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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Archives for: November 2013

Of Men and Robots

Why is it that laws these days have to be multi-volume illegible monsters which no mortal person, including the legislators, has time to read let alone understand? I can't imagine how many people have been involved in their creation, but I am sure those people could have built quite a number of pyramids, given half the chance. It seems that hundred years ago, the legal code was shorter and yet people had clearer sense of what was acceptable. Could it be that legal realm is subject to some kind of Laffer curve which tells us that beyond certain level of complexity further specification of behavioral norms only muddies the waters?

Intricate ecosystems of structured societies are molding our lives to the blueprint of acceptable canon and with them comes the daunting army of bureaucracy tasked with developing and maintaining the sacred templates. The homo sapiens has evolved into an overworked clerk with a drizzly rubber stamp hanging pretty damn low at their hip. And maybe there is a reason to it. Here is my suspicion.

Robots are taking over more and more aspects of our production. Not only can they drill wells or vacuum living rooms, but these days they can perform complicated surgeries and make financial decisions. In the meantime, people still need to find gainful employment. They need to find sustenance and take care of their families. Humanity seems to have been taken by surprise and hasn't quite figured how to compensate for the loss of natural jobs. It is clear that large part of the traditional workforce has to be reassigned. I think the paper pushing became a makeshift trench in the battle for new order, a temporary stand in before we figure out how to create opportunities for meaningful work in areas as yet unheard.

I only hope we won't drown in the sea of red tape before we find them.

Biking in Bahamas


Breeze drying its handkerchiefs in spare places between the spokes.

Buzzing insect triangulates the air with its beelines.

Beach following the winding road like a faithful dog.

Broth of youth springs from a chalice of yellow elder.

Blue skies campaigning on the roof of an old Rastafarian church.

Botanical paradise blows at your hair with palms akimbo.

Budget deadline for adrenaline junkies roaring ahead.

Be your own stenography in the declaration of setting sun.



Achilles Heel of Democracy

The following excerpt is usually attributed to Alexander Tytler although there is reasonable doubt that he actually said it. But the quote is so suitable for the introduction of the problem I am going to write about that there is little point in trying to reformulate it:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship"

I think many thinkers have been aware of the conundrum of effective governance over the past few centuries and many of them attempted to devise ingenious mechanisms to resolve it - mostly by restricting suffrage one way or another. Some advocated that the voting rights should be limited to people of considerable wealth, some suggested a voting fee, some preferred to use education or familiarity with the current affairs as the decisive criterion, but at the end of the day every approach seemed to have created some form of discrimination or injustice. Electoral braces are the trickiest piece of political dentistry.

Last week I was reading one of the Czech online newspapers and some sensible soul there suggested a solution which I consider both just and practical, i.e. worthy of implementation.

When you come to the polls you will be given the following choice. Either you get a $20 bill or you get the ballot, but not both. This way only voters who care enough about public affairs to forgo this monetary reward will be given the opportunity to influence them. Note that this does not prevent even the poorest citizens from participating in the election. There is nothing to lose, and there is no restriction on wealth. If you are passionate enough to have your voice heard then twenty bucks shouldn't drag you away from the booth. I would even argue that making such personal sacrifice will in fact make you a better citizen, since you will want to be sure that the person you vote for is worth it.

On the other hand, the voters who don't give a hoot about the issues and toss their vote to whichever name they see displayed at their local intersection might be tempted to take the bait and walk away with the money. And that's the whole point: to dissuade the electoral segment that Tytler's quote warns about from turning the elections into a mindless overspending contest.

And the cost? In the last election, the turnout was about 120 million. If half of them choose the money, it would cost $2.4 billion. That is a pretty reasonable amount, considering that Ben Bernanke prints $85 billion every single month. Especially if it led to more responsible government.

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