Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Forces are with us



Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope (1977) tells the tale of a Force with two sides as we find in this scene from the script:

LUKE
How did my father die?

BEN
A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father. Now the Jedi are all but extinct. Vader was seduced by the dark side.of the Force.

LUKE
The Force?

BEN
Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.

In this hugely exciting adventure we’re presented with one Force having two moral outcomes, depending on who uses it.  

There are forces at work in the real world that are either for us or against us, depending on who uses them.  Two of those forces are technology and economics.

Most of us use technology as a force that is “with us,” that has given us the World Wide Web, iPhones, Skype, 3D printing of human body parts, the Cloud, powerhouse websites like Amazon and Facebook, libertarian websites like this one, Kahn Academy, The Ron Paul Curriculum, real-time language translation, and much more. 

Empires use technology to kill, spy on, and control others in the name of protecting the empire under the mantra of “national security.”

We spend money for technology that enhances our lives — we spend our money to enhance our lives — while the Empire uses our money to buy technology to obliterate and control others, where “others” includes us as well.   

Will the insatiable Empire regulate and tax us out of existence?  Will it sic killer robots on us?  

Economic law can help answer these questions.  So can the law of accelerating returns, which has been in a phase called Moore’s Law of integrated circuits for roughly half a century.

The law of accelerating returns describes a technological exponential, meaning innovations in various interrelated fields that have been forthcoming gradually will begin to accelerate and finally explode in number and kind.  We’re fast approaching the explosive phase.

I discuss technology and economic law and their impact on our future in my new book, The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty, the preface to which follows: 

* * *

Look around you for a moment.  Is there a computer or tablet nearby?  Perhaps a smartphone?  Most likely there is.  These and other marvels of technology have become integral parts of our lives.

By choice.

Now consider the government at all levels, but especially the federal government.  It too is around, but in a different sense.

Not by choice.

The first expands your freedom and personal power, the other limits your freedom and personal power.  

Because of market forces of competition, the first gets cheaper, better, and more plentiful.  Because of government bureaucracy and threats, the second gets more expensive to support. 

Both have been growing at a fast pace.  With current technology you can Skype with someone overseas, neither of you speaking the same language, yet communicating almost perfectly because of real-time translation software.  Government’s chosen role is to eavesdrop on your conversation because some three-letter government bureaucracy claims it could be a threat.  

And you pay dearly for the eavesdropping, like it or not.

To technology companies, people are potential customers; they must persuade them to buy their products or services.  To the government, people are always threats and with its police power need never worry about persuading anyone.

As technology expands it not only gets more powerful, it gets cheaper to use and will eventually make “poor people” an extinct group.  As government expands it fattens its bureaucratic footprint and struggles to ensure that “poor people” will always be around to keep it in power.

Technology in the hands of individuals promotes peace and good will among people.  Technology in the hands of government brings us closer to the extinction of the human race.

As governments play games at our expense trying to solve problems of scarcity and ecological damage, nanotech engineering will soon provide inexpensive solutions.

Technology makes us more prosperous by taking over an increasing percentage of work that requires a minimum of judgment and creativity.  Robots serve hamburgers so people can become doctors, counselors, or architects.  

What will save us from becoming technology victims is our ongoing merger with it.  The future will not be Man versus Terminators, but rather technologically enhanced humans prospering together.  

The merger is taking place right in front of us.  Computers have gone from buildings, to desktops, to laps, to pockets — and they’re headed for our bloodstream.  In the process they’ve become cheaper and more powerful.  Incredibly cheaper and incredibly more powerful.

In the future people will have more freedom and prosperity than ever before.  They will be radically more free, radically more prosperous.  Atomically-precise manufacturing using common feedstocks will launch another industrial revolution — this time from basements instead of factories.   Longevity will be the norm because nano-robots will supercharge and protect their bodies, including their brains.

As I discuss in the following pages, technology is headed for an exponential flight to the stars — and most people will choose to go with it.  Government, because it’s founded on theft, debt, and unsound money, while given legitimacy by court intellectuals, is headed for bankruptcy.  According to Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff the government is already there, given its fiscal gap in excess of $200 trillion.

Where we once turned to government with the flawed notion that it could solve our problems, we will have technology at hand to actually help us.  It’s already well underway.  With state-funded education consisting largely of indoctrination and bureaucracy, people are turning to the internet for homeschooling and to educate themselves.  As government interventions drive up the costs of medical care, more people are relying on the internet for health maintenance and advice. Behind the scenes, technology is on the threshold of revolutionizing treatment methods for serious diseases, such as a “‘smart’ patch that monitors blood glucose and releases insulin when levels climb too high.”   And the reality of a doctor in your pocket is not far off.

However challenging, I believe the path is clear: Government will spend itself into oblivion, and technology will ascend too fast and widespread to stop it.  

But why try to stop it?  Technology is a revolution without end, and we will be better for it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fielding my grandson’s questions about gold and banking

My grandson had quite a day at school.  He had learned that the economy had been suffering from things called Panics, capital P, during the 19th century and had another big one in the early 20th century.  He had been told that responsible, public-spirited men like J. P. Morgan had organized a central bank to prevent those Panics.  He and other bankers finally got the government to go along with their idea and pass it into law in late 1913.  And wouldn’t you know it — we’ve had no more Panics since then.  

He looked doubtful, though.  He didn’t understand what a central bank did, exactly.  And wasn’t the Depression and the recent Financial Crisis kind of like a Panic, only called a different name?  And if those calamities were like Panics, then why didn’t the federal reserve prevent them?

His teacher said that this country and most countries of the western world were on a gold standard during the days of Panics.  Economists and other people decided that the real culprit behind the turmoil was the gold we used as money.  So we got rid of gold for the stuff we use today . . . which doesn’t come out of the ground . . . which comes from the government but is regulated by the people in charge of the federal reserve, which is not really part of the government, though they’re close friends.

“Ok,” he said, “so we have gold causing us and other countries all those Panics and we got rid of it.  But we didn’t get rid of it.”  He said his teacher told the class about the vault at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which houses gold for other countries.  The vault is 80 feet below street level and 50 feet below sea level.  He found that astounding.  The vault is protected by armed guards, CCTV, and electronic surveillance.  And the guards are trained marksmen.  

Then his teacher pulled out his tablet and read this to the class, which my grandson read to me from his smartphone:
There are no doors into the gold vault. Entry is through a narrow ten-foot passageway cut in a delicately balanced, nine-feet-tall, 90-ton steel cylinder that revolves vertically in a 140-ton, steel-and-concrete frame. The vault is opened and closed by rotating the cylinder 90 degrees. An airtight and watertight seal is achieved by lowering the slightly tapered cylinder three-eighths of an inch into the frame, which is similar to pushing a cork down into a bottle. The cylinder is secured in place when two levers insert large bolts, four recessed in each side of the frame, into the cylinder. By unlocking a series of time and combination locks, Bank personnel can open the vault the next business day. The locks are under "multiple control" no one individual has all the combinations necessary to open the vault.
He found this even more astounding.  “Why?” he wanted to know, “Why all the protection for something that’s worthless?  Why even keep it around, except maybe for rings and other jewelry?”

As I started to answer he interrupted me.

“That bank stores the gold of other countries.  Fort Knox vaults the gold Americans once had.  And it’s a piece of work, too.” 

He told me the depository was on an army base, and the building that housed the vault was made of North Carolina granite.  When the government ordered Americans to turn in their gold coins they melted it down into bars and shipped them by rail to the depository under heavy guard.

“But it’s not just gold stored there,” he said.  The place is so secure the government stored the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution there during World War II — the original documents.  It also held four exemplified copies of the Magna Carta, which had been on display during the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.  

 “And get this,” he added, again reading from his smartphone:
During World War II and into the Cold War, until the invention of different types of synthetic painkillers, a supply of processed morphine and opium was kept in the Depository as a hedge against the US being isolated from the sources of raw opium.
“What’s going on?” he wanted to know.  “Drugs are bad, gold is bad, right? They’re against the law.  But we protect them like our very lives depended on them.”

“You want an answer.”

“Yeah.  Why didn’t government just dump the gold into the ocean or drop it down a volcano?

“For that matter, why did the government order people to turn it in?  If they didn’t want people using it for money, why not just say it was no longer legal.

“I checked the Constitution during study hall.  It says no state shall coin money.  It also says no state shall make anything but gold or silver coins a tender in the payment of debts.  Since the federal government is prohibited from doing anything not explicitly authorized by the Constitution, that would mean private mints would coin money.  Right?”  

I told him I couldn’t answer his questions on the constitution, other than to say it’s become a dead letter, meaning that men in power have used tortured arguments to interpret it to suit their purposes or have ignored it altogether in the name of “national security.”

I told him when “national security” is used to justify any government action we’re either at or headed for a dictatorship.  He agreed.  Then I attempted to fill in some other blanks he left.

Explaining why we went from gold to fiat paper money

A central bank, I explained, is a bank only to its member banks, not to people like you or me.  It holds its members’ deposits as reserves on which the commercial banks can issue loans.

At the time of the Fed’s creation in 1913 gold and to some extent silver were still legal money in the United States.  Holders of gold or silver coins could walk into stores and buy things with them, or deposit them in banks.  In some cases they could get banks to exchange notes for coins, though that became uncommon after 1917 when commercial banks began shipping their gold off to regional federal reserve banks where they were added to the banks’s reserves.

People, thereby, lost the use of gold coins and became acclimated to paper.  They were confident, though, that if they really wanted the gold the paper money promised to pay, they could get it.

That confidence crashed and burned in 1933 when FDR ordered Americans to turn in their gold coins — or else.  They were given assurances of the necessity of the heist — which has also been called a “gold recall,” as if the gold itself were defective.  It was a national emergency, and Americans knew the government took away their rights in a national emergency.  

Many of them recalled the social environment of World War I where people could get arrested for reading the Bill of Rights publicly.  And during the American Civil War Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and ordered the arrest and imprisonment of anyone challenging his policies.  Even the Constitutional Convention amounts to a violation of rights inasmuch as the delegates created a new government rather than revise the charter of the existing one, as they were empowered to do.  I suppose they would have said ‘national security’ required the ditching of the old government.

When Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address he referred to the depression as an emergency comparable to war, thus setting up his listeners for some drastic measures.  Later, when he ordered people to turn in their gold, he told them not to worry.  The paper they would be using was good stuff, guaranteed.  Gold was preventing a recovery — somehow — even though the classical gold standard had been ditched almost two decades earlier.  If that doesn’t make sense rest assured monetary issues were complicated, and only the best and brightest could untangle them.  And Roosevelt had those kind advising him.  Besides, one of the best and brightest had said the gold standard was a barbarous relic, and it was obvious prices were too low, and the only way to bring them up was to manufacture more money.   But how are you going to do that with a scarce commodity like gold?  

“In a sense, though not the right one, gold did cause the Panics you mentioned.”  I said banks had been engaging in fractional reserve lending, where they would promise to redeem in gold coin all the banknotes and deposits for which they were liable.  But they expanded the banknotes and deposits beyond the amount of gold they had, a form of embezzlement, though bankers and their friends don’t see it that way.  Banks were creating multiple receipts to the same weight of gold, and those receipts circulated as money.  In that way they were inflating the money supply.  They got away with it until depositors got nervous about the bank’s ability to pay out in gold or until some other bank attempted to clear payments and discovered the inflating bank couldn’t do it.  

The public’s discovery of an over-inflating bank led to distrust of other banks, and soon there was chaos known as a Panic.  Bankers and most economists see nothing wrong with expanding credit beyond the money in the vault.  They consider it a sound practice that only becomes unethical and disruptive when the banks expand too much.

Instead of ceasing the practice of fractional-reserve lending they directed their wrath on gold.  If they didn’t have to redeem their notes in gold they could inflate to a much greater degree.  Get rid of gold, establish an institution that can provide funds during an emergency — in other words, a central bank — and the chaos would end.

Only it didn’t.  Gold acts as a brake on inflation, and without it the monetary unit we call the dollar starts to proliferate and lose value.   With economists focused on prices instead of the money supply they missed the inflation of the 1920s.  They said inflation was a rise in prices, and there was very little of that in the 1920s, except on the stock market.   When the Crash hit it came as a big shock — though not to Ludwig von Mises, an economist of the Austrian school.

Did they see their mistake and rethink their theories?  No.  Once again they seethed over gold’s role as true money.  President Roosevelt seized it from the public, but the Depression continued long after that event.     

Why the government protects gold to such an extent is a mystery to me.   Gold has always been a highly valued commodity, even now when it’s not used as a general medium of exchange.   So it would make sense for the government to safe-keep it.  But that only pushes the question back further.  Why is it such a highly valued commodity?

Not every government has kept it.  Gordon Brown, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, sold roughly half of the UK’s gold reserves between 1999-2002.  

“We should be free to decide what to use for money,” I told him.  “I would prefer something the supply of which can’t be increased easily, such as gold.  And banking should be subject to the laws of the market, instead of granted privileges protecting it from the market.”

He asked me to tell him again the name of the economist who predicted the Crash.  I was pleased to do so.

Announcement:  I have new books up on Amazon:


References

The New York Federal Reserve Vault: Guardian of the Gold, http://moneysafebox.com/ny-federal-reserve-vault.html

United States Bullion Depository, Wikipedia

“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”: FDR’s First Inaugural Address, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057/

Mises: The Man Who Predicted the Depression, by Mark Spitznagel, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704471504574443600711779692, re-posted by Jeff Harding, http://www.zerohedge.com/article/mises-man-who-predicted-depression

Sale of UK gold reserves, 1999–2002, Wikipedia



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A painless path to publishing on Amazon

You’ve written hundreds of articles on markets, gold, government, and perhaps monetary theory.  You’ve hammered politicians and economists with merciless logic and unflagging scholarship.  Some of your writings are more valuable than gold, but where are they now?  Scattered, that’s where.
Why not put the best ones in one place: A book.  Make that two books.

For writers who have yet to publish a book and would like to, this brief article will show you step-by-step how to get it done.  It’s easy.

Yes, easy.  

Briefly, what you’ll do is create a word processing file then duplicate it.  You’ll use one file for a Kindle ebook, the other for a paperback.  

For the Kindle eBook, you’ll use your word processor to create an ePub file.  For the print version, you’ll change the document dimensions to fit Amazon’s 6” x 9” paperback format, then save it from your word processor as a PDF.  

You’ll then go to https://kdp.amazon.com, if necessary register, then go through three steps for each book to put them up for sale on Amazon’s site.   You’ve already done the hard part by creating the content.  

Your books will need a cover, and you can create your own or use Amazon’s hand-holding Cover Creator, which you’ll see during step two of the three-step process.

You’ll upload the ePub to create the Kindle version and the PDF for the print edition.  

That’s it.  Amazon will email you when they’re live and available for purchase on Amazon’s site, usually within a few hours of completing the three-step process.

Manuscript preparation

(In what follows I’m referencing MS Word for Mac 2011 version 14.4.5 and Apple Pages version 6.0.5.  Some details may differ depending on your version.)

To create a good reader experience it’s important to get your word processing files formatted consistent with Amazon’s requirements.  It is, as they say, a piece of cake.  Let me show you:

1.  Crank up your word processor and prepare your manuscript.  Keep it as vanilla as possible — no fancy fonts or drop caps.  You’re marketing thoughts, not typefaces.  If you’re gathering articles already written, you’ll copy and paste until they’re all home in one place.  Otherwise, write as you normally would, keeping in mind that the sections you want to appear in an active table of contents for Kindle editions should have paragraph style titles rather than ordinary text titles.   

Here’s what I mean.  Below, I’ve typed the text then applied paragraph style Heading 2 to the title of a chapter:

Chapter One:  They all laughed

So, for example, if you have 12 chapters in your book, each chapter title would have the Heading 2 style.  Your word processor (Word or Pages) will incorporate all chapter titles as entries in the table of contents.

2.  Create an active table of contents.  Create a new page at the beginning of your manuscript by inserting a page break at the top of your first page.  Then on the blank page:

Apple Pages: Insert —> Table of Contents —> Document

MS Word: Document elements —> Table of Contents

In our example, all 12 chapter titles would appear magically in the table of contents — because you’ve applied paragraph styles to each title in the body of your manuscript.  With an active table of contents you can click on a chapter title and jump directly to the actual chapter.  Test it, you’ll see.  It’s neat.

3.  Add a page break at the end of each chapter.  

4.  All images should be inline, not floating.  Select each image, then:

Apple Pages: Format —> Arrange —> Text wrap —> inline with text

MS Word: Format picture —> Position —> Inline with text

If the image is a picture make sure it’s high-resolution.  

Important: Insert images into your document, rather than copying and pasting.

5 . Do not include headers or footers.   You will use this file to create a Kindle version, which doesn’t support headers or footers.

6.  Finish writing the manuscript and make sure it’s as clean as possible — no misspellings, omitted words, etc.  If you use hyperlinks test them to make sure they’re accurate.  I think it’s a good idea to put them in an end notes section, using superscripts in the body to reference them.  

For help strengthening your writing, even for powerhouse authors, see my little book, Write like they’re your last words

7.  Add the usual book front matter.  In your manuscript add at minimum a title page and copyright page.  You might also wish to add a dedication page and another page listing books you’ve published, honors received, knighthoods bestowed upon and so on.

8.  Create an ePub copy for Kindle. 

Apple Pages: File —> Export To —> ePub

MS Word: Not supported (as far as I know).  But — you can use the free program Calibre to perform the conversion.  See this 52-second YouTube tutorial to see how it’s done.

The content of your book is now in ePub format.  You will upload the ePub file to Amazon Kindle shortly.

9.   Copy the clean word processing manuscript from step 6 to a new file to create a print version of your book.  

Apple Pages: File —> Duplicate.  

MS Word: File —> Save as . . .  Give the duplicate file a unique name.

Using the duplicate file do the following: 

Add page numbers in the footer.   Set margins to 6” x 9”. 

10.  In the 6x9 print version, go through the manuscript to ensure all block quotes and images are within the new 6” x 9” dimensions.  Look for any kind of strangeness.  Adjust as necessary.
11.  Save the 6x9 word processing file to PDF.

Apple Pages: File —> Print —> PDF —> Save as PDF

MS Word: File —> Save as . . . —> PDF  

You are now armed with an ePub file for Kindle and a PDF file for a paperback.  All you have to do is feed these files to Amazon, essentially.
12.  Go to https://kdp.amazon.com and sign in (or register for an account).
13.  Signing in will take you to https://kdp.amazon.com/bookshelf.  Follow the onscreen directions for creating a Kindle eBook and a paperback.  As I said at the outset you’ve done the hard part by preparing the files.  
You’ll be able to preview your books before giving Amazon the okay to make them live on their website.  You can always un-publish a book temporarily if you discover problems that eluded you earlier. 
Conclusion

Don’t let a mere 13 steps keep you from being a published book author, with full control over the content of your material (as long as it’s not porn).  Don’t be intimidated by the likes of PDF or ePub.  They’re servants with odd names.  They will do your bidding.  Let them.  You’ll profit from it.
See you on Amazon.

Living with the Exponential - I

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