will take root and everybody will have enough such property to provide for acceptable living and ability for free people to pursue whatever activities they deem most effective in obtaining whatever ends they want to obtain.
20160716 – Ego
The main idea here is to use personal narratives about 9/11 to link human behavior and attitudes to evolutionary development of human brain, its connection with technology and social connections, and, most important, provide support for the idea that human evolution continuing and it would lead to dramatic expansion of conscious understanding of environment and ourselves. Authors believe that this evolution eventually limit influence of individual ego and integrate people into “ the larger process of live”, moreover turning ego into “relic of our past”.
Part I: The Prison of Feelings
Chapter 1 Evolution’s unfinished product
This is retelling of 9/11 events with stress on psychology of perpetrators as avengers for perceived humiliation of their group: Muslims. Here authors introduce the key idea they borrow from Einstein that “human being is part of the whole limited in time and space” and that individual’s perception of self as separate entity just an optical delusion of consciousness, kind of prison we should strive to free ourselves.
Chapter 2: What are emotions for?
This is discussion of need for emotions as necessary for survival mechanism of feedback allowing quick identification of situation and needed actions of do/do not type without involvement of conscious self. They illustrate need for such quick unconscious feedback by presenting the story of man with pathological absence of pain that keep getting into dangerous situations and needs constant supervision because such feedback is lacking.
Chapter 3: The emotional nervous system
Here authors review 3 parts structure of feedback constituting human biological controlling system: reptilian brain that maintains bodily functions, limbic system that support emotions, and neocortex that is new and specifically human part of the brain. There is also illustration of such processes as love, adjustment to environment, and parenting emotions.
Chapter 4: The pursuit of happiness
This is discussion of evolutionary meaning of happiness as reward that doing what is best for supporting survival of individual and his group. However there are limitations on happiness applied via hedonic adaptation mechanism when unusually high impact events either positive or negative are discounted overtime, leading to return to the emotional level specific to individual.
Chapter 5: Why do I care?
The final chapter of this part is about emotions related to others including “kin selection”, mirror neurons, evolutionary advantages of cooperation, and presentation self to the group. Based on research and such examples as blind athletes’ bodily and face expressions after winning or loosing, authors conclude that expressions of emotions is genetically predefined and consistent throughout humanity.
Part II: The Prison of Thoughts
Chapter 6: Becoming human
This part is a look at human individual as prison of thoughts via prism of the 9/11 terrorists. Basically it looks at the role of linked ideas in consequent actions of individual. In addition to thoughts and linked ideas of terrorists, authors provide example of monkey who selects fewer dates if it learned that more dates leads to less water. Then they look at human brain as machine for learning ideas and connections between them and then exploiting this knowledge.
Chapter 7: The conceptual revolution
Here authors review the next step that follows linked ideas–development of conceptual thinking including exclusively human ability to model past and future. Eventually we can find that all human live in artificial environment of concepts, models, and ideas that are built in their heads and eventually cause actions via which individual interacts with the reality. The development of these abilities directly connected with development of language and consequently the theory of mind as usual illustrated by Sally-Anne experiment. Other animals clearly demonstrated both abilities, but in very limited form. At the end of chapter authors look at pluses and minuses of our conceptual thinking, use of theory of mind, and ability to emphasize.
Chapter 8: Prima donna
This chapter is about individual’s ability for self-cognition and development of concept of self and ego. Authors use Osama Bin Laden as example of this process gong out of hand and causing hugely negative consequences for huge number of people including owner of the ego. This chapter also describes some charming experiments such as people’s preference for letters of their name and other Implicit Association Tests (IAT). Authors even try to present a history of civilization as “a natural history of the ego: dominance, control, and power struggles”.
Chapter 9: Wake-up call
This chapter looks at situations when individual’s concept of self and environment gets screwed to such extent that they commit acts of huge stupidity sometimes causing self-destruction. Thy provide example of astronaut Lisa Novak and then discuss interplay between contemporary technology and ancient, evolutionary developed workings of our brain. Another example of conceptual thinking distorting reality, relates to conspiracy theories of 9/11. Author looks at how these theories developed and how they used to spin evidence to fit into preset conceptual framework. At the end of the chapter authors reaffirm their idea of illusory nature of self-representation.
Part III: The Enlightenment Revolution
Chapter 10: The organism is in charge
This chapter is about unconscious functionality of organism. It is again uses examples from 9/11 to demonstrate how much our unconscious self influence our actions, ideas, and even problem resolution without clear control of our conscious self. Here authors bring idea of conscious and unconscious ego being a prison, which walls prevent us from unification with the universe and nature that we are part of and express hope that development of knowledge will allow to break out of these walls.
Chapter 11: Developing enlightenment
This is about the process of psychological development that starts even before birth. Authors present an interesting graph and then discuss all phases of development:
The final post-personal phase is the point of jailbreak from limitation of ego to merge with nature and humanity
Chapter 12: The rise of an enlightened humanityHere authors extend their model of development from individual to humanity overall:
The direction of development is to move away from ego, its limitations, and individuality to some kind of better world where people understand illusion of individual separations from others and nature, merge into one with universe, and eventually set themselves free from the human condition.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is an interesting approach to humanity that is completely alien to my own thinking. The book is build around idea that individual ego is kind of prison developed by evolution to separate human individuals from unification with nature and other people in some kind of happy bliss. I, on other hand, believe very strongly that human individuals are separate entities, moreover the only conscious entities that exists and that our problems could not possibly be solved by elimination of ego, but rather by building rules and methods of interactions between egos that provide for the best possible opportunity for everybody without hurting anybody. I believe that we are product of dual evolutionary process: group selection and individual selection within the group. Authors seems to agree with it, only they see future development as elimination of individual, especially his/her ego, while I see future development as increase of freedom for every individual and merge all groups into one with very limited power of interference into individual live.
20160709 A Crude Look at the Whole
The main idea here is to provide kind of review of complex adaptive systems and scientific approach to their analysis, modeling, and forecasting of their behavior. The specific attention is to complex social systems with idea being that knowledge developed via analysis of complex adaptive systems elsewhere in nature could be applied to improve functioning of complex adaptive social systems.
One: Introduction: True Places
This is all about complex systems. Author writes about science as a mapmaking activity with complexity increasing dramatically with increase in scale. That’s why big feature of science is reductionism, with every step up the scale resulting in loss of details. Moreover most complex system include networks and interactions, that too heterogenic to simplify without loss of key elements. One solution used in biology is development of scaling laws when some simple rule like link between hearts bit frequency with length of live. In social science similarly exist link between size of cities with largest being twice as big as second-largest, 3 times the third, and so on. This book looks at interplay between competition and cooperation in complex social systems with stress on self-organized criticality: straw and a camel type of change. At the end author proposes the new fundamental theorem about complex adaptive systems. At the heart of which there are agents searching for better outcomes similar to performing dance governed by some cosmic algorithm.
Two: From So Simple a Beginning: Interactions
Author starts with von Neumann’s cellular automata when each condition of the system directly depends on previous condition like in chess; with multitude of possible conditions making the path dependency critical. Author applies this logic to market and demand – supply relationship, coming to Hayekian conclusion that the system is so complex that relative optimum could be achieved only through self-directed actions of multitudes.
Three: From Hash Crashes to Economic Meltdowns: Feedback
This chapter is about feedbacks and consequences of spikes and flash-crashes when automatic feedback causes system to jump out of range of normal functioning. Obvious examples are stock market crashes and crises.
Four: From One to Many: Heterogeneity.
This is discussion of self-adjusting complex system based on example of air conditioning in beehive that depends on activities of individual bees. Important point here is diversity of individual bees that start acting at slightly different temperatures therefore providing graduate response to change resulting in high stability of the system. However it is not always the case. Sometime heterogeneity could cause system to be unstable. Good example society of N members each of which could revolt if he observes revolt of unique number of people between 0 and N. In this case system would be absolutely stable if there is sequence 1 to N and absolutely unstable if it is 0 to N-1. In the first case since there is nobody to be the first revolting, revolution will never occur, while in the second the person with 0 need in others will guaranteed to start chain of revolt.
Five: From Six Sigma to Novel Cocktails: Noise
This is discussion about variations in different statuses of non-linear systems including local optimums, using example of Six Sigma quality assurance program.
Six: From Scarecrows to Slime Molds: Molecular Intelligence
This starts with charming observation that “Brains are overrated by those who have them”. Then it proceeds to discuss quite intelligent behavior of bacteria based on very simple chemical reactions. The important point here is that choices that are made often seems to be so similar that completely unrelated event could push choice into one direction or another. Here is a nice illustration:
Seven: From Bees to Brains: Group Intelligence
This uses example of bees looking for a site for the new beehive to demonstrate group intelligence. Author also applies it to human social systems in process of political contest. Author expands this notion into continuum of groups at different levels from neutron to society, where the level of analysis could be selected at will with results of analysis being corresponding to selected level. Author also discusses breakdown of group intelligence like in ants’ circular mill:
Eight: From Lawn Care to Racial Segregation: Networks
This is about networks with multiple stable statuses discussed using a sample community with good and bad lawns. Another interesting example is simple segregation by type if network has just 2 types of agents with preference to own type:
Nine: From Heartbeats to City Size: Scaling
This is discussion of scaling with a very nice illustration:
Ten: From Water Temples to Evolving Machines: Cooperation
This is discussion of development of cooperation based on well-known example of Balinese Religion based Irrigation system. It includes more theoretical points of evolutionary process of change when small practically neutral mutations accumulate without expression and then create avalanche when one additional mutation activates many in sync leading to condition of cooperative advantage.
Eleven: From Stones to Sand: Self-Organized Criticality
This is another discussion of what used to be called transformation of small quantitate change into big qualitative change with nice illustration in distribution of change size:
Twelve: From Neutrons to Life: A Complex Trinity
This is somewhat mathematical part discussing statistical methods linking all complex adaptive systems into one logical entity susceptible for analysis and forecasting using similar methods regardless whether it is neutrons in nuclear reaction, neurons in human brain, or individuals in complex human society.
Epilogue: The Learned Astronomer
The final word is stressing need to know and understand self-organizing, complex, adaptive system as necessary condition for survival and prosperity of humanity.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is a great approach to human society: a lot better than typical Marxist primitive and even mechanical approach based on Hegel’s dialectics. However I’d like to make a point that author of this book seems to be underestimating the impact of complexity not only of the system overall, but also every individual human being who is a self-directing and adaptive agent in social systems. Contrary to non-human system that driven primarily by realities of natural world and relatively simple biological adaptations to previously existing conditions, humans, due to their ability to accumulate knowledge and create unnatural environment for themselves, have luxury to live in cultural and ideological world of their minds that is capable dramatically decrease strength of natural feedbacks, leading sometimes to catastrophic consequences examples of which plentifully supplied by attempts of implementation of highly unnatural and non-common sensual socialist utopias in XX century. Hopefully the better understanding of complexity of social system would lead to cessation of attempts of rigid top down control over such systems.
20160702 – Conspiracies of the Ruling Class
This book is directed against new American elite of educated bureaucrats and federal politicians that formed, expanded with government outreach, and become dominant power in society over XX century, substituting old American elite of business owners and local politicians. All these bureaucrats and politicians dramatically increased their wealth elite at the expense of decreasing dynamics of economic development and frustration in middle class population. The book includes recommendations on decreasing this power via democratic process and new legislation.
PART 1: The Greatest Threat to Liberty
- A History of Ruling in the Absence of Liberty
This is the brief review of history of nature of relationship between rulers and their people. The key points always were:
- The ruler knows best
- Public works require coordination and therefore a strong ruler
- Even in ancient democracies when the ruler was elected by direct majority of ruler class minority, individual was suppressed as it is illustrated by Socrates story.
- Liberty: The Real Meaning of 1776
The real philosophical meaning of American Revolution was not just democracy, but individual rights. In reality it meant freedom of individual to control his/her own live including the products of one’s effort. The big driver of American Revolution was British intervention into colonial economic live not only with taxes, but also with regulations. Author also looks at how this impacted lives of 3 founders: Franklin. Adams, and Hancock turning them from prosperous British subject into revolutionaries who risk everything.
- Locking Down Liberty with a Constitution
This is look at American Constitution as only partial successful attempt to limit power of ruling class via division of powers, cumbersome decision-making process, and protection of individual rights.
- The Ruling Class Rethink and Rebrand
The limitations of American Constitution worked relatively well for the main part of XIX century when America was country of economically relatively independent farmers. It begin failing when industrialization and big cities changed nature of the country. It opened way for rebranding of ruling class from aristocracy, which never really took root in America into “progressive” experts and social engineers who promise reorganize live into much better way than it traditionally was. Author looks at Planned Parenthood and Orwellian shenanigans around healthcare in US and Britain to demonstrate how rebranding was done.
- The Progressive Superiority Complex
This is about superiority complex that is typical for members of not just ruling class, but wide mass of semi-educated bureaucrats who are backbone of democratic powers of this class. This chapter provides a couple of nice examples of self-serving pseudo-scientific research that claim to demonstrate intellectual superiority of “progressives” and, as one could expect, couple examples of them using non-profit and government entities for enrichment and suppression of competitors.
- The Progressive Attack on the Constitution
This is a review of century long process of neutering American Constitution making it into meaningless paper used to justify whatever ideas ruling class wants to implement at any given point of time. It also looks at current apotheosis of this process during Obama administration when written laws interpreted and reinterpreted any way ruling class wants on practically monthly basis when the same claim on taking in Obamacare law is considered as tax for some purposes, penalty for another, and god sent gift to the individual being robbed overall.
PART 2: Mismanagement of Government by a Self-Interested Ruling Class
- The Ruling Class Have Failed in Reducing Inequality; 8. The Ruling Class Have Mismanaged America’s Finances; 9. The Ruling Class Have Earned an F in Education; 10. America’s Infrastructure Is Crumbling Under the Ruling Class; 11. The Threat of the Second Amendment to the Ruling Class; 12. The Ruling Class and Your Property-Or Theirs?
This part is pretty much the list of problems either created or made much more dangerous than they would b otherwise by current American ruling class including both parties: Democrats and Republicans. Here are some graphs and tables demonstrating this:
PART3: Securing Our Liberty Once
- The Pro-Liberty Majority
This is analysis of popular support for or against ruling class. It seems to be shows that while based on questions such as whether people want more government services or more economic freedom majority prefer more freedom and less services, however when it come to actual elections people vote for representative of ruling class. Maybe it is because the choice between R and D is just between different flavors of ruling class? Here are participation data showing that only about a half of eligible voters participate:
- Policy: Philosophically Populist, Operationally Libertarian
This is author’s recommendation on winning election by running against ruling class mainly coming down to combination of populism (don’t take anything away) and libertarianism (we’ll give you more freedom in all areas)
- Cementing the Restoration of Liberty and Democracy
Here are author’s recommendations on ruling:
- Restore power of congress
- Term limits not that much for congress as for executive offices
- Budget reform
- Reforming the Fed: The Right Way to Take Back Control of Our Money.
Here are proposed changes for control over money supply with stress on ruling in currently prevalent bubble economy. Here is its nice illustration:
- America Is a Cause, Not Just a Country
The last chapter is about the nature of America as country built on the idea of ruling in the ruling class and denying it control over society. As long as this idea was adhered to America was the most prosperous country in the world. Even now despite consistent decrease in support for this idea for the last hundred years and willingness of significant part of population to relay on ruling class for redistribution to them other people’s wealth, Americans still have about 30% of world’s wealth while being only 5% of world population. However American population wealth growth is actually stagnating for the last 20 years. This failure of improvement causes serious disturbance because being better off than others is not a big help.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I have no good feelings for ruling class either in history or now and actually have complete contempt for many of its representatives. I believe that America historically is exceptional country in its unusual access of resources to non-elite and consequent tremendous generation of wealth that occurred in this country. I agree that current development in this country starting with progressive movement in early XX century and currently bringing country to the state of stagnation is not sustainable. However I do not think that it will be smooth, easy, and involve just some relatively marginal legislative changes. I think that we are rather on the brink of massive change in constitution and approaches of population that will take considerable amount of time and would require serious clashes between different groups of population probably amounting to full-blown civil war (hopefully it would be cold civil war).
20160625 – Cure- Mind and Body
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate close connection between mind and body, show its power in defining health and overall wellbeing of the person, and review some probable mechanisms of these connections.
It starts with reference to homeopathy to illustrate science/non-science duopoly and then goes to author’s qualifications as scientist. After that it goes to the purpose of this book: to review mind-body connections and healing power represented by placebo and similar well-documented phenomenon.
- FAKING IT: WHY NOTHING WORKS
This retells the story of non-working medicine for autism: secretin and how despite the lack of evidence of its effectiveness parents did everything to get it for their children. Another story is about false surgery that nevertheless successfully healed some individuals from back pain. Then it discusses overall effect of placebo and how it clearly demonstrates connection between mind and body including self-healing.
- A DEVIANT IDEA WHEN MEANING IS EVERYTHING
This is about another disease – IBS (Irritable bowels syndrome), which despite impacting physiological functions seemingly outside of conscious control nevertheless was cured by placebo. This chapter also discusses negative placebo or nocebo effect such as cases of mass poisoning when no real poison was found. It also provides illustration of similar effect with voodoo curse when individual’s believe in it causes very real physiological effects.
- PAVLOV’S POWER HOW TO TRAIN YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
This chapter looks in more detail on physiological effect of though starting with simple example of looking at lemon and feeling sour. From here author goes into discussion of training conditional reflexes and how they allow substitute at least partially a very strong and negative impact of some medicines used in extreme cases like chemotherapy. Moreover conditional reflexes training via connections between nervous and immune systems allow training immune system to become more resistant to various illnesses.
- HGHTING FATIGUE THE ULTIMATE PRISON BREAK
This is about unbelievable physiological achievements of top-level athletes obtained via mind’s conditioning. It includes human ability to claim Everest without oxygen, swim across ocean and similar feats. Author also reviews sleep disorders and a couple of therapies that handle it via mind-body connection: Graded Exercise Therapy (GET) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
- IN A TRANCE: IMAGINE YOUR GUT AS A RIVER
This is about the use of hypnotherapy and how it demonstrates once again strong link between mind and body, regardless of whether bodily functions in question are normally under conscious control or not.
- RETHINKING PAIN INTO THE ICE CANYON
This is a look at application of mind – body technics to the chronic pain. As in other cases use of powerful drugs causes negative consequences that could be alleviated by use of computer generated virtual reality. It also presents other experiments including “rubber hand” and mirror treatment of phantom pain.
- TALK TO ME: WHY CARING MATTERS
Here author reviews pain problems with childbirth including her own experience. From there she pivots to impact of not only individual’s mind, but also of people who take care about this individual. In short personalized approach produce much better results in healthcare than assembly line approach.
- FIGHT OR FLIGHT THOUGHTS THAT KILL
This chapter about impact of various stress situations on health is another demonstration of influence of mind on body. It looks at stress caused by emergency events, but also on the long term continuing stress as result of family problem or poverty and inequality. Interesting physiological result of stress presented such as reshaping of brain after 9/11 in otherwise healthy adults leaving nearby World Trade Center. Stress also causes unhealthy behavior such as smoking or overeating.
- ENJOY THE MOMENT HOW TO CHANGE YOUR BRAIN
This chapter is about validity of meditation as a method of improving functioning of the brain with demonstrable positive impact on the body. It also discusses mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) technic and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). An interesting research with Buddhist monks with high level of meditative experience demonstrated that they have physiological difference: higher thickness of cerebral cortex.
- FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH THE SECRET POWER OF FRIENDS
This is a review of another powerful technic of improving condition of body via mind: impact of close friendly relations with other people. Research review provided that demonstrated impact of loneliness on expression of genes with result confirming negative implication for health if person is lonely. However when it comes to formal research results are mixed. The final part of the chapter is about early intervention for families to alleviate stress for poor children.
- GOING ELECTRIC: NERVES THAT CURE
This is about biofeedback when individuals can see electronic representation of some uncontrollable physiological function of their body like heart rate and learn to control it. It also discusses a bit chemical/electrical mechanism of this phenomenon.
- LOOKING FOR GOD THE REAL MIRACLE OF LOURDES
The final chapter looks at religion as somewhat conduit between mind and body allowing mind to influence body via preying and strong believe regardless whether these believes are true or not.
MY TAKE ON IT:
There is no doubt in mine mind that human body is highly interconnected system and any part of it has at least some influence on overall wellbeing of the whole. I believe that our brain is just a small part of controlling information system distributed throughout the body. Therefore as long as something is within technical capability of biological system to control itself via production of proteins, or electrical signals, or muscle movements; it will use these tools to achieve improvement from whatever condition the system is into whatever condition the system prefer to be. However such functionality is limited, otherwise we would not need medicine or any other external intervention. For example I believe that if one has appendix, the surgery is much better bet than meditation, even for Buddhist monks.
20160618 – A Foot in the Riverine
The main idea here is to look at the change as cultural and historical process and what direction it leads to. The causes of change are closely linked to human nature and come naturally to humanity, therefore explanation should be found in cultural development. There is strong push here against attempts to explain cultural change and development via evolutionary processes, which however only weakly supported by alternative explanation: cultural and social learning. Author also believes that change will slow down, but does not provide strong support of this believe.
Introduction: The weird planet
This book is a look at culture as set of patterns of mental behavior acquired by learners from teachers and modeled on examples, which is part of nature not necessarily limited to humans, but rather typical for nearly all creatures. The book is specifically looking at change and how it happens. The book is informally divided into 3 parts Chapters 1-3 are about history of Western philosophical analysis of change chapter 4: review of game changing methodological research; chapters 5-6 are presentation of author’s theory of change; chapter 7 is an explanation why such theory is critical for understanding of current situation; finally chapter 8 is a speculation on how change itself could change producing wide variety of possible futures.
- Challenging Change
Author dates the first attempts to understand change to Stone Age paintings found in caves. He seems to believe that this art was designed to stop time and stay unchangeable forever. After that he looks at Greek and Roman ancient world with initial philosophical approach to this issues from Zeno’s paradoxes to Augustine at the times of falling Rome. The review goes all the way to our times when change become a subject of historical science, the process driven by two main factors: raise of nation-state and formation of history departments in universities and their population by lawyers, theologians, and classicist.
- The Frustration of Science
This is an interesting take on nature vs. culture in contexts of “doing what comes naturally”. Author tries to identify what in the world of emotions, gestures, traditions, and such comes naturally and therefore is consistent across different populations, and countries. It is not an easy task, especially if one takes into account ability of culture to have impact on bodies: a good example is variance in digestibility of lactose. Somehow author managed include here wide variety of phenomenon from slavery to skin color, to Darwinism, and to Marxism. The final point here is that ideas of evolution provide a very good tool for understanding just about everything, but should be used carefully always keeping in mind such deviations as eugenics and Nazism.
- The Great Reconvergence
This is description of late XX century ideological development when mountains of evidence forced significant numbers of intellectuals to overcome primitive eversion to biological explanations of sociological phenomenon and begin the process of reconvergence of history and biology, including development of understanding of interconnectedness of the world via environmental studies. The final and most important note here is that neither memetics nor sociobiology succeeded in explaining the culture.
- The Chimpanzees’ Tea Party
This chapter is about the most resent research that convincingly demonstrated existence of non-human cultures as among chimps, which for all purposes do not really differentiate from cultures of human societies. Moreover not only cultures, but non-human individuals also possess what is considered purely human characteristics: individuality, inventiveness, and capacity to discover new technics.
- The Limits of Evolution
This is an interesting and kind of non-conformist approach to history as the area where evolutionary thinking is not applicable. Author claims that we witness development knowledge that stresses non-selective forces in history and even genetics. Author specifically applies this to cultural development strongly rejecting ideas of memetics. Overall in the battle between evolutionary and non-evolutionary explanations of culture author seems to be in non-evolutionary camp, even if he claims to see opportunity for reconciliation between two views. A very interesting part of this is that author somehow believes that uniqueness of a group or culture and random character of path to the present somehow denies evolutionary approach. In support of his view author points to what he calls 4 fallacies:
- Humans are animals as others
- Cultures and populations are interchangeable units of study
- Omission of cultural and social learning from development
- Final fallacy: that evolution is only true if it explains everything.
I guess author does not deny evolution; he just against mixing evolution with change that in his opinion is a very different process. The most important point here is that cultural development in author’s opinion does not comply with evolutionary model. Author brings about a number of examples from war to farming that he believes lead to destruction of society either through mutual annihilation or environmental catastrophe, somehow believing that it denies survival of the fittest thesis.
- The Imaginative Animal
This chapter is about the dynamism of culture. It starts with discussion of constructive collective memory that usually has little to do with realities of the past, pretty much similarly to how it happens with individual memory. The chapter includes review of research of human and non-human memory coming to conclusion that non-human memory often factually more effective than human. After that author turns vector of imagination from past (memory) to the future when it generate ideas, hopes, and eventually planning with consequent actions directed to achieving desirable future state. As illustration author reviews history of trade, navigation, and exploration that over relatively short few centuries brought humanity together into one communication rich and interconnected entity.
- Facing Acceleration
Here author is looking at current acceleration of change and reasons for it. He looks at dramatic changes in language and cultural attitudes that he observed in one specific population – Englishmen over his own live: from queen English and stiff upper lip to mess of a language and highly sensitive weeping men. Among causes he lists environmental change, multiplication of population, climate change, deregulation, capitalist greed, and multiple other horrors. As attempt to explain this acceleration author brings ideas of Rene Girard who attributed massive change in culture to human tendency to mimic other humans so looking at somebody doing something individual tends do the same, consequently creating consumerism, economic bubbles, political movements, cultural fashions and such.
- Towards the Planet of the Apes
The final chapter presents the idea that not only change happens all the time, but also even nature of change itself could change removing such features as scientific certainty (substituted by sequence of paradigms), factual analysis being pushed out by postmodernist sensibility responses, dramatically changing meaning of history, orderly and susceptible to calculation and planning predictable world substituted by chaos theory when nobody can predict which butterfly’s wing flop could cause hurricane. Despite this entire narrative author believes that there is a chance to break barrier between science and other cultural phenomenon on the basis of equality, so evolutionism and culturalism could coexist. At the end author speculates about future concluding that “planet of apes” outcome is within realm of possibilities, but he believes more in slowing of the change and arriving to some relatively constant condition.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that change always happened, but at very glacial pace because human groups were isolated and too busy surviving in straggle against environment and each other. Only during last few thousand years when agriculture provided enough resources to allocate significant number of men-hours to ideological, technological, and cultural development we could observe process of conversion of multitude of small human societies into one entity via processes of wars, trade, and cultural interaction selecting the most viable patterns of behavior. Contrary to author I think that evolutionary methods are fully applicable to cultural development and should be effective tool for understanding why some features thrive, while others parish. I would agree however that eventually speed of cultural change will slow down, but only because expansion of individual freedom would make culture so diverse and tolerant that it would cover just about any conceivable variation of individual behavior providing that it is strongly supported by absolute intolerance of intolerance and completely suppress violent attempts to influence other people’s behavior.
20160611 Republic of Spin
The main idea of this book is to review history of organized political public relations operations, their methodology, and results. The main conclusion is that politically skewed distortion of events, facts, and statements was increased continuously and achieved such high levels that it become practically impossible do derive picture of reality consistent with real facts based on flow if (dis) information produced by political campaigns and affiliated media.
PART I: THE AGE OF PUBLICITY: 1.Theodore Roosevelt and the Public Presidency; 2.William McKinley and the Passing of the Old Order; 3.The Rise of Public Opinion; 4.”The Fair-Haired”; 5.Muckraking and Its Critics; 6.The Passion of Upton Sinclair
- The Dawn of Public Relations; 8.Wilson Speaks; 9.Pitiless Publicity; 10.The Press Agents’ War; 11.The Journey of George Creel; 12. Disillusionment
This is review of initial formation of political spin that was really born quite non-incidentally with the first public presidency of Teddy Roosevelt. Author reviews Teddy’s publicity operation that started well before achieving presidency and hit high mark during his tenure allowing him to overcome low level of support from GOP establishment by connecting directly with masses. This part also includes review of McKinley’s use of publicity especially new media of movie documentary that provided visual access to masses. It coincided with dramatic increase in numbers of correspondents in DC that tripled from 58 to 171 from 1868 to 1900. However McKinley operation was relatively low scale with limited objectives appropriate for small federal government that had little impact on lives of regular people. However it was changing fast and author traces personalities and methods of public relation operations that allowed massive government expansion into businesses driven by muckraking journalism exposing “evils” and demanding bureaucratic intervention to protect consumers, small businesses, and everything else they could come up with in order to obtain more power. Needless to say that implementing draft, going into war, and drastically limiting American freedoms that occurred during this period would not be possible without massive successful brainwashing operation conducted by “progressive” intelligentsia. Finally a significant share of discussion here is the story of formal government public relation organizations, relevant personalities, quite fascinating semantic struggle to differentiate government spin effort from propaganda (that carried very negative connotation), and, finally, initial planting of healthy seeds of mass cynicism as result of all above.
PART II: THE AGE OF BALLYH00 13. Return to Normalcy; 14.Walter Lippmann and the Problem of the Majority; 15.The Likes and Dislikes of H. L. Mencken; 16.Bruce Barton and the Soul of the 1920s; 17.”Silent Cal”; 18.The Overt Acts of Edward Bernays; 19.Master of Emergencies;
This part covers relatively short period of temporary return to more or less traditional American values of small federal government, minimization of permanent military establishment, and consequently minimization of government intervention into economy and everyday lives of Americans. However the process of information spin to assure support of population to agenda of political class was continued unabated: Harding brought in professional speech writing, Coolidge expanded press conferences and radio talks, and Hoover established permanent White House press office and started continuous production of movies and other propaganda materials to keep public support. As it could be expected at this point public relations operation extensively used individuals with advertisement background who widely implemented advertisement methods to sell political ideas.
PART HI: THE AGE OF COMMUNICATION: 20.Tuned to Roosevelt; 21.Nazism and Propaganda; 22.The Dark Side of Radio; 23.Campaigns, Inc.; 24.The Wizard of Washington; 25.The Road to War; 26.The Facts and Figures of Archibald MacLeish; 27.Propaganda and the “Good War”;
This is about highly effective use of radio for propaganda by all sides during 1930s and 40s. Obviously in USA it was FDR with his fireside chats that in reality were highly sophisticated performances with planning, speechwriters, and thorough rehearsals. It also somewhat touched on continuing philosophical development of ideas of public relations and mass communications as necessary tools for democracy. On totalitarian side it reviews Hitler’s masterful use of mass communications to promote ideas of National Socialism and anti-Semitism. It also reviews in quite interesting details ideological support for war in America from earliest moments when population was fully isolationist to propagandist support for continuing war effort.
PART IV: THE AGE OF NEWS MANAGEMENT: 28.The Underestimation of Harry Truman; 29.George Gallup’s Democracy; 30.Psychological Warfare; 31.Eisenhower Answers America; 32.Salesmanship and Secrecy; 33.The TV President; 34.”Atoms for Peace”; 35.Vance Packard and the Anxiety of Persuasion
This part covers initial after war period, specifically reviewing Truman’s ideological activity in mass communications, it is quite convincingly demonstrated here that Truman was far more effective than he usually gets credit for. This demonstrated by using both Truman internal and external communications directed at winning propaganda war against Soviet Union. The second half of this part looks at Eisenhower administration and its various initiatives in this war with stress on the new media of TV, development of polling methodology that assured improved feedback from population, and glossy magazines that provided both education and propagandist food for public consumption.
PART V: THE AGE OF IMAGE MAKING: 36.The Unmaking of Presidential Mystique; 37.The Great Debates; 38.The Politics of Image; 39.The Kennedy Moment; 40.News Management in Camelot; 41.Crisis 42.”Let Us Continue”; 43.The Credibility Gap; 44.The New Politics;
The new era come in 1960s with Kennedy presidency when ideas were moved somewhat into background and substituted by images. This new environment opened unheard of possibilities of selling to the public packaging in lieu of substance. This part reviews multiple crises of Kennedy administration and its eventual failure to manage the news that led to increasing credibility gap between public and administration filled by news providers.
PART VI: THE AGE OF SPIN: 45.The Permanent Campaign Arrives; 46.The Reagan Apotheosis; 47.Spinning Out of Control; 48.George W. Bush and the “Truthiness” Problem; 49. Barack Obama and the Spin of No Spin.
The final part traces final development of contemporary spin through the last 5 administrations from Reagan to Obama when it is characterized by increasing sophistication in wordsmithing with decreasing effectiveness of results. In short not only credibility of consecutive administrations declined dramatically, but also credibility of news provided went the same way: down the drain.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is an interesting historical review of public relations tracing continuing and seems to be unstoppable decrease in elite’s ability to convince population to support elite’s ideas and endeavors. I believe that it is a very natural process with people getting practically unlimited access to all conceivable information with nationalization and even globalization of individual live when individual’s well being depends not only and even not that much on local circumstances, as it used to be in times past, but more and more on global circumstances of international political, economic, and even psychological and ideological environment. It remains to be seen how well elite would be able to managed dramatic increase in ability to access information, time to digest it, and level of dependency of individual well being on general political and economical situation in the country and even in the world. My guess would be that elite will fail and subsequent development will lead to severe decrease in elite’s influence and quite possible increase of individual freedom, but not before a sequence of serious political battles between elite and populist movement significantly impact environment in the country.
20160604 – Equality
The main idea of this book is that equality is the relatively new notion, which was initially created in Greek city-states in extremely limited form, but really grew into maturity over the last 4 centuries in the Western world. The review of recent attempts to achieve equality either in form of equality before god, nation, or supreme leadership for all or equality for specifically defined group of people mainly ended in bloody mess. The same probably await contemporary political correctness and minority special rights movement, albeit there is hope that the mess will be a bit less bloody and wasteful.
The introduction presents this book as discussion of relationship between liberty, justice and equality. The first two are widely discussed since time of Plato, but the last one is somewhat new addition and this book designed to trace its formation, maturity, and domination of political and philosophical discourse at the early part of XXI century.
- Whence Inequality?
Author begins discussion of equality from animal levels, specifically our close relatives – primates, then moves to hunter-gatherers. He looks at different types of inequality: sex, age, skills, and so on and comes to the very reasonable conclusion that not even in chimpanzee’s society, leaving alone all known human societies any two individuals where equal to each other, so generally speaking inequality is the norm and deviation from this norm is recently invented new notion specific to human development.
- The Greek Mirage
This chapter is pretty detailed look at invention of this notion in ancient Greece and contemporary interpretation of Greek history through lenses of equality. Especially demonstrative is comparative application of this notion in Sparta and Athens.
- The Proud Tower
This chapter continues discussion of equality into the next development: Rome, its colonies and then European feudal states. It also briefly mentions China and Muslim countries. This brings us to discussion of equality in societies based on monotheism with their notion of equality of all before God.
- Islands in the Sea
Here author suggest an interesting idea that equality was traditionally poorly understood so it did not generate lots of support, however oppression was well understood and caused resistance to flare up on more or less regular basis, albeit leading most often either to change of personality of oppressors or its form, but not to removal of oppression. In this chapter author briefly reviews history of revolts against oppression, pivoting then to phenomenon of monasteries as islands of equality in the sea of structured inequality in medieval Europe. Author also looks at ideological development of equality idea in various utopias around the world.
- Liberal Equality
This is discussion of Liberal equality of Western Enlightenment and its notion of independence and freedom for individuals, paradoxically derived from absolutist ideas of Hobbs with Leviathan oppressing everybody equally in order to prevent war of everybody against everybody. The pick of this movement was in late XIX century when despite formally autocratic and aristocratic forms of government people of Europe generally enjoyed unprecedented political and economic freedoms and equality before the law.
- Socialist Equality
It led to demand of even more freedom with new utopias with strong collectivistic ideology paradoxically leading to totalitarian socialism practically annihilating liberal democracy in XX century, until these utopias somewhat retreated as result of extreme suffering of people caused by disasters created by various forms of socialism ideology.
- The Rise and fall of Racism
This chapter looks at racism as another form of inequality from its beginning as typical for all tribal societies understanding of “us” as human and “them” as subhuman all the way to late XIX century’s ideological development of Social Darwinism and its culmination in Nazi ideology and practice of middle XX century. Despite formal rejection of this ideology by just about everybody, in reality race based massacres continued to our day with no sign of completely disappearing in Africa and Middle East where it is also supplanted by religious hate. Final somewhat touching note in this chapter is that at least these people have some equality on their lips and quite equal Kalashnikovs in their hands.
- Minorities Into Majorities
This chapter is an interesting look at contemporary society-wide equality movements such as feminism, homosexuality, and disability. After review of these movement author discusses multiple anti-discrimination measures, noting at the end that it seems to be going out of hand, making into the most discriminating against and suppressed group white able-bodied, heterosexual men. Author seems to hint, albeit very weakly, that it may not be such a good idea because these men after all are in control of violent powers of society and history shows that it is not necessarily a good idea to discriminate against people with overwhelming power.
- Brave New World
This is about contemporary world when idea of equality made some very strange turns. The centuries old idea of equality is being substituted by idea of equality with adjustments to compensate for whatever real or imaginative deficiencies inflicted some group of people. Typical examples are racial and sexual affirmative actions that kind of directed to achieve equal results by making opportunities unequal.
- Death and Beyond
This is about the death as being a great equalizer. However it clearly demonstrates that while non-existence is equal for everybody, the attitude of living to dead is as unequal as society itself. Moreover with contemporary technology it becoming conceivable that death itself could become avoidable providing for virtually permanent live for some who can afford it. Author ends this chapter with somewhat curious observation that monotheistic religions that put in foundation equality of everybody before god, nevertheless often preach after life where some people go to paradise and some to hell, turning it into as unequal situation as human imagination can achieve.
- The Promise and the Threat
The final chapter points out that nature provides for infinite variations of inequality and that the striving for equality is somewhat new notion that humanity came up with. So far this notion most often was used to remove old regime of inequality and substitute it with the new one where tyrants removed and revolutionaries become the new tyrants. This outcome is not a fluke. It is a necessity because equality has infinite amount of variations, often contradictory, so when one increases another correspondingly decreases. Finally dream of equality claimed huge price in blood and treasure when implemented by people like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and such. It does not look that if giving opportunity to do everything they want contemporary supporters of political correctness would be any better.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting review of notion of equality, its history, and contemporary condition. I fully agree with the idea that equality is unnatural, but I believe it is necessary because it provides for at least some safeguard against individual alienation and humiliation that could lead to war against society. My solution is provide for equality of rights for natural resources that would provide everybody with ability to be compensated for use of his/her share of natural resources via the free market, assuring that everybody has resources to pursue happiness in his/her own way with huge inequality of outcomes fully compensated by relative equality of available inputs.
20160527 -Partisan Hearts and Minds
The main idea is that party affiliation is a stable characteristic of individuals and significant part of their identity. It mainly remains stable over the live time with changes relatively easy occurring in young age and much more difficult albeit possible later in live, especially if party’s ideological structure changed. At the same time party affiliation only partially predict voting behavior leaving a lot in flux, enough to make stability of control over state power lower than it would be warranted by party affiliation.
This book is about stability of partisan affiliations. The conception of such affiliation characterizes it as party identification as voter’s running tally of the parties’ competence and ideological appeal. In this party identification also serves as a perceptual screen. However it is more than party identification, it is also identification with social groups that linked to the party therefore it is quite stable condition of voter’s mind. However if party perceived as incompetent in achieving objectives of affiliated social groups it could be discarded or reinstated.
Very important point here is that partisanship has low dependency on usual demographics, but high dependency on parental affiliation. However perceiving oneself as Democrat or Republican does not create automatic loyalty to the party’s current candidate, only some inclination. Consequently in just about any election some minority of Democrats votes for Republicans and visa versa. However there is high level of political significance of stability of partisan affiliation. Partisan attachment to the party is akin to religious identification. But it is not perfectly static. As it is with religious affiliation the change is possible including mass conversion as it happened during the Great Depression when Republican Party lost its partisan majority position and with it nearly all political influence. Different process seems to be happening after WWII when Democratic Party slowly loosing its dominant position, but not to Republicans but to Independents.
- Partisan Groups as Objects of Identification,
This is about partisan affiliation being an important part of personal identity and therefore is not easily changeable and it looks at definition and measurement of partisan identification. An interesting thing about it is that correlation between party identification and stand on issues traditionally was not as strong as one could expect. Authors provide data only until 1996 so it does not show current polarization, but it is still interesting to look at:
Nevertheless despite cross party line voting is not unusual it still remains very limited with Party affiliation playing defining role in attitude to issues.
- A Closer Look at Partisan Stability
Author defines partisan stability as high level of correlation of party affiliation over time. Here they go into statistical details of their methods. This is traced not only through live of individual, but also across generations comparatively with religious affiliation:
- Partisan Stability: Evidence from Aggregate Data,
This is about partisan balance of electorate overall and its slow change. Specifically it analyses cross party voting patterns:
In summary authors stress high level of dependency on political events referring to high level of cross party attraction of Johnson in 1964 and Reagan and repelling of Nixon in1974 and Carter in 1980.
- Partisan Stability and Voter Learning
This is an analysis of what stable attachments mean for party identification. It is again detailed review of statistical models. The general inference that learning is not easy and mainly occurs thru generational change when young people relatively open to ideological influence different than one dominating their family.
- Party Realignment in the American South
This is a case study of partisan affiliation change of Southerners between Democrats and Republicans in America after WWII. Very interesting point here is that switch of southern voters from D to R did not occur at once due to civil rights laws, but rather had was a two step process with the second step being Reagan revolution completed from 1082 to 1992.
- Partisan Stability outside the United States
This is case study of identification change in Italy after collapse of communism
- How Partisan Attachments Structure Politics
The final chapter is about impact that partisan affiliation has on electoral competition. Authors seem to estimate it at the level of 75% probability of person to vote for the party of his/her affiliation. However it leaves plenty of space for electoral variance, especially if one takes into account current 40% of unaffiliated voters. At the same time stability of party affiliation makes it very difficult to achieve electoral success for anybody outside existing two parties political system.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a nice analysis of party affiliation, its change over time, and its impact on voting. However I think that this analysis is somewhat outdated because party affiliation is artifact of old times and will decrease significantly in the future because the huge progress in communication and social network make party redundant and would allow people concentrate on issues they are concerned with at the expense of coherent and comprehensive ideology presented by parties. The voting behavior will depend a lot less on formal or even informal affiliation than on individual estimate which set of candidates would be most probable to deliver on issues of his/her concern.
The main idea of this book is that human history is the story of evolutionary process of cooperation and competition at two somewhat separate levels: between individuals and societies that led to continuous increase in scale and power of humanity often via critical events of distractive creation.
Chapter 1. The Puzzle of Ultrasociality:
From Gobekli Tepe to the International Space Station
Author defines Ultrasociality as ability of humans to cooperate in very large groups of strangers. As examples he provides International Space Station, CERN, and other huge UN or multistate projects. The research in cooperation includes development of Seshat Global History Databank that would contain all known facts and numbers relevant to human societies’ past. Here is a nice representation of increase in scale of cooperation over the time:
Author also discusses increased matematization of history and attempts to make it more into hard science of human development with Cliodynamic models producing insights in the past and future of human societies. One such attempt that author works on is based on competition between societies, mainly military competition as driver of increase in the scale and complexity of societies. So far this model seems to be quite good in retroactively predicting raise and fall of societies as long as military competition involved, but fail to predict anything when it is switched off. At the end of chapter author posits that cooperation is extremely fragile and competition is what caused development of large military powerful societies.
Chapter 2. Destructive Creation
How cultural evolution creates large, peaceful, and wealthy ultrasocieties
Here author looks at examples of competition between different societies such as American Indians and European settlers and then moves on to define field of Cultural Evolution that is forming practically right now. However it is not only competition that defines evolution; it is also cooperation both between individuals and societies.
Chapter 3. The Cooperator’s Dilemma
Selfish genes, “greed is good,” and the Enron fiasco
This chapter starts with some interesting detour into contemporary American politics and its ideological underpinning in libertarian ideas of Ayn Rand and economic ideas of Misses and Hayek, which in author’s mind somehow tied to real corporate crooks like Enron’s Skilling and fictional like Gordon Gekko. One of the funniest things here is a direct link author sees between Selfish Gene of Dawkins and Skilling’s machinations. However much more interesting is core of the chapter: discussion about the cost of cooperation and how evolution at the final count defines optimal for survival mix of cooperation / competition. Author also looks here at kin selection and reciprocal altruism as alternative of group selection, but finds both ideas wanting. The final part is directed against ideas of morality as byproduct or even mistake of evolution when people genetically inclined to help others nearby because they normally were always kin in hunter-gatherers societies, even if they are not kin in the contemporary one.
Chapter 4. Cooperate to Compete
What team sports teach us about cooperation
This is somewhat technical use of team sports to analyze interplay between team benefit and individual benefit when good player often have to sacrifice for the team. Author even provides a nice formula for development of cooperative traits:
Chapter 5. ‘God Made Men, but Sam Colt Made Them Equal’
How early humans suppressed alpha males.
There is always tension between individual and group benefits and this chapter looks at traditional ways to suppress individual who does not comply with what is considered best for the group. Author starts with idea that hunter-gatherers societies are egalitarian due to revers dominance: that is when attempts to dominate by one individual over others lead to cooperative resistance with use of projectiles giving humans clear advantage comparatively to gorillas because they allow simultaneous attack of majority of weak against minority of strong. The technological development of such attitudes eventually led to “the Great Equalizer” that allow even a very weak women to put bullet into very strong man, dramatically decreasing actual need to do it and providing strong reason for peaceful cooperation.
Chapter 6. The Human Ways of War
War as a force of Destructive Creation
This chapter is looking at the specifically human way of war, which no other animals use: extensive application of projectiles to kill at the distance. The evolution of projectiles from stones to intercontinental missiles had significant impact on social evolution of human societies.
Chapter 7- The Rise of God-Kings
The alpha male strikes back
This is about massive implementation of agriculture that led to increase in military competition between societies because of stationary nature of resource acquisition and ability to save resources over time: functionality that was lacking in hunter-gatherers societies. Consequently this military competition caused creation and evolution of the state as the system best suitable for concentration and mobilization of resources for military straggle under unified command of hierarchical elite or alpha males.
Chapter 8. The Iron Law of Oligarchy
Why power inevitably corrupts
This is review of ideas about state formation. It references Franz Oppenheimer and Ibn Khaldun. However author rejects Oppenheimer idea of conquest as main method of state formation relaying rather on internal formation of hierarchical structures. This is what is considered the iron law of oligarchy: powers obtained by military leaders during war with external opponents are retained after the end of war to suppress internal, providing formation of permanent oligarchy and eventually aristocracy.
Chapter 9. The Pivot of History
The spiritual awakening of the Axial Age
After discussing in precious chapter law of oligarchy and formation of the state with practical elimination of human egalitarism, that was the rule in hunter-gathering societies for millions of years, author posits the question: how come that the later development of military technology and society brought back egalitarism and new democratic forms of society organization. Author relates it to Axial Age 800-200 BCE when major new ideological constructs were built around the world: Confucius, Jewish monotheism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrism, with all of them promoting egalitarian ethics. Author sees this development as foundation for large-scale “Axial” empires that combine multiple ethnicities into one powerful entity. However the root cause was the military development in use of horses. It forced creation of big enough entities so to limit fighting against military effective nomads to borders, providing relative peace for internals. Eventually it also created condition for Enlightenment.
Chapter 10. Zigzags of Human Evolution
And the science of history
The last chapter summarizes the set of ideas presented in this book and provides their very nice graphical presentation:
t seems that at this point competition between societies moved away from military domain into economic and societal, practically competing for superiority in quality of live.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that evolution is the best-known method to analyze not only biological development, but any process which combines two steps: change and filtering. The model of cultural evolution seems to provide a very good framework for understanding history and it would be interesting to see what would come out from development of massive databases of archeological and other historical data. I believe that it could eventually turn history into real science with ability to build hypotheses and test them against materially significant amount of data. However I also think that part about development of ideas and know-hows needs more attention because whatever are circumstances, the human thought comes before human action and this variance of thought and created memes actually moves individuals and later societies in one direction or another.
20160513 Humans are Underrated
The main idea is that computers and software are becoming so powerful and effective in all areas of live that they are more and more capable to substitute human labor not only for the middle level clerical jobs, something they do for a half of century, but also in all kinds of intellectual and manual activities that they were not that capable to do so far. However it does not mean that humans are obsolete, but rather that humans will have to apply themselves to radically different activities such as interacting with each other, defining objectives and general ways to achieve them, and overall to doing purely human things.
CHAPTER ONE: COMPUTERS ARE IMPROVING FASTER THAN YOU ARE
As Technology Becomes More Awesomely Able, What Will Be the High-Value Human Skills of Tomorrow?
This is a brief review of dramatic improvement of computer functionality over last 50 years. Whether it is Chess or Jeopardy computers are now champions, not humans. So author raises a question: What can people do better than computers?
CHAPTER TWO: GAUGING THE CHALLENGE
A Growing Army of Experts Wonder If Just Maybe the Luddites Aren’t Wrong Anymore.
This is review of all areas where computers become better than people. It used to be that computers could not do low level manual jobs because it requires dexterity and flexibility, as well as high level intellectual work because it requires complex reasoning. However lately the higher level of functionality opened door for computers in these areas. From driverless cars to computerized legal research and robotic surgery humans are pushed out by better performing computerized equipment.
CHAPTER THREE: THE SURPRISING VALUE IN OUR DEEPEST NATURE
Why Being a Great Performer Is Becoming Less About What We Know and More About What We’re Like.
Here author makes case that our human brains are optimized by evolution for survival in groups, therefore social relations, cooperation, and human-to-human interactions could not be possibly automated. So the way of future author sees in switching from being knowledge workers to being relationship workers. Correspondingly the meaning of great performance changing from being able to produce material or intellectual goods and services to being able to build successful relationships.
CHAPTER FOUR: WHY THE SKILLS WE NEED ARE WITHERING
Technology Is Changing More Than Just Work. It’s Also Changing Us, Mostly in the Wrong Ways.
This chapter is review of current situation when our social skills are generally in decline, often relegated to social media that substituted personal relationship. Author believes that this process should be not just stopped, but reversed and we should concentrate on development of social skills. In the following chapters he looks in detail at specific skills that should be promoted to be successful in the new world.
CHAPTER FIVE: “THE CRITICAL 21ST-CENTURY SKILL”
Empathy Is the Key to Humans’ Most Crucial Abilities. It’s Even More Powerful Than We Realize.
This is about the most important skill that humans possess, but robots in author’s opinion cold not: empathy. An interesting part of it is idea that we emphasize to survive because humans survive in a group and could not make it without the group. Also important idea here is that empathy is a skill not a trait so in could be learned as any other skill.
CHAPTER SIX: EMPATHY LESSONS FROM COMBAT
How the U.S. Military Learned to Build Human Skills that Trump Technology, and What It Means for All of Us.
This chapter describes highly effective application of empathy in military that could be expressed as: the fight is about our pilot versus their pilot, not our plane versus their plane. This idea fully implemented into military training made American military highly effective even in situations where there is no clear technological or numerical advantage over adversary.
CHAPTER SEVEN: WHAT REALLY MAKES TEAMS WORK
It Isn’t What Team Members (Or Leaders) Usually Think. Instead, It’s deeply Human Processes That Most Teams Ignore.
This chapter is about another exclusively human trait: team play. It looks at such things as team IQ that considered higher than IQ of any individual within the team. It is also about need for direct person-to-person communications because on-line communications are not capable to transmit full scale of communications between humans.
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE EXTRAORDINARY POWER OF STORY
Why the Right Kind of Narrative, Told by a Person, Is Mightier Than Logic.
The next exclusively human skill is ability to create stories and communicated complex ideas via story telling. One of the most interesting things here is idea of “Neural Coupling” via some narrative.
CHAPTER NINE: THE HUMAN ESSENCE OF INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY
Computers Can Create, but People Skillfully Interacting Solve the Most Important Human Problems.
This chapter somewhat rejects usual believe that computers could not create the new intellectual products. On the contrary computers now create new poems, music, and much more with pretty good quality so that even experts have hard time to find difference if compared with human creations. However author believes that the higher level of creativity comes not from individual efforts that computers are quite capable to emulate, but from interaction between people that computers could not do by definition. Moreover the decisions what problems to solve or what objective to achieve will always remain human prerogative and would always require extensive interaction between people.
CHAPTER TEN: IS IT A WOMAN’S WORLD?
In the Most Valuable Skills of the Coming Economy Women Hold Strong Advantages over Men.
This chapter is about gender differences. After analyzing gender specifics author comes to conclusion that female dominance in interaction and overall communication skills leads to significant advantages in contemporary world. He seems to believe that it is possible to provide male with extensive training in empathy and communications could at least somewhat level playing field
CHAPTER ELEVEN: WINNING IN THE HUMAN DOMAIN
Some Will Love a World That Values Deep Human Interaction. Others Won’t. But Everyone Will Need to Get Better–And Can.
The final chapter is somewhat optimistic, claiming that despite increase in computer power and functionality there always be exclusively human activities and that it is possible to train people to be so good in communications and interactions as to create enough value for a good productive live.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I generally agree with the thesis of this book that there is no area of physical or intellectual activity that computers could not do as well or better than humans. However I do not think that it would be just a change in type of activity with preponderance of human interaction over anything else. I would rather expect the very nature of activity change from the vast majority working to achieve somebody else objectives in exchange for pay and/or resources to much more self-directed activities to achieve own individual objective. In this case every individual would be able for example to setup scientific research objectives at the scale now available only to the top-level individuals in big organizations when instead of thousands of individuals working towards this objective it would be a few powerful computers doing the same.
20160506 Phishing for Phools
The main idea of this book is that traditional economics that extensively using notion of supply and demand equilibrium is not sufficient for describing real live market economy because it is missing such phenomenon as cheating, misrepresentations, and multiple forms of using psychology in order to transfer resources from consumers to businesses without fair exchange for goods and services. Unsurprisingly authors see the best remedy in government intervention and strict control over market by experts like themselves who are too smart to be deceived of capitalists’ phishing practices, always have noble intentions to protect consumers, never use self-interest in their regulatory decisions, and, most important, always know what consumers need better than consumers themselves.
INTRODUCTION Expect to Be Manipulated: Phishing Equilibrium
The introduction does introduces the notion of Phishing Equilibrium that in authors opinion overrides market equilibrium in contemporary environment. They provide two examples: Cinnabon stands and Health clubs. The first one sells tasty, but unhealthy food and the second sell long-term subscriptions knowing that people’s exercise regime decisions usually fail overtime so they pay for intention to use health clubs in the future rather than for actual use. Authors also introduce notion of the Monkey-on-the-Shoulder meaning staff that people want, but in authors’ opinion do not need. They believe that on sober evaluation most people would not follow the Monkey’s lead, but advertisement, overall culture, and, very important, general stupidity of people, makes them to become Phools, easily deceived by evil marketers.
PART ONE Unpaid Bills and Financial Crash
Part one designed to demonstrate that Phishing Equilibrium plays significant role in our lives.
CHAPTER ONE: Temptation Strews Our Path
This chapter uses Suze Orman and her televised advise to discuss need to adjust one’s consumerism to the level of income and avoid being seduces by marketers to overspent.
CHAPTER TWO: Reputation Mining and Financial Crisis
This one discusses reputation mining when seller builds reputation by doing well by customer, but then sells rotten product using this previously built reputation. Somehow author link it to banks and rating agencies that had incentive to give good rating to low quality securities such as subprime mortgages.
PART TWO Phishing in Many Contexts
Here author go into more details of Phishing Equilibrium: advertisement and marketing, real estate and car sales, credit cards, lobbying and politics, food and drags, alcohol and tobacco, and two specific financial markets. They also discuss here Credit Default Swaps. This part represents the bulk of this book.
CHAPTER THREE Advertisers Discover How to Zoom In on Our Weak Spots
This is about advertisers using knowledge of human psychology and storytelling to sell their products. It provides nice, albeit brief and hostile, history of advertisement in America ending with discussion of advertisement’s penetration of political process.
For the following few chapters their headers say it all. They provide some specific examples of phishing in every area.
CHAPTER FOUR Rip-offs Regarding Cars, Houses, and Credit Cards; CHAPTER FIVE Phishing in Politics; CHAPTER SIX: Phood, Pharma, and Phishing; CHAPTER SEVEN: Innovation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; CHAPTER EIGHT: Tobacco and Alcohol;
CHAPTER NINE: Bankruptcy for Profit; CHAPTER TEN: Michael Milken Phishes with Junk Bonds as Bait
These two chapters represent a very impressive trick. Authors discuss banking and investment industry with special attention to its failure: S&L scandal, Junk bonds and Michael Milken, and do it without really mentioning government role in all this shenanigans. They seems to be oblivious to the fact that all phishing was possible only because of government intervention and that bureaucrats and politicians always setup rules as benefit people who do it, that is themselves.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Resistance and Its Heroes
This chapter is about people who authors consider heroes of fight against phishing; they are mainly politicians, bureaucrats, and their supporters. They also mention business groups who setup standards for honesty, but they seem to be oblivious that such group, especially when government supports them, usually serve interests of their members rather than customers and often used just to suppress competition.
PART III Conclusion and Afterword
Here authors discuss an application of their Phishing Equilibrium ideas to current political environment in America using example from 3 different areas of economic policy.
CONCLUSION: EXAMPLES AND GENERAL LESONS: New Story in America and Its Consequences
Here they iterate their believe that people are “phishible” because they tell themselves and listen to stories consequently making bad decisions they would never made outside the framework of the story. Consequently authors seem to believe that people too vulnerable to these stories to be trusted make decisions for themselves. On other hand authors themselves have a story they want to promote and this is story of progressive quasi-socialist movement that started in late XIX and obtained dominance in 1930. This story is about big benevolent government that protects people from all kind of phishing, but most of all from themselves. Authors lament historical failure of this movement to deliver on its promises and appearance and strengthening of the new story, which is about big bad government that sucks out resources and energy from people leaving them much worst off than before. They narrate 3 stories that they believe support the thesis that benevolent government story is true, but big bad government story is false: Social security, Securities regulation, and Citizens United.
AFTERWORD The Significance of Phishing Equilibrium
In afterword author restate an obvious fact that there is basically nothing new in their doctrine of phishing equilibrium. Somewhat surprisingly they admit that contemporary relatively free-market economy is huge blessing for every living person and everything bad they described in their detailed analysis of phishing is just marginal deterioration of our economic live, albeit still consequential for our wellbeing.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a somewhat curious, but not significant narrative of economists who are too good economists to call for socialism, but intellectually too deeply emerged into leftists way of thinking. It causes some funny contradiction when authors consistently blame market forces for failures of highly regulated parts of economy where market forces especially restricted by bureaucracy like finance and securities. There is however a legitimate concern about phishing, which has nothing to do with regulation. This concern is inadequate ability to evaluate reputation in wide and anonymous market when people conduct one time transaction with no real ability to know previous transaction’s outcomes. In my opinion there is an important role of organized violent hierarchical organization (government), but it is not regulation, but rather data collection and presentation about history of transaction participants as individuals. The need for coercion comes from the simple fact that people tend to hide inconvenient truthful information so without coercion it would be impossible to get. In short my opposition to authors could be expressed in simple terms: they believe and support controlling and regulating role for government in economics, while I believe in limited and strictly advisory role.
20160430 Mass Flourishing
The main idea of this book is to review economic and political logic of western society development from relatively unabridged capitalism through socialist and corporatist systems of XX century to contemporary modern welfare economics, which combines relative material wellbeing with stagnation and psychological deterioration of human lives. The author seems to believe that the way out is expansion and improvement of education, encouragement of innovation, and creation of new dynamic environment via decrease in regulations and taxation.
Introduction: Advent of the Modern Economies
It starts with review of history of development of economic knowledge. After brief reference to previous periods author starts with XIX century because it was period when people in developed countries started working for market rather than for direct consumption in order to meet their own needs. He looks first at mercantile approach to economics that was typical before 1820, but then was supplemented by different approach – free trade with explosive growth in productivity and output. Author is skeptical about usual explanation of this by economy of scale and/or increase in capital stock. He believes that much more important was development of economic knowledge: what market needs and how to meet these needs. Moreover this economic knowledge was acquired by millions of people of all intellectual levels in process of participating in market economy that rewarded useful innovation either technological, or in business process or whatever as long as this innovation provided good return on investment.
PART ONE: The Experience of the Modern Economy
This part looks at how modern economies come about and what caused dramatic change in the way people do things.
- How Modem Economies Got Their Dynamism
Author reviews the very concept of dynamism and then applies its method to understand formation of modern economies. Then he looks at “Inner working” of modern economies as system of innovations and at social system that allows it via competition, property rights, limitations on external control of business and technological decisions.
- Material Effects of the Modem Economies
This chapter is about tremendous growth of productivity and wages, but also about non-linear connection between these two characteristics. Overall, contrary to Marxist conceptions, this connection is strong and positive. For example ratio of wages to national output per capita grew from 191 in 1830 to 230 in 1910 in Britain and 199 in 1870s to 208 in France. However gains in overall resource availability were offset by increase in unreliability of income due to unemployment and impact on quality of live due to the nature of industrial labor. Overall material conditions of live changed dramatically with industrialization.
- The Experience of Modem Life
This is about changes in arts, philosophy, entertainment that occurred due to change in methods of resource production and acquisition in industrial society. It was not one directional change, but rather positive feedback loop when art impacted people’s attitudes and consequently caused changes in politics and business.
- How Modem Economies Formed
This is an analysis of what author calls “chronically innovative economies”, the ones typical for capitalistic development based on combination of Freedom, Property and Finance. Author also analyses political institutions necessary for maintaining all 3 components, making the case of Representative democracy being the only known system more or less effectively supporting all of them. At the end of chapter author summarizing his case for modern economics being a stunning success in both material and non-material dimensions. He also stresses huge difference between contemporary economy and mercantile economies of previous centuries.
PART TWO: Against the Modern Economy
This part about perceived evils of capitalism starts with a couple of charming quotes from Einstein and Lenin about need for socialism setup against quote from Craig Venter: “You don’t understand something until you built it”.
- The Lure of Socialism
Here author looks at discontents of capitalism and reasons for their unhappiness from cyclical character of economy to financial bubbles and initial absence of safety net. After that he looks at the Idea of socialism as a radical cure of capitalism’s ills. Unlike typical academic writers author provides a brief review of economic thought rejecting the very idea of socialism as unworkable due to human nature that required initiative for people to be effective and efficient (von Mises) and not less important just plain impossibility of valid economic calculation in socialist system where distributed knowledge is not applied in decision making (von Hayek). The failures of socialism were convincingly confirmed by its real live implementation in many countries and at the cost of hundreds of millions of human lives.
- The Third Way: Corporatism Right and Left
This chapter analyses the bastard child of socialism – corporatism as theoretical idea, its initial implementation in fascist Italy, and its consequential reincarnation as welfare state that more or less conquered western world, bringing with it suppression of innovation and slowing of economic growth. The key idea of corporatism is limitation of economic freedom by government bureaucracy that defines strategic directions, redistributes resources at will, and supposedly assure harmonization of interests in society overall without interfering in details of running business.
- Weighing the Rivals on Their Terms
In this chapter author compares different types of economic systems based on historical data. For socialism author uses its relatively benign form as public business in western countries, demonstrating nevertheless that even in this case in is greatly underperforms, failing to create superior levels of production. Similar look at corporatist economies clearly shows that while not as bad as socialist, these economies seriously underperform in area of innovation. Needless to say, that both these systems are producing extremely high levels of corruption.
- The Satisfaction of Nations
The last chapter of this part looks at the final result of economic system: people’s satisfaction with their lives. Author provides some interesting statistics including this one:
He also analyses relation between satisfaction and cultural characteristics such as modernism and traditionalism:
PART THREE: Decay and Refounding
- Markers of Post-1960s Decline
This chapter is about decline of growth and prosperity of the West after 1960s. Here is a nice graph demonstrating this point:
- Understanding the Post-1960s Decline
This chapter goes into analysis of reasons for decline and comes up with the following:
- Structural faults in large Firms, Mutual Funds, and Banks
- The “Money Culture: Self-importance, Doing and Thinking”
- A Broader Nexus Between the State and Economy
All above limit value of work and efforts, leading to decrease in participation in work force and wage to wealth ratio:
- The Good Life: Aristotle and the Moderns
This chapter is somewhat deviation to philosophical issue of the meaning of good live. Author briefly reviews Humanitarian, Pragmatic, Aristotelian, and Vitalistian concepts of good live and stresses that all of them require good economy as necessary condition, stressing however that it is not enough because even good economy could fail to support good live if it has embedded inequalities and unfairness.
- The Good and the Just
The final chapter goes into more detailed discussion of justice in economy, especially in relation to huge diversity of human individuals and their multiple natures. It compares all discussed forms of economies: capitalist, socialist, and corporatists, inferring that the modern capitalist economy or in other words moderate welfare state is the system most conductive to human flourishing if correctly tuned for that. Author seems to be inclined to support economic freedom of capitalism, but find it insufficient because of limited access to resources for majority of people. He seems to be considers America as more shifted to the freedom at the expense of resources (welfare), while Europe as more shifted to resource redistribution at the expense of economic freedom. The former leads to overwork and unhappiness, while the latter to economic stagnation.
Epilogue: Regaining the Modem
At the end author looks at recent events including crisis of 2008 and discusses the way to the future that he believes should include an innovative combination of traditional capitalist values and modern welfare for everybody values.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the factual part of this book interesting, albeit quite familiar. However general recommendations for way out to the better future seems to me quite insufficient. I believe that in order to get out of this dead end we need not just a bit of tinkering with the system, but complete restructuring of the system, which I see as implementation of equal property right for natural resources for everybody with individuals most effective in use of natural resources renting rights for such use from individuals less effective, turning them from passive recipients of loot robbed by the state via taxes into active sellers of valuable commodity. I also believe that all regulations should be substituted by state provided information about all relevant issues to sellers and buyers, limiting therefore use of government violence to protection of property and acquisition of information that individual prefer not to disclose. I guess the most important idea in this book is that status quo is not sustainable on the long run and the great changes are required.
20160423 Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels
The main idea of this book is that human culture and corresponding values are to the large extent defined by the method of energy acquisition and level of energy consumption that are typical for a given society. The 3 main methods are:
- Foraging, when energy just collected from nature by the way of hunting and gathering. This method is conductive to egalitarian cultures with high levels of cooperation including cooperation in bringing down anybody who is trying to use physical or some other kind of superiority to suppress other people.
- Farming, when energy obtained from cultivated crops and domesticated animals. This method, while generally detrimental to individual well-being nevertheless provides for a big hierarchically organized societies that command superior military power easily capable to push away foragers from any territory farmers want to acquire for themselves. Correspondingly such society built on strict hierarchy that is normally accepted by all members of society from king to the slave with somewhat contractual relationship between different layers of society with top of hierarchy either directly connected to gods or being considered gods themselves.
- Fossil fuel users obviously obtain energy from fossil fuels in amount by far superior to two other methods and use industrial methods to produce goods and services. Such societies strictly limit use of force either in form of wars between societies or internal unregulated violence since industrial methods of violence become too damaging to all sides of conflict. Consequently values of such society return to egalitarian roots despite continuing hierarchical structure of society that becomes much less rigid and formal. These societies also implement new notions of human rights and necessity of general welfare for all as necessary core values without which society would become unsustainable.
Chapter 1. EACH AGE GETS THE THOUGHT IT NEEDS
The book starts with an episode from author’s youth when he participated in archeological expedition in Greece and encountered such attitude to women by locals that was completely incomprehensible to him: man’s attitude to his wife as if she was less than human. He constantly returns to this episode to demonstrate how alien could be approach of different culture for individual. This book is an attempt to classify at high level all human cultures over period of 20000 years as belonging to one of 3 qualitatively different group: Cultures of Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil fuel users depending on method of energy acquisition and amount of energy used. Author makes point that generally each culture’s features are very similar to any other culture’s features in the same group and qualitatively different from any culture from another group in its system of values. Moreover these systems of values developed evolutionary and are the most effective in supporting survival based on each method of energy acquisition and use. Author also provides a few interesting graphs based on World Values Survey. Here is the most interesting one:
Chapter 2. FORACERS
Author defines foragers as people living of the nature by collecting all necessities of live by using hunting and gathering. He provides a nice table of geography of archeological evidence of such societies:
Obviously they are highly depended on climate and nature. While these societies practically disappeared, their values and culture are identified via archeological evidence and anthropological research over last hundred years when they were in process of being eliminated by contemporary civilization. These values are highly egalitarian, with nobody being superior to anybody else, high appreciation of sharing as consequence of superiority of cooperative efforts and impossibility of savings.
Chapter 3. FARMERS
For farmers, whose economy based on cultivation, author provides three-pointed star with core being peasants and points representing somewhat peripheral offshoots of farming society:
Farming societies well familiar not only by archeological data, but because they left tremendous amount of written sources, literature, and art. Moreover they are still with us and as recently as 100 years ago they represented the vast majority of humanity. Correspondingly their culture and values defined by strict hierarchy with every individual assigned to some station with low probability of change and strict enforcement of cultural norm. Author makes an interesting point that this method despite depriving individuals of good live: massive evidence shows that farmers have less nutrition, work more, have low levels of health and high levels of mortality; nevertheless allowed humanity to expand and take over all ecological niches that more or less available, while periodically hitting Malthusian limitations. Here is an interesting evaluation of levels of energy consumption:
Another nice graph represent typical structure of agrarian society:
Chapter 4. FOSSIL FUELS
Finally his discussion of Fossil fuel users is supported by practically infinite amount of data because that is what contemporary societies are. The main feature of such societies is their industrial character and consequently tremendous technological and military superiority over other forms of society. It leads to extreme division of labor and expansion of exchange of labor, capital, good, and services either in voluntary form of market or in coercive form of various types of socialism. Author claims that generally values of this kind of society tend to be more egalitarian and he provides some data to support this idea from pint of view of energy capture:
At the end of chapter author summarizes all three type in a couple of nice graphs:
COMMENTS: The remaining 5 chapters of the book present views of author opponents and his response.
Chapter 6. ON THE IDEOLOGY OF IMAGINING THAT “EACH AGE GETS THE THOUGHT IT NEEDS” RICHARD SEAFOOD; Chapter 7. BUT WHAT WAS IT RFALLY LIKE? THE LIMITATIONS OF MEASURING HISTORICAL VALUES JONATHAN D. SPENCE; Chapter 8. ETERNAL VALUES, EVOLVING VALUES, AND THE VALUE OF THE SELF CHRISTINE M. KORSGAARD; Chapter 9. WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT: HUMAN VALUES AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION. MARGARET ATWOOD
RESPONSE: CHAPTER 10.MY CORRECT VIEWS ON EVERYTHING IAN MORRIS
MY TAKE ON IT:
I like author’s idea to link energy consumption with society’s values via method of energy acquisitions and evolutionary selection of values most conductive for every method. I think that he provided quite good set of examples demonstrating how similar level of energy consumption and method of acquisition led to similar structure of societies and its values regardless of geography, race, and other considerations. The only thing I find missing is a good discussion of future development when energy becomes abundant. What kind of values this situation would cause to develop. Another interesting point missing is a discussion of current effort by elites of contemporary western societies to limit energy consumption by masses under guise of global cooling or warming or whatever. I think that it linked mainly to unconscious, but very strong and probably correct perception by current fossil fuel elites that elimination of energy limitations would cause such dramatic increase in freedom and change on values that they will be bound to loose their elite status and with it power over other people.
20160416 Why Europe Conquer the World
The main idea of this book is that European countries due to their political history that included constant relatively low intensity and low cost to rulers wars developed what author calls the Tournament model that basically represented an open and competitive market for military activities, that, as markets normally do, was extremely beneficial to creating effective and efficient military goods and services superior to any that other regions could provide.
Chapter I. Introduction
Here author posits a question: how come that Europe, which was well behind of countries like China in just about everything in 1500 practically conquered the world including China by 1900? He looks at typical answers: diseases and gunpowder technology but finds it inconvincible enough to look for additional causes. He suggests that huge military advantage that allowed such a feat came from specific European way of multiple low stakes military conflicts that he calls the Tournament. This Tournament allowed for honing technology and fighting methodology to such superior level that non-European countries could not compete.
Chapter 2. How the Tournament in Early Modern Europe Made Conquest Possible
The first point in supporting the Tournament idea is statistics of frequency of wars and expenses on military presented in a couple of tables:
At the same time an important factor was low cost of war for rulers supported by this data:
Correspondingly from economics point of view the Tournament could be considered as market competition for military technology and, as usual, such competition led to decrease in price and increase in quality. This point is supported by example with handguns:
Author summarizes key points of the Tournament model as following:
Another couple of tables demonstrates increase in productivity of military labor and decrease in cost of military equipment relative to non-military goods:
Chapter 3. Why the Rest of Eurasia Fell Behind
This is an analysis of competition: what are the reasons why China, India, Russia, and Ottomans fall behind? The answer author provides: various deviations from the Tournament model: small frequency or different character of wars and consequently failure to stay at par with Europe technologically.
Chapter 4. Ultimate Causes: Explaining the Difference between Western Europe and the Rest of Eurasia
This is a more detailed look at causes, starting with geography: Europe was less not more mountainous than China so it could mountains could not explain higher levels of political fragmentation. Similar analysis provided for low relevance of shorelines. Neither kinship ties between rulers could be considered as a valid explanation. The inference author eventually comes to is that the culprit was political and ideological history of Europe, especially Christianity’s separation of church and state with consequent reformations and religious wars. Probably the most important, albeit not necessary preordained result, was the failure of any of European powers to achieve dominance leading to the continuing Tournament unlike China where dominance of winner removed urgency from the needs of military development.
Chapter 5. From the Gunpowder Technology to Private Expeditions
This is an interesting quirk on European military dominance. It relates to 2 very important features: gunpowder technology and private military colonial adventures. It seems to be the keys to European success: gunpowder because it is very susceptible to technological improvement and tend to have tremendous force multiplier effect practically substituting quantity of people with firepower; while privateering in colonization allowed to do it cheaply, effectively, and with minimal bureaucratic overhead as it is normally done in any private industry. Author also looks at counterfactual speculation of some European country becoming a hegemon, practically eliminating the Tournament and making Europe not different from unified China and consequently incapable to conquer the world.
Chapter 6. Technological Change and Armed Peace in Nineteenth-Century! Europe
In this chapter author traces the decrease in militancy of European countries in XIX century. He does it analyzing use of world “glory” in French and British publications of this period that decreased dramatically. At the same time improvement in military technology and growth in military expenses was continuing unabated. During this period the world conquest was practically completed with just about any landmass divided between European countries.
Chapter 7. Conclusion: The Price of Conquest
In conclusion author discusses price of conquest and eventual clash between European countries of WWI and WWII that led to collapse of European powers and disappearance of their colonial empires. He also once more revisits and rejects other explanations of Europe military dominance such as geography and culture, reaffirming his believes in validity of the Tournament and gunpowder model.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is a nice and quite convincing presentation of reasons for European dominance. I believe, however, that one of the most important reasons for European dominance was underrated in author’s model. This reason is relative freedom to act that was and still is a very special characteristic of European or more widely Western cultures. Author partially touches it in discussion of private colonizing activities, but not sufficiently in my opinion because without this relative freedom not only private companies that colonized world on behalf of European countries would not exists, but also military technology would not developed or stalled as it did happened in big bureaucratic states such as China or Russia. I think it would be fair to say that European conquest of the world was a product of European relative freedom to act in pursuit of wealth whether by obtaining some overseas plantation or producing cheap and highly marketable guns.
20160409 Invention of Science
The main idea of this book is to trace process of invention of science that in author’s opinion occurred between 1574 and 1704 as consequence of geographical discoveries and their impact on astronomy. These events completely changed western understanding of the world, universe, and live, providing intellectual foundation for industrial revolution and eventually for development of contemporary world.
Author defines science as building sophisticated theories based on a substantial body of evidence that could make reliable predictions. He relates the beginning of this way of thinking to Tycho Brahe’s discovery of Nova in 1574. Consequently it was firmly established with Newton’s “Optics” published in 1704. This book analyzes various ways of thinking before 1574, and then deals with core period from 1574 to 1704 when scientific approach was developed and, finally, looks at it impact afterworld.
- Modern Minds
This chapter is about different ways of thinking and qualitative difference between modern scientific approach and other approaches. Author uses an interesting way of looking at the set of believes and approaches that well educated European would have back in 1600. This exercise demonstrates a fascinating difference from contemporary thinking with most striking characteristic being an attitude to what could or could not be considered the truth. Basically Brahe discovery of the new thinking comes down to ability to believe own eyes more than ideas transferred via education, something that uneducated common people take for granted and call common sense, while highly educated people to this day tend to discard as way too primitive approach to the world.
- The Idea of the Scientific Revolution
Here author reviews the genesis of idea of scientific revolution that was surprisingly new and was really developed only as recently as 1940s as the brainchild of Alexander Koyre and Herbert Butterfield, later adapted by Thomas Kuhn, and eventually extended to the notion of science development as sequential change in paradigms. It also contains an interesting lexicographic analysis of used terms and notions starting with the word “science” itself.
PART ONE The Heavens and the Earth
This part reviews 3 intellectual revolutions that change our perception of the world:
- Columbus discovery of America that implanted the very notion of discovery into minds of people
- Copernican revolution that created notion of globe and stars as bodies
- Tycho Brahe’s revolution that used Nova and telescope to destroy previously dominant idea of crystalline sphere surrounding Earth.
- Inventing Discovery
The main story here is that before Columbus the idea of discovery was impossible because somebody knew everything, if not now then in ancient time, so the world is unchangeable and there is no new knowledge to discover. Discovery of America proved quite convincingly that not everything is or was known, intellectually opening way for the new discoveries. Author also discusses Bacon’s philosophy of science that was developed as consequence of discovery of discovery.
- Planet Earth
This is a fascinated history of continuously changing and expanding notion of Earth until astronomers established its true form and nature.
PART TWO: Seeing is Believing
This part covers change in representation of knowledge from fifteenth to eighteenth century and development of knowledge acquisition tools such as telescope and microscope that facilitated this change.
- The Mathematization of the World
This chapter looks at impact of geometrical perspective developed by graphic artists on perception of space with following on practical application of mathematical and geometrical concepts in various areas of live from building construction and architecture to use of calculations in artillery ballistics.
- Gulliver’s Worlds
This chapter provides more detailed account of tools of knowledge that expanded human senses to rich distanced starts and planets with telescope and opened for observation miniature world of bacteria and details of materials with microscope.
PART THREE Making Knowledge
This if the key part of the book and it discusses the new special language that was developed to convey scientific ideas and notions and how it came about.
The most important part of science is recognition and understanding of existence of a fact – the thing that did really occur or was actually the case. Here author again going to astronomy, specifically Kepler to demonstrate the early establishment of notion of fact as necessary tool for science. He also discusses disestablishment of “fact” using example of Giambattista Della Porta whose work “Natural Magic” was bestseller in between 1560 and 1660. Afterword author moves to the philosophical discussion, and consequently to modern understanding of a fact.
Author’s discussion of another key notional foundation of science – experiment uses Pascal’s work and philosophical application of this notion by Francis Bacon. As practical consequences of establishment of this new scientific notion author briefly reviews end of alchemy as a viable area of application of intellectual effort.
This is about laws of nature and correspondingly Descartes’ philosophy. Probably the most important here is the notion of Nature’s laws as an unchangeable condition of live and environment. Originally it was perceived as just another case of God’s laws something like “ you shell not kill”, only it was setup in nature and could not be violated. However due to some extent to protestant’s theology the god got decoupled from nature’s laws that become considered as their own logical and philosophical entity.
This is about notions of hypotheses vs. theories. It used idea of science defined by James Conant who was Kuhn’s mentor as iterative process of analysis of facts leading to synthesis of theories in turn leading to design of experiments to produce new facts, include them into analysis and consequently expand, change, or reject theories and substitute them with the new ones.
- Evidence and Judgment
The final chapter of this part starts with static definition of science as knowledge based on evidence and then proceeds to discuss nature of evidence and it’s dependence on judgment. It brings into discussion John Locke and his “Essay Concerning Humane Understanding”. Overall it is a very detailed discussion of the notion of “evidence” in its multiple incarnations from casual use to legal and scientific special uses. At the end it looks at evidence in its relation to experiment and consequently to idea of science as the only intellectual tool with relatively reliable predictable power.
PART FOUR Birth of the Modern
This part is reviewing consequences of scientific revolution: Industrial revolution and intellectual delegitimizing of magic, demons, and similar entities that failed to obtain scientific confirmation.
Here author traces link between revolutions in the way of thinking and revolution in the way of doing things. Machines including steam engine where known for a long time, but only new scientific way of thinking, specifically mechanistic view of universe allowed their application for productive purposes.
- The Disenchantment of the World
This chapter narrates how new scientific thinking invalidated traditional magical believes by applying requirements of experimental confirmation. The mass remaking of culture to exclude magic from general worldviews was relatively successful, albeit we still have difficulties with using scientific approach consistently especially when people’s prosperity depend on promoting non-scientific fads.
- Knowledge is Power
Here author makes quite convincing case that relationship between scientific knowledge, practical knowledge, and philosophy is far from straightforward. In its nonlinearity this relationship is extremely complicated, but generally could be based on philosophy coming first and opening way for non-formal quasi-scientific thinking and acting with experimentation much close to tinkering than to ex ante thought through formal activity, while actually working machines prompting search for formal scientific understanding of nature of machines, in turn opening way to the next level of complexity and utility of the machines.
CONCLUSION The Invention of Science
The final chapter discusses consequences of recognizing reality of scientific revolution.
- In Defiance of Nature
Here author discusses progress as purely scientific characteristic of knowledge and technology, while denying it as characteristic for humanities. He looks at various philosophical approaches to science: relativists, holists, determinists, constructivism, naïve relists, postmodernists, and such.
- These Postmodern Days
Here author discusses his role and philosophy as historian, stressing impossibility of neutral perception of the past due to impossibility to discard existing knowledge. His important concern is not to write teleological narrative since he does not believe in such approach.
- ‘What Do I Know?’
This chapter presents the final conclusion that science – the experimental method interlocking theory and practical technology completely change our approach to the world and consequently become so much foundational part of our intellectual lives as to be invisible.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this book a little bit overemphasizes role of geographical discoveries and astronomy in development of scientific way of thinking. I would look more at overall specifics of development of western society that was characterized by high level of competition in all areas especially in military areas with multiple wars with no final victory for anybody, continuously changing alliances, and high level of dependency on technology for outcome of conflicts, making it very important to evaluate reality as it is regardless of preexisting conceptions and/or misconceptions that one has. I would also pay more attention to ideological or more precisely theological competition that was instrumental in development of intellectual tools that eventually were used in scientific revolution.
20160402 The Health Gap
The author of this book is also author of the famous Whitehall study of British civil servants that convincingly demonstrated direct correlation between individual’s health outcomes over long time with this individual’s place in the bureaucratic hierarchy: the lower place in hierarchy the less healthy is the individual. These findings demonstrated that typical justification for perks for high-level bureaucrats based on their “sacrifices” and “burden of responsibility” has no value whatsoever. However despite this prove of high cost of hierarchy for its low-level members author seems to see way for improvement in collectivistic solutions such as government healthcare, higher control over individuals by bureaucracy and similar measures.
This starts with the story of author’s discovery of direct mind-body-health connection back in his youth when he was a doctor in Australia hospital. The core of discovery: the stress damages physical health and the good material and psychological conditions of live are necessary for good health. Therefore author objective is “Rise up… against the organization of misery”
- The Organization of Misery.
Here author refers to research results for different social strata in Glasgow that demonstrated health and mortality dependency on belonging to one strata of society or another. As one could expect more wealth directly linked to more health. Then this analysis is expanded from one city to different countries demonstrating that it generally applied across the world, however with a caveat that lower strata in rich country could have worse health outcome than top strata in poor country. In short the correlation is not strong between wealth and health of countries on average. Here is a nice graph for this:
The conclusion at the end of chapter is that it is not only absolute, but also relative wealth that counts for health outcome.
- Whose Responsibility
This is about responsibility for one’s health. Author conclusion is that it should be shared. Individual responsibility should be heavily supplemented by free medical services. I really like the rules for healthy living provided by author, even if he believes that much of it does not depends on individuals, but rather on circumstances of their lives:
- Fair Society, Healthy. Lives
This chapter includes discussion on understanding of fairness and justice. It is using ideas of John Rawls, utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, freedom and equality of opportunity, deserving vs. undeserving poor, and such. The key point here is that live inequalities have really tangible consequences in health outcomes. Most interesting is author’s conclusion that the best way to social justice is to maximize freedom and create conditions for people to have control over their lives. At the end of chapter author points out that even if economic status and health influence each other, the main concern should be directed to economics impact on health and therefore effort should be directed at improvement of economic situation of people.
- Equity from the Start
This is about impact of childhood circumstances on health and wealth acquisition in adulthood. Here is a very interesting graph for IQ:
The inference here is that low economic status in childhood has significant impact on all outcomes and in order to achieve real equality of opportunity society should break the link between poverty and early childhood development.
- Education and Empowerment
The key point of this chapter is that education and knowledge is not only power, but also health:
- Working to Live
This is analysis of relationship between work and health. Unsurprisingly the conclusion is that hard and routine work with high stress and low security is very unhealthy. However unemployment is even unhealthier. Finally the demanding job with high level of satisfaction providing high income is very healthy, even necessary.
- Do Not Go Gentle
This chapter about age and health starts with a very good advice from Shakespeare: one should not get old until he has got wise. Then it goes into analysis of social economic influence on age and health and demonstrates that it is quite significant:
The conclusion here is that wealth, psychologically rewarding work, and political power provide for better health for older people in developed countries.
- Building Resilient Communities
This chapter is about impact of community that individual belongs to on individual’s health both physical and mental. It is not good enough to be wealthy and healthy, it is also important to belong to wealthy and healthy community. Otherwise one’s own well being is always unreliable.
- Fair Societies
This is about author understanding of good and bad societies. Author seems to give credit to right wing ideology for good economy, but insists that unbridled markets are bad especially for education and health. At the same time he is very cautious not to support such isms as socialism and communism in view of proved disastrous experience with these systems in XX century. As one would expect, his ideal or something close to it is Nordic (Sweden or Denmark) welfare state with strong caring government keeping check on capitalism.
- Living Fairly in the World
This chapter is about worldwide health outcomes and their relation to globalization, trade, and overall economics of various countries. Author uses UN Human development report to come to preordained inference that health directly, positively, and causally related to public spending on healthcare and education. This is followed by discussion of third world and need for global governance to achieve positive results, meaning more equality.
- The Organization of Hope
The last chapter is about author activities in international organizations that promote ideas of society organization beneficial for health of its members. It refers to author 3 reports: “Closing gap in a generation”, “Fair society, healthy lives”, and European Review of Social Determinants and Health Divide”. The key point here is that, in author’s opinion based on evidence, the inequality in income and wealth directly causes inequality in health outcome, so in order to improve latter one had to improve former first. Author seems to believe that it could be achievable by Social-democratic means, that is by growing bureaucracy that would have increasing control over economics and human lives in order to make these lives healthier.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this book very interesting as source of data and quite primitive as source of recommendations. There is an interesting and, seems to be unavoidable for socialistically minded people contradiction between author’s data in recommendations. His data demonstrate that it is quite unhealthy to be a low level bureaucrat in huge bureaucratic machine even in wealthy country, while his recommendations are directed to increase in bureaucracies not only at the local, but also on the global level. There is also a typical approach to big governmental bureaucracy as some benevolent entity dedicated to common good with complete disregard of existing experience that all bureaucracies are always just mechanism to achieving goals of human individuals who control them. Needless to say that goals and objective of these individual usually fully dedicated to their own well being, with formal “objectives of bureaucracies” being just a façade useful for convincing people transfer resources to them. I believe that big bureaucracies could not possibly be healthy even if they objectives include “common health”. The only way individuals could be healthy is if they have necessary resources available to them on individual basis including ability to decide how these resources are used. Without this ability whatever amount of “public resources” spent on “common health” will eventually be converted into resources spent on wealth and prosperity of bureaucrats in control of these resources.
20160326 Learning by Doing
The main idea of this book is that inventions that have impact on civilization, even small ones, are not a product of lone geniuses, but rather complex results of various efforts of multiple people doing some improvements big and small. We should understand the complex nature of inventions and promote all individuals’ active participation in the process regardless of how insignificant their role looks like. Moreover, not only inventions, but also all and any meaningful improvement in processes and technology require skills, efforts, and deserve good remuneration because skills level requirements while different in reality are much less significant than usually perceived and even what is considered low level unskilled job still provide necessary component into the Prosperity of Nations.
PART I. TECHNOLOGY
- More Than Inventions
Author uses the development of textile industry in USA as source of information for process of development and implementation of ideas. He starts with looking at quality of people employed in this industry over its live cycle and finds that it changed quite dramatically over time. During initial phases it was very high with relatively highly educated girls employed even in low-level jobs, but with development of tools, processes, and technics demand for high quality people decreased. He looks at 4 conceptual distinctions of technology implementation:
- Technology vs. Original Inventions
- Mass vs. Elite Knowledge
- Knowledge vs. Ideas
- Dynamic vs. Static Technical Knowledge.
- The Skills of the Unskilled
Here author analyses learning curve and concludes that the most important part of learning is doing. Here is a nice graph to demonstrate this:
There is important caveat here that it is not possible to achieve results via theoretical learning only.
- Revolutions in Slow Motion
Here author supports his thesis by presenting data that scientific / industrial revolutions generally are not really short-term events, but rather long tern developments. Here is a nice table demonstrating this:
- Standard Knowledge
This chapter is about standardization of knowledge. It begins with story of periodic table, which greatly simplified learning of chemistry and analysis of chemical processes. Then he looks at live cycle of knowledge and at process of establishment of dominant design, as usual using example of QWERTY. Another very interesting point in this chapter is that future development is unknown and could not be predicted even by the best experts as it demonstrated by example with AOL and Time Warner.
PART II. WAGES
- When Does Technology Raise Wages?
This chapter looks at dynamics of wage changes in relation to technology implementation and maturity, again using example of textile industry. The most important part here is discussion of relation between wages and unique and not easily transferrable or obtainable skills. Individuals with such skill normally get nice premium on their use.
- How the Weavers Got Good Wag
This chapter uses history of weavers and how their wages changed based on skills. Here a small table summarizing it:
- The Transition Today: Scarce Skills, Not Scarce Jobs
The main point of this chapter is that so far robots do not push people out of work, despite logical inference that it should eventually happen. Even bank teller did not really disappear; only their number just stopped growing. People just had to switch to different occupations and the main problem is skill mismatch when job market demands are changing faster than people are capable to meet them.
PART III. TECHNOLOGY POLICY
- Does Technology Require More College Diplomas?
This chapter looks at notion of formal higher education being the key for success. It used to be true when jobs where less specialized so any college graduates had general skills required. Now however general college education is not enough, market requires specific skills that people fail to acquire because resources are directed to colleges. Here is a nice table demonstrating this:
- Whose Knowledge Economy?
This is about current situation when everybody becomes a knowledge worker, whatever area he/she is working in. It looks specifically at manufacturing and concludes that huge growth of productivity is the main cause. It uses recent history of steel production of demonstrative the case.
- Procuring new Knowledge
This chapter looks positively at government procurement programs as a way to build useful specific and applicable knowledge for population. The cases here are from defense and health industries.
- The Forgotten History of Knowledge Sharing
This chapter is very interesting by its analysis of knowledge sharing between inventors and innovators. Author makes pretty convincing case for a fresh look at patent laws and cases when strict intellectual property could be not that good for innovation.
- Patents and Early-Stage Knowledge
This is continuation of intellectual property discussion with main point that explosion of litigation brings a serious threat to process of the new knowledge creation. Here is the related graph:
- The Political Economy of Technical Knowledge
This chapter is about legal and political approaches to innovation in Japan and USA and how it could promote of stun development.
- The Skills of the Many and the Prosperity of Nations
The final brief chapter is the restatement of main thesis of the book that knowledge and skills widely distributed among population and new useful knowledge is not developed by superior geniuses, but rather is result of conscious or more often unconscious cooperative efforts of people each of which just trying to improve their own live and be more effective and efficient in doing whatever they are doing. The result of these efforts is prosperity of population or lack thereof when political and/or ideological circumstances prevent people from doing it.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I am petty much in synch with ideas of this book. I also believe in superior effectiveness and eventual efficiency of independent efforts of free people comparatively to top down directed and bureaucratically organized effort of people included into hierarchical structures. The only partial disagreement I have is with idea that the new technology just shuffles people from one activity to another without removing need in their work. I strongly believe that ongoing development of computer technology and especially Artificial Intelligence eventually would lead to complete elimination of humans from routine activities in all areas from manufacturing to R&D research. It is bound to happen and for foreseeable future it would be stressful and painful process of finding new methods for functioning of human society without sale of labor as its economic foundation. Humanity was relatively successful in its switches from hunting gathering to militaristic-agricultural and then to industrial and informational methods, so it should manage to do well while switching to labor-less economic foundation when all human activities are voluntary and not dependent neither on direct coercion of slave or indirect coercion of wage earner.
20160319 Cybersecurity and Cyberwar
The main idea here is to review Internet technology and its vulnerabilities to informational crimes such as stealing valuable data, taking control over information flows, especially such sensitive as classified data or money flow, and even taking over control via computer network over power grid, transportation and information networks. The auxiliary objectives to the idea to raise awareness of the threat are proposals that authors offer in order to handle these problems.
Why Write a Book about Cybersecurity and Cyberwar? Why Is There Cybersecurity Knowledge and Why Does It Matter? How Did You Write the Book and What Do You Hope to Accomplish?
This introduction is mainly about reasons for writing this book: poor understanding of nature of Cybersecurity, threats caused by its deficiencies, and methods to improve it. The objective is to promote conscious understanding of related issues that would lead to improvement in technology, behavioral patterns, and legal framework for new Internet world.
PART I HOW IT ALL WORKS
The World Wide What? Defining Cyberspace. Where Did This “Cyber Stuff’ Come from Anyway? A Short History of the Interne; How Does the Internet Actually Work? Who Runs It? Understanding Internet Governance; On the Internet, How Do They Know Whether You Are a Dog? Identity and Authentication; What Do We Mean by “Security” Anyway? What Are the Threats? One Phish, Two Phish, Red Phish, and Cyber Phish: What Are Vulnerabihties? How Do We Trust in Cyberspace? Focus: What Happened in WikiLeaks? What Is an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)?
How Do We Keep the Bad Guys Out? The Basics of Computer Defense; Who Is the Weakest Link? Human Factors;
This chapter contains highly simplified technical details of Internet, TCPIP and how it works functionally. The key point here is that the way Internet designed, it is very difficult differentiate between data and executable code and most important contemporary systems designed execute code that comes with message. This is the root cause of hackerism, data theft, and cyber attacks. However the conclusion author infers is that the weakest link of computer / human interactive system is human, not computer. It is human who fails to setup strong password, divulge information they are not supposed to divulge, get cheated by phishing and other methods of social engineering.
PART H WHY IT MATTERS
What Is the Meaning of Cyber attack? The Importance of Terms and Frameworks; Whodunit? The Problem of Attribution; What Is Hactivism? Focus: Who Is Anonymous? The Crimes of Tomorrow, Today: What Is Cybercrime? Shady RATs and Cyberspies: What Is Cyber Espionage?
How Afraid Should We Be of Cyberterrorism? So How Do Terrorists Actually Use the Web?
What about Cyber Counterterrorism? Security Risk or Human Right? Foreign Policy and the Internet; Focus: What Is Tor and Why Does Peeling Back the Onion Matter? Who Are Patriotic Hackers? Focus: What Was Stuxnet? What Is the Hidden Lesson of Stuxnet? The Ethics of Cyber weapons; “Cyberwar What Are Zeros and Ones good for?” Defining Cyberwar; A War by Any Other Name? The Legal Side of Cyber Conflict; What Might a “Cyberwar” Actually Look Like? Computer Network Operations; Focus: What Is the US Military Approach to Cyberwar? Focus: What Is the Chinese Approach to Cyberwar? What about Deterrence in an Era of Cyberwar?
Why Is Threat Assessment So Hard in Cyberspace? Does the Cybersecurity World Favor the Weak or the Strong? Who Has the Advantage, the Offense or the Defense? A New Kind of Arms Race: What Are the Dangers of Cyber Proliferation? Are There Lessons from Past Arms Races?
Behind the Scenes: Is There a Cyber-Industrial Complex?
This chapter is detailed review of all potential problems that could come from Internet, various viruses, dark net – Tor, and review of potential state led attacks with especial attention to Chinese activities.
PART III WHAT CAN WE DO?
Don’t Get Fooled: Why Can’t We Just Build a New, More Secure Internet? Rethink Security: What Is Resilience, and Why Is It Important? Reframe the Problem (and the Solution): What Can We Learn from Public Health? Learn from History: What Can (Real) Pirates Teach Us about Cyber security? Protect World Wide Governance for the World Wide Web: What Is the Role of International Institutions? “Graft” the Rule of Law: Do We Need a Cyberspace Treaty? Understand the Limits of the State in Cyberspace: Why Can’t the Government Handle It? Rethink Government’s Role: How Can We Better Organize for Cybersecurity? Approach It as a Public-Private Problem: How Do We Better Coordinate Defense? Exercise Is Good for You: How Can We Better Prepare for Cyber Incidents? Build Cybersecurity Incentives: Why Should I Do What You Want? Learn to Share: How Can We Better Collaborate on Information? Demand Disclosure: What Is the Role of Transparency? Get “Vigorous” about Responsibility: How Can We Create Accountability for Security? Find the IT Crowd: How Do We Solve the Cyber People Problem?
Do Your Part: How Can I Protect Myself (and the Internet)?
The final part is pretty much about various options of making Internet more secure. It goes into details of international agreements existing and potential, role of transparency and incentives for good Internet behavior.
Where Is Cybersecurity Headed Next? What Do I Really Need to Know in the End?
This is look at Internet future with cloud, switch to mobile devises, Internet of things, and attempts of all kind of current evildoers like Chinese government and aspiring evildoers like Obama totalitarians to bring Internet under government control.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is all nice, timely, and important, but I cannot understand why it is not possible to change computer systems in such way that they would run code downloaded exclusively from known source keep it in protected area of memory, and execute on demand, rather then treat all input data as potentially executable code. Obviously such redesign would require a lot of effort and would make system less flexible, but if arriving data allowed only reference to code already registered on computer, all hacking become plainly impossible. I am quite sure that something like this is the work and if it would be not Internet 2.0, then it would be Internet 25.5, but eventually free for all will end and Internet would become more secure then any facility where one could walk in in person in order to cause any harm.
20160312 Destiny Disrupted
The main idea of this book is presented in introduction as an attempt to provide western reader with a narrative of Islam both as religion and as civilization from point of view of a Muslim born and raised in Afghanistan, who is well versed in traditions and history of this civilization, but, nevertheless, spent most if his adult live as teacher in American university becoming well familiar with people and ideas of the West. The point is made that Islam as so big and rich culturally, religiously, and historically it deserves to be taken seriously.
Chapter 1 – The Middle World: THE MIDDLE WORLD BEFORE ISLAM
Here author reviews somewhat unusual look at geographical and cultural history of humanity as parallel history of Mediterranean world of Greece and Romans that produced Western civilization based on sea going trade and Middle world of landmass to the East based on caravan roads that produced Islamic world. This chapter deals with pre-Islam history that occurred on this landmass.
Chapter 2 – The Hijra
This is history of Muhammad and his creation of Islam religion that proved to be capable unify Arab tribes, stop internecine warfare, and create highly effective military-ideological entity capable to conquer not only weaker tribes nearby, but also incorporate massive remnants of the empires of the past. The beginning of this entity is considered startup year or Hijra (0 AH) – the year when Muhammad ran away from Mecca to Medina to avoid suppression by local tribes and find the place to consolidate his military-religious community designed to bring the world into submission. The expansion started with return back to Mecca in AH6 and its complete conquest in 8 AH.
Chapter 3 – Birth of the Khalifate
THE FIRST KHALIFA (12 – 14 AH)
This chapter is about history after Muhammad’s death. It begins with fight over inheritance between Abu Bakr, older and richer member of community, Omar more militaristic leader, and Ali, Muhammad’s adapted son and son in law. Abu Bakr was given preference over Ali due to his age and overall respect that he enjoyed in community. The key however was not selection of Abu Bakr, but his attempt to establish unity of Islam as social project inseparable from religion complete unification of religious and secular roles of top leader – Khalifa. This was enforced by strict ban on leaving Islam with death being the punishment for apostasy.
THE SECOND KHALIFA: 14 – 24 AH
Just two years after Muhammad Abu Bakr died with Omar taking over new Islamic entity and initiating successful war of conquest over nearby Byzantine and Sassanid Empires that were so existed by fights between themselves that they were not capable to resist newcomer with huge religious zeal and attractive ideology that elevated burden of taxes and pretty much left people alone in their believes, however creating significant enticements for conversion to Islam. By the time of Omar’s death Islamic community – Umma was in possession of significant and growing territory.
Chapter 4 – Schism
THE THIRD KHALIFA (22-34 AH, 642-656 CE)
This one – Othman was another relative of Muhammad, the rich man who became austere after conversion. Once again Ali was passed over. Othman lift ban for Muslims on buying land in conquered countries and appointed his cousin Mua’wiya who start typical regime of exploitation, all of this resulting in riot, killing of Othman and installment of Ali as fourth Khalifa.
THE FOURTH KHALIFA (35-41 AH, 656 – 661 CE)
This resulted in civil war in which Ali lost and was eventually assassinated with Mua’wiya coming to power as 4th Khalifa after settling with Ali’s son Hassan with monetary bailout. This pretty much ended religious period and started Umayyads Empire.
Chapter 5 – Empire of the Umayyads (40-120 AH)
Despite Hassan’s settlement, his brother Hussein and his supporters considered him true Khalifa so eventually civil war continues until Hussein and his supporters were massacred at Karbala. This initiated Islam division into Shi’a and Sunni with majority Sunnis considering Muhammad just a messenger so his bloodline was irrelevant for selection of leader. The only important thing in addition to message he delivered (Koran) was example of living (Sunna recorded in Hadith), while for Shi’a there is always one and only Imam who carries mystical substance passed from Allah to Muhammad and then to each current Imam. For Sunnis their own live is the only thing that counts in achieving the bliss, for Shi’a own effort is not enough, the road to bliss goes through submission to leadership of current Imam. Umayyads took in Islam as ideological / religious foundation and build empire with normal state of perpetual war.
Chapter 6 – The Abbasid Age (120 – 350 AH)
At 120 AH new revolution and civil war swept away Umayyads and clan Banu Hashim established the new dynasty that started with Khalifa Abbas – Abbasid. They build Bagdad as the new trade, cultural, and administrative center. Abbasids were very supportive to trade and tolerant to diversity of people so they achieved relative long-term prosperity.
Chapter 7 – Scholars, Philosophers, and Sufis
This chapter is about ideological development of Islam with its 3 directions that fight between themselves for supremacy with Scholars or more precise Clerics winning and consequently stopping development of Islam into religion consistent with contemporary civilization. This unfortunate development pretty much cut off possibility of coexistence with religions and ideologies of other people, leave alone space for existence of individual believes within Islam dominated countries.
These are community of religious specialists (Ulama) who are self selected through diligent study of texts and acceptance by other clerics. As one would expect they are fully dedicated to sanctity of the text and reject reality if it contradicts texts. Moreover they happily use force against anybody who they consider out of compliance with the text.
This somewhat parallel to Western enlightenment attempt to open way for science, which unlike its western counterpart was completely defeated by clerics around 200 AH.
This is mainly mystical movement within Islam in search of happiness through unity with god. Probably the most outstanding thinker in this movement was Ghazali who managed accommodate Sufism with ulama and then in alliance with ulama was able to completely defeat philosophers.
Chapter 8 – Enter the Turks
This chapter is about Turkish invasion. Turks came from Central Asia and took over Islamic world severely weakened by continuing struggle between Fatimid Khalifate in Cairo and Abbasid Khalifate in Baghdad. Seljuk empire established by Turks by the end of millennium was covering significant parts of Islamic population, but universal community of Islam was divided into Shia, Sunni, and all kinds of other sects with some quite weird such as Assassins who pursued political goals via murder as a standard method. Then came catastrophic evens of invasions.
Chapter 9 – Havoc
ASSAULT FROM THE WEST
Author defines crusades as a relatively small catastrophe that limited geographically and was really not that significant for Islamic world.
ASSAULT FROM THE EAST
Much more significant was Mongol invasion when Chengez Khan sacked Baghdad and practically took over all areas with Muslim population suppressing resistance with extreme cruelty. However, similarly to China and other areas of Mongol conquest, they were susceptible to accepting religions and norms of conquered societies so starting in 1257 CE they slowly converted to Islam.
Chapter 10 – Rebirth
The Mongolian onslaught caused difficult theological questions since Allah should guarantee victory to members of one and only true religion, but he let them fail. Syrian lawyer Ibn Taymiyah founder of Salafism provided the answer: Muslims deviated from strict Islamic traditions, accepted too many innovations, and failed to wage jihad against infidels with sufficient zealotry. The correct way for the future is to go back to 7 century, Koran, Sharia, and perpetual war against non-Muslims. Another response came from Sufism with its brotherhoods and mysticism.
THE OTTOMANS (ABOUT 700 TO 1341 AH)
Here author provides brief history of Ottomans with their struggle against Byzantine and attacks against Europe. Eventually they took Constantinople ending 1000 years of Roman Empire, but failed to conquer Christian Europe beyond this. Correspondingly Safavids stopped their eastern expansion.
THE SAFAVIDS (906-1138 AH)
Safavids were continuation of Persian Empire ideologically based on Shi’a Islam.
THE MOGHULS (ROUGHLY 900 TO 1273 AH)
Even further to the east in India was Moghuls Empire that was inherently weak because it had significant share of population Hindu not easily convertible to Islam. However at high point around 1600 CE it achieved status of one of the biggest empires in the world.
Chapter 11 – Meanwhile in Europe (689-1008 AH or 1291 – 1600 CE)
While Islamic world rejected innovation and development, Christian Europe embraced it and here author looks at history of Reformation, discovery of new world, expansion of maritime trade, and initial steps of industrial and scientific revolutions.
Chapter 12 – West Comes East (905-1266 AH or 1500 – 1850 CE)
This is about colonial expansion of European countries throughout the world crashing or forcing to comply local populations with demand for resources, colonies, and control over trade.
Chapter 13 – The Reform Movements (1737-1918 CE)
Here author discusses parallel with Christianity or more precisely lack thereof since Islam never had anything like Reformation. He believes that it is because reformation was a rebellion against the Church, while Islam does not have such institution. Islam, however has its own movements, but they are completely different than Western. If Christians rebelled against priests and their bureaucracy to go ahead to more freedom and industrial revolution, Muslims rebel against leadership formal or informal like ulama that led to weakness.
Here author looks at Wahhabi movement that could be characterized as “Back to Muhammad, Jihad, and conquest ideas. Supported by alliance with Saudis they quietly maintained their continuing presence.
THE ALIGARH MOVEMENT: SECULAR MODERNISM
This movement linked with Sayyid Ahmad and was mainly directed at accommodating Islam and civilized world with stress on becoming civilized.
This movement was the most popular and linked with Sayyid Jamaluddin. This movement was directed more at modernization rather than civilization with insistence on primacy of Islam.
Chapter 14 – Industry, Constitutions, and Nationalism (1750-1918)
This chapter is about developments preceding WWI when Islamic world picked up ideas of nationalism, progress, and constitution. It eventually led to Arab revolt and dissolution of remnants Ottoman during WWI
Chapter 15 – Rise of the Secular Modernists (1918-1939)
The first ¾ of XX century were time of secular modernists who pretty much took over Islamic world installing diverse secular systems from Ataturk in Turkey to Shah in Iran, and later Nasser in Egypt or Saddam in Iraq. All of them had common feature of accepting at least partially European ideas of National Socialism and promising to build prosperity and power on this bases.
Chapter 16 – The Crisis of Modernity (1939-1966)
However all these secular rulers clearly failed to bring either prosperity or power comparable to the West so they lost any allure for masses. The most damaging was probably repetitive failure of combined Arab forces to massacre Jews in Palestine and even worse establishment of Israel. This conveyed complete impotence of Islamic modernism to assert superiority of Islam and led to massive rejection of modernism in the name of Islam.
Chapter 17 – The Tide Turns (1950-2001)
The latest part of XX century was characterized by increasing substitution of secular regimes with Islamic starting with Iranian mullahs and all the way to current recreation of Caliphate. All this was fed by terrorism as main tool of Islamic reassertion in the world.
Afterword (After 2001)
Author believes that review of this period is too early for history, so it belongs to journalism. However author points out that Western attempt to transplant democracy to Islamic world plainly failed because it implies individualization of society that completely contradicts communal nature of Islam. As communal society Islam combined religion, way of live, and political structures of society. It requires submission and would not tolerate dissent, while western society left religious uniformity behind and celebrates individualism and freedom. These two approaches are not compatible. As example author poses question: how one can reconcile believe that society should be absolutely divided into male and female area, with believe that men and women are individual and independent actors who define for themselves areas and types of activities.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I agree that Islam and its history are not separate, but integral part of human history and that its communal nature is completely incompatible with western individualistic view of the world. This leaves us with little options because while western nature has no problem with toleration of different society, Islam does not allow for toleration, only submission. That means inevitable war the severity of which is completely defined by weakness of Islamic societies. As long as they are weak they will see temporary accommodation or at least non-aggression as necessity and behave relatively peacefully, but as soon as they feel strong enough, their aggression will be inevitable. In my opinion, since preemptive aggression and resolute suppression is inconsistent with western humanitarian values, while submitting to Islam is not possible without civilizational, moral, and intellectual self-destruction, the West has little choice but to deal with it by establishing borders around Islamic world impenetrable for military or any other potentially dangerous technology and leave opening exclusively for people who are willing to leave original Islam behind and join decadent, humanitarian, and individualistic western world. Obviously any attack should be retaliated in such way that attackers and their supporters, either material or inspirational, lost any conceivable ability attack or inspire somebody else to attack again.
20160305 The Changing Face of War
The main idea of this book is to review XX century warfare from its initial pattern of multimillion armies clashing on wide fronts in WWI to total war between alliance of Democracy and Soviet Totalitarism against German and Japanese totalitarism with Cold war and late XX century Islamist insurgency at the end of the century. The main inference is that war between developed countries become impossible due to the nuclear weapons, while suppression of insurgencies is very tricky and could be done either through high cruelty of suppression or expensive high level of population accommodation. The significant point is that XX century warfare is of little use in XXI century where armed conflict occurs between population of developed world and barbaric Islamic fundamentalists that are not even at the gates, but rather inside of our cities and could win if we fail to wake up.
This book is about war in XXI century as the product of military developments and wars of XX century. It is poses the question why contemporary armies of highly developed western countries like USA while being capable win on the battlefield incredibly quick and with minimal loses seems to be fail when it comes to contain terrorism and let poorly organized and widely distributed forces of insurgents overrun whole countries and even entire continents.
Chapter 1: Prelude, 1900-14: 1.1 States, Armies and Navies; 1.2 Visions of War; 1.3 Resisters and Enthusiasts; 1.4 The Balance of Power; 1.5.War Plans; 1.6 Facts and Counter facts.
This chapter is look at initial period of military history of XX century with its multimillion conscript armies, huge industrial machinery, and high reliance on rigid railroad transportation system. The key to understanding of pre WWI period and consequently path to the war is understanding of industrial character of war and believe common for leaders of all countries that concentration of people and material would provide for overwhelming advantage and consequently victory. This caused all of them to put effort into planning of mobilization and transportation forces to frontline and created situation in which any delay of initiating this activity would lead to loss, while once initiated it would be impossible to stop. Another key feature of prewar situation was mass enthusiasm among population of all countries that were raised on stories of glorious past in very peaceful period with no knowledge of cruel reality of war. The final consideration is balance of power between countries and their forces that remained fluid to the very brink of hostilities causing leaders to rush ahead any time when they believed they have temporary advantage.
Chapter 2: World War I, 1914-18: 2.1 Opening Moves; 2.2 From Movement to Attrition; 2.3. The War at Sea; 2.4 A Continent in Flames; Technology Takes Over; 2.6 The Beginning and the End
Here author retells the story of WWI mainly as progressive movement from enthusiasm and active maneuvering to stalemate in unchanging positions with constant annihilation of people on the large scale due to technological superiority of defense over offence practically in all areas. Eventually the outcome of war was decided by economic superiority of Allies when USA joined them. Nevertheless the search for exit from stalemate brought in new technologies like tanks and aviation that would become foundation of mobile wars in the middle of century.
Chapter 3: The Twenty Years’ Truce: 3.1 Powers, Aspirations, and Attitudes; 3.2 The Military Thinkers; 3.3 Innovation: From Theory to Practice; 3.4 Civilized Wars; 3.5 Uncivilized Wars; 3.6 The Unraveling of Peace
Here author reviews interwar period with its dramatic technological developments and not less dramatic psychological developments. On technological side mechanized forces and aviation expansion opened possibility of wide maneuverability of troops and their deep penetration into enemy territory, encirclement, and destruction of less mobile opponent. Author looks at doctrines of Douhet for massive air war, Fuller for massive movement of tanks and mechanized forces, and, most important, Ludendorff for total war with complete subordination of economy and all country resources to military purpose as the only way to victory. Author also looks at concept of civilized war when fighting going according to the rules including sparing non-combatants, humane treatment of POW, restrictions on some types of weapons versus uncivilized war when everything allowed and no limitations apply. Author briefly points, but not explore that much psychological condition, when German population never accepted their loss because fighting never really got to German territory causing people to believe the idea of “knife in the back” and eager to revenge, while France and Britain, which got nothing valuable from their victory after much losses and suffering, went pacific and start pursuing disarmament and appeasement with highly predictable results. At the end of chapter author looks at actual political developments that eventually led to hostilities.
Chapter 4: World War II, 1939-45: 4.1 The Blitzkrieg Era; 4.2 Global War; 4.3 Total War; 4.4 Esoteric War; 4.5 Closing the Ring; 4.6 The Road to Hiroshima;
The chapter on WWII is concentrating on implementation of blitzkrieg war in 1939-1941 as real live implementation of military ideas developed in 1920s and 30s. However despite initial success this type of war failed to achieve victory at the end when huge resources on the global scale get involved. The total war with al resources of combatants including their civil population get involved the fast movement of forces on wide terrain with objective to break will of enemy was just not enough for victory because fighting would not stop until majority of active population killed or captured. Another interesting characteristic of the war stressed in this chapter is its esoteric character when much depended on technological, managerial, and operational skill of millions of participants from top leader to lowery repair technicians without which tanks would not move and plains would not fly. Author assigns quite a bit of attention to complexities of coalition warfare that demanded effective diplomatic skills to coordinate efforts multimillion groups of people of various cultures around the world. The final point here is made about qualitative difference between European theater where combatants clearly understood their cultural, religious, and historical commonality versus Pacific theater where enemy had different race, religion, culture, and just about everything else, leading to much more cruel and hateful attitudes on all levels.
Chapter 5: In the Shadow of the Bomb: 5.1 Looking Backward; 5.2 From War Fighting to Deterrence; 5.3 From Proliferation to Stalemate; 5.4 The Conduct of Conventional War; 5.5 Evolution, Revolution, and Failure; 5.6 Think-Tank War;
Eventual conclusion of the WWII with use of nuclear weapon instantly made obsolete all previous strategic thinking rendering war between top-level technologically proficient countries practically suicidal proposition leading to new type of warfare – Cold War. This chapter reviews brief history of Cold War with special attention to limited use of conventional hot war in some theaters. One interesting subchapter here is dedicated to analysis of think- tanks activities mainly at the West that is identified as war of ideas both strategic and tactical.
Chapter 6: The New World Disorder 1991 to the Present: 6.1 On Nazis, Terrorism, and Counterterrorism; 6.2 The Record of Failure; 6.3. Case I: The British in Northern Ireland; 6.4 Case II: Assad in Hama; Case III: The Americans in Iraq; 6.6 Barbarians at the Gate
The period after 1991 reviewed here with its civil wars and terrorism discusses difficulties of dealing with it and presents somewhat unusual point of view that pure force and cruelty does not work in these situations using as example inability of Germany completely suppress resistance in all occupied territories. Author supports this idea with reference to American failure in Vietnam and Soviet failure in Afghanistan. Generally author views counter insurgency conflicts around the world as failure, but nevertheless he reviews two conflicts when suppression of rebellion was successful. The first one was Britain in Northern Ireland when success was achieved by accommodating local population as much as possible and the second was Assad senior in Hama where success was achieved mainly by unlimited use of brute force. Author reviews two conflicts that were practically ended in stalemate: Arab-Palestinian conflict and Americans in Iraq.
Chapter 7: The First and the Last.
This is the brief restatement of previous chapters, retracing transformation from war as national effort with multimillion armies at the first half of XX century into small, however global skirmishes of war against contemporary terrorism when enemy is very week and very annoying resulting in achieving some objective for terrorist side that would not be possible otherwise.
Here author discusses our current war not as just war against terrorism, but rather war that radical Islamist wage against Western values and culture with frontline coming through every European city posing real threat to the West, while money go to developing more and more sophisticated weapons that just not usable in this war. At the end author calls developed world to wake up and fight this war with alternative to failure to destroy terrorist would be terrorists destroying us.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a nice brief history of military history of XX century, but I think that a couple things are not correct. First of all author seems to believe that insurgency could not be suppressed and time would support increase and maybe even eventual victory of insurgents. I think that author is missing a little known but significant history of resistance movements in Baltic States and Western Ukraine that lasted up to 8-10 years after WWII. Both insurgencies were defeated through combination of cruelty, isolation from external world, and some, albeit very limited steps to allow improvements of living conditions for population. This demonstrates that impossibility to defeat popular movement if highly exaggerated. Correspondingly all defeats of Americans in Vietnam of Soviets in Afghanistan resulted in huge flow of support from supplies to psychological support to nuclear cover if needed provided by Soviets to North Vietnam and by Americans to Afghanistan. Without this support both insurgencies would be defeated within 5-7 years. The second point that Islamic fundamentalism represents existential threat and has already advanced inside our cities is true, but only due to weakness of western elite that refuses to wage war in defense of its civilization. Eventually, quite possible after nuclear explosion in some big western cities such as New York or Paris, this elite would be obliterated as treasonous and substituted by another leadership that would wage war against Islamic forces by taking away their resources such as oils, forcing them convert to some form of peaceful Islam or any other religion and, most important, to tolerate all other religions in their midst or eliminating them all together from the face of the earth. The severity of this war, level of tragic consequences, and number of victims would heavily depend on timing. The earlier it starts and more decidedly it would be conducted, the less people will suffer.
20160227 The Person and The Situation
The main idea is to review history and achievements of social psychology and confirm its applicability to decision making in various areas of live, especially political measures to improve society. The core of it is the notion that humans act not according to some genetically preset traits, but rather according to situation in conjunction with perception of objective facts translated via cultural influence and previous experience into such understanding of reality that causes a specific set of actions to be used to achieve individual’s objectives. The main inference is that humans are malleable and could be relatively easy directed in some “beneficial” direction.
The Lessons and Challenges of Social Psychology: The Weakness of Individual Differences; The Power of Situations; The Subtlety of Situations; The Predictability of Human Behavior; The Conflict Between the Lessons of Social Psychology and the Experience of Everyday Life;
Students who go through systematic studies of experimental social psychology experience drastic changes in their understanding of human behavior and learn to recognize deficiencies of pop psychology that all of us learn from childhood. These deficiencies demonstrate themselves in regular overestimate of individual differences as causes of actions and results, grave underestimate of role of situation that one is acting within, and, very important, greatly overestimate influence of earlier events and interferences on actual outcome of human lives. The most interesting discovery is fundamental unpredictability of human social behavior.
The Tripod on Which Social Psychology Rests: The Principle of Situationism; The Principle of Construal; The Concept of Tension Systems;
- Principle of Situationism: Social context creates potent forces producing or constraining behavior
- The Principle of Construal: The impact of “objective” situation depends on subjective meaning that actor assign to this situation, which in turn is product of complex construal process shaped by actor’s personality and previous experiences.
- The Concept of Tension Systems: individuals and collectives must be understood as systems in the state of tension between multiple coexisting facts, that present dynamic equilibrium when state of every part depends on state of any other part. This causes overall system unpredictability when small variation in stimuli could lead to massive change in the state of the system if its internal tension put it on the brink.
Predictability and Indeterminacy: Prediction by Social Scientists; Prediction by Laypeople;
Based on the tripod model authors assert that scientific prediction of behavior is as impossible as precise prediction of location/momentum in physics. In short they basically state that principle of uncertainty applies to human behavior as well as to quantum mechanics. At the same time lay people’s prediction of behavior often confirmed by events just because of continuity and tendency to be consistent in action.
The Problem of Effect Size: Statistical Criteria of Size; Pragmatic Criteria of Size; Expectation Criteria of Size
Here author discuss criteria of size of effect with specific stress on relative character of all psychological effects.
2 THE POWER OF THE SITUATION
Social Influence and Group Processes
Uniformity Pressures in the Laboratory: Sherif’s “Autokinetic” Studies and the Asch Paradigm; The Bennington Studies; Sherif’s Studies of Intergroup Competition and Conflict; Inhibition of Bystander Intervention; Why Is Social Influence So Powerful?
The power of situation expressed by significant variation of behavior in-group versus individual behavior. Sherif experimentally demonstrated impact of group norm on individual that he called Autokinetic: individual’s estimate of an event changes when in-group to adjust to prevailing opinion. Ash paradigm demonstrated limits of such accommodation, which was heavily dependent on absence of rebels. Individual is much more comfortable to be in small minority of opinion than completely alone. Bennington studies are about such small group that provide sort of isolation, allowing individual to maintain illusion of being as everybody else even if outside the small group vast majority of people has different believes. This was analyzed based on political attitudes that students acquire in colleges, where they undergoing strong liberal brain washing through group influence. Finally author discusses studies of intergroup conflict and competition and how easy and nearly automatically people create groups and develop strong attachment to them. This attachment forces individuals when encountering cognitive dissonance between their views and group norms make one of 3 choices: influence group, change one’s views, or leave group. All this creates social tensions most often leading to uncritical acceptance of prevailing views of the group.
Channel Factors: On Selling War Bonds; Time to Be a Good Samaritan; Effects of Minimal Compliance; Putting It All Together: Stanley Milgram and the Banality of Evil;
Here author discusses channel factors that is ability of situation define specific behavior. Examples discussed are: war bonds, “Good Samaritan” experiment, and Milgram prison experiment. Also reviewed is “foot in the door” manipulation technic.
3 CONSTRUING THE SOCIAL WORID
Subjectivist Considerations in Objective Behaviorism: Relativity in Judgment and Motivation Phenomena; Some Nonobvious Motivational Consequences of Reward
It starts with discussion of behaviorism and its attempt to understand people by using only observable activities. This attempt clearly failed, defeated by relativity of judgment in relation to previous experience, which pointed to human ability to adapt. This led to discussion of framing effects and issues of relative prosperity and/or depravity when the same objective input causes drastically different output.
The Construal Quest/on/n Social Psychology: Solomon Asch and the “Object of Judgment”; Partisanship and Perception; The Tools of Construal
Here it goes into discussion of construals or impressions and personal attributes, which in turns has significant impact on interpretation of newly received information. It is nicely demonstrated by popular and extensively researched instances of political partisanship and its influence on perception and behavior. Finally it looks at tools of construal such as labeling, categorization, construction of knowledge structures, and dynamic modeling of social environment.
The Attribution Process: Normative and Descriptive Principles of Causal Attribution Attributions Regarding the Self
Here authors describe the attribution process when people assign causal relationships in process of their attempts to understand social situations, and behavior. They reference work of Harold Kelley who proposed normative and descriptive principles that guide people in process of attribution. This approach also applied to self-perception and self-attribution, leading consequently to “attribution” theory of emotions and attitudes. Interestingly enough these processes remain hidden from self because we do not really have conscious access to our own cognitive processes.
Failure to Allow for the Uncertainties of Construal: The False Consensus Effect; Overconfident Social and Personal Predictions; Situational Construal and the Fundamental Attribution Error;
This one is about failure of attribution due to uncertainty of construal and typical overstatement commonality of own attitudes and perceptions. Obviously it routinely causes overconfidence in predictions and eventually fundamental attribution error when people assign causes to actions and behavior of other people that have nothing to do with real causes of their behavior and everything to do with observers perception of modeling of these people.
4 THE SEARCH FOR PERSONAL CONSISTENCY
An Overview of Conventional Theories of Personality; The Scientific Findings and the Debate: The Challenge of 1968; Empirical Studies of Cross-Situational Consistency; Implications of the Empirical Challenge;
This chapter is about attempts to find consistency in human behavior that would go beyond combination of objective situation and subjective construals. It looks at various theories of personalities that claim to find consistency in behavior and empirical evidence that fail to find such consistency. In 1968 Walter Mischel and Donald Peterson found that correlation between objective behavioral measures to be very low and challenged supporters of stable personality to explain this. Authors review such attempts in relation to consistency of extraversion, honesty, and dependency. Somewhat interesting link found between bias and consistency of behavior because biases tend to shape perceptions, therefore by changing biases one change behavior despite the fact that person remains the same.
Professional Responses to the Challenge of 1968
Bem’s Revival of the Nomothetic-Idiographic Distinction; Methodological Objections and Alternative Empirical Approaches; Epstein’s Claims for the Power of Aggregation
This is a brief review of empirical research conducted in response to the challenge of 1968.
Making Sense of “Consistency” Correlations: Predictions Based on Single Observations; Predictions Based on Multiple Observations; The Relative Likelihood of Extreme Behaviors;
This is somewhat technical analysis of methodology of making behavioral predictions.
5 LAY PERSONOLOGY AND LAY SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
This chapter looks at conscious and more often unconscious use of phycology by regular people in their attempts to understand and predict behavior of others.
Qualitative Aspects of Lay Personality Theory; Quantitative Aspects of Lay Personality Theory
Here authors look at several empirical experiments demonstrating that lay people mainly use dispositional constructs of trait type. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches reviewed.
Lay Dispositionism and the Fundamental Attribution Error: Inferring
Dispositions from Situationally Produced Behavior; Slighting the Situation and Context in Favor of Dispositions; Overconfidence in Predictions Based on Dispositions; Dispositionism and the Interview Illusion; When Are Dispositional Data Useful?
This is a brief description of empirical support for all types Attribution error listed above.
The Sources of Lay Dispositionism: Perception and the Dispositionist Bias;
Differing Causal Attributions for Actors and Observers; Construal and the Dispositionist Bias; Statistics and the Dispositionist Bias; How Could We Be So Wrong?
Here authors look at all these errors of lay psychology, which nevertheless produces a good enough ability to predict behavior of strangers consequently generating at least some evolutionary benefits. Interestingly they draw a clear border separating psychology of prediction for intimates in persons live, which work according to different rules than for strangers.
6 THE COHERENCE OF EVERY DAYS OCIAL EXPERINCE
Scientific Disentangling versus Real-World Confounding: Scientific Disentangling of Person and Situation; Real-World Confounding of Person and Situation; Audience-Induced Consistency and Predictability.
This is a more detailed look at seemingly inconsistent real live experience of predicting behavior based on traits and scientific empirical studies that show high dependency on situation and low levels of consistency. Authors seems to see reasons for this in scientific methodology that carefully separates person and situation, while in real live it is just plain impossible. One interesting point is that because other people expect consistency, individuals behave according to usual patterns even if they would prefer to do otherwise.
When People Create Their Own Environments: Choosing and Altering Situations; Responsiveness to Others’ Needs for Predictability
This is about people driving situation into direction they expect it to move. Experimental results demonstrate that typically cooperative or non-cooperative behavior causes counterpart reply in kind, leading to confirmation of expectations. Another point is made that people often commit upfront to some kind of behavior and then follow through whether they want it or not in order to maintain relationships.
Continuity of Behavior over the Lifespan
Here authors are dealing with seemingly contradictory to person / situation supremacy fact that individual behavior usually quite consistent over lifespan of individual. The explanation they come up with is combination of need to maintain specific image of self for external consumption and general stability of situation, which makes individual to apply consistently the patterns of behavior that were successful in the past.
Situations, Construals, and Personality: The Utility of Lay Personology Reconsidered; The Search for More Powerful Conceptions of Personality
Here authors present their view on limited usefulness of lay psychology, insufficiency of traditional trait psychology, and need to move beyond in direction of more scientifically provable psychological approaches in 5 different areas such as:
- Goals and Preferences
- Competencies and capacities
- Subjective representation of situations
- Attributional styles and perceptions of personal efficacy
- Conceptions of self
7 THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF CULTURE
Situational Determinants of Culture: Effects of Ecology, Economy, and Technology; The Situation of the “Middleman” Minority
This chapter is about external factors that to large extent define behavior not only individuals, but also development of culture that individuals born into and raised that in turn define rule of behavior, expectations, and reactions to behavior of other people. Authors look at three well described in details specific cultures: American Plain Indians culture, American general culture as described by Tocqueville, and generic culture of “middleman minority” such as Jews in Europe or Chinese in Malaysia.
Culture, Ideology, and Construal: The Protestant Vision and the Growth of Capitalism; Associationism and Economic Development; Collectivism versus Individualism; Social Context and Attribution in East and West; Social Class and Locus of Control; Regional Differences in the United States as Cultural Differences; Enforcement of Cultural Norms
Here authors look at role of culture on construal – the second leg of social psychology tripod. This is look at how different cultures foster individualistic versus collectivistic approach to the world. As usual it is based on West vs. East cultural differences, Protestant ethic as related to capitalism, and such. It also somewhat unusually discusses regional cultural differences in America and ways and methods used to enforce cultural norms.
Cultures as Tension Systems: Cultural Change in America; Blacks and Whites in the American South; Traditional Japanese Culture and Capitalism;
This is discussion of how tension within culture impact people and how need to resolve these tensions lead to change and transformation of culture. The cases selected for review are Irish and Blacks in America, and story of Japanese accommodating their culture to capitalism.
Traits, Ethnicities, and the Coordinates of Individual Differences: Can Ethnicities Substitute for Traits? Why Is Ethnicity an Increasingly Important Factor in Modern Life?
This is about persistence of cultural traits in minds and behavior of individual even long after external circumstances that caused formation of these traits in culture long gone. It in turn leads to appreciation of ethnicity as an important factor of contemporary live. Authors seem to be disturbed by recent history of simultaneous convergence of economic and political system around more or less democratic market based environment and increased divisions between ethnicities within countries and between countries.
8 APPLYING SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Methodological Lessons for Research Practitioners and Consumers: The Value of “True Experiments”; The Hawthorne Saga
This is somewhat more technical review of methodology of psychological research, its successes and multiple shortcomings.
When “Big.” Interventions Fail: Situationism, Liberalism, and the Politics of Intervention; A Case History: The Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study
Here is a few cautioning tales about attempts to use psychology as tool in political meddling in lives of people. It retells a couple of stories of failed large-scale interventions.
When “Small” Interventions, Succeed: Lewinian Discussion Groups and Democratic Procedures; “Modeling” Effects on Prosocial Behavior; Interventions that Encourage Minority-Student Success; Distal versus Proximal Interventions
Correspondingly here author provides review of “successful” interventions on the small scale.
Labeling and Attribution Effects in the Classroom: Social Labels and Self-Fulfilling Expectations; Labeling versus Exhortation to Achieve Behavior Change; Motivational Consequences of Superfluous Inducements; Attributions for Classroom Success and Failure;
This is a very interesting and important part on influence of self-perception and framing and overall psychological conditioning on human actions and, most important, results. The exciting part is derived from experiment with random assignment of “talented versus less than talented” frame to children with consequent results of higher levels of success for “talented”. The malleability of human achievement by level of expectation opens an interesting path for improvement.
Subjective Perceptions and Objective Health Consequences: Placebo Effects and Reverse Placebo Effects; The Beneficial Effect of Forewarning and Coping Information; The Health Consequences of Perceived Efficacy and Control
Here author discusses an impact of psychology of perception on results using placebo effects, demonstrating its significance, correspondingly expanding notion of practical value of this discipline.
Everyday Application of Social Psychology
The final part is somewhat philosophical, discussing constrained vs. unconstrained notions of human nature and moving quite decisively to the side of unconstrained view as much more consistent with knowledge obtained from empirical psychological research.
MY TAKE ON IT:
As much as I like psychological research and find it enchanting to look at results of experiments in these areas, I find it disturbing and even unacceptable that effective psychological manipulation developed based on this science is becoming tool in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. For me the freedom of individual to live any way this individual desires is the highest possible value in itself and should not be infringed by external interference. Certainly it is inevitable while human being is formed during childhood and maturation, but it is unacceptable when it is used to direct actions of mature adults. It is always good to remember that previous generations of engineers of human soul burned human bodies on the stake because they sincerely believed that they saving souls of these bodies. That’s why I do not accept normality of the attitude when somebody else, either bureaucrat or politician would use tools developed from psychological research to manipulate people to act the way they want.
20160220 The Evolution of Everything
The main idea of this book is that evolution is not something limited to survival of biological entities after their change via random modifications in DNA, but rather all encompassing process covering existence, change, and development of all known entities including human cultures. This process occurs slightly differently and at different speed in various areas, but the logic of the process is always the same: maintenance of somewhat wide variety of features and processes in stable environment with survival of only part of them when environment changes significantly enough for the least consistent with new environment entities not to be able to reproduce themselves, resulting in the next generation’s range of features being shifted to fit the new environment.
Prologue: The General Theory of Evolution
Here author discusses application of evolutionary principles to society, culture, and history overall, concluding that it all is result of human actions, but not human planning, therefore being driven more by evolutionary processes than by intelligent design of geniuses and great individuals. This book is pretty much review of various areas of human knowledge and activities demonstrating consistent movement of ideas away from skyhook (intelligent design explanations) to cranes (evolutionary processes occurring without any plan and/or intelligent design).
1 The Evolution of the Universe
This is a brief review of development of human knowledge and understanding of physical world around them that starting with Lucretius and centuries later promoted by Newton removed one by one skyhooks of supreme intelligence in its explanation and modeling, resulting in human ability dramatically change world via application of technology.
2 The Evolution of Morality
This is about evolution of morality from set of rules allegedly established by superior being to its understanding as set of rules established by people with consequent ability to change morality dramatically for example from rejection of homosexuality to rejection of individuals who refuse accept homosexuality within one generation. There is also interesting discussion of common law which is defining lives of people in Anglo-Saxon cultures to much higher extent than formal laws establish by written codes. It is reviewed in contrast to French driven cultures of continental Europe where written code rules supreme.
3 The Evolution of Life
This is a brief look at development of ideas of evolutionary biology with main protagonists being Darwin, Gould, Dawkins, and Wallace. It has somewhat interesting point at the end of chapter that we are probably on the brink of switch to culture driven genetic evolution when human would be able to chose and design biological features of their children.
4 The Evolution of Genes
This is discussion of genetic evolution including our limited understanding of genes working. Especially interesting point is that what was considered a junk DNA just a dozen years ago looks more and more as quite functional part of the biological processes. It also points to the new understanding of dynamics of gene expression that links nature and nurture in way unimaginable before, making this old dispute practically meaningless.
5 The Evolution of Culture
This is a look at human evolution in cultures going through specific points: evolutions of language, cities, marriage, and institutions overall.
6 The Evolution of the Economy
In discussion of evolution of economy author seems to be inclined to support “invisible hand” set of views proposed by Adam Smith. Authors even calls him Adam Darwin to stress the idea that market economy is evolutionary process that is moving with lightening speed driven by changes in consumer needs and wishes. Author’s example from history of friendly societies providing medical services versus national healthcare provided by Leviathan correctly points to deficiencies of Leviathan’s services, but does not look at reasons of why inferior solution won handedly in Europe and made huge gains in USA over the last century.
7 The Evolution of Technology.
The chapter on technology is somewhat surprising because it avoids enumeration of technology achievements, but rather looks at link between technology and science finding that it is technology and human needs driving science, including fundamental science, not other way around as we all taught at school. It is supported by research and just plain observation that government spending of public money did not produce that many benefits, but rather starved real science of resources.
8 The Evolution of the Mind
This chapter is about development of ideas about human mind or more specifically about mind vs. body. It goes thru ideas of Spinoza and idea of little homunculus in the head representing self then moving all the way to current understanding of neural networks. Strangely enough it also discusses issue of determination vs. free will despite what seems to be a logical inference from neural network model – it is as meaningless question as nature vs. nurture.
9 The Evolution of Personality
This chapter somewhat based on work of Judith Harris on twins and traces evolution of attitudes in human behavior in such key areas as violence and sexuality. The key here is practical decline of social, cultural, and paternal determinism in human behavior that is crowded out by individual freedom as dominant cultural feature.
10 The Evolution of Education
The chapter on education traces evolution of contemporary education thru Prussian militarized system design to condition individuals for role as soldiers and little cogs in industrial machine to its current mainly dysfunctional state as system serving mainly to transfer resources via government violence from productive people to educational bureaucrats. It ends with clear statement of hope that it will evolve in something more meaningful.
11 The Evolution of Population
Here author analyses evolution of attitudes to population growth starting with Malthusian fear of mass starvation, which, while rendered definitely wrong by advances agricultural productivity and changes in cultural attitudes, still serve as a great source of income go governmental “scientists”. Then it goes on discussing tragedies of implementation population growth restrictions in totalitarian China and quasi-democratic third world caused by uncritical attitude of elites in these countries to theories promoted by governmental “scientists” of the West. Luckily for the people of Western democratic countries their elite has not enough political power to cause similar damage to them.
12 The Evolution of Leadership
This chapter traces evolution of management and leadership from general believes in top down management and leadership by great individuals to amazing fact that economy prospers and any population does much better overall when there is little if any centralized control and individuals free to act doing whatever they need to improve their lives on their own. The great example reviewed is Hong Cong vs. Mainland China.
13 The Evolution of Government
This is a very brief of ideological history of evolution of attitudes to government that is still in the middle of struggle between various forms of fascism including liberal fascism that look at government as supreme being capable to solve all problems and more libertarian / American Conservative approach that looks at government as necessary evil that should be limited to areas where use of violence is necessary. There is an interesting reference to research on nature of government as violent machine of order based on gang development in American prisons.
14 The Evolution of Religion
This chapter looks at religious ideologies as a powerful explanatory tool that helps handle multiple unknowns in human live and cope with their consequences. There is nice touch about climate change god currently worshipped by elite in developed countries.
15 The Evolution of Money.
This chapter on money nature and evolution discusses successful system of Scottish system of independent free market money issue that provide high levels of monetary stability from 1716 to 1844 when Scotts were forced to move to British currency. It is obvious that in XIX and XX centuries monetary system went through development of central banking in practically all developed country with hugely detrimental consequences for economy. Author discusses inferiority of central banking and expresses hopes that new mobile electronic money would help to overcome the current monetary problems.
16 The Evolution of the Internet
This is discussion of Internet evolution with stress on development of block chains and history of Bitcoins.
Epilogue: The Evolution of the Future
Author seems to believe that future as well as past belongs to evolutionary processes in all areas and creationists of all shades from religious Supernaturalists to central planners have very little ability to influence it. Obviously they still have a lot of coercive power, but it is a far cry from levels of power they held in the past.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I also believe in evolutionary self-development of everything so this book is a nice confirmation to my approach, which is a good thing. However I think that struggle is far from over and we’ll have decades, but not centuries fighting creationists of all sorts. The reason for this is human nature we have as hunter-gatherers highly dependent on environment with little to none ability to influence it so we always needed help of gods or great leaders to cope with it. Luckily we now have so much more technology and knowledge that we becoming quite good in handling environment so, I believe after some time of getting used to it, the vast majority of people will come to conclusion that we do not need creationist method of thinking anymore.
20160213 Made to Stick
The main idea of this book is that it is possible, while unusual, to communicate ideas and information in such way that they stick in the memory. Such marvelous feat of communication skills is actually not that impossible to achieve, providing one uses 6 key principles of communications that author provides:
Authors provide mnemonic so one could always remember the key: SUCCES.
INTRODUCTION: WHAT STICKS?
In introduction authors retell a couple of stories that stick in the memory such as story of the stolen kidney and discuss the very notion of stickiness, meaning that communicated ideas stick in people’s memory and can prompt them to act in the way intended by communicator: for example decrease consumption of popcorn in movie theaters.
CHAPTER 1. SIMPLE
In discussion of Simplicity authors provide example of simple communication transmitting huge information in practically one word such as: “Low-fare Airline for Southwest”, prompting its employees to pay most attention to costs of service. Consequently authors provide tips of how to achieve it:
- Put lead upfront of message and spent most efforts on its polishing
- Preferably compress essence of message into small space like “It’s economy, stupid”
- Avoid decision paralysis: it is better to make wrong decision than nothing at all
- Communicate one meme at the time. Too many memes will fight for the place in memory with high probability of none winning.
The chapter also includes what authors called Idea Clinic: example of how to convert ineffective message into effective. The final point is that a perfect example of simplicity use in communications is represented by the various proverbs that convey sometimes very complex ideas in very simple way.
CHAPTER 2. UNEXPECTED
This chapter is about use of unexpected in order to get attention of receivers. Without success in getting attention, there is now way to get message through regardless of how well it designed and how important it is. As typical, authors provide a number of examples and Clinic. A very impressive example from journalism 101 is “It will be no school on Thursday” story. The chapter also discusses methods of how to maintain attention after it was obtained and use of “Gap Theory” of Curiosity in order to achieve this.
CHAPTER 3. CONCRETE
Authors start chapter on “concrete” by retelling “sour grapes” fable to demonstrate masterful use of very concrete material – grapes for communicating a complex idea of self-deception in service of self-image. The authors go into discussion of concrete versus abstract using such examples as “concrete V8 engine” vs. “abstract high-performance engine”. In this framework they present “the Velcro theory of Memory” and discuss advantage of concrete notions and images for memory retention of ideas, improvement in coordination between people, and such. As illustration they provide “clinic” example and discuss success story.
CHAPTER 4. CREDIBLE
The discussion of credibility is build on example of discovery of bacterial nature of ulcer after decades of everybody’s believing in its psychological character by two low level doctors and how this discovery was communicated to wider medical community using highly dramatic methods of increasing credibility. Then it goes into methods of increasing credibility: use power of vivid details, comply with Human-scale principle, and obtain testable credentials. Authors also pay special attention to statistics suggesting using it sparingly and more as tool of comparison rather then numerical presentation. A very nice example provided in “clinic”. Instead of statement probability of shark attack is so and so, it could be “death from accident with deer is hundred times more probable than from shark attack”.
CHAPTER 5. EMOTIONAL
Emotional content of message is highly important not that much for convincing people as for making them act on the content of message. This is achieved by linking message to preexisting ideas with high emotional content: children and childhood, parents and elders, and self-respect and self-interest. A very interesting example is answer to “Why to I need study algebra?” by planting emotional message: “Algebra is mental weight lifting so you’ll get a lot smarter in all areas by exercising your brain”.
CHAPTER 6. STORIES
The final part is about recommendation to arrange message as a story. The story is typically a form of entertainment and, if well designed, tend to dramatically improve retention of message because the human brain is developed to place all events and occurrences within a story logically consistent and preferably with content eliciting strong associations and emotional reaction. One important idea authors convey is to use real live stories rather then some concocted narrative. It is because real live stories are not only rich in details that are difficult to invent and then remember, but also because such stories quite often resonate with people’s own experience if not directly, then by easily fitting into it as possibility. So stress for inclusion of a story moves from invention to spotting them in real live. As example authors provide story of a guy who lost lots of weight by eating Submarine sandwiches.
EPILOGUE. WHAT STICKS
At the end authors reference to their experience as lecturers and link steps by steps objective of communication to lecture audience to their SUCCESS framework in very nice and memorable way:
- Pay Attention: UNEXPECTED
- Understand and remember CONCRETE
- Agree / Believe CREDIBLE
- Care EMOTIONAL
- Be able to act on it STORY
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this book potentially useful for just about anybody who has something to say and wants people to hear and remember it. Moreover with its very good examples and “clinic” analysis it could have value as reference material / check list when preparing whatever message one wants to deliver. Certainly examples of how this works are pretty good, but it is hard to say how big is share of framework in this success versus just plain luck and circumstance of audience being ready to accept the message. In any case the idea to organize message in this framework looks promising to me.
20160206 The Hundred Years Marathon
The main idea is simple: China is the growing political, economic, and military threat to Western Democratic world due to its totalitarian character deeply enrooted in its culture and history. This threat is not immediate, but real, growing, and all but inevitable in the future. It comes from the world view of Chinese leadership and majority of people in which world is perceived in hierarchical terms where somebody always is a hegemon at the top and the only legitimate hegemon is China. The last couple of centuries and up until now, with West having overwhelming power, are considered an aberration that is in remedial processes to be completed by 2049 – 100 years anniversary of Chinese communist revolution.
Introduction: Wishful Thinking
Here author describes his history as an eminent American expert on China and his slow evolution over decades that led him from very pro-China position when it was seen as moving in the same direction as West and destined to join Western democracies as fully pledged member of civilized democratic world, to the new and more realistic understanding that Chine is moving to its own drum that has nothing to do with democracy and which final objective is not to join, but rather subdue Western world to its will. Author articulate 5 basic assumption that were driving him and many other experts in wrong direction:
False Assumption 1: Engagement brings complete cooperation
False Assumption 2: China is on the road to democracy
False Assumption 3: China is the fragile flower
False Assumption 4: China wants to be and is just like us
False Assumption 5: China’s hawks are week
- The China Dream
This chapter starts with idea of Chinese Dream presented by current leadership as mainly benign collectivistic alternative to individualistic and materialistic American Dream. Author looks under the hood of this idea and sees a very different picture of the Chinese Dream as dream of being a hegemon in strictly hierarchical world. As a very recent historical example author looks at Chinese – Soviet relationship from early 1940s to 1970, when Chinese suck out all help they could: financial, economic, military, and technological and then turned over on their ally as soon as they felt to be strong enough to do it.
- Warring States
This is a brief review of cultural roots of contemporary Chinese attitudes, which author sees in history and stories of warring states. This rich history and literature developed around it generated rules that Chinese strongly adhere during what he calls Hundred-Year Marathon (19949-2049 they dead set to win:
- Induce complacency to avoid alerting your opponent.
- Manipulate your opponent advisers.
- Be patient – for decades, or longer to achieve victory.
- Steal your opponent’s ideas and technology
- Military might is not the critical factor for winning long-term competition
- Recognize that hegemon will take extreme actions to retain its dominant position
- Never lose sight of shi (deceiving other to act in your interest)
- Establish and employ metrics for measuring situation and progress to the objective
- Always be vigilant to avoid being deceived by others
- Only China Could Go to Nixon
This is somewhat contrarian to tradition look at US-China re-approach of 1970s when active part is not Nixon, but rather Chinese leaders who successfully used USA as protector against Soviet Union and opened way to attach themselves to a new host from which they could suck out financial and technological assistance without giving in anything really important to them, like their totalitarian power.
- Mr. White and Ms. Green
This chapter is not that much about China as about American elite’s attitude to China discussed using real story of two Chinese defectors one – Mr. White had truly rejected Chinese totalitarism and another one Ms. Green was a Chinese spy sent to promote disinformation. Despite events consistently confirming predictions and warnings of Mr. White and similarly consistently showing falsity of information from Ms. Green, American diplomatic and intelligence elite continued support and listened to Ms. Green, while rejecting Mr. White.
- America, the Great Satan
This is about Chinese version of typical for all totalitarians attitude to America as the main cause of their troubles. In this case it is Tiananmen Square events. Author finds interesting extent to which Chinese overestimate their importance in American political decisions and actions.
- China’s Message Police
This chapter is about what is commonly known in communist world as ideological struggle. It’s typical expression presented by tight message control inside and attempts to impose such control outside Chine via rewards and punishments to journalists and other opinion makers.
- The Assassin’s Mace
This chapter is about military aspects of future confrontation between USA and China. It lists Chinese fears of specific versions of American military intervention and potential response against them directed to various methods to neutralize American technological, Naval, and Air power superiority.
- The Capitalist Charade
Here author somewhat removes veil of deception from Chinese economic policy, which is typically presented as movement to expansion of economic freedom and private enterprise. In reality Chinese leadership sees such developments as tools of limited use necessary to obtain technology and investment. As soon as gap with America is closed, Chinese would move to massive expansion of government sector at the expense of private sector leading to quick achievement of overwhelming economic superiority.
- A China World Order in 2049
Here author looks at the world that could be if China successfully wins marathon. It would be the world where American values of individualism and freedom substituted by values of collectivism, hierarchy, and submission. That would be “harmonious world” with strict hierarchy and Chinese leadership at the top.
- Warning Shots
In this chapter author reviews recent events demonstrating that Chinese leadership seems to begin believing that they are ahead of schedule in this marathon, consequently demonstrating increasing aggressive activities in South China See, expanding influence in Africa, conducting barely masked cyber war, and exerting pressure against any media who dare criticize them elsewhere in the world.
- America as a Warring State
The final chapter is somewhat optimistic based on American history of confronting previous threats from totalitarian regimes with aspiration to world dominations such as Japanese Imperialists, German Nazis and Soviet communists. In typically American way author suggests 12 steps program to deal with Chinese hegemonic aspirations:
- Recognize the Problem
- Keep Track of your Gifts
- Measure Competitiveness
- Develop Competitiveness Strategy
- Find Common Ground at Home
- Build a Vertical Coalition of Nations
- Protect The Political Dissidents
- Stand up to Anti American Competitive Conduct
- Identify and Shame Polluters
- Expose Corruption and Censorship
- Support Prodemocracy reformers
- Monitor and Influence Debates between China’s Hawks and Reformers.
However the most important thing should come first: recognize that we are competing in Marathon and that if we lose in this competition then our way of live, our freedom, and prosperity will go away.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I completely share author’s concerns about Chinese totalitarian intent, actions, and success to date. However I am much more optimistic, probably because I have very intimate knowledge of internal live of similar mature totalitarian system and understand its intrinsic weakness often hidden for outsiders, even if they deeply involved in learning and analysis of such system. There are several main weaknesses of totalitarians like contemporary China. The first one is internal – it could never deliver on promises of better life for its people because of intrinsic corruption of the system that drives up cost of transactions and distorts decision-making, rending fulfillment of promises to population of better live just impossible. The second one is external – deep dependency on external world to provide resources and technology to enable totalitarians to compete successfully. As soon as Chinese action cause recognition of Chinese intentions, the flow of investment, technology, and trade would dry out in no time leaving China to its own devices that would not be sufficient to compete effectively. The third weakness is that any attempt of using whatever advantages China seemingly has in economic area to monopolize anything and dictate rules of game would inevitably encounter economic reaction quite detrimental to any such attempt. Gould example is recent story of rare earth metals.
Finally history demonstrated that in previous confrontations America was always recognizing growing danger extremely slow, mainly because the majority of people are too busy living their own lives and do not pay attention. Even when significant number of intellectuals in America starts pointing to it, the reaction mainly is “Let’s wait and it will go away”, which obviously never eve happened. It was always required to have a big shock either in form of loosing Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor or sudden recognition that Soviets took over all of Easter Europe and attached it to their Empire for Americans to recognize danger to their way of live and respond forcefully. However when such response came it always was successful in destroying enemy either via unrestricted war or slow moving economic and technological attrition. It is not possible to tell which way it will turn out with China, but I am sure that eventually America will win Marathon and China join civilized western, individualistic and free world.
20160130 Doomed to Succeed
The main idea is to demonstrate, using historical narrative, that despite consistent treatment of Israel by every administration as nuisance that prevents better relations with resources and population rich Muslim world, US-Israel relations somehow tend to be good and close due either to large number of Jews among politically active Americans, or geopolitical expediency during Cold War, or some other unpredictable benefits to America from these relations. Another significant consideration is that in reality Arab kings and dictators most of all concerned with their own survival and ready cooperate with everybody including Israel and devil if this is what needed to assure it. This survival concern actually invalidates all traditional concerns of American elite about Arab’s being less inclined to cooperate with USA if America maintain close relations with Israel. This issue just is not that relevant for their main concern.
L The Evolution of U.S. Policy Toward Israel
This chapter is about Truman and his administration attitude to Middle East. Generally it was combination of sympathy with hostility typical for all future attitudes. On one hand Truman felt for Jews so much that he extended recognition to Israel. However not so much that to sell them weapons to defend themselves, keeping embargo and even threatening to forbid individual Americans to provide supplies to Israel at their own expense. Even so, it was too much for the State department that was strongly against formal recognition, leave alone any help. Israel was saved by Stalin’s order to Czechoslovakia to supply weapons. It seems to be that at this point only Cold war consideration of allowing Israel to become Stalin’s outpost on Middle East somewhat cooled anti-Semitism of American diplomatic and national security elite.
- The Eisenhower Administration and the Pursuit of Arab Allies
With the threat of pushing Israel into Soviet camp left behind, Eisenhower administration moved strongly to Arab side interfering on behalf Egypt when British, French, and Israel invaded Suez after canal’s nationalization. As usual Arabs paid with ingratitude by establishing close military and political relations with Soviet camp.
- The Kennedy Administration: Breaking Taboos and Pursuing a New Balance.
Despite generally continuing pro-Arab policies and even providing huge economic help to Egypt, Kennedy administration also extended links to Israel and even sold advanced weapons, albeit without much enthusiasm and trying to use these sales to stop Israel’s nuclear program. Overall Kennedy administration was much more attentive to American Jewish community because their support for Democratic Party was very important during election and seeing support of Israel as benefit to this community.
- Lyndon Baines Johnson: Emotional Ties but Constrained by Vietnam
Even more positive relations become during Johnson administration mainly because Johnson believed that Israel is an asset in Cold War games. However American support did not extended to such length as to enforce previous treaties and promises that Straits of Tiran remain open for Israel. Johnson administration also worked very hard to prevent Israel from attacking first at minimum delaying Israel action. However at this point Israel started to be more and more like an ally albeit not equal, poorly treated, but reliable because it had nowhere else to go.
- Nixon and Ford: Dysfunction, War, and Interim Agreements
As usual American administration started by trying to accommodate Arabs and as usual it failed. However logic of Cold War in which Arabs tended to support Soviets forced Nixon administration to support Israel. This support nevertheless was quite limited, so for example for the first days of 1973 war there was no American supplies to Israel for the first few day and only when it become clear that Israel could lose, US brought in massive shipments of weapons and ammunition dwarfing Soviet effort. As always this support was supplanted with strong pressure on Israel to agree to cease-fire when it start winning. However US responded strongly when Soviet Union threatened direct intervention, demonstrating once again that Israel survival is supported by US, while Israel’s winning not that much.
- The Carter Presidency: The Pursuit of Peace and Constant Tension with Israel
Carter’s administration was the most anti-Semitic until recently. Carter strongly supported Palestinians seemingly believing that their human rights include killing Jews and pushing them out of Arab lands. Carter even tried to sabotage Egypt-Israel separate peace by inserting Palestinian question in negation, but eventually he not only accepted it, but also was instrumental in achieving agreement. Somehow author links Carter’s attitude to his guilt for not participating in civil rights movement that he tried to suppress by supporting Palestinians, but it does not sound as something meaningful.
- The Reagan Administration and the Policy of Duality
Generally supportive to Israel Regan administration was as usual much more inclined to listen to Arab’s concerns legitimate or not than to Israel’s. Hence rebuke for attack against Iraqi nuclear program, rejection of Israel concerns about providing high tech military equipment to Saudis and such. It is an interesting fact that one of the strongest anti-Israel voices in administration was half-Jewish Weinberger. Overall Reagan administration managed to keep good relations with Arabs and support Israel security needs at the same time, the feat considered impossible by many within and without administration.
- George H. W. Bush and Israel: Discord and Responsiveness
Contrary to Reagan Bush had no good feelings to Israel and typically for American elite of his generation was slightly anti-Semitic with trace of contempt to these pushing Jews. It showed in his attitude to multiple Jewish issues especially during Gulf war when Bush applied pressure to prevent Israel retaliation against direct attacks by Saddam. It also was on display when Bush used loan guaranties for resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel to put pressure to stop settlements. Author characterizes this period as “substance was good, the tone was difficult, and the readiness to disagree in public clear”.
- The Clinton Administration and Israel: Strategic Partners for Peace
The Clinton administration got deeply involved in Israel conflict with Arabs on the side of leftist peace movement, which was widely supported by leftist American Jews affiliated with Democratic Party. This resulted in Oslo agreement when terrorist PLO was recognized as legitimate player and received territory of West Bank and Gaza in exchange for feel good mainly meaningless declarations. The fact these declarations were meaningless was obvious from the beginning due to deep reluctance of PLO even to repeat these declaration in Arabic, leave alone to live up to them. Despite campaign of terror against Jews unleashed by PLO as soon as its leaders felt entrenched enough in newly acquired territories that lead to higher number of Jewish “victims of peace” than number of Jewish victims of all previous wars, Clinton administration and Israeli left kept pushing for final negotiated solution all the way until Arafat firmly rejected it at Camp David. The final political result of Clinton’s effort was practical destruction of Israeli peaceful left in polls from which they still did not recover 20 years later.
- Bush 41: Terror, Partnership, and Bureaucratic Divisions
Contrary to his father Bush junior, being evangelical, was much more sympathetic to Israel, which did not prevented his administration from knee jerk reaction to support Arab demands and consistently demand Israel to go extra ten miles in each negotiation. After 9/11 attack it even come to the point when blaming Israel for Arab terror generated forceful rebuke from Sharon, who stated that Israel would not accept fate of Czechoslovakia in 1938. This demonstrated that there is only so much that Israel would sacrifice for peace and it does not include national suicide. As usual when White House was somewhat more sympathetic to Israel it was compensated by increase in anti-Israel feelings and actions from the State department.
- Obama and Israel: Support for Security, Little Chemistry, and Constant
The final administration reviewed in the book – Obama’s is given all conceivable and some inconceivable benefits of doubt, but even if author was important part of this administration, he admits that friction with Israel were guaranteed by Obama’s priorities and attitudes that include deep sympathy to Muslim world and determination to free it from Western influence. Interestingly enough the author does not deny Obama’s sympathy, but claims that security cooperation was increased and quite significantly under Obama. Author also allocates lots of space to internal dynamics of pro and anti Israel struggle of factions within administration claiming that steadily deteriorating relations due mainly to change of advisers. Contrary to previous administrations White House under Obama and State Department traditionally populated by Muslim sympathizers are now clearly on the same page and work hand in glove to advance the agenda of suppressing and eventually eliminating Israel.
- Lessons from the Past and Implications for the Future
Author restates here his believes that whatever differences exist between USA and Israel, they will be dealt with in mutually accepted way and relations will remain strong as far as eye can see, especially after author’s expected rejection of Obama pro-Islamic approach by the next administration of either party. However author demonstrates that he is not that sure about this “doomed to succeed” thing by giving such recommendations as investing in education of American minorities about Israel, stressing non-partisan character of Israel related issues, and such. Paradoxically, it seems that at least some reason to expect improvement in US-Israel relations is turmoil at Middle East where different shades of Islamic supremacist movement continue savage war against each other, old-fashioned Middle East kingdoms, leftover secular dictatorships, and Western world. Within this bloody mess USA will have to keep its good relations with Israel because there is nobody else there with stable democratic system, civilized western oriented population, and military/intelligence capability to provide reliable support to American interests in the region.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This long history of American – Israel relations is pretty interesting and contains some new information that I was not familiar with before. Unfortunately nearly all of this information is pretty consistently indicates that these relations always were complex and difficult mainly because American politicians in power normally look at Israel as unwanted ally useful only due to some temporary reasons either internal or external with lots of negatives quite deleterious to this usefulness. I am not that optimistic about inevitability of success in these relations. With Muslim population in US growing, leftists including many American Jews becoming increasingly anti-Semitic, memory of Holocaust becoming more and more distant, and general tendency of humanity to blame Jews for everything, there is only one hope for Israel: to become so rich and technologically powerful that it could stand alone without support from outside either economic or political or military. Such support was historically provided by Soviets in 1948, France from 1950s until late 1960s, USA from 1970s until recently, but it seems to be no other place for similar support to come in the future. Certainly Israel is trying to prepare for abandonment by USA and works hard to establish strong relationship with China and India, but I would not bet on success in this endeavor. Therefore logically the achievement by Israel of ability to survive on its own is becoming paramount. The alternative to Israel’s survival self-sufficiency economically and military even against the whole world is annihilation. On other hand if survivability reliably achieved, Israel could be treated as equal partner if it can provide what others need. However I also have hope that not only USA, but the whole Western world will recognize that it has no choice but either fight and win its currently barely recognized war against movement for Islamic Supremacy or parish. I believe that eventually when presented with choice either convert to Islam, die, or fight seriously, the West will start fighting to win and winning would mean to bring Islamic world to civilization so Muslims would not only tolerate, but consider it normal and unremarkable that elsewhere in Muslim countries individuals will freely select what religion if any to belong to and Church or Hindu Temple or Atheist club or even synagogue would function in Mecca without any harassment whatsoever.
20160123 Good Profit
This book is part biography, part managerial philosophy, and part case studies of applications of this philosophy. The key overriding feature of this philosophy is respect for other people and understanding that they always act in their own interest anyway, so after effective selection of people with values and abilities in sync with company needs, the best way to achieve good results is to give these people freedom to decide and act as they see fit, providing that overall results are good and inevitable mistakes done in good faith and are source of analysis and new knowledge. The last, but not least feature of this philosophy is to provide big incentive to act in the interests of company and unlink value of incentives from formal position of individual in the company hierarchy. Practically it is a very interesting approach to deburaucratisation of large-scale organization with resulting huge increase in productivity of business and well being of its participants either owners, employees, or customers.
INTRODUCTION: A Win-Win Philosophy: This chapter describes an essence of the Koch business philosophy, which implementation led to spectacular results. Koch calls it Market Based Management (MBM) and it includes five dimensions: Virtue, Vision and Talents, Knowledge Processes, Decision Rights, and Incentives.
CHAPTER 1: The Glorious Feeling of Accomplishment. Life Lessons from My Father: This is narrative of Koch’s father Fred live with an interesting reference of his experience in Soviet Union that made him live long anticommunist.
CHAPTER 2: Koch After Fred. Building with Stones That Fit: This is story of Koch’s taking business over from his father and initial experiences that help in his development of MBM business philosophy.
CHAPTER 3: Queens, Factory Girls, and Schumpeter. The Incredible (Sometimes Terrifying) Benefits of Creative Destruction: This chapter is a small deviation into general theory of economics mainly expressing Koch’s libertarian approach developed not only from his father’s stories, but also from serious reading and clear-eyed analysis of reality. Here is a nice graph Koch included demonstrating link between economic freedom and prosperity:
Important thing in this chapter is Koch’s story of being on the wrong side of “Creative destruction”, surviving it, and learning lessons from it.
CHAPTER 4: Overcoming Bureaucracy and Stagnation. Economic Concepts to Set You Free: This is another discussion of economic philosophy as foundation of MBM philosophy and brief story of its implementation at Koch Enterprises.
CHAPTER 5: Learning from Adversity. Koch’s Major Failures in Applying MBM: This chapter is unusual in its concentration on Koch failures during MBM implementation. While brief, it is very useful in understanding of this philosophy and challenges in encounters in real live.
In this part Koch goes into details of his 5 components of MBM using one chapter per each.
CHAPTER 6: Vision. Guide to an Unknown Future: Business vision should be driven by future consumption because it is the only reason and meaning for production. Since future consumption patterns are unknowable the success of business depends on its leaders ability to envision as close as possible what it could be, what will be future consumer needs, how they could profitably satisfied, and what investments should be made now to be able to do it. Since future consumption is defined by future needs of consumers, the vision should be concentrated on people not things. Another point is that vision should be based on business capability not industry trends. As elsewhere Koch provides specific examples of how they did it.
CHAPTER 7: Virtue and Talents. Values First: In this chapter Koch makes important point about selection of people. The key here is that integrity and values are more important that talent and credentials. He provides 10 guiding principals for such selection and looks in details at how they applied in practice.
CHAPTER 8: Knowledge Processes. Using information to Produce Results: Koch is clear about his understanding of business as knowledge based activity so he made the Knowledge process an important part of MBM. It includes clearly defined knowledge sharing processes, external networks building, spared use of consultants, and, most important, process of conversion information into results. For sales and pricing he provides a nice diagram, representing core of his analytical framework:
CHAPTER 9: Decision Rights. Property Rights Inside the Organization: This part of MBM is probably the most important and unusual because it represents an attempt to turn Koch’s employees into virtual business owners by assigning clear-cut resources, duties, decision-making authority, and responsibilities to individuals. The result is maximization of individual involvement and effort in achieving result. Obviously it also minimizes tragedy of commons within the company.
CHAPTER 10: Incentives. Motivating the Right Behavior: The final part of MBM has somewhat psychological foundation derived from ideas of Maslow. The point is to use company not only as source of income for employees, but create such strong opportunities for self-actualization within the company that participation in the company business would be a significant source of meaning of live for everybody. The most interesting part of this is how it is done at Koch Enterprises.
CHAPTER 11: Spontaneous Order in Action. Four Case Studies in Market-Based Management: This is review of 4 real live cases with detailed break down into 5 MBM dimensions.
CHAPTER 12: Conclusion. The Real Bottom Line:
The final chapter is about implementation of MBM, how to succeed in it and what mistakes to avoid.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I am not get excited that often, but it is an exciting book. It is so nice to see somebody clearly formulating business philosophy based on virtual individual ownership within big organization and, much more important, being capable actually implement it in real live with such spectacular results. It is no wonder that Koch incite such open hate in all leftists whose core believe is based on primacy of collective and suppression of individual. Their reason for being is based on idea of higher productivity of the top down command system led by the best and brightest where individuals at the lower levels of hierarchy are not that important, while individual at the bottom are outright expendable. I think that Koch’s demonstration of by far superior business result is much more important reason for this hate, than money Koch gives to libertarian causes. At this point in time despite being in his 80s Koch seems begin to understand that in attacks against him from leftists and their media he encounters not misunderstanding between people who all want prosperity for everybody, but have difference in opinion how achieve it. Quite contrary he and we all should understand that when dealing with leftists we deal with power crazy people whose motivation is to be among best and brightest on the top and enjoy all perks that these positions would bring in top down command and control hierarchical society. We are not in dispute about opinions, but in civil war, even if so far it is non-shooting war, mainly because American culture is still highly individualistic and even libertarian, making leftists relatively week. However if leftists able fully utilize their current dominance in education and mass media, then concentration camps and basements with bullet to head as it was in Soviet Union or Communist China would not be that far away.
20160116 The Great Escape
Over the last several hundred years humanity achieved the great breakthrough in its ability to produce necessities for human live on continuously increasing scale and overcame previously deadly health and sanitary problems. There is potential setback for this development due to increasing inequality of income both within countries and between rich and poor countries. There is need to tackle both of these problems that author believes could be done by decreasing inequality and changing the way of how aid provided to developing world.
This book is about humanity’s escape from poverty and deprivation and author starts with movie analogy – escape from captivity in WWII and continue with his and his family story of escaping from poverty, diseases and early death, into contemporary affluence over just a few generations.
Introduction: What This Book Is About
Author’s stated intention is to look at what happened that allowed humanity escape from deprivation and how it is deeply connected to the growth in inequality. It is not only about money and resources, but also about health and general quality of live. A big part of discussion also involves consequences of inequality and general look at link between national income and national happiness.
- The Wellbeing of the World
Author begins the detailed analysis with relations between health and wealth and then looks at correlation between income and live expectancy in different countries. Generally both health and wealth improved in XX century, but with significant interruptions caused by World Wars and socialist experiments in Russia, China, and all over the world. At the end of chapter he looks at relationship between GDP per capita and population perception of happiness with happiness increasing until $3,200, then staying flat until about $15,000, after which it going quite dramatically up again.
PART I LIFE AND DEATH
- From Prehistory to 1945
This is review of historical change in mortality, health and live quality since prehistoric time with special stress on development in USA in XIX and the first half of XX centuries. It is best represented by the graph:
- Escaping Death in the Tropics
This chapter about mortality, its type and levels as related to income:
- Health in the Modern World
This is about health and live expectancy, again in relation to income. Here is an interesting graph for correlation between bio parameters such as height and income:
PART II MONEY
- Material Wellbeing in the United States
It is a review of economic development of USA, but main point is presented in graph of income inequality historical dependency on political events:
Author makes point that inequality outgrowing into plutocracy could choke economic development and consequently cause political instability.
6.Globalization and the Greatest Escape
Here author expands discussion from US to whole world. He notes that recent development allowed huge numbers of people around the world escape poverty and misery. However measurement of exact change is nearly impossible because of wide variety of human needs and demands dependent on culture, climate, and million other things. Correspondingly comparison of economic well being between countries is practically not possible for the same reasons. However, despite lack of reliable measurement, author pretty sure that global income inequality if growing and it creates tension between developed rich countries and the rest of the world.
PART Ill HELP
- How to Help Those Left Behind
This part is about western aid to developing world. Despite huge amount of resources spent, it is not particularly effective. More often than not it comes down to western bureaucrats taxing population to transfer wealth to bureaucrats and politicians in developing countries. Author reviews causes of this problem and multiple proposed solution, but does not see any specific way to overcome it.
Postscript: What Comes Next?
The final world is relatively optimistic when author expects that process of improvement will continue, albeit not without setback and in unequal tempo in different times and places.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is nice to see such well-documented and detailed description of process of improvement in human lives over extended period of time that shows no real indications of stopping or reversing. Information contained in this book confirms my opinion that we are still on the road of improvement, but it is not guarantied that we’ll continue on this road in the future. We still have to achieve more progress in developing world, but the most important improvement should occur in developed world where the quality of live pretty much stopped increasing in the last couple decades, despite dramatic improvement in technology. This stoppage has very little to do with capacities of developed societies to produce goods and services and everything to do with society institutions that define process of resource creation and allocation to individuals. Current processes often leave people unhappy even if they are doing not that bad materially, because humans need movement to the better and these movement is lacking. Moreover there is no such thing as constancy in quality of live so if it is not improving, then it is deteriorating. Normally people are not inclined to tolerate such deterioration, especially when they see other people doing better and better. Consequently we have to change existing processes and institutions to renew improvements in quality of live, that does not necessarily means improvement in availability of material resources exclusively. The alternative to such dramatic improvement, I am afraid could be self-destruction of civilization.
Human institutions are immaterial constructs of human mind that define rules of behavior and cooperation, providing kind of software on which human society runs. Institutions based on technology achieved by society and in turn define to significant extent cost of transactions in this society, making it more or less prosperous comparatively to the level supported by given level of technology. Institutions are highly path-dependent and therefore could be quite different in different societies even if they are at the same technological level, leading to quite different results in terms of lives people live in these societies. Institutions are constantly changing, however it is mainly incremental change at the margins that becomes obvious only during brief disruptive changes such as revolutions when old hollowed out institutions give way to the new ones, more or less fully developed within framework of old. Institutional analysis had to be much more fully included into economic analysis for us even to begin understand why some societies are highly prosperous, while others disastrous even at the same level of technology and similar level of natural resources availability.
Part I Institutions
1 An introduction to institutions and institutional change
Author defines institutions as rules of game in the society. Obviously rules of game strongly impact outcome that is economic and societal performance of society. Author differentiates institution from organizations, the former defining what people can or cannot do, while latter are groupings of people combined in order to achieve something. Author also stresses need to separate rules of game from strategies of game. Obviously different institutions lead to different outcomes and one of main interests here is how it happens and why and how institutions change. Author clearly understands that institutions created by individuals and in turn put restriction on actions of individuals, therefore creating very interesting dynamics of human interactions.
2 Cooperation: the theoretical problem
Here author explores the theoretical foundations of institutions – need for human cooperation. Cooperation is defining factor in economic performance, but it is difficult to sustain in non-repeating situations. Author reviews work of several researches of cooperation and concludes that institutions create environment when all situation could be treated as repetitive by substituting experience from encounters by compliance with institutional rules.
3 The behavioral assumptions in a theory of institutions
Here author looks at behavioral assumption normally used and suggests modifications. He reviews 7 neoclassical behavioral assumptions and their deficiencies. The key to understand these deficiencies comes from two aspects of human behavior: motivation and deciphering the environment.
4 A transaction cost theory of exchange
This chapter is about costs of transactions and role of institutions in defining these costs. The case made here is that robust institutions dramatically decrease cost of transactions for example institution of private property assure individual that investment into planting seeds would benefit him without huge expense of continuously watching and defending planted field. The benefits of such institution as money seem to be obvious and tremendous.
5 Informal constraints
Here author looks at institution as set of informal constrains, which seems to encompass much wider area of human activities than formal constrains and play very important role in human relations. The most important role is probably facilitation of development and change of institutions via mechanism of culture, which is at the end is just a totality of informal constrains and established perception that define behavior of individuals.
6 Formal constraints
Correspondingly this chapter is about role of institutions as formal constrains on human action. The formal constrains such as laws and regulations are just a formalized expression of informal constrains of culture. The formal constrains much less susceptible to enforcement than informal and therefore play outsized role in work of institutions.
This chapter is about enforcement of constrains, which actually defines effectiveness of institutions. Here author separately looks at self-enforcement of contracts and external enforcement both of which necessary for institutions ability to decrease cost of transactions.
- Institutions and transaction and transformation costs
Here author combines together results of previous discussion to finalize role of institutions in defining production and transaction costs.
Part II Institutional change
- Organizations, learning, and institutional change
This is about interaction between organizations and institutions. Especially important is interaction between organization and institutions when organization slowly changes institutions while developing of institution in turn could not only change, but also could destroy organizations. Author also looks in detail at the interplay between tacit and articulated explicit knowledge and how it impacts institutions, organizations, and, eventually, transaction costs.
- Stability and institutional change
This chapter is about stability of institutions and causes of their loosing this stability. Every institution carries inside causes of future change. The agent of change responds to incentives embodied into institutional framework. Author presents an interesting idea that change is caused by variation in relative prices that modify incentives within institutional framework until these incentives lead to dissatisfaction with existing framework and consequently to institutional change. The most important thing about change is that it is always incremental and consists in slow modification of institutional framework on the margins until at some point old framework is practically emptied out and falls, opening way for the new one. One necessary factor in this process is generation of ideology for the new framework within old one and significant group of people with deep ideological commitment to it.
- The path of institutional change
This is very interesting discussion of institutional change and its dependency on historical path of society’s development. This discussion as usually uses example of QWERTY to demonstrate path dependency in technology, but it expands this idea to all forms of institutions including political ones. Some examples in these areas are American Revolution with its Constitution and institutional revolution in Western Europe in XIX century when property rights substituted feudal rights as main method of resource allocation. An important note here is that similar changes in relative prices in two different societies lead to different institutional changes because they are path dependent and all societies have different paths. As example of this thesis author looks at the colonization of America by Spain and Britain. It was conducted according to the two different paths: one defined by Spanish and another by British society, leading correspondingly to institutions of Latin America and institutions of United States and Canada.
Part III Economic performance
12 Institutions, economic theory, and economic performance
This is more detailed look at theoretical implications of institutions on economic performance of society. Analysis of institutions is complex because, being just constructs of human mind, they could not be measured. However economic development of society could be used as proxy for analysis of institutional effectiveness. Eventually better institutions lead to lower transaction costs making for richer and more prosperous society. Author again looks at comparison of British-North American Path versus Spanish – South American for detailed analysis.
13 Stability and change in economic history
This chapter is about institutional change and its impact on complex and dynamic western economies and how it caused economic growth. This is a very brief overview of historical institutional changes and their link to technological changes over all known stages of development of human societies.
14 Incorporating institutional analyses into economic history: prospects and puzzles
The final chapter is about implementing result of institutional analysis into framework of overall economic analysis and some historical application that could follow from such development.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find ideas presented in this book highly consistent with what I know about history, economic development, and human psychology. I think that the next step should go beyond just analysis of the past, but rather develop a conscious approach to design of institution including their periodic updates in order to keep them at the most effective and efficient status according to currently achieved level of technology. Obviously any conscious design will always be clumsy and unsatisfactory because of the huge difference in ability of human mind to process complexity of the world represented in language and images and actual complexity of real world, which is higher by orders of magnitude. This posits need to maximizing freedom of individuals and groups to test various theories / ideologies in various places and freedom of competition between them so individuals could pick ones they like more. The key here should be avoiding violent competition that always imposed huge costs on institutional change.
20160102 The seven sins of Memory
The main idea is to summarize current knowledge about workings of human memory, and what kind of deficiencies it has. The bulk of text is allocated to discussion of 7 specific features of human memory and problems in causes in contemporary live. The overriding notion, however, is that human memory is completely different from artificial carriers of sounds and images of the past such as photos. It has reconstructive rather than recording and reproducing character, meaning that human memory is recreated every time at the moment of remembering and includes not only reactivation of neural networks created at the moment in past, but multiple networks created much later, opening memory to manipulation and making it unreliable. However it is not a bug, but feature very important for human evolutionary fitness.
Introduction: A Blessing Bestowed by the Gods
It starts with the story of a writer who unexpectedly encounters woman and learns that she sincerely believes that they were lovers once in the town of Yumiura. He does not remember women, but initially believes her only to find out later that such town does not exists, so her claims could not be true. From here author moves to other examples of memory failures, consequently coming up with seven key transgressions: Transience, Absent-mindedness, Blocking, Misattribution, Suggestibility, Bias, and Persistence. This book is a detailed look at memory transgressions based on results of latest research and logic of evolutionary fitness applied to explain these results.
- The Sin of Transience
The chapter on transience looks at foundational research of Ebbinghaus who produced experimental evidence of transience long time ago in 1885. This followed by formal diary based research to demonstrate reconstructive character of human memory and our ability to reshuffle, include, and/or exclude actual artifacts of our lives that left traces in the memory into this process. As example author reviews cases of Bill and Monica, various memory problems of baby boomers with research based on age groups comparison on memory tests. Afterword discussion goes into technical side of memory formation based on fMRI technology. At the end author provides some mnemonics to decrease memory transience.
- The Sin of Absent-mindedness
The second sin of memory is absent-mindedness nicely demonstrated by example of inability of National Memory Champion who is capable to remember huge amounts of information, at the same time forgetting to carry on simple tasks. The simple explanation seemingly supported by fMRI is the human tendency to automate familiar tasks by pushing them into unconscious. In short absent mindedness highly linked to attention paid or not paid to a subject. It also linked to event based prospective memory. In other words if intention to do something linked to an event that supposed to occur in the future, the possibility of realizing this intent usually increased. Another effective tool is to post reminders and to do planning.
- The Sin of Blocking
Blocking is inability to access something that one knows that he knows, but just cannot retreat from memory at the moment. Typical examples are names of people and objects. Often individual not only knows, but also can describe in details different characteristics, but fails to reproduce the name of an object. Author also discussing issue of suppressing painful memories, eventually concluding that recent phenomenal interest in this issue somewhat unjustified since there is very little scientific support of reality of suppression in healthy people, however it was demonstrated in individuals with damaged brains.
- The Sin of Misattribution
A typical misattribution case is when people remember things that never really happened. The experimental research demonstrated that it happens when brain files up gapes in the memory with something that logically fit based on previous experience. It is often the case with eyewitnesses of crimes. The real perception of events in this case is always fragmented and unclear because attention is not concentrated on details that witness is asked about during interrogation, so brain adds whatever is necessary to build complete picture. Author describes very interesting studies using fMRI and PET scanning in attempt to separate actual memory from later additions and misattributions. Similar problem occur when individual has brain damage causing difficulties in image recognition and/or false recognition such as seeing movie starts everywhere. Another interesting example is subconscious plagiarizing when people forget that they actually encountered some ideas and even texts in other individuals’ works and sincerely believe that they produce these ideas themselves.
- The Sin of Suggestibility
This is probably one of the most difficult to accept features of human brain when false memories could be planted intentionally or unintentionally so a person believes that something happened, which never really did. It is widely used in police investigation often leading to miscarriage of justice. Author discusses in details a famous case in 1990s when teachers were imprisoned after investigators managed to plant false memories of sexual abuse into minds of their students.
- The Sin of Bias
This problem as many other relates to the nature of memory as continuously constructive process when result is highly susceptible to impact of the new information obtained well after events under review. Author provides multiple examples from Ross Perot supporters’ modified memories of what they believed before his drop out from election bid, to memories of pre-game anticipation of Red Sox fans. In all cases the after event memories of pre-event believes are markedly different from actually recorded pre-game attitudes and believes. The typical human approach: “I knew it all along”. The sin of bias relates not only to the memory, but also to real time attitude and processing of perceptions. Author provides a wonderful example of impact of received information on behavior when inconsistency of such information with bias overrides biased attitude. The story goes like this: being a black man and walking at the night on the street in nice area author noticed fear that he generated in people he encountered who tried to avoid approaching him. However after he started whistling some melody from Vivaldi, the attitude changed dramatically. Instead of fear and vigilance he saw smiles and sympathetic interest. Obviously nothing changed in color of his skin, or dress, or anything, except that sound of baroque music sent signal that author is member of educated, non-violent, and friendly American middle class, rather then member of inner city violent lower class. Author also brings in split-brain studies to demonstrate that bias it one of regular methods of brain to make sense of environment with high levels of informational deficiencies.
- The Sin of Persistence
This one is about persistent memories that people have difficult time ridding off. Often it linked to traumatic events that had dramatic impact on individuals’ lives and consequently is continuously rerun in the memory in search of solution of the problem decreasing or even removing this impact. This memory feature is highly related to PTSD when memories practically torture people until some resolution is found.
- The Seven Sins: Vices or Virtues? End Matter
In the final chapter author not only suggests that all reviewed memory sins are also virtues from evolutionary point of view and goes on to demonstrate how all these sins could be instrumental in human survival and promote evolutionary fitness.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is very nice catalog of performance consequences of the simple fact that human memory technically is just reactivation on demand of randomly connected neural networks related to remembering event or fact. Consequently all memory sins look consistent with this idea and support evolutionary fitness. Here is how it happens in my opinion:
- Transience – every bio-electro-chemical network tends to deteriorate over time and without constant reactivation its ability to recreate original signal deteriorate correspondingly.
- Absent-mindedness – The is quite a narrow bandwidth between human receptors and environment therefore attention is very important in order to pick up key features of environmental situation at any moment. As soon as something ceases to be such key feature, it is out of memory and gets missed.
- Blocking – this is just a consequence of incomplete activation of neural network related to specific memory. The typical cause would be that instead of being invoked by unconscious mind and taking time before bringing it to the forefront, memory if consciously activated, for example in response to external questions. In this case brain just did not have time to fully activate all parts of related network.
- Misattribution – this one is probably the most interesting feature of human brain because it somewhat proves that memory is reconstruction, rather than retraction of previous state. In short activation of network related to memory at the time of its creation also activates related networks created much later.
- Suggestibility – It probably has the same mechanism as Misattribution with difference being conscious implant of additions and/or substitutions to existing memory network by external interlocutor.
- Bias – this is a wonderful and very important tool absolutely necessary in dealing with unknown. Without bias, correctly understood as ability to build future scenario of outcome from encountering unknown based on previously accumulated information, it would not be possible to survive. For example a human in natural environment who encountered unknown individual of big cat species would be fine if acts according to bias against big cats being predators, but would probably not live long if try to overcome bias and treat the cat too friendly.
- Persistence – Finally persistence of memory is probably a result of activation of critical networks related to survival that basically command to replay the painful memory again and again in order to find reliable solution in case of encountering situation again. Interestingly enough it seems that latest and most successful approach to treating PTSD is to replay situation multiple times until it become somewhat routine and response to it well defined. As soon as this response fully incorporated in survival toolkit, the emotional networks critical for survival cease to be activated when related memory invoked.
In short our memory is just part of survival machinery of hunter gatherers which works just fine as selected by evolutionary process, but need some external enhancements to make it effective in contemporary live.