Stoic Zen

Stoic Zen

I already made almost this exact picture, but it didn’t really feel complete so I tweaked with it a bit and while I think it’s a little bit better it’s still not really complete.


A Response to Disingenuous Interpretations of Piketty’s Capital in the Media

I finished Capital in the Twenty-First Century last night. It’s an extremely interesting, though also long, read. I imagine that most people who are talking about it haven’t actually read the book because most people seem to be using the book to promote whatever ideology they had before reading a review or summary of the book, which means their analysis and policy suggestions are weak and at most tangential of the book. For example, I listen to Fareed Zakaria’s show as a podcast. It’s not my favorite show, but it’s by the far the best thing on CNN. That said, his brief comments on the book basically acknowledged Piketty’s thesis, that r>g and it’s leading to inequality, but then he went on to highlight the importance of access to education. Piketty does consider education, especially easier access to higher education, important, but he rejects the idea that is all that needs to be done; he actually suggests that the belief in education alone is actually just a reinforcement of the meritocratic myth. I’ve seen others suggest things along the same lines, people, especially those on the left who want to push market ideals but don’t want to accept the consequences of the market, high and undemocratic inequality, argue that the book’s main lesson is that we need to increase growth. Piketty firmly rejects the suggestion, arguing that the idea that growth can be increased enough to reduce, or at least stem the tide of growing inequality, is essentially absurd due to the impossibility of keeping growth at such high levels. One important point that you don’t really see unless you read farther into the book than the introduction, is that the raising growth to the average return on capital, 4-5 percent, wouldn’t be enough the reduce inequality because those with the highest levels of capital already receive returns higher than that, 7-10 percent; the idea of maintaining for 4-5 growth seems incredibly unlikely, but 7-10 percent growth is practically impossible. The real lesson from Piketty is that relatively high, progressive income and inheritance taxes are the most important steps individual nations can currently practically achieve; so raise those taxes, especially in the US. The final part of Piketty’s solution has been pretty roundly rejected as absurd due to its impossibility, which is something he essentially acknowledges so it’s a fairly weak criticism, a progressive wealth tax; Piketty’s ideal version of this tax would be world-wide. The part that people who reject the idea as impossible out of hand are missing is that he suggests that such tax could possibly be successful on a regional level, so if the European Union wanted to create such a tax it’s possible they could succeed. Even more important for Americans, he suggests that America alone could impose such a tax. After all, the most important roadblock to a wealth tax working is the existence of opaque tax shelters. We have the power to essentially eliminate tax shelters with sanctions, so we could, if we were interested, get the necessary data to impose such a tax. My primary problem with all the disingenuous responses to Piketty’s work, other than revealing that most people never get out of college style skim reading which annoys me by itself, is that it’s a long book that is fairly boring, not to me or everyone, of course, but I imagine to fairly large number of people, so most people, even, I suspect, a lot of those that buy it, won’t actually read the entire thing; they’ll read the introduction and maybe the conclusion. That means that what media commentators say about the book will have an even larger influence than usual. That means that the ineffective neo-liberal prescriptions to the malady Piketty diagnoses will seem reasonable when they are not and the book will fail the achieve its primary goal. That’s not surprising, but it is annoying to point of nearly being infuriating; I imagine it’s the feeling climate activists feel when right-wing politicians reject climate change. This is worse because you have one party outright rejecting Piketty and another essentially misappropriating him for their preexisting political ends, actually imagine it’s still pretty damn similar.

Drones in Iraq?

Iraq, will Obama will start to covertly use drones? The answer is probably yeah, he will. It’s becoming seen as a hotbed for terrorists and terrorist sympathizers so he’ll probably use drones there, just like in Pakistan and Yemen. That’s hardly surprising, regardless of the ethics or utility of such a decision; which are, as with most things, pretty debatable. I get the use of drones, in theory it makes a lot of sense to use precision strikes and avoid full-scale invasions or occupations, but it seems to me that determining the ethics of a practice in real-time is a bad way to reach solid ethical ground. Then there’s the utility of drones strikes, which is a question of the cost versus the benefits. It seems that a lot of the costs are really hard to predict, after all it seems entirely plausible that drones will attract more violence to American territory, plus there’s the questionable benefit of killing someone who doesn’t appear to have a lot of means to pull of an attack. If the United States occupies a country, then all that ire that we build by unjustly, accidental or not, killing, hurting, or harming, socially or economically, will be meted out in that country on the occupying force. Now, I don’t like the idea of American soldiers being the ones that take the hit, I much prefer the dumbass warhawk politicians take the hit, but it’s better for a terrorist to attempt to kill Americans in their own country than someone else’s; especially since that implies, at least a little bit, that the occupying force could leave and solve most of the problems. How do we assess the value of killing an individual terrorist — and the rest of whatever group of people he’s with? Well shit, we have no fucking idea and that’s part of the problem. I guess we could trust the government and intelligence agencies to know what they’re doing, but if you’ve ever looked into the history of the CIA, I recommend Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, then you probably don’t see a lot of reasons to trust the intelligence agencies; long story short, they alternate between incompetence, evil, and evil incompetence. From my point of view, it seems pretty unlikely that there are thousands of terrorists worth killing considering the high potential for blowback in a region that’s already skeptical of American influence, military power, and its support for the Israeli occupation. It’s not as though pulling off a massive terrorist attack is easy, so killing some guy with a radical ideology, the money for ticket to New York, and access to a little bit of explosives doesn’t seem worth it. The chances are pretty high that he’ll be caught, or just be an idiot, and the plan would be foiled without having to risk slaughtering innocent wedding parties. The only explanation of the cost/benefit analysis the Obama administration uses seems to be that they all think about really hard, yes even the president, and then they decide. Great, but thinking about it isn’t necessarily thinking about it correctly. There seems to be a pretty loose definition of imminent, let alone all the other words they use to justify drone attacks. Loose definitions and calls to trust people who don’t explain their thought processes doesn’t evoke much faith.

The Changing of the Guard

The Changing of the Guard

Night slips into day, the sun replaces the stars.

Made with GIMP, image is 2560×1440. Would serve as decent wallpaper, I feel.



This is the background I put together and put a quote on earlier in the week. I think it looks alright without the quote, so I’m posting it here. Image is 1920×1080.

Focusing Effect

Focusing Effect

The focusing effect (or focusing illusion) is a cognitive bias that occurs when people place too much importance on one aspect of an event, causing an error in accurately predicting the utility of a future outcome.[1]

People focus on notable differences, excluding those that are less conspicuous, when making predictions about happiness or convenience. For example, when people were asked how much happier they believe Californians are compared to Midwesterners, Californians and Midwesterners both said Californians must be considerably happier, when, in fact, there was no difference between the actual happiness rating of Californians and Midwesterners. The bias lies in that most people asked focused on and overweighed the sunny weather and ostensibly easy-going lifestyle of California and devalued and underrated other aspects of life and determinants of happiness, such as low crime rates and safety from natural disasters like earthquakes (both of which large parts of California lack).[2]

A rise in income has only a small and transient effect on happiness and well-being, but people consistently overestimate this effect. Kahneman et al. proposed that this is a result of a focusing illusion, with people focusing on conventional measures of achievement rather than on everyday routine.[3]

I found this quote and like it, so I put this little quotepaper together. I hope you enjoy, image is 1920×1080.

Time – William Penn

Time - William Penn

This is a quotepaper I made using GIMP. Image is 2560×1440, I hope you enjoy.