Finished San Fransicko

I have finished San Fransicko, the book by a self-described lifelong “progressive and Democrat” that I wrote about in Reading list: San Fransicko.

Let’s go to the solution first. The author describes 50 years of failure by California government agencies and 15-20 years of spectacular failure by state and local government agencies, with ever-growing revenue for non-profit contractors. What’s the alternative to failed state government?

What California needs is a new, single, and powerful state agency. Let’s call it Cal-Psych. It would be built as a separate institution from existing institutions, including state and county health departments and health providers. Cal-Psych would efficiently and humanely treat the seriously mentally ill and addicts, while providing housing to the homeless on a contingency-based system. Cal-Psych’s CEO would be best-in-class and report directly to the governor. It is only in this way that the voters can hold the governor accountable for the crisis on the streets. Cal-Psych would have significant buying power, be attractive to employees, and be able to move clients to where they need to be. It would be able to purchase psychiatric beds, board and care facilities, and treatment facilities from across the state. And it would be able to offer the mentally ill and those suffering substance use disorders drug and psychiatric treatment somewhere other than in an open-air drug scene.

What if someone is homeless because he/she/ze/they is consuming opioids?

Cal-Psych would do as much as legally, ethically, and practically possible to establish voluntary drug treatment and psychiatric care and would also work with the courts and law enforcement to enforce involuntary care through assisted outpatient treatment and conservatorship. The low-hanging fruit, according to Rene, is getting twenty-something-year-old opioid addicts off the street and into medically assisted treatment programs, since we have good substitutes for opioids in the form of Suboxone and methadone.

What’s in these “substitutes for opioids”? Suboxone isn’t packed with healing essential always-available-even-when-schools-are-shut cannabis, but it does contain buprenorphine… an opioid. In other words, if someone is taking too many opioids, give him/her/zir/them more opioids.

So… the solution to failed government is more government and the solution to drug addiction is government-supplied drugs.

Homelessness certainly is a growth industry in California:

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of homeless rose by 31 percent in California but declined 19 percent in the rest of the United States.2 As a result, there were, as of 2020, at least 161,000 total homeless people in California, with about 114,000 of them unsheltered, sleeping in tents on sidewalks, in parks, and alongside highways. Homelessness had become the number one issue in the state.3 Half of all California voters surveyed said they saw homeless people on the street five times a week.

A big part of the reason for the failure of the homeless industrial complex has had to do with perverse incentives, progressive resistance to mandatory treatment, and the insistence on permanent supportive housing over shelters. But it also has to do with the neoliberal model of outsourcing services. Instead of governments providing such services directly, they give grants to nonprofit service providers who are unaccountable for their performance. “There is no statutory requirement for government to address homelessness,” complained University of Pennsylvania researcher Dennis Culhane. “It’s mainly the domain of a bunch of charities who are unlicensed, unfunded, relatively speaking, run by unqualified people who do a shitty job. There’s no formal government responsibility. It’s only something we dream of. And that is fundamentally part of the problem.”23 Nobody can even accurately calculate how much money is being spent. The state auditor calculates that California spends $12 billion total on homelessness, and it is not clear how much of that is overlap with other state spending. The Legislative Analyst’s Office found many difficulties: “Difficulty assessing how much the state is spending on a particular approach towards addressing homelessness, for example—prevention versus intervention efforts. Difficulty determining how programs work collaboratively. Difficulty assessing what programs are collectively accomplishing.”

There is a philosophical-religious basis for why Californians decided that they wanted to be surrounded by tent cities:

Unlike traditional religions, many untraditional religions are largely invisible to the people who hold them most strongly. A secular religion like victimology is powerful because it meets the contemporary psychological, social, and spiritual needs of its believers, but also because it appears obvious, not ideological, to them. Advocates of “centering” victims, giving them special rights, and allowing them to behave in ways that undermine city life, don’t believe, in my experience, that they are adherents to a new religion, but rather that they are more compassionate and more moral than those who hold more traditional views.

Some more quotes on how San Francisco got to this point:

How and why do progressives ruin cities? So far we have explored six reasons. They divert funding from homeless shelters to permanent supportive housing, resulting in insufficient shelter space. They defend the right of people they characterize as Victims to camp on sidewalks, in parks, and along highways, as well as to break other laws, including against public drug use and defecation. They intimidate experts, policy makers, and journalists by attacking them as being motivated by a hatred of the poor, people of color, and the sick, and as causing violence against them. They reduce penalties for shoplifting, drug dealing, and public drug use. They prefer homelessness and incarceration to involuntary hospitalization for the mentally ill and addicted. And their ideology blinds them to the harms of harm reduction, Housing First, and camp-anywhere policies, leading them to misattribute the addiction, untreated mental illness, and homeless crisis to poverty and to policies and politicians dating back to the 1980s.

There is a chapter on Jim Jones, who was close to former mayor George Moscone and Willie Brown.

Moscone made Jones the chairman of the powerful San Francisco Housing Commission.12 Jones cultivated progressives with money and favors. He made large donations to the ACLU, the NAACP, and United Farm Workers. Jones and Moscone met privately with vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale on a campaign plane a few days before the 1976 presidential election, and Mondale praised People’s Temple shortly afterward. Jones met with First Lady Rosalynn Carter several times. Governor Jerry Brown praised Jones. Glide Memorial Church’s Rev. Cecil Williams loved Jones. There is a photo from 1977 of a smiling Williams awarding Jones the church’s “Martin Luther King, Jr. Award.”

A conservative member of the Board of Supervisors who was defeated in the mayoral election by Moscone accused the new mayor, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the rest of the city establishment of being blind to Jones’s extremism. “There’s no radical plot in San Francisco,” insisted Moscone, in response. “There’s no one I’ve appointed to any city position whom I regard as radical or extremist.”

Brown was master of ceremonies at a dinner for Jones in the fall of 1976 attended by an adulatory crowd of the rich and powerful, including Governor Jerry Brown.

San Francisco’s establishment stood by Jones even after a California magazine, New West, owned by Rupert Murdoch, published an exposé of Jones’s beatings of Temple members and financial abuses in August 1977. The article was written by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter and was meant for the Chronicle to publish. But the newspaper killed the story because it didn’t want to alienate Jones, whom it viewed as central to its plans to expand the Chronicle’s circulation in the heavily African American Fillmore District. Jones also managed to avoid investigation and prosecution in part by getting the district attorney to hire as deputy district attorney Jones’s longtime attorney and confidant.

Harvey Milk, too, was tarnished by his association with Jones. In the fall of 1977, Milk wrote to President Carter’s secretary of health, education, and welfare requesting that Social Security checks be sent to elderly Temple members in Guyana. “People’s Temple,” wrote Milk, has “established a beautiful retirement community in Guyana.”

“Even as the bloated bodies of the dead were removed from the jungle and the wounded were airlifted by the U.S. Air Force to hospitals in the United States,” wrote a historian, “Brown said he had ‘no regrets’ over his association with Jones.” They repeatedly disavowed responsibility. Said Moscone, “it’s clear that if there was a sinister plan, then we were taken in. But I’m not taking any responsibility. It’s not mine to shoulder.”

Moscone was ultimately killed by Dan White, an anti-Progressive former firefighter. The author tries to explain how Dan White was acquitted of what certainly looked like premeditated murder:

The jury appeared to pity White. What seemed to be particularly influential was a recording of White breaking down in tears during his confession to the police.

Playing the victim, or what researchers call victim signaling, appears to be working better than ever. Society’s definition of trauma and victimization is broadening, researchers find. As a result, there are more people who identify as victims today, even as actual trauma and victimization are declining. Researchers find that people are increasingly “moral typecasting,” or creating highly polarized categories of “victim” and “perpetrator.” And they find that people who portray themselves as “victims” believe they will be better protected from accusations of wrongdoing. In one study, participants judged how responsible an imaginary car thief was for his actions. One group was told that he had a genetic oversensitivity to pain. The other group was not given that detail. The people in the group who were told that the man was oversensitive to pain held him less responsible for his action.

Victim signalers are more likely to boast of their victim status after being accused of discriminating against others, or of being privileged. And so-called virtuous victims, people who broadcast their morality, alongside their victimization, are more likely to gain resources from others, researchers find, and display Dark Triad personality traits, than victim signalers who did not signal their virtue.

San Fransicko is worth reading, if only to see just how bad things can get for the middle class and even upper middle class before the elites need to worry about losing elections or personally experiencing anything negative. I find it tough to believe that the author’s proposed solution, a new massive state bureaucracy, would be effective. Suppose that the new state agency worked precisely as hoped, unlike any of the previous or existing government initiatives described in the book. If California were then to deliver on its promises to its current homeless, why wouldn’t that attract a more or less unlimited supply of new homeless people from other states, other countries (just walk across the border), etc.?

In the meantime, since California progressives are so passionate about helping the homeless, the least that folks in other states can do is purchase bus tickets for any homeless person who wants to go to California!

Greyhound bus photos below are from February 2020, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, currently a Deplorable-free environment:

THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES REQUIRES PROOF OF FULL VACCINATION TO ENTER THE MUSEUM. At MOCA this policy applies to all visitors 12+.

What counts as proof of vaccination? You must provide both:

  • Your vaccination card issued by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (which includes the name of the person vaccinated, the type of vaccine provided and the date(s) dose(s) administered), or similar documentation issued by another foreign government agency, such as World Health Organization, a digital vaccine record, a legible photograph of the vaccination card, or documentation of a COVID-19 vaccination from a healthcare provider; AND
  • Your photo ID.

(It is not in any way racist to require a photo ID.)

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Exploring the land value tax

The U.S. Congress is getting back to “work” soon, trying to figure out how to squeeze enough tax revenue from Xbox-oriented Americans to fund all of the government programs that we dream of enjoying plus the $10 trillion in coronapanic spending that we indulged in.

Let me recommend “Does Georgism Work? Part 1: Is Land Really A Big Deal?” (12/8/2021) and “Lars Doucet On Taxing The True Value Of Land” (12/15/2021), which is on one of my favorite topics, a Land value tax. The basic observations are (1) an income tax discourages people from working and earning money, which is what most of us want our fellow citizens to do (exception: those of us with jobs in the welfare-industrial complex, homeless-industrial complex, and migrant-industrial complex), (2) a property tax on the value of buildings discourages people from creating nice buildings, which is what most of us want our fellow citizens to do (exception: me, because I am sick with envy when someone else has a nicer house than our 2BR apartment). From these observations, it then becomes obvious that taxing the value of underlying land is a good idea because no matter how high the tax is, the land won’t go away (since it is neither produced nor destroyed by human effort).

Unlike most folks who are enthusiastic about this form of taxation, Doucet has put some thought into what a transition would look like. Some excerpts from the 12/15 piece:

To start things off: a friend of mine bought an apartment near a future station on the not-yet-built extension of the New York subway, thinking the value of the apartment would rise once the station opened. Obviously she didn’t build the subway, and didn’t pay for it any more than any other New York taxpayer. Can you talk about that example from a Georgist perspective? Under Georgism, what would happen to taxes in a neighbourhood when something like a new train station gets built?

Lars: So when you buy land in a major city, or next to planned areas of development, hoping that the value will go up, what you’re really hoping for is to profit off of the hard work and investment of your neighbors and government spending. Imagine two locations for a hot dog stand: the middle of the desert, and an empty lot next to the Empire State Building. Obviously I’ll sell more hot dogs in the second location, but clearly it’s the people and city of New York that have made that second location more valuable.

The example you bring up is particularly salient because we have this trap where we expect the government to provide us with services, but then those services cost money, so we tax people’s income (labor) and investments (capital) to fund them, or just put the government in debt to do it (which ultimately manifests as indirect taxes on labor and capital in the form of interest payments and inflation). And then, land values for properties closest to those services rise. Who captures that added value? Whoever was smart enough to buy up land real cheap before We The People started doing some public spending. So essentially our current scheme creates this bizarre cycle where we tax both the labor and the savings of Americans in order to provide public works, which have the side effect of subsidizing people who speculate on land, who not only aren’t doing anything for the economy, but are actively making the housing crisis worse by bidding up the price of land.

Land value tax is already better than neutral. The point isn’t just that it “doesn’t distort” the economy, it un-disorts the economy, because the “private tax” levied by the gatekeepers of land, location, natural resources, and other monopolies is already imposing a productivity drain on our economy.

Just to drive the point home, we’re not wanting to tax land just because it’s more “efficient,” or whatever. We’re doing it because land is scarce and rival. To own land means to exclude others from it. Given there’s only so much of it, and we can’t all use the same land, and we all absolutely fundamentally need land, it’s a simple matter of justice to say that if you want to exclude the rest of society from a piece of land, you should compensate society, since you did nothing to make that land exist in the first place.

There are three things that come together when humans produce things — land, labor, and capital. We call these inputs the “factors of production.” We can increase labor, and we can increase capital, but there’s not a dang thing we can do to increase land — “it’s the one thing they’re not making any more of.”

But what does it mean when the owner of the land “provides” land? It’s not like they created it, and it’s not like if we don’t pay them for access to it the factor will somehow go away, which is what happens when you stop paying labor and capital. Gatekeeping access to land isn’t productive, but in our society it entitles you to a share of the produce that labor and capital produced. And as I’m prepared to show, it entitles you to a really huge outsized share at that, essentially a private tax on the entire economy.

Lars: Right, so the problem is if you try to knock down the housing ladder all by itself, you’re going to make a bunch of people really mad because they only did what was rational under the old system, broken as it was. That feels like a rug pull and it’s certainly a political headwind you have to take seriously, and it’s also a matter of fairness.

Gordon Tullock calls this the “transitional gains trap,” using the example of taxi medallions. The first generation that buys into the system gets in cheap and enjoys outsized gains, but the next generation has to pay “full price” for it. Sure houses appreciate over time because of the land values, but the person who just bought one had to really shell out for that privilege and hasn’t had much time to reap the rewards. So even if transitioning to a non broken system makes everybody better in the long run, the pain to change over is too much for some people.

There are four different ways to do it. The first is just to phase in land value tax gradually over time, like say, over 20-40 years. The challenge with this is that’s going to be quite a political feat to get it to stick over many generations of politicians.

The second is to levy land value tax as a sort of lien, something that you don’t have to pay until you sell the property, or pass it on to your heirs. So grandma and Farmer Brown aren’t going to be kicked out of their homes because of the land value tax. And just for the record, Farmer Brown’s land value isn’t going to be super high anyways — farmland is pretty cheap, it’s urban land that’s expensive. Farmer Brown will likely just get a tax break compared to what he’s currently paying in property taxes.

I hope that I’ve inspired you to read “Does Georgism Work? Part 1: Is Land Really A Big Deal?” and “Lars Doucet On Taxing The True Value Of Land” and then, for the next step, that you become a U.S. Senator and can actually act on your knowledge. Perhaps you can replace Senator Karen and Elon Musk won’t be distracted from creating the minivan-with-dog-mode that I crave.

Mangrove trees in Fort Lauderdale. Nobody told them “they aren’t making any more land.”

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The FAA burdened helicopter charter operators with rules to install useless radar altimeters that are now disabled by 5G

FAA punches a hole in the U.S. economy today” (2017):

Today is the day that FAR 135.160 goes into effect. This requires a radar altimeter (“radio altimeter” in the FAA’s parlance or “radalt”) for most U.S. helicopters. The device will display the number of feet the aircraft is above the ground. Every airliner that was ever crashed into a mountain had one of these. What stopped the crashes was the terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS).

Radalt was useful in the old days because it could ring a bell for the pilots when the aircraft was, e.g., 200′ above the ground on an instrument landing system approach. If neither the runway lights nor approach lights were in sight at that point it was time to add power and fly back up into the air (“missed approach”).

Even in 2014 when this rule went into effect it was unclear why it would be a good idea to stuff a radalt (cost range: $17,000 to $100,000 depending on aircraft and whether installed new or retrofitted) into a helicopter rather than GPS+database TAWS system that can say “There is a big radio tower ahead!” or “Climb because you are about to crash into the ground.”

The new rule applies even to helicopter operations that are limited to visual flight. The chance that the pilot is looking down at the instrument panel is small (10-20 percent) because the aircraft is being controlled by reference to the natural horizon. Combine that with the chance that the pilot would be looking at the radalt number and I would say that there is a near-zero chance that a pilot in a dangerous situation would ever become aware of the radalt value.

Now it turns out that the FAA won’t allow the use of this mandatory equipment anywhere that there is 5G coverage at similar frequencies: “FAA Issues SAIB on 5G Radio Altimeter Interference”.

“AT&T, Verizon Refuse FAA Request to Delay 5G Launch” (WSJ) says “France is among the countries that have imposed wireless limits near airports while regulators study the effect the signals have on aircraft.” “AT&T and Verizon agree to postpone 5G rollout near airports by 2 weeks” (CNN) indicates that we are on track to copy the French system, but this can’t work for helicopters because the whole point of the machine is to be able to land places other than airports.

So one part of the government orders people to spend up to $100,000 on a device that has no practical value and then orders them not to use it because a different part of the government authorized transmissions that generate interference…

(What’s the practical importance of a radar altimeter failing due to 5G interference? The weather has to be pretty ugly before the radalt is essential on a modern airliner. At a typical flatland airport, the minimums for a “CAT I” ILS approach include clouds no lower than 200′ above the runway and visibility of at least 1/2 mile. If the weather is worse than this (think “fog”), there are CAT II and CAT III approaches that can be used by trained and authorized crews. These are the ones that always require a radar altimeter, which is used to inform the crew that it is time to initiate a go-around if the runway is not in sight and, for the highest level of CAT III approach, to cue the automated systems to initiate a power reduction and flare (pitch up).)

Related:

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COVID-22 for those renouncing U.S. citizenship

“Americans seeking to renounce their citizenship are stuck with it for now” (Guardian):

For almost two years, since the pandemic struck in March 2020, most US consular missions around the world have suspended their expatriation services for those wishing to give up US citizenship. The US embassy in London, the largest of its sort in western Europe, announces on its website that it is “currently unable to accept appointments for loss of nationality applications” and is unable to say when services will resume.

My friend who lost his passport circa March 2020 remains stuck in the U.S. His COVID-22 situation is that replacing a passport requires an in-person interview, but no in-person interviews have been available for the past two years.

One thing that coronapanic has demonstrated is that government is the least adaptable of enterprises. Friends’ kids who were in private school back in Maskachusetts left their in-person school on a Thursday afternoon in March 2020 and on Monday morning they started back up in Zoom-based school, with teachers working their regular 6 hours per day and delivering the planned curriculum to the planned standards. Maskachusetts public school children, on the other hand, did not begin to receive any education until September 2020, unless you count teachers hosting one or two hours per week of Zoom chat with no required assignments or grades. Similarly, the government hasn’t been able to develop any alternative processes for passport replacement or citizenship renunciation. Yet half of Americans vote enthusiastically for a bigger government that will be responsible for more aspects of American life.

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Give Thanks to the Central Planners and Technocrats

Happy Thanksgiving to Native American readers! I’m sure that you all are grateful for the waves of immigration and associated novel viruses that have washed up on American shores since 1492.

The big theme of 2021 so far has been central planners and technocrats in Washington, D.C. exercising hands-on control of the U.S. economy and many aspects of day-to-day American life. Perhaps it would make sense, therefore, to dedicate this Thanksgiving to expressing our gratitude to those who selflessly toil for our benefit, e.g., shielding us from paying market prices for a wide range of goods and services, and managing our currency.

Certainly, the energy of the central planners has worked well for the supply chain leading to Florida supermarkets. A few days ago, I asked at the local Publix whether there was any chance they’d run out of turkeys. “We got a crap ton,” was the reply. Publix did run out of Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, however, and I had to go to the Publix across the street from the Publix and get the last two bags at that Publix. Cream cheese was sold out (why?).

How about Inflation? Walmart had Jennie-O frozen turkeys for 87 cents/pound, i.e., essentially free, but it was 68 cents/pound in 2020, so that’s 28 percent annual inflation. Speaking of free, Publix has free fruit for shopping kids:

The experts tell us that the 28 percent turkey inflation rate can’t last? How much more far-sighted are experts in D.C. than the rest of us? Here’s a screen shot that I made on April 30, 2015 from the Wall Street Journal:

Keep in mind that the “actual” real (inflation-adjusted) numbers overstate GDP growth from the perspective of an individual American. For example, in 2011 when GDP grew 1.6 percent, the U.S. population grew 0.7 percent, and therefore the GDP per capita grew at closer to 0.9 percent.

Speaking of 1492…

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Biden and the Democrats try a Great Leap Forward?

The Fall and Rise of China, a course by Richard Baum (late professor at UCLA), has an interesting section on the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962). Essentially the Chinese economy didn’t produce enough to give the government the resources that was required to meet the leaders’ objectives. Without any analysis or claims that the measures they were taking represented a likely optimum, the government introduced one policy after another in hopes of increasing the amount of money flowing into the capital. The Chinese Great Leap Forward had a big emphasis on infrastructure, albeit not subsidized child care as “infrastructure”, but dams and other massive civil engineering works (these ultimately proved to have been poor investments).

The parallels aren’t perfect. Mao was trying to create a society in which every able-bodied person worked; the U.S. is a work-optional society in which ever-more people can get paid for not working (child support plaintiff, means-tested housing/health care/SNAP/Obamaphone beneficiary, alimony plaintiff, stay-at-home parent, SSI or TANF recipient, 1.5-year unemployment check recipient, etc.). Americans these days get upset when they hear about powerful people having sex with the less powerful; according to the professor, Mao, then in his 60s, partied with teenage girls every night (bedroom with oversized bed (since multiple teenage girls would occupy simultaneously) next to a dance hall).

The high-level picture seems similar. The proposed corporate tax rates are not being set based on the idea that they will lead to a optimum balance of economic growth, competitive positioning with respect to Europe, and revenue for the government without discouraging effort and investment. The new rates are justified with “we need the money”. We’ll assess capital gains tax against people with $1.0001 billion in assets, but not those with $0.99999 billion (it would be a lot simpler just to eliminate the charitable contribution deduction so that the super rich couldn’t avoid taxation by stuffing money into foundations).

Readers: Do you think there is a parallel here?

(Also, if the federal unrealized capital gains tax on billionaires goes through, why can’t the billionaires simply move to Puerto Rico for 183 days per year and pay 4% income tax instead? Could it be that this is the way the Democrats pull Puerto Rico in as the 51st state? If all of the billionaires move there to escape the new 20 percent haircut (and why won’t California add 13 percent on top?), isn’t the most obvious solution to make P.R. a standard part of the U.S. and therefore subject to conventional federal taxation? Or maybe the Feds will say that the tax still applies even for those who flee to Puerto Rico because the gains happened while the targets of the tax were still living within the 50 states.)

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California versus Florida government workers

Jesus said “The last shall be first and the first last.” Perhaps he was talking about government workers in Florida and California who swapped jobs?

Searching the Web for teaching examples of strategic plans (private companies’ plans tend not to be available), I found one for the Florida DMV (“Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles”). Pages 11-12 cover the outcomes that Florida considers important to measure. All of them relate to the customer until the last one…

Employee welfare is not even a “value”. Page 4:

What about their brothers, sisters, and binary-resisters working for the California DMV? The 2021-2026 strategic plan puts workers #1 on page #1:

This is over a heading mentioning “stakeholders” (i.e., people other than customers). A little more detail on page 4:

Separately, it turns out that a resident of Florida doesn’t interact with “the DMV” to get a license, register a car, etc. County tax collectors are responsible for dealing with the unwashed. Due to coronapanic, the thinly populated counties are refusing to deal with non-residents and the densely populated counties, such as Palm Beach, require appointments. Once there, one finds that the front-line workers are all masked and behind the Plexiglas dividers that #Science first told us to install and now says are useless. What about the management overlords who set up the mask policy? They’re in open cubicles, about 20′ behind the front-liners, next to a bank of windows looking out at the palm trees… unmasked.

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U.S. after Afghanistan loss is like Russia after World War I defeat?

Fresh from losing a war, we’re in the midst of a transformation of the role and size of government, e.g., “From Cradle to Grave, Democrats Move to Expand Social Safety Net” (nytimes). Since the old system was plainly broken, as evidenced by the failure of our most diverse people, best technology, and $trillions to prevail over villagers armed with rifles, the typical American voter now has nothing to lose but his/her/zir/their chains.

(In U.S. states other than South Dakota and Florida, Americans actually started and lost a second war in 2020, this time against coronavirus. We poured all of our money and effort into the fight. Governors suspended what had been considered Constitutional rights, e.g., to assemble. After 1.5 years sitting at home growing (more) obese and less educated/skilled, Americans managed to rack up a COVID-19 death rate higher than in give-the-finger-to-the-virus Sweden.)

A leader with near-absolute power has run out of patience with the peasants. Scapegoats for our woes have been identified:

Have we seen this movie before? Let’s look back 100 years…. “How World War I Fueled the Russian Revolution” (History):

Ineffective leadership and a weak infrastructure during the war led to the demise of the Romanov dynasty.

World War I saw the crumbling of empires, and among those to collapse was the Russian empire of Czar Nicholas II. When Nicholas declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in July 1914, he was absolute ruler of a realm of nearly 150 million people that stretched from Central Europe to the Pacific and the edge of Afghanistan to the Arctic.

Less than three years later, in March 1917, after soldiers in Petrograd joined striking workers in protest against Nicholas’ rule, the czar was forced to abdicate. The following July, he and his family were herded into a cellar by Bolshevik revolutionaries and shot and stabbed to death, ending the Romanov dynasty’s three centuries of rule. Soon, amid the ruins of the Russian empire, the Soviet Union arose to become a world power.

The war quickly turned into a disaster, with Russia suffering a brutal defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg just a few weeks into the war. Some 30,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded, and nearly 100,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans.

“Things didn’t Improve as the months dragged on,” Hartnett says. “By the end of the year, the Russian empire had lost more than one million men.” Russia’s ammunitions were all but exhausted and the country’s infrastructure was not equipped to efficiently resupply troops.

Though peasant soldiers suffered the most casualties, “for regime stability, the most serious losses were among the officer corps,” Miner explains. Their loss weakened the army so much, he notes, “that when push came to shove in 1917, the army was not a reliable defender of the monarchy.”

The parallels aren’t exact. Russia lost one war. The U.S. has lost maybe three (Afghanistan, COVID-19, and Iraq?). The Soviet Union had some elderly leaders, but never anyone as old and confused as Joe Biden, and it was decades after their war losses before they turned into a gerontocracy.

Also, is it truly the case that American voters have nothing to lose but their chains? We can’t say “Americans workers” for an exact parallel because the signature feature of the U.S. today versus the Soviet Union is that every able-bodied adult in the Soviet Union had to work while the U.S. is a work-optional society. Nobody in the Soviet Union lived on alimony or child support profits. Nobody in the Soviet Union could live indefinitely in a luxurious means-tested apartment, get free health care, shop with food stamps/EBT, and chat on an Obamaphone simply because he/she/ze/they preferred not to work.

Senorpablo, in a comment on Shut down the U.S. Army now that we know more about our limits?, expressed what has become a common American point of view:

The premise put forth by you and averros, was that the private sector would make better, more productive use of the money that would otherwise flow into the military and defense industries via the government. That represents an increase in GDP, does it not? And we know from the last 40 years, if not much longer, the vast majority of the benefit from increases in GDP flow to the top 10% and above, but mostly the top .01%. Why then, would your average American be in favor of downsizing the military? So they can work part time at Taco Bell, rather than playing will guns outside, or building tanks?

In other words, whether the economy is growing or shrinking is a matter of indifference to 90 percent of Americans. If the economy expands, the benefits will go to the top 10 percent. Necessarily, then, the flip side is that if the economy stagnates or shrinks, it will be the top 10 percent who suffer.

More concretely, if the “safety net” is expanded just a little more (or perhaps we’re already there), most Americans should rationally be indifferent to the overall health of the economy. If the economy sags, they’ll transition to 18+ months of unemployment checks and enjoy a lot of leisure time to catch up with friends and family, play Xbox, etc. If the economy booms, they’ll maybe get off the couch and give up 50 hours/week to commuting and work for wages in order to purchase some luxury items. Thus, these folks actually have nothing to lose from proposing, e.g., a 99 percent tax rate on income above $100,000 per year. If the tax discourages economic activity, they’ll go back to their couches and video games until the next government check comes. Thus, why not at least try radical transformation in order to address inequality, which is, after all, a “crisis” (see the March 17, 2021 Senate hearing “The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America”).

You might ask what the point of the above question is. Whether the U.S. 2021 is like Russia 1917 or not won’t affect what happens next, right? But maybe it could affect what happens to you and your family. You could, for example, buy some assets in a country that won’t be affected by the Democrats’ transformation of the U.S. If you own an apartment in Taipei or a basket of European stocks in a European account, you should be okay even if the U.S. spins down (maybe invest in an EU passport too!).

My personal default is to predict that the future will look a lot like today, so I would ordinarily bet against a dramatic change in the U.S. After all of the “reform” talk and think tank results, we’ll continue to piss away 20 percent of GDP on health care inferior to what folks in Singapore get for less than 5 percent of their GDP. Having sex with a dermatologist and harvesting the child support will continue to pay better than going to medical school and working as a primary care doctor (at least in Maskachusetts; see also Arkansas for a lump-sum $2.5 million tax-free profit). The rich will be able to avoid Joe Biden’s new estate taxes via Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts and perhaps some insurance action (Trump made it tougher to use the captive insurance escape). But I wonder if all of the war losses makes my stability prejudice unfounded.

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How did the U.S. run out of coins if more people are paying by credit cards?

One of the things that struck me when I first began visiting Central America 30 years ago was the inability of some governments to manage what I had taken for granted in the U.S.: producing enough coins so that businesses could accept cash and make change.

Lately, however, it seems that we Americans have joined our brothers, sisters, and binary resisters south of the border. Here’s a gas station right next to Dulles Airport, almost walking distance from the center of American power:

To add to the Latin American authenticity of the experience, the sign is in Spanish (“No Tenemos Monedas”) and the cashier was apparently a native Spanish speaker. Note that he/she/ze/they is touching his/her/zir/their mask, thus negating any conceivable benefit from the non-N95 device.

Maybe the situation is less dire in our largest stores? From Septembrer 14, 2021 at Home Depot in Jupiter, Florida:

What caused the U.S. circa 2021 to be like Guatemala circa 1991, at least with respect to the ability of conducting transactions in cash?

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