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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: The Next Civil War?

May 13th, 2018 // 4:25 pm @

True or False…or False?

It’s getting worse. Just watch the news. This phrase, the “Next Civil War”, was recently used by economic forecaster Harry Dent to describe the growing divide between Red and Blue state cultures. These two sides now disagree with each other to the point that in many cases people experience real hatred for those on “the other side”.

Former president Barack Obama noted that people who largely get their news from the mainstream media and those who get their news mostly from Fox are basically living “on different planets.” They not only disagree on principles and solutions, he pointed out, but they fundamentally disagree on “facts”. What the Blue culture sees as incontrovertible truths, the Red culture frequently sees as lies. Fake. False. And the opposite is just as true: what the Red culture sees as fact is often considered false by Blue culture.

No wonder the two sides are so angry at each other. When you disagree on what the facts are, the solutions promoted by the other side frequently appear ludicrous. Even dangerous. Both sides, each rooted in its own understanding of reality, watch the other side say and do things that are clearly and painfully hurtful—according to the set of obvious but differing “facts” they each believe.

Roadblocks

This divide is widening. We’ve reached the point that one of the worst things parents can learn about their child’s “significant other” or new fiancé is that he/she is a Republican, or Democrat—depending on the family. Religion, career, ethnicity, education, financial status, and even a criminal history, are largely negotiable in most modern families. But the other political party? Many parents turn Tevye: “If I try and bend this far, I’ll break.”

Lynn Vavreck wrote in The New York Times (January 31, 2017): “In 1958, 33 percent of Democrats wanted their daughters to marry a Democrat, and 25 percent of Republicans wanted their daughters to marry a Republican. But by 2016, 60 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans felt that way.” And for many, the feelings run very deep. While in 1994 21 percent of Republicans viewed Democrats in the “Very Unfavorable” category, by 2016 the number was 58 percent. (Pew Research Center) In 1994 17 percent of Democrats saw Republicans as “Very Unfavorable”, but the number in 2016 had skyrocketed to 55 percent. (Ibid.)

Aaron Blake summarized this concern in The Washington Post: “If 58 percent of Republicans hate Democrats and 55 percent of Democrats hate Republicans, that would mean about 35 percent of registered voters hate the opposite political party.” (June 19, 2017) “But that’s not quite hate…. 45% of Republicans see the Democratic Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being…. [and] 41% of Democrats see the Republican Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being”. (Ibid.) When you add independents, the “hate” one of the parties (those who see the other party as a threat to the nation) makes up 39 percent of registered voters or “About 1 in 4” Americans. (Ibid.)

There are a lot of others who see the other side in an unfavorable light, around 33 percent of additional Republicans (for a total of 91% with “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable”) and 30 percent of additional Democrats (86% with “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views). (Ibid.) Note that all of this occurred before the Trump presidency. Again, this divide is real, and deep. In the Trump era the intensity has only increased.

But does any of this justify the phrase “Next Civil War”? Not yet. Not unless we’re going to surrender to hyperbole. Yet this conflict is escalating in many sectors—it’s moved beyond the traditional battlegrounds of politics and news media to additional culture and power centers including education, television, movies, entertainment awards shows, daily and nightly talk shows (both radio and television), sports, and multiple venues on social media. Even social media and Internet platforms are getting involved by adjusting algorithms to promote certain political leanings—or dampen the voice of those they dislike—often without informing their customers.

Platforms and Soapboxes

For many Americans, the sight of some NFL players purposely kneeling during the National Anthem is the ultimate symbol of this divide. One side sees young role models and leaders using their public platform to bravely protest government abuse—especially what they consider racially charged police violence. The other side feels hurt and confused by millionaire beneficiaries of the American Dream figuratively spitting on the American Flag and the sacrifice of dead and maimed military heroes.

It’s difficult to even discuss this situation rationally in many venues due to the raw and heartfelt emotions of people on both sides of the Red-Blue cultural divide.

Sadly, many schools have also become places of great conflict. For example, a national uproar occurred when a middle school teacher assigned her students to write letters to political officials urging them to pass stronger gun control laws. Should teachers tell middle school children what sides to take on political issues? And assign them to engage in activism for one specific side? At what point does teaching become brainwashing? A father of one of the students, a policeman, refused to allow his child to do the assignment. The father deeply disagreed with the politics of the teacher, and many of the other parents disagreed with the politicization of middle school in general. In response to backlash, the teacher allowed students to skip the assignment without penalty, but didn’t suggest writing against stronger gun control if this more accurately aligned with the student’s views. The same week, an elementary student was expelled from school for drawing himself hunting during a “free art” assignment, and a high school teacher was fired for a lengthy history-class soliloquy describing current members of the military as “the lowest of the low” in our society. Red and Blue cultures passionately disagreed on how these events should be handled. Both sides largely see the other’s view as ridiculous and extreme.

Another moment that epitomizes this division occurred on Broadway when the cast of Hamilton stopped the musical midstream to lecture the new Vice President elect, Mike Pence. Hamilton itself is an artistic icon—an American Les Miserables that underscores how the struggles of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and their families and peers unleashed freedom in a way that has now spread to people of all backgrounds. The lecture itself was seen by one side as a welcome comeuppance to a dangerous new administration, and by the other as yet another gauche elitist attack against the will of the voters and the American system.

Networks, Numbers, and New Divides

Thankfully this war is largely cultural—it has not devolved into massive physical violence between the two sides of a nation (like the French Revolution, U.S. Civil War, or Russian Revolution, etc.). Hopefully it will always remain peaceful. But in the fight for hearts, there is no doubt that a major civil war for the future of our republic is already under way.

Worse, it is doubtful that any real solution is imminent. When one part of the nation generally believes most of what airs on CNN, ABC, NBC and MSNBC, while another part tends to place more trust in Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or Trump tweets, the two aren’t going see eye-to-eye on much of anything. And when these two groups are the largest political blocs in our republic, we’re going to have genuine and repeated disagreements.

Perhaps the epicenter of this battle for “the hearts and minds of the people” is found in the media. And this poses a major challenge. Why? Because most of modern media—from both the Left and Right—has three serious problems:

1-It is largely agenda driven (“Forget the facts, full speed ahead!”)

2-It is shallow.

3-It is electronic.

Most people realize the problems with item #1. As a result, they stop listening to media outlets that are clearly against their views—and seem hostile to anyone with a different perspective. This has created another significant problem with modern media:

4-It is isolated. The Right listens to the Right, while the Left listens to the Left. Few listen to both. Few listen to the other side. Over time, media outlets increasingly cater to their narrow audiences, so the extremism increases.

Result: the divisions in our nation are getting wider, deeper, and more susceptible to anger and, too often, extremism and unhealthy thinking and actions.

The Missing Depth

The  2nd and 3rd problems listed just above are equally dangerous. Many people are very busy—work, family, more work, community, more family. Little time is left over for meaningful civic involvement, much less for taking the time to really dig into each day’s news, truly understand what is happening, and go way beyond the 30 second sound bites or even 3 minute segments on any given story. An hour of the news is more than most can spare—and most hour newscasts only provide a very shallow overview of a few of the day’s news topics. In short, shallow. No time for depth.

The result is that nearly all shows repeat a few top stories, with only a bit of detail. Even if a person watched television all day, he or she would usually only hear about the same top stories, addressed shallowly over and over—with different opinions but nothing really weighty or reflective. Depth is almost unheard of in most of today’s media.

This is especially true of the electronic media. Besides, television, radio, and online media typically interact with human brains more like entertainment than like something really, truly important. When we watch or listen or surf our news, in most cases, we are in the mode of moving quickly from one thought to the next. Even if we try to focus, ads, pop-ups and crawlers invade our screen with multiple headlines and distractions all at once. Our devices were purposely designed this way, in fact.

Reading the news, in contrast, naturally moves the focus into our intellect. A good start. “But nobody wants to read anything longer than a page…” today’s editors assure everyone. Many editors put the limit at “two paragraphs.” If we don’t read more deeply, we’ll truly and literally become a nation of sheep. Deep thinking is needed to deal with the reality of today’s complex and globally-interconnected world—for any citizen. And deep thinking about the news is basically impossible unless we’re reading (or listening/watching to a source that takes) much more than 5 minutes to really address an issue in some depth.

The Jefferson-Madison Debates

The term “fake news” means the following to most people: news that pushes a false agenda, distracts from truth, lies. But “shallow news” is just as bad for the nation. Even “accurate news” that is shallow is a major blow to our society. And this accounts for most of what media consumers experience. When it is both fake and shallow, we’re in real trouble.

The Left and Right argue about which news reports are “fake,” but few even claim to offer real depth in their news. And even fewer consumers seem to be actively searching for and embracing deeper news.

To reiterate: the Red-Blue divisions are growing, and intensifying, and this means that major problems are ahead unless we do something about it. My plan is to write a weekly (or, sometimes, every two week) article that treats real topics in enough depth to help readers take a step back from the constant screaming of electronic news, and really understand a topic (one at a time) enough to see behind the scenes of modern media spin and fake/shallow posturing.

More will, of course, be needed to stop our seeming national sprint toward more civil conflict. But I know this weekly column will make a difference—for those who read it.

It was the reading and thinking about articles and pamphlets during the American Founding generation that helped America gain freedom, and deep thinking is vitally needed today. I’m calling this new series of weekly articles The Jefferson-Madison Debates, and I hope you’ll join us.

It’s going to be fun.

— Oliver DeMille

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The Jefferson-Madison Debates: Are Today’s Education and Politics Entering the Age of Star Trek?

May 12th, 2018 // 9:02 am @

“A shoe, too, is no longer a finished product, but an endless process of reimagining our extended feet, perhaps with disposable covers, sandals that morph as you walk, treads that shift, or floors that act as shoes.” —Kevin Kelly 

“We have long argued that as the Web extends in usage…increased access to factual information would improve the quality of public discourse. However, the opposite seems to be occurring.” —Don and Alex Tapscott

Given how much technology has changed the world in the past twenty years, and how differently we now live, it’s easy to assume that the Internet Revolution has brought the big change—and this era of massive shifts will slowly relax back into some kind of normality. But the truth is that we are just at the very beginning stages of the Information Age. The changes have just begun.

Following are a few of the major developments still ahead, as described by the experts on current technologies. As you think about each of these, consider the ramifications of these trends as they relate to the future of education, career, the economy, and the type of education needed for the emerging economy:

1. Autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars are a reality.[i] How long they will co-exist with human drivers before the laws require all cars to be driven electronically remains to be seen.[ii] Self-driving planes, boats, and trucks will also change our lives drastically. Flying vehicles are next. As drone technology improves, taking people as passengers may not be too far away.

2. 3D Printing (additive manufacturing).[iii] This will revolutionize transportation, shipping, and manufacturing. Things that can be printed out in our own homes don’t need to be built in factories, or shipped by truck, airplane, or even drone. 3D printing will also have significant impact in medicine by printing certain medical implants.[iv] In fact, 3D printers now print food, including candy—and some people think it even tastes good.[v] One taste tester wrote: “It tastes like an after-dinner mint mixed with a sugar cube.”[vi]

3. 4D Printing. The printers will print smartobjects that are self-learning, and self-altering in response to their environment.[vii]

4. New Smart Materials. As Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum, put it: Some are “self-healing, self-cleaning, metals with memory that revert to their original shapes, chemicals and crystals that turn pressure into energy, and so on…. Take advanced nanomaterials [nano means smaller than the human eye can see] such as graphene, which is about 200-times stronger than steel, a million times thinner than a human hair, and an efficient conductor of heat and electricity. When graphene becomes price competitive…it could significantly disrupt the manufacturing and infrastructure industries.”[viii]

5. iMoneyCenter. As Forbes put it: “Your cellphone will become a global bank. Mobile money accounts already outnumber traditional bank accounts in parts of the developing world, and new technology will turbocharge that trend, allowing payments to anyone, anywhere, in local currencies.”[ix]

6. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). Tiny tags can be put on pretty much anything, or anyone, and track where it is at any time, all over the world.[x] This technology is cheap and easy to use. The tags can even contain sensors that keep track of how well the item is doing, and what it is doing.[xi]

New Normal

Kevin Kelly said of the various kinds of small digital devices that are being created: “A few are shrinking to the size of the period following this sentence. These macroscopic measurers can be inserted into watches, clothes, spectacles, or phones, or inexpensively dispersed in rooms, cars, offices, and public spaces.[xii] Sensors can be built to watch and listen. He also wrote: “Massive tracking and total surveillance are here to stay.”[xiii]

The machines are becoming ubiquitous.[xiv] Moreover, a lot of people like it this way. One report summarized the trend as “Our Love-Hate Affair With AI.”[xv]

The ramifications of the new era of machines for freedom and relationships of all kinds are immense.[xvi]

7. Gene Mapping and Synthetic Biology. This is popularly called the creation of “Designer Babies.” “It will provide us with the ability to customize organisms by writing DNA.”[xvii] “Today, a genome can be sequenced in a few hours for less than a thousand dollars.”[xviii] And at some point scientists foresee artificial memory implanting into peoples’ brains.[xix] Just download what you want to know—facts, dates, formulas, etc. Gene Mapping will impact agriculture and the energy sector (by producing biofuels) as well as medicine and education.[xx]

8. Personalized Medications. Medicine, from those used to treat advanced diseases to simple aspirin, will be personalized for each individual—“tailored to your DNA.”[xxi] These will likely be very expensive at first, further widening the gap between the upper and other classes.

9. Non-Communicative Relationships. A number of popular magazines each month present articles that tell men and women they need to turn off their electronic gadgets and talk to their spouse or significant other. The articles are detailed and specific, with advice like “look your spouse in the eye while you talk to her,” and “actually listen to the words he says and try to connect with his logic and feelings,” etc.

The volume of such articles suggests that this is a serious problem. Relationships are often victims of addiction to electronic devices, texts, messages, and other incoming communication that is more highly valued than interaction with the live person in the same room.

Relationships and Roboticships

Moreover, emerging technology will very likely throw a serious monkey-wrench into many relationships. VR (Virtual Reality[xxii]) is incredibly advanced now, and will soon be on the market in extensive ways. A person can slip on a VR helmet or glasses and be transported mentally to a whole new world. Some VR research and development is focused on porn, although the tech world prefers the term “alternative relationships.” How will this impact marriage, family, education, and stable relationships?

Robotics have reached the point that lifelike “partner dolls,” sometimes called “sex dolls”, that talk and interact are already available.[xxiii] Soon, experts say, they’ll be easily accessible online and sold in our corner neighborhood stores.[xxiv] It’s a potential revolution in lifestyles, and the impact on relationships will certainly be real.[xxv] It is unclear how this will influence marriage and family, but the prospects seem quite negative.

A number of apps try to fulfill the same need—for relationships in an electronic format.[xxvi] If we find it difficult now to put down our phones or take off our headphones to engage in meaningful conversation and relationships, imagine how difficult it will be to turn off the robots, apps, and VR glasses.[xxvii] VR, and lifelike personal relationship robots, can be programmed (or told by the user) to never argue, nag, disagree, shout, or storm away.[xxviii] Again, such devices won’t take the place of quality, mature relationships, but they could very well hurt or make such relationships more difficult.[xxix]

10. The Rise of the Algorithms. Online technology now employs numerous advanced algorithms and AI technologies that are learning to do everything from sensing where our eyes are gazing (in order to know our interests and sell to us)[xxx] to what our politics are (as mentioned above, this could be to allow providers like Facebook and Google, or others, to determine what news feeds to send us—to promote their own political goals), to how empty the milk carton in our fridge is (in order to order a fresh one).

Schwab said: “Amazon and Netflix already possess algorithms that predict which films and books we may wish to watch and read. Dating and job placement sites suggest partners and jobs—in our neighborhood or anywhere in the world—that their systems [algorithms] figure might suit us best.

The Man AI in Charge

“What do we do? Trust the advice provided by an algorithm or that offered by family, friends, or colleagues? Would we consult an AI-driven robot doctor with a near perfect diagnosis success rate—or stick with the human physician with the assuring bedside manner we have known for years?”[xxxi]

AI is tasked with watching us and learning from us, and as AIs become smarter, some of them will be incredibly effective forecasters. Companies may even be valued based on their AI. For example, Kelly wrote: “Amazon’s greatest asset is not its Prime delivery service but the many millions of reader reviews it has accumulated over the decades.”[xxxii] These reviews, and the AI that runs them, learns from them, and uses them to help predict what books each user is likely to enjoy, is a huge asset.

The concept of establishing corporate boards of directors made up entirely of Artificial Intelligence is discussed openly and seriously.[xxxiii] Do we want algorithms in charge of everything?

In education, the possibilities are seemingly endless—and just as alarming. Kelly wrote: “The tiny camera eyes that now stare back at us from any screen can be trained with additional skills…researchers at MIT have taught the eyes in our machines to detect human emotions. As we watch the screen, the screen is watching us, where we look, and how we react.

“Since this perception is in real time, the smart software [algorithms] can adapt it what I’m viewing. Say I am reading a book and my frown shows I’ve stumbled on a certain word; the text could expand a definition.”[xxxiv]

This means that the text of the book is changing before you read it, based on what you have read so far and how you reacted. In other words, the computer is in effect censoring what you read before you even read it.

What about the author’s intent? Well, that depends. The AI, or the people who commission and oversee the AI, may decide to carefully protect the original text, or they may not. They may edit, censor, distract, etc.—whatever they think best achieves their goals.

Remember that thing called Thinking?

They may even have different ways of dealing with different people—like Google gaming the search system so that people who look up a certain Republican candidate get the most negative articles about him on the first page, while those who search for his Democratic opponent get the most flattering articles (or vice versa).

Or they might simply guide your searches to the companies who paid them the most to do so. If these guides are personalized and targeted to each individual user (like in the movie Minority Report), different readers will literally be getting a very different education. One student will read very different things than a second student, while the third reads yet another thing—all determined by AI and/or those who program and control the AI.

Kelly continued: “Or, if it realizes I am reading the same passage, it could supply an annotation for that passage. Similarly, if it knows I am bored by a scene in a video, it could jump ahead or speed up the action.”[xxxv] If we choose such functions on a menu, that’s one thing. But what happens if the big businesses or the cyber-governmental-industrial-complex just decides that this kind of censorship is best for the people? Or for a certain group or type of people, such as those from a certain religion or political party?

On purely educational grounds, having the computer supply definitions, commentaries and links is bad for thinking. It teaches rote dependence on experts, even if the expert is an AI. If we don’t have to question, ponder, or debate the books we read, we’ll be thinking a lot less. The words censorship and brainwashing aren’t farfetched in this context.

What about politics? The media and party-media machines already spread a lot of false information. What will happen when algorithms take over the media spin? It will personalized to each reader, each person using the Internet (or whatever kind of Supernet or Skynet takes its place). As such, the AI will learn how to confuse each person the most effectively. Again, this isn’t far from the personalized billboards and ads in the movie Minority Report.

(Un)Locked Doors

On an even larger scale, if an algorithm claims to predict which of various candidates would make the best president, prime minister, judge or senator, do we just give up voting altogether? After all, the voters seldom put in leaders who truly deliver what they promised. Or will the experts try to convince us that an algorithm-based AI should be our president and Congress and Court and make our top government decisions—getting rid of human error altogether?

And in all this, let’s not forget that someone can access the algorithms. All computers can be hacked—so far. As author Marc Goodman put it: “There’s never been a computer system that’s proven unhackable.”[xxxvi] Bigger technologies mean bigger hacks, with more drastic impact on people.

And won’t the growth of the Internets just funnel more and more power to a few elites who control the algorithms? The answer is “Yes. Emphatically yes!”

In fact, is there any way to stop this from happening?

11. “Reshoring.” This means that when high tech processes like 3D printing, gene mapping, and RFID tagging become mainstream around the world, many industrial jobs will be lost—but a lot of high-tech jobs will move back to the most advanced nations in search of highly-trained workers with expertise in areas conducive to high tech.[xxxvii] Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen. It may not happen at all. “…many workers [may]…end up permanently unemployed, like horses unable to adjust to the invention of the tractors.”[xxxviii]

12. Portfolio Careers. These occur where a person’s career includes doing several different jobs for different employers in the same day.[xxxix] For example, one person might be a teacher during the school day, a restaurant manager during the evenings, and an eBay seller in his spare time—all to make ends meet. Portfolio careers may become very widespread in the new economy. A lot of people probably won’t like such a development, leading to increased class divisions and conflicts.[xl]

13. Even Greater Class Divide. As Schwab wrote: “…half of all assets around the world are now controlled by the richest 1% of the global population, while the lower half” of the population control less than 1% of world assets.[xli] Or as the Tapscotts put it: “…the global 1 percent owns half of the world’s wealth while 3.5 billion people earn fewer than 2 dollars a day.”[xlii]

To be continued next week …

NOTES

[i] Schwab, 15, 147-148; see also Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable, 2016, 50-51; Brynjolfsson, 14-20; See Sam Smith, “The Truth About the Future of Cars,” Esquire, April 2016, 69-74; Erin Griffith, “Disconnected,” Fortune, August 1, 2016, 44.

[ii] See Smith, 69-74.

[iii] Scwhab, 15; see also Brynjolfsson, 36-37; Kelly, 53.

[iv] Schwab, 15, 22, 161-167.

[v] Andrea Smith, “Print Your Candy and Eat it Too,” Popular Science, January 2015, 24.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Schwab, 16.

[viii] Ibid., 17.

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“Attack Business, as Usual”

November 2nd, 2016 // 6:58 am @

Washington’s Current Slump
(And the Solution)

Growing or Shrinking?

decline_graphTo pay for the national debt, including the unfunded mandates and entitlements ahead, “Uncle Sam needs more than $429,108.73 per person.”[i] To figure out how this directly impacts you, just write down how much you make a year—and multiply it by the number of years you plan to keep working. (Not a perfectly precise approach, but it will get us in the ballpark.) Then multiply $429,108 by the number of people in your family. Find the difference between the two numbers, and that’s how taxes will impact you in the years ahead.

For many Americans, the taxes in this reality are higher than the total amount of money they’ll make. Which is why politicians want to take most of it from the rich. But when they do, the wealthy find ways to move their businesses and savings abroad or into other financial vehicles—hurting jobs, investment, and making the economic struggles of average Americans even more difficult.

However we slice this, it’s a massive problem. It is already hurting almost all Americans (as seen in the Great Recession beginning in 2008, and growing ever since). Government stimulus, printing of inflationary money, and low gas prices have dampened how deeply we feel this problem right now—but these aren’t going to last forever. At some point the bubble will burst, and the economy is in for a tough time. All of us will be directly impacted.

But Washington hardly seems to notice. During elections most candidates promise real change, but it seldom materializes, at least not in positive ways. In fact, since 2008 we’ve seen a stubbornly sluggish economy. Washington puts out positive statistics each month, but most people aren’t feeling any kind of economic boom. And 90 days later Washington revises its past statistics—they are routinely much worse than originally announced.

Yet for some reason, the initial positive announcements make big headlines, while the revisions are usually buried in fine print. It’s almost as if the mainstream media is trying very hard to make the current Administration look as good as possible, and sway the election in their favor as well.

Safe and Secure

It may also be that Washington actually doesn’t notice how hard this economy is for most Americans. As “Phillip Longman recently noted in the Washington Monthly, the per capita income of Washington, D.C. in 1980 was 29 percent above the average for Americans as a whole; in 2013 that figure was 68 percent.”[ii] That’s 68 percent more! To put this in concrete terms, a person making $15 per hour would be compared to a person making $25 per hour. Or compare a person making $4000 per month to the 68% increase: $6720. Is it any wonder that Washington doesn’t feel the pinch quite so much as Joe American?

Compared to average Americans, Washington is doing a lot better. So why would they worry? For many in the nation’s capital, it must feel like time to fiddle, not worry that Rome is burning. Imagine how you’d be doing with 68 percent more money each month. (68% more of any amount seems fantastic. I’d be fiddling, too.)

Along with the struggling economy—largely a result of Washington’s increasing mountain of red tape that is choking American businesses—the U.S. is continuing to spend a lot of money on national security programs that aren’t working. “Since 9/11,” an investigation in The Atlantic reported, “the United States has spent $1 trillion to protect the homeland. The new security state is vast—and growing.” But “are we any safer?”[iii]

The experts answer that yes, we are a bit safer in some ways.[iv] But not even close to $1 trillion worth—and besides, we are less safe in a number of other ways.[v] Less safe, in fact, than we were when Bush won his second term or Obama was elected the first and second times. Specifically, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are still around, Iraq is a mess, ISIS is growing, our privacy is dwindling (along with our spending power), and the threats from places like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran have actually increased, along with the growing dangers of cyber and other non-traditional attacks (chemical, biological, lone wolf, dirty bomb, etc.).

It seems the more we spend, the more vulnerable we are. Our lack of a coherent and widely-supported national grand strategy has made things significantly worse over the past decade.

As if this weren’t enough, we are also now facing a growing threat of serious economic conflict with China, which is buying up contracts and supply chains for natural resources around the world. Unlike U.S. firms that work largely on their own capital or that borrowed from banks or investors, all governed by boards and shareholders, Chinese firms are managed by a central government approach—even more controlling than British mercantilism in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Circling Closer

We’re right not to follow the Chinese model, since central controls undermine freedom. But the differences between our system and theirs skew the way economic statistics are reported, meaning that few Americans realize how bad our economic outlook really is. For example, in the latest Fortune 100 rankings of the biggest businesses in the world, the U.S. has 38 companies on the list, all of which are private.[vi] In contrast, China has 18 companies on the list; 16 of these are owned by the government.[vii] Combine the totals of these 16 businesses, and the Chinese government owns by far the biggest business in the world.[viii] Nobody else is even close.

Here’s another way to look at this: of the biggest 5 businesses in the world, one (Walmart) is a U.S. company and the next three are Chinese—all owned by the government in Beijing.[ix] The combined revenues of these three Chinese businesses are double that of Walmart, and over three times the revenue of the fifth biggest company in the world, Royal Dutch Shell oil.[x]

In comparison, Europe is home to 29 of the biggest 100 businesses in the world, 28 of which are private, while 1 is owned by the government of France.[xi] Furthermore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are home to a total of 11 of the 100, and all are privately owned.[xii] Together Russia, Brazil and Mexico are home to 4 of the world’s largest 100 businesses; 1 (in Russia) is private and the other 3 are government owned (one from each of these nations on the last list).[xiii]

In short, of the world’s biggest 100 businesses and largest producers of global wealth and prosperity, 20 are owned by a government, 16 of them by one single government: China. Yet Washington keeps hobbling American entrepreneurs and investors with increasing regulations that stifle our ability to compete. Yes, China’s economy has slowed a bit this year, but their growth is still way ahead of the United States—and their slowdown will likely mean they’re less willing to keep carrying our debt load (very bad news for our economy).

It’s time for Washington to take note of our gloomy economic outlook, addiction to government overspending and growing debt, and a very expensive and bureaucratic national security apparatus that is more hat than cattle—as the saying goes in Texas. For this vitally important change to happen, we’ve got to stop expecting so much from the White House and demand a lot more from Congress. Until this occurs, we will keep declining in an “attack business, as usual” approach to the economy.

Forward or Back

All this that I have described here is a recipe for major American decline. And it is our current path.

With all that said, I’m an optimist. I believe the best years for America and the world are still ahead. But how soon we initiate those “better years” largely depends on the Congressional elections in 2016. We need a Congress that will finally stand up for the American people (against the executive and judicial branches) and get serious about creating a truly free, booming economy.

We haven’t had such a Congress for decades—and we’ve been in decline ever since that trend started. Such forces of decline are now snowballing, meaning that the actions of the next Congress will largely determine America’s trajectory for the 21st century.

 

[i] Harry S. Dent, Boom & Bust, July 2016

[ii] Cited in The Atlantic, September 2016, p. 102

[iii] Steven Brill, “Are We Any Safer?” The Atlantic, September 2016

[iv] Ibid.

[v] See ibid.

[vi] See Fortune, August 1, 2016, 110-119

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

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Are We Entering an Era of One-Term Presidents?

July 22nd, 2016 // 2:49 am @

Loyalties and Addictions

manholdingflag-300x221Many nations, and the global market as a whole, are moving from the Loyal Economy to an On-Demand Economy. (See Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, 2016, 72) This is just what it sounds like. Our societal focus is increasingly on what we want–not what we need, should want, or have already agreed to.

This shift is impacting work, business, management, leadership, professions, and even families, churches and communities in massive ways. It has already taken a significant toll on relationships in our modern society. Indeed, almost no part of human life has remained untouched by this momentous change.

Just think of all the ways damage can be caused by a shift away from loyalty, and changed to whatever someone wants instead, and you’ve got a pretty good indication of the problem. For example, as a society we have historically been known for being loyal customers—we either love or hate the Yankees, Cowboys, Lakers, etc., and many people have traditionally been very passionate about Ford or Chevy, West Coast or East Coast, City or Farm, New York Times or Wall Street Journal, Prada or Gucci, and so on.

As for Republican and Democrat, these attachments were often multi-generational, and as zealously maintained as one’s religion. For a number of people, these labels (GOP or Democrat) defined “who they really were as people” more than any other feature.

But in the Digital Age we’re losing many of these connections. A lot of people now switch allegiance to sports team based on how the best clubs are playing this season, and we change “favorite” recording artists or television shows almost as often as we change our socks nowadays. We press “Like” one day, and don’t press it the next. Just follow the Twittersphere—changing loyalties is new a national hobby. Or addiction.

The Line

With the endless options of the Internet constantly streaming in front of us, it’s not surprising that many customers—most customers in fact—consistently try out new options. Why not? Maybe the next one will be better.

The same is true of many companies. It used to be that good employees were given numbered pins each year or decade—to show how long they’d been at the company. The ideal was once to work your whole life with one organization, move up the ranks a little or a lot, and retire in the same company and town where you started your first job. The whole company threw a party, and you were presented with a gold watch, an engraved silver pen, or another memento of your long-term loyalty.

Today few companies exhibit such loyalty. Some, in fact, routinely purge upper-level management in order to replace more expensive employees with cheaper, younger models who are decades from earning a pension. The laws have made it much easier to carry your retirement savings with you from company to company, and a lot of people are constantly on the lookout for a better job elsewhere. There are popular apps dedicated to this habit.

Given today’s technology, and the nimbleness big organizations must somehow try to exhibit in order to remain relevant, such changes aren’t surprising. In fact, they may simply be the new way of things, the new normal. The old is always being replaced with the new. This week. In fact, in the news cycle Monday’s “crises” and “tragedies” often go unmentioned by Thursday.

Thus it isn’t shocking that our political leanings are going through an era of upheaval as well. During modern periods of economic and cultural stability, a majority of voters stick with the parties. Whether you like this approach or not, it’s usually the reality. Such majorities may be “silent” most of the time, but on election day they vote like the experts knew they would. They toe the party line.

Parties or Menus

We have seen this kind of stability erode a great deal since 2006. The iconic memory of 9/11, followed by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or win the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan easily and quickly, threw the electorate for a loop, and the Great Recession that followed moved us decisively away from political stability—at least for a while. China, Russia, the Middle East, North Korea, fluctuating prices, an economy that never seems to recover, and so many other things contribute to a growing sense of chaos, and of things getting worse.

Indeed, elections seem to get crazier and crazier. Predictions by the top experts, and the masses of talking heads, are now routinely wrong.

This isn’t driven by a cycle, however, meaning that we can’t chalk it all up to “a phase” the nation is going through before it reverts back to its traditional, normal behaviors. Cycles and trends do sometimes explain things that happen, but this time something more is going on. The rise of nearly-ubiquitious digital mobility is still in its infancy, and it is quickly restructuring politics (along with marriage, family, community, education, career, business, the economy, etc.).

Voters are less and less likely to be Loyalty Voters, emotionally attached to one party that stands for their culture, their beliefs, their family traditions. Indeed, in a world where more and more people are routinely questioning their birth culture and family traditions, they’re not likely to let loyalties based on these things get in the way of change.

Specifically, we are entering a Pragmatic Era in politics, where people want on-demand government. They want a menu of options to choose from, not a political party and its bureaucracy. They don’t really want to choose between candidates. They want a little of what one candidate has, but without the rest of his ideas. They want some of what another candidate promotes, minus his personal views, or his stand on [fill in the blank…]. They like what they hear from one candidate on one day, but disagree with what she says the next.

Response Government

It’s not so much a targeted electorate where the candidates try to win over the biggest special interests—like it has been for the past two decades. What’s emerging now is, to repeat, a growing clamor for on-demand politics. Voters want to unbundle government. They want to be able to select “yes” items and “no” items from every candidate running for high office.

one-term-graphic

In other words, they want Washington to live in the Digital Age. They want to directly email—or, better still, text—presidential candidates and have an on-going dialogue with them, and then continue the dialogue after the president is elected.

“I liked your speech yesterday at Georgetown, except for the part on naval upgrading. What actually needs to happen is…”

Moreover, they want the President to answer their email.

“Thanks, Amy. I see your point. I’m meeting with the Joint Chiefs later today and I’m going to tell them your recommendation—and order them to do it. They really need it. Good thing you’re on our side and sent me that email.”

Today’s voters want the government to respond the way Amazon does. Immediately. In fact, they want to be able to sign up for the President’s  Prime service—free answers within the hour, and nearly-immediate government implementation of whatever you tell the Oval Office to do.

“Get your policy implemented by Tuesday at 8 p.m., if you order it in the next 8 hours and 41 minutes. To get it by Monday at 8 p.m., pay an extra $3.99 and click here…”

As a result of this shift in voter expectations from their government (and the fact that government is still stuck in the 60s–or maybe the 70s–ways of doing things), hardly anyone is truly happy with any election anymore. Presidents Bush and Obama may well be the last loyalty-backed presidents. Indeed, barring a major military threat that unites the nation against a common enemy and brings back a loyalistic approach, most future presidents may well be one-termers.

That’s worth repeating. We may be entering an epoch of one-term presidencies. We’ve already seen the voters moving this way with their seeming schizophrenia in presidential versus Congressional elections. They routinely put one party’s candidate in the White House and simultaneously fill the Congress with the opposing party.

Solutions

Again, what the voters really want is a truly on-demand system, where they can elect national leaders and direct their actions issue by issue, “no” on this, “yes” on that—preferably with a click of their computer—er, smartphone. This is leading in the direction of more democracy, specifically a more democratic system built around online voting. And, honestly, most modern Americans see this idea as excellent, obvious, and overdue.

In response, I have two words:

  1. Federalist.
  2. Papers.

If you have studied them in depth, you know exactly what I mean.

But most people haven’t.

And that means we’re in for a wild political ride just ahead. It might contain a series of one-termer presidents (the nation swinging pendulum-like to and fro, then back again, over and over), a serious party shakeup with a new dominant national political party (or two), or it might be something even more surprising.

Whatever is coming, there is a widespread sense that it’s big. And we don’t even have Steve Jobs to walk out on a black stage in his black t-shirt and announce the future. If he were still around, he’d tell us to hold on to our hats, because this flight into the Era of populism, globalism, voter pragmatism, and digital-age on-demand revolution is just beginning. And the only thing we know for sure is that it’s going to get bumpy.

(Solution: It’s more important than ever for regular people to deeply study the core principles of freedom! The politicians and “experts” aren’t going to fix this for us—they’re the ones piloting the current chaos. For a beginning reading list of core freedom principles—and audios to go with each— join Black Belt in Freedom)

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy! by Oliver DeMille

June 8th, 2016 // 12:08 am @

Washington’s “Grin and Bear It” Message About an Economy that’s Still Struggling

The Need/Desire Question

decline_graphIn a 1927 issue of Harvard Business Review Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers wrote the following prescription for the nation: “We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture.” How? “People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” (Cited in The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha, p. 78.)

What a thing to say! And it has happened, just as Mazur recommended. But in the process, something else happened as well. Not only were people convinced to want more and newer things, but government got caught up in the same quest. And people began desiring many more and new things from government as well. This changed our entire culture.

More recently, President Obama has assured the nation that a slow growth economy is the new normal. But is this good news? Or very bad news masked by a smile? Truth: it’s certainly not good news. (See the new report: “The World is Flat: Surviving Slow Growth” in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs)

But before we address this, let’s take a little quiz. Just for fun.

Messages and Meanings

The following quote is about what nation?

(1) “_____________ will not be able to grow its economy…without…privatizing state-owned companies, [and] loosening regulations…”

Or consider this:

(2) “It may have…an undervalued currency, a debt-to-GDP ratio of 250 percent, and an average annual GDP growth rate over the last decade of less than 1 percent…. [but] Life expectancy is among the highest in the world; crime rates are among the lowest. The…people enjoy excellent health care and education.”

One more:

(3) “Middle-class wages stopped rising more than 30 years ago, but…low interest rates…and easy credit obscured the problem, allowing people to bridge the gap between their stagnant incomes and their spending.” How? By going into massive debt.

What is most interesting to me about all three of these quotes is how applicable they are to the United States today. Just re-read item 1 above. It could be a very realistic (and important) “To Do” list for Washington in 2016. Yet it was written about today’s Russia under Putin. (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016, p. 20)

Still, Washington does need to heed its message:

  • privatize state-owned companies that are a drain on taxpayers and gum up the free market
  • loosen regulations that are killing small business and sending investment capital to other nations

Item 2 above could also seem to be about the United States, but in fact it describes today’s Japan: “It may have…an undervalued currency, a debt-to-GDP ratio of 250 percent, and an average annual GDP growth rate over the last decade of less than 1 percent…. [but] Life expectancy is among the highest in the world; crime rates are among the lowest. The…people enjoy excellent health care and education.” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2016, p. 50)

The intended message here is clear: “If the people have good health care, education, and a stable economy, everything is good. A growth economy isn’t necessary.”

Starts and Stops

In fact, in the United States, “Middle-class wages stopped rising more than 30 years ago, but…low interest rates…and easy credit obscured the problem, allowing people to bridge the gap between their stagnant incomes and their spending.” (Ibid., pp. 50-51)

But how have Americans masked falling wages? The answer is illuminating:

  • By going into massive mortgage debt (eventually leading to the housing bubble crash and the Great Recession).
  • By using credit cards, car loans, student loans and building up major consumer debt. The average U.S. household has over 97 thousand dollars of debt and growing. (The Motley Fool, January 2015)
  • By more than doubling the amount of work they do, with both parents typically now in the full-time workforce, instead of just one breadwinner.
  • By working longer hours. The average workweek in the United States is now 46.7 hours, not the 1950s model of 40 hours and a crisp 9-5 workday. (USA Today: Modern Woman, Fall/Winter 2015) Over the course of a month, that’s an extra 29 hours—almost an extra workday every week compared to American workers of the 1950s.
  • By depending on increasing amounts of government support, including “free” public school education, “free” health care for those who qualify, and a number of even more direct government programs and assistance.

In all this, according to Gallup, less than 20 percent of U.S. workers love their job. Around 80 percent are in jobs they hate, dislike, or feel less than passionate about. Moreover, most Americans don’t believe that their current job will ever get them ahead financially. They’re just barely paying the bills—if that.

Still, the current message from Washington and labor experts is that things are fine, that the economy has improved under president Obama’s leadership, and that we should be grateful. Most people won’t see financial increases anytime soon, “but don’t sweat it.” Like people in Japan, we are assured that we should just be happy for general stability and get used to a stagnant economy.

Fewer jobs, more college-grads who are unemployed or (underemployed) and living with their parents, more three-generation households, falling home values, rising costs of food and necessities—these are the new normal. “And it’s okay,” Washington assures us. “If things get really bad, there are more government programs than ever to help you make ends meet.”

Don’t worry, be happy.

Regulations or Solutions

“Don’t desire so much anymore,” we’re told. “Make do with less. Except when it comes to big government. We’ll give you more of that!”

But how does this message from today’s Washington jive with the reality? Truth: “An economy that grows at one percent doubles its average income approximately every 70 years, whereas an economy that grows at three percent doubles its average income about every 23 years—which, over time, makes a big difference in people’s lives.” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2016, p. 42)

Factor inflation into these numbers—on the basics like food, housing, education, and transportation—and one percent growth means the average household falls further behind each and every month. At three to four percent growth, in contrast, like the overall average from 1945-2005 in the United States, families can improve their standard of living over time—and even help their kids do better than themselves.

Right now this level of growth is found mostly in Asia, certainly not in North America or Europe. Thus the increasing American realization that our children and grandchildren are likely to be worse off than we are, while their Chinese counterparts will probably experience upgraded lifestyles and standards of living in the decades ahead.

But this isn’t a static reality. It is based on the current policies and agendas of Washington. These can be changed. For starters, just adopt the suggestions Westerners often give to Russia, as outlined above:

  • reduce/remove numerous government regulations that are killing small businesses and driving investment capital and high-growth corporations—and jobs—to other nations
  • stop federal overspending in so many government agencies by simply cutting their budgets—significantly—to spark increased investment and business growth

Just these two changes would significantly reboot the U.S. economy.

Americans can become a more frugal and a resilient people once again, no doubt. But they would rather be a more innovative and entrepreneurial people—and they have proven that they are incredibly good at it—if government will just cut away the red tape and let free enterprise thrive again.

(Read a lot more on this topic in Oliver’s latest book, Freedom Matters, available at The Leadership Education Store)

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