RL164 - In Your Face, Paraguay

This week, Merlin and John talked about

The problem: "Capitalism is a thought technology", referring to the fact that capitalism is not a law of nature, but has been created by us and can just as well be changed by us.

The show title refers to a remark about the stakes of stick fighting. Stick fighting should not just be about bragging rights, like ”In your face, Paraguay!”, but it should be used to decide real-world twists.

This episode was recorded one day before the primary elections.

Merlin and John hadn't talked for a long time. John missed Merlin while Merlin was traveling and then John did not reply to Merlin’s texts and was worried that Merlin would be worried. Merlin had to go to three different places. It was fine. He just needs to notice things less and he will be fine. They had some family time on the East Coast, then he was back in town for 36 hours before he continued to PDX (Portland) for 4-5 days and got a Pendleton Board Shirt which he is pretty excited about and he wants it to be a 20-year shirt. It is made out of wool, but they say it is machine washable. You can even put it in the dryer and the shrinkage is minimal, but you have to get Pendleton shirts a little big. Merlin doesn’t understand anything anymore and is completely lost between Sous-vide and washable wool. With the large shirt Merlin looks like Harry Potter in the first movie, wearing his step-brother’s clothes. John never watched any of the Harry Potter movies, but Merlin had learned from the 16 hours of programming John did with Dan that John is very interested in the magic. The movies are all good, but if you want to see only one, then watch the third one. You can learn the rules of Quidditch along the way. It is the biggest scam, including stadium deals, in the history of sports!

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Forming a Super-pac (RL164)

John started talking to other people about running for office in January of 2015. By March he was rallying and in the second week of April they had declared their candidacy. His Super-Pac is still forming, but John is not allowed to be involved directly. Unlike other super pacs, this one is truly super, because the amount of nerds supporting this campaign form a Hall of Justice and that includes Hawkman. They are working on their invisible plane right now and they are building a crystal cathedral. The crystal cathedral was for sale at one point, but Merlin didn’t follow up on what happened with it.

Neighborhood stick fights (RL164)

The premise

John has been working on a movie project on quite some time. The screenplay he has been mulling over is about neighborhood stick fights as an organizing principle of a future society. It is a bit like Hunger Games meets The Warriors. Hunger Games is populated with cute people who are forced by a controlling and dystopian future society to fight against one another in an arena. They have to fight off a certain kind of municipal original sin as a punishment for prior rebelliousness. The heroine is always protecting the weak.

John’s premise is that neighborhood stick fighting is something that a free society would willingly and enthusiastically enter into, like in ”The Longest Yard”, but the idea being that people would self-organize into tribes as they already do.

People self-selecting themselves into tribes

The party is over and The Blue Angels and all the other airplanes that had been in town for Seafair 2015 are getting out of doge today. Two days earlier, Boeing field had been a menagerie of all kinds of airplanes: There were 3 different performing air show squadrons, there was an Osprey from the Marine Corps, there were biplanes and there was the whole camp train of followers who chase the Blue Angels around. A collection of airplane nerds had parked their trucks and had tailgated all along Boeing field just to watch the planes take off and land. In some ways, the most exciting parts of any flight are the take-off and landing, but in another way it is not at all the most exciting part. Seattle, a city of a million people, can easily generate between 50 and 100 people who just want to watch airplanes takeoff and land. Some of them are the people with their big white lenses on their cameras who are obviously taking pictures to sell them to Jane’s aircraft manual, if they still make that. As John was driving along, just the dribs and drabs of the airplane people, maybe 15-20 of them were still there. The Blue Angels were already gone and they were just watching the experimental ultra-lights take off. This is a self-selecting group of people who care about a certain aspect of airplane culture and this is how they are spending their Monday morning.

At a bus-stop in Georgetown there was a small group of people who looked like they had wandered out of a Comic-Con. They had the whole look. This is another group of people who had self-selected into a little tribe. John didn’t know why they were waiting at this bus-stop, where they came from and where they were headed, but he started thinking about his stick-fighting screenplay again.

One component of the nerd quadrant are going to be people who are the dwarfs, a bunch of bearded guys who like to dress like the dwarfs in Lord of the Rings, not little people, but miners and forgers. They will be adult-sized people who really admire the dwarf esthetic like chain-mail, leather, long-braided beards and long hair. John has never seen a group of six to seven adult men rocking that look who were traveling together as a tribe. A tempest of dwarfs? How do you call a group of dwarfs?

Combat rules

There have to be some combat rules, because otherwise the snipers will win every time and John doesn't want snipers. Those rules need to incorporate modern technology, because some of the tribes will be modern technologists. If you can only fight with sticks, then there will be people working as engineers for Blue Origin who will invent a better stick.

Through the course of history of this neighborhood stick-fighting culture different groups will have hacked the rules and corollary rules would have to be imposed to accommodate or to reign them in. The rules should not be too arcane, but they should reflect the evolution of the game. If those stick-fights are supposed to go viral, there needs to be some standard between the different neighborhoods. John would call Neal Stephenson and ask him to imaginate how the situation would look like if we had already done stick-fighting for the last 80 years. Let’s say for example that you would allow a Taser, because they don’t kill people at a distance. You can’t allow to sharpen the stick, because then it becomes a spear. Merlin and John continue to banter about the possibilities of creating rules for stick-fighting as a sport. John had originally thought of a Gladiator contest taking place in a Colosseum, but as the game evolved in his mind, he figured that surveillance culture like using GoPros has to play into any kind of future sports. This enables us to have a stadium similar to the places where special forces or SWAT-teams train, or similar to what is used for Paintball or Laser-tag. The audience might know more than the players, which adds to the excitement of the game.

Increasing the stakes of the game and resolving actual disputes

As soon we have established the stick-fighting combat, how are we then going to expand this both socially and globally? For example, if you are from Brazil and your team wins the world cup, you have a lot of smack to talk to people from Uruguay for a while. John drives around Seattle every day and sees a number of people who are still crowing about the Super Bowl two years ago and who show it in the form of a logo on the back of their Escalate. We should turn the dial up on that a little bit, so winning a stick-fight does not only give you bragging rights like ”In your face, Paraguay!”, but we should settle actual disputes by the neighborhood stick-fighting teams. As you ramp up the violence, you also have to increase the stakes correspondingly, but not just the stakes for the team itself! Those guys are volunteering to get hurt more than in a Football team, but they do this because the prospect is greater that their success will change people’s life.

For example, there might be people who think that rail transit is a bad idea and it is too expensive, while other people might think that rail transit is the only solution to modern urban expansion. You could even take it down to the local level and use it to decide if there should be a STOP-sign at that crossing or not. The leagues would work out like this: You start at the neighborhood level and fight over things like getting a $2 million bond in order to paint all the fire hydrants in a bright color so they don’t get backed over anymore. If your opposition thinks that this is a ludicrous way to spend that money, they would call for a stick-fight. Then you would work your way up to county level and would be adjudicating the school budget, all the way to being on the Palestinian team, deciding with a stick-fight whether or not there will be further settlements on the West Bank. Everybody agrees that this is an intractable problem that we have already failed to solve with diplomacy, with war, with terrorism. If stick-fighting is the way we solve all our other problems, maybe it is time to pick up a stick?

Regional fights vs professional fights

There is a lot of worlds building involved in order to distill the concept down to writing a script for a romantic comedy. The problem with Hunger Games is that it is very hysterical, but yet there is a weepy romantic comedy at the center of it.

John originally imagined stick-fights when he was backstage at Madison Square Garden and there were all those different tribes of people. He once saw a girl with a Nike Swoosh tattoo. She was branding herself for the rest of her life with Nike. What if every one of those people walking past would be wearing a tunic that was a call-out to the crusades. Here come the Christians in big dressing gowns with a big cross on their chest. In the future, Islam and Coca Cola will be killer brands. What if team Islam will be pitted against team Coca Cola in the regional finals? You might even see Portland Hogbutchers vs Former Congressmen. Or the Nebraska Methodists in a pitch battle with the Chevy Volt. On the other hand: John calls it neighborhood stick-fights and not professional stick fights, because as soon as professional sports became a free agency and became disconnected from their region, it is all just metaphor. Professional baseball players play for everybody, like Ichiro showed up at SafeCo Field (in Settle) in a Yankees uniform. You can even use the phrase Utah Jazz without laughing!

John does feel that a vested group will put up the best fighters from within itself. The problem with that is that there are lots of groups that by definition are not going to have as many good fighters, like team Coater is going to have a lot of big guys, but not a lot of tough guys. You will have to use the strengths of your group, for example the coupon ladies have to be able to work as a group to use their strategery. Their point might be to get through the checkout and back home before the Ramen boils over. You can pit Value Village management against an ad-hoc team of Value Village customers. They are tired of collecting 20 stamps on their stamp card only to find out that the promotion for 25% off is over because it was only good for three weeks. They took a lot of time and effort of carrying the stamp card around and getting it stamped, but now Value Village doesn’t value those anymore. Value Village does promotions like that 15 times every year. It’s not like having a coffee card that you can use for many years and they will still give you that free espresso.

The economy of Thrift Stores (RL164)

Good Will is a non-profit organization that takes your donation to employ people and to have training centers, a bit like a charitable pyramid scheme. You can come as a customer and leave as an assistant manager. The stores are just the tip of the iceberg and there is so much more going on behind the walls. When John talked to one of the managers once and complimented their stores, he felt like he was talking to somebody from Skull and Bones, because John doesn’t know anything about what is really going on. Goodwill has now also a very lucrative online store where they will sell their cream that would otherwise just land on the shelves somewhere. They also help other organizations with junk fabric that they can't sell as clothes anymore. Value Village on the other side is an actual for-profit company that lives in this non-profit space and is competing against charitable organizations like Salvation Army and Goodwill. Their webpage makes them sound like a charity, but they are not! They are just making money. The business culture of Value Village is probably just the next level of Target.

Merlin sometimes receives a bag in the mail from an organization that picks up broken electronics in order to help veterans with their effort. John has learned that there is a whole sub-economy with secondary and tertiary markets for old junk. The way someone makes money from an old and broken CRT-monitor is to put it on a barge and ship it to China where it gets torn apart by children. There are whole villages with only children, kind of a Lord of the Flies situation. It is like Mad Max meets Dickens. They are harvesting the copper and all the memories from the CRT-monitors! You don’t know how many of your memories are stored in there, this is part of the computer-maths that they don’t teach you! They probably have stick fights there already, they might even have started in the CRT-mines!

There is so much going on that John and Merlin don’t understand. Particularly when Supertrain technology will start ramping up and all that hard-impact plastic can be converted back into cooking oil. You can just send people an e-gram telling them they have been acquired. John feels pretty strongly that all of this is going to happen and he wants to get out ahead of it, not just for himself, but for his family. Things are more and more difficult to understand. In the 1980:s when Merlin used to hang out in thrift stores, somebody would donate all the stuff from somebody who had died and all the shirts were $2, long sleeve $3. It all came from the community. But today there is a lot of trucking and multiple layers of sorting involved. By the time the millions of items are filtered to the level where we as customers can be worried about size and color, think about all the tons and tons of materials and memories that have been screened! Where did all that stuff go? It’s like a rabbit with a broken leg: They normally keep their legs tucked under themselves and you just see the cute little nose going, but you don’t realize how big his coiled hunches really are. But when a rabbit has been injured and one of its legs is askew or dragging, you see what a big part of the rabbit the legs are. That’s how John imagines most people’s dreams are. Once they have been removed from clothing or context, they are like a wounded rabbit, wandering around a baked plane.

Recycling (RL164)

Recycling is not as simple to understand as we have been let to believe. It is like premium garbage: At the food court in the airport there are now 3 different barrels, all labeled differently, like ”Food only”, ”Plastic bottles” and ”Trash”. Sometimes they just want you to put all your junk in one bin and will sort it off-site. There is an increasingly small amount of money you can get for cans or green bottles and recycling companies will make money probably mostly from deposing it in a place like San Francisco. They are not cleaning those bottles and reusing them anyways. Sometimes there is not enough money this month to transport all those green bottles and they will just take them to the dump. All the money is in scale and arbitrage. John presumes that at the other end of the four garbage bins he has in Seattle is someone with a master’s degree who understands their intention and hand-sorts each thing John sends their way with the same care and thought than what John has put in when he decided in which bin to put it. For example lids go in the garbage, unless the lid is 6 inches across, then they go into the recycling. Where the lids go by at the recycling plant there must be someone with a jeweler’s loupe and a yardstick, grabbing lids off the conveyor belt and sorting them again, because plastic lids and metal lids all fulfill the 6-inch rule and are both recyclable, while a 4-inch lid made out of aluminum or made out of plastic both go into the garbage. John pictures the recycling center as a miraculous place and that is literally where the idea of Supertrain came from. It must be a temple where hundreds of trained people turn our garbage into diamonds made of remade, repurposed, basic materials. In reality it is just going to be put on a freight car and dumped into the ocean. Merlin thinks that something is not right with all that stuff.

People often ask John at Comic-Cons and such when Supertrain will be coming, but he has started to tell them to make their own supertrain! Supertrain starts at home! It is like a last-minute party: It is as good as what everybody brings.

If John were Elon Musk, boy where would we start, but first he would stop building a space plane, because every billionaire right now is having a space program and no billionaire is working on cool public transit. What we need are fewer billionaires working on space programs and more billionaires working on public transit, affordable housing and a solution to the homeless problem. With only one or two of them we would be covered in that area. The fact that there is not a single billionaire working on shelters for homeless families feels like there is an imbalance. If John were Elon Musk, he would be working on a counter-top recycling machine, maybe a little bigger than a soda-stream, but smaller than a pony keg. It would be the opposite of a 3D-printer. You put anything in the slot, the machine analyses it’s compositions and goes about whatever process it requires to either melt the metal or the hydrofluoric carbons. Ultimately, at the end of the week, you’d have a big brick of carbon, a little brick of silver, a little brick of platinum, a little brick of plutonium, a jar of cooking oil, a jar of motor oil, and you could either sell those on the market or you could plug them into your 3D-printers where you could make your own garter belts or whatever it was you need. The building blocks of things are oil, carbon, value, metal, nursing, family, and love. How hard is it going to be to build something like that? Elon Musk should be thinking about this!

The future of transportation and capitalism (RL164)

We have to think longer-term

It is really hard to see ourselves while he are in the middle of the stream between hither and dither. Everybody is looking for solutions based on where we are right now, because it always seems like the end of history. What we should have done in Seattle was to build a transit network 40 years ago. We didn’t do it and we should have done it 20 years ago and we didn’t do it. Now we are at place where there is a new transportation technology about to come online everywhere you look. There are self-driving cars, there are personalized remote-controlled drones and the ability to store electricity has been vastly improved. Five years ago electric cars were laughed at, but already today 95% of all the trips we take could be done in electrically powered vehicles. There are even all those weird bicycles that people have retrofitted electrical motors to. We are very quickly going to see bicycles that are augmented by electric power to help us bike uphills. Segways had been 10 or 15 years ahead of its time, but now there are different permutations in the personal mobility space as batteries got better and motors become more efficient. We will see more innovations of people hopping on a little platform that will just whisk them to here and there. There are all these advances in rail, like the vacuum tube train or maglev train from San Francisco to Los Angeles that is expected with big excitement. The technology is there, but how can we get the political will and the money? Are we going to build this link or not? What direction are all those little scooters, skateboards and electrically powered mobility devices going to take? If Tony Hawk can invest in an electric skateboard that goes uphills and still functions as a skateboard, you know it is going to happen!

From the standpoint of having to make a huge investment in transportation it is really unusual and weird to say that we probably should put our finger in the dike and make short-term investments to keep stuff running so that we don’t screw up this transition. Let us all put our heads together and let us see what the future is going to look like. In the board room at Uber, when they are not playing Nerf basketball and are not sexually harassing one another, they are imagining a world without drivers in the very near term where Uber will be in control of a vast network of centrally controlled autonomous vehicles. Uber will become synonymous with transportation, we will pull out our phones, the car will take us where we want to go and the system will subtract a certain amount of Bitcoins from our online account. We will never even have think about it! Alternatively, you don’t pull out your phone and say it out loud to your Google glass. Uber's vision is to eliminate drivers and they will. While that will be great for us consumers, how should cities plan for that? They might not want Uber to be in control of that infrastructure that Uber is working hard to build. We would have to get involved, envision it ourselves and regulate it. With Uber in particular, the results are fast and immediate and have a high positive impact on influential people with money. Merlin saw a blog post the other day saying that it is difficult to be punctual when you are poor. The more options you have for transportation, the more options for convenience and punctuality you have.

Competing Systems and Standardization

At some point in the past, all the different railroad companies had to agree on a gauge of tracks so that everybody’s cars could go everywhere. Even if you want to manufacture rifles with replaceable parts using and assembly line, you have to standardize. What about the bricks in a building? What if half of them broke or would be 1/8” bigger on one side? Merlin can go to any place in America that has a 110 volt electric plug and his devices will just work, unless something is very very wrong. We don’t need another billionaire to figure out what to build with existing LEGO sets, but we need somebody who can create open LEGO sets that will let new kinds of flexibility emerge. Merlin can literally not think of a better analogy than that. Whatever will happen, we can't caters to the people who have moved to town during the last three years with a nice car they like to drive. That doesn’t sound like the future. It sounds like the past!

The other day an Apple Maps minivan drove by John. They are now finally getting around to do 3-dimensional photographic mapping of the world as Google has been doing for a long time. It rattled John because the original iPhones all had Google maps and he remembered the moment when Apple decided that it made more sense to build their own mapping program from the ground up rather than just seed all the data to Google about where people went. For the consumer that meant that all of their iPhones no longer had Google Maps functionality and they had been turned into millions of Beta-testers for Apple’s garbage map program. It took Apple only six years to get to the point where it only directs John to the wrong address 1 our of 7 times. John has really had bad experiences where he was supposed to come to an event and Apple Maps sent him to the complete opposite of town. Amongst all the Apple scandals over the last years, that is the one thing that everybody in Merlin's family seems to agree on. First the service was total shit and now it is mostly shit. They will all go and get Google Maps on their phone. John was 45 minutes late to his first meeting with the Chamber of Commerce because his phone told him the building that is in the center of town was on the South Slope of Queen Ann Hill in a Flophouse rather than in the Rainier Tower.

Ultimately this is a situation like Beta Max vs VHS. Right now Apple, Facebook, Uber and presumably also the three big car companies recognize that once all cars will be interconnected with each other in a grid of central control, there will be no more accidents and the efficiency of transportation will improve. This is the fundamental premise of why Google was collecting their information for maps in the first place. If you know where people are and where they are going and what their history of going places is, you get an incredible system of knowledge and control. Every one of these companies is trying to envision that future and is trying to build that system. From the consumer standpoint it will be amazing because you will be able to call a car in seconds. We have already acquiesced to these companies geo-locating our photographs and connecting everything they know about us to our Amazon accounts. We have completely rolled over on that privacy stuff that we were so terrified about 15 years ago, for reasons of convenience. When that will become true about transportation as well, there will be a lot to philosophize about.

Taking control of a future transportation network

John met with the board of the Teamsters Union several times and talked to several different groups of Teamsters. In the short term they are very interested in unionizing Uber drivers, but what they don’t want to talk about is that all of the technology groups are currently working furiously to eliminate all kinds of drivers and that millions of jobs are about to disappear. Driving is a major job for middle class people. Teamsters didn't want to talk or think about this right now. They want to unionize Uber drivers and get out ahead of the short-term problem that taxi drivers are unionized, but Uber drivers aren’t. The near-term problem, which isn’t even that far out, is that all those jobs are going away and will be replaced by a massive over-arching grid. That is undeniably the future in our lifetimes, but we are not talking about who will control it and how it will integrate. Right now all these companies are furiously beavering away, because nobody wants to be the Beta Max.

Merlin has had the problem for years that he can't get a cab where he lives. It has driven him nuts every time they have hired a baby sitter on one of their three date nights a year and they can literally not get a cab in over 3 hours. The dispatchers are getting mad at him because he keeps calling, but every single driver who will get the message ”Go way the hell out into the Western Part of town where you probably won’t get a fare back” will just pick up a person on Polk Street before they even make it to the Panhandle. Part of Merlin’s frustration is that he hates using Uber but there is not that much better stuff if you have to be somewhere on time. As a politician, John is confronting Uber right now. They are a better service and the cab companies are playing catch-up. Uber is not regulated the same way the cab companies are, which is unfair. Uber-drivers are treated badly compared to other professional drivers and that has to change. This is all stuff on our table that we have to deal with in the next year or two. The Uber corporation is not playing the short game. They don’t care and are just trying to keep us all off-balance until they can eliminate drivers completely. We are down here fighting over bread scraps and the big technology companies are way out ahead of us. They are not worried about the unions and they are not worried about this kind of regulation, because they are planning to roll out this massive other thing.

The big question is going to be: If you use an Apple-branded product as your gateway instead of a Google-branded product, are you going to have access to every car or just the Apple branded cars? This is the way how these companies have already chosen to handle the world of music or movies or whatever else. We have the technology right now to watch any movie and any TV-show ever, but we can’t because the apertures are controlled by these different companies with different rules. The railroads for example are known as common carriers, which means that they have to carry whatever people want to move around. They are private companies, but they can’t pick and chose within pretty general guidelines and can't say they won’t move that box car with birth-control pills around because they don’t believe in a woman’s right to chose. When environmentalists tell Burlington Northern to stop carrying those oil trains, the company can’t just chose to do that. Part of their public trust is that they have to move freight around.

There are cab companies who routinely wouldn’t pull over and pick up people of color who were hailing cabs. Uber-drivers rate their passengers, too. If you have a bad rating, you might no be able to get a car at all. The algorithm shows who is the most efficient and best person to pick up, like common users, VIP, or someone who is leaving a high-traffic area to go to another high-traffic area. If our public transport infrastructure is going to be replaced by a private infrastructure on the terms of those private companies, we are potentially entering into a new realm where transportation is privileged. We squander all of the potential, like true equitable mobility provided by this amazing technology of on-demand cars, because we allow it to be rolled out on a for-profit basis based on those pre-existing customer ratings. John finds this terrifying! Only cities, municipalities and governments can intervene and take control of the grid and the system, because it is a public utility and not a private enterprise. Serving the public good is more important than rewarding early investors! We can already see now that this will be our inevitable transportation future. It is one thing to let private companies sell the cars, but private companies today don’t own the roads. Nobody is currently talking about this. Instead we are talking about unionizing Uber-drivers or getting more express-busses on the road.

Turning private innovations into public utilities

Merlin thinks about the pharmaceutical companies who create products to help people to a better health. In the interest of doing that they get awarded a patent so that only they can produce this allergy pill for 10 years. Then they might change the capsule slightly and eek another 10 years out of it. Eventually it goes to generics. The argument is that there is a huge amount of R&D and testing involved in developing those products. Do we set aside the argument that that innovation is what enables them to make those things? Do we take into account how much of it is to make your Peter hard vs how much helps people with Diabetes. Where are the lines in deciding what should happen on a municipal level and to what extend we allow private interests in a common carrier kind of environment? There are a lot of cases to be made that the pharmaceutical industry and a lot of our medical practice is deeply broken and that capitalism not only gives us poorer outcomes, like medicine and treatments, but extends the time factor by decades. Transportation is in a very different realm than medicine: Part of Uber’s success was that they had a product that people didn’t even know how much they wanted, which probably makes it harder to regulate them. A big part of the struggle is how to get governments to have the required elasticity and smartness.

When electricity was first invented, there were probably 10 different people trying to string up independent electric utilities in San Francisco. There was Edison and Tesla arguing about whether it should be AC or DC. ”Look what it does to an elephant!” A lot of private enterprises were arguing that developing this technology was expensive and that it was their proprietary knowledge. At one point, cities realized that providing electrical services was a common good and that we couldn’t have 10 different electrical networks. The same argument is made for municipal broadband. At a certain point, high-speed internet service passes beyond a threshold where it is just a luxury and it will become a necessity. At that point cities need to step in and make sure to cover the whole population. Right now in Seattle, Comcast provides much better, much faster and more reliable Internet service to the rich neighborhoods than to the poor neighborhoods. You yell at them about it and they are telling you that they are of course upgrading as they go, but they are not because they have no incentive to.

The libertarian argument is: Why should for-profit companies provide a public service? When you come up against that argument in a thing that becomes a necessity, you are going to take that profit away from them. No business has an intrinsic right to the airwaves or really an intrinsic right to anything. That is just another argument! Capitalism is not a natural law any more than any other form of economy. John’s argument is that they need a municipal broadband in Seattle. The city should supply Internet service the same way it supplies electricity and water, because Internet service is becoming equivalent to those things in terms that it needs to be equally provided to everybody, rich and poor. Even the poorest person has to log on to the internet to fill out their job application. The more stuff we put online, the more it becomes a public need or a public good.

Five years from now when our skies will be full of unregulated drone traffic, we are going to realize that it is a the municipality’s job to create regulations for drones. The drone entrepreneurs are going to scream bloody murder on it, but if drones will not be regulated, we will be going to live in a Victorian environment, but instead of coal smoke it will be drone noise as Amazon and UPS each are running their drones around. The city of Seattle will have their drones, the newspapers will have their drones and there will be private drones. We are coming out of many decades of laissez faire economics and many decades of ratcheting back the idea of what government does, but ultimately government is there to protect us and to make collective decisions. There is a reason why the entrepreneurial part of the tech-world is libertarian. There are a lot of hippies writing code, but if you want to be the first to market and be the gorilla, you want your computer-railroads to win. It will push us into a climate with a new understanding of the importance and the power of government. Technology is also going to reform government and make it better at what it does.

We are probably about to enter into a few decades of real tussle between tech companies and government as the government seeks to assert which of those technologies that were developed in private laboratories will constitute a public good. That is exciting! The prospect of autonomous electric cars that have true equitability baked in is a social justice issue! People can finally move around without the onerous expense of maintaining, parking and operating their own jalopies. We need to insure that this is how it is going to roll out! The autonomous cars of today are the Mercedes Benz, really nice luxury items, but we are going to realize in a short amount of time that they are in fact taxi cabs and no-one is going to own their own. You don’t own your own street, it is all owned collectively and part of the value is that the streets connect to other streets. If you are a super-rich dude and you only want to drive around in a super-luxury version of the autonomous car, then maybe you will have your special one, but 99% of us are going to be so greateful to never own a car again.

The consensus in John’s family is to milk their current cars until they don’t need them anymore, which is also on Merlin’s mind. He would love for his currently leased car to be the last car they ever own. The speed of progress is going to vary a lot by area, though: Merlin has been at three places recently: Boston, Providence, and Portland. The needs of those cities can be served in such different ways. The idea of not having a car in Providence is mental. In Florida it is completely mental. You have to have a car, period! That is the way the whole state is set up, whereas in San Francisco Merlin’s wife needs it to get to work in an efficient way and still have a life, but they are right on the bubble. If you suck it up a little bit, you can make it with public transport and a little bit of Lyft and Uber. It is not there yet, but it is lot closer than for a lot of people in Florida and Missouri. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles will be the first places. The huge problem in San Francisco is that it is not that hard to get a disabled permit which allows you to park for free wherever you want. Are there people who need those? Absolutely! But Merlin heard something that there are twice as many disabled permits as there are metered parking spaces in San Francisco. How does that scale up? It doesn’t add up!

What are our alternatives to a future high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco? We can drive for 6-8 hours or we can take a flight, but we are ending up spending more time in airports than in the sky. It is completely inefficient! All of this is late-stage capitalism. We have to zoom out a little bit and shouldn't presume that capitalism as currently practiced is a natural system that God imposed upon us. It is a thought technology, an overlay, or an attempt to solve a problem with a system and currently you can see all of the ways in which it is failing. It is failing to solve the problem of getting from San Francisco to Los Angeles, for instance. We could employ a lot of technologies to solve that, but our regulatory environment and our concept of private property working together are making it increasingly difficult to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It is harder now than it was in 1960 where we had all of the highways that they had just completed and these brand-new jet airplanes. In 2015, the highways are exactly the same and the airplanes are exactly the same, except there are hundreds of thousands of more people using them. We are still using the 757. You can drive your 1959 Chevy from San Francisco to Los Angeles today, but it takes you longer and it is worse than in 1959.

Capitalism is a thought technology

Capitalism is great! John is not trying to take away your house and turn it into a Dr. Zhivago apartment. But capitalism is an idea, a thought technology and a lot of our government regulations are badly designed in conjunction with capitalistic problems. The regulation responded to the capitalism and the capitalism responded to the regulation, which is an unholy relationship. If we think about this stuff a little bit more calmly and purposefully, we can imagine a better system by only making some minor modifications. One of them is to put caps on how much people can make, we really do! You can’t just invent Angry Birds and become a billionaire! John understands how it works: You write an app and it becomes a smash and you sell your company for $1 billion, but when you zoom out a little bit, you realize that this is busted! Angry Birds is great, but it is not worth $1 billion of our collective resources. We should not pay that to you and the fact that we do is crazy! There has to be some equitability, not in the sense of a guaranteed universal income, but in the sense of your actual contribution. What did this do and what is it worth? Take this Wallstreet casino-mentality and see it for what it is. You will recognize that it doesn’t help us and that our current money-orgy is not the best and most efficient way of directing resources to innovation and experimentation. The money follows the success and generates success? That’s crazy! We are living in a crazy world! We do have the brains, the knowledge, the data and the instruments to measure and see how crazy it is and we can make better regulations tomorrow.

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