Debt -> Obligation -> Expectation -> Opportunity

Unfortunately society as a whole seems to be going the other way– for mortgage/rent, for education, for cars– it is all debt, all the time.    I suggest we should reverse the trend.

Debt gets you in trouble.   You owe, and if you do not pay it back it grows, and you are Bad if you do not repay your debts.     According to David Graeber, debt is quantified obligation.  Debts are contracts, enforceable, and if broken punishable by the government.  Debt is transferable, so if you owe one person they have the right to sell that to another and then you may owe someone else, someone worse.   Debt seems to be a bad way to build a world we want to live in.   Unfortunately we are getting really good at selling debt– on houses, cars, education, consumer goods, etc.    Renting rather than owning is a form of debt since if you can not pay for it, you have to leave.   No wiggle room.   Debt has landed people in slavery, in the military, in jail.      The strange thing is, money is created by making debt, so if you think: “oh, I dont have any debt, in fact I have lots of money in my bank accounts” then someone else is in debt.  So storing wealth in money causes others to be in debt.   Strange but true.   Maybe better said:  tragic but true.      Ok, what is better?

Obligation is a fuzzier form of IOU.   It is not transferable, and it is not a legally enforceable contract.    Obligations die with you– they are generally not passed on to a child.  Breaking an obligation can damage one’s reputation, and it can lead people to not want to trust you anymore.   Bad news travels fast, and broken obligations are damaging.   Moving to a new place, where no one knows your name can start you out again with no obligations, but you are also without a reputation so it may take time for others to build the trust to build a network you can depend on.    Sounds better than a system of debt, but still not so great.   What is better?

Expectation is something I sometimes put on my children.    Not proud of it, and I am trying to figure out something better, hence this blog post.   Expectations are not escapable except by satisfaction, but this is not always easy to know how to achieve this.   Sometimes a debt can seem better because it is clear what you have to do and then you are free.   But expectations are part of enduring relationships, one where you are not free, but part of a network.    Expectations seems to be what makes family gatherings hard to bear.    Ok, what is better?

Opportunity seems to be the system that grants the most latitude.   We hear it in slogans:  “This school gives your child every opportunity for achieving bla bla bla”.   Sounds good– this is school that does not “expect” or “obligate” but rather it encourages, facilitates, allows to grow.     This sounds good.   No guilt trips, just flexible partnerships that are fluidly defined.

-?-

Can we run a society on Opportunity rather than Debt, Obligation, or Expectations?   Quite possibly.   In our machine age, creating the basic necessities take very limited labor, so these can be provided without forcing people into jobs they might not like.    Forcing people seems to require debt these days to keep them on the treadmill through rent and school loans and such.   We are in a position that basic food and housing would take little forced labor.   Maybe we could even imagine it taking no forced labor at all, maybe could just give our kids, neighbors, and friends opportunities to get things done and we would have a happier life.

Can we imagine a society without Debt?   I find it hard, but intriguing.   We would have to rethink stored value since money=debt.   Outlawing debt somehow would be needed because it could creep back in.   Long term contracts, for instance, are a form of debt…   But this might be possible.

Can we imagine a society without Obligations?   If we enjoyed abundance rather than fear  scarcity, we might not have to bind others with obligation.    We are social animals, doesn’t that mean we naturally create obligations?   Maybe not.   Might be possible to grow beyond our web of obligations to create better and more prosperous lives for us all.

Can we build a society without expectation?   I would have to rebuild myself, for sure.   I have all sorts of self-expectations.   I drive myself forward with these.   I spill them over onto others.    This could be very difficult, akin to a re-awakening.

Can we enjoy a society that offered opportunity as the staple of life?    What an interesting ideal.    I have been in temporary utopias that seem to point in this direction:  Bread and Puppet Theater, Rainbow gatherings, and when inside the gates, Burning Man.  Money free and guilt free.   No “jobs”.   And it seems to work and people love them and want more of it.    Intriguing ideal.   Maybe would make a step in this direction.

 

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Raw Cookie Dough without the Stomach Ache

Xmas Present of Raw Cookie Dough (aside from the baked ones)

Xmas Present of Raw Cookie Dough from my son, Logan (aside from the baked ones he also gave me)

My mother loved to bake cookies, and would make huge batches of cookie dough and freeze them.    This led me to develop a love of raiding the freezer.    While I could eat a dozen baked cookies, I would get a stomach ache if I ate more than 12 or so raw cookies.

My wonderful mother tried to figure out how to fix this, first by cooking the flour before making the cookies, but that did not seem to work.  News reports of problems with one packaged cookie dough vendor has lead people to think it is eggs or some such.

I have a different theory for the stomach ache issue:  The stomach ache comes from the baking soda, which when eaten, mixes with stomach acid to make carbon dioxide (Co2) which is then makes a stomach bloat with gas and ache.

So, if you intend to eat large quantities of cookie dough raw, then make it without the baking soda.

Unfortunately I came up with this theory after the days of eating 12 cookies worth of cookie dough were behind me.   If you have a chance to test this theory, please let me know.

Children all over the world need a proven recipe!

 

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When Market Rents Break People, Some Try Fixes…

We are very far from the local control and local ownership of housing that was the norm 100 years ago.   Not that everything was rosy then, but we can see the thorns of our current system.   Some are trying some fixes.

Rising rents are forcing some out of the area– some of the very people and businesses that make living in the bay area desirable.    Interesting to see different approaches emerging beyond the government’s affordable housing and rent control programs.

The Internet Archive is working on Foundation housing to provide affordable housing to non-profit workers.

Facebook is building employee housing.

Google has a contract with a NASA facility to build housing and more.

Sergey Brin, founder of Google, is apparently quietly providing below-market rents to businesses that his real estate company wants to keep around.

Maybe too soon to say it is a trend, but there are at least those feeling empowered to try to do something about a very real problem.    Of course there are downsides to corporately owned housing, but personally, I think getting some more experiments going is important at this point.     I would say that most of our housing is “corporate housing” because 70% of houses are mortgaged, so banks really own them.   Most banks are now equity-based entities, or the mortgages are resold to distant entities that act that way.

Almost gone are the New Deal savings-and-loans (blown up by deregulation), housing prices now assume someone is getting a 30 year mortgage, the number of credit unions that close (or are forced to close) is 300 per year and only a couple start each year, and the financial crisis howl about too-big-to-fail yielded, well, more consolidation which is at the heard of, well too-big-to-fail.

Lets find fixes to a broken system.

 

 

 

 

 

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If the ‘safety-net’ that went from Church to Government now goes to Non-Profits then we have work to do!

From the middle ages through the 1800′s, the “social safety net” in the west used to be offered by “the Church” (which church varied by region).    Think about schools, alms for the poor, asylums, hospitals–  many or most were administered by religious orders.

Then governments in the 20th century started to offer overlapping services– public schools, public libraries, public hospitals, social security for the elderly.   Certainly this is the case in the United States, and in the post-Dickens Europe as well.

But we are seeing a great weaking of the public resolve to help others, at least through government programs.   The solid swing to the right in the United States since 1980 has lead to the erosion of public schools, hospitals, road infrastructure, and public universities.   Social security is under constant attack, food for the needy is being rolled back, scholarships curtailed, and getting private health insurance for more people is a battle.      Even Europe is dismantling is  celebrated welfare system by “austerity” programs created by England and now spreading by the new European Union governance structure.

If governments are reversing over 100 years of structural societal support, what will fill in?    The governments have the power to tax and in the United States even through the social services have declined, the military services have come to absorb the surplus taxes revenue (as can be seen by the consistency in the percentage of gross-domestic-product that makes up government spending).

Churches would raise money through tithes (3%-10% of one’s income would go to the Church) as they were effectively the government for hundreds of years (other than military spending).     Churches could also inexpensively staff schools and hospitals with nuns and monks.   Churches were further aided  by not having to pay property taxes on their expansive real estate holding or pay payroll taxes for providing housing to nuns and pastors.   So Churches had a way of raising money to offer social services and could stretch its money further.

It is possible that we would go back to churches providing social services, but that would be against the trend of the last 100 years as church attendance has declining.

Non-profits in the United States, with no religious ties, are now running many schools, hospitals, universities, and retirement homes.    Non-profits, as NGO’s, are starting to spread in other parts of the world as well.

If non-profits are going to play an increasing role in providing social services, then we have put in place the infrastructure support system to do this.   What do we need?

We need a way to create sustainable funding for this work.   Some of the rich donate money, but most donations still goes to churches.  Furthermore, the total comes to too small a percentage of the GDP to create the services.    In some communities, like San Francisco, the wealthy are supporting private schools through tuition and there are some scholarships available for those that can not afford tuition, but this is far from what is needed to school the young even of a wealthy city like San Francisco.

Even beyond this, we need support systems for those that dedicate themselves to working in these non-profits.    Churches and governments have pensions and homes to support workers.  Non-profit on the other hand, have lower salaries and benefits than for-profit work, but do not have the housing or pension systems to help create a sustainable model.   Non-profit employees have harder choices to make when trying to save for retirement or medical care.     This could be helped by dedicated free housing for non-profit workers that would parallel monastery housing.

Also, retirement homes and services for those that have dedicated their lives to service could parallel some of the public pensions that government employees enjoy.

In sum, if we are going to build a non-profit infrastructure to play a significant public-service roll, then we will need a tax-like system to support these services, and probably debt-free real estate, and relief from government taxation.   How this can be done without regulation is going to be a challenge because explicit government benefits would have to be kept from supporting corruption and poor services.

Operating independently from the government by having people on average tithe several percent of their income will also be a challenge in a time when church attendance is dropping and anti-taxation candidates are getting elected.

Maybe non-profits will come to be seen as worthy of a significant commitment from everyone’s paycheck.   Maybe inspired leadership can help build this sector, but it will not be easy.

If governments continue to dismantle the social safety-net it has grown to provide over the last 100 years, then we have some challenges ahead of us– both exciting and terrifying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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High Stakes Testing– is Failing

Diane Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education was a thoughtful antidote to the highly touted movie Waiting for “Superman” .   A clue that that movie was a paid PR piece was in an interview (but dont remember where) with the filmmaker who said that 3 months before making the movie he did not know anything about education.   Bad sign.   Then a year later, it turns out the Gates Foundation funded much of it.

Well, now another piece falls into place.   The “high stakes testing” approach (firing teachers with bad “grades”, and same with schools), No Child Left Behind, and other approaches coincided with $200million in spending by the Gates Foundation.

So the point is, even Microsoft is now giving up on High Stakes Testing for its employees according to an article in On the Commons.     Worth reading, in my opinion.   Hope our schools recover.

 

 

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Article on Sharable about Foundation Housing

 

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I think the writer, Jessica Conrad, did a great job on this article about Foundation Housing for an interesting periodical Sharable, and also the same article was put up on On The Commons.

Recommended.

 

 

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Vanity Bitcoin Address for Me

Thanks the Mike McCabe at the Archive, I now have a cool vanity bitcoin address.   As in all things bitcoin, there is no central point of control, even on vanity addresses.   Basically one just computes lots of different addresses until you find one you like, and then use it.  By using it, then others can find that you have it by looking at the public blockchain (the main tool for this, firstbits, is down at the moment unfortunately.)   People are now grabbing ones that start with 1xxx  (all addresses have to start with one) and then getting xxx.   Mike said that no one had grabbed 1Sushi, and now it is gone, so maybe there is a land grab going on.   I grabbed mine, like I got kahle.org long ago.

Bitcoin image from http://bitcoinme.com/ which has a good intro video

Bitcoin image from http://bitcoinme.com/ which has a good intro video

1KAHLE1taA85EXaVm1XuVYtbGp839MyEzB

bitcoin:1KAHLE1taA85EXaVm1XuVYtbGp839MyEzB?label=BrewsterKahle

bitcoin:1KAHLE1taA85EXaVm1XuVYtbGp839MyEzB?label=BrewsterKahle

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Our Foundation House now accepts Bitcoin for Rent in San Francisco

Bitcoin image from http://bitcoinme.com/ which has a good intro video(covered by SFWeekly)

Our Foundation House is now accepting bitcoin for rent.   Since the Internet Archive is having such fun with bitcoin, we thought we would offer this.   The Sushi place in our neighborhood accepts bitcoin, and Internet Archive employees can take bitcoin as part of their pay, optionally, as bitcoin.   Fun.

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Bank Secrecy Act = Bank Surveillance Act

United States banks do not tell you this, but they are now spying for the United States Government.    I am now a chairman of a Credit Union (please join!) and as such went through Bank Secrecy Act training.    “Bank Secrecy Act” I suggest is a misnomer– it is more accurately the “Bank Surveillance Act” since with this 1970 Act, the banks are to secretly report on their customers, and Credit Unions are to secretly report on their members, to the federal government for quite normal activities.     This has real consequences, as I found out in my personal life.

The surveillance part comes when people want to use cash for transactions– if someone deposits $10,000 or more in their account, or withdraw the same, in the same day then the bank must file a report, called a “Currency Transaction Report“.    But, if it is “suspicious”, and this is where things get pretty vague, then they must file a “Suspicious Activity Report” and this, I understand, goes to many agencies and causes alarms to start going off.

Oh, and the bank or credit union is absolutely required to not tell the member that any of this is happening.   As my training class specified, if a person even takes out a lower amount, say $1,000 in cash, and then asks about reporting requirements, then the bank is required to file the alarm-bell-ringing Suspicious Activity Report, and not tell the customer.

Therefore just asking about the Bank Secrecy Act requires every bank teller to file a secret report flagging them as suspicious.

When they set $10,000 in 1970 it was worth more, actually worth $60,000 today when US government’s inflation calculation is used.   Or put another way, if they wanted to have reports filed on transactions with $10,000 today, they would have pass the law in 1970 saying that any transaction over $1700 would be reported.     So this law is covering many more transactions today then they used to.

This surveillance function may be there, not only to report on people, but to try to push people from using cash in the first place.  Given the revelations of Snowden, I think we can assume that the US government sees all electronic transactions already, not just international transfers.

This had a very real effect on me when I wanted to loan an artist friend $30,000 so he could buy a house.    I say artist friend because I thought I would be oh-so-cool by giving it to him in cash.  Bad idea.   He brought the cash to his bank to deposit and things started going wrong.     They really wanted to know about where it came from, they wanted signed letters from me, which I gave them, and everything started to be uncomfortable.    It was resolved, but only after a couple of months, and some calls from important people.

So laws that were place on the books long ago to flag quite large cash transactions now flag ones that are getting pretty small.   The network of organizations that this information is going to is probably getting very large (but is probably secret).    The government has enlisted every bank employee to spy on their members and secretly report on them.

All in all, we in the United States can do better than this.

 

 

 

 

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Phone Metadata Used To Find Informants and Kill Them

To help understand the impact of the current debate about “phone-metadata”, or records of phonecalls, a friend cited an article that describes how a Colombian drug cartel, in 2002, used phone metadata to find government informants and kill them.  Apparently, the US government has not been interested in having this known since this was after the US Patriot Act went into effect and we now know the US government has been using phone metadata to find press informants and prosecute them.

The first 5 paragraphs are the meat of the metadata issue.

(originally via John Gilmore and Bruce Stirling in 2002)

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