Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On taxation

Further to my post on money, I am going to use Warren Mosler's family coupon analogy to explain how our monetary system works. It's very simple and if you reflect on it, it makes very clear what bullshit deficit terror really is.

Let's say I award my children points each week. I give them coupons, each marked with a point, for things that they do. Each week I demand that they pay ten points back to me; otherwise, I will punish them: they will be grounded or will not have treats that they like. So each week they must accumulate the ten points or suffer.

Where can they get the points from? Only from me. No one else can issue my coupons because they are my own invention.

So each week, they might accumulate a surplus of points, and I might allow them something in return for them. Maybe I will drive them to a friend's house for three points, or give them a bag of lollies for five. They may pay each other points for services rendered: Naughtyman might give Zenella five points for tidying his bedroom; Zenita might give Naughtyman a point for allowing her to be player one on the Wii. They may instead keep their surplus to help them pay their future obligation to me.

The coupons are of course worthless outside of this system, unless I agree with their friends' parents to allow them to exchange them with their friends. I might agree to allow their friends to buy services from me with the points, just the same as they can themselves. What rate they can get from each other will depend on the relative value of points within each house. If their friends' parents need ten points for a bag of lollies, then they will likely want two of their coupons for one of mine. This is quite irrelevant. The coupons have whatever value I place on them and no more: if their friends want my lollies, they must pay me five of my coupons. They cannot use their parents' coupons because I will not take them.

In themselves, the coupons are entirely worthless. I need not even issue paper coupons. I can simply keep score on a piece of paper. The coupons themselves are more useful to the children as means of exchanging services than they are to me. When the coupons are paid to me, if they are ragged, I can throw them away (in pieces of course so that the children cannot retrieve them from the bin and reuse them), and if they are not, I can recirculate them. It doesn't matter to me. I can create as many coupons as I wish.

If the children accumulate a lot of coupons, so that there are too many in circulation for my purposes, I can increase the amount they have to pay. I do not need the extra coupons. I am not using them for anything. I simply use them as a way to discipline the children's "economic" behaviour. I can never "run out of coupons" (if I don't have paper even I can just make a note of the points I issue).

I hope this was clear enough: the coupons are dollars; the payment is taxation (note that the payment itself is meaningless: I don't need them to return the coupons so that I can "spend" them because I can simply make more; all I am doing is removing coupons so that they will continue to need them and provide services that I find useful); the exchange with outside children is foreign exchange. I am not going to consider "debt" here because this system is not complex enough to require government borrowing, but you could imagine a system where I allow the children to bank their extra coupons and pay them interest, to encourage them to learn thrift (this is not why governments issue debt, however!).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29

The girls are jigging and singing a sea shanty. When they say they went on a pirate ship, they mime climbing the rigging; they salute the captain; they rub their tums that are full of rum.

B tells me some longarse thing about Bob Dylan, and the moral of the story is that life is about the simple things. Maybe she is right: I have more pleasure from watching my children dancing than I do from any other thing in this life.

After his sleepover, Naughtyman's scouts put on a show, and Naughtyman's ribbon dance looked the spit of his crazy dance, which has had me in stitches a hundred times. It looks like hilarious uncoordinated, superfast Irish dancing. He is beaming as he jerks like a puppet whose master has been at the billy whiz.

The pleasure of children is so pure because it's so simple. You don't have to ask yourself what it means.

When I read about people abusing their children, I cannot help thinking that the abusers must be the lowest of people, because they are too coarse even to appreciate how much there is to gain in being a parent. They think it is worth less than sex, or whatever approximation to it what they are doing actually is. I mean, whether it's motivated by wanting sex or by needing to express their need to have power or thinking that it is some kind of love.

What would I know about it? I cannot begin to imagine it. I know it is trite to feel that way, but as I said, it doesn't hurt to be human sometimes.

And I know there are many ways to abuse a person. Raising a child brings so much anxiety. What do they feel? What will they feel? Will their judgement be harsh, or will they remember mostly that you loved them, and forget your failings just as you try to forget those of the people you love?

It tortures my mum. She remembers the times she smacked me, and with time they have become monstrous vicious tortures, savage attacks on me with any weapon that came to hand. I remember laughing hysterically as my mum tried to belabour me with a shoe, but it's a tiny memory against the bigger picture of kindness, sacrifice and love. Given how smackable I doubtless was, it's likely a wonder I was not beaten raw.

I admire B so much. I have had a taste of raising children singlehanded, but I hand mine over every other week. She exemplifies that it's how you play your hand that counts, not what hand you were dealt. She approaches her boys always with softness and love: they could never doubt she loves them. How lucky they are! Children thrive on it; it's plantgro for kids.

Ugh, what a dull post! I could have just said I love my kids and I left it at that.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On money

I recently sent A an article explaining why the deficit terrorists are wrong and why we need bigger deficits. It was a bit on the dry side, and she said she didn't really get it, so I'm going to try to explain in easy terms.

The first thing to get straight is this: we are led to believe that sovereign governments are like households. They achieve an income (in the form of taxation) and then spend it. If they don't have enough, they borrow what they need. This is entirely the wrong way round.

In fact, governments set spending plans and then spend by crediting bank accounts. They do not need money to do this because their spending creates the necessary money. It's important to understand that in a fiat-money system, governments do not get money from anywhere. They simply issue it. They are able to do this because they have a monopoly on money creation (of course, banks create it too, but we won't complicate this story by discussing bank creation of money). I often say, if you had a money tree in your backyard, you would not need a credit card.

"Fiat" means that money is whatever the government says it is, rather than something that has intrinsic value. Forty years ago, money was backed by gold, so that the US government had to back each dollar with an amount of gold. This is no longer the case.

The government's money has value because it is the only thing it will accept to extinguish tax obligations. So everyone must have money because they must pay taxes. (And if this wasn't true, we could not have fiat money.) So the government takes in tax money but it doesn't use it to pay bills or anything like that. It simply credits its accounts, in effect destroying the money. This is in fact the fundamental purpose of taxation: to reduce liquidity in the system. The government puts money in by spending, and withdraws it by taxing.

Only then does the government "borrow" money. It "pays" for its shortfall by issuing debt dollar for dollar. In fact, it should be clear that given that it has no requirement to "pay" for anything (because unlike you, it doesn't have to acquire money but can simply create as much as it needs), the debt it issues is simply a store for excess value in the economy. In other words, it is a way for the private sector to save the excess of its wealth after taxation.

It is probably not quite so clear that the government cannot in fact control deficits, except by setting spending so abysmally low that even a very poorly performing economy can generate enough taxation to "pay" what it has spent. In a recession, taxation falls and welfare payments rise, leading to a shortfall that the government cannot do anything about. If it raised taxes, it would simply withdraw even more money from the economy, lessening demand even further; same if it spent less. This process of generating a deficit is automatic. (The government can of course plan to run a deficit by planning to spend more than it plans to tax--note that in fact if the economy boomed in some unexpected way, and tax receipts rose sufficiently, the government would not be successful in running a deficit either!)

Something that people don't really grasp is that issuing debt is purely voluntary. The government does not have to do it at all. It can spend what it likes, so long as there are things to buy in its own currency. With 10% of the population out of work and factories idle, it's clear that there's plenty to buy. The government could cease to issue debt tomorrow and simply run unfunded deficits. Nothing would change except that rich investors would not be able to leech off our economy in this particular way. The reason it does not is purely ideological: conservatives invented the "balanced budget" as a way to discipline progressives, who they fear would if not checked spend money on social goods that would benefit the masses. I am not kidding. The only reason the government restricts its spending is so that you do not get your share of the value of your nation's economy.

Some argue, and certainly I do, that the government's role in the economy is to create an environment in which all have work and can assure their wellbeing. The way it works is not difficult to understand. People buy things and business supplies those things. If people want more of the things, business hires more people to provide them. If they want less, they lay people off. People want more or less for various reasons: at the moment, less because the economy is poor and people are not confident it will improve, and already carry too much debt.

The government can (and should) make up for the deficiency in spending. It can demand goods and services sufficient to provide work for everyone who wants it. It doesn't really matter what it demands (Keynes said it could pay people simply to dig holes and then fill them back in) but of course it could put people to work on useful projects. Imagine. The US government could build light rail in all its cities, new roads, new port infrastructure (few American ports can handle the new generation of container superships), new school buildings, employing everyone who needs a job.

Isn't that inflationary? If the government creates new money, doesn't that cause prices to go up? Well no. Inflation is not caused by more money; it is caused by more money chasing the same goods. If the economy is not working at full capacity, and demand is deficient, the government would not be competing with others for the same resources or goods. It is only when the economy is reaching full output that the government must step back. The only time a government needs to "balance the books" is when the economy is at full output.

Finally, I want to explain that surpluses are in fact bad for the economy, which is why they are so rare, thank goodness. Ignoring exports, the government's budgetary outcome is like this:

Spending = Receipts from taxation + borrowing

If the government balances its budget, borrowing is zero, so spending and taxation are precisely matched. This means that there is nothing left over for people to save! If the government runs a surplus, it takes more money out of the economy than it puts in, so people must dissave to pay taxes.

Be clear, there is nowhere else for the money to come from! If the American government does not spend US dollars, there are no US dollars. When we say that the Chinese "lend" the US dollars, we do not mean that China creates the dollars. It simply buys US dollar assets, which is a way for it to place its surplus wealth into US dollar form. (The US does not need to permit this, although there is good reason to allow China to acquire dollar assets. It's not the big problem people think: the US could pay China back by simply crediting certain accounts. Hang on, you're thinking, wouldn't that piss the Chinese off? Their money would be worth a bit less, right? Well no, because the value of money is not set by how much of it there is but by what each unit can buy, which would not change significantly. And the truth of it is that the Chinese buy US dollar assets precisely because the US government can always pay them back: they're safe as houses because the US can simply get the money from thin air if it chooses to.)

If the US government ran a surplus in perpetuity, it would in time remove sufficient value from the economy that it ceased to function. No one would have any US dollars to buy things with. Long before that happened, of course, the revolution would have carried the current form of government away. But if it "balances the books" now and then, to the detriment of the population, this has the effect of maintaining the value of fixed assets like land or gold, which have value in themselves and not just because you can get US dollars for them. Guess who likes the policy of reducing the deficit?

Friday, March 25, 2011

March 25

S is confident and outgoing, and she doesn't like me. She is what the French call jolie laide, gives out an air of good health, which I find attractive, and is thin and lithe. Nothing I say ever seems to please her. It bothers me but I have no idea how to fix it.

Shut the fuck up, will you? a little voice is saying as I am talking. I am surprised for a moment that no one has heard; it seems clear enough.

Why do you imagine that anyone wants to know what you think? it peals. Why do you imagine you have anything to say that anyone will ever want to hear?

Driving through the dark, quiet streets of southern Brisbane, I am listening to The district sleeps alone tonight. It brings on a sense of melancholy: the sound of our bleak lives, wet streets, walking home with tears in our eyes, the frustration of finding out you were not worth having, and knowing that justice is being done.



I look at Naughtyman, fast asleep. He has never been any trouble. It's hard to understand the school's difficulties because he is easy to have around. He is gentle and sweet, a beautiful little boy.

Today they had their hair coloured. It's a charity thing: crazy hair day at the school. Zenita is excited when I pick them up from afterschool care. Everyone agreed that me and M had the best hair, she is saying. When Zenita kisses you, she sticks her belly out and puckers up. Zenella turns her head and proffers you a cheek or her forehead. Sometimes out of the blue she will say, I love you, Daddy.

I was thinking this morning, one day she will talk to me about love, and I will say, proudly, that I have loved her for every moment of her life. I enjoy being able to think something so trite: it makes me feel deeply human.

Not that I am.

***

It is not easy to make someone feel loved. They want it in a particular way, and you feel you shouldn't, or can't. You try to express it, but it's as though you are talking in a language they do not speak.

This is because within us love is wordless and ineffable. I often feel that we are not its agents. It happens to us; we do not, cannot just do it.

Or it seems it is that way for me. Maybe others have learned how. Maybe others are their own master. I think about S. Her life brings her good things because she approaches it as though it is something that belongs to her. Or so it seems to me. I'm not interested enough to think any more than that about it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 22

Cunning (or so they wish) marketers pretend to have created a community of people so taken with a breakfast cereal that they will band together. Are there among us Crunchy Nutters? I would not be surprised if there were or were not. There may be--I know that my father has enjoyed watching videos of a cartoon meerkat that sells insurance and people are on the whole softminded enough to join all sorts of gangs. But if there aren't, it would not matter much. The illusion is sufficient to make its own fact.

For my finals at university, I wrote a dissertation on advertising slogans. It was nuanced and brilliant, and quoted Marshall McLuhan. Sadly, its audacity was lost on the examiners, who I can only guess were hoping for something on syntax.

But syntax is the most utter bollocks. It's the practice in physics to claim that it does not describe the world, but considers a model that approximates the world. Sadly, this has led all those areas of enquiry that claim to be scientific to adopt the approach that their "models" need no ground in reality so long as they explain the facts. So the leading theories in grammar contend with each other in postulating outlandish methods of generating the sentences we utter.

The last straw for me in that nonsense was the suggestion that we form the structure of our utterances before applying a layer of meaning. This seems wrong to me for two reasons: first, that words are so clearly the servants of meaning--that we arrange them thus to have one meaning and thus to have another (so that dog bites man is entirely different from man bites dog, though each are syntactically equivalent and seem to say the same thing, simply exchanging agent with object--but we do not understand the same thing from them: it is in the normal course for a dog to bite, but it is a special thing for a man, so that the two words "bite" have different connotations).

Well, maybe that is how it happens: so many things work in ways you wouldn't credit. Like quantum physics. It's long been my conviction that quantum physics describes nothing at all, but is simply a model that works in mathematics, and is confirmed by figures, which satisfy the model--but do they answer to reality? I have often read that quantum physics has been confirmed by observation, and I understand the import of the double slit experiment and the like, but what I'm not clear on is whether something that a model predicts corresponding with reality necessarily confirms that the theory is describing the world or merely succeeding in giving results that fit it in a particular way.

***

The meerkat is quite funny, by the way. I'm not disparaging the meerkat. But there is a website with meerkat-related stuff, and people like my dad are teased by promises of upcoming videos, which they can watch in advance of their being screened as ads. All this for a supposed slip of the tongue. My dad believes it confirms the often-heard saying that "the ads are better than the telly".

***

I have been reading about Yemen, which will be in the news for the next while. I was much taken with Sana'a, its capital, which has a beautiful old city, full of houses all painted in the same fashion. It is of course now on my list, below Vegas and Vladivostok but ahead of Moldova. Yemen is unravelling, and Syria cannot be far behind. One can even dream of the day Arabia will no longer be Saudi.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21

The geckoes run and bark on the ceiling, whether courting or fighting I don't know enough about geckoes to tell. I feel disconsolate, restless, mal dans ma peau. The night feels long and not long enough: I will run out of time and have to stop reading, stop thinking, stop everything.

How like life. Yet like life, I am doing nothing with it. I am not even reading the books set for my book clubs. I am instead reading, and enjoying, the Aubrey-Maturin series of books. I read the first to see what level one should pitch a romance of the sea at, then the second and third because one can immerse oneself happily in another world so vividly painted. I am not studying, writing or using my time wisely. I am just wishing the hours away.

The light in this room is fluorescent, way too bright, and it is because of the many moths it attracts that I have such a crowd of geckoes. They are my only company: geckoes and ghosts. I am perturbed by thoughts of people who no longer want me in their lives. I did not want to be cast out. It was right: right for them, but I wonder sometimes why no one will do right for me.

If you do not care much, it costs you little to be spurned. And I'm not given to caring much: utterly careless until too late after the fact, when I am all regret that I had never bothered more (or they had, when I am feeling generous about what there might even be for them to bother with).

But if you do care, it leaves you aswim always with the unanswered (and worse, the lacking answers whose questions you would not dare to ask).

Sometimes I have a day terror and I cry out with fear. But I do not know whether I am terrified of dying; or of never having lived. So live: others seem to manage. To refuse to do so is to suffer a terminal illness.

Yet even a doctor might accurately diagnose a disease for which they know no cure. Fear not though: I am applying palliatives. Soon I will be asleep, and awake in the morning, feel good but for a dullness in the head.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15

So today I wake up in a semistrange bed in the middle of the night and it is only B's two year old, who does not want to sleep alone.

Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I used to like to have someone in the bed every night but I grew accustomed to my own company and now I don't care so much. Sometimes the closeness of another person feels good, but sometimes it's just too hot or I cannot get comfortable or some other thing makes it so that I wish I was in my own bed. B does not in any case like to fall asleep with someone close, and turns her back to me in just the same way Mrs Zen used to, so I suppose she too has trained herself over time not to need it.

Life conspires to remind you, often, that you cannot have everything you want, and that no one can give you all you need, even if they are willing.

Later, I drove back home. The second half of the drive is nice, through Toohey Forest and along Marshall Road, and of course it was sunny, so it was pleasant enough. Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing--finding enough things that are pleasant enough that our lives become worth living? It is harder than it sounds though.

I felt the life draining out of me as I worked through the afternoon. The humidity rose and I could feel tiredness creeping in. I feel listless and old: I feel like I have wasted so much of my life pointlessly, and endless walking on the spot has worn me down. But I do not have the energy to make anything more of it.

I wish I could analyse why I can't achieve what I want to. I have studied poker some, but not enough that I'm any better than moderate, and although I can make money, I am short of feeling confident enough to love myself as a poker player. It just hasn't come easy to me, and it is the kind of thing that you can know you fall short, but not exactly how. You are easily confused by seeming to know and by the randomness of it: so that you can't be sure entirely whether you are doing the right thing. I've had coaching, and coaches say yes, you should be winning at this or that level, and the things they suggest I am doing wrong don't seem major enough to get in the way of it. But somehow I'm not there and I doubt I will ever be. I have hardly played this month, and I don't see myself playing a great deal for the rest of it because I have enough money just about.

Neither can I write my book (or books, depending how you look at it). I find it hard to believe anyone will bother, and I hate to do things that no one bothers with. It's like, you cook a great meal--or you feel it is great--and the person you cooked it for eats it but doesn't seem to love it. What is the use of that? I know you should satisfy yourself, please yourself first and then fuck the world, but I am almost entirely incapable of not caring.
Caring will break your heart, and not caring is impossible because you were brought up to have good manners.

Why can't you cast that aside? Others do. Others have no manners at all.

Nor do I work much on my music. It's just so frustrating that it's so uncomplex and boring. I would have liked more than anything to have talent in music. It is potentially such a good outlet for creativity. But I never learned how to make the music in my head work in my DAW. When I was a schoolboy, I had a whole album of music that I could play back in my head as I walked to and from the train station. But I could never render a note of it. Any music I actually made was just so much squalling noise.

It is terrible to feel useless at everything. But the world also conspires to remind you that whenever you feel like you can achieve something, you can't. You do not have the abilities you imagined you did.

Now I am supposed to be cleaning the house. I don't mean anyone supposes I should. Just that that is what I supposed myself to be doing after I had finished work. I did some washing and tidied some things up but no actual cleaning. I only have an hour before I have to pick up Naughtyman from Scouts and here I am, wasting away time writing a blog no one reads. I can't even write about what I want to because I don't want to be misinterpreted.

I already feel like I cannot please anybody, that somehow I am always on trial, always contingent, that I can be sent back to the shop. I don't even know how I feel about it, except that I am torn between wanting just to be myself and wanting to please. As ever, I cannot resolve that. I feel as though I need to be set free from needing to be loved, to be wanted, so that I can satisfy myself. But that is of course impossible just now. Even if it wasn't a Sisyphean task, I am so burdened by loneliness that I don't know how I could stand it if I ended up burning what I have for the sake of loving myself more. The big problem with being yourself, in any case, is knowing who that even is--and fearing that it is someone who cannot please others at all (even though, rationally, you know that must be ridiculous, because others do, and some of them are on the face it quite unpleasant).

After leaving bed, I sat at the back of B's house for a while, throwing her boy in the air and catching him. She loves that I have a relationship with her boys, but I wonder whether she loves me more for what I represent than for anything about me. Does it matter though? Does anything matter but finding enough things that are pleasant enough that our lives become worth living?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More nit

I can't pretend not to be impacted by the leverage of the word "impact" as a verb. It fosters a climate of not being able to comprehend the writtenness of English and so readers are brought to a state of bewildered boredom and miswillingness to continue to exercise the reading function.

***

In the course of my work, I read a lot of business and management books. I'm usually left none the wiser about what they were trying to say because the "insights" (as they are wont to describe wiffling around the obvious) are buried in an avalanche of jargon and clumsy phrasing. I can only do so much about the phrasing, given that the authors rarely seem to be saying anything of real value, or if they are, they are so impenetrable that the diamonds are shrouded in dogshit.

I do apply some simple rules. If you say "impacted" about anything other than your teeth, I will make you say "affected"; "leverage" is banned, you "use" your resources, your "insights" and your staff; you may not "utilise" anything ever; you "foster" children, but "encourage" or even "build" growth, wellbeing and success; I "enhance" you by using "improve" or "increase" as appropriate, and I do it "timely", "regularly", "daily", "weekly" because you do not need a basis for "periods" (not "of time" because what else do your periods consist of); you may not "as" when you mean "because", or "hence" or "thus" when you mean to "so"; you may only have things "in order" when they line up, and often what you wanted was "so that" anyway; and, believe me, if you are tempted to "prior to" me, remember that I would cheerfully kill you as soon as look at you.

These are of course minor things and they do much worse. Choosing an infelicitous word would not harm most books, but to do it on every page, topping it off with a spew of useless buzzwords, does not confirm your being clued into the business zeitgeist: it makes you utterly unreadable. Which is possibly the point. After all, if no one is quite sure what you're saying, they can't be quite sure you're talking bollocks.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Parrots in my yard

How mundane it is, ten thousand miles from home. Everyone in their cars, to and from work, everyone in buses and cars. How small our world that we should all live these impoverished lives, set apart from each other by suspicion and fear.

How exotic it is, ten thousand miles from home. Parrots in my yard and a lizard scuttles across the paving. Now I have the love of Australian women, I never would have imagined. Now I am a different person, neither one thing nor another. I thought I would be a good man, at least, something like it, and I find I am nothing like it. I didn't grow; I stayed the same and only my shell changed.

Even my eyes have changed. They were once green, you couldn't have doubted it, but now you can't be sure. Today they are blue, tomorrow green again, and all that you could say is how flat and dull they are. I didn't ever imagine I would become dull, lifeless and inert, although I was never anything else. I imagined I had a motor that could start if I could turn the key.

It is hot. The sky is mostly blue. It might rain later but you can be sure it will be hot. When I first came here, I slept through the hot, still afternoons. I rested. I conserved my strength. What for, I don't know.

I am still vigorous and young. The grey hair is misleading. I don't feel blunted, although I suppose I must be. It all falls away, we know that, and we pretend it doesn't. It all shifts and slides, but it slides downhill. We know that water flows always downhill but we imagine somehow we will climb the slope. We are the reverse of Sisyphus, trying to find happiness by pretending we are going somewhere. At least he knew there was no point to what he was doing and could not pretend otherwise.

The other day there were parrots in my yard. I don't know what they were expecting to find. They came, stayed briefly and then were gone. That is all they did.