Category Archives: J. D. Alt

Halfway There

By J.D. Alt

alt1The squiggle illustrated here may look like the Ebola virus, but it isn’t. The resemblance is just an eerie coincidence. It’s actually a graphical snapshot of the classic “Predator-Prey Model.” This mathematical exercise, first developed in the 1920s, serves as the introductory basis for a more recent NASA funded effort which produced—amidst a brief flurry of news and commentary last spring—the startling conclusion that a complete collapse of modern civilization may now be “irreversible.”

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BANK of the COMMONS

By J.D. Alt

We usually think of a Commons as a “territory” of resources which we, as individuals, share with other members of our local, regional, or national society. The tragedy of the Commons, famously, is a failure of that sharing in which, even though the resources are visibly being depleted at an unsustainable rate, individuals are not motivated to preserve the resources but, instead, are motivated to continue to deplete them. This perverse motivation occurs because each individual makes two rational assumptions: (1) most other individuals will continue to deplete and (2) if he or she personally refrains from depleting, the beneficial impact on the Commons itself will be negligible, negating the personal effort or sacrifice. These rational decisions effectively neutralize the actions of the cooperative gene within the society, leaving the selfish gene in a position of active dominance. The larger the Commons, and the greater the number of individuals who share it, the more powerful are the tragic forces.

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Bank Dollars & Sovereign Spending

By J.D. Alt

Why do so many people—including the authors of most economics textbooks—believe the U.S. banking system creates the U.S. dollars we earn and spend and pay our taxes with? It’s because the U.S. banking system does, in fact, “issue” the great majority of the dollars we use—by making loans to businesses and citizens which are not backed by “real” dollars the banks have on deposit. What everyone overlooks, however (for reasons not entirely clear) is the fact that these new loan dollars are “made real” by the U.S. government’s solemn promise to convert them at any time, on demand, into actual, “real”, sovereign U.S. dollars. The U.S. government is able to make this promise because, by law, it can issue the necessary actual dollars by fiat (by simply “declaring” the dollars into existence.) A lot of people (again for reasons not entirely clear) don’t like to hear that last part. But it’s simply a fact of life: the cash dollar bills you get from an ATM machine are not printed up (created) by the banks—they are printed (or created electronically as needed) ONLY by the U.S. sovereign government.

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WORLD without BANKS

By J.D. Alt

Sometimes it helps, if you want to see and understand something more clearly, to imagine the world without it. I just finished a book (“Rethinking Money” by Benard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne) that was so thoroughly confused—and confusing—about how the U.S. private banking system “creates our money” (but perversely refuses to create enough of it) that I felt an overwhelming need to try to clarify, in my own mind, what the private banking system actually is. That’s when I got the idea of imagining a world without private banks at all—and trying to see at what point, and for what purpose, they become useful or, perhaps, even necessary.

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National Retirement Infrastructure – Part 2

By J.D. Alt

1. Why we can afford it—2. Why we need it—3. How we can build it

2. Why we need it.

What is retirement anyway? For most people it seems to be the end of that middle period of their lives where some business, or institution, or civic entity has paid them Dollars in exchange for their labor or personal services. This “Dollar-earning-in-exchange-for-work” period can end at various points in a life-span, for various reasons planned or unplanned: Some of us become disabled by health catastrophes in our 40s or 50s, some find the particular skill we learned or developed over the years is suddenly no longer in demand (and it’s much too late to start over again). Many people are forced to stop providing their labor or services at a certain age by retirement rules designed to create employment openings for the younger generation coming along behind. While a few are fortunate enough to continue earning Dollars in exchange for their services right up until the very end—entertainers, writers, highly specialized professionals come to mind—the vast majority of U.S. citizens all share the same basic fate: at some point in time, with many years or even decades remaining in our life-span, we will cease earning Dollars in exchange for our labor or services.

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National Retirement Infrastructure

By J.D. Alt

1. Why we can afford it—2. Why we need it—3. How we can build it

1. Why we can afford it

We, who face mass retirement at the same moment our life-expectancy has been stretched far beyond the retirement savings we managed to set aside during our working years—and anticipating that future generations will face equal, or even more difficult retirement circumstances—we offer to provide the initiating, planning and management efforts required to build, for our collective use, a permanent “National Retirement Infrastructure.” This infrastructure will provide us with housing and social accommodations over the next several decades and, subsequently, be passed on to the next generations inevitably to follow.

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The Sinking of Norfolk

By J.D. Alt

How would Thomas Piketty propose to save the city of Norfolk, Virginia? He teaches us, ad-nauseum, that what the U.S. collective state has to spend on such things as sea walls, flood gates, elevating infrastructure and roadways, buying-out property owners so they can relocate to higher ground, etc., etc., is limited to the number of tax dollars that can be collected from U.S. citizens—as if the collective state itself were like a club, and if the clubhouse needs repairing, the club members must first pay a special assessment of dues—or, alternatively, the club can borrow dollars from the supply of Capital owned by the wealthiest  1% of its membership, or (as a creative alternative) the rebuilding effort could be structured in such a way that the newly elevated Norfolk would pay rent to the one percent in perpetuity for the privilege of living above sea-level.

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Essay Contest for Congress

By J.D. Alt

alt-ryanI’d like to propose an Essay Contest that might inform us better than any news talk show or presidential debate what we’re up against with our National Budget—and what might be the best course of action we should consider. Everyone in Congress should be required to participate, governors and state legislators who might become future congressional leaders should be encouraged to join in, and op-ed economic analysts invited to submit. The essays would be posted on a Congressional website established specifically to enable the public to vote on the best explanation of the topic. The topic I propose is this:

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“COST” & CONFUSION

By J.D. Alt

Even the most progressive proponents of climate change mitigation frame their argument with the proposition that the “cost” of mitigation today is far less than what the “cost” of climate change will be down the road if we fail to act now. While it sounds compelling, this argument perpetrates a deep confusion about what “cost” means when applied to the idea of inventing, designing and building the carbon-neutral infrastructure and energy systems that climate mitigation will require. This confusion, in turn, makes it more difficult for the political process to make rational decisions.

To illustrate, we need look no further than the recent United Nations IPCC report which, for the first time, not only details the potential catastrophe of climate change by the end of this century, but projects a “cost” for preventing that catastrophe from unfolding. This “cost” is calculated as a percentage of annual global GDP.

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GROAF & CONTRAKSHUN

By J.D. Alt

Recently I came across a passage from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath: One of the Joad-clan migrant farmer characters, upon learning that “there’s a newspaper fella near the coast, got a million acres,” replies—“If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it ‘cause he feels awful poor inside hisself.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read a more succinct description of the underlying reality of the income-inequity issue that has moved to the front page of our national dialog. As part of that dialog, I keep trying to frame a case for radical change that the status quo will actively embrace—for the simple reason that if that were to happen, the radical change itself would be more likely to occur—but also, I realize now, because the status quo “feels so awful poor inside hisself”, it will never embrace radical change unless it believes the change will make it feel richer—and, finally, because from my perspective MMT uniquely makes this paradoxical set of relationships possible.

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