Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

January 22, 2018

The Trump Economy

Filed under: News commentary,Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:53 am

The numbers don’t lie, the Trump economy is the best in years.

At the end of Trump’s first year in office the economy has seen three percent growth for three successive quarters, which we haven’t seen for 13 years. The Dow hit 25,000 which we’ve never seen before. Wages and employment are rising, most significantly at the bottom end of the income distribution and most concentrated in the blue state heartland.

Moreover the confidence of small businesses as measured by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, is the highest it’s been since they started doing the survey 45 years ago!

There has predictably been a lot of grumbling.

“This is Obama’s policies finally kicking in.”

After eight years of assuring us that two percent growth is the new normal.

“Almost a quarter-million employees have been notified of plant closings and layoffs!”

That may be true – but so what?

Sorry, that sounds callous for those going through job loss, but the fact is when the economy is expanding and employment increasing, layoffs in certain sectors means the economy is changing, not static. The slack will be taken up in new more dynamic sectors and Americans will do what we always have; move somewhere else, learn new skills, and get a new job.

So why has this happened and what does it mean?

Because a great many of the Wise and Wonderful on both right and left predicted gloom, doom, and disaster.

In the past when we’ve seen the economy improve with a new and more business-friendly administration there has usually been a year’s lead time before we’ve seen improvement, but this has been immediate.

Some have proposed the first effects were largely psychological, and there is something to this. The Democratic Party is more than ever before dominated at the national level by hard leftists ferociously hostile towards free enterprise.

A change to an even tepidly pro-capitalist administration is like a shot of espresso to the economy.

And this change has been more than token. Trump promised to remove two business regulations for every one passed. At last count 22 regulations have been removed for every one imposed.

It’s not just that the regulatory burden on business is difficult and expensive, we could live with that. It’s that it’s so complex it’s nearly impossible to understand.

Want to start a business or move yours into a new market? If you don’t have lots of lawyers and accountants on your payroll to navigate the regs – good luck! Complex regulations and tax laws favor big business over the little guys, and that’s how the big guys like it.

And thennnn there’s the hot button issue, climate change.

Whatever your opinion of climate change, the fact is the proposals for addressing it these days consist almost entirely of political theater. The least burdensome proposals cripple the economy and accomplish nothing. The most radical proposals amount to dismantling industrial civilization resulting in impoverishment and mass starvation.

If we are going to find alternatives to fossil fuels the only thing that can accomplish this is a rich and dynamic economy that can support the research, development, and large-scale implementation of new technologies.

That’s a job for businessmen and engineers, not bureaucrats.

Probably the biggest thing the Trump administration has done is to remove a lot of the uncertainty of doing business. A thriving economy can stand a lot of stupid regulation, if they are consistent from day to day.

What it can’t stand is the uncertainty of a business environment where regulations are imposed capriciously by a chief executive who overturns settled law to pick winners and losers, and decides who has to obey and who gets special exemptions.

And I must say I did not see this coming. Trump seemed like the archtypical crony capitalist, leveraging political influence for his own advantage, even to the point of trying to use eminent domain for private projects.

It never occurred to me that a player skilled in that game could still realize it is horribly bad for the economy, and once in power act on that knowledge. And if you’d told me, I wouldn’t have believed you.

What a pleasant surprise!

January 10, 2018

Beyond the Picket Fence

Filed under: Book reviews,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:21 pm

It finally happened, I’m published!

“Well of course you’re published, I’m reading this in a newspaper aren’t I?”

No no, I mean a book long in the making has been published, and I’m a contributor.

“Beyond the Picket Fence: Life Outside the Middle-Class Bubble” is now available as an ebook on Amazon with print on demand to follow.

If you know writers, you know we live to see our work in print. It’s like oxygen for us.

The project started nearly two years ago when Marc MacYoung, a professional consultant and lecturer on security and self-defense issues called me up and told me about this book idea.
He said he wanted a book like this for four groups:

Young people about to head out on their own, their parents to help them explain to their kids why certain things are important, socially awkward people, and people from dysfunctional backgrounds

From the blurb: “With the changes in society a lot of ‘deep structure’ concepts aren’t being passed on to people — mostly because it’s hard to articulate subconscious knowledge. In other cases, it was just flat out missing from the environment you were raised in. It’s the kind of knowledge that not having can really make life hard.”

The concept began with a question, “How do you learn to read unspoken rules in an environment? How do you teach that skill to your kids?”

There’s a wide range of specific subject matter here. There’s information about staying out of trouble in bad neighborhoods, and that bad neighborhood could be the wrong side of town or a corporate board room.

There’s advice on how to recognize when you’re in an environment that operates on a different set of rules than you’re used to.

Are you dealing with a dignity culture or an honor culture? Do you know what they are and why it matters? Why in fact knowing the difference could become a matter of life and death?

My own contribution is titled, “When you’re a stranger in a strange land.”

Marc said he needed article about traveling in different cultures and since Your Humble Author has been to a few places…

I gave my perspective from my experience in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. My friend and colleague Peter Huston contributed from his experience in Taiwan.

The genesis of my article was actually years ago, in 2005 to be precise, when I turned on CNN and found a man I had been having an email correspondence with, a man I liked and admired, had been murdered in Basra, Iraq.

By the time Marc enlisted me in this project I had been pondering for years what I might have told Steven Vincent that could have helped him avoid that fate.

I wrote it for people who travel for business, pleasure, or to serve suffering humanity.

If your kids are taking off to another country after graduation, you could do worse than get this for them.

And are you worried about lurid tales of college parties gone horribly wrong? There’s advice on safe partying herein.

Have you ever heard the term “Crybullies”? The kind of people who claim victimhood status as a form of aggression against others? There’s a short guide to dealing with them by an academic who has written a book on the subject.

Do you know anyone who is dating a violence professional, a cop, bouncer, loan shark enforcer? There’s some advice for them too.

Are you one of those people who believe manners and courtesy are the same everywhere? This book will disabuse you of that misconception.

I’m just pleased as can be that I contributed to this book, and proud as all get out to be in the company of the authors whose work appears in it.

January 5, 2018

Something is happening and nobody wants to think about it

Filed under: Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:09 am

A pundit I have a lot of respect for recently posted this comment on Facebook.

“So basically the takeaway from the #Wolff book is that the emperor has no brain.”

She was mirroring the sentiments of a number of thinkers I also have a lot of respect for. Nonetheless, I think they’re all missing something.

This is what I replied:

” …and who somehow wound up as president having never held political office or a military commission.
I didn’t vote for the guy, but this is lazy thinking. Worse, I suspect it’s cowardly thinking. Trying to avoid thinking about something that is staring us all in the face. That some serious and far-reaching changes are happening in the system that are beyond anyone’s control and whose outcome is uncertain.

“I am reminded of what a Russian woman in Lithuania told me in the early ’90s, ‘It’s not a social revolution, it’s an earthquake.'”

Love Trump or loathe him, this was not a glitch of history we’re all going to chuckle about in a hundred years, like a kind of American Tulipomania.

People on the left who loathe Trump seem to think this heralds the dawn of American Fascism and say they’re alarmed.

They’re lying. They’re delighted.

Finally their Viewing with Alarm seemingly has a real life basis and they have a popular excuse to take to the streets and fight “fascism,” i.e. to satisfy a craving for dramatic action that gives meaning to their otherwise drab and frustrating lives. Plus an excuse to assault people they don’t like and be self-righteous about it.

Perhaps I should back off pouring scorn on that. I’ve probably irritated a fair number of people myself regaling them with tales of the months I spent marching with the people of Belgrade every day past heavily armed men back in the late ’90s. Because damn it, it does make life seem… bigger, zestier, more meaningful.

On the right those who loathe Trump seem to think he’s an embarrassing interlude in American politics and are alarmed he will totally discredit American conservatism.

They’re just as wrong.

American conservatism discredited itself a long time ago when it settled comfortably into the role of loyal opposition and junior partner in the elite establishment.

What I think is happening is a genuine revolution precipitated by what I call a “ruling class crisis,” a widespread conviction that we have a ruling class that is not fit to rule.

And that’s what people don’t want to think about. Trump is going to be gone, in seven years according to his supporters. In three years according to his detractors. Next month according to those who really don’t like him.

But this isn’t going away. Whatever happens over the next few years, things are not going back to “normal.”

Steve Browne’s Amazon page.

January 4, 2018

It’s 2018, where’s my flying car?

Filed under: On Thinking,Science,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:02 am

Oh my goodness it’s 2018. I used to read science fiction set in 2018!

Who am I kidding, I used to read science fiction set in 1970.

Wasn’t I supposed to have a flying car by now? And 2001 was 17 years ago, where’s that lunar base? We do have a space station, but it’s disappointing compared to Stanley Kubrick’s. What happened?

SciFi author Robert Heinlein once wrote a set of predictions in the 1950s about what life would be like in the early 21st century, then revisted them twice at long intervals to see what happened, what washed out and why, and what might yet happen.

His colleague Arthur C. Clarke once examined predictions made around the year 1900 to see what was expected, what wasn’t, and what was absurd.

Did you know Thomas Edison spent a lot of effort on a telegraph device to communicate with the dead?

Or that cars and airplanes were expected, but X-rays were not?

So what about us, well into the first quarter of the 21st century? What did we think was going to happen, what took us by surprise, and what might we expect?

Well flying cars, pardon the expression, never took off.

Lots of them were designed and work well enough, but frankly aren’t really good for much. What you get is generally a clumsy car and an underperforming light plane.

The fact is we’ve got an infrastructure for cars (roads) and one for light planes (small municipal airports), but they don’t combine very conveniently.

Portable computers though really weren’t expected. And when they did show up at first the biggest problem was finding something to do with them.

Remember when the early Apple was called, “The world’s most expensive Etch-a-Sketch”?

Then software developers started inventing things to do with them, became billionaires, and now we’d be hard put to do without them.

Consider the Internet. In 1982, Heinlein wrote a novel “Friday” in which he described the Web and the marvelous possibilities for research therein. He predicted that was going to happen about a hundred years later.

On the other hand, he was quite premature when he said in the 1960s that by the year 2000 we’d have visited all the planets of the solar system and would be building the first starship.

What went wrong?

For one, many predictions failed to take into account economic lead time. Space travel for example. It became technically possible before it became affordable. Working out the technical details was time-consuming and expensive.

For another the future is created by humans, and we are a cussed, ornery, and unpredictable lot.

Science fiction writers usually thought we’d build space stations first, establish a presence in orbit and go to the moon from there.

Then President John F Kennedy, smarting from a political embarrassment nobody remembers now distracted the attention of a nation with a bold plan to go to the moon within ten years.

We did, and it was magnificent. But in retrospect the SciFi writers may have been right. The economic return from space comes largely from orbit; communications satellites and such.

And there is the difference between developmental and breakthrough technology.

Computer power has been following Moore’s Law pretty reliably for decades now. The number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. This happens by building upon existing technology in a systematic way.

Breakthrough technology however happens when it happens and cannot be predicted from what we know. Practical fusion power and strong AI (a computer you can discuss the meaning of life with) were “just around the corner” for a long time before we admitted we just didn’t know when or even if it would ever happen.

So what can we expect?

Well we know that technological change is happening faster than ever before, and the rate of change is increasing. But we don’t know if it will continue to speed up, or slow down and eventually level off.

But if it does continue some say we will reach what’s called the Singularity, beyond which it is impossible to predict what will happen.

But being human, that won’t stop us from trying.

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