Ruminations on Optimal Governance

If there were two words to describe how we might ensure our civic finances were sustainable, abundant, equitably collected and equitably distributed, it might be this – “Optimal Governance.” That theme, along with Civitas Fidelis, is a guiding principle for what we believe and advocate. There is a great deal of analysis and commentary, posted onto our earlier site EcoWorld (sold in May 2009) that can provide useful information and insight into many of the key issues surrounding these themes. With no further ado, here are 20 favorites:

The Abundance Choice – March 28th, 2009

Smart Growth, or Green Bantustans? – March 17th, 2009

Calculating Employee Compensation – February 8th, 2009

Humanity’s Prosperous Destiny – January 16th, 2009

The Tyranny of Unions – January 6th, 2009

Principles of New Suburbanism – November 23rd, 2008

Bonds Are Taxes – October 22nd, 2008

Abolish Public Employee Pensions – October 7th, 2008

The Crichtonian Green – September 26th, 2008

Rational Environmentalism – September 23rd, 2008

The XXIX Olympiad – August 8th, 2008

Lucky Lucky America – August 1st, 2008

Assault on Reason – June 3rd, 2008

California’s Global Warming Act […] Read More

Civic Finance & Civitas Fidelis

We’re back. The posts already appearing here on CIV FI were originally written and accessible at a website launched in the summer of 2009 that was taken down for several months, and now appear here as the opening posts on CIV FI, or http://civfi.com. The earlier site was a placeholder, whereas this one is intended to grow into its name.

As stated on the “About” page, “CivFi.com was created to answer a need for greater discussion among and between investors and policymakers on the issues of financial sustainability.” That is a tall order, but it is truly the only theme that feels appropriate as human civilization enters the 2nd decade of the 21st century facing its biggest financial challenges in eighty years. And these challenges are not over. They’ve just begun. But they can be solved. Ongoing, downwardly spiraling financial catastrophe is not inevitable.

Civic finance is not quite the same as economics. Unlike an economic theory, you can analyze civic finance on a spreadsheet. You can reduce it to cash flow projections. You can isolate your assumptions and you can identify your options, often with unsettling precision. This website was created because there is far too little of this sort of analysis available on the internet, and as a result, there is grossly inadequate discussion regarding everything from infrastructure investment to environmental cost/benefit analysis to public sector deficits, and on and on.

Given the times we live in, with far too many consumers still […] Read More

Hyperliterate & Illiterate

Ever since the housing bubble burst and the market crashed for financial derivatives tied to home mortgages, it has been a mystery to me how citizens and politicians could have let this happen. My theory to-date is this – the citizens who fell into this trap were financially illiterate, and the financiers who engineered the trap were financially hyperliterate. That is – ordinary people abandoned their common sense and felt they had to buy a home because prices would keep going up – accepting mortgage obligations no financially literate person would tolerate, and elite financiers were similarly unable to see the forest for the trees because they knew so much they lost their perspective – their hyperliterate quantitative models gave them a false sense of security.

No wonder the science of economics is not only dismal these days, but in the grip of a well deserved intellectual crisis. But there is another theory that is taking hold among a sorely disgruntled American population, a theory that if it spreads, will abruptly and severely rearrange the American political balance of power – hopefully for the better. That theory holds that this crisis was caused by a decade or more of bipartisan, elitist abandonment of the interests of hard working American citizens in favor of big government, big labor, and big finance.

A commentator of extraordinary lucidity who provides useful insights on this topic not always available in the American press can be found at Asia Times Online. […] Read More

Healthcare in America

As someone who has either owned small companies or worked for small companies, I have had to frequently change health care plans. Sometimes my healthcare was earned as an employee benefit, sometimes I joined a small group plan as the principal of my own company, and sometimes I participated in a COBRA program through a former employer.

With this background, it is fair to say I know what it takes to get health insurance coverage in America. For nearly 30 years now, two things have always been true: I have never been unemployed, and I have never been without a quality PPO health insurance plan. And it hasn’t been easy.

The problem with Obama’s health care plan – similar to pretty much everything Obama is doing – is that it is aimed at helping anyone but people like me. Why is this? Because I have been responsible. I have always found work, often without benefits, and I have always made sure to purchase quality health insurance – one way or another. And there is no way Obama’s health care plan is going to make health insurance better and cheaper than the health insurance I currently have – this despite the fact that as a healthy 51 year old Californian, without COBRA (which will expire soon, yet again), I will have to pay $750 per month for a good PPO. If Obama’s plan is enacted, I will have no choice but to enroll in a rationed publically administered health insurance plan. […] Read More

The Prosperity Choice

Advocates of policies designed to regulate CO2 tend to invoke the precautionary principle – that is, even if something incredibly horrible is not really happening, preparing for this horror is something worth doing, because the consequences of preparation for nothing are less than the consequences of doing nothing and having the worst scenarios actually come to pass.

This position rests on two fundamental assumptions, regulating CO2 helps the economy more than it hurts the economy, and regulating CO2 would actually have a positive impact on global climate trends. But there is an alternative version of environmentalism that would argue against this, and make the following claims:

(1) CO2 regulations will cause grievous harm to the U.S. and global economy and will trample upon the freedom of individuals and nations.

(2) Imposing CO2 regulations will do nothing to mitigate alleged harmful trends in global climate.

(3) Humanity is poised at the brink of unprecedented prosperity and CO2 regulations will create a tyrannical global order of rationing and arbitrary power that will rob humanity of this positive destiny.

In support of these positions, especially the third – that we are poised at the brink of unprecedented abundance and prosperity, are three articles:

The Abundance Choice – Abundance is a choice, and it is a choice the privileged elite must make – in order for humanity to achieve abundance, the elites must accept the competition of disruptive technologies, the competition of emerging nations, and a vision of environmentalism that […] Read More

Public vs. Private Sector Unions

Any ideology with scores of millions of willing adherents cannot be completely without merit. For any movement numbering millions of people to flourish, at some level, their underlying ideology must resonate with mostly good people as well as with the inevitable corrupt contingent. Unions, and their ideologies, are examples of good ideas – as well as whatever bad one might ascribe to the influence of unions. And any discussion of unions in America today must assess the ideological schisms between public sector and private sector unions.

Unions for private sector companies grow when the company itself grows. If the company is not healthy, they are not healthy. When companies declare bankruptcy in the private sector, the unions and the jobs go away along with the company. Unions in the private sector envision jobs that build wealth – freeways, levees, aquaducts, new underground telecom/utility conduit upgrades in urban areas, the list is endless and inspiring. They envision jobs in capital intensive, heavy industries, construction, manufacturing, they want Americans to buy American made goods and enjoy a better and better standard of living. Private sector unions are somewhat more likely to recognize that their imperative – more union jobs – is better furthered through building infrastructure and durable manufactured goods, better furthered through competition between private companies in the free market, better furthered with less government. But the conditions that favor more jobs in the private sector conflict with the incentives that create more jobs in the public sector.

Unions represent many […] Read More

Industrialize the Solar System

On this 40th anniversary of the first manned mission to the surface of the Moon, it is perhaps not so far fetched to venture a suggestion such as this. And after all, if, as conventional wisdom has it, it is within our power to micromanage the earth’s climate by shutting down our industrial combustion, going back to the moon and beyond isn’t far fetched at all.

I remember that summer afternoon in 1969 quite well. A memorable part of my childhood had been spent assembling plastic scale models of spacecraft – I must have built nearly all of them, from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, and the astronauts were my heroes. As we followed the progress of Apollo 11 from Earth to Moon, I could name every module, describe every maneuver. To this day I remember Neil Armstrong’s voice, crackling with static, stating “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” If anyone had told me this would be the farthest we would venture as a species for the next 50 years, I would have thought they were crazy.

The relevance of space industrialization and settlement today is greater than ever, although you would never know from listening to our politicians or our media pundits, or even our NASA administrators. The most visible face of NASA these days is James Hanson, who is a fanatical coal-bashing global warming activist with little if any apparent interest in seeing humans ever travel beyond this planet.

Last year I was fortunate […] Read More

Contrasting Environmentalism & Unions

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a man who always stood up for the worker, once made this very contrarian statement “I would continue where others have stopped, and I would rise when others sleep.” This is an inspiring explanation of the moral worth of polemics, or being contrarian for its own sake. Because not only are polemics a potentially pointless, occasionally perilous game, tolerating the polemicist is the only reason we have political freedom. One might also add that indulging contrarian thought is the only way we preserve a glimmer of truth, during every time our world is seized with misplaced monolithic zeal, and consequently, nurturing the contrarian is a way civilization can better adapt and embrace disruptive and productive innovations and more quickly evolve. So how would workers or contrarians view our latest global panic, the war on CO2 emissions? In considering this question, the differences between unions, who care about workers, and environmentalists, who care about nature, become quite interesting.

Global warming policies and environmentalist policies in general are only in part about global warming or environmentalism, they are more generally about to what extent we redesign our government to give more rights to government and fewer rights to individual property owners. Environmentalists claim their policies benefit the economy, but one might just as easily argue that is not only false, but dangerously false. In the name of environmentalism we are not simply slowing our economy down, we are failing to develop and maintain infrastructure necessary to avoid natural disasters. […] Read More

Decoupled Profits & Criminalized Consumption

If that isn’t a recipe for economic and political catastrophe, I don’t know what is. But in the name of fighting climate change, these twin concepts inform radical new government policies being increasingly enacted that will dramatically transform our energy economy, how we use all other natural resources, and by extension, our entire economy.

“Decoupling” profits from production defers investment in new sources of energy, it destroys the incentive to earn a profit in a free market, and it channels innovation into narrow, government annoited channels. “Decoupling” will always harm the consumer. But despite these fatal flaws, it is taking hold as policy. For example, if you produce electricity in California, the LESS energy you deliver, the MORE you make. In California’s legislature and in the U.S. Congress, “decoupling” is being considered for electricity and water. Make no mistake about this, to decouple productivity delivered from revenue collected is a completely different, new, and potentially devastating form of government takings. It inordinately empowers and merges with the government huge sectors of the economy and removes from their mission the necessity to pay their way, to operate efficiently. With most significant previous “takings,” the operator still retained these crucial incentives.

At the same time as our major resource purveyors now propose to “decouple” the value they create from the value they collect, we also are increasingly embracing a new conventional wisdom, if not passing laws, based on the new principle that consuming large amounts of resources is a crime. This emphasis […] Read More

Mid-Grid Water Systems

It is common to think of the “grid” as pertaining to energy, electricity in particular. But just as oils and gasses flow through pipelines, and those pipelines are also parts of the energy grid, so water infrastructure can be considered a grid. Water is as fungible as energy.

And just as centralized energy and water infrastructure are known as the grid, then independent energy and water systems are described as “off-grid.” But the engineering and political economy of the “mid-grid” ecosystem for energy and water production and management is where the market is heading. The primary reason for this is the inability of grid operators – the public sector and their powerful corporate partners – to remain competitive, and deliver energy and water to humanity at a price-point that reflects today’s advanced capabilities. Technology is a river, creating options against all obstacles.

A good example of a mid-grid system is an aircraft carrier. Energy and water are produced in very high quantities, but the carrier has no permanent utility interties. Another example would be a huge resort on a remote and isolated shore of the ocean. By these criteria, one definition of a mid-grid system is an energy and water infrastructure that can fulfill these resource needs for 1,000+ people indefinitely, with only limited access to the global energy and water grid.

Another way to think of mid-grid systems is to define them as intermediaries between individual property owners and their government regulated public utilities. The mid-grid infrastructure would buy […] Read More