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Understanding the Occupation

Since its inception, the Occupy movement has been ridiculed and drawn sideways dog heads from the establishment. That’s kind of cute, in that it shows exactly how baffled the establishment is, which is exactly why the Occupy movement exists!

Since its inception, the Occupy movement has been ridiculed and drawn sideways dog heads from the establishment. That’s kind of cute, in that it shows exactly how baffled the establishment is, which is exactly why the Occupy movement exists! The Occupy movement represents the fact that the establishment is completely out of touch with reality, so I guess it’s acceptable and expected that this is the reaction.

The Why

I will now quote the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. […]

Now, one piece at a time, of what I think are the most essential parts there:

[…] That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men […]

Why government exists. To allow an orderly state in which we can live without constantly having to assert our rights through violence.

[… Governments] deriv[e] their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed […]

How government exists. It is by the agreement of the people that allows the government to exist, and the reason above is why the consent is given.

[…] that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it […]

Follows logically from [1] and [2] above. Given the goal, and the method, if the method is not moving toward the goal, it should be improved or replaced with one which will.

[…] to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. […]

Expands on [3]. The manner of choosing the replacement or the improvements should be according to reason.

This is why the Occupy movement exists. The government is hampering the goals that are the impetus for its very formation and existence. It must either be reformed or replaced. The old guard is unable to grasp this.

What they want, of course, is what they’ve always had. They want Occupy to step up to the microphone and say, “we want an end to the war,” which lets the establishment drag their feet, beat their chests, and blow their noses, then end the war and carry on with the old guard way of doing things.

They want something they can sell back to Occupy.

That’s worked in the past. I’ll claim that every major political struggle in the USA has actually been equivalent to Occupy, but that every one so far has been bought out by the establishment, with the possible exception of the founding of this country.

The How

The case I’ve made here is the motivation for Occupy, and it points to what is truly desired. These protests represent a dire call and strong desire to see the establishment reformed into a useful institution. The movement has no specific demands, because it’s not about specific changes, but general changes that restore the power to the people to participate. To know that their voices count, even if their exact outcomes aren’t the ones that are implemented.

Let’s take an example, briefly, with the social programs. These need to be changed for a variety of reasons, including costs. Those that oppose changes don’t actually. They oppose destroying these programs. They don’t want a vacuum to replace them, or a corrupt system that is even more dysfunctional. But they really don’t oppose changes that strengthen them while leaving the basic benefits intact.

The list is very long, though. Improving environmental protection, internalizing market externalities, improving education, improving the culture of work/life balance, improving regulation in general, improving contracting processes, and many more.

The solution is much simpler. There are two basic problems with our government:

  • Lack of populist representation in the legislature
  • Lack of scientific process in producing and executing legislation

The House of Representatives

In the first case, the Senate bestows equal representation per state, while the House of Representatives is supposed to provide representation proportional to the population of the country.

The original twelve amendments proposed in what became the Bill of Rights included as its first proposed amendment the rule that the House of Representative would increase in membership in proportion to the size of the population. That would have protected the purpose of that body.

Without it, that body has become a second Senate.

To wit:

Wikipedia: Bar Graph of US House Apportionment

Since 1911 the number of Representatives has remained constant, but the population of the United States has roughly tripled over that time (Wikipedia: Demographics of the United States shows that the population in 1910 was around 98 million, and in 2010 it was 308 million). That has diluted the value of your representation in the Congress, which means there’s less and less reason for your representation to care what you think.

They are your representative in the collective governance of our country, and when they don’t have to care about you, the government is broken. That’s their purpose for their position to exist: to represent your interests.

Science in Government

There are a variety of fields that use scientific principles to improve outcomes. The field of accounting, when practiced properly. The military. Actual scientific inquiry and research. Business, to some extent.

The techniques in question are meant to preclude corruption and bias and error. They are things like separating the power that people have, so that one man can’t turn and lose a war for us all. They are things like double-blind experiments, to prevent bias or error.

Our government even has some of this built in. The three branches represent an example of separation of duties/powers. The FDA does require some amount of double-blindness in drug testing. Many of the other scientific parts of the executive branch use these techniques, too.

But our legislature does not, and our contracting processes do not. The bidding process know which company is bidding, and political favors can be used. The SuperCommittee didn’t put out their proposals, get them ranked, and then vote based on the outcomes. Likewise, they didn’t separate the pieces of proposals, and take a closed ballot to decide which provisions were live options, then form those into a proposal for evaluation by the CBO.

Kids in school learn about the government, they learn about the lauded Separation of Powers. It escapes me (but apparently not the establishment) that this good idea, which, I reiterate, is praised and learned in school, is not properly expanded to its maximum usefulness throughout our government.

Conclusion

I don’t think my ideas here are particularly radical. But I don’t think they’ll be implemented anytime soon. I hope they will be. I don’t think our government is a bad idea, I just think we have neglected the good parts.

Maybe someone needs to write a short book about our government akin to Douglas Crockford’s JavaScript: The Good Parts. There are some good ideas, they just haven’t been taken to their logical conclusion. And, as in the case of the apportionment of the House, some of them have been torn down.

The establishment doesn’t get it. Big surprise. If they got it, Occupy wouldn’t exist. Take that to your bank, withdraw your money, and put it in the vault of someone that gets it.

Conflict and the Demands of Protests

With the Occupation of Wall Street by the dissatisfied masses, the media poses: what do they want?

With the Occupation of Wall Street by the dissatisfied masses, the media poses: what do they want?

But examining the impetus for the protest requires a larger context, of conflict in general.

Conflict represents an imbalance in resources, always.  Whether it’s a dominance fight in the wild, where the resource of control needs allotting, or in warfare where the resources vital to the function of society need equilibration, conflict means forcing a decision.

When protesters take to the street, they seek redress.  They do so in a fundamentally civil fashion, though, which separates protest from riot.  Where protest erupts into riot, the cause may be found in the fact that yelling and amassing of people also occurs during violent outbursts, and police conditioning makes them wary, while protester conditioning shows authority to have reactionary tendencies to lash out.

But, again, the question of what the protest wants.  What do they demand?

Excepting the most radical views, conflict wants only a fair shake.  They may believe in one set of outcomes, but they will accept less.  That less is simply a compromise.

Some of the protesters want environmental concerns to be addressed.  They may truly want the end of fossil fuels, for example.  But they will accept a more modest move to minimize the fuel use.

The unemployed want full employment, but they will accept more minor concessions and a general shift in the ambiance of the job market.  For example, they would be glad to see employers begin to give them more feedback regardless of the hiring decision.  They want work, but even a simple response that they are on the right track would be immensely helpful.  Instead, they typically hear nothing, and the lack of reinforcing their behavior is discouraging.

The people with bad mortgage debt would like nothing more than to be free of their bindings, but would feel much better if the banks would simply agree to a refinancing and would set them up with a single point of contact that would provide them with a sense of certainty that their concerns could be voiced in a reasonable manner.

When you go in for surgery, the surgeon is responsible for not only the actual procedure, but for explaining it to the patient.  There’s an accountable party.  But the fact is it doesn’t have to be the surgeon, as long as it’s one particular person that you reliably deal with.

As it stands, the business culture has become disconnected. And that’s no magic.  That’s just bad, collusive dealings.  Dealings that shouldn’t have happened but for irregular leverage.

When you buy a product and have feedback, if you contact the manufacturers, the vast majority of the time they are very helpful, going so far as to give you highly technical details and explanations. They know their products, they work hard on them, and they like to hear unsolicited feedback.

The exceptions are restricted to a few high profile organizations that are more trouble to deal with, typically banks and wireless carriers top that list.  They are service companies, which rely on lock-ins and the like, for continued payment.  Often their service does not require their ongoing diligence to guarantee your satisfaction as a means to ensure payment.

That creates a malformed relationship, much like that between prisoners and guards.  The bank’s loan to you represents a dominance over you, so they feel entitled to bother you and push you around.  See also the Stanford Prison Experiment.

What the protest represents there, is a call against that sort of dominance.  Wall Street represents a continuous tweaking of our entire economy.  When they say jump, we all brace for impact.  But we know that’s an imbalanced relationship.  We know that the government gives them preferential treatment to our detriment.

The same thing with the oil companies, where accidents in natural environments mean they try to escape with as little pain as possible.  We recognize that as a domination of our system, which calls for a change.

So what’s the outcome?  What’s the demand?

A fair shake.  Period.  That the people in charge of writing the laws and understanding/improving the system as a whole (both inside and outside of government) actually pay attention, like the manufacturer when you give feedback.  That Wall Street recognize the vitality of Main Street to their existence.  That the oil companies recognize that Main Street is why they exist, and not the other way around.

It’s really that simple.  They just want a level playing field.  They don’t want profitable companies to be subsidized.  They don’t want socialism, which a major imbalance of wealth represents.  That’s right, having a minority hold a majority of the wealth is just as destructive to capitalism as central-planning by government.  Proper capitalism requires and thrives on distribution of wealth.

I apologize if these ideas are not clear enough.  They are still developing/forming.  I will try to refine them in future posts.

Music: How we listen

Most of the music is from artists the listener likes a lot. This is right tail on a bell curve. For example 50% of songs might come from ten artists, 80% from 20 artists, and 90% from 50 artists. The other 10% might come from hundreds.

I don’t have the statistics, but many different players and websites including iTunes and Last.fm include the ability to track what music you listen to. In theory this data from many users can be aggregated. If that happened the picture would look something like a bell curve.

The top dominates

Most of the music is from artists the listener likes a lot.  This is right tail on a bell curve.  For example 50% of songs might come from ten artists, 80% from 20 artists, and 90% from 50 artists.  The other 10% might come from hundreds.

The same is true for albums: the favorite album by the favorite artist will be even more dominant than the artist was.

Selling as generic

The problem is that the industry treats songs as equal units.  You pay roughly the same price for a song you’ve listened to 1000 times as one you listened to once, or a song bought as a gag.  But when you actually look at the cost per listen it becomes apparent this is simply silly.

The songs you love cost you tiny amounts: after the hundredth listen to a $0.99 song it’s less than one cent!  The songs you don’t love cost you more per listen: up to that same $0.99 for listening to it once.

Shouldn’t the opposite be true?  Wouldn’t you pay more money for the song you love?  Wouldn’t you rather pay less for the song you would delete from your collection except that you never look in that folder anyway?

Progressive pricing

My belief is that music should look like the following pricing model.  Note that the numbers are fabricated and that actuaries and statisticians could provide much better figures.  This is only a rough model.

For the first ten listens it costs a cent.  Period.  If you like the song and run through ten listens you pay a cent.  If you decide you don’t like it and give up after the first time, it costs a cent.  For the next ten listens it costs a dime.  Listen 20 times and you’ve paid $0.11.  For the next 50 times you listen to it, that’s $0.20.  After 70 total listens you would have paid $0.31.  And for the 100 listens after that, it’s $0.68 which brings you to the $0.99 original price.

The money distribution is staggered as well.  The artist makes less money off of the first tier and more of the successive tiers, while the labels and distributors make more on earlier and less on later tiers.

Choices

There would be some other choices with this model.  If you knew you’d want the song for 170 listens at least, you could pay an initial fee of $0.89 or such, giving you a discount for buying the song outright.  You could also pay the difference on $0.89 up to 70 listens.

Even after paying $0.99 (or $0.89 if you bought it early) you could choose to pay more.  That money would go almost entirely to the artist.

The model’s logic

The consumer value behind this model is two fold.  One is to save you money on songs you rarely listen to.  The other is to give you the freedom to explore music.  The current flat price model is prohibitive: how many times would you roll the dice at $0.99 per roll?

The model also has powerful incentives for the label, distributor, and artist.  People would explore more music and pay a cent each time, but that would add up quickly.  The current prohibitive model generates less revenue than the new model would for all parties involved.

Other media

This model can easily be extended to be used with movies, television, and text.  The tiering would be different, obviously.  It would not be as effective for news as fiction.  But that’s a detail that can be overcome by changing the target of the model.

Instead of expecting you to pay $0.01 for each episode of the Daily Show each time you watch it, you would pay $0.01 for the first three episodes you watched.  Due to that sort of content being unlimited in time (they continue to make new episodes indefinitely) you wouldn’t cut off at $0.99.  The probable solution would be to tier over an entire season and fix the top-price on a per-season basis.

Advertising

The option to have advertising fits nicely into this general model.  The advertisers can choose to pay for a tier for some number of viewers: when you go to view, listen, or read the choice is yours to accept the advertiser’s offer and instead of paying you would watch, read, or listen to a short advertisement for the duration of that tier.

Conclusion

I believe this sort of model, again with the statistics to back up a more refined pricing and tiering system than I’ve presented, will be a boon to listeners, viewers, and readers.  It will also benefit the content creators and distributors.  I hope to see this model become a standard operating model for content.

Let me know what you think of this model.  What’s wrong with it?  What would make it better?