Democracy is like the game of Jenga

Jenga is the name of that game where wooden blocks are stacked one by one to build a narrow tower that grows very high then each player must remove one block at a time without the tower collapsing into a pile of rubble.
Running a democracy is similar. The tower represents the power of a collective effort, the power of vision, cohesiveness, unity of purpose, and power among nations. The tower generates gross national product, human services and military defense. Being a democracy, like Jenga, it is a fragile compilation.
The analogy must be stretched a bit to understand the game of democracy. Unlike Jenga, democracy adds blocks and takes blocks away simultaneously. That is the purpose of democracy: everyone can draw benefits from the tower but in turn must at the same time add a new block to keep the tower strong. Like Jenga, democracy is a fragile construction but is not limited to one architectural vision; democracy is many towers, many broad, low lying configurations and spreads in every direction.
The skill is the ability for citizens to draw a beneficial block from the unity of the tower but to give a personal block back for the good of the tower. For example, the tower provides freedom of speech but in turn requires that a citizen must return that right to the tower for others to use as well. To press the analogy one step further, unity of purpose is the antigravity magic that keeps the democracy tower from collapsing.
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It is obvious, of course, that today the democracy tower is in disarray. It seems there are many citizens who take a block only and do not add one back to the tower. Many of these citizens are billionaire oligarchs, extremist groups, career-obsessed politicians, oppressed classes and racists. The reader may note the inclusion of the oppressed. Citizens without the benefit of democratic unity often rebel by debunking unity and will refuse to cooperate in any effort to build unity. Currently, they are called Trump’s Base.
Again unlike Jenga, the rulebook is humongous and, in fact, never ends. The rulebook covers subjects like taxes, economy, safety and health regulations, education, rules for corporations and religions, rules for individuals, and on and on. It is a difficult read as well. All of this diversity is held together by that magical antigravity – national unity.
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Not all the threats to the tower of democracy come from individual greed or misunderstanding. A major threat to the tower is the design of the tower itself. In the game of Jenga, imagine if one player wanted a tower that looked like a Saguaro cactus, another wanted a tower that looked like a Prickly Pear cactus and a third wanted a tower that looked like a Bishop’s Hat cactus.

                   

To make it seem more relevant, instead of cacti, substitute capitalism, socialism, communism, authoritarianism, plutocracy, or likely in the future, hegemony. In practice, a citizen may take a block from democracy but does not put a block back that provides the same function; the citizen replaces it with something different. For example, a citizen may benefit from a change in tax benefits but in return insists on compensating for the benefit by reducing the payout to Social Security – two different images of the tower!
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This treatise is running long. Take a breath and dive into another Jenga analogy: Suppose everyone is playing Jenga and understands the usefulness of the building squares. Suddenly, as the players draw more blocks, they begin to take on weird shapes like pyramids, octagons, spheres and ellipses. Trying to build the tower – let alone trying to benefit from it – becomes a virtual impossibility. Welcome to Artificial Intelligence (AI).
We must have compassion for our democracy tower. It is faced with AI, climate change, global pandemic, global migration, rapid polarization of human resources, massive economic shifts both in production and in consumption; the Gross Domestic Product has come loose from its leash, and instant global data knowledge from the Internet has the effect of a power hose washing away antigravity.
Democracy needs more than money and politics in November. It needs unity. Vote accordingly.
Ancient Mariner.

It’s all about Sixty Year Cycles

Mariner and his wife were having a discussion about the socio-economic cycles of a town. When mariner was in college, he read a book about the relationship between generational lifespan, economic growth and consumption, and group dynamics. He has long forgotten the author and title but has been fascinated since how perceptive the author was when he stated that the life cycle of any town or defined group was approximately 60 years.

Throughout life mariner has found case after case that adheres to this author’s premise. The sixty-year cycle, as one might imagine, has a lot to do with each generation as it passes through similar learning, socializing and aging. In mariner’s town, there are clear 60-year cycles. The town began in the 1880’s. One can imagine that virtually all the settlers were in their productive years and relatively close in age. This generation lived through the boom decades when the internal combustion engine launched a new technological age. This small town hosted four major implement dealers, a motel, four churches, two hardware stores, three grocery stores and a railroad.

Like the corona virus today, in the 1940’s (60 years after the town was founded) World War II forced an unusually rapid change from the previous 60 years to the second 60-year cycle. Overnight, the Baby Boomer generation took the lead away from the Silent Generation. The Boomers dominated a socially active era when there were clubs for every interest, and an active restaurant, tavern and movie society. The Civil Rights Act was one of several social modifications during the Boomer years.

As the Boomers passed into retirement age, generation X slowly took the reins and shifted the culture to a more conservative, economically aggressive society. By the turn of the century (60 years later), a new technology based on computers had evolved which began to push the X generation out of the way. Clearly, as the new century began, a new generation began to influence society – the Millennials.

It was hard to displace the X generation because science had found ways for humans to live beyond the lifespan of an evolved hominid: three generations or sixty years, more or less. Now hominids were living close to 80 years and were still meddling in the affairs of the next generation.

This extra-long lifespan has led to an intransigence of old people still involved in the society of the next age. This conflict between life in the twentieth century and life in the twenty-first century would still be dragging on except that the corona virus has put its foot down. With lightning speed our society, its technology and its economics will leap into the deep waters of the next sixty years. Welcome aboard, Centennials.

Ancient Mariner

Open Letter to Trumpers

Dear Working Class Trumpers –

It is understood why you are fed up with government and you elected a disruptive nonpolitician to break things. Break things he did – most of them in the area of citizen fairness but alas, he is part of the money crowd just like all of them. But to set things straight for the future, there are a few events that brought you to your difficult situation.

In the 1970s and 80s, the government changed how corporations could invest; after that businesses made better profits investing than they did in manufacturing so companies began investing in manufacturing in other countries where labor and materials were less expensive. Whole industries like steel, automobiles, home appliances and other factory businesses dwindled or disappeared completely – and so did the jobs.

Then businesses obtained permission to use employee pension money so they could make bigger investments. So as to not look totally sinister, businesses said, “Use this 401k, we’ll kick in up to x percent match”. The businesses failed to mention that the pension system paid 100 percent of your retirement but now, under the 401k, it was your money being put aside for retirement. Not only that, the 401k funds are in your name and are now exposed to the vagaries of the stock market. Pensions were worry free because with pensions the businesses had to invest through their own accounts.

Another pro-labor interference was labor unions. Unfortunately, more states had republican legislators and at the state level government focused deliberately on eliminating unions through government constrictions in labor rights.

And finally, because it was easier to make profit through investment – which freed businesses from social obligation to workers’ wellbeing and sharing of profit, salary was treated like a resource overhead. Consequently, since 1980, salary has not risen with inflation. This is the most damaging action to pursuit of happiness today: A person who made $5.00 per hour in 1981, if salary rose with inflation, should be making $14.00 per hour today. Citizens have a hard time raising the minimum wage from its current $7.25 per hour. Many unscrupulous businesses keep employees under 38 hours per week to avoid paying even as much as $7.25.

But now, Trumpers, Donald has done his damage. It is time to right things and move forward. All the damages listed above were done by republican legislators both state and federal.

Now it is time to elect democrats to repair what Donald has done and what the republicans have been doing for the last forty years.

Ancient Mariner

 

Evolutionary Change

For those readers who have an interest in the evolution of species on a grand, Earth-time scale, they may have learned that significant changes in the basic form of living things occurs in a relatively short amount of time. A couple of examples: The most significant ice age in Earth’s history lasted from 720-635 million years ago. The ice age caused a complete extinction of single celled flora that thrived on microscopic fungi and dissolved chemicals. As the ice age receded, a new form of life rapidly emerged: diversified plankton, similar boneless creatures and importantly, primitive sponges – the first evidence of the animal kingdom.

Another more popular example is the end of the Paleogene Extinction 66 million years ago when dinosaurs disappeared and the age of mammals literally exploded into the many branches of diversification that are familiar today.

Mariner apologizes for the lesson in paleontology but it sets a clear model for the absolute dissolution of social history as humans have known it since the Roman Empire and now, in the early decades of the twenty-first century a sudden, brand new, seemingly unevolved society – the age of artificial intelligence – is emerging. Thanks to Covid-19, one generation of humans can experience the rapid extinction of the industrial/technical age virtually overnight, leaving a new form of society ready to explode into the future.

The whole premise for future society is different. For example, capitalism is too slow for future society; capitalism has been the core economic philosophy all the way back to ancient times; it’s a horse-and-buggy single flow movement of resources. Cash flows only in one direction and ends up wasted in the coffers of the super-rich. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will redistribute static assets in a flash.

The tight, dark age relationship between work and wage will be separated so that work is an act of participation in society and wage is more related to sustaining an optimized GDP. This allows AI to utilize income as a fluid resource throughout the economy rather than the very slow, piecemeal process of distributing wages to each person one-on-one – another horse-and-buggy process.

The stock market already has acquiesced to the presence of AI. Twenty-nine percent of all transactions are decided by self-learning computer algorithms without human intervention – doubling since 2013.

Although at the moment many social behaviors are in turbulence as the dynamics of change already are shaking things around, new forms will emerge relatively quickly. For example, the bipolar political situation around the world is a sign of pushing out the old and reforming differently. In the US, it is quite plain that the republican concept of capitalism isn’t working well and is on the verge of losing dominance. New economic concepts will be a combination of capitalism, socialism, communism and AI’s philosophy, pragmatism – whatever works best in a market situation is what will set the –ism.

At the personal level and involving emotional comfort, secure identity, sufficient privacy, and the right to human judgment versus AI, things will be sticky. Human feelings and behaviors, bound by genome, don’t fit as smoothly to the bit and byte world of AI as economic policy does. There will be a struggle between the public and the never ending encroachment of AI psychology, Pavlovian control (witness how humans have adapted to smartphones and Alexi) and environmental manipulation, e.g., who can live where and in what kind of housing.

Add to personal uneasiness the issue of race. By 2045 caucasians will be a mathematical minority of US population. This will affect long standing social taboos and class definitions. Worldwide, mariner has mentioned in a previous post that Indians and Chinese will constitute one in every three humans.

And finally, the center of civilization will leave Europe, the Balkans, the Mediterranean and the Middle East and settle on the boundaries of the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Hemisphere.

Don’t bother packing bags, AI will do that.

Ancient Mariner

 

About Communism

Communism in the West has been associated with foment, antigovernment vitriol and suppression of the people. Blame this view on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Joseph Stalin and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Marx and Engels took the bait that Rousseau took during the French Revolution: trying to write a solution to tyranny by doing away with authority altogether.

Conversely, true unadulterated communism existed in Asia for centuries – beyond the intrusion of emperors and warlords – and still does in pockets of the continent. To clear the mind of all the consternation, remember the root word ‘commune’. Many may remember the movement of the hippies in the 1970s when communes supported nearly one million citizens. Today, the commune has reduced itself to one family at a time and is called ‘living off the grid’.

Unlike capitalism and socialism, cash flow doesn’t flow very far. In fact, the less cash the better. If a person visited Taiwan in 1990, their first impression would be that for the seventh richest nation in the world, there seemed to be no money on the streets or in local commerce. Unlike capitalism and socialism, the nation’s wealth came from the citizenry who put away any cash for a rainy day rather than reinvesting in local appearances, AKA classism.

Communism depends on communal participation and is heavily influenced by extended family obligation. Sustainability is the primary objective, not profitability. For example, a specific sauce in China, dou-chi, has been made by hand by the same families for centuries. Recipes can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (200 BCE). Very popular in China today, one would think production of dou-chi would have succumbed to more industrial processes – but not in communist regions where family, labor and product are bound into a tightknit culture that functions with very little cash flow. Sharing to sustain life is preferred to using cash.

Visiting a communist region shows how inconvenient cash really is and probably exists only, as the old story goes, because it is easier than carrying sheep around. One also notices that cash is an expensive commodity to maintain. When the reader thinks of communism, think of off the grid homesteaders – that’s pure communism.

Class and elitism are bad words in communism. Karl Marx even disliked the idea of personal property. Under communism, it isn’t how much property one owns (if one owns any); it’s the contribution to the ‘commune’ which in early millennia was virtually all of China away from cities and sea travel.

As a national philosophy in today’s world, communism couldn’t operate successfully; any trade that occurs between nations isn’t tit for tat because everyone’s trying to make a dollar, not dou-chi. Nevertheless, in the pockets where it flourishes, peace and wellbeing are simpler to achieve.

Ancient Mariner

Hola

Recent developments in South America have upended the United States’ historical — and often misguided — tendency to lump the region into a one-size-fits-all policy. A politically and economically muscular Brazil, the rise of an anti-American bloc of countries led by Venezuela, and the emergence of economic and even political extraregional rivals in the hemisphere have created a more diverse, independent and contentious region for the United States.


But the reports of the United States’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. Economically and politically, the U.S. remains the leader in what is admittedly a much-changed, more assertive region. What is now necessary, however, is a long-overdue rethink of U.S. policy toward South America.


Meanwhile, South American countries have not stood around waiting for the United States to fill the resulting void. Economically within the region, the U.S. has been losing market share. In 2011, China replaced the U.S. as the major trading partner for Brazil and Chile. At the same time, China has signed free trade agreements or trade deals with Chile, Peru, Cuba and Costa Rica, while providing a series of concessionary loans to Venezuela and Ecuador. Even Washington’s greatest South American ally, Colombia, has refused to wait, signing a free trade agreement with Canada and launching negotiations for a free trade agreement with China. [World Politics Review]


A mariner fantasy for most of his life is the integration of the two Americas, North and South, and throw in Australia and New Zealand. What a trade powerhouse that would be. One continent is in the northern hemisphere, the other in the southern hemisphere – a boon to 12-month agricultural GDP. South America has oil, too, but it leads in amounts of rare minerals like Lithium. In South America, weather similar to the Gulf Coast is as large as the continental United States. In reference to the last post about the Pacific Rim, ten nations from Mexico to Argentina have coasts on the Pacific Ocean – and China knows it.


Two things interfere with collaboration: social history and racism. The United States has been too interested in the northern hemisphere and its cultural links with old world nations. Europe launched the existence of the United States in 1607. That liaison has run its course as new economic and technical forces are reshaping global economics and international policy.


Mariner doubts the US social image of anything south of Florida has changed since Hemingway lived in Cuba and politically since Castro was the dictator. Even Puerto Rico and Hispaniola get short shrift. Otherwise, as Donald would suggest, they are non-white immigrants. The literary relationship is little more than Carmen Miranda and “Don’t cry for me Argentina.” However, several professional tennis players have been quite successful in the US.


But. The coronavirus has reset the totalizator. Overnight new odds and probabilities have become real and immediate which otherwise would have taken a decade to emerge. Momentarily up in the air is how to deal with world recession; that certainly will have an effect on international relations. The disruption has had social ramifications as well because citizen pressure on governments has forced awareness of how incompetent governments have been at managing the wellbeing of the citizenry. The virus has forced to center stage the indigent, helpless and marginally threatened part of the population and indirectly has highlighted growing plutocracy and corporate greed.


Further, the virus has stopped dead the functioning of the job market. This will allow faster adaptation to artificial intelligence and change the way citizens work almost immediately instead of gradually.


It seems a perfect time to revisit and restructure the US relationship with everything in the western hemisphere below 20°N.


. . . and before global warming really grabs our attention!


Ancient Mariner

Over There . . .

In a desperate attempt to escape the gravity of the Trump-news broadcasting conglomerate, mariner has traveled to distant lands – a part of the planet where Donald is a sideshow. As a straightforward example, note this book review covered in a British news outlet:

“In it Rory Medcalf, Head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, highlights an emerging formation on the geopolitical map: the Indo-Pacific, a growing web of alliances centered on the “Quad” of India, Japan, Australia and the US, but also taking in a crescent of maritime states in eastern, south-eastern and southern Asia. Looser and more multipolar than other such formations, it is unified by the quest to balance, dilute and absorb Chinese power. “The Indo-Pacific is both a region and an idea: a metaphor for collective action, self-help combined with mutual help,” writes Medcalf. Two months on from its publication, virtually all of the trends that his book draws together have advanced.”[1]

North America not only has a shoreline on the Pacific, it has been drawn into Pacific Rim activity since the explorer Jorge Álvares reached southern China in 1513.[2] The US involvement in Asia is dominated by wars. Consider: The Korean Expedition 1871, acquisition of Samoa 1898, Spanish American War 1898 and 1913, Boxer Rebellion 1898, World War I 1917, World War II 1939, Korean War 1950, Laotian Civil War 1953, Viet Nam War 1955, 1965, 1974, Communist insurgency in Thailand 1965 and Cambodian Civil War 1967.

As Medcalf points out in his book, things have changed. In the part of the world fronted on the Pacific Rim, China has grown to be a super power in the midst of many smaller nations that easily can be dominated by China. The reader may recall an effort in 2016 called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Twelve nations signed on but the agreement failed to be ratified by the US. The countries were Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States.

The TPP concept of an international trade agreement that assigned an economic role to each nation up front was a new turn in international relationships that heretofore were variable agreements subject to tariffs, internal politics and market activity. Still, many criticized the agreement for allowing business interests to ignore or supersede traditional national rights.

Americans are not accustomed to paying attention to India. However, India is a fellow ‘sumo giant’ along with China[3]. Together, India and China represent thirty-six percent of the world’s population; of every three humans on earth, one of them is an Indian or a Chinaman.

The United States ranks third in land mass and population, but ranks first in GDP at 21.44 trillion. China is second at 14.14 trillion and India is fifth with 2.94 trillion but has the fastest growing GDP in the world.

Mariner hopes his data profile may invite readers to invest time and interest in a part of the world that truly will dominate future centuries regardless of treaties. Already it can be seen that Europe and the Middle East will not have the clout to compete with the Sumo League. For the first time, the center of world civilization may be the Pacific Rim.

In any case, mariner had a great time visiting the ‘other’ world. Donald who?

Ancient Mariner

[1] Indo-Pacific Empire, China, America and the Conquest for the World’s Pivotal Region by Rory Medcalf,    Manchester University Press ISBN: 978-1-5261-5078-3

[2] An interesting side note, a Chinese adventurer named Hwui Shan crossed the Pacific to Mexico in 458 AD.

[3] In 2018, population of China is 41 million more than India. Due to higher population growth of India, margin between these two countries is coming down quickly. And in 2024, India will have more people than China with approximately 1.44 billion people.

Alas, Poor Uncle Sam

 

. . . I knew him, Horacio — a fellow of infinite jest… Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs?

– – – –

Mariner has become frayed and disillusioned wandering the foxholes and ditches of daily politics, economics and social conflict. It reminds him of those old news videos of doughboys running in the trenches of World War I. Mariner searches desperately for reason, cohesiveness and purpose.

Alas, the trenches of Somme are the nation’s reality. Cash replaces tear gas; international trade replaces cannon fodder; political dialogue replaces machine guns; technology replaces bombs and strafing. And now an accelerant, Covid-19, has introduced the urgency of a raging forest fire.

Not only is shelter-in-place an urgent pragmatism, it is a metaphor for our times; it is our trench.

Meanwhile, out on the battlefield, Covid-19 has expedited cultural change. It has made space for artificial intelligence to rush in and set new standards. It has disrupted political change from an incompetent form of democracy to one that relates to the battlefield. It has destroyed the nation’s economy.

More than a million soldiers were killed or wounded on the fields of Somme representing seven nations. It was brutally personal. Currently in the United States 23,000 citizens have died and the plague is still progressing. It is brutally personal.

Subtly, a new force has joined the war: global warming. As today’s global war of change fights its way into the future, as small steps of stability are put in place, global warming will attack across all fronts – politics, economics and society. Global warming will introduce a new dimension of destruction just as the atomic bomb did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the United States today, political smoke fills the air, explosions erupt in the halls of government and reason dies under attack from greed, prejudice and moral decline. Yet, no different than the Battle of Somme, this time of great, historical change must continue to be fought. It is not nation against nation so much as it is faction against faction. It is the wealthy against the poor, the average, the good of all; it is the plutocracy of government fatally infected with cash and privilege; it is corporate America flushed with opportunity to monopolize society; it is data technology that will erase the idiosyncrasy of each citizen while all around this war the biosphere dies more rapidly every day.

Will reason, cohesiveness and purpose ever again exist? Will humanity survive? Is all this commotion part of the Sixth Extinction?

Ancient Mariner

 

Business and cultural survival

Mariner has highlighted a broad concern about the virus spinoff of big data corporations to use their endless clouds of tracking, identifying and profiling individuals to diminish privacy and security. Willingly, as ‘good fellows,’ they have offered their immense, person-identified databases to government agencies to help track the virus. Many editors and journalists have said, in so many words, ‘we will never get this snake back in the bag.’

This same phenomenon applies to the economy. Private equity firms, corporations, banks and investment firms will benefit from government handouts because the emergency legislation has profit loopholes in its wording. The Economist Magazine made this issue their lead story in this week’s addition. Mariner quotes the relevant section below:

“Don’t go from crisis to stasis

The last long-term shift is less certain and more unwelcome: a further rise in corporate concentration and cronyism, as government cash floods the private sector and big firms grow even more dominant. Already, two-thirds of American industries have become more concentrated since the 1990s, sapping the economy’s vitality. Now some powerful bosses are heralding a new era of co-operation between politicians and big businesses—especially those on the ever-expanding list of firms that are considered “strategic”. Voters, consumers and investors should fight this idea since it will mean more graft, less competition and slower economic growth. Like all crises the covid-19 calamity will pass and in time a fresh wave of business energy will be unleashed. Far better if this is not muffled by permanently supersized government and a new oligarchy of well-connected firms.”

Referencing mariner’s last post, corporatism is a form of authoritarianism.

Ancient Mariner

Welcome to the underbelly

Speaking quite generally but based on intrinsic differences, a direction of cash flow can be determined for each economic philosophy. In times of duress, for example Covid-19, the Great Depression and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the direction of cash flow is clearly visible.

Capitalism. The cash flow is always upward toward the core wealth of the economy. If suddenly cash flow ceases, it will not deter the upward flow – it simply will slow down. The end result is those at the bottom have little if any cash because what’s left of the flow is always toward the core wealth of the economy. In other words, if a citizen has no means to generate cash, that person is dispensable; nothing is owed to them.

Socialism. The cash flow is circular. The core wealth of the economy is always in flux. The end result is that no one can truly tilt the flow toward them so they can be unendingly wealthy. On the other hand, the extraordinary political power that can emerge from the inordinately wealthy is not available in a socialist economy. As well, no citizen is limited in his worth because he does not contribute to the flow of cash.

Communism. The cash flow is similar to the ocean tide. It moves in and out according to the overall moment in history. Ebb and flow is not a good way to run an economy; it is difficult to generate economic flow to purposefully produce economic leverage. Everyone suffers the moment together – good or bad. A common repair is to move toward authoritarianism. Note China in the last century.

Authoritarianism. This includes any form of dictatorship, monarchy or its clubby version, plutocracy of which corporatism is a subset. Cash flow is not toward the core wealth as it is in capitalism; it is an extraction of wealth from the economy altogether. Eventually, there is not enough cash flow across the economy as a whole and national bankruptcy ensues. Note the state of oil-rich Venezuela.

The way to test which direction cash flows is to introduce a great calamity, for example, a worldwide pandemic. In the US, public sources of cash flow have stopped. No rent, no restaurant, no transportation, no mortgage, no factories, etc. The reader should note that the relative impact between holders of labor income and those holding the core wealth is not a similar experience. Hence, cash flow moves upward. The US must be a capitalist nation.

Ancient Mariner