Monday, November 28, 2011

Failure Is The Plan The Plan Is Death

As it turns out, failure was an option after all.

And, in point of fact, it turns out that failure was the only option.

Failure, it seems, was hardwired into the plan right from the very start.

Try to imagine my surprise.

Back in the early 70’s, writing under the penname James Tiptree Jr., the haunted writer Alice Bradley Sheldon penned a sad and chilling story.

It was intended, this story, as a cautionary tale, a terrible example of instinct and biology over reason and intelligence.

Now, there is nothing particularly unusual about that per se, given that Dr. Sheldon wrote many subtly chilling stories in the 70’s, arguably some of the most chilling and subtle tales ever put down on paper (seriously, read The Screwfly Solution sometime, that goddamned thing still gives me the willies, especially when you realize what Sheldon was really getting at).  Sheldon herself was a deeply troubled and tragic figure whose life ended in a manner right out of one of her dark and terrible nightmares, but in spite of – or maybe because of –  her demons she was also a complex and fascinating storyteller and an absolute master of disturbing cautionary tales – unsurprising given that her docorate was in psychology and that she had been many things in her strange life, from a wealthy Hyde Park socialite on safari in darkest Africa to WWII soldier to Cold War CIA spook to chicken farmer to award winning writer and finally to cunning murderer and a suicide (the noun, not the verb).

In Love Is The Plan The Plan Is Death, Sheldon told the story of a spider-like creature doomed by inexorable biology to first a gradual loss of its intelligence and self awareness, and then ultimately to violent death – squint your eyes and think Alzheimer’s victim crossed with a praying mantis’ sex life dropped into the middle of a war zone and you’re in something resembling roughly the right ballpark. Imagine how terrible a life-cycle that would be for any sentient being. Self destruction is hardwired into the creature’s genes.  In the story, the pitiful protagonist is fully aware of what is happening and struggles heroically against its fate, having come to believe that love can indeed conquer all – even genes.

Sheldon wasn’t a happy person and her stories rarely, if ever, had a happy ending.  At the end of Plan, the poor creature succumbs to the mindless unthinking individual tragedy of its species’ fate – for in Sheldon’s world brutal biology cannot be denied, even by love (and here there is a truly horrible parallel to Alice Sheldon’s own fate, but I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader*).

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Love Is The Plan The Plan Is Death last week when the so-called Congressional Super-Committee emerged at last from its spider hole and announced triumphantly that they had succeeded in failing – exactly as planned.

Like most Americans, I suspect, I was disgusted but not surprised.

As I wrote in the previous post, the committee’s failure to reach any kind of agreement on debt reduction is a surprise to absolutely nobody, except perhaps the aforementioned lovesick spider. 

The committee itself was born of failure on the part of Congress – failure to do the job that Congress was elected to do in the first place, failure to keep their oath so help me God, failure to place their duty to country above their personal agendas and politics, failure to listen to all of their constituents and not just the ones with the open checkbooks, failure to perform their Constitutionally and legally mandated function, failure of leadership, failure of reason and intellect, failure of democratic government, and a complete and utter failure of moral courage. 

The Super-Committee was designed to fail  by a Congress that is itself an utter failure.  It was stocked with men and women who swore to fail – how different would our situation be today if only these same disingenuous sons of bitches had fought as steadfastly for their oath to the people and the country and the Constitution as they do for their non-binding promise of allegiance to a rich lobbyist?

Sadly, the creation and ultimate inevitable failure of the super-committee is itself not the disease, it’s a symptom of a much deeper malady.

Because, see, ultimately the mere existence of such a congressional super-committee is an expression of abject failure on the part of Americans to maintain and operate their democracy in any but the most mindless and instinctual manner. 

Failure, it would seem, was hardwired into the committee’s genes right from the day of its birth.

I’ve written about the inexorability of fate before. 

But here’s the thing: as I said in The Inexorable White Whale, the simple truth of the matter is that I don’t, in fact, believe in fate or destiny or pre-ordination. You can change your fate. You can. There are a thousand places, more, where we can change the course of our history. 

We know what has to be done.

We are not Sheldon’s alien spider.

Failure is not hardwired into our genes.

The super-committee didn’t have to fail.  It could have worked. It could have worked if its members had placed the nation above their own childish politics.  It could have worked if those who formed the committee and selected its members actually wanted it to succeed. It could have worked if Americans demanded that it succeed and held its members responsible for failure.

But of course, the very same thing could be said of Congress itself – and should be. Every single day.

The super-committee is an admission by Congress that they, both the House and Senate, are unable and unwilling to avoid descent into mindless savagery. 

Every single member of congress knows what has to be done.   We must cut spending.  We must raise taxes.  We must do both. It’s like losing weight, the only way to take it off and keep it off is diet and exercise.  There is no other solution.  Everything else is just window dressing.  You know it. I know it. And every single member of the government knows it.  The solution is painful, just as losing weight is painful and difficult and hard, but ultimately if you don’t do it, it will kill you. 

Unlike Sheldon’s poor alien, Congress has a choice.

And they choose this path. The path of moral cowardice. The path of failure.

As I have said on numerous occasions, I spent my entire life in the military and despite now being retired from active service I continue to hold my oath to the county and Constitution dear. I am opposed to violent revolution. I am opposed to smashing windows and lighting the country on fire. I’ve been to war, I know what it looks like and I don’t think it’s necessary here. Yet. I believe that the system is damaged, bent and battered and sore used, but I still have faith in the country and the system our forefathers designed. 

I believe in America.

I believe that unlike Sheldon’s unhappy alien spiders our fate can be changed. 

I don’t believe that we must be victims of our political biology.

But I will say this: while I would neither condone nor encourage it, and would likely actively fight against it, if the members of Congress are ultimately dragged from their ivory towers and hung from the nearest lampposts I’ll be neither surprised nor will I shed a tear for their fate – for they have well and truly earned it.

Hopefully such won’t be necessary to change our destiny.

I read with sour amusement political analyst Charlie Cook’s comment this morning,

“Voters hardly seem inclined to reward either party, instead, we may well see many incumbents – those wearing blue Democratic jerseys as well as those wearing red Republican ones – thrown out the window, not so much because of their uniforms but because of their proximity to windows…”

I certainly hope so.



* If you want to learn more about the fascinating and tragic life of Dr. Alice Bradley Sheldon, AKA James Tiptree Jr., AKA Racoona Sheldon, an excellent place to start is Julie Phillips’ meticulously researched and gripping James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.  Highly recommended, even if you’re not a fan of science fiction and have never heard of Tiptree before.  Printed versions are available from the usual sources, and it’s now apparently available on the web.


  1. This is the first I've heard of Sheldon, but man, am I intrigued! Thanks for another fabulous post that hits the nail right on the head.

  2. I like this country. I plan on staying here. However, I see some necessary changes, as you point out here.

    We have a pretty good system. Checks and balances, people watching out for the little guy, other folks whose job is to keep the corporate behemoth from running rampant. The down side is that our inspectors aren't doing their job because they (A) don't have the budget to do it right, or (b) the inspectees' budgets include the payola to keep it from being done right. In fact, this can be used as a parallel for elected officials as well.

  3. Wow. I thought I was the only person left on the planet who had heard of Alice Sheldon / James Tiptree Jr. and was actually a fan of her work.

    Regarding "what needs to be done", no, we do not need to cut spending in a recession. The whole *problem* of this recession is that everybody cut spending, and if everybody cuts spending, then there's no demand, and if there's no demand, employers lay off workers, and if employers lay off workers, that cuts demand, and if demand falls, employers lay off *more* workers, wash, rinse, repeat, right now the level of demand enforced by U.S. government spending has put a bottom on this process but pull that leg out from under this three-legged stool preventing total collapse, and BAM. And no, there's no problem with coming up the money to continue current levels of spending. Investors are clamoring to loan the U.S. government money at effectively *negative* interest rate, because the corruption of the markets has become so obvious that even morons know that even with the House refusing to raise the debt ceiling and crap like that, Treasuries are still a better bet than the rigged game that is Wall Street.

    Now, I do agree that we need to raise taxes, but that's 'cause I'm one of them eeeeevil so... sosh... soshalists (yay!) who believes that capitalists who have benefitted from the labor of workers need to turn over a goodly percentage of the money they earned from the labor of workers for use, well, of the workers. There isn't a single Fortune 500 CEO who has earned a dime by creating or building something. Every single one of them is like Steve Jobs, who earned a fortune off the labor of others, an overglorified con-man whose sole talent was creating a cult of personality around himself. Steve got rich while the engineers and designers who actually created the product didn't. Steve got rich while the workers who actually created the product were being worked under slave labor conditions so onerous that a number of them actually committed suicide in protest. Steve, like every single Fortune 500 CEO, like every single billionaire on this planet, got rich off the labor of others. I call our .1% the grifter class, because that's what they are -- grifters, con-men, people who get rich by taking wealth created by others for themselves then creating such a great con that their victims clamor to be victimized by these "wealth creators" who aren't. Not a single one of them got to where they are by hard work and study -- they got where they are by being successful con men, convincing others to give them billions for being "leaders" (i.e., stuffed suit assholes without a clue). And it's time to put a stop to the grift, put a stop to the scam, and tax them to a level that makes it not worth their while to destroy jobs for profit, that makes it not worth their while to destroy companies for profit, that makes it not worth their while to destroy the economy for profit. And so it goes...

    - Badtux the Economist Penguin

  4. @Tux, I understand what you're saying (and that you're a filthy keynesian ;) but please note that I didn't say where spending should be cut.

    I've been in the military my entire life, I do certain work for the military now. Believe me, we can cut spending significantly without either cutting our security or putting anybody out of work and have money left over to put into the areas of the economy where they would actually benefit more people than a single defense contractor.

  5. Here's a Republican who says what/where to cut and I agree with him!
    Of course, other Republicans might call this "tax increases".

  6. My view is slightly different from yours. We, as a country, as a people, as a species, will eventually fail. Everything dies in its course.

    The question is not one of whether we will fail but when we will fail. And I see nothing that tells me that that inevitable failure has to happen today.

    In the movie version of Lord of the Rings, Aragorn rallies his troops before the gates of Mordor by telling them that a day may come when the courage of men will fail, "but it is not this day."

    Hope comes not from naive dreams of immortality but from doing the best we can with what we have, while we have it.

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  8. Oh my goodness. It's the False Equivalency nonsense raising its zombie head again...sigh.

    It's not Congress. It's the Republicans in Congress, and frankly you should know that.

    Here's an article from the Washington Post pointing this out.

    Here's another article from William S. Cohen, former defense secretary.

    There's lots of other articles--just Google "Republican supercommittee failure."

    I suppose it's fun to blame this generic monolith called "Congress," but it's simply not true.

  9. I wrote this post specifically without mentioning either side. I did it on purpose.

    However, certain things are implied. Obviously so.

    Go back and reread it carefully, sound out the big words if you need to, and see if you can figure out why I wrote what I did.

    Hint: my regular readers tend to be a higher class of folks than the Yahoo News commenters, they generally don't need to be hit over the head in order to get the point.

  10. I don't need to be hit over the head...I just get so tired of people (not necessarily you) dancing around stuff when it needs to be said, straight out.

    I admire people like Barney Frank, Alan Grayson and Bernie Saunders who do just that.

    It just seems to me there's more than enough obfuscation coming from the likes of Fake Noise--the rest of us don't need to be adding to it.

  11. I've been accused of a lot of things, obfuscation usually isn't one of them.

    Tell you what, assume I'm having a bad day. I'll try to be my usual blunt self next time.

  12. but please note that I didn't say *where* spending should be cut.

    Fair enough. I think we all know that most military contracting doesn't create many jobs for Americans, Halliburton and their ilk hire Pakis or Filipinos or whoever else is cheap wherever they're operating, sorta like they hired Mexicans rather than Americans when they got the contract to clean up New Orleans rather than hiring all the freshly unemployed Louisianians who needed jobs. Un-outsource those jobs back to DoD employees who are required to be U.S. citizens, and you not only save money, you employ Americans.

    Which, BTW, now that I think of it, is why pure Keynesian solutions won't work nowadays. Keynesian economics presumes that if you buy stuff, you put people to work. Yes, you do... people in China. Which helps unemployed Americans... how? The entire system has been revamped to outsource labor to China, India, etc., and yeah that's good for China which gets money it needs to modernize and improve living conditions for its people but I thought I voted for President of the *UNITED STATES*, not the President of *CHINA*... I thought my President and Congress were supposed to be looking out for America and Americans, not Chinese and Indians. Boy was I naive...

    - Badtux the WASF Penguin

  13. Who owns our government, anyway? Wall Street? The Better Business Bureau? The political Parties? No, I'm pretty sure there was a line in those documents they're always going on about... Something about "We, The People."

  14. I've tended to vote Democrat my entire adult life, but I've never blindly voted the party ticket. Unless somebody really surprising appears in this cycle, I'll be changing that. Hell, if I can figure out how to vote "Chicago style", I'll be casting proxy votes for my ancestors dating back 100 years or so. If a Democrat can spell his own fucking name, I'll be voting for them.

    In the next election, Obama needs to win by a landslide. He needs a mandate. And Democrats need to get their shit together and give him a rubber stamp congress. As a party, their campaign slogan should be "Look at what those fuckers have done to you."

    I'm really tired of Democrats (and independents) complaining that Obama hasn't been as liberal as he promised to be. The Republicans hate him and everything he stands for. They'd demonize him for issuing a proclamation honoring motherhood, apple pie and American-made cars. It's a miracle he's gotten anything done with those fuckers blocking everything he does just for the sake of blocking him.

    The Republicans' strategy all along (and they haven't been shy about announcing it) is that they'd make sure Obama failed as often as they could make it happen and make sure he'd be a one-term President. Their strategy is to fuck the country so they could win the next election.

    That's more than reason enough to throw the fuckers out. No matter how disappointed some people are with Obama, they should be making a concerted effort at making sure that strategy isn't rewarded.

    BTW, I'm not one of those wishing there was another Democrat (or Independent) to run against Obama; I like him fine. I'm just a bit tired of hearing my fellow lefties complain about him. A little unity is called for here if the goal is to actually get a Government that responds to anything other than mindless fucking pledges.

    (Why yes...I guess this topic does piss me off a tad.)

  15. Let's call it what it is - the Congressional Mafia. Extortion. Abject pointed failure to honor their oath to citizens to do the job to the best of their ability.

    If I dillied around with the board, put obstacles in the path of their direction on a project, refused to submit acceptable department budgets in a timely fashion, openly disrespected my CEO in a confrontational manner in front of the staff, and refused to constructively participate in project meetings, I would be invited to leave the building before the end of the day. I would not have a job by 5 pm. I would be SO fired. And SO quickly.

    WHY are they not fired?!

    I don't give a damn what political party anyone belongs to, and I'm tired of that being an insidious excuse. Yep, that's right, 'partisan politics' is an EXCUSE.

    A few handfuls of human beings sitting there are WILLFULLY refusing to honorably discharge their duties, for which they are collecting salary from the Federal Treasury. Watching citizens riot in the streets, knowing their constituents and countrymen are financially on the brink, willing to let the entire country burn to the ground, rather than let something decent happen and things go smoothly on President Obama's watch.

    Unacceptable. Dishonorable. Grounds for immediate termination.

  16. If we are going to quote books and movies I believe even Sarah Conner said that fate is what you make.

    The sad, sad, sad thing about quoting movies is that I fear a majority of the population is getting their edu-makation from movies. If there really is a secret plan to dumb down America, it is working.

  17. Bad Tux

    I can only speak for one, but Robert Iger did not get where he is on the work of others. The man is a damned hard worker. He and I started with ABC-TV the same summer in the same division, BO&E. I was a maintenance engineer (I fixed things) he as a an assistant tech manager, both entry level.

    If you didn't work hard Julie canned you. Both of us were in entry level postions. I ended up as Manager of Digital Standards and had a lot to do with Closed Captioning, V-Chip, television Data, Advanced Television and Intellectual Property Protection (on the latter I was the engineer and his protegee was the lawyer on the Disney team). She also thought highly of him.

    I wouldn't want his job, I was perfectly happy for decades in my windowless lab with various glowing screens.

    I suspect there are many CEOs who are also very hard workers, but I only know one to say hello to in the cafeteria.

  18. Let's just be honest. There is a very large segment of the population of this nation that just can't stand the idea of a black man in the White House. They are the ones that say, "But I'm not a racist. I have black friends" and then you take a look at their fb friends list and there is one, an he married that commy cousin you can't stand, but have to include because they are family. It's true. I actually tested it. I looked at 2 of my friends lists who are extremely racist, even though one claimed that she wasn't a racist because she had a Honduran maid. 996 friends between them. Six were black and 4 of those in-laws. (You know a whole lot about people when you grow up in a small town.) What really surprised me was that there were two black men that I thought were on everyones' list and it turned out that neither was on either one.

    Whether you want to admit it or not, the reason they (and I am talking mostly Repulicans here) will never even attempt to DO THEIR JOBS is because of the color of the president's skin, And that is just a cryin' shame. A cryin' damn shame.

  19. Warner, Disney makes their money doing three things, basically: distributing (and sometimes producing) television programming, distributing (and sometimes producing) movies, and creating and producing theme park attractions to bring in tourists. If there were not hundreds of thousands of hard working people creating and doing the work of distributing those television programs, creating and doing the work of distributing those moving, creating and producing theme park attractions to bring in tourists, Bob Iger would have *NOTHING*, because Bob Iger does NONE of that -- and never has.

    Nobody's saying Bob Iger is lazy. Just that any wealth he has is because of wealth that *other* people created, not because of wealth that *he* created. Bob adds some value in helping coordinate all that creation of actual wealth, and should be compensated for that value. But is Bob truly worth 1,000 times as much as the guy who draws the animation frames for Disney's hit movies? Is Bob truly worth 1,000 times as much as the guy who writes the scripts for ABC News newsreaders to read? When Bob actually creates no -- ZERO -- wealth for Disney, but merely "manages" (i.e. coordinates) the creation of that wealth? Bob would have nothing -- ZERO -- if not for those people, why should the people who *don't* create the actual goods and services that make Disney wealthy -- people like Bob -- be paid so much more than the people who *do* create the actual goods and services that make Disney wealthy? In the end, the self-entitlement of people at the top of corporations who believe that coordinating the activities of the actual wealth creators entitles them to grift wealth far in excess of the value they add to the corporation is completely symptomatic of Griftopia Inc. where the people who've managed to wrangle their way to the top of the heap grift the wealth created by the actual wealth creators far in excess of any value they add to the corporation -- then whine about "class warfare" when you point out that they are, in fact, grifters.

    - Badtux the Wealth-creating Penguin

  20. On Iger's watch the Disney stock has increased by a factor of 2.5 or a bit, that is wealth creating fairly attributed to a CEO.

    And yes he did used to do that kind of work. I've been a tech manager for ABC and it is not easy work. And as I said Julie, our division vice president, didn't put up with incompetent or lazy.

    Jim feel free to remove if you think I've gone to far off topic.

    I will not respond again here as it is off topic and not my blog.

  21. Stock prices? You believe stock prices are wealth?! Wow! Which reminds me of another delusion of our oligarchs, that pieces of paper with pictures of silly buggers on them -- or pieces of paper with Disney stock numbers on them -- are wealth. That's utter and total balderdash. What is wealth is the stuff you *buy* with the pieces of toilet paper with pictures of silly buggers on them -- the goods and services, the television programming and movies, the Haunted Castle and theme rides. Those are wealth. Wealth is *stuff* -- things you can actually touch and feel. The greatest scam that has ever been run by the grifters is the scam that fancy embroidered toilet paper is wealth. That scam is what has allowed them to grift so much of the country's actual wealth -- close to 50% of the actual assets of our country -- into their own pockets despite the fact that for the most part they created *none* of it. It's as if we're in the throes of some giant death cult that worships fancy toilet paper, perhaps that is why some people call the toilet the "throne"?

    - Badtux the Snarky Wealth Creating Penguin
    (Yes, you *can* touch the stuff I create).

  22. Disclosure: I am pretty much a filthy Keynesian, as I've yet to see any positive result of supply-side economics.

    I totally agree that we have a deficit problem and that it needs to be corrected. The question is not if, but when.

    At this time (i.e. Nov 2011) our country would be better off with a plan that looks something like:

    Borrow money to repair/enhance our infrastructure. That includes not only bridges/roads/buildings, but also our electric and internet grids. Borrowing money at next to a zero interest rate is a smart thing to do.

    But this should only be done if there is an accompanying agreement to significantly reform our financial policies once unemployment hits 7%. I initially wrote 6%, but since this task will take a significant amount of time, I figure by the time they get it done, the rate will have dropped to 6%.

    We need both tax increases and spending cuts. The problem is we keep budgeting year by year. We don't have any long term plans. Even Russia can figure out that a 5-year plan is better than a 1-year plan. We have 5-year farm plans. Why can't we expand this to other areas?

    Spending cuts need to come from *all* areas of government. Defense, subsidies, social… Everywhere.

    As much as I hate to side with her, Bachmann has said one thing I agree with. Everyone should pay something. Even if it's as little as $10. You're a resident of this country. It is not a free ride. When you pay for something, you become invested in the outcome.

    This country will eventually fail. I'm just hoping for a gradual decline (e.g. Britain) versus the alternatives (e.g. U.S.S.R.)

    We can make this work. We just have to want to.

  23. @Nick

    The only problem with that is, to someone who is REALLY REALLY poor (as in having to choose between rent and food) $10 is a lot of money.

    To someone like me (making $36,000 a year) $10 is pocket change.

    To the 1%, they wouldn't even know it's gone. Either $10, or several thousand times $10.

    This is why people whose incomes are so low they don't pay income taxes (you know, the people Michele Bachmann rags on) shouldn't have to.

  24. Jim feel free to remove if you think I've gone to far off topic.

    Ultimately, this post is about national debt, spending cuts, and taxes: i.e. wealth. So, no, I don't think you're off topic, @Warner. Feel free to continue.

    Stock prices? You believe stock prices are wealth?!...

    Yes. In that stock has value. It has value, because a lot of people want it. Silly? Perhaps, nevertheless.

    ... Wealth is *stuff*

    Stock is stuff. Example: I create stuff, i.e. physical art from wood. I make bowls and carvings and other such things from wood on my lathe in my woodshop. People give me money for those items, sometimes a lot of money. Sometimes they give me stuff in trade (usually more wood to make more stuff from). The Stuff I make has value to people who are interested in such things. Others? Well, they think my stuff is crap and they have said they wouldn't even use it for firewood (those people are entitled to their opinions. They can also blow me).

    Wealth is what we say it is.

    Another example: Stonekettle Station. I write stuff. I most certainly create it. In many cases it takes a great deal more creative effort on my part than my woodwork. A number of folks have said quite specifically that what I write here has value to them, but it's quite unlikely that they'd pay to visit this blog. So while it may have value, it makes me no wealth. And yet it has value to me, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. There’s more than one kind of wealth.

    People who makes things, as you pointed out, Tux, create wealth as a general case. The CEO and managers of the company may not create wealth in the same fashion, but they provide wealth in the form of fostering an environment that lends value to the physical items created by workers (or not, certainly there are plenty of worthless managers and CEO’s). Example: Marketing. People in marketing may not directly create stuff, but they do create wealth by creating a desire for the physical items created by people who make stuff (or not, again I’m talking in a general sense here). Now does that mean that they should be entitled to 1000x the share of wealth as the guy who makes the gizmo? Maybe. Because maybe the gizmo is worthless without the efforts of the marketing trolls and the CEOs. Or maybe not. What percentage then? 100x? 10x? .5x? Who decides? The government? History would suggest that’s a bad idea.

  25. Stocks are wealth because many people see them as valuable and desire to possess them. But because stocks are, as you pointed out, Tux, based on fickle human desire and rarely on physical stuff they can lose value just as quickly as they created it.

    Are stocks real wealth? That's just arguing semantics. Wealth generated from the desire for stocks is used to buy stuff and so its value becomes physically real, at least in some sense. And I don’t really see it as that much different from the desire for shiny metal. Up until the advent of the electronics industry, gold mostly only had value because people wanted it. It really wasn’t much good for anything other than being shiny and yellow. Another example, I’m old enough to have once spent money on a Pet Rock. Yep. That was wealth created entirely from an idea – and the non-physical product of marketing. Was it real wealth? For somebody it certainly was.

    Conversely, it's also important to point out that physical stuff can become worthless just as easily as non-physical stuff, computers and other such momentary technology are one example, a racehorse that breaks a leg is another. The physical stuff still exists, and in the case of the antiquated but still fully operational computer, isn't worth anything, not even the price of recouping the material it's made from (the horse can still be used for stud or sold for dog food, it may still have value albeit much reduced). Why? Where did the wealth inherent in the physical item go? The effort to create it didn't change. The wages the manufacturer paid to the person who built it didn’t change and weren’t recovered. The material it's made from didn't change and may, in fact, be worth more now than when the device was first manufactured. Nothing changed about it, but it's now worthless, and in fact may actually represent negative wealth if you have to pay to dispose of it. It's still stuff, you can touch it, but again where did the wealth go? Answer: the stuff is worthless because nobody wants it.

    Stocks are wealth because we say they are. Because people want them.

  26. Jim Wright: "But because stocks are, as you pointed out, Tux, based on fickle human desire and rarely on physical stuff they can lose value just as quickly as they created it. "

    Do you think the value of "physical stuff" is just as fickle as nebulous things like stocks? Their value is defined by how much people want the stuff. If they lose the desire for the stuff, then it will lose value.

    This is, perhaps, less true of physical stuff that people need to survive (water, air, food, shelter, etc.) But is the value of a widget really any more tangible than the value of a stock in the company that makes the widget?

  27. I think it depends on the widget.
    Certain widgets tend to hold their value over time, or increase their value over time, due to perceived quality, or scarcity, because they're just plain awesome, or because the outfit that makes it is engaged in a long term sustained marketing campaign that helps keep desire for the product alive, say like a Harley-Davidson motorcyle.

    Other widgets don't.

    Ditto stocks.

    When we are discussing complex issues such as wealth, I would be very reluctant to embrace any "one size fits all" position.

  28. Jim Wright "Yes. Stock has value -"


    you have no idea what your talking about. You should try reading Ayn Rand again, maybe this time you will "get it." name one REAL product who's "value" changes like freakin' stocks! Name ONE product that was only worth a couple of cents andt hen was instantly worth a thousand timest hat because people "wanted" it and then was worthless over nite. Because you CANT.

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  30. Now, now.

    Don't be a sorehead, Snap

  31. The Deficit Commission is a hulking fucking great failure, appointed by a bunch of fucking epic failures.
    However, as one commenter has already pointed out, "we the people" elected these representatives.
    The cure to the problem lies in the hands of the electorate. Just for once, electors need to stop blathering on about "we need to clean house" and actually make it happen. Starting by NOT voting for either of the two major political parties. Right now, voting Democrat or Republican truly fits that well-known definition of Madness.
    Until enough people vote for third parties in a way that influences the political process positively (most likely by scaring the bejeebers out of the two major parties, who will then promptly smack their foreheads and, you know, discover those "new ideas" that they had been ignoring for decades), then we will not see any meanginful change.

  32. Stocks are wealth because they represent shares in corporations which own capital (aka stuff). It is true that stocks often get sold for amounts that are way higher than the actual worth of share of the corporation's capital they represent and that difference between the actual wealth and the price of the stock is not stuff or wealth. It is just potential wealth in the same way that a lottery ticket is potential wealth.

  33. Well, I'm back home from work (I create for a living, remember?). It seems to me that there's some confusing about price, value, and worth. A stock certificate for a share of Disney has a price. This price is some number that is negotiated in a marketplace via supply and demand. It has value -- it denotes a percentage of ownership of Disney Corporation. But its actual worth is what that percentage of the assets of Disney Corporation, its real estate, its intellectual properties, its workforce and divisions, would be if sold on the open market -- and completely divorced from the price of the share.

    So what is wealth? Is wealth the stock certificate, which has a price? Or is wealth the worth of Disney Corporation's assets, including the cash flow generated via operating Disney Corporation? Long-term, the price of a share of stock approaches the worth of the percentage of the company denoted by the share of stock. Enron stock, after all, is now worthless because it turns out the company was a scam. But before Enron collapsed, its stock prices hit record highs, $84.87 on December 28, 2000 - making Enron the country's seventh most valuable company. But was the *wealth* represented by Enron any different on December 28, 2000 than it is today, when we know it was an utterly bankrupt and worthless shell on that day? Price != wealth. There were no assets represented by that share of Enron that you bought on December 28, 2000 -- they were all gone, you were buying literally hot air. There was no more wealth produced by Enron on December 28, 2000, than there is today when the company is long gone.

    So anyhow, back to wealth. I think one reason people conflate price with wealth is because money serves as a temporary store of value by agreement of all involved, otherwise it'd be useless as a medium of exchange in a marketplace. If money became worthless between you selling potatoes in the marketplace this morning and you buying turnips in the marketplace tomorrow evening, what would be the point of accepting money in exchange for potatoes? But money is not wealth. You can't eat money. You can't live in money. It's what you *buy* with money that is wealth. And the *price* of what you buy with money has little to do with the actual *worth* of what you buy with money -- two words: Pet rocks.

    So anyhow, anybody who says that someone "created wealth" by driving up the price of a stock is being a silly bugger. Ken Lay did that too. Did Ken Lay "create wealth"? No. If you're going to say that someone "created wealth" at Disney, what you're saying is that someone contributed to Disney having more assets, more intellectual property, more cashflow, more profit, more product to sell in the marketplace. Those are wealth. The price of a stock certificate has nothing to do with the wealth denoted by that stock certificate, which is the percentage of the assets of Disney Corporation involved. Insofar as a CEO coordinates the actual wealth producers he does add value to the company and should be compensated thereof. But to say that he should be compensated 1,000 times what the people who actually produced the wealth is paid is ridiculous... all he did was coordinate other people's activities, he didn't actually create any of that wealth *himself*.

    Of course, our elites are quite eager to distract us from this reality, because they get to grift really really well if they can convince people that price is the same thing as worth is the same thing as wealth. And as responses to my prior comments demonstrate, they've pretty well succeeded. So it goes, in Griftopia USA...

    - Badtux the Non-grifting Penguin

  34. Jim - Great post. Painful to read and agree with. However our "public servants" in DC are not going to be concerned about the common good of the nation. They are primarily dedicated to remaining in office.

    Their failure in the last decade to recognize and prevent the national train wreck is bound to a large extent to their complete and utter fealty to the real source of their support. The bankers, businesses and industrialists that suck from the federal teat keep these "elected" people whole.

    War is GREAT business. The Fed and SEC massage the privates of the bankers and Congress bends over willingly for their largess. Education and health care reform are just institutionalized cash cows for the providers. We all know that, but few of us have the $millions to attempt counter the trend.

    Congress (and apparently the Judiciary and White House) could not turn against the hyper-wealthy benefactors if it even occurred to them to try. The status quo is good business and the business is good. The lucky 12 on the 1% Committee made out handsomely from additional $millions in campaign contributions; just to make sure they didn't fuck up and actually produce a plan that might benefit the nation.

    S/F Mate

  35. Hmm. Things that we pay for that are worthless once we've purchased them.

    I'll have to start with lap dances. I've never had a lap dance that was anything other than five extra minutes of frustration. I'd have been better off handing over the cash and averting my eyes.

    Software. If you're old enough you've tossed hundreds of dollars of used software you paid good money for.

    Gambling. No explanation needed.

    Religion. You could toss an envelope stuffed with newsprint in the collection plate every week and the service would be the same.

    I'm sure there's more but that's what I can think of off the top of my head.

    Whoops, forgot political donations. If you're not tossing in big bucks nobody cares what you want. Which is how we got to the OP.

  36. I've worked for 2 power companies for over 30 years. The very 1st CEO seemed like a fairly decent guy when he flew in on his private helicopter; he even glad-handed a few of the plant workers. The ones after that merely issued edicts from 300 miles away (one of our 50-some vice presidents eventually went on to destroy an airline with his majic). Then came so many "programs" (vision quest was one that always reminded me of Quest for fire) that I can't even remember the names. Then we started hearing about shareholder value. I looked up the insider trading on the yahoo message board. I was stunned to see that the CEO sold $11 million in stock in 3 weeks; that was on top of his salary, perks, helicopters, etc. Shareholder value IS NOT the retiree waiting for his $50 dividend check; it's the millions the 10 main board members sell. If anyone of those guys (or gals) disappeared off the planet, the only person that might miss them would be the secretary. They have absolutely nothing to do with creating electricity, the people running the plants, nor the poor schmucks paying light bills. If people knew what their bills were really paying for in idiotic programs that last 6-8 months, consultants, lobbyists, and lawyers, the high lines would be strung with bodies. We had one consultant in house for almost 2 years. He was given his own office. His bill was almost $800 per day. He made enough money, that I got a fax off the machine for him, asking what options he wanted on his new plane. He bragged that if Tom Cruise (Top Gun) had done what the consultant had done, Tom Cruise would be bald too. This overblown braggart swaggering around the office, ordering cases of flip charts and scented markers for his "lessons" (which included having management look at zoo animals and describe which one they most related to) contributed not one thing to making electricity. I swear that guy laughed his ass off all the way to the bank seeing what insane things he could get management to do because he said so. One time he had upper management skipping around an office trying to get each person to walk/skip/jump different than the guy before. Yet his "opinion" mattered more than the people actually running the plant. It was disgusting and a monumental waste of money.


  37. Every time someone calls for the creation of a "beacon" to attract other intelligent life in the universe, I think of the Screwfly Solution. I had forgotten who wrote it, thanks for the reminder.

    Also to respond to Snap the Randian -- history is full of examples of things that have an arbitrary value only because we say they do. Some hold this value because they are excellent status markers, such as gems. Others, like Beanie Babies, balloon up and explode. The classic historic example was the dutch tulip market of the early 17th century.

    Perhaps you should balance your randian fantasy reads with some non-fiction. I would suggest history and economics.

    Oh and caps don't make things truer. You'll learn that when you get to high school.

  38. Love the post, love Tiptree/Sheldon, love the biography that tells such an amazing story so compellingly. Obviously, another gushing sycophant.

    And while I'm sympathetic to some of BadTux's points (e.g., CEO's of Blue Chip corporations are wildly overpaid), I can't say I agree with many of them. For instance, the canard that defense contractors don't hire U.S. citizens is simply wrong. Ditto that part about how putting money back into the DoD, effectively in-sourcing, would result in more U.S. citizens having jobs.

    Every army needs a general. Somebody has to be at the end of the chain of command. As Truman famously said, "The buck stops here." That's why corporations need CEOs.

    On the other hand, you can cut the pay of most of them by 50% or more, and still end up paying them quite a bit of filthy lucre.

  39. Let's see, something that was worth nothing one day, worth thousands the next, and then worth nothing afterward… hmmm, that's a hard one I'll have to think on that and resear…


    Worth nothing in the ground. Dug out, refined, and hyped to the nth degree it's worth thousands. And when that bubble collapses, worth less than what you paid for it.

    It's happened twice in my life. I expect it to happen again, pretty soon in fact.

  40. Oh, and Jim, some of us got who you were talking about by that comment on the "rich lobbyist". You were talking about George Soros, right?

  41. Instead of blaming congress not once did you allude to the voters who put them there. Maybe start with one of the reddest of red states, Alaska

  42. Instead of blaming congress not once did you allude to the voters who put them there. Maybe start with one of the reddest of red states, Alaska

    I guess you missed this part:

    "Because, see, ultimately the mere existence of such a congressional super-committee is an expression of abject failure on the part of Americans to maintain and operate their democracy in any but the most mindless and instinctual manner. "

  43. The voting bit is nothing if not frustrating. My little corner of Ohio is bright red. John Boehner is one district to the north. My friends up there remind me whenever I complain about Steve Chabot, our 1st district rep.
    What else is there, though? I don't buy voting Independant candidates at the federal level. I think it wastes my vote. (Looking at you Nader-gator.)
    The only recourse is discussion. On the web, and face to face.

  44. This is not about Bachmann or any of the other fools in the GOPer clown car.

    It's about the voters who consistently re-elect her and the other fools.

    We should not be talking about these people and we wouldn't if it wasn't for the idiot voters. Blame the voters. Let's talk about the voters and what kind of educational system would produce such idiots who could elect the G Dubya the texas dummy not once but twice.


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