Pound of Obscure

“Nature, then, has carefully cultivated the seed within the hard core–namely the urge for and the vocation of free thought. And this free thought gradually reacts back on the modes of thought of the people, and men become more and more capable of acting in freedom. At last free thought acts even on the fundamentals of government and the state finds it agreeable to treat man, who is now more than a machine, in accord with his dignity.”

Immanuel Kant, “What Is Enlightenment?”

This is exactly what I’ve been looking for, to help pull together some wildly disparate thoughts. h/t Eliot Frick

Pound of Obscure

Yet another post about an article about Universal Basic Income, this one from Charles Murray writing in the Wall Street Journal. (I’m in learning mode about UBI, what can I say.)

A couple of key points from this one:

The UBI has brought together odd bedfellows. Its advocates on the left see it as a move toward social justice; its libertarian supporters (like Friedman) see it as the least damaging way for the government to transfer wealth from some citizens to others. Either way, the UBI is an idea whose time has finally come, but it has to be done right.

“It has to be done right” is the key here. UBI sounds great in principle, but so did Public Key Infrastructure for digital signatures (&c) and so does the blockchain. The devil is, as they say, in the details, and Murray offers an approach that makes sense. At least on the surface. (Damn it Jim, I’m an engineer not an economist!)

The question isn’t whether a UBI will discourage work, but whether it will make the existing problem significantly worse. I don’t think it would. Under the current system, taking a job makes you ineligible for many welfare benefits or makes them subject to extremely high marginal tax rates. Under my version of the UBI, taking a job is pure profit with no downside until you reach $30,000—at which point you’re bringing home way too much ($40,000 net) to be deterred from work by the imposition of a surtax.

And, besides, so what if it discourages work? Work is not our purpose in life. If someone can get by on just a little bit, more power to them. Or maybe someone’s purpose in life is something that doesn’t count as work, but is still of value. To them or to others.

Murray’s got that one covered, too:

Under my UBI plan, the entire bureaucratic apparatus of government social workers would disappear, but Americans would still possess their historic sympathy and social concern. And the wealth in private hands would be greater than ever before. It is no pipe dream to imagine the restoration, on an unprecedented scale, of a great American tradition of voluntary efforts to meet human needs. It is how Americans, left to themselves, have always responded.

And this changes the dynamic for people who say they need help, because everyone will know that they have the basic income. That they have the ability to help themselves if they choose.

The known presence of an income stream would transform a wide range of social and personal interactions….

Emphasizing the ways in which a UBI would encourage people to make better life choices still doesn’t do justice to its wider likely benefits. A powerful critique of the current system is that the most disadvantaged people in America have no reason to think that they can be anything else…. A UBI would present the most disadvantaged among us with an open road to the middle class if they put their minds to it. It would say to people who have never had reason to believe it before: “Your future is in your hands.” And that would be the truth.

In principle. The devil is in the details.


Another post in which I try to get a firmer grasp on Universal Basic Income



Musical instrument and portable recording studio in a 10″ (or so) package. All you need is a little electricity to charge the battery and a wee bit of talent. And this is just a tiny sample of what is possible. I can only imagine the awesomeness being unleashed out there. I can only hope that it will someday make it to my ears.

Pound of Obscure

On the subject of St. Louis commutes….

Visualizing St. Louis City Commutes



Pound of Obscure

Sometimes the long way around is the best option

For the past 5 years or so my typical daily commute to the office was about 20 feet, up the stairs and to the right. A recent change in policy, however, now has me making the slog from West St. Louis County across the river (the big one, the Mississippi) to O’Fallon, IL.

Since I live close to Highway 40 – I mean, Interstate 64 – and my office in O’Fallon is right off that highway, the logical route would be to just take I-64. The only problem is that this takes me straight through downtown St. Louis city. Which usually isn’t too bad. Except, of course at rush hour. In the heart of construction season. A quick look at Google Maps with the traffic layer turned on shows what a nightmare that can be. Just look at all that red.


For the first couple of weeks I took that route. Because it was so direct, even though I could literally see the red as I was stopping and starting in the traffic, putting my defensive driving skills to the test as at least one person every day seemed to actively be trying to take me out. Luckily (for me), every day it was someone else who ended up on the side of the road, insurance company on the phone and the police writing up the report as they all waited for the tow truck.

And then it occurred to me – this is why they built I-270/255. D’uh. I hadn’t thought of it before because that route, that bypass, is a longer (miles wise) and less direct route. A quick check with Google Maps showed what I was starting to suspect. Yes, there are more miles involved, but fewer minutes. And less red.


As it turns out it is only about 5 miles more driving and on an average day (like today) nearly 15 fewer minutes. And a much more pleasant drive with practically no stops, or even slow downs, due to jams. Just a bit more stop and go due to traffic lights on Manchester Road.

So before you think, “I’ll just take the direct route, I’m sure it’s the quickest and least stressful,” take a moment to check your options. Take it from me, you’ll be glad you did.

“It’s not the traffic that stresses you out, it’s your reaction to the traffic that stresses you out.”  — Scott Ginsberg

Pound of Obscure

Another quote / link on basic income, this one from FiveThirtyEight. A long article, worth the read. It’s not just about today’s poor, but tomorrow’s (robot induced) unemployed too.

Increasingly, technologists envision basic income as a “hack,” or fix, to the system — it offers a way of coping with an economic future dominated by automation, a fallback plan for when most human labor isn’t valued or needed.

“We think there could be a possibility where 95 percent — or a vast majority — of people won’t be able to contribute to the workforce,” said Matt Krisiloff, the manager of Y Combinator’s basic income project. “We need to start preparing for that transformation.”

What would happen if we just gave people money?