Conversations on Political Economy

Capitalist: Capitalism provides for the most efficient allocation of resources, wealth creation and individual choice. It’s the best economic system we’ve got.

State Socialist: There are other values than efficiency, prosperity and choice. Capitalism tends toward oligarchy and monopoly. As industries concentrate and gain economies of scale, wealth creation is concentrated for the benefit of society’s elite, and non-elite individual choice declines, and over a long enough time period, with limited or no competition, resources are not allocated efficiently. State socialism solves these problems.

Capitalist: State socialism is inefficient. There are few incentives and options to create wealth, and it limits individual choice. State socialism tends toward dictatorships and state monopolies. When the state takes over an industry, it benefits elite government officials rather than society as a whole. Bureaucracy and corruption lead to a squandering of resources, and kills individual initiative.

Small Socialist: Small socialist enterprises — such as employee ownership, cooperatives, and collective ownership — solve both the problems of Capitalism and State Socialism at the cost of economies of scale. Decision-making is distributed across the industry or enterprise. Employees and/or customers are also owners and have incentives aligned with the business. What’s not to like?

Capitalist: Without economies of scale, small socialists remain small. Some industries cannot exist without economies of scale. In others, it is impossible to compete with capitalist or state enterprises without them. Small socialists will stay small, with all the poverty that entails. Capitalism solves this problem.

State Socialist: Small socialists also have the problem of capitalists, except it concentrates power into decision-makers hands. They, in-turn, have incentives to collude to extract benefits for themselves or for their industry at the expense of the enterprise or society as a whole. Good stewards and state ownership solves this problem.

[Continue, ad infinitum and adding in small capitalist, communist, anarchist, fascist, etc.]

Discussions of political economy are ultimately discussions of what you value and which system you believe is most likely to give it to you. See also: Revolution for One.

The Rule of Awkward Silence

“[T]he rule of awkward silence is simple: When faced with a challenging question, instead of answering, you pause and think deeply about how you want to answer. This is no short pause; rather, it involves taking several seconds (10, 20, or longer) to think things through before responding.

If you’re on the receiving end–and not used to this type of communication style–it can seem very awkward.”

—Justin Bariso, “Intelligent Minds Like Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos Embrace the Rule of Awkward Silence. You Should Too.” Inc. September 9, 2020.

Oliver Burkeman’s Last Column: The Eight Secrets to a (Fairly) Fulfilled Life

  • There will always be too much to do – and this realisation is liberating.
  • When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness.
  • The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower. 
  • The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need.
  • The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it.
  • The solution to imposter syndrome is to see that you are one.
  • Selflessness is overrated.
  • Know when to move on.

“If you’re prone to thinking you should be helping more, that’s probably a sign that you could afford to direct more energy to your idiosyncratic ambitions and enthusiasms. As the Buddhist teacher Susan Piver observes, it’s radical, at least for some of us, to ask how we’d enjoy spending an hour or day of discretionary time. And the irony is that you don’t actually serve anyone else by suppressing your true passions anyway. More often than not, by doing your thing – as opposed to what you think you ought to be doing – you kindle a fire that helps keep the rest of us warm.”

-Oliver Burkeman, “Oliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life.” The Guardian. September 4, 2020.

Mary’s Room

“The questions raised by ‘Mary’s Room’ – including whether anything about experience transcends physical facts – remain some of the most perennial and unsettled in philosophy, even if Jackson himself actually reversed his position, concluding that the experience of colour vision does indeed correspond to a brain state, albeit one we don’t yet fully understand.”

—TED-Ed, “Mary’s Room.” Aeon. September 3, 2020.

The Last Acceptable Prejudice

“We should focus less on arming people for a meritocratic race and more on making life better for those who lack a diploma but who make important contributions to our society — through the work they do, the families they raise and the communities they serve. This requires renewing the dignity of work and putting it at the center of our politics.

It also requires reconsidering the meaning of success and questioning our meritocratic hubris: Is it my doing that I have the talents that society happens to prize — or is it my good luck?

—Michael J. Sandel, “Disdain for the less educated is the last acceptable prejudice.” The New York Times. September 2, 2020.

Alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG) and Aging

“AKG is part of the metabolic cycle that our cells use to make energy from food. In addition to its use by bodybuilders, doctors sometimes treat osteoporosis and kidney disease with the supplement.

The molecule grabbed attention as a possible antiaging treatment in 2014, when researchers reported AKG could extend life span by more than 50% in tiny Caenorhabditis elegans worms. That’s on par with a low-calorie diet, which has been shown to promote healthy aging, but is hard for most people to stick with. Other groups later showed life span improvements from AKG in fruit flies.

In the new study, Gordon Lithgow and Brian Kennedy of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and colleagues turned to mammals. They gave groups of 18-month-old mice (about age 55 in human years) the equivalent of 2% of their daily chow as AKG until they died, or for up to 21 months. AKG levels in blood gradually drop with age, and the scientists’ aim was to restore levels to those seen in young animals.

Some differences jumped out within a few months: “They looked much blacker, shinier, and younger” than control mice, says Azar Asadi Shahmirzadi, a postdoc at the Buck Institute who did the experiments as a graduate student. In addition, the AKG-fed mice scored an average of more than 40% better on tests of “frailty,” as measured by 31 physiological attributes including hair color, hearing, walking gait, and grip strength. And female mice lived a median of 8% to 20% longer after AKG treatment began than control mice, the group reports today in Cell Metabolism.”

Jocelyn Kaiser, “Bodybuilding supplement promotes healthy aging and extends life span, at least in mice.” Science. September 1, 2020.

Dirty, Naughty, Obscene, and Otherwise Bad Words

““With millions of images in our library and billions of user-submitted keywords, we work hard at Shutterstock to make sure that bad words don’t show up in places they shouldn’t.” The company’s dataset of Dirty, Naughty, Obscene, and Otherwise Bad Words contains the block-lists for their autocompletion and recommendation features, covering 2,600+ words and phrases in 28 languages.

https://github.com/LDNOOBW/List-of-Dirty-Naughty-Obscene-and-Otherwise-Bad-Words

Convening: Ideas for Social Gathering

“To feed a discussion about a potential get-together, a client recently asked me to gather some interesting event formats. After asking for pointers on Twitter, I was asked by a number of people to share my findings. I repurposed [sic] some things from the report, fished some out of my “archives”…

First are some of the “features” I look for, encourage you to consider, or would hope to produce myself if involved in getting something together, followed by some of my favorite live examples of those ideas, as well as good reads on convening and organizing.

* Small size.

* One track.

* Space to wander / organized walks or visits.

* “Speaker dinners” for everyone.

* Something more interactive than talks and panels.

* Something co-organized (à la unconference).

* Questions that aren’t comments and with time to discuss properly.

* More than yearly (depends on the exact combination of features, but some variations could be held two-three times a year).

* Ongoing exchanges between events.

* For some combinations, think of streaming and leaving proper archives to make some form of asynchronous “attending” possible.”

—Patrick Tanguay, “Convening.” Sentiers: Dispatch 5.