Monday, April 19, 2004

Are Competitive Markets and Capitalists Good?

Assuming the definition of capitalists to be "an investor of capital in a business", then I would say capitalists are motivated by making money: they provide money with the expectation of receiving more money in return. Is this good or bad? In and of itself, making more money seems a hollow goal. Who wants to be remembered because they made a lot of money? And a good capitalist is captive to the needs of the market. The market is concerned with the efficient allocation of goods and services. Capitalists are pulled into markets where profits are higher. Capitalists help correct inefficiencies in the marketplace. But do they do good?

Competitive markets are silent on "good vs. bad". Is it better to have competitive markets? Yes. There is no more successful model for the efficient allocation of scarce goods and services. But does that mean it is good? Certainly, if it helps feed people, helps them have houseing, results in safer countries, then it is in the right direction.

But how might it not be good? It is not good if the benefit is not spread as widely as possible, resulting in great disparities in wealth. It is not good if market decisions are not being made with long-term information (i.e. the markets are not being short-sighted). Unfortunately, there are significant pressures (greed, entitlements, etc.) that work to keep disparities in wealth, especially between nations. And we all know how imperfect the information about long-term costs and benefits are; just look at our track record in the past 100 years. How can we know the long-term costs and benefits of something like nuclear energy when the technology hasn't even been around for very long? What are the long-term costs and benefits of burning fossil fuels at the rate we are burning them? Do we really know what will happen with all the carbon dioxide produced? Do we need our oceans and water supplies to be cleaner? What are the long-term costs and benefits of genetic engineering of plant and animal species? So many questions, so few answers. I don't trust our competitve markets to lead us in the right direction in such cases. Long-term costs are often ignored in favor of short-term benefits.

Moral choice, the choice between what is good or bad, needs to counterbalance the potential failures of the competitive market. I don't want to be governed by economists who often incant Keynes' statement, "In the long run, we're all dead." I prefer, thank you very much, in the long run to be good and alive!

April 19, 2004

What You Value vs. What You're Paid

Since you are paid according to the scarcity and supply of the labor you provide, it is very unlikely that the amount you are paid has anything do with what you need to do in your life. Do you want your tombstones to read, "I always followed where the market led me"? Not to mention that making a lot of money only allows you to receive what money can buy. How about the tombstone, "I was a good consumer!"

There are so many things that are important that have nothing to do with economics (the efficient allocation of scarce resources) and money (the medium of exchange). Can you name at least 3 things that are more important to you than money or the things money can buy?

April 19, 2004

Friday, April 16, 2004

Thing 2

There it is, in a see-through body bag, drowning in an ocean of life preservers: blue hair, red pantsuit, stuporous smile frozen on its face, "Thing 2" emblazoned on its chest.

Passed over by six children ahead of me, I reach down deep into the half-finished box of cereal and fish "it" out. What else to call it but "it"? Ageless and sexless, is it a he or a she? In any case, it is a "2". But where is its "1"?

Flashing that "1" is still buried, I frantically search the box. I realize, too late, that my empathy for "2"s loneliness is being exploited to dupe me into buying more boxes in a search for the missing "1". I wonder if there are any "1"s. Or was some advertising genius intent on having children everywhere plead with their parents to buy more boxes in search of "1".

I eat my cereal and milk, and save "Thing 2"; unable to throw it away. It sits, unopened, on my desk. A gift for Geri...


April 16, 2004

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Courageous Action

What does acting courageously mean? Courage is doing what is right, even though you know that it may cause you personal sacrifice, even though you are afraid. But who among us is willing to give up the safety of his pleasant existence? Who among us is willing to sacrifice his own gratification to protect the very process that enabled us to live the way we do? Who will give up "I want because it makes me feel good" for "it may not feel good, but my children will inherit a better world"?

Isn't it interesting that the economic standard of living of United States consumers and our revered open, competitive market, only helps us make decisions about what we want to buy. So much of our lives is focused on this "efficient allocation of scarce resources". But the economy is ominously silent on, and doesn't have much to do with our desire to be allowed to think for ourselves, make decisions for ourselves, and say what we believe, other than expressing our opinions through what we buy.

Maybe it comes down to this, are we satisfied with the epitaph "he was a good consumer"? When we are dead, do we want our children to remember us with "he sure owned a lot of stuff"? Is this the ultimate destiny of humanity? Is this the best we can do? Is this what we want to do? Or is there something in addition to consumption of goods and services which we should be doing? And who will have the courage do it in spite of their fear?

April 14, 2004

The Role of Government

Maybe the role of governments should be to balance and correct the focus of what we should be doing as human beings; things we should be doing that aren't about buying stuff. Maybe the role of government is to ensure that those things that we think are important, other than being a good consumer, are given resources and encouraged, and allowed to thrive, too.

April 14, 2004

Confronting Lawlessness - Domestic vs. Foreign

On what legal basis is the United States government authorized to respond to foreign lawlessness in a way that is different that the government is authorized to respond to domestic lawlessness?

Each time I hear about covert action orders to kill people, instructions to break the law, support to overthrow other governments, I ask myself, "How are these actions justified when, in our own country, such actions would provoke the most vehement objection?" How soon will we justify such behavior against "the enemies within" the United States? I worry that our civil liberties, our freedom, the result of such a long and arduous history of vigilant protection, are being eroded by our own fear; our fear and our reluctance to accept our own responsibility to be courageous.

Is there something that we must do to protect and encourage the protection of our freedoms? Pointing a finger at "them" and saying "they are the enemy" strips us of our responsibility. Looking back in time, under what government at any time in history were freedoms improved by increasing the people's fear of "them"?

Fear, a response to a threat, can be met by finger pointing, blaming others for what has happened. It can be met by another form of finger pointing: charging others with the responsibility of making us feel safe. Or it can be met with individual courage, where each of us takes responsibility for our fear and choose to act honorably in spite of our fear.

April 14, 2004

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

New Idea for Search Engines: Event Search

Why not be able to search for events on the Internet? Let's say I am going to visit New York from August 1st to August 7th. I search for web pages with the word "New York" and with a date between August 1st, 2004 and August 7th, 2004 inclusive. The trick is recognizing pages with dates on them since 8/1/04, August 1, 2004, etc. all refer to the same day.

I posted a message to Google Labs suggesting this enhancement. We'll see what happens. I wonder how I would get the idea to Google through another channel?

April 13, 2004

Monday, April 12, 2004

Government's Role in Pharmaceuticals - Franchised Monopolies vs. Public Welfare

I just got back from a presentation by U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (CA) and Rep. Bernie Sanders (VT). I was saddened to hear the amount of effort (in people resources and money) the pharmaceutical industry spends to influence congress and the administration. I was more deeply saddened by how congress and the administration seems to be influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. In particular, Rep. Sanders's description of the way that the 2003 Medicare law was passed in congress made me wonder. How could I have my head in the sand for so long? How far away has our democratic government gotten away from its purpose?

I am reminded, once again, that there are too many people who believe that the open-market competitive economy has everything under control! All we have to do is let it do its thing! There is something that sticks in my throat when I think about business people finding ways to make profits from captive customers who are sick and dying.

The pharmaceuticals industry is one such hard-to-swallow business model. Not only is every company given the incentive to make profits, but every astute business person is charged with finding ways to reduce competition by exploiting barriers to entry such as patents, legislation, and the high cost to enter the market. Few industries exhibit the characteristics of monopoly markets like the pharmaceuticals industry does. Drugs costing 5 to 10 times as much in the U.S. as in other parts of the world? Protections for the industry against the re-importation of drugs back to the U.S.? What happened to government's role in counter balancing the power wielded by monopolies? Who will represent and fight for the general welfare of the people? Unfortunately, it looks like the dollar is mightier than the vote, today.

In no way does this relieve the individual consumer from his responsibility to consider the public welfare, either. We are all good consumers, and that would yield a good global welfare result if only the consumer had a longer time perspective than his own life. If the options are "spend $100,000 on open heart surgery to prolong my life from age 65 to age 75" vs. "spend $100,000 to prolong the life of 10 children from age 0 to age 65", who among us would not choose to save oneself? Who would choose to save the children?

April 12, 2004

Violence, non-violence, creativity, and human destiny

Some musings on a Monday morning as I review my e-mail, especially an e-mail from a friend that reminds me that we must all encourage each other to be more creative. And more thoughts as a result of a phone conversation with another friend where we offer help her achieve her dreams...

Violence is when the action of one person reduces of options available to another person. By this I do not mean just physical, but all forms of violence including intimidation, degradation, abuse, etc.

Non-violence is when the action of one person increases the options available to another person.

Creativity is the way human beings take responsibility for being non-violent; we create options.

Why be non-violent? Why be creative? Because by increasing the options we have open to us we increase the likelihood that we will make a better choice.

What is a better choice versus a worse choice? What do we use to judge good choices from bad choices? The measuring stick I use most often, because it leads me in the direction of my faith in life, is, "Choosing the option that will result in the greatest likelihood that life will continue to exist for all time."

To achieve our humanity, we are responsible for being creative (increasing options) and making a good choices (that which promotes life).

Note: I use the noun "person", but these statements apply to all living things, not just human beings. However, because human beings are better at remembering the past and imagining the future, human beings are more capable than plants and other animals of, and more responsible than plants and other animals for, making good choices.

Note: We often discuss a person's intention when judging a person's behavior. The intention to do something implies that the entity which is doing something has the ability to see options, and judge the value of the options, prior to choosing an option. Does a rock rolling down a hill have intention? No, it is not making choices based on imagined options. Does a rabbit jumping out of the way of the rock rolling down the hill have intention? Yes, because the rabbit jumps out of the way to avoid the option of being hit by the rock. The level of intention depends directly on the ability of the entity to imagine and understand their responsibility for events in the future. The better able the entity is to see options and imagine the future results of choosing these options, the more the entity can be held responsible for its intention. Human beings have a greater ability to create options and to imagine the future results of their choices between different options than other life forms on this planet. We are responsible and are held to the highest standard of intention of any live form on Earth. If life forms do not survive, human beings must carry the most responsibility.

April 12, 2004

Monday, April 05, 2004

Le Paradis

"Paradis" begins and ends with Paris!

April 5, 2004

Once upon a time...

I guess I'm being pulled (dragged) into the 21st century by starting this blog. Too many people have suggested that I start a blog to ignore my ignorance any longer. It's Sunday night, I'm getting over a cold, and I am going back in my house to spend time with my family. The big news is my art show got hung on Saturday! I am excited, scared, and overwhelmed with my new creative outlet: acrylic painting.

I'll bet everyone starts out their blog with energy and determination. I wonder how I will feel about blogging in 6 weeks...