Fiat Is Effective

Source: Fiat money is very effective, a minitalk for the Silicon Valley Ethereum Meetup, by Steve Randy Waldman, 2017/10/08

For now, in my view, the fiat currencies of major economies beat every existing form of crypto hands down on effectiveness

  • We want a unit of account that helps us to solve the economic calculation problem, that helps us to reason about our future receipts and obligations
  • We want a unit of account and store of value that hedges our risk, inherent in the fact that our contractual obligations and the prices of goods and services we require may fluctuate over time and leave us unable to meet our obligations.
  • The unit of account that we choose will sometimes form the basis of our assets
    • we will hold or contract for claims on this unit
  • But it will frequently form the basis of our liabilities!
    • we will contract to make future payments in this unit
  • It will not be desirable for the value of this unit (in terms of actual goods and services) to unexpectedly collapse, as that inflation would devalue our assets
  • But it will also not be desirable for the value of that unit (in terms again of actual goods and services) to unexpectedly spike, as that deflation would cause the burden of our liabilities, our debts, to balloon!

Money is defined by the unit of account in which obligations payable into the future get denominated

Fiat prices are stable because they are actively managed to be stable.

  • Price stability is about managing valuation risk, and makes a money useful for economic calculation and hedging the risk humans face of finding themselves unable in the future to afford the real goods and services they require
  • Fiat money banking systems also enable effective means of managing counterparty risk. Most obviously, payments are often reversible.

The management of fiat provides state actors with incredibly powerful, ultimately discretionary, tools which significantly affect who wins and who loses and how equal or unequal a society is. Fiat money and associated banking systems are the technology that enables the finance of war on scales that would have been unimaginable a few centuries ago. Price stability, the primary advance fiat offers users over other forms of money, is often purchased at the expense of workers and the unemployed, on behalf of those who have the luxury of worrying about economic calculation for their businesses or hedging with their savings horde

Q&A With Alan Jacobs, Author of ‘How to Think’ – The Atlantic

Source: Q&A With Alan Jacobs, Author of ‘How to Think’ – The Atlantic

Maybe it’s inevitable that today’s hyper-partisanship and lightening-fast news cycles have left the open-minded Jacobs frustrated with America’s low tolerance for disagreement—a political order characterized by “willful incomprehension [and] toxic suspicion”

In a pluralistic society, people struggle to deal with difference. One of the ways in which we typically deal with difference is by drawing really clear lines of belonging and not-belonging.

Green: Do you think people are obligated to engage with an opposing viewpoint if enough people hold that view?

Jacobs: I do think that’s true. When a position is really widely held, it’s not really a safe option to deem it out of bounds.

I want to be generous, and I want to be civil, and I want to be kind. I want to listen to people who are very different from me. I want to keep doing that, even if I don’t make things better. I also want to be aware of the ways in which a plea for civility can be a way of consolidating power. It’s pretty easy to be me in America. … I want to remember that and not chastise people for being uncivil when they have what Martin Luther King Jr. called “legitimate and unavoidable impatience.” I do want to promote civility, but I want to promote it more by example than by lecturing people on how they can be more civil.

The great nutrient collapse

Source: The great nutrient collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention.

Scientists found that they could make algae grow faster by shining more light onto them—increasing the food supply for the zooplankton, which should have flourished. But it didn’t work out that way. … By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide.

“We don’t know what a minor shift in the carbohydrate ratio in the diet is ultimately going to do,” she said, noting that the overall trend toward more starch and carbohydrate consumption has been associated with an increase in diet-related disease like obesity and diabetes. “To what degree would a shift in the food system contribute to that? We can’t really say.”

Within the category of plants known as “C3”―which includes approximately 95 percent of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes―elevated CO2 has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have, which look at how plants would respond to the kind of CO2 concentrations we may see in our lifetimes, show these important minerals drop by 8 percent, on average.

They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2.

Across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. The ratio of carbohydrates to minerals was going up. The plants, like the algae, were becoming junk food.

Footage of German American Bund Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939 – The Atlantic – The Atlantic

Source: Footage of German American Bund Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939 – The Atlantic – The Atlantic

On February 20, 1939, the German American Bund organized a rally of 20,000 Nazi supporters at Madison Square Garden in New York City. When Academy Award-nominated documentarian Marshall Curry stumbled upon footage of the event in historical archives, he was flabbergasted. Together with Field of Vision, he decided to present the footage as a cautionary tale to Americans. The short film, A Night at the Garden, premieres on The Atlantic today.

To fix income inequality, we need more than UBI—we need Universal Basic Assets — Quartz

Source: To fix income inequality, we need more than UBI—we need Universal Basic Assets — Quartz

We call this solution Universal Basic Assets.

UBA identifies a fundamental set of resources every person needs access to—such as financial security, housing, health care, and education—in order to achieve economic security and prosperity. We focus on three broad classes of assets: private assets, like money, land, and housing; public assets, in the form of infrastructure and services such as education, health, and public utilities; and open assets, which are a growing category of mostly digital assets that are communally created and open to everyone, like Wikipedia and other open-source resources.

give people ownership of their data so it can be used as an asset which they—not platforms such as Google and Facebook—can leverage and capture economic value.

Is the American Idea Doomed? – The Atlantic

Source: Is the American Idea Doomed? – The Atlantic, by Yoni Appelbaum

Not yet—but it has precious few supporters on either the left or the right.

The American idea, Parker declared in an 1850 speech, comprised three elements: that all people are created equal, that all possess unalienable rights, and that all should have the opportunity to develop and enjoy those rights. Securing them required “a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people,” Parker said.

When the Union prevailed, it enshrined this vision in the Constitution … The United States and its allies triumphed in two world wars and in a third that was undeclared—the first, Woodrow Wilson said, waged so that the world might “be made safe for democracy”; the second, Franklin D. Roosevelt explained, “to meet the threat to our democratic faith”; and the third, Ronald Reagan declared, to settle “the question of freedom for all mankind.” Each victory brought with it a fresh surge of democratization around the world. And each surge ebbed, in part because the pursuit of equality, rights, and opportunity guarantees ongoing contention while the alternatives offer the illusion of stability.

It is no surprise that younger Americans have lost faith in a system that no longer seems to deliver on its promise—and yet, the degree of their disillusionment is stunning.

Even as the left is made queasy by the notion that an idea can be both good and distinctively American, many on the right now doubt that America is a land defined by a distinctive idea at all.

The greatest danger facing American democracy is complacence. The democratic experiment is fragile, and its continued survival improbable. Salvaging it will require enlarging opportunity, restoring rights, and pursuing equality, and thereby renewing faith in the system that delivers them. This, really, is the American idea: that prosperity and justice do not exist in tension, but flow from each other. Achieving that ideal will require fighting as if the fate of democracy itself rests upon the struggle—because it does.

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia | Technology | The Guardian

Source: ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia | Technology | The Guardian

The Google, Apple and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. Paul Lewis reports on the Silicon Valley refuseniks who worry the race for human attention has created a world of perpetual distraction that could ultimately end in disaster

“One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says. It may or may not be relevant that Rosenstein, Pearlman and most of the tech insiders questioning today’s attention economy are in their 30s, members of the last generation that can remember a world in which telephones were plugged into walls.

It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.

Eyal confided the lengths he goes to protect his own family. He has installed in his house an outlet timer connected to a router that cuts off access to the internet at a set time every day. “The idea is to remember that we are not powerless,” he said. “We are in control.”

But are we? If the people who built these technologies are taking such radical steps to wean themselves free, can the rest of us reasonably be expected to exercise our free will?

[Roger McNamee] identifies the advent of the smartphone as a turning point, raising the stakes in an arms race for people’s attention. “Facebook and Google assert with merit that they are giving users what they want,” McNamee says. “The same can be said about tobacco companies and drug dealers.”

“The people who run Facebook and Google are good people, whose well-intentioned strategies have led to horrific unintended consequences,” he says. “The problem is that there is nothing the companies can do to address the harm unless they abandon their current advertising models.”

If the attention economy erodes our ability to remember, to reason, to make decisions for ourselves – faculties that are essential to self-governance – what hope is there for democracy itself?

The Rules of the Gun Control Debate – The Atlantic

Source: The Rules of the Gun Control Debate – The Atlantic

The rules for discussing firearms in the United States obscure the obvious solutions.

A village has been built in the deepest gully of a floodplain.

At regular intervals, flash floods wipe away houses, killing all inside. Less dramatic—but more lethal—is the steady toll as individual villagers slip and drown in the marshes around them.

After especially deadly events, the villagers solemnly discuss what they might do to protect themselves. Perhaps they might raise their homes on stilts? But a powerful faction among the villagers is always at hand to explain why these ideas won’t work. “No law can keep our village safe! The answer is that our people must learn to be better swimmers – and oh by the way, you said ‘stilts’ when the proper term is ‘piles,’ so why should anybody listen to you?”

So the argument rages, without result, year after year, decade after decade, fatalities mounting all the while. Nearby villages, built in the hills, marvel that the gully-dwellers persist in their seemingly reckless way of life. But the gully-dwellers counter that they are following the wishes of their Founders, whose decisions two centuries ago must always be upheld by their descendants.

the surest sign that gun advocates know how lethal the science is for their cause is their determination to suppress it: since the mid-1990s, Republicans in Congress have successfully cut off federal funding for non-industry gun-safety research. That’s not what you do when the facts are on your side.

Americans insist instead on seeking the one technical fix that would save lives without reducing guns. It’s an illusion for which Americans annually pay a higher price in blood than they shed in most of the nation’s wars.

The crooked timber of humanity | 1843

Source: The crooked timber of humanity | 1843

Nearly two centuries ago, France was hit by the world’s first cyber-attack. Tom Standage argues that it holds lessons for us today

The world’s first national data network was constructed in France during the 1790s. It was a mechanical telegraph system, consisting of chains of towers, each of which had a system of movable wooden arms on top. Different configurations of these arms corresponded to letters, numbers and other characters. Operators in each tower would adjust the arms to match the configuration of an adjacent tower, observed through a telescope, causing sequences of characters to ripple along the line.

The Blanc brothers traded government bonds at the exchange in the city of Bordeaux, where information about market movements took several days to arrive from Paris by mail coach. … They bribed the telegraph operator in the city of Tours to introduce deliberate errors into routine government messages being sent over the network.

The first is to avoid complacency. … Most attackers, like the Blancs, do not advertise their presence. Second, regardless of the technology, security is like a chain and humans are always the weakest link.