Octavo Dia

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: Still the Best Hope

Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph.  By Dennis Prager.

I deliberately get all of my news from sources with whose political slate I disagree (a practice I have had for 14 years now).  Consequently, I have a window on both how the political Left perceives itself, and how it perceives the political Right.

From my perspective on the Right, the Left's perception of the Right is laughably inaccurate.  I expect that, were a Leftist to read this book, they would consider its perception of the Left to be laughably inaccurate as well.  It is my opinion that books that claim to explain what the other side believes are usually a waste of paper.  No one is persuaded by them that does not already believe what they state.

For example, in the Introduction, he spends a couple of pages in the introduction arguing that Leftism is a religion.  I have never, ever met anyone who was persuaded that there philosophy was a religion.  You may be able to persuade people that their philosophy serves the same purpose as a religion, but what's the point of that?  Even if you could persuade someone that their philosophy was a religion, why should that cause them to change?  A religious belief by a philosophical name can be held just as fervently.

I, however, being on the political right, and thus already persuaded, did agree with nearly all of what he said.  For example (in the introduction) I do agree that Leftists don't believe that they have a philosophical system.  One of the conceits of Leftism is that it is a purely rational system that addresses each issue as it comes, or as it's put in Scripture, "blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine."


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Fix the Post Office

Of the many lessons to be learned from the ongoing European unpleasantness, one is that you need to build a margin of error into your reforms.  If you don't, you'll be plunged back into chaos if you undershoot your target.  I think the current round of Post Office reforms is suffering from that same problem.  Cutting Saturday delivery--the current proposal--is much the same sort of piecemeal reform that will just kick the problem down the road and not provide sufficient time to rework a business model.  I've previously proposed that you could change where the post office delivers, or grant it a monopoly of local delivery, but if those are still too radical, the Post Office should be much bolder in its changes to the delivery schedule, and if it's going to cut service, it should also add some compensating service.

To this end, I propose that the Post Office provide seven-day-a-week, every-other-day delivery service.  At a stroke, this would vastly reduce the number of trucks and personnel needed to delivery the mail, even while providing Sunday service.  Not only would you have to visit each address nearly half as often, but each stop, by delivering nearly twice the mail, would be much more efficient.  It would also allow the vehicles to either carry more in a single load, or to allow larger vehicles to be used.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Variable Voting

Scott Adams pointed out that the physical location of your mother at birth is a weird way of determining citizenship.  I would add that having eligibility to vote be a simple yes/no proposition, with all votes weighted equally, is also a weird way of determining how much a vote is worth.  Those who are not eligible to vote still have interests in the functioning of government, but those interests are not represented.  There are also those who are eligible to vote, for example, a voter would acquired citizenship at birth, but has resided overseas in the custody of a non-U.S. citizen parent every since, has no connection at all to the U.S., but whose interests are still represented.

The current system has the virtue of simplicity, but I believe its inequities override its virtue.  I propose that a new system be created, in which ones voting rights are linked to the strength of one's ties to the United States.  The more your prosperity, your future, is linked to the prosperity and future of the United States, the more your vote would be worth.

For example:

You'd receive 50 votes for birth in the United States.

For every immediate relative you have in the United States, you'd receive additional votes (say 5 to 10 apiece).  (This sounds complicated, but we already do relative preferences for immigrants, so it's possible to do it for citizens as well.)

For every year you reside in the United States, you'd receive an additional vote.  This takes into account the difficulty of restarting a career (also, I'd have the parents cast the children's votes).

You'd receive additional votes, but on a declining basis, for fixed investment in the United States.  (This takes into account the political power that accrues to the wealthy.)

You'd receive additional votes for service in the military, which (obviously) makes you a less attractive prospect for resettlement in other countries.

And so on.

The end result is that a middle-aged, property-owning, veteran whose family is entirely in the United States, would have far higher representation than a 20-something student studying abroad.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The End of Capitalism

(This is not an actual prediction, just a dystopian future in which I took a trend line and ran it straight off the graph just to see what would happen.)

Every time people trade, it creates value.  If you value some good or service as much or more than you value your money, you'll buy it.  If you don't, you won't.  From the perspective of the person selling it to you, the opposite holds true.  If they value your money more than the good or service, they'll sell you it and buy your money.

In a typical transaction, both sides capture some of the value created by the trade.  However, in extreme circumstances, one side can capture all or nearly all of the value.  For example, a man dying of thirst would give everything he owned for a jug of water.  That water is still worth it to the buyer, but the person with whom he dealt captured all of his resources.

As technology improves, and sales techniques improve, businesses are getting better and better at capturing value from their customers.  As the databases grow, business will discover exactly how much you, individually, are willing to pay for every item.  They will also discover how to mask that price discrimination from you.  The crude and discoverable techniques of today, e.g., charging different prices based on browser use, are only a foreshadowing of future sales techniques.  You'll always get exactly what you pay for, and not a penny more.  Similarly, they'll be able to determine exactly how much they have to pay you to purchase the labor they need, and not pay you a penny more than they need to.  You'll work for the lowest pay you'll accept, and buy for the highest price you'll accept.

In short, discretionary income will disappear.  Consequently, capitalism will disappear.  No one will need to market to you, or try to trade with you, or produce anything beyond what you actually need.  It sounds a bit like slavery, except in slavery they had to compel you to do things.  Here, you're making all the best decisions, it's just that the best decisions aren't any good.