Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wealth and the Standard of Living

I just read over this article, and I'm particularly interested in the first part. Specifically, this quote
But rage against the 1% is misplaced. Income is not a zero-sum game: The rich aren't getting wealthier at the expense of the poor. Harvard's Lawrence Katz has calculated that even if all the gains of the top 1% were redistributed to the 99%, household incomes would go up by less than half of what they would if everyone had a college degree.
That shit is awful.

Let's leave aside the fact that college isn't right for everybody. This quote is saying that if everyone in the United States had a college degree that our incomes would go up substantially more than by redistributing income from the 1% to the 99%. I certainly understand how Harvard's Lawrence Katz calculated that figure, but it ignores many things.

First of all, if Americans did become substantially more wealthy, where would that money come from? Other countries. The other countries of the world would necessarily become poorer, because with a fixed level of production, wealth is a zero-sum game (or, rather, a fixed-sum game). Consider this, everything that I (and you, and everybody else) consume is produced somewhere else. So by extrapolation, the sum of all consumption equals the sum of all production.

 The standard of living is this figure divided by the world's population. And when I talk production, I mean real, physical goods. When people produce non-physical goods such as entertainment or news they are bartering insight, information, and entertainment for money which they then go and exchange for goods.

There are only two ways to increase the worldwide standard of living. The first is to increase production. This is done by getting more people involved in production or by making production more efficient. The other way is to reduce the population, which is what I like to call "the psychopath option". I think we can all agree that murdering people who don't produce isn't the right way to go here.

So what are some ways we can increase production? Technology is the first that comes to mind. Technology allows you to harvest resources that were previously unharvestable. It allows you to use resources more efficiently, producing more goods from the same amount of material. And it allows you to create goods using fewer people, which allows those people to work on producing goods in other ways.

The other way is to get more people involved in the production of goods. There are tons of places in the world where there aren't good ways/places for people to work or make goods. If you really want to help an impoverished area, find a business that you could start there.

Another way is to recycle more. It let's you get more use out of the same resources. MAGIC!

So even if everyone in America had a college degree, that wouldn't really fix the really problem, it would just toss the problem on somebody else's shoulders. We need to focus on technology and worldwide jobs growth. America will benefit from helping out other nations.

Now, this isn't all to say that education is a bad thing. Education is good. Education allows people to fulfill their maximum potential. It will create more technological innovators whose ideas will allows us to produce more efficiently. It will do so many things. But education isn't the only thing that needs to be done. Jobs aren't the only thing that needs to be done. The income disparity problem, specifically as it relates to taxation, needs to be fixed. That is just the beginning of what needs to be done.

Now let's try and forget about the fact that the world only has limited resources and that eventually our population will grow to a level where poverty and its effects will be absolutely awful. Population growth is something that we need to work on because it's a hell of a lot faster than most people realize it is.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Stuff

[[If you can't view the images in this post, then you are likely reading it on a phone or in Internet Explorer. Don't worry, they're not integral to the experience.]]

 The universe is mysterious. It's filled with secrets and strange things such as dark matter and black holes. I find existence to be just as puzzling, and one of the things that I find most puzzling is time. People generally seem to be in agreement that there is a "now" and that time is constantly hurtling us into the future. Here we will be talking about two things: time and matter. I have serious questions about both subjects. Primarily I'm confused by the fact that stuff exists.

So the prevailing understanding of time is like watching a VHS tape, it's always moving forwards to the next frame/moment (I prefer the more analog VHS analogy to anything else). If, like a VHS tape, some outside observer could rewind it to see what had happened in the past, there are two options as best as I can tell.

Definite Beginning

When rewinding the tape of the universe in this scenario, it will eventually stop, because there is nothing prior to that point. No matter. No energy. Literally nothing existed. The idea of this feels weird to me. That there could be a point in time for which nothing preceded it. If there were some sort of spontaneous genesis of all energy and matter in the universe, then I'd have to ask, "How the hell did that happen?" Is it possible for nothingness to create something? I don't personally feel like it is.

The only way that I could see this happening for us is if there were some sort of creator, separate from our universe, that had the power to create a universe. Or maybe we're the dream of some greater entity, like the Wind Fish in Link's Awakening. Even with that, that creator would itself belong to its own universe for which the question would repeat itself.

No Beginning

In this scenario, time and matter precede every other moment in time. People may see this and respond with "But the Big Bang!" but I would remind them that the Big Bang was not necessarily the beginning of time. This depends on how you feel about the cyclic model.

I'm more fine with things extending infinitely backward than everything coming into being ex nihilo. However, this model isn't without some weirdness. It has to do with the idea of "now". The idea of having a constantly-moving-forward state of "now" doesn't work with this model.

 If time extends infinitely to the past, yet "now" is always moving towards the future, then it could not be "traveling" at a constant speed. It, in essence, would never have reached what we would call "the present". The idea of having a "now" that is constantly traveling into the future relies on having a specific point to be the beginning of time.

So maybe it's the idea of a "now" that's flawed. Maybe the timeline of the universe is just laid out and my consciousness has just been dropped into my body to fulfill its role? Or to observe but without realizing it has no control? At that point, the universe and it's timeline become less like a real thing with uncertainties and and change, but instead more like a fact that my consciousness can only see part of [tries to put in another quarter to buy more time].

I'm not in love with either of these scenarios, and I can't think of an alternative that's any better. A spontaneous genesis either makes no sense or relies on a creator for whom the question repeats itself. A timeline that extends infinitely into the past is better, but I'm still not fully sold on the idea.

Regardless of how I feel about timelines and the idea of "now", it doesn't solve the weirdness that I feel about the fact that matter exists. This is the most bothersome thing in the world to me. Matter exists. Why? The alternative (that there would be and never had been nor will be anything) seems far more reasonable.

I think, therefore something is, and that bothers me.

What do you all think?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Minipost: -isms and -ists in MMOs

There's been some recent discussion about sexism by characters in World of Warcraft that has been sparked by a particular NPC in the beta named Ji Firepaw. On one side you have "This is offensive, please change it" and on the other side you have "It's not offensive" and "That would be censorship" and some other defenses. I'm not here to argue the cases, those link above do a much better job of explaining that than I could. I'm here to talk about what makes such a character different in an MMO versus a book/movie or even another video game.

In a book or a movie, a character such as Ji is targeting their offensive statements at other characters. In a typical video game, they're targeting their offensive statements at a character you're playing. In an MMO, they're often targeting their offensive statements at you.

Some video games let you customize your character so maybe you might argue that the character is you. However, even in Mass Effect it's not you, it's Shepard. Some video games do have the quality of MMOs where the character is close to you because they lack a firm identity but I'd argue that the character is more 'you' in MMOs because it's how you interact with other players. The other players affirm that the character is you, in a way.

Furthermore, video games are about the freedom to do what you want. You have agency in this world, but that agency is incomplete. When NPCs do things such as that, you often have absolutely no means by which to correct them. You just have to sit there and let it happen, powerless to change the attitudes of the NPCs around you, which is incredibly disheartening.

And that's why these things matter more in an MMO.