Hi, my name is Zeno Izen and I am running for President of the United States of America. I have developed a simple plan to restore freedom, peace and prosperity to America. Here is that plan:
Step 1: Every U.S. citizen with a Social Security number will receive, by U.S. Postal mail, an unactivated plastic debit card. The details of the accounts that these cards will access are a technical matter that will be worked out before this plan is implemented.
Step 2: Citizens will have a short period of time to activate these debit cards, and the accounts that they access.
Step 3: At an appointed moment, which may or may not be revealed in advance, each citizen’s account will be credited with a sum of money. The amount of money is a technical detail that will be worked out before this plan is implemented. Hypothetically, the amount is mostly irrelevant, though it will need to be significant enough to qualify as a windfall for the average citizen. Numbers between $10,000 and $100,000 are probable.
Step 4: The U.S. federal government will cede power to the States, and declare itself dissolved.
Step 5: A period of adjustment will ensue.
The benefits of this plan will be many. The velocity of money, and the vitality of the economy will increase dramatically as citizens will be motivated to spend what money they have as soon as possible before its value drops to zero. All sides of political debate will be satisfied by this plan as well, as redistributionists on the left will be directly compensated and minarchists on the right will see their domestic agenda implemented in full.
At the same time, the results of this plan will be unpredictable to the degree that manipulators of the economy, along with entrenched totalitarian interests, will not be able to fully retain their power. Prices and currencies will swing to extremes as the results of this plan ripple across the globe. Innovators and small time players will find themselves knee deep in opportunities, which will disrupt society and make resources newly available in the fairest way possible: according to wit and competitivity.
My plan will initiate a new global golden era based on merit and voluntary association. This is what everyone wants, perhaps excluding those deeply invested in the status quo.
So vote for me for President of the U.S. or whatever other office you want. I ain’t on the ballot and my budget is zero, but I’ve got a slogan and it is thus:
“Vote for Zeno Izen motherfuckers! He’s got the Plan!”
It’s Sunday morning on the day before Halloween 2011. About a week and a half ago I wrote a vampire story that I thought might be good to post here for Halloween day, but then I realized two things. 1. The story isn’t ready. It reads like an actual short story, but compared to what I was trying to create, the thing is more like an outline. 2. Halloween is the worst time to post a vampire story. The world is glutted with horror fiction on Halloween day.
So, instead I’ve decided that I’m going to post a few paragraphs of economic/current-history musings (or ramblings, as the case may be) and follow it up with some old material that I posted at another blog many many years ago.
What the hell is taking so long with this decline of civilization? Hyperinflation, totalitarian government, grand-scale urban rioting and other Really Bad Things seem to be always looming in the distance. No one, of course, can really be sure what the future holds, but I think most observant people can agree that major changes are afoot. Just the simple fact that there isn’t any money left to maintain U.S. and European governments indicates that adjustments need to be made. Adjustments that are being drawn out in an excruciating way by politicians and central bankers who seem to think there’s any kind of fix to sovereign debt problems. (There is a fix, yes. It’s called “time.” The balm of time, though, is perfectly counteracted by picking the scab off over and over again.)
Here in America, I think there is a great debt of suffering that the general population owes. We don’t owe this suffering for any moral reason, or spiritual or mystical. I’m talking about simple cause and effect. For many years, our way of life has been like a tissue-padded bra. Our abundance was false, our voluptuousness prosthetic. Pyramids of perfect fruit in every supermarket, a thousand varieties of breakfast cereal, glittering richness of entertainment options, a robust, complex national infrastructure, military dominance of the globe, cars, bars, restaurants, movies, blue jeans, handbags, paid time off, pensions, dependable emergency services, single family homes, clean white sheets and drive-through service have all been part of our lives and lifestyles because of credit. Visa cards and Treasury bonds provided the liquidity that kept this cruise ship afloat. That liquidity has receded, but we still try to find ways to live as though it hasn’t. As long as our central banks and the consumer herd keep forestalling the inevitable–a much lower standard of living–we all risk the acute pain of a rude surprise.
These are not novel concepts. There are hundreds of other people, across all media, saying the same thing every day. My point is that this is taking too long. I certainly don’t want to suffer, or see others suffer. And I can always use more time to prepare. But, the slowness of all this is an additional agony.
The wisest thing of all our choices, collectively, would be to institute a nationwide policy of personal restraint. For instance, a spartan Christmas season would help a lot. What if we all just gave each other handmade cards this year? Don’t spend a dime? Just for this year? What would happen? I don’t know. It could make things worse for the economy, but that might actually be a good thing. Running the ship aground once and for all would show us what we have left to rebuild with. And in any case, it might have psychological benefits for the U.S. population. It feels good to be proactive, even when the proactivity is imperfect. Also, our consumer culture has been driven in a large way by feelings of smallness and disatisfaction at the level of the individual. The world is too big, and we are too small, so we distract ourselves with buying and spending. Feeling some amount of historical control might feed the soul hunger that has been a major motivation for all of this borrowing.
Something like this will never happen, though. Humanity takes the path of least resistance as predictably as water finds the lowest ground. This is easy to see in the very synthetic Occupy Wall Street assemblies. Lots of people may show up because it seems like something to do, but that’s as far as it will ever go. In the long run, collectivism never works. Individuality is far more powerful. Agreement is scarce, cooperation rare. Mass movements do erupt, but not often with long term agendas. It’s easier for the crowd to express inarticulable anger than to create something. To create requires the individual.
That’s why I really believe that a global market-based anarchy is the best thing for us all. But that isn’t happening any time soon, either. No, nothing great will be happening for a while. First we have to slog our way through this slow motion disaster.
This was posted at another blog in October of 2007. Even back when I wrote this, I thought the idea was somewhat obvious. As far as I know, though, I’m the only one that’s ever vocalized the idea seriously. Probably because the idea offends too many basic cultural values. Oh, if we could only get past that kind of crap.
A Solution to the Steroid Problem
Steroids have been a part of sports for years now, and they are here to stay. Not only that, but steroids are just the beginning. Soon enough we will see robotic and genetic enhancements to the human body that will let athletes perform at many times their natural capabilities. As science marches on, records will be smashed over and over again. Are you ready for the 200-mph fastball? How about the 1500-home-run career, or the two-minute mile? Not even science fiction is the limit in the world of athletic competition, because whatever can be engineered will be put to quick use on the playing field.
The only uncertainty is how the rulemakers of the various sports leagues will treat these advancements. The current trend is to prohibit technological ability-boosters, to banish them into a hidden sphere. With steroids prohibited, honest players must compete against cheaters, standards of achievement become skewed and sports fans can no longer be sure who is a true winner and who is a juiced-up manbeast taking advantage of an unbalanced situation.
It’s as true in sports as anywhere else, prohibition is terrible mistake. The difference is that, in sports, to ban enhancements is twice the error. Drug users tend to fail in the real world, but the opposite is true in sports–at least over the short term. Steroid users will always win against their more honest opponents, and those who follow the rules will never break the records set by more-than-human competitors.
But while prohibition is a foolish policy, it is clearly necessary to exert some sort of control over these substances–not to mention whatever else might be on its way down the research pipeline. Whatever is allowed will become an immediate standard. If one man quadruples the size of his pitching arm with stem cells, then everyone else will have to do it just to keep up. In competitive situations, what is not prohibited becomes obligatory. It would be terribly unwise to ask our up and coming athletes to destroy their bodies just so that they can play a game.
The best solution then is to partition our sports. There is no reason we can’t have separate leagues in each sport, one that allows any possible enhancement, and one that allows no enhancements at all.
The benefits of a system that separates sports into enhanced and non-enhanced leagues are plain.
A main improvement under this system will be that performance enhancement will come out of the closet. No parent will have to lecture their children on the dangers of steroid or amphetamine use because these risks will be openly illustrated by the scores of sports heroes who will suffer from brain cancer, abnormal hair and sudden coronary explosions.
As cyborgenics become available, we will also see athletes with robotic limbs and bits of facial circuitry. Admittedly, the fact that these physical upgrades will be introduced to us by famous sports figures may actually add an element of romance to the technology. However it’s also an undeniable fact that when once these things are invented, there will be no way to stop their infiltration into our culture. It is better to have the gear tested in full public view under high-performance conditions than to have them sold to us “as is” by less-than-honest marketing hacks.
Wearable computing and cyborgenics are things of the near future. As a species, we have lived through the introduction of many new technologies, and it’s about time we began to get this process right. Consider the automobile. How many years, and how many lives, passed us by before we saw the invention of seat belts and air bags? Or take an additional example–genetic engineering. The citizenry tend to fear this technology and clamor for regulation that is much more dramatic than necessary. In either case, the legislation on these innovations has been either too late or too quick.
But in the case of re-engineering the human body, we have the luxury of a class of people who will willingly test these things and do it at their own expense. Considering the entertainment value that comes as a bonus, why not let them?
There are many more possible benefits of this idea, but I will add just one more. When performance enhancement is brought out in the open through league partitioning, we will no longer have to suffer the heartbreak, or witness the disgrace, as our beloved athletes are inevitably caught cheating at their games. Episodes such as our ongoing suspicion of Barry Bonds, and our shock at the downfall of Marion Jones will no longer haunt us, and we will be free to enjoy the diversions of sport once again.
Maybe you’re aware of the recent federal raid on Gibson Guitars. There’s been a lot of talk about this around the internet. It’s sad, sick, wrong, etc. etc. that a job-creating American manufacturing company has been crippled by the federal government for hazy legal reasons.
There’s something that’s been bothering me about the discussion of this situation though. Several times I’ve heard that Gibson is anomalous in this day and age, an American manufacturing company making a profit.
And it’s great. Manufacturing is the basis of a healthy economy. That so little is actually made in the United States is a fantastic proportion of the reason that we are in decline. Wealth comes from creation. Turning raw materials into something a person can use is the most direct way of creating wealth. Importation, marketing, retail, service and all of the other activity that comes between the creation and consumption of a product are important to the economy, but without the manufacturing none of it is possible. And the more we allow manufacturing to take place outside of our country, the less self-sufficient we become. For years we have been the world’s customer, and recently we’ve been borrowing the money needed to buy the world’s goods. By creating money instead of wealth we’ve allowed the world’s economy to become balanced on the tip of a needle.
So any manufacturing that happens in the United States is something to be celebrated. But it strikes me that the success of this particular company is kind of perverse. They are making guitars, a recreational product for sale to persons with disposable income.
Other paragons of American manufacturing are similar. Harley Davidson makes a lifestyle product. Apple products are useful for industry, but the company’s success is a result of addressing identity concerns in its marketing. Philip Morris makes a fairly useless product. The list goes on.
Certainly there are lots of American companies that make things that have little to do with entertainment, lifestyle, recreation or rely on their customers having disposable income. Caterpillar comes to mind. Case IH and Marlin Wire make products that are truly necessary for the ongoing interests of civilization.
Any manufacturing is good for America. And a diversity of manufacturing is even better. But as the decline goes on, it’s the companies that depend on disposable income that are going to fail soonest. There are only so many people on the earth that truly need a new guitar. The rest of Gibson’s customers will fall off as their money loses value and their incomes wear thin. Meanwhile, the guitar heroes of the world will be selling fewer records.
There’s a parallel universe where things are simpler and more honest. In that universe the citizens of the United States all take turns at opposite sides of the bar. Six hours mixing drinks, six hours drinking drinks, six hours drunken slumber, and six hours nursing a hangover. Repeat.