Bill Gates and vested interests

The world’s richest man thinks robots that displace human labour should be taxed and the money used to fund philanthropic employment in health care and education.  This proposal would suit the interests of the one per cent but there are probably better ways to deal with problems created by the agricultural surplus.

Bill Gates deserves some credit for his philanthropy and for recognizing educational and health care needs although one has to be concerned about the economics of how he became the current chairman of the board of the world’s elite.

To evaluate proposals like this we need to look at the vested interests of the person making them.

Mr. Gates’ foremost interest has to be in maintaining copyright and patent legislation as that is the foundation of his fortune.  If our society did not have that legislation he would be just another clever computer nerd, we would all be using cheaper and better software and there would be a great deal more equality in our society.

His second greatest interest has to be promotion of the social monitoring and tracking industry. The future of his fortune probably depends upon the success of Microsoft in tracking and monitoring all people so the information can be sold to advertisers.  I fear this not so much because of the advertising but because once the information is collected it will also be available to governments and the one per cent for social control.  I switched my computer to linux minx because I figured Microsoft was getting too blatant and too untrustworthy in its collection of information.

Another major interest of this guy is full employment and the work ethic.  He needs for everyone to be working so we can all purchase his software and be subject to targeted advertising.  If that does not happen his position as the richest man on earth becomes precarious.

Another of Mr. Gates interests is the maintenance of poor people in this world.  Without them he would not get brownie points for philanthropy.

Will his proposal help to save jobs?  Probably not because the root problem is that we have used up the most easily available energy and mineral resources.  Those that are left will take so much energy to extract their value is limited.

The development of robots should be seen as part of a long-term technological development which has given us a high agricultural and material goods surplus and which allows all the benefits of modern civilization.  The challenge is to use the technology for the greatest enjoyment of human lives.  It may be the greatest benefit would come from a new emphasis on doing arts, crafts, music  and theatre rather than marketing more elaborate gadgets.

So there are two things which might interfere with Mr. Gates’ desire for full employment and his future.  First is the depletion of energy and mineral resources which will reduce our economic activity and the second is if more and more people get fed up with the marketing conspiracy and reduce their interest in contributing to economic growth.

Why we have unemployment

We have unemployment because our agricultural surplus is such that we don’t need for everyone to be “working”.  More important issues are who decides how to use the surplus and how is it distributed.

This post was prompted by a question on Reddit asking why we have unemployment.  It’s an important  question because unemployment can be devastating.

The agricultural surplus is the food produced by workers which exceeds their own needs.   This surplus means some/many people can do things other than produce food.  In our society we have used this surplus to produce a wide range of goods and services which have themselves become a part of the surplus.  Unemployment is an indicator of how rich we are.

Think of a small group of hunters/fishers and gathers on a small island where the living is so easy food and shelter requires only and hour or two a day.  By our terms these people would have a high unemployment rate.  Distribution of food would probably not be a problem as they would probably share their produce but they would have to decide what to do with all the spare time.

This model could get  complicated if they had lots of children and increased their population to the limits of the available food.  It would still take only an hour or two a day to harvest the food even though there wasn’t enough for everybody.

In such a small society distribution of food would be by sharing.  I know an anthropologist who did his field work in such a society and he said you could not buy food there.  Whatever one needed was shared.  What to do with the “free” time would probably be up to individuals with collective activities partly by consensus.

Modern technology, especially that applied to agriculture, gives us the same magnitude of surplus.  We too could be approaching the limits of our ability to produce food.

We too have to decide how to share the produce and what to do with the time. So far these decisions have been influenced by our commitment to the work ethic.  Everyone should spend most of their time working and their share of the surplus should come in the form of wages.

As our exchange of goods and services is facilitated by money the decision-making goes with the money.  To the extent that a person has money one can decide how the surplus will be used.  So the more equally money is distributed the more decision-making will equal. The ancient Egyptians did not use money and it appears the pharaohs decided the surplus would be used to build burial chambers.

In the industrial economies we do not need full employment but we do need a more equitable way of distributing the surplus.  With the ups and downs of the economy full employment may not be a realistic goal.  There are lots of things people could do that would be satisfying but which do not contribute to gross national product.

I believe a universal income scheme would give us a more equitable distribution  of the agricultural surplus.  If we are approaching the limit of our ability to produce food, it might provide a more equitable way of dealing with shortages.   It would also spread the decision-making among more people.

Unemployment can be financially and psychologically  devastating for the people who experience it.   But it is not the real problem.  The urgent problems are an equitable distribution of the agricultural surplus and how it is to be used.


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An alien invasion or the consequences of stimulus

With austerity seemingly not working to resolve economic problems and the apparent success of Abenomics and recent announcements that there may be thousands of earth like planets,  it may be time to have a second look at Paul Krugman’s proposal for governments to start preparing for an alien invasion from outer space. On second thought,  the consequences of launching into a major stimulus program may be worse than the slim chance of an invasion.

As there are two sides to the economy, financial and real,  we should look at both of them.

On the real or physical side we need to look at two things – resources and labor reducing technology as the goal of stimulus would be economic growth and full employment.

For there to be economic growth there will need to be an increase in the quantity of goods and services we produce.  The limit on services may not  be clear but regardless of the service economy we all need physical things to survive.    The production of more goods will require more mineral and energy resources and that could be a problem.  There are lots of resources left in the earth’s crust but we have used up the most accessible and those that are left are difficult and require a lot of energy to extract.  That could be a limit on further economic growth.

So what would be the consequences of attempted stimulus on the resource base?  Probably more energy would be required leaving less for other things and probably we would bring forward the timing of a major economic collapse.

Another limit on full employment is labor reducing technology of which we use a lot.  Here I see two questions:  How is the freed up time to be used and who is to make that decision.  Personally I enjoy reading, thinking and writing this weblog and I enjoy wood turning.   I don’t want Paul Krugman telling me and others that we have to spend a lot of time preparing for an alien invasion.   We now have the technology that most people don’t need to spend most of their lives “working”.  I would like to see some sort of universal income scheme which would allow individuals to decide what they want to do with their time.

On the financial side of the economy stimulus means two potential problems – inflation or a financial crash.  A government stimulus program would be trying to increase the production of goods and services.  With limited potential for growth this would put upward pressure on prices.  With all the excess money supply which central banks have been pushing into the economy I wouldn’t want to rule out hyperinflation.

The other potential financial problem is another crash within the banking system.  The way we create money is a Ponzi scheme which has to crash from time to time.  If inflation doesn’t get us a crash will.

I fear that Krugman was only half-joking.  He wants governments to undertake a massive stimulus program and I fear that could bring forward a major economic collapse.

Austerity appears not to be working either and it is causing problems for lots of people, especially the young.  The challenge then is to find a third way and at this point I must refer you to the essay “LETS go to market: Dealing with the economic crisis” on this weblog.

Oh, oh.  Did I just see an armed flying saucer go by my window?


In exploring the world beyond the view from my study window (a large, lush green yard surrounded by tall trees and the mountain beyond the river valley) I came across a discussion of reasons for giving money to the poor.

I believe we have a collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience the same standard of living as everybody else.   This should apply to all the people of the  world.

This does not mean that everyone should have to take that opportunity. If a person chooses to do something else that is okay whether it be a life of poverty and medication in a cave or a life ruined by  drinking.

I also believe that full employment is not a realistic goal.  Nor is full employment desirable if it means working for the sake of working when there are other things people could do if they wanted. Nor is full employment desirable if it means using up scare resources or destroying the environment.

I also believe subsides should be given to consumers rather than producers.

And I believe that we as individuals should be able to make our own decisions according to our own values.

Therefore we should deal with poverty and/or ensuring everyone has the opportunity with some sort of universal income scheme.  Milton Friedman proposed a negative income tax.  I take the concept further and suggest an income scheme combined with a new way of creating money in the form of universal subsistence payments.

In either case the income scheme would replace all subsidies to producers and all other income support to individuals.

This approach would require some heavy-duty changes in our ways of thinking and behaving.  Many people would find it difficult to get their minds around these changes.  However, considering the current economic crisis and all the threats it may be that we need drastic changes.

Friedman, capitalism, freedom and a negative income tax

Another Milton Friedman book. This time Capitalism and Freedom.  I was a little surprised and quite relieved when I got to Chapter 12, the second last, and found Friedman advocating a negative income tax.

I was surprised  because one hardly ever hears about this part of his economics in spite of so many people claiming  to be followers.

I was relieved because as I read I liked most of what he said.  However, I believe we have a collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to share the same standard of living as everyone else.  I also believe full employment is not a realistic goal.  Therefor we need some sort of income plan.

If you think about it Friedman without the negative income tax proposal provides a rationalization for the who what to say “to hell with everyone else.”  I must say I figure this applies to only a few of the people who like his approach.

There are two groups of people to whose attention his negative income tax should be brought..

The first are all those who want a smaller and less intrusive government.  We can have that without destroying the lives of many other people so long as we combine it with a negative income tax or some other universal income scheme.

The second group is those who reject a market economy on humanitarian grounds. These are the people to whom “economics”. “profits”, and “business” are dirty words.  I suspect a few of the people who want the government to intervene in the economy are people who like to tell others how to live their lives.

If these people were to study the competitive economic system they would find it promotes a high degree of equality and minimizes profits, goals of which they should approve.

When these two groups have adapted their thinking to a negative income tax or a guaranteed income scheme they should have no trouble coming to a consensus that we should be moving towards a market economy based on the principles of perfect competition.

The problem then would how to deal with those who don’t care about others and those who think they have a right to tell others how to live their lives.

In conclusion I would like to state I believe there is a need to change the way we create money and that an income scheme should be part of  a new monetary plan.  For more on that see the essay “LETS go to market: Dealing with the economic crisis.


If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

Keynes, Hayek. full employment equilibrium

I’ve been reading the book Keynes Hayek: The clash that defined modern economics by Nicholas Wapshott and published in 2011

The following quote is from page 44.

Keynes believed that man had been placed in charge of his own destiny, while Hayek, with some reluctance, believed that man was destined by the natural  laws of economics as he was obliged to live by all other natural laws..  Thus the two men came to represent two alternative views of life and government, Keynes adopting an optimistic view  that life need not be as hard as it was if only those in positions of power made the right decisions, and Hayek subscribing to the pessimistic notion that there were strict limits placed on human endeavor and that attempts to alter the laws of nature, however, well intended, were bound to lead at best to unintended consequences.

My problem with Keynes view is that people in positions of power make decisions first according to what will get them reelected or help them to stay in power and then to repay their debts to those who helped them get into power.  These are not necessarily the “right decisions.”

On the other side, there are some economic activities which are best done collectively and I think we have a collective responsibility to see that everyone has the opportunity to live at the general standard of everyone else.

Another concept which concerned these guys was full employment equilibrium.

I’m not sure equilibrium is compatible with the dynamic  economy we have been experiencing with its mostly ups and sometimes down.  Nor am I convinced that full employment is possible or desirable with the high levels of technology we apply to our production of goods and services.

I’ve now got to page 110 and I have been having some difficulty getting caught up in some of the details of the debate between these two men.  For one thing, the world is quite a different place to what it was in the 1930s.

Probably the book will be going back to the library soon.

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