Discussions of Economics and Public Policy


Quick Links to Major Sections

Latest Essay

Planning for the Future

Problems in Society

Unconventional Economic Ideas

Discussions in Political Philosophy

Solutions for Society

Our True Values

Considering our Lifestyles


Famous Follies

Robert passed away in July of 2009. This website is now maintained by his son, Alex. For the most part it remains unchanged.

This is a collection of my occasional essays on subjects covering a range of current concerns. Some have to do with long-range planning for both local governments and the world and large, others have to do with economic and political problems, along with some suggested solutions or, at least, ideas for further discussion.

There follows some of a more philosophical nature having to do with the "meaning of life", or at least how we can get the most out of our own lives. I end with a few famous follies from the past which can serve as a warning as to what happens when people ignore environmental degradation.

A hardcover book version of these essays is available by clicking on the Lulu logo. Items marked with a bullet appear in the book. The book is sold at no profit.

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Planning for the Future

Goals for the 21st Century
Too much of today's discussions are concerned with daily events. These essays try to take a step back and see if we can develop a set of long-range goals that can guide public policy over the next few decades.

General Objections
This first section lays out some of the issues that arise when any attempts to change the status quo are undertaken.

Individual Goals
This is a list of 20 goals ranging from local changes that apply mostly to the US through global goals which affect the entire world.

On Being Old - People and Countries
As the industrialized societies get "old" they need to face up to planning for a future without the type of economic growth that was the norm in the past. The recent downturn provides an opportunity for such future planning.

Watching the Train Wreck in Slow MotionRecently people have started calling attention to issues of the environment. There proposed solutions are inadequate. Historical examples are used to show that societies can fail to take impending disasters seriously enough.

Planning for a Steady State Economy
Can we design an alternative to the unsustainable growth model for society? Present society is modeled on never ending growth. This is not physically possible. Alternatives need to be discussed before events overtake us.

After Capitalism, What?
A first attempt to outline some of the changes that will be needed if a steady-state society is to become a reality. Capitalism and growth is not possible in an era of overpopulation and resource shortages.

The Post Manufacturing Age
Many advanced industrialized nations have passed into a post manufacturing era. Industries will still exist, but not as traditional manufacturing firms. It is time to acknowledge the change and adapt.

Problems in Society

Workplace Discrimination
Since employees enter the workplace voluntarily shouldn't bosses be able to set any rules they wish? After all the workers can always quit.

Who Should Chose Your Cultural Identity?
Why should a child have to adopt the rituals and conventions of their parents? Why shouldn't they be able to chose their own?

Complaints a Rant
Things are going badly economically on a global scale. Here's what's wrong and some ideas about what to do about it.

The Terrorists Have Won
Recent actions by congress and the supreme court have weakened exactly those civil liberties we claim the "terrorists" want to destroy. We've done it to ourselves instead.

The Fourth Branch of Government
In the US the military establishment has effectively become the fourth branch of government. Not only does it control the largest fraction of spending, but its allies in business and congress ensure that there is little risk of its power being reined in. Civilian "control" is illusory.

A Nation of Men not Laws
The US economy has become a nation where personal relationships determine who controls government. This is a throwback to the abuses of era of monarchy and violates our founding principles.

The Coming Economic Crash
The US economy is on the verge of a severe economic downturn. Here are some of the reasons why. A change in fiscal policy is overdue.

Tax Resentment
People resent high taxes for the wrong reasons. A look at US policies shows where the money is really going.

Immigration "Facts" Debunked
Immigration is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problem. The problem is economic inequality in Mexico and the US. Here are some facts.

Eliminate US Poverty
Poverty is caused by a lack of money. Guaranteeing a minimum standard of living to all will improve society for everyone and is affordable.

Can Wealth be Redistributed More Equitably?
The gap between rich and poor is wider than ever in the US. Without some adjustment society runs the risk of civil unrest or economic inefficiency.

Surveillance vs Civil Liberties
The use of secret police to watch perceived foreign threats frequently turns into crackdowns on legitimate domestic dissent. This is an historically informed explanation.

The Rise of the Super Rich is Compared to the Rise in National Debt.
The growth in the wealth of the top tier of US society in the past few decades almost exactly matches the increase in the size of the government debt. Effectively the US has borrowed from the world to give the money to the wealthy.

The Influence of Small States in the Apportionment of US Senate Seats.
Small rural states with a conservative, business outlook control a majority of the senate seats.

Why Governments like Fossil Fuels
Oil revenue supports government operations. There is no conservation revenue to encourage policy changes.

Congress and Business:  Bribery or Extortion?
Who is in charge, congress or big business? Campaigns need corporate funding and return the support by policy changes that raise corporate profits.

Is the media Blackmailing Congress?
Is the media preventing campaign funding reform? The previous topic looked at from the point of view of broadcast media interests.

Who's Social Agenda is Winning?
Both conservatives and liberals are failing to get their policies adopted. Are they focusing on the wrong things or just keeping their supporters outraged?

Self Delusion and Foreign Policy
Our government does what we really want, but won't admit. We are unwilling to own up to our own desires.

Google's Monopoly on Information
Google's Poor Retrieval Logic
Search engines restrict the free flow of knowledge. A small group of companies now is the gateway to the internet. This can be benign or a potential for the restriction of the free flow of political information.

Advertising Distortions Lower Trust in Business
If ads aren't truthful how can be trust a business to be ethical? Shouldn't a company make ethical product claims if it is to be trusted in employee relations and public policy?

Unconventional Economic Ideas

Measuring the Economy with a Broken Ruler RECENT!
Common economic measures like GDP and CPI don't adequately reflect important social factors and are make poor targets for social policy. The social value of economic activities need to be considered.

The Theory of Everything - Blame Darwin
Darwinian ideas about the battle for survival were a metaphor which moved into economics and theories of human behavior. This has led to a dog-eat-dog mindset which ignores people's capacity for altruism and the possibility of societies based upon mutual cooperation.

Econometrics as Signal Processing
Economic analysis is compared with signal processing where the objective is to find the message in the noise. It is shown that many of the same techniques are used, just called by different names.

Using Price to Control Demand
Economists claim supply and demand is controlled by price, but societies frequently use other techniques. Price alone hurts the poor and is immoral, so governments shun the "free market" to assist.

Capitalism Must Die!
An economic system based upon continual growth and unlimited resources is not suitable to future conditions. We need to discuss what could replace it.

What is Savings? What is Spending?Economists assume that their terms are well defined, but perhaps their ideological viewpoints are embedded in the usage.

There is no Laffer Curve
The Laffer curve is supposed to predict the tax rate which will maximize government revenues. There has never been evidence produced that it actually represents a real economic theory.

Will you Die Poor?
Most people are not saving enough for retirement. The disappearance of the defined benefit plan means people must fund their own retirement plans.

Wealth without Work
The stock market is not as good an investment as Wall Street says. Long term yields can't exceed productivity plus population growth.

Big Box Stores and Choice
The big box stores offer a wide variety of items, but limited choice and quality compared to specialty retailers.

Stock Fund Proposal
A proposal for a self-managed stock fund with very low expenses. If a large group of people converge on the best answer this fund should provide an optimal investment strategy.

Discussions in Political Philosophy

Latest Essay -  

The "slow work" movement
Employment could be made more meaningful, creative and less wasteful if economic "efficiency" was not the only measure. I advocate going back to small enterprises where makers have a direct relationship with their customers.

Too Many People, Too Little Work
Modern techniques have made it possible for all the necessities of life to be fulfilled with only a fraction of the available labor pool. What to do with all the "excess" labor is not addressed in conventional economics.

Must Corporations Maximize Profit?
Conventional capitalist theory says that the only goal of corporations is to maximize profit for the benefit of the owners. So when it is proper for them to spend on charities or other public benefit activities? I claim the pursuit of profit is a false requirement.

The Purpose of Education
Should education be aimed at teaching a core set of "truths" or should it be developing skills for life long self learning? I claim a democracy needs citizens who question "truths" and can adapt to new information. Recent attempts to change the focus are a threat to these requirements.

Can the US/EU be Self-Sufficient?
Trade is promoted as a general good, but trade imbalance is considered bad. The question is not should a society be self-sufficient, but can it? If not, then how is it going to maintain itself over the long term?

Ricardo and Morality
Trade is based upon the idea of comparative advantage, but in practice the stronger party gets the bigger benefit. This is immoral.

Development Morality
Economic theories of trade are irrelevant. The goals of trade are a moral issue, not one of "efficiency".

Moral Hazard
Poor financial behavior has revived discussions of risk. The concept of moral hazard can't be applied to firms, however. People learn, firms do not. Institutional learning is embodied in regulations.

What is Wealth - Where has it Gone?
There is widespread confusion about wealth. A rise in the price of financial assets does not indicate real wealth, and neither does hoarding of items of little practical value like gold.

Class Warfare - A Different View
There are only two "classes" in society, those who need to work to eat and those who don't. The wealthiest of the working class needs to realize their interests lie with fellow workers, not plutocrats.

Measuring Democracy
Democratic countries are more equitable in general and tend to have longer-term economic development. But how does measure the degree of "Democracy"?

On "Free" Trade
International trade policies meant to help underdeveloped nations have a mixed record of success. I suggest examining the US states to see why this is so.

Can Governments Function?
Government is the only mechanism available to enforce rules in society. Private enterprise cannot perform these functions. To think otherwise is Utopianism.

Command and Control Social Organizations.
Arguments about the superiority of the private sector are not borne out by the evidence. Democratic societies have a type of governance not used elsewhere. This makes them more responsive to the public's goals.

How Best to Fill a Sieve with Water
Too many discussions fail to examine their assumptions. As a consequence they are as futile as trying to fill a sieve.

Economics as Ethics
Unexamined ethical assumptions determine how economic theories are turned into policy recommendations.

What is a Conservative?
Conservatives list programs that they support, but these are not principles. Their only principle is preserving privilege.

Combating Conservativism
Information is the best tool to counter conservative propaganda. Only it can expose the privilege that is behind conservatism.

Free Market Philosophy as Process Conservative philosophies seem more concerned with the process of the market rather than the goals to be achieved.

The Evil Within Us All
Humans can easily be led into performing horrific acts. This is a short review of the experimental evidence for our inability to resist such pressure.

The Quest for Truth
Political decisions are often based upon assumptions which are treated as true even when they can't be substantiated.

The End of Left-Right Politics
The traditional political divisions between left and right are no longer accurate. Here is an attempt to define a new multi-dimensional framework of political opinion.

Liberty vs Democracy
Liberty and Democracy mean very different things to liberals and conservatives. Excessive "liberty" does not fit within a true democratic structure.

Is Democracy Necessary?
Democratic institutions are once again under attack in the US and elsewhere. Many argue that they are not important in the face of external threats. Can a society be successful and non-democratic?

Saving Democracy
This continues the prior discussion and shows how poor educational policies and the rise of a plutocracy are endangering US democracy. Steps must be taken to reverse these trends if the US is to survive as a democratic nation.

Why Can't Liberals Talk to Conservatives?
Liberals make arguments based upon economic equality and the need for change. Social conservatives prefer the status quo, why aren't the appeals convincing?

Let's Abolish Philanthropy
Philanthropy is not subject to the controls of a democratic society, this results in an arbitrary use of wealth.

Privatizing Social Services
This is a continuation of the prior essay. I discuss how allowing private philanthropy to take over the social programs best done by governments weakens the democratic foundations of societies.

Terminology: Nature's Bounty
Classical economics has long ignored the finiteness of the natural world in it's models. As we approach scarcity in key areas it would help if we could reframe the terminology to highlight this concern.

Economists: Intellectual Whores
Economists follow in a long tradition of using their intellectual abilities to support the interests of the rich and powerful. Claiming their philosophical nostrums as "science" just adds insult to injury.

Abolishing Private Ownership
People on earth cannot really own things. They can just use them while in their possession. We need to be better custodians of these resources so there is enough for those who follow us.

Marx and bin Laden
Marx and bin Laden are social critics of inequality in their societies. Their analyses of the causes are incorrect and has led them to suggest unsuitable solutions. There opponents also fail to understand and make equivalent errors.

Evaluating Trust in Authority
Authorities must be evaluated before we can trust their opinions. Religious faith complicates the task and leaves people open to manipulation.

What Causes Greed?
Greed is the effect of fear. Greed is not "good", it is a product of insecurity and a sign of a failure in society.

Prejudice and the Golden Rule
Hating others creates stress and inefficiency in society. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Why can't the US get over its discriminatory heritage?

Can Populism Succeed?
Can the resurgence of Populism produce meaningful change? History seems to indicate otherwise. A warning for the new populist idealists.

Angry Libertarians
Why has the anti-tax working class failed to cut their taxes? Economic self interest has been displaced by misunderstandings of the major uses of tax revenue.

Ayn Rand's Utopian Philosophy
"Me first" philosophy does not make good social policy. Utopias provide an easy, but incorrect, remedy to societies problems.

Supernatural Beliefs are not Scientifically Verifiable
Written Eyewitness Accounts of Miraculous Occurrences are Unreliable. Here is proof that Santa Claus Exists!

Government: Sports without Referees
Government needs to set the rules for capitalism to work. The market economy is an impossible objective. All social mechanisms need rules to work.

Solutions for Society

Is College a Public Good? NEW!
Democratic societies have been increasing the number of years of education they require (and pay for). This should now be extended to college in the US and elsewhere where tuition is charged. Modern society needs a more highly educated citizenry, this is a public good.

Humanitarian "Warfare"
When dictatorial regimes govern to the detriment of the bulk of the population there is a need for international humanitarian intervention. This essay discusses the criteria for determining when such cases exist.

Does Unionization Matter?
Popular economic theories have been put forward for centuries, along with solutions for improving working conditions. Using the old adage "might makes right" I claim that outcomes based upon strength through organization has been the road to a decent life.

A Proposal to "Abolish" the Department of Defense
The Department of Defense has gotten too big and tries to do too much. Breaking into three organizations would improve efficiency and oversight.

A Proposal to Replace CAFE Automotive Standards with New Taxes
Many want the marketplace to solve the gas guzzler problem. Instead here is a proposal to use taxes to penalize those using inefficient vehicles for personal use as a way to influence individual purchase decisions.

A Proposal for an AARP-like Organization for Workers
With organized labor such a small fraction of the work force an alternative membership organization is needed that would provide essential services like discounted insurance and retirement plans.

Solving the Outsourcing Problem
Unrealistic expectations for profit cause corporations to make socially damaging business decisions. Recent studies also point to the drive for short-term profits having negative effects on the long-term prospects of the enterprise itself.

Solving Freedom of the Road Problem
Love of suburban lifestyles and ease of travel must change. A society based upon cheap natural resources will be at an economic disadvantage when it has to compete with more efficient social organization.

Solving Excessive Consumerism
Consumerism as a goal has decreased happiness. More satisfaction must be found in self-fulfilling activities.

Solving the Health Insurance Problem
Over buying insurance has driven up the cost of health care. Introducing a new layer of profit and management has introduced deliberate inefficiencies. Society must decide if it wants to maintain this model of health care.

Solving the Corporate Tax Problem
Abolish corporate taxes to remove corporate influence. Without the promise of new tax breaks corporations will have less incentive to fund the political process.

Why Business Needs Labor Unions
An alliance between businesses and their unions will benefit both. A level playing field removes a competitive edge from socially irresponsible firms.

Saving Social Security
Social security can be "saved" with modest or bold steps.

Medicare Health Projections are Unrealistic
Beware of a Phony Medicare Crisis. The growth of health costs is overestimated. Here are several factors that are usually ignored.

Our True Values

Forgetting History - Paying the Price
How do we ensure that we learn from the past?

Impermanent Art
Has the concept of timeless art become irrelevant?

In Defense of Plagiarism
Plagiarism has a long and noble history. Not all uses of other's work should be condemned.

What is our Society's Legacy?
Are there sites of value worth visiting from the 20th Century? Why do most vacations visit historic sites rather than modern ones?

What we Save in a Fire
Are family photos the only things we own that are truly ours? Do we create so little of our own personal environment that everything can be replaced without any true loss?

Considering our Lifestyles

Standing in Line as a Civic Duty
Democracy requires that all citizens be treated equally. Allowing the rich to literally fly over the rest of us who are stuck in traffic leads to bad governance.

Paying for Your Own Life
One can consider support for non-working years as an inter-generational transfer, or as a loan from prior generations. In either case it we have to pay it back. To do otherwise is stealing from future generations.

Living with Less
My partially successful attempts to live a less materialistic lifestyle since my retirement.

What we discard is a reflection of how we live
My efforts to cut down on materialism have been only moderately successful. Society makes this difficult with the amount of things that must be discarded.

Stupid Product Contest! Millions in Prizes!
Excessive packaging and wasteful products are taking a toll on our environment. I suggest some recent examples and ask for others.


Why Fight Inflation?
Standard arguments for fighting inflation may no longer be relevant now that the asset-owning classes are not as dependent upon on long-term fixed income investments. Perhaps central banks can now stop protecting their interests and turn to maintaining full employment instead.

Non-Adiabatic Economics
Standard economic models make simplifying assumptions which may not correspond to realistic situations. An analogy is made to the ideal gas law in physics.

What's Wrong with Tariffs?
Could tariffs on items not produced domestically be used as a wealth redistribution mechanism, when coupled with an income tax reduction?

Famous Follies

The Aberfan Effect
Excesses in the environment created a catastrophe. Here is a particularly sad case which can serve as a warning to all of us.

Easter Island and the Arms Race
Foolish spending destroyed a society. Another sad lesson about abusing one's environment.

rss button

Copyright 2004-9 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.

Revised (acf): Wednesday Nov 4th, 2009