Late last year, a great man, most have never heard of, passed on. Unless you are an engineer you don’t know that Jay Forester, Prof at MIT, established the field of systems modeling. Also called simulation, this is the mathematical methodology that underlies what we take for granted in weather prediction, including understanding climate change. Starting with modeling chemical factories before they were built, this is far more important than seen at first glance. Without these techniques, we get the outrageous statements we have seen in multitudes in the last election cycle. It turns out that ‘common sense’ is a very poor predictor of the future, it takes a rigorous application of data using science and mathematics to really understand what policies lead to the best outcomes in the public sector. His work can best be described in the terms ‘counter-intuitive’ and ‘unexpected consequences’. It may be obvious that mathematical models are required to send a spaceship to the moon, not quite so to understand why some gun controls work and others don’t, why some types of police patrols are effective and other cause community upheaval. Even more so, that the heavy handed lobbying of the NRA has limited our understanding of gun rules, by blocking research that produces the real numbers that are needed for such models. Other claims that need addressing: tax reduction leads to job creation, and the social security system is bankrupt or will be soon. The real message of this story is that understanding the models, that Dr Forester’s work led to, is critical to proper policies in today’s complex world and must be based on real numbers, not guessing.
In short, good governing is not rocket science, it is far harder and needs all the tools technology can offer.
Graffiti has a place
I was a bit dismayed when I saw the Montague Police has proposed to not only make unwanted graffiti more of a crime (isn’t it already?) but to require building owners to remove it and outlaw spray paint. Unwanted defacement is one thing, but to restrict what a building owner can allow is going way too far, especially since Turners Falls for one, had made a major comeback by promoting public art via the River Culture project. Consider, if you will, the Mission District of San Francisco, one I know fairly well due to family living there. We spent the last three weeks wandering the side streets and alleys amidst the hundreds of stunning murals. This public display of art is what happens when you support “graffiti” artists to be more than spray and hide. When allowed on private property with owner’s permission, it reduces unsightly and unwanted graffiti, and even reduces police work. One group has taken it so far as to arrange for licensing of the artist’s work, to provide a source of income for budding artists. Look up “Balmy Alley” or “The Precita Eyes Muralists” (at precitaeyes.org). SO I urge you in Montague to vote against this ban, and support River Culture and your Local Cultural Council for public art projects.
RICH ROTH Greenfield
How about creating jobs? By STEPHANIE KELTON
Look, up in the sky! It’s a “fiscal cliff.” It’s a slope. It’s an obstacle course.
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what we call it. It only matters what it is: a lamebrained package of economic depressants bearing down on a lame-duck Congress.
This hastily concocted mix of across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases for all was supposed to force Congress to get serious about dealing with our nation’s debt and deficit. The question everyone’s asking is this: On whose backs should we balance the federal budget? One side wants higher taxes; the other wants spending cuts. And while that debate rages, the right question is being ignored: Why are we worried about balancing the federal budget at all?
You read that right. We may strive to balance our work and leisure time and to eat a balanced diet. Our Constitution enshrines the principle of balance among our three branches of government. And when it comes to our personal finances, we know that the family checkbook must balance.
So when we hear that the federal government hasn’t balanced its books in more than a decade, it seems sensible to demand a return to that kind of balance in Washington as well. But that would actually be a huge mistake.
History tells the tale. The federal government has achieved fiscal balance (even surpluses) in just seven periods since 1776, bringing in enough revenue to cover all of its spending during 1817-21, 1823-36, 1852-57, 1867-73, 1880-93, 1920-30 and 1998-2001. We have also experienced six depressions. They began in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893 and 1929.
Do you see the correlation? The one exception to this pattern occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the dot-com and housing bubbles fueled a consumption binge that delayed the harmful effects of the Clinton surpluses until the Great Recession of 2007-09.
Why does something that sounds like good economics — balancing the budget and paying down debt — end up harming the economy? The answers may surprise you.
Spending is the lifeblood of our economy. Without it, there would be no sales, and without sales, no profits and no reason for any private firm to produce anything for the marketplace. We tend to forget that one person’s spending becomes another person’s income. At its most basic level, macroeconomics teaches that spending creates income, income creates sales and sales create jobs.
And creating jobs is what we need to do. Until the fiscal cliff distracted us, we all understood that. Today, we have roughly 3.4 people competing for every available job in America. The unemployment rate is like a macroeconomic thermometer — when it registers a high rate, it’s an indication that the deficit is too small.
So in our current circumstance — a growing but fragile economy — policymakers are wrong to focus on the fact that there is a deficit. It’s just a symptom. Instituting tax increases and spending cuts will pull the rug out from under consumers, thereby disrupting the income-sales-jobs relationship. Slashing trillions from the deficit will only depress spending for years to come, worsening unemployment and setting back economic growth.
The effort to balance the books that’s at the heart of the fiscal cliff is simply misguided. Instead of butting heads over whose taxes to raise and which programs to cut, lawmakers should be haggling over how to use the tool of a federal deficit to boost incomes, employment and growth. That’s the balancing act we need.
Stephanie Kelton is an associate professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the founder and editor of New Economic Perspectives. She wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.
In addition, to my usual 50-60 hr/week running my company I have started a new effort
I’ve worked with enough local groups in the last few years, I found that we are each working in our local areas for much the same goals, and it’s past time (long past) for each local area to reinvent themselves by themselves, and not rely on major companies or big government to do all heavy lifting — neither has ever been good at innovating.
SO I found that the groups I worked with needed my technical skills, to carry their message, and as I work more on those projects, it became clear this is not a local issue for us, other areas
have the same needs. What Thrives Publishing is an effort to balance local and global, local events, efforts and groups, global resources, reference information and connections to larger efforts.
The recent story (and followup editorial) about Franklin county having higher underemployment, and lower average income, than the rest of the state, shows more about how statistics lead to mis-placed efforts of economic development then any real news. To start, let’s get clear about ‘facts’, yes, incomes are lower here, but so is the cost of living, a lot lower. What underemployment is really about is a long term lack of real economic development vision, not about what jobs there are or what they pay. The hidden story in the numbers is about all those people who are not counted, and conversely, where the efforts of the developers of policy put their efforts. All business development statistics clearly show that small business creates far more (and better) jobs than large businesses, including related franchised operations. Yet, the valley economic developer focus (including our own town efforts) are about real estate and getting good press, and that means bigger business deals. Such deals take far longer to close, and produce fewer jobs, usually including tax incentives that rarely pay off, than efforts at small business development. To really create more, better jobs in the area, look more toward efforts that support small and micro business, including the ‘Creative Cluster’ and so-called Hidden businesses, those you can’t find on a street sign, yet will fill the current vacant upper floors of buildings in town. (Disclaimer: I am a founding board member of Hidden-Tech, a 1000 member strong valley association that runs without dues, as well as CEO of a growing small business in Greenfield)
For those interested: see http://www.hidden-tech.net
I am on sabbatical – well actually my wife is and I got to come along, you can see the story of our travels on her blog. I am going to use this travel time to write on a number of projects I have been exploring for years – outside my usual computer field.
This article is the start of an exploration of what I call (for want of better title): “Darwinian Culture“. In short, the idea is that various world cultures have developed along the same lines that Darwin has used to explain biological evolution. Some simple examples of this are the Jewish Kosher rules, and the treatment of water, eastern cultures make tea while western cultures make beer and wine. Clearly these are very simplistic examples, the essence is that these cultural approaches have evolved to address critical health issues, through a method that does not appear to be driven by purely intellectual decisions.
Now I am a trained engineer and scientist, but have not read much of the actual work of Darwin or commentaries, so I will start using Darwin’s theories as known by popular science rather than evolutionary biologists. As these writings develop, I hope to hone that understanding. Likewise, I will start by explain my ideas using examples that have not been scientifically verified – I will be doing so as I expand the work.
This is enough for now, more to come.
Tim Blagg’s editorial about the risk to defense because of grounding of the F15 fleet misses a key lesson of history. The editorial starts with an interesting review of the history of the air defense net build around the US during the cold war. There is significant evidence that that net did not secure the US BUT actually the construction of it was a key part of what drove the Soviet Union under, by causing them to spend so much on the military. I don’t have all the facts and figures of that debate but I know someone who does, my dad, he was a key engineer involved in creating that system, an expert in IFF radar (Identification Friend or Foe) and helped build the famous Omaha war room big board (remember Dr Strangelove ?).
In fact, the state of those planes is just like the state of the radar system of the FAA or of our bridges for that matter. A law of physics is “if you build it, it will fall down – eventually, and surely will if you don’t maintain it”.
A fact of life those in Washington, and many of the state governments have ignored for far too long to our detriment.
Here is what I sent to the Editor
I was rather put off by the editorial page of the Fri (12/21) Recorder
My first reaction to each piece was get over your self centered issue and consider issues with a wider focus, but then I realized the problem is really how the editorial page is formed, each piece would have been fine if it were smaller or as an article in itself — not taking editorial page space.
So I urge the Recorder to (1) Stick to the 300 word limit, on all pieces on the editorial page not just letters, at least no more than one bigger in any one day, (2) make the catch up ‘letters’ page a more regular piece as a place for all the discussions going on in town, (3) include in signatures, blog URLs for those who want to write long opinions to extend the short piece in the paper (gee an online paper – what an idea).
today few people really can claim they are unable to use the net if they want to write more — the Recorder could even offer such space on their web site.
In short, I suggest you consider molding the Recorder to better use the space on the pages to represent more of our interests and stop giving a few so much space.
Here is what more I cut
There were only 4 pieces that day
1) 2 columns as tribute to a Dad – nice BUT way too long,
2) commenting on how many reporters are killed in the recent war reporting – sorry guys but 55 is shame but not large number in the big picture – and not worth 2 columns to make the final point
3) detailed rebuttal about providing education to the disadvandvantaged – fine as far as it went, but far too much detail for a rebutal, it mascerated as ‘education for special needs’ – my kids are special needs also — gifted, and I thank my stars every day for that and their health.
Be that as it may, and I know I will get bad points for even putting them in the same category as those who are disadvandvantaged, by ignoring our gited childern, we are badly hurting our future as a society, to assage our guilt as to the poor quality of life those truly disadvanted are and because our leaders and society is unable to really address the range of issues confronting us.
AND FINALLY there was ONE letter — although a bit long, that also pointed to a case where the moral rightousness of our current crop of leaders again abused the public trust to put their narrow moral agenda.
As I said above – any of this smaller, would have been fine as part of a better formated editorial page — as it was shows a very poor effect.
I am disturbed in seeing how even politicians trying to find viable solutions are caught up in responding to bogus ‘political reality’ – such as raising taxes are unacceptable, even when they are the best and most practical steps to deal with the situation. Specifically I am referring to the current Ma state debate about how to raise money to address the drastic work needed on the highway system. There are many suggestions, most of which are years away from implementing – the ‘best’ is a 5 cent/mile tax on all traffic. PLEASE do the numbers, those who are promoting the cent/mile fee over the suggested gas tax jump of 11.5 cent a gallon. With a car with terrible mileage, that is less than one cent a mile and can be done NOW. All the ideas are years away, the technology not even useable for most ideas. How about some leadership, and I am specifically pointing at the MA state legislators who can’t get beyond being obstructionist and need to join the creative process coming from the governor’s mansion — and produce some results.