Pixel Scroll 12/18/17 Scrolls For Industry! Scrolls For The Undead!

(1) CADIGAN NEWS. Congratulations to Pat Cadigan who told her Facebook followers today:

I am now allowed to say that I am writing both the novelisation for the forthcoming movie Alita: Battle Angel as well as the prequel novel, Iron City.

And this is why I’m in Deadline Hell.

That is all.

(2) STAR PEACE CORPS. In  “Star Wars Without the Empire”, Camestros Felapton conducts an awesome thought experiment inspired by Paul Weimer’s tweet.

In post-war Germany, a version of Casablanca was produced, re-edited and with a new script for the dubbing, that had no Nazis in it. As you can imagine, given the role Nazis play in the plot, they had to do a lot of work.

I was wondering if you could do the same to Star Wars Episode 4 – remove the Empire…

Star Not Wars Because They Aren’t Having a War With Anybody: A New Hope

A spaceship has broken down. Princess Leia finds a robot on the ship and gives it something. The robot (R2D2) finds an escape pod with its friend (C3PO). They leave the ship. We don’t see the ship again. It probably had engine trouble or something. Maybe the robots have gone off to get some fuel from a service station.

The robots land in a desert. After an argument, they split up. Later they each get caught by tiny people.

Meanwhile, young Luke Skywalker is unhappy being a farmer and living with his uncle. He’d rather be…doing something else I suppose.

(3) MARK YOUR CALENDAR. The Vintage Paperback Show returns to Glendale, CA on March 18.

(4) ROBOT ON PATROL. Tech Crunch reports “Security robots are being used to ward off San Francisco’s homeless population”:

Is it worse if a robot instead of a human is used to deter the homeless from setting up camp outside places of business?

One such bot cop recently took over the outside of the San Francisco SPCA, an animal advocacy and pet adoption clinic in the city’s Mission district, to deter homeless people from hanging out there — causing some people to get very upset.

The article quotes this tweet from Brianna Wu:

The SPCA deployed a robot from security startup Knightscope to deter crime and vandalism on their campus.

And, according to both the S.F. SPCA and Knightscope, crime dropped after deploying the bot.

However, the K9 unit was patrolling several areas around the shop, including the sidewalk where humans walk, drawing the ire of pedestrians and advocacy group Walk SF, which previously introduced a bill to ban food delivery robots throughout the city.

“We’re seeing more types of robots on sidewalks and want to see the city getting ahead of this,” said Cathy DeLuca, Walk SF policy and program director, who also mentioned S.F. district 7 supervisor Norman Yee would be introducing legislation around sidewalk use permits for robots in the beginning of 2018.

Last week the city ordered the S.F. SPCA to stop using these security robots altogether or face a fine of $1,000 per day for operating in a public right of way without a permit.

The S.F. SPCA says it has since removed the robot and is working through a permitting process. It has already seen “two acts of vandalism” since the robot’s removal.

(5) THE DIAGNOSIS. Ted Chiang says “The Real Danger To Civilization Isn’t AI. It’s Runaway Capitalism” in an article for Buzzfeed.

Speaking to Maureen Dowd for a Vanity Fair article published in April, Musk gave an example of an artificial intelligence that’s given the task of picking strawberries. It seems harmless enough, but as the AI redesigns itself to be more effective, it might decide that the best way to maximize its output would be to destroy civilization and convert the entire surface of the Earth into strawberry fields. Thus, in its pursuit of a seemingly innocuous goal, an AI could bring about the extinction of humanity purely as an unintended side effect.

This scenario sounds absurd to most people, yet there are a surprising number of technologists who think it illustrates a real danger. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’re already accustomed to entities that operate this way: Silicon Valley tech companies.

(6) CHEERS AND BOOS. Fanac.org has posted a 36-minute video of Robert A. Heinlein’s guest of honor speech at the 1976 Worldcon.

MidAmeriCon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention, was held in Kansas City in 1976, with Robert A. Heinlein as Guest of Honor. With a warm introduction by Bob Tucker, this sometimes uncomfortable speech touches on Heinlein’s belief in the inevitability of atomic war and his belief that mankind will go to the stars. There are comments on Russia and China, the role of men, and more than a few very bad jokes. You will hear applause and you can hear disapproving boos. If you are one of “Heinlein’s Children”, or simply a reader of classic SF, this video is a rare opportunity to hear that legendary figure.

(More background about the booing is here.)

(7) UNCANNY DINOSAUR ISSUE. The submission window opens in March – read the pitch and complete details here: “Uncanny Magazine Dinosaur Special Issue Guidelines”.

As you may know if you followed the Uncanny Magazine Year 4 Kickstarter, Uncanny Magazine Issue 23 will be a Special Shared-Universe Dinosaur Issue! The planned solicited contributors are:

Do you want to join them? One of the stretch goals was adding two extra unsolicited stories to the issue! We will be open to submissions from March 1- March 15, 2018.

(8) CAPITOL TBR. Former congressman Steve Israel profiles members of Congress in the Washington Post about their favorite books of the year and found Rep. Ted Lieu of California enjoying the Nebula Awards anthology and Rep.Adam Schiff of California reading Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series — “A former congressman asked his old colleagues for book suggestions. Here’s their list.”

(9) TROLLING FOR CLICKS. At NBC News, Noah Berlatsky asks “Is Star Wars’ ‘The Last Jedi’ science fiction? It’s time to settle this age-old argument”. Will anybody take my bet that the argument will not be settled by his op-ed? Or maybe it will, by a kind of cinematic force majeure.

To figure out whether Star Wars is science fiction, you first need to figure out how to define the term — which is harder than you might think. Genres are notoriously difficult to pin down, which is why they spark so many arguments. Some country fans protested loudly when Beyoncé appeared at the Country Music Awards because she (supposedly) was not a country artist. Some critics similarly argued that Bob Dylan’s lyrics are not literature, though the Nobel committee disagreed.

Genre is a marker of quality and belonging, of seriousness and community. Science fiction in particular is often seen as more important or serious than fantasy, so it’s no wonder that there’s been some struggle over how to place the films. George Lucas himself declared that “Star Wars isn’t a science-fiction film, it’s a fantasy film and a space opera” in 2015. Others have also waded in over the years; Annalee Newitz included Star Wars in a list of 10 science-fiction works that are really fantasy at io9, while author Brian Clegg says Star Wars is only “low-grade science-fiction” — it’s not quite real science-fiction, so it’s not high quality.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 18, 1957 The Monolith Monsters premiered.
  • December 18, 1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opens in New York City.
  • December 18, 1985 — Terry Gilliam’s Brazil! was released.
  • December 18, 1996 — Wes Craven’s Scream hits theaters, and a Halloween mask was born.
  • December 18, 2009 – Director James Cameron’s Avatar premiered.
  • December 18, 2013Forbidden Planet (1956) is selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry.

(11) TODAY’S  BIRTHDAYS

  • Born December 18, 1939 – Michael Moorcock
  • Born December 18, 1941 – Jack Haldeman
  • Born December 18, 1946  — Steven Spielberg
  • Born December 18 — Steve Davidson

(12) COMICS SECTION.

  • Mike Kennedy overheard Dilbert talking about a zombie apocalypse.

(13) I HAVE A LITTLE LIST. SyFy Wire’s Swapna Krishna names these as “The 10 best sci-fi and fantasy books of 2017”. People get upset if I say I haven’t heard of all the books on a “best” list, so let me say I have heard of many of these.

(14) THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS 2014. Everyone has their own way of celebrating the holidays. John King Tarpinian’s traditions include rewatching Thug Notes’ analysis of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

(15) THE BIG BUCKS. Speaking of stacks of cheddar — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes $450m on opening weekend”.

The movie dwarfed its nearest rival – the computer-animated comedy Ferdinand, which took $13m (£10m).

The total for The Last Jedi includes $220m (£165m) from box offices in the US and Canada, placing the film second in the all-time list for North America.

It trails behind the 2015 release Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opened with a record-breaking $248m (£185m).

(16) BREATHLESS TAKE. Chuck Wendig launches his review with a long stretch of onomatopoeia: “The Last Jedi: A Mirror, Slowly Cracking”. And how often do you get a chance to use that word?

This will be less a review of The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) than it will be… my thoughts? An analysis? Me opening my head like a flip-top Pac-Men and seeing what globs of brain-goo I can grab and hastily smack into the screen?

Spoilers follow the noises, Wendig warns.

(17) WHAT’S BREWING IN SHORT FICTION. Nerds of a Feather’s Charles Payseur serves “THE MONTHLY ROUND – A Taster’s Guide to Speculative Short Fiction, 11/2017”.

So please, take seat. The flavors on tap this month are perfect for those looking to unwind by the fire, to shed a tear for those who have not made it this far, and to reaffirm a commitment to pushing forward, into a future that is not mired by the same harms and dangers as the past. Each pint today comes with a special side of memories and a tendril of shadow creeping just out of view. The only remedy is to drink deep, and share the moment with those you care about, and look for ways to escape the familiar cycles of hate, loss, and fear—together….

Tasting Flight – November 2017

“An Unexpected Boon” by S.B. Divya (Apex)

Notes: Pouring a dark brown rimmed with gold, the first sip is deep, subtle and smoky like dreams burning, only to reveal newer, sweeter tones underneath, a future still bright despite loss and danger.

Pairs with: Honey Bock

Review: Kalyani is a young (probably autistic) girl who experiences the world quite differently from the rest of her family. It’s something that Aruni, her older brother, finds quite difficult to handle, especially when his parents have left him in charge while they are away. For Kalyani, though, it’s the rest of the world that doesn’t make as much sense, that overflows with threats and dangers…

(18) ON STAGE. It’s live! “The Twilight Zone returns to spook theatergoers”.

In 1959, a groundbreaking TV series began in the USA. The Twilight Zone came to be regarded as a classic of science fiction for the small screen. Now the Almeida Theatre in London is taking eight episodes to make a Twilight Zone for the stage.

(19) YA. A dystopia? Why, that’s just another day in a teenaged life: “Why Teens Find The End Of The World So Appealing”.

“The hallmark of moving from childhood to adulthood is that you start to recognize that things aren’t black and white,” says Ostenson “and there’s a whole bunch of ethical grey area out there.”

Which makes dystopian fiction perfect for the developing adolescent brain, says Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University.

“Their brains are very responsive to emotionally arousing stimuli,” he explains. During this time, there are so many new emotions and they are much stronger than those kids experienced when they were younger.

“When teenagers feel sad, what they often do it put themselves in situations where they feel even sadder,” Steinberg says. They listen to sad music — think emo! — they watch melodramatic TV shows. So dystopian novels fit right in, they have all that sadness plus big, emotional ideas: justice, fairness, loyalty and mortality.

This time in a kid’s life is often defined by acting out, but, Steinberg says, that’s a misguided interpretation of what’s happening. “It isn’t so much rebellion, but it is questioning.”

(20) BAD AIR. I remember breathing this stuff at the 2015 Worldcon: “California fires: Sentinel satellite tracks wildfire smoke plume”.

Europe’s new Sentinel-5P satellite has captured a dramatic image of the smoke billowing away from the devastating California wildfires.

It is a powerful demonstration of 5P’s ability to sense the atmosphere.

The plume is seen to sweep westwards out over the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles and then turn north towards the State of Oregon.

(21) JDA. Jon Del Arroz shares his vision of the controversies he’s engaged in this year with BayCon, Scalzi, Cat Rambo, Chuck Wendig, and some guy who scrolls pixels in “It’s Better To Be My Friend #JDAYourFriend”.

…Where they all screwed up, is that I’m a competent writer who works hard. I’m a competent businessman who markets hard. I don’t take my ball and go home and I’m not deterred from speaking the truth by some threats or someone’s bully pulpit.

And now I’ve got a platform. It’s one a lot of people read on a daily basis. It’s only going to grow bigger in 2018. I’m a well-respected journalist, I’m a multiple-award nominated author with an avid readership. I’m winning. Readers and audiences like winners. Yet not one of these people has come forward and said “you know what, Jon, I shouldn’t have attacked you, let’s be friends.”

(22) TO SMELL THE TRUTH. Hugo-winning editor Gordon Van Gelder had a famous father, Dr. Richard Van Gelder, who tried to stump the panelists on the episode of game show To Tell The Truth aired March 13, 1961. The chairman of the Department of Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, Van Gelder pere was specially touted as an expert on skunks. The real Van Gelder and two impostors appear at 17:00, and the truth is told right after the 23:00 mark.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

102 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 12/18/17 Scrolls For Industry! Scrolls For The Undead!

  1. (5) This piece really resonated with me. Oddly enough, thought experiments like the Paperclip AI really helped this insight sink home for me, and changed my mind in some ways.

    Paperclips are a really easy, straightforward example. But substitute “corporation” for “AI”, as a powerful, adaptive entity that has no human empathy and isn’t under any one person’s control of oversight. And for “paperclips” — money; influence; market share; attention. (Not unrelated, Twitter and Facebook pretty much behave as “Outrage AIs” — optimizing for user engagement, even if that means optimizing for polarizing arguments and a constant state of dread and anger.)

    Another piece I found really insightful is Bruce Schneier’ Liars and Outliers. Schneier basically frames a lot of modern tension as social dilemmas (like the Prisoner’s Dilemma, or the Tragedy of the Commons). And in that view, a corporation is kind of the ultimate monster — it has very few incentives beyond its own existence and profit; it’s composed of many, many individuals with strong incentive to prop the corporation up at any price; it often doesn’t suffer penalties of trust, responsibility, or reputation the way an individual does. And technology and globalization mean corporations have more power, greater reach, and less reliance on any set of key individuals — so when they do damage in the context of a social dilemma, it can be a lot of damage indeed.

    I read Schneier just about the same time I was reading Carter Scholz’s “Gypsy,” an truly excellent and heartbreaking story, that basically posits the following:
    Mankind’s technological ability also means it has immense capacity to destroy itself. What if the solution to Fermi’s paradox is, that any species capable of attaining spaceflight must also be capable of cannibalizing itself for profit, for power, for security — and no species ever managed to complete the first without destroying itself with the second?

    All of which is to say: The exponential age has kicked capitalism into overdrive, with results I find truly terrifying. TBH, what I find no less terrifying is that I can’t imagine any alternative that seems remotely plausible to me.

  2. In general, I agree with most of the thoughts on capitalism and “social democracies”. Those social democracies are largely capitalist economic systems with varying levels of regulation and social spending that are (on average) not significantly different from the US.

    As a second qualifier, I’ll point out that the results of that regulation and spending may be significantly different than what occurs in other countries. A big part of that difference probably has something to do with demographics and our national character. We are an odd lot at times. I’m OK with that despite the resulting difficulties.

    Capitalism does not demand an absence of regulation. In fact, it requires a system of transparent, logical, and even application of the law to succeed. Problems start when regulation exceeds what is needful and productive in service to unrelated social agendas. (See Venezuela for a modern example of the latter.) Naturally, all of the friction arises from where different perspectives on what is “needful and productive” regulation.

    —–

    @Iphinome

    have you considered Iphinomeism…..

    I had not, but I will certainly consider it firmly on the table. I love tea….but have to go easy on the cakes. I’m hoping that Emma is serving something low-cal, low-carb, and low-fat on that miraculous day when I visit the Tea Lair.

    More seriously….thanks very much. You inspired guffaws, chuckling, and unbridled laughter last night and a smile all day today.

    VBR,
    Dann

  3. @Kendall

    I think you are correct. Each of the stories appears to be a vignette written within a larger world inhabited by the author’s other stories/characters. I ended up adding 3-4 books to my TBR pile based on this collection.

    Brian Stavely’s piece was particularly multi-layered, IMO. The central character aspired to a normalcy that society denied her. In her aspiration for normalcy, she had to embrace a measure of the evil that society ascribes to people of her….”type”. Trying not to give too much away, but this one had me thinking about it for days.

    Full disclosure….I received a complete set of Brian Stavely’s Unhewn Throne trilogy via the Grim Tidings Podcast. I largely enjoyed it. 5 stars/4 stars/ 4 stars…FWIW.

    Evil is a Matter of Perspective was a great read. The stories were almost uniformly well paced and just the right length for someone that may not have hours to dedicate to a book in a single reading session.

    Regards,
    Dann

  4. Dann:

    “Those social democracies are largely capitalist economic systems with varying levels of regulation and social spending that are (on average) not significantly different from the US.”

    I absolutely do not agree with you. There are large and significant differences. US is not a wellfare state. The scandinavian countries are. And that is the difference between capitalism and social democracy. That the latter takes care of its citizens, but the former does not really care what happens to them.

  5. Dann, in the US the large amounts of money go from people to businesses (mostly highly-profitable), and the people who can least afford food/care/housing don’t get much help. In social democracies, the money goes to government, which spends it more equitably. (Nothing prevents rich people from paying more for private hospital care in countries with national health systems – but poor people and tourists don’t go broke getting the care they need, UNLIKE IN THE US.)

  6. Capitalism does not demand an absence of regulation. In fact, it requires a system of transparent, logical, and even application of the law to succeed.

    Do you hear a whirring sound? I think Adam Smith is spinning in his grave…. To borrow a quote alleged to Shaw, now we’re just haggling over the price.

    Problems start when regulation exceeds what is needful and productive in service to unrelated social agendas. (See Venezuela for a modern example of the latter.)

    Balderdash. Venezuela has a modern-day Roman Emperor; the purpose of the state has become his power, with the benefit of the people as cover. And wrt “unrelated social agendas” — just what is “unrelated”? US capitalism is now testing how hard it can screw the people who sweat to keep it going before they revolt; consider Germany for a contrast, since you misunderstand Scandinavia.

  7. @Chip: Adam Smith was in favor of some regulation. Regarding laws about wages, for example, he wrote: “When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.” He also felt that price regulation of monopolies was a reasonable idea, at least for necessities (like food).

  8. Adam Smith was also against globalism and against bankers who he saw as parasites. He warned against a business-dominated political system.

    He was a liberal, not a capitalist.

  9. This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and powerful, and to despise or, at least, neglect persons of poor and mean conditions is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.
    Adam Smith “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” Section III, Chap. II.

    People read snippets of Adam Smith, the few phrases they teach in school. Everybody reads the first paragraph of The Wealth of Nations where he talks about how wonderful the division of labor is. But not many people get to the point hundreds of pages later, where he says that division of labor will destroy human beings and turn people into creatures as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to be. And therefore in any civilized society the government is going to have to take some measures to prevent division of labor from proceeding to its limits.
    Noam Chomsky (1995) Class Warfare,

  10. @JeffWarner

    I’m well aware of Adam Smith’s larger thoughts on economics, regulation, and morality. I’m not arguing for an anarchist state.

    Regards,
    Dann

  11. “Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

    “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

    Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

  12. @Andrew: ” ‘When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable…’ ” leaves a lot of room beyond Dann’s “needful and productive”.

  13. @Chip: Yep.

    @PhilRM: Thanks – I was looking for that “conspiracy” quote yesterday, but didn’t find it.

  14. @Hampus
    Sweden is a democratic country with a market economy, or at least that’s what the OECD thinks. It has private corporations owned by stockholders. It even has a stock market. By any measure I can think of, capitalism is alive and well in Sweden.

    The difference between Sweden and the US (I claim) is one of degree, not kind. Both have mixed economies, with part of it directed by the government and part of it by free enterprise. Sweden runs a very “rich” version (lots of social services and a bigger public sector) while the US runs a very “lean” version, but they’re just different implementations of the same idea. The notion of a “social democracy” really is just an arbitrary line on a broad spectrum, although I’d agree that there’s definitely something to be said for singling out countries that manage to guarantee food, shelter, health care, and education for their people.

    I worry that the US is running the system with SO lean a mix that we may be approaching social breakdown, but I think a little tuning is all we need–not a revolution. I hold out a lot of hope for the 2018 and 2020 elections.

    Mixed economies have been hugely successful. They’re the biggest reason Marx’s worst predictions never came true. (None existed in his time.) Even China is an example of an (undemocratic) mixed economy.

    To find something that’s NOT a mixed economy you need to look at North Korea.

  15. Bill:

    Ooops!

    Greg:

    You can say it is a matter of degree. That goes for everything between 1% and 99 % and then you can say that only 0% (capitalism) and 100% (communism) is not mixed economies. That is not helpful. I do think we need to have names for items that are on radically different ends of the scale. And not pretend that they are the same when there are clearly enormous differences.

    It is not only a matter of degree. It is a matter of having a system geared towards decreasing inequality. That is an idea that has never been part of the US system. It is an idea that is built on unions and workers having their say at their work place, which has never been part of the US system. There are more things like this.

    Note: Swedens has started to privatize stuff the last 20 years. This has not been good for the country. We are worse in healtcare with huge scandals, we’ve got worse education with schools suddenly closing when not earning enough, we’ve got increasing inequality, actually increasing the most in Europe if I remember correctly. Our railroads are getting worse and worse. So moving towards capitalism, our society is getting worse.

  16. It is an idea that is built on unions and workers having their say at their work place, which has never been part of the US system.

    That’ll come as a surprise to the AFL-CIO, the WGA and numerous other unions.

  17. @Hampus
    The US is not a welfare state.

    In 2015, the U.S. Federal govt spent 28% of its money on Medicare and Medicaid (health insurance programs), unemployment benefits, and low-income payments (mostly in tax credits), and 25% on Social Security (old age and disabled pensions). It also spends money on education and housing programs. Over half of what it spends is on social programs. I don’t know how much Sweden spends, but they are closer together than you are giving them credit.

  18. Bill: In 2015, the U.S. Federal govt spent… 25% on Social Security

    Social Security is not “welfare”.

  19. Kurt Busiek:

    “That’ll come as a surprise to the AFL-CIO, the WGA and numerous other unions.”

    Around 5% of the population in US is unionized. In Sweden, the number is 70%. And this has a high impact on laws and on how workplaces are organized. That is what I was referring to.

    Bill:

    “In 2015, the U.S. Federal govt spent 28% of its money on Medicare and Medicaid (health insurance programs), unemployment benefits, and low-income payments (mostly in tax credits), and 25% on Social Security (old age and disabled pensions). It also spends money on education and housing programs. Over half of what it spends is on social programs. I don’t know how much Sweden spends, but they are closer together than you are giving them credit.”

    Those numbers do not tell if a state is a welfare state or not. Let me give you an example:

    * US spends 9000 dollars per capita on health care.
    * Sweden spends 5000 dollars per capita on health care.

    Here you would think that US would have a much better healthcare system, providing health care to all its citizens. And yet the opposite is true. US has the highest number of maternal deaths in the industrialized world. It does not give healthcare to all its citizens. You have all these GoFundMe campaigns every time someone needs an operation, have problems to pay their bills, gets sick. You even have the man who died because his GoFundMe-campaign was 50 dollars short.

    You do not see that in Sweden, because Sweden is a welfare state. So, it is not all about numbers. It is how money is used. See this list of why US spending on healthcare gives so much less bang for the buck:

    https://medium.com/@RosenthalHealth/how-economic-incentives-have-created-our-dysfunctional-us-medical-market-b681c51d6436

    More or less all of those problems is because of the US healthcare system being organized according to market economy system. Think about that. Because with your spending, everyone should have healthcare and on a much better level than in Sweden.

  20. In 2015, the U.S. Federal govt spent 28% of its money on Medicare and Medicaid (health insurance programs), unemployment benefits, and low-income payments (mostly in tax credits), and 25% on Social Security (old age and disabled pensions).

    Bill, have you forgotten that WE PAY INTO THESE PROGRAMS? The money comes out of our paychecks – and even when you’re retired, you’re still paying premiums for Medicare. They’re insurance programs, not welfare, and they aren’t free.

  21. We’re not the only ones who try to dress up welfare programs to look like insurance programs, though. However, if you look at any serious efforts to chart US Federal taxes and spending, you’ll find that they treat Social Security and Medicare as government spending funded by taxes. Calling it by a different name doesn’t turn it into something else.

    Hampus is certainly right that our medical system is a failure economically, but I’d say that’s because we got the mix wrong. I think it would be much more successful if we said that the government would provide older, proven treatments to everyone for free, but that you’d need private insurance (or cash) if you wanted newer and/or unproven treatments.

    The strongest point is that America has killed off most of its unions. I think that’s the root cause of our inequality problem. We may need to reconceptualize unions here to make it work, though. In Europe, it seems that unions see themselves as part of their companies and dedicated to making their companies succeed. In the US, unions often give the impression that they hate their companies and just want to squeeze them for cash. To some extent that’s just a PR problem, but not entirely.

    A lot will become possible if the Republicans are wiped out in the next two elections. Until then, we’re only dreaming.

  22. Greg Hullander, Social Security is an insurance program that the government administers. If the exact same program was administered by State Farm Insurance, perhaps it would be more obvious to you that it’s insurance. But that’s what it is; we pay when we work, and if we live long enough we collect when we retire.

    Just like we pay for fire insurance and car accident insurance. There’s no guarantee we’ll get the payout (we might not have a fire, or an accident, or live to retire), but in the specific instance that the insurance is for, there’s a payout. And it comes from the pool of other people paying in for the same service.

  23. What you all “social security”, we in Sweden call “social insurance”. Make of it what you want.

    Greg:

    My point is that in Sweden, you do not need a private insurance. Our much smaller amount per capita is enough to pay for both new and old treatments.

  24. Around 5% of the population in US is unionized.

    Yeah, we’ve been suffering through a war on unions and labor for a long time.

    But you didn’t say the US was currently union-weak, or that Sweden has historically been more union-friendly even when compared to the US’s best union eras. You said unions and workers having their say has never been part of the US system.

    Never.

  25. Kurt:

    I think I should have said “were never part of the US system on the same level as in Scandinavia“. That would have been more correct.

  26. I didn’t, and don’t, claim that the US is a welfare state; just that a very significant proportion of resources are spent on social welfare programs (just as occurs in a welfare state).

    @PJ Bill, have you forgotten that WE PAY INTO THESE PROGRAMS?

    Which makes them different from Swedish social programs — how?

    @Greg In the US, unions often give the impression that they hate their companies and just want to squeeze them for cash. To some extent that’s just a PR problem, but not entirely.
    American unions have done at least as much to themselves as corporations/govt have done to them. My brother worked for Krogers in Tennessee (an open shop state), and was told when he hired in that if he did not join the union during his initial “probationary” period, he would not be retained past six months. He was exactly the sort of worker that unions should attract, but he resented every dollar that he was forced to pay in dues, and never supported them. Once the meat cutters union struck the store, and he, as a member of the retail clerks union, was expected to honor the picket line, despite the fact that he did not support why the meat cutters were striking, and could not afford the loss of wages.

    @Cassy B If the exact same program was administered by State Farm Insurance,
    The same program could not be administered by State Farm, because it is so actuarially unsound. No company could afford to run it, and no regulator would allow it. Which is why is has been on a path towards going broke since its inception. It is a pyramid scheme. My parents were able to draw out what they were “promised”; my generation will not see that. Either my son’s generation will pay a higher tax rate than I did (which makes it a much poorer deal for him); my generation will not received the level of benefits that preceding generations did (despite paying a higher rate into the system than they did); or it will become significantly means tested.

    @Hampus My point is that in Sweden, you do not need a private insurance. Our much smaller amount per capita is enough to pay for both new and old treatments.
    I suspect that as Sweden becomes much more demographically diverse, its ability to sustain its social programs will change dramatically. (How inclined do you suspect all your new Syrian refugees will be to pay for a bunch of old blond people to enjoy retirement?)

  27. Bill, you’re talking through your hat when you’re talking about Sweden. Try believing Hampus, who lives there and knows what they have and how it works. (He may know more about the US than you, also, given that you seem to be missing quite a bit, like the existence of unions as a major force in labor and politics – which I will back up.)

  28. And, of course, Social Security isn’t a pyramid scheme at all. It’s simply a welfare system with the tax rate set in an odd way. At most, it’ll need a 20% increase at some point, and there are several ways to accomplish that, so, no, it isn’t going to “go broke,” although that’s a common argument the far-right makes about it.

  29. Bill:

    “I suspect that as Sweden becomes much more demographically diverse, its ability to sustain its social programs will change dramatically. (How inclined do you suspect all your new Syrian refugees will be to pay for a bunch of old blond people to enjoy retirement?)”

    You assume that all refugees from Syria are racists who do not want to pay taxes? Why? We have had a lot of refugees from Syria even before this wave. Most of the pizzerias and hamburgers stands are owned by Syrians since at least 20 years back. They are hard workers.

    Also, again, Swedish health care costs a a lot less than American. Yet, you assume that it is Sweden that won’t be able to afford it. Why?

  30. In re Bill and Sweden, I have seen a theory in far-right conservative circles that ethnically homogenous populations have a better capacity for social welfare programs, because that homogenity reduces the bella omnes contra omnes that Bill is talking about. Social welfare is ‘doomed to failure’ in the US because the US is diverse, and if Sweden becomes more diverse, it too will similarly fail.

  31. I haven’t seen that ‘diverse’ argument in ages. I never understood it. All kinds of programmes that many in the US would call ‘socialist’* function in places at least as diverse as the US and more diverse than the parts of the US most inimical to them.

    As far as I can see the argument only makes sense when interpreted as “the right will use racism to undermine socialism” – which is true but we knew that already.

    *[I won’t get into the definitional argument…today 🙂 ]

  32. @PJ you seem to be missing quite a bit, like the existence of unions as a major force in labor and politics
    I don’t know what you are talking about — I didn’t say unions were never a force in American labor and politics.

    @Hampus You assume that all refugees from Syria are racists who do not want to pay taxes?
    No. But I am reading that:
    a. recent Syrian and other Arabic immigrants are not assimilating well at all (thus the problems in places like Malmo and other “no-go” zones)
    b. that the education level of the average recent immigrant is far below that of the average native Swede, and as such they aren’t productive enough in the Swedish economy to pay their “fair share” of the costs of the welfare state (if the welfare state is going to pay 1st world levels of pensions and social services, it can’t do it off the earnings of 3rd world workers)
    c. a large fraction of immigrants (much greater than the fraction of native-born Swedes) are unemployed and drawing from the system, instead of working and paying in to it, and are expected to continue to do so for many years.

    If I’m wrong, tell me so. Are Arabic immigrants, as a whole, “buying in” to the Swedish model, particularly the part where participants have to pay high taxes to support it?

    Swedish health care costs a a lot less than American. Yet, you assume that it is Sweden that won’t be able to afford it.
    I’m referring to the welfare state as a whole, not just the health care system. But I assume that the U.S. won’t be able to continue to afford the promises it has made, either. (and if Sweden will be able to continue to afford its social welfare state, why has it in just the last year made cuts to the benefits it offered immigrants, why is it raising the retirement age?)

  33. @Bill

    Your use of “no go zones” tells me exactly what sort of sources you’re relying on, and that both they and you are woefully misinformed.

  34. Bill:

    a) We do not have any ”no-go zones”. It is fascinating to see how that myth has spread. I find it extremely funny to hear an american talking about Sweden as if there was bad security. From what failed rag have you gotten that idea?

    b) What weird argument is this? The question is not about if they are as educated. Nor about ”fair share”. It is about if they carry their costs. And they do.

    c) See above – they carry their costs.

    Look, it is US that has a problem with an ever-increasing national debt. That can’t bear the costs of its own system. Sweden is on top of the lists, has a negative national debt (owns more than borrowed) and is going on plus every year.

    The retirement age is raised not because of immigrants, but because of an ageing and healthy population. What cuts to the benefits for immigrants are you talking about otherwise? And what has that to do with welfare?

  35. If that’s ridiculous, why am I not laughing? There has to be a better label; is “blatant fraud” sufficient?

  36. Chip Hitchcock: If that’s ridiculous, why am I not laughing?

    It’s just damn embarrassing — sadly, just one in a year full of embarassing and disgusting behavior from the current administration. 😐

  37. Sorry for the late response.

    Thanks for the many responses the pointed out that the differences between the US and Europe are one of degree rather than one of kind/type. I agree.

    I’m tickled to find that Greg and I have fewer points of disagreement than I previously thought was the case.

    US organized labor membership stands at roughly 10.7% (date from 2016). Private sector membership was roughly 6.4% while public sector membership stood at 34.4%. Both numbers are troubling for different reasons, IMHO. I have worked with union members on and off over the years. There has long been a disconnect between the rank-and-file membership and the union leadership that undermines the union’s ability to attract new members. It is one factor among many.

    I first heard about homogeneity being a factor in the success of Swedish welfare programs from a really bizarre, right-wing news source: National Public Radio. I believe it was NPR’s Freakonomics podcast. They have mentioned/discussed it several times over the years with appropriate qualifiers.

    Regards,
    Dann

  38. Dann:

    You are saying that NPR is not a right-wing news source? 😀 But I’m a swede. Almost all american media are far, far, far to the right for me. And NPR:s endorsement of torture during the Bush years do not seem very liberal to me.

    Anyhow, they are then a clear example of people visiting another country without learning its history or trying to understand it. Immigration right now is necessary in Sweden. As said, we are an ageing population. We have an average life span of 82.4 years, three years longer than US.

    If you look at the hospitals and elder care, you will se a very, very large amount of immigrants working there. We are taking in young people from other countries to take care of our elders. It was the same when I worked there, 25 years ago. That is a clear reason for why our welfare system can work. If we didn’t bring in immigrants, it would fall apart as it is. Unless we raise the salaries by a very large amount which also would threaten the welfare.

    So no, NPR is not very trustworthy on this. US media has a kind of weird habit of turning question of economics and class into race and ethinicity.

  39. I can’t speak for Sweden, but in Germany there is no way, at least no easy way, that you can refuse to pay premiums for health insurance, pension insurance, unemployment insurance, care insurance, etc… When you’re an employee, your wages are transferred to you account with taxes and the premiums for health insurance, pension insurance, unemployment insurance, care insurance automatically deducted. There is no way you can refuse to pay that money, because you never see it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re bio-German or an immigrant, if you are employed in Germany, you automatically pay into the various social insurance programs and you automatically get the respective payments once you become eligible (e.g. in order to be eligible for a pension, you have to have paid into the pension insurance for at least five years. Mothers also get credits for children). Americans who live and work in Germany also pay into these programs and would get the respective payments.

    If you’re self-employed, you’re exempt from pension and unemployment insurance (though you can pay voluntarily, if you want to) and you have to pay your health and care insurance on your own. However, if you don’t pay or if you don’t pay enough, the health insurance company will send you threatening letters and eventually a bailiff to confiscate the missing payments. Frankly, the health insurance company will send self-employed people threatening letters, even if you do pay, because they always assume self-employed people are lying about their income, which is annoying, especially since social insurance fraud is more rampant with small businesses like restaurants than with self-employed people.

    Regarding the Syrian and other refugees who came to Europe in the past two to three years, I have taught German to refugees, so I have had closer contact with them than many other Germans. The overwhelming majority of the refugees we get are not poor and uneducated people, but the educated middle classes of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Eritrea, etc… Fleeing to Europe is a costly business and poor people usually cannot afford it. My students included teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, journalists, students, small business owners. A lot of them were extremely well educated – they mainly need to learn German. Another problem is that sometimes credentials from their countries of origin either aren’t accepted or – in the case of craftsmen – they don’t have credentials. But a guy who’s been a carpenter for forty years can do the job, even if he doesn’t have credentials a German company can recognise. The younger people (and many of the refugees are young) are put into vocational training programs and eventually integrated into the regular dual vocational training system. For older people, there are attempts to ease them into the job market via internships. Several of my students have found jobs by now or are in training programs. They’re also all very eager to find jobs and resume their lives. I expect that most, if not all will make it.

    As for “no go areas”, there are no “no go areas” anywhere in Western Europe (and if there are some in the East, it’s not because of refugees). I have no problems going out after dark alone, even in immigrant neighbourhoods or near the central station. I’m not scared of Christmas markets, the autumn fair or using public transport. Why should I be?

    Of course, there are always people, often elderly, who complain that they are afraid to go out after dark or use the bus/tram because of “all those bloody foreigners”. But these people are afraid of their own shadow and they or people like them were also afraid to go out after dark twenty years ago, only back then it was “because of all the crime you read about in the papers”. Perception is not reality.

    There are areas in the US where I would not feel safe on my own after dark or even by daylight. There are no areas in Western Europe where I don’t feel safe.

  40. Not true for Sweden. Syrians and Somalis have much lower education than Swedes. There’s a large group with no high school at all among them. Somalis in partiular have been very hard to integrate into swedish society.

    Somali refugees succeed much better in US than in Sweden.

  41. That’s interesting, because Germany generally gets well educated Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians. Though the classes I taught were for refugees who could read the Latin alphabet, i.e. people who by definition are better educated. People who can’t read the Latin alphabet get sent to different classes, which require special training for the teachers (which I don’t have). The Somalis I’ve met often don’t have much in the way of formal education, but they’re usually young people and very eager to learn and to work hard. Two of my students now work as apprentice mechanics at a wind power company, a third works as a carpenter with a building company.

    As for why Somalis do better in the US, even those with little formal education usually speak some English. This will help them get by and get jobs in the US. But in Sweden (and Germany) they face an additional language barrier.

  42. @Hampus,

    I am indeed suggesting that NPR is not a right-wing outfit. Their news coverage is pretty close to “down the middle”….at least from an American perspective. Their opinion coverage would warm the cockles of your heart. But I’m getting the idea that you might suspect Bertolt Brecht of possible right wing sympathies, so perhaps that scale might not be the most useful? (yes, I’m joking)

    Freakonomics is an NPR show that focuses at the intersection of economics and sociology/psycology. They look at other economic related issues, but that is their starting point. They have discussed (briefly) studies that suggest that welfare programs receive broader cultural support when people are more uniform genetically/linguistically/culturally. Sweden was mentioned as an example of a more uniform culture that supports a broader welfare base. Let’s face it, Sweden is not the most diverse place on the planet.

    They did not say anything about Sweden falling apart due to increased immigration. Nor have I suggested any such thing.

    I’ll leave discussions of “no-go” zones to those that care about them.

    Regards,
    Dann

  43. Dann:

    Have you read The Guardian? They match our right wing newspapers kind of well. I do know what Freakanomics is.

  44. “They have discussed (briefly) studies that suggest that welfare programs receive broader cultural support when people are more uniform genetically/linguistically/culturally. Sweden was mentioned as an example of a more uniform culture that supports a broader welfare base.”

    Actually, the argument should be the opposite. A system with large diversity is helped by being a welfare state. If it is not, there will be much more intergroup conflicts. When everyone has job and security, tolerance will be much higher. Take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

  45. I don’t know about NPR in general, since I mostly look at their cultural coverage, but Freakonomics definitely has a right of centre slant by European standards. Some of their views would be considered extreme even by our pro-business liberal party.

    Also, it makes no real sense that welfare programs would have more support in more homogenous populations. Yes, you get the crusty old racists who complain that their health insurance premiums pay for the healthcare for “all those bloody foreigners” and who completely forget that it’s the premiums of those bloody foreigners who help to pay for their pensions. Occasionally, you also get people screaming that the refugees are taking their pensions away, which is ridiculous, because you don’t get a pension unless you’ve paid into German pension insurance. And if refugees do pay into pension insurance, they’re just as entitled to a pension as any bio-German. Meanwhile, there are people who did get a pension without having paid into the (West) German system, namely East German pensioners post-1989 and some elderly Russian immigrants of German ancestry. Ironically, these are the same demographic groups who are now complaining about foreigners supposedly taking their pensions away.

    But in the end, it doesn’t matter what a few racists think. because the social insurance system exists and it has a broad support in society. In fact, the support is so strong that even moderate and useful reforms are very difficult to pass, because you’ll inevitably get protests.

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