Tux Tragedy

The Social Cost of Open Source

Ever since I have been young, I have heard two competing proverbs related to objects of a gratis nature. The first proverb, “The best things in life are free”, seems to speak for the optimist in life, the type of person that views the glass as “half full”. The second has various forms but in general goes something along the lines of, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” This second proverb seems to embody the pessimistic view of freeness, the “glass half empty” perspective.

Being objective about all matters, I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Instead, I am a realist and thus while many might believe that these two views of optimism and pessimism are utterly and completely contradictory and mutually exclusive, such is not the case. To point, some object might indeed be free from cost and the best thing in life but still not be completely and utterly “free”, as in there might still be a “catch”. But, this catch may or may not have an impact on such an object’s “best thing in life” status if that catch is not too great a burden compared to its overall usefulness.

One can only conclude from this analysis that the second, pessimistic, proverb is universal while the first is not for something that is free might be equally worthless to an individual if it does not meet his or her needs while something that individual has to pay for might meet their needs exactly and thus be the “best” in their eyes. Thus, while some free things in life are indeed grand, others are complete and utter crap but regardless; there’s always a catch. Always. It may not be intuitively obvious as to what the catch might be or it might not even be that bad of a “catch”, but it is there, trust me.

I have been moved towards such musings of “free” because of my recent articles regarding the open source and free software movements. I started thinking, what, if any are the true costs of open source? Where’s the “catch” and does this catch or catches outweigh the benefits of open source and thus demote it from its otherwise presumed “best thing in life” status? This exercise took all of about 30 seconds since the “catches” of open source are plentiful; so plentiful, in fact, that it astounds me that I have never really ever seen anything regarding this topic. Apparently, we live in a world of optimists that all assume that open source and free software are “the best things in life” and that there is no impact other than millions of shiny, happy end users who weep with joy and grovel in homage to the magical developers in the sky that rain free software down upon the wretched masses.

Luckily, as I have previously stated, I tend to be a realist and thus, prompted by the; dare I say, overreaction to “Penguin Suicide Bombers” by the open source community, I have identified and categorized a large number of costs or “catches” to open source. I have classified these costs into five categories, environmental, health, social, and economic. While I examine each of these categories of costs below, I leave it as an exercise of the reader, academics and the proponents and opponents of open source and free software to assess the true net gain or loss. A swag at it says it comes out even or quite probably a net overall loss.

First up are the environmental costs of open source. This one is easy. Computers and computer monitors require electrical power to run which increases the carbon footprint of open source developers. Obviously, one would need to examine the environmental damage from 24/7 operation of a computer and a computer monitor versus some other activity which the individual might otherwise engage. But, remember that these are not just your average computer users, these are developers who typically have more powerful computers and even bigger monitors than average computer users. In addition, they engage in CPU intensive activities such as compiling programs and running web servers. Since we could presume that they might otherwise be watching TV, the net environmental impact is a net loss since the monitor would equate to the power consumption of the TV and thus the computer CPU represents additional power consumption. Thus, it is obvious that open source programming is an anti-green activity. Undoubtedly, if Al Gore were to chart increasing carbon emissions along with increased use of computing, there would be a strong correlation.

But, this does not capture the full extent of the damage. We must also consider the efficiency and innovation of open source development. Are amateur programmers as efficient as professional programmers? In this we must give open source programmers the benefit of the doubt and say yes since many professional programmers moonlight as open source developers. But, are their combined efforts as efficient as professional efforts? Probably not. Since open source programmers operate as a loose confederation rather than as highly structured projects, it is likely that open source development efforts are somewhat less efficient than professional efforts.

The reasons are simple. First, it is illogical to think that open source developers are somehow “better” than professional programmers since, as noted, they are often one and the same. Second, professional organizations tend to be money motivated and thus efficient use of resources is paramount. Open source developers have no such motivation because resources are effectively free and thus have no motivation towards efficiency. Third, the loose confederation of the open source community makes it nigh impossible to achieve the same level of coordination and integration as exhibited by large, professional software development firms. For example, the level of integration that Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP and CA are starting to achieve within their own product sets puts open source development to shame. This level of integration makes the whole more valuable than the parts and is not something that open source is ever likely to achieve since its very model nearly excludes the possibility of a singular vision or close coordination of efforts.

As for innovation, open source primarily reinvents the wheel. Again, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since many private companies also generally reinvent the wheel but the point is that there is no notable innovation in open source that might otherwise offset and help negate the overall environmental impact of open source. In fact, a better avian mascot for open source might be the mocking bird rather than the penguin. An oft overlooked fact in the annals of computer technology is that the true source of the innovative technologies of the Internet and most other base computing technologies in use today were in fact innovations of United States government funding, specifically the military, and private companies such as Xerox. Open source can claim no meaningful innovations with regards to computing technologies, they simply look at existing proprietary software and mimic it. Linux is a clone of other operating systems. Open office, clone. Firefox, clone. This is not to say that IE or Windows or most other software is not similarly uninspired but at least government and private industry can claim some pedigree of true innovation.

To clarify and summarize this point, the open source movement is simply providing the same types of software as already exist and thus their efforts cannot be viewed as anything other than generally redundant and therefore a waste of electrical energy. While perhaps not the most optimal state in general, the most eco-friendly state of software development would be where there was only a single software program available for any particular task. For example, there would be just a single web browser where all development efforts were focused. This would ensure that no electrical energy was unnecessarily wasted since, as we all know, the frivolous waste of electrical power will ultimately destroy humanity and the entire planet through global warming.

There are likely health costs to open source as well. Coding is a rather sedentary activity and can thus lead to a lack of exercise which in turn might cause obesity and heart disease. Developers are famously stereotyped as addicted to junk food and Mountain Dew, which is not a particularly healthy diet. More subtle, perhaps are issues of sleep deprivation and loss of hearing. Open source developers often burn the midnight oil, as evidenced from personal anecdotes and discussion forum postings time stamped in the wee hours of the morning. Developers are also famously stereotyped as wearing headphones while coding. This prolonged exposure to such concentrated sound waves could lead to hearing loss similar to the issues that iPods are fearing to have on teens.

The social costs are perhaps the most disturbing. Open source programmers might better spend their time volunteering for a charity organization such as the United Way or the Red Cross. They might better use the money they spend on increased electrical bills to send money to a charity organization or a child in a third-world country. Finally, how many young men and women have gone home with the “wrong” person because better suited, open source programmers were busy pounding keys rather than brewskies in a bar?

Finally, there are the economic costs of open source. While economics are generally cited as a benefit of open source development, the economic costs are difficult to refute. Professional software development companies lose millions, if not billions, of dollars in revenue to open source software. This means that these companies cannot hire as many people as they might otherwise employ which impacts consumerism and thus the entire economy of most countries. Corporations also most likely lose worker productivity as a significant portion of developers that they employ who participate in open source projects likely steal hours from their employers similar to what Bruce Peren did at Pixar. And all of this does not even begin to cover the costs associated with compromising intellectual property rights or in hygiene products revenue due to unwashed open source developers slaving over their keyboards rather than getting fixed up to get hooked up.

Another economic-related cost is the impact to the professional status and reward of software developers and other computer technology experts. Essentially, the message that is being conveyed by open source programmers is that professional software development, and by association, professional IT expertise is unnecessary. This is akin to believing that a loose confederation of witch doctors, mothers and moonlighting physicians are as good or better than hospitals and professional medical care or that self-taught legal sources are as good as consulting properly qualified attorneys. While I am not aware of any studies on the particulars, it is hard to believe that this does not have a significant impact on the general perception and indeed the wages of IT workers.

In conclusion, open source development appears on the surface to be anti-green, unhealthy, antisocial and damaging to the overall world economy. And this essay barely scratches the surface. Given the extent of such costs, it is rather surprising that these negative aspects or “catches” have not been more widely identified and discussed.

Originally published 2008

Cap and Code

How to Stop Global Warming

So, even though the Earth cooled this year, we still have this “global warming”, oops, I mean “climate change” issue to figure out. So, I, your trusty, authoritative advisor on all things both real and imagined have a real, substantive resolution to this whole global warming…damn it…climate change issue.

OK, so the whole…c l i m a t e c h a n g e…issue is quite simple. Because I am a technologist, it is obvious to any self-respecting egocentric human that technologists such as myself must be causing global change, I mean, climate warming, I mean, oh, forget it. Look, it is perfectly obvious. Computers convert electrical energy into…heat!! That’s right, who cares about carbon dioxide levels. Here we have a direct link between human activity and the warming of the Earth. Think of it, millions of computers consuming electrical energy and essentially converting that energy into heat which, obviously, would warm the Earth’s climate. I mean, why do you think they have all of those air conditioning units connected to computer data centers?

I’m too lazy to make up facts and statistics like Al Gore, but I bet if you manipulated the data sufficiently you could show a direct correlation between the increase in computer data processing to the increase in global temperatures. It is obvious. You take all of the heat generated by producing the electricity needed to power all of those computers and then add to that all of the actual heat generated by those computers and viola! you have your increase in global temperatures.

Think about it. You have a machine that is specifically engineered to convert electrical energy to heat. What do you THINK is going to happen when you put one of those in every household along with a miniature version of that same device that connects that computer to a global network? Of course you are going to heat things up! Whether it is a room or a planet, you are adding heat to the environment when you power up hundreds or tens of thousands of electrical to heat generating appliances such as TV’s, monitors, routers and computers. It’s simple thermodynamics people.

Let’s face it. The computer is an amazingly efficient electrical to heat generating appliance. It kicks the ass of a dish washer or clothes dryer in this category. I mean, at least those appliances actually accomplish something other than delivering a daily porn fix or entertaining the typical overweight shut-in living in his/her parent’s basement with his/her daily MMORPG fix. Computers are amazingly efficient in this category of delivering such little real value as compared to their electrical consumption and heat generation.

So, because I am a technologist and therefore myopic in my view of the world as pertaining only to the things that I feel I know about, the issue of climate change is obviously the result of my activities and has nothing to do with anything unrelated to me such as “sunspot cycles” or “bovine methane emissions” or anything else. Obviously, the climate change issue must be solely controlled by something that I can influence and control because I am the center of the universe. Obviously.

Therefore, to combat this issue of climate change, I have THE solution that will rectify the climate change issue once and for all. It is a simple solution really that I call “Cap and Code”. You see, the root cause of the problem is not computers but the actual code that runs the computers. Just like a car isn’t damaging the environment unless it is running, a computer isn’t doing much damage to the environment unless it is running code. Therefore basic premise behind “Cap and Code” is that since computers run code in order to convert electrical energy to heat, if you have less or more efficient code, you will have less heat production. Simple.

Therefore, the obvious solution is to create a huge bureaucracy that will be responsible for registering, bonding and licensing every developer, both open source and actual professional. Then, each developer would be granted a set number of “coding credits” by the government.

Each of these credits could represent a certain number of lines of code, but that would probably just lead to perl-style “cheating”. So, it would make much more sense that each credit would represent a certain number of processor cycles and each developer would have to submit their code to the central bureaucracy for testing along with a plan as to how that code would run in production. The code would be tested, the plan analyzed and be assigned a number of credits that it consumed. Of course, such a testing system and facility would require a significant bureaucracy to ensure that coding testing standards were fair and performed properly.

Once developers reached their allowed number of credits, they would not be able to write any more code, or they would have to buy/trade credits with other developers who didn’t need their extra coding credits. An exchange would be created, along with the proper bureaucratic oversight committee, to oversee and approve these coding credit exchanges.

Now, I can hear the cries now regarding how to pay for all of this governmental oversight but the answer to that is also quite easy. The government would simply tax the coding credits so that the consumption of those credits required the developer to pay an appropriate tax. In this way, the entire system could be self funding and the production of code would be appropriately depressed. I mean, that code is destroying the entire planet, so it makes sense to tax it into oblivion, right? Of course it does.

In this way, the entire planet can be saved from destruction. And this is the only way mind you. Rampant use of code is destroying the planet and it must be stopped. I urge legislators in Congress to write and pass this bill to establish this coding credit and trading system. And if you oppose coding credits, then you are nothing other than a greedy, self absorbed developer pig that is out to destroy the planet all for the sake of a line of code. Shame on you.

Originally published 2013

Penguin Suicide Bombers

The Terrorism of Open Source

The open source movement is widely recognized as “an important development” in the computer industry and has been both lauded and criticized by many pundits. However, despite exhaustive analysis and discussion, the phenomenon of open source has remained singularly vexing to classify. Variously, the open source movement has been classified as socialism, communism, a “gift economy”, charity, futilism and gullibilism. It has even caused distinguished Yale professors to wave the proverbial white flag and invent remarkably catchy new phrases such as “commons-based peer production”. Rolls right off the tongue.

Because it is widely understood that for anything to have any real meaning or be properly studied that it must first be stripped of its outward trappings and pigeon-holed as narrowly as possible, I, The Objective Observer, have risen to the challenge and will now properly classify the open source movement. In three scintillating acts I will first describe what open source is, dispel certain myths and pejorative characterizations of it (what open source isn’t) and finally analyze the open source movement’s goals and tactics to properly and succinctly explain its true nature.

The layman’s definition of open source software is software that is non-proprietary or “free” and can be modified by anyone with the requisite programming knowledge without the constraints of overly restrictive licensing. Now, there are certainly those that will decry this definition as incomplete since there are apparently entire organizations, such as the Open Source Initiative, whose seemingly sole reason for existence is to maintain the exact definition of the term “open source”. Thus, it is highly unlikely that a single sentence definition for so complex a term as to require its own dedicated organization to define it; no matter how expertly crafted, will universally satisfy everyone. However, the important thing to remember here is that open source software is different than commercial software because commercial software makers incur expenses from employing software developers, charge for their software, have restrictive licenses on its use and do not release their source code. Conversely, open source software is built by a process in which one or more individuals collaborate to create software and then release that software and its source code to the public domain. These individuals are not paid to create the software and they may never make a dime from it.

As altruistic and benevolent as this all sounds, open source is not without its detractors; who have variously categorized open source as “socialism” or even “communism”. Most notably, SAP; a large European software manufacturer has criticized open source as “intellectual property socialism” and Bill Gates has even hinted that the open source movement is communism. For some perspective, remember that Bill Gates has been feuding with the “free” software movement for over three decades. These characterizations are used pejoratively and are highly inaccurate, proving yet again the age old adage that technologists know much more about bits and bytes than they do about socio-economic systems.

Socialism and communism are both economic and political ideologies typically characterized by State control of property, distribution of wealth and/or means of production. Open source has no “State” or governing body and thus it is perhaps more correctly characterized as Anarchism or Fascist socialization, which is not really as bad as it sounds; look it up. However, the problem with all of these characterizations is the same; they make certain incorrect assumptions and thus fail to capture the core essence of the movement. All of these characterizations attempt to fit the open source movement into the presupposed category of a political ideology or socio-economic system. But this is most definitely NOT what the open source movement is all about because it completely and utterly misses the mark with respect to the origin of the open source movement, its goals and its tactics. Under this ridiculously broad characterization, two neighbors who borrow sugar from one another in order to make cookies for a volunteer church function could be categorized as socialists or communists.

Another myth that must be dispelled is the analogy of a charity or non-profit organization. While there is most definitely an element of volunteerism present within the open source movement, again, there is no clear organization that masterminds or directs giving. In addition, most true volunteer efforts offer direct assistance to specific groups of individuals. For example, after a flood, the Red Cross might show up on your doorstep and give you a bucket and mop or if you are house-bound “Meals on Wheels” might show up on your doorstep with some vittles. With open source, there is no central organization and there is no direct beneficiary to benefactor relationship. Open source projects are simply posted online and it is up to potential beneficiaries to find them. This is akin to the Red Cross keeping a warehouse of mops and buckets and expecting flood victims to come get them or “Meals on Wheels” cooking mass amounts of food and hoping people show up to eat it.

This volunteer aspect of the open source movement is frequently reinforced by such things as the “Bee Keeper” model. In this model of open source development, alternatively known as the “Profiteering and Exploitation” model or “Rape and Pillage” model, open source development volunteers are the bees and a professional services organization, such as Red Hat, are the “bee keepers”. Thus the bees volunteer their time and the professional services organizations profit from their labors. While this seems to be an accurate analogy, businesses may wish to keep in mind the phenomenon of “colony collapse disorder” and the bees may wish to keep in mind that the worker bees literally work themselves to death for the sole glory of the “queen bee”.

This brings us to the second biggest issue with the characterization of open source as purely volunteerism which is that it completely misses the strong narcissistic drive present within the open source movement. Many open source or free software products are named after their lead developers or else the lead developer’s name is strongly associated with the product and used as a means to gain notoriety. Linus Torvolds and Linux is perhaps the best example of the former while examples of the latter are too numerous to mention, being characterized by individuals such as Bruce Perens who regularly brags about the notoriety he has gained from his work on open source projects. That, despite the fact you have almost certainly never heard of him and he will likely never sleep with a super-model.

The biggest issue with characterizing open source as purely volunteerism, however, is the same problem as classifying it as a socio-economic system or political ideology which is that such a classification focuses on only a single aspect of the open source movement. Any characterization which focuses on a single trait instead of all traits is undoubtedly flawed.

Having debunked the typical characterizations of the open source movement, the question remains as to exactly what IS the open source movement? To answer this, the only objective thing to do is to first make a list of the open source movement’s defining characteristics and then draw some sort of analogy or conclusion. Research shows that there are five primary characteristics or traits of the open source movement.

First and foremost, the open source movement is to some degree a rejection and opposition to the direct capitalization of software but is perhaps more specifically and correctly defined as the rejection and opposition to what is perceived to be a “unipolar, capitalistic superpower”, in this case Microsoft. This appears to be a widely accepted attitude within the open source community as there are endless quotes spanning a large number of open source projects to the effect of “the enemy is Microsoft”.

Second, the open source movement is organized as a loose confederation in which a relatively small percentage of highly skilled and charismatic leaders exert influence over legions of faceless, and often fanatical, volunteers. Individuals such as Linus Torvalds and Eric Raymond are the leaders who admittedly serve as “benevolent dictators” and nearly everyone else is, well, a faceless minion.

Third, the open source movement by and large uses crude propaganda and hate-filled rhetoric to defame and demonize its opposition. For example, this third point can be easily demonstrated by the coarse language used by Linux proponents when debating or characterizing peers that utilize Windows-based technologies. More often than not, Linux proponents and other open source advocates go out of their way to characterize their opponents as “stupid”, “ignorant”, “retarded”, “evil” or much, much worse. If you don’t believe me, go browse any forum frequented by Linux or open source proponents. In addition to the name calling and hate speech there is even advocacy of sending Windows users to concentration camps or purposefully spamming their email with viruses.

Fourth, a favorite tactic of the open source movement is the use of fear as a weapon. Again, this can most readily be seen by Linux, Apache and Firefox proponents that tout the perceived security of their systems while attempting to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt in those that use Microsoft technologies by claiming that Microsoft systems are inherently insecure or inferior in terms of security.

Fifth, the open source movement often skirts the boundaries of the law with its open disregard and disdain for intellectual property rights (patents), association with criminal hacking elements (whose primary motivator is also often an attempt to damage or humiliate Microsoft), open advocacy of harm to Windows users (outright support or at least turning a blind eye towards Windows virus creators) and even outright theft, such as Bruce Peren’s self-admitted “stealing time from Pixar to work on Linux”. As a side note it might be interesting to conduct a study regarding the cost in unproductive time to corporations who employ developers that also work on open source projects.

Given these five characteristics, there is one and only one inescapable conclusion. The open source movement most closely resembles a terrorist organization. Now, I do not say this to be pejorative or otherwise mean-spirited to the open source movement but the similarities are rather striking. To point…

The main motivation and rally cry for terrorists, especially Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, is the destruction of the United States, which, as the world’s sole super-power, is perceived to be the “Great Satan”. The parallels between this and the open source movement’s attitudes towards Microsoft are inescapable.

The organizational structure of terrorists into cells and the open source movement into projects, the loose confederacy between these cells and projects and the tendency to form “splinter cells” or “forks” is also quite strong. In addition, within both groups, the followers tend to exhibit a particular penchant for fanaticism to the cause.

Both terrorism and the open source movement use propaganda and defamatory rhetoric to demonize the opposition. The level to which this occurs within the open source community is simply unforgiveable.

Perhaps the most telling characteristic is the use of fear as the primary weapon of choice. This fact is inescapable and irrefutable as the “security” argument is a mainstay in the propaganda of major open source projects such as Linux and Firefox. The main goal or aim of terrorists to defeat their adversaries is to cultivate fear within their enemies. Similarly, the use of the security argument is a weapon of fear and is apparently the primary method by which open source advocates hope to defeat Microsoft.

The criminal, or at the very least questionable, tactics and guilt by association is yet another trait that the open source movement shares with terrorism. While terrorists’ criminal activities are obviously much more violent and physically destructive, the point remains that the activities and tactics of both groups tend to skirt, or at the very least, flaunt the law.

I am not aware of any other entity, group or idea that matches these five primary characteristics of the open source movement as exactly as terrorist organizations. Even more telling, one final similarity that deserves mentioning is the complete disregard both groups have for “non-combatants”. In the terrorist world, innocent bystanders and civilians are fair game and considered acceptable collateral damage. So too are non-technical folks in the open source realm of thinking. The open source movement seeks to destroy Microsoft even though open source technologies are not as easy to use or intuitive for non-technical users. If the open source movement was to succeed, those non-technical users would be brushed aside simply as collateral damage.

I want to stress here that I am not a Microsoft apologist and bear the open source community no ill will, but facts are facts. Besides, it has been stated that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter so I am not here to judge but rather to simply provide an objective analysis. My sole purpose is to point out for academics and scholars that attempting to study the open source movement by latching onto a single trait or characteristic is a flawed endeavor. No scientific knowledge can be gained from incorrectly classifying and studying the open source movement in terms of socio-economic theory or as a charity organization. True progress can only be made by instead recognizing the open source movement for what it truly is, a form of terrorism.

Originally published March 2008

Is This the Web That We Created?

God Save Us From The Idealists

Call me an idealist but I still remember and believe in the original dream of the Internet and the web. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, when the Internet was just starting to spread like wildfire across college campuses, the Internet was the purview of a relatively small number of colleges, universities and government agencies. Most of the people on the Internet at that time were either students, professors, researchers, military and other government personnel. Sure, there was a small population of CompuServe and early AOL folks, but they weren’t considered “real” Internet users, at least not by us students anyway, and were generally self-contained within their own network.

Back then, we didn’t even have the world wide web yet. We had tools like telnet, ftp, Archie and Gopher. In fact, the world wide web almost didn’t make it as there was serious debate on whether Gopher should be the dominate protocol. But Gopher was originally purely text-based. The web made it easy to display graphics. The web won and the rest is history. I created some of first web pages on my college campus with a DOS text editor and viewed them in NCSA Mosaic, the first web browser.

The original dream for the Internet and the web was to build a global communication medium in order to freely share information and knowledge, thereby breaking down the corrupt corporate and governmental power structures and building a better tomorrow. Like I said, we were idealists. Perhaps too few of us still are.

The Internet and the web today do not resemble this idealistic notion…at all. Today the web is infested by spyware and adware. I actually I had to forbid my wife from searching for song lyrics because of the hours required to clean off spyware and adware. Worse, the web is used to steal money, music and identities, is the primary distributor of pornography and is used by sexual predators to find and abduct children. Not to mention the worms, viruses and spam that infest email, the most prevalent use of the Internet. Back in the day, if you spammed, you were “email bombed” into oblivion and had your privileges revoked by your service provider or administrator.

Today, precious little sharing of information and knowledge takes place. Even universities, which are supposed to be the bastions of free thought and knowledge sharing, do not share information and knowledge. Their websites are simply advertisements for their own selfish interests.

Sure, you can find out the answer to just about any inane question but how useful is that…really? Much of the information out there is useful solely to us technical geeks who while away endless hours tinkering with computers and other electronic devices.

And then there are the questionably redeeming characteristics of the Internet and the web. We have Internet shopping and chat rooms. What boons to society. People can live as shut-ins, not exercise and become socially deficient.

No, I’m afraid the pessimist in me sees that we idealists have done more harm than good. Where once I was full of idealistic dreams of changing the world through the Internet and the web, today a part of me is regretful that we ever unleashed such a haphazard monstrosity upon the world. Another part is angry that such a beautiful dream has been destroyed and the rest weeps for the dying of that dream. Perhaps God truly does need to save us from idealists.

Originally published March 2005

The Failure of America

Trusting Government is Un-American

The grand experiment in liberty that was founding of the United States of America has failed. This statement may seem to fly in the face of the fact that a country called the United States of America still exists and is, essentially, the world’s sole super power; but small details such as that do not make the statement any less true. Let me explain.

To prove the opening statement of this article, The Objective Observer shall quote the current, sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama, at this year’s commencement speech at The Ohio State University.

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.

Reject these voices”. Interesting. Let’s objectively stack up the President’s words against recent events, shall we?

First up is the IRS scandal over IRS agents using their position of power to unilaterally target conservative groups for additional scrutiny over their tax exempt status applications. It is important to note here that while the IRS has tried to explain this procedure away, pointing to a spike in applications for tax exempt status from “political” organizations, the same level of scrutiny was not applied to labor organizations, which are also “political” in nature. On the surface, this seems sinister enough and a direct assault on free speech in America, since the groups targeted were politically oriented. But, that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

The Obama administration quickly condemned actions and pinned all the blame on “low level” employees solely in the Cincinnati office. However, subsequent evidence has exposed the fact that IRS offices in Washington and California also unfairly targeted conservative groups with similar practices as those employed by the IRS office in Cincinnati. Therefore, the administration’s immediate assessment of the issue smacks of outright lying to the public.

Call all of this “sinister” if you must, but it certainly seems like an objective, fair and reasonable reason to distrust the government and a clear demonstration of governmental abuse of power. And considering the additional control that the IRS will exercise over the lives of Americans as Obamacare takes full effect, it is certainly chilling.

Next up is the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) secret seizure of two months of Associated Press (AP) phone records. Ostensibly, these records were obtained as part of an investigation into the “leaking” fo classified information related to a foiled terrorist attack. of These phone records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources and will certainly have a chilling effect on whistleblowers who want to reveal government wrongdoing. Sinister? Well, not even Nixon went this far in trying to cover up Watergate. Indeed, would Nixon even have been forced to resign had he taken such measures to sinisterly quiet Watergate whistleblowers?

Finally, we come to Benghazi. It is now obvious to anyone with a pulse and some semblance of responsibility to keep informed of current events, that the story about the terrorist attack being a “spontaneous demonstration” prompted by an “Internet video” trotted out by the administration was clearly known to be false by the administration long before it concocted such a cockamamie fable. That fact, along with the amble evidence that brave American soldiers were effectively left to die; well, one might consider that “sinister”, or at the very least “cynical” government actions.

By now, it should be clear to any objective observer that those voices warning of a “sinister” government that leads to tyranny area, for all intents and purposes, pretty much spot on and should, in fact, not be rejected but rather embraced. But, this article is not solely about why we should not trust government, but rather about why America, as envisioned by its Founding Fathers, is effectively dead and an utter failure, a little over 200 years since its inception. To point…

The simple fact that the United States has a sitting President that effectively says “trust the government” is essentially proof positive that the America envisioned by the Founding Fathers has failed. In point of fact, the Founding Fathers repeatedly and without fail expressed a distrust of government. But, do not take The Objective Observer’s word for it, here is just a small sampling of what America’s Founding Fathers had to say about “trusting government”.

The very definition of tyranny is when all powers are gathered under one place.
James Madison

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.
Patrick Henry

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.
James Madison

It cannot be understated that America was founded on premise of an overwhelming distrust of government. One must understand that America’s Founding Fathers came from a world of authoritarian and tyrannical British rule which targeted and persecuted certain religious groups, just as the IRS targeted and persecuted certain conservative groups. The British crown also conducted unjust searches and seizures of property, just as the DOJ secretly seized and searched the AP’s phone records. And finally, British rules unfairly levied taxes upon the American colonies, sort of how Obamacare effectively levies unfair and, might I say, underhanded taxes against Americans.

Therefore, it is an inescapable conclusion that America, as envisioned by its Founding Fathers has utterly and completely failed. An America in which the current IRS, DOJ and Benghazi scandals could occur would have been thought impossible, tyrannical and, quite simply, un-American in the eyes of America’s Founding Fathers. Again, don’t just take The Objective Observer’s word for it…

One the IRS scandal, America’s Founding Fathers might say this:

The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.
John Adams

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.
Patrick Henry

The DOJ scandal?

The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.
James Madison

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.
Benjamin Franklin

And what of Obamacare?

I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.
James Madison

Think of it this way, it has only taken a mere 226 years to go from the ratification of a Constitution founded on the very premise of a DISTRUST of government to an actual, bona fide President of the United States advocating to TRUST government. 226 years to go from a truthful, honest, transparent government with little power over its people to a government where lying, secrecy and reckless abuses of power are rampant. A final quote seems appropriate…

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.
John Adams

Rest in peace America.

1776 – 2013

Originally published 2013

Redistributing the Wealth

A World of Trailer Parks

American politics today seems to be downright nasty. In analyzing the various issues involved, it really seems to boil down to a key issue, perhaps best epitomized by Joe The Plumber’s iconic question to then candidate Barack Obama about wealth redistribution. In answering that question, Barack Obama clearly indicated that he stood in favor of wealth redistribution. It was equally clear that Joe The Plumber apparently did not favor wealth redistribution; in particular, his (Joe’s) wealth redistribution. Believe it or not, all of the other issues in play this election season can essentially be distilled down to this fundamental ideological disconnect.

Take, for instance, the debate over big government versus small government. Well, in order to effectively redistribute wealth, it is necessary to grow the government in the form of more taxes, agencies to collect and enforce those taxes and agencies to redistribute the resulting revenue.

Or how about the proper means for economic stimulus? Well, relying on the private sector and therefore capitalism necessarily means that wealth disparities stay at the same level as they are today or perhaps even grow more disparate. Conversely, relying on government leads to higher taxes and larger government (see above).

What about health care? The new health care bill is a prime example of wealth redistribution. The new health care regulations increases the cost of delivering their services for insurers, which would lead to higher insurance costs unless everyone is forced to buy health insurance by way of forcing them to pay a penalty if they do not. You may look at that penalty as a sort-of tax. So, tax some people in order to deliver “affordable” health insurance to others. Yes, that would be wealth redistribution.

But what about Cap and Trade? Ah, this one is tricky but watch this. Cap and Trade is an energy tax on polluting companies that eventually filters back down to the individual per the analysis of the Congressional Budget Office. This tax ends up as higher energy bills in the form of higher rates for energy consumption. Wealthy individuals use more energy than poor individuals. It takes more heat to warm 5,000 square feet of house versus 1,000 square feet of house. Wealthy individuals own jet planes, which require fuel while poor people do not. Thus, wealthy people end up paying a larger share of the tax than poor people just like a progressive income tax. Presto chango! Wealth redistribution.

Immigration? Easy. People immigrate from poor country (Mexico) to wealthy country (United States) which obviously redistributes wealth to that those immigrants, and often their families back home, from the United States.

Class warfare? Even easier. Class warfare is essentially a synonym for wealth redistribution. What are the classes warring about if not wealth?

And what about social justice? Super easy. Social justice, by definition, is the creation of an egalitarian society or institution based upon the principles of equality and solidarity. In other words, part of any social justice agenda is more equal wealth distribution, which necessarily means wealth redistribution in a society of unequal wealth distribution. So actually, social justice is basically a synonym for wealth redistribution while the other items in the list are more appropriately thought of as manifestations of a policy of wealth redistribution/social justice.

OK, so, since wealth redistribution is at the heart of all issues this election season, and perhaps at the heart of all issues in all election seasons, one might consider it a worthy topic to explore. God knows that is not the case with candidates and the media, but a logical mind can come to no other conclusion. Thus, the central question is what is the correct view of wealth redistribution? Is wealth redistribution a positive or a negative?

Supporters of wealth redistribution claim an ethical basis for its implementation, that the rich have an obligation to help the poor and that the rich exploit the poor. They also argue that a larger middle class is beneficial to the economy, economic inequality contributes to crime, fairer access to education and health care and even greater voter participation. Greater voter participation…no joke. Look up Roland Benabou if you don’t believe me. He’s the Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Roland Benabou. Wow. Apparently he never heard of Acorn.

Anyway…

Detractors view wealth redistribution quite simply as government sanctioned theft and believe that it can never possibly be done in a just manner or without a crippling effect on the economy, particularly economic efficiency and overall economic output. In addition, critics argue that wealth redistribution creates a “nanny state” upon which people totally rely thereby usurping all real freedom and individual liberty.

So, who is right? It is a purely academic question based upon personal ideology that no one can possibly answer, right? Well, not so fast…let’s give it shot.

First, since we are ostensibly redistributing or not redistributing it, we need to define “wealth”. What the hell is “wealth”? Well, there are actually a number of different ways to define wealth, but for our purposes let’s define wealth the way most people think about it, as net worth. In other words, wealth is the value of physical and financial assets less debts. Therefore, wealth defined in this way represents the ownership of capital. This is how most people think about wealth anyway and capital is widely believed to disproportionately impact economic success and overall wellbeing.

With that out of the way, just what wealth are we redistributing? One might argue that the wealth redistribution debate is really purely a national debate. In other words, it is really only about redistributing wealth locally within the United States. But the immigration debate pretty much blows that view out of the water. Plus, we here at The Objective Observer are not into namby pamby half-ass-ism. If wealth redistribution is a good thing, then it is good for the United States and it is good for the world as a whole. Remember that, no half-ass-ism allowed at The Object Observer.

So, what would world-wide wealth redistribution look like? What a mind bogglingly impossible task to envision such a thing. Well, not really. In fact, there is this handy dandy report from the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER). Not exactly certain that fits the strict construction principles of an acronym, but what the hell, that’s what they call themselves.

According to this report, using currency exchange rates, global household wealth amounted to $125 trillion in the year 2000. That amounted to $20,500 per person. After adjusting for differences in the cost-of-living across nations, the wealth per person comes out to $26,000 when measured in terms of purchasing power parity dollars (PPP$), whatever the hell those are.

So what does this really mean? What this means, my friend, is that under a world-wide wealth redistribution plan, you would be allowed to own exactly $26,000 worth of assets or money. So, what does this mean?

Well, consider the following items that you might have in your house and what the Salvation Army says they are worth in charitable donation value:

# Item Low High
1 Washer $40.00 $150.00
1 Dryer $45.00 $90.00
1 Refrigerator $75.00 $250.00
1 Microwave $10.00 $50.00
1 Stove $62.50 $137.50
1 TV $75.00 $225.00
1 Car $1,000.00 $4,000.00
1 Couch $35.00 $200.00
1 Chair $25.00 $100.00
1 Dining set $150.00 $900.00
1 Rug $20.00 $90.00
1 DVD Player $8.00 $15.00
1 Bicycle $5.00 $80.00
1 Mower $25.00 $100.00
1 Radio $7.50 $50.00
1 Stereo $15.00 $75.00
1 Vacuum Cleaner $15.00 $65.00
1 Bed $50.00 $170.00
1 Chair $25.00 $100.00
1 Coffee Table $15.00 $65.00
1 Dresser w/Mirror $20.00 $100.00
1 Lamp $5.00 $75.00
3 Jackets $22.50 $75.00
1 Pajamas $2.00 $8.00
20 Shirts $50.00 $240.00
5 Shoes $17.50 $125.00
5 Slacks $25.00 $60.00
1 Suit $15.00 $60.00
3 Sweaters $7.50 $36.00
1 Swim Trunks $2.50 $8.00
5 Undershirts $5.00 $15.00
5 Undershorts $5.00 $5.00
20 DVDs $40.00 $100.00
20 CDs $40.00 $100.00
5 Socks (Pairs) $2.50 $6.25
5 Books $5.00 $15.00
5 Towels $2.50 $20.00
5 Plates $2.50 $15.00
5 Kitchen Utensils $2.50 $7.50
5 Glasses/Cups $2.50 $7.50
1 Coffeemaker $4.00 $15.00
1 Blanket $3.00 $15.00
1 End Table $10.00 $50.00

Now, we will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you shop at Kohls or Target or something and thus your items are valued on the “low” end of valuation. If you add up all of the items that you have in your possession that you own, it comes out to $1,994.50. Subtracting that from $26,000 you would have $24,005.50 which is just enough to buy a small, single-wide, 600-800 sq ft mobile home of “economy construction” with $5.50 left over in your bank account.

God forbid you shop in higher end stores, have more than 5 pairs of socks, or have any of the following in your house:

  • Ceiling fan
  • Knick-knacks
  • Toilet
  • Cabinets
  • Showers/tubs
  • Purses
  • MP3 Player
  • Computer
  • Fishing rods
  • Roller blades
  • Mixer
  • Knives
  • Toaster
  • Christmas tree
  • Curtains

All those items mean that you can’t even afford to live in a trailer park, you might be able to afford a nice tent perhaps. Also consider that even though you may have enough money to live in a trailer park, you most certainly do not actually own the land upon which that mobile home sits, not when that land is going to cost you $1,000-$10,000. Note, $5.50 < $1,000.

But, let’s take this a step farther. What happens to the economy in a wealth redistributed world? Well, let’s assume that everyone is like you, the reader, with your 5 pairs of socks and other items, your single-wide mobile home and your $5.50 in the ol’ bank account. This means that the entire economic output capability of the entire world is exactly $5.50 per person.

With 6 billion people, that is $33 billion, which sounds big until you realize two things. First, that the GDP of the United States is around $14 trillion. $33 billion is about the GDP of Bostwana. You know, Botswana, with the Kalahari desert? Of course you don’t. Second, once everyone spends their $5.50, that’s it, no more purchasing power, everyone has everything they need, in total parity with one another, the economy is dead. You can’t spend any money to get anything else because then you would be above the wealth parity threshold and the Orwellian wealth police would come haul your sorry, highfalutin, rich snobby ass away.

Therefore, what can we conclude about wealth redistribution? Well, for starters, it seems to really suck out loud. For those of you that desire a more in-depth analysis, it basically makes everyone poor and destroys the economy i.e. “sucks”.

But wait, you say, forcing everyone to live in trailer parks with five fiddy in their wallets isn’t really the aim of wealth redistribution and could never be practically possible. Well, first off, of course it is possible. Given a tyrannical police state of sufficient resources and power, people could be forced into trailer parks in mass. As proof of its practicality, one need look no further than the recent health care legislation and proposed cap and trade legislation which has been/is being pushed through in the United States by a single party hell bent on ignoring populist sentiment.

Second, if true equality of wealth worldwide isn’t the goal, then what is? Perhaps the goal is instead redistributing the wealth only to a degree that it fits with and benefits one person’s or one party’s particular goals and consolidates and enhances their power? Is that any better or is it perhaps even worse since one is simply using what might initially be seen as good intentions only to achieve greater power and control? Stopping short of true world wealth equality can only be viewed as hypocritical and a power grab. And, could the implementation of even marginal wealth redistribution be achieved by any means other than outright tyranny? No, as again evidenced by recent history in the United States.

OK, but what about income inequality? What happens if that is taken to its logical conclusion where a single person owns all of the world’s wealth? Isn’t that also practical and wouldn’t that be equally bad? While one might very well be able to fantasize about such a scenario, it is; as a practical matter, an impossible scenario. Such an outcome is simply not achievable in a free market system.

Look at the United States, the best embodiment of a real free market system. This has not happened and, in point of fact, has led to many “super rich” individuals and a burgeoning middle class. Income inequality may grow but it will never reach the limits of all and nothing. Instead, as wealth; and perhaps income inequality, grows, the wealth of the entire population is increased. The “poor” in America live like kings compared to the poor in most other countries. In fact, the only way for such an extreme income inequality to happen would be to have a single individual with enough power and control to force everyone else to give up their wealth, which is again an implementation of tyranny, not capitalism.

In conclusion, it can therefore be stated unequivocally that wealth redistribution ends up making everyone just as poor as everyone else. There is simply not enough wealth in the world that could be redistributed to allow everyone to live equally in any other state than abject poverty. And, perhaps even worse, a society with such an equal wealth distribution would effectively destroy the world economy and thus provide no hope of improving anyone’s situation and household wellbeing.

Wealth redistribution is, on its surface, an attractive notion that speaks towards the charitable and sympathetic nature of mankind. Unfortunately, its practical implementation is pure tyranny and ends up harming everyone, including the people it was originally designed to help. Capitalism and its associated income inequality may seem unfair and unjust on the surface, but then such is often the case with “tough love”.

Single Payer

Universal Wage Care

Thank God. I mean it, thank God that Congress has finally passed health care reform that will lead us down the path of a single payer system. It is about time. Of course it makes absolutely no sense for corporations to be providing health insurance to their employees. Of course it makes sense for the government to instead be providing this health insurance to its entire population. It is about time that all of these numskulls in our legislative branch have finally extracted their pea-sized craniums from their rectums and come to this conclusion, that a single payer health care system is the most logical and fairest system possible.

I do not think that I can adequately express in words just how tremendous and important this development is. It cannot be stressed enough that this is perhaps the single most significant development in the history of the United States of America short of the election of President Taft. Oh, you doubt my sincerity because of my reference to the election of President Taft; widely regarded as perhaps the most “do nothing” President in the history of the United States. Oh contraire. Without a Taft Presidency, there would have been no 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which created the income tax. And without an income tax, the federal government would never have been able to grow to the size where it could even consider giving universal health care to its citizens.

So, now that this whole health care issue will finally be resolved, the country can finally…FINALLY…get on with much more important business. I know, I know, what could possibly be more important than a single payer system that provides universal health care? Simple, a single payer system that provides Universal Wage Care.

What is Universal Wage Care? Think of it as taking the pearl of truth and hope that is Universal Health Care to its logical conclusion. The concept is simple enough to understand. Since it makes zero, zilch, nada sense for corporations to be furnishing health care to their employees and every conceivable sense for the government to be providing such health care, then it also follows that it makes similarly idiotic sense for corporations to be providing wages to their employees and eminently more sense for those wages to be solely provided by the federal government.

Think about it, if it makes sense to provide a government option in order to increase competition in the health insurance industry and keep all of those greedy, capitalistic health insurance companies honest, then it makes just as much sense to provide a government option for wages, thereby keeping ALL companies honest. You see, the problem with corporate wages is essentially the same as with health insurance. Just as greed causes health insurance providers to overcharge for their premiums, similarly, greed causes corporations to undercharge for wages. By providing a government option for wages, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government, corporations would be forced to pay employees what they are worth versus underpaying those employees.

With a government wage option, the government could pay otherwise productive workers more than they currently make for simply doing nothing, forcing corporations to pay those employees more, or risk losing their employees to the government wage care program. And, since we all know that “all men are created equal” then this entire notion of a doctor being “worth more” than a janitor can be eliminated. We are all members and contribute to the same society, of course we should all make the same amount of money.

How do we pay for it? Simple. We make the entire system revenue neutral by increasing taxes on corporations as well as the wages themselves. Sure it is circular reasoning, makes no sense and simply defers the real cost of the program to future generations, but if we have the votes in Congress to do it, why on Earth wouldn’t we? And if the program runs into trouble, we simply print more money. This is the United States government for crying out loud, what harm could come from creating more money out of thin air?

Once Universal Wage Care is passed, we will finally, FINALLY, be able to realize the progressive American dream started back in 1913 with the ratification of the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution of everyone making the EXACT same amount of money! Sure, it will take decades for all of those greedy corporations to lose all of their employees and go out of business, but the end result is inevitable once a government option exists for Universal Wage Care. Hooray for Obama and Pelosi, the Progressive American dream is finally at hand!

Originally published April 2010