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Professor emeritus of world politics. Interested in current events and potential futures. Tired of living in the Dark Ages. Working to build something better.

An Informed Guess

The short answer: Friday, September 3rd, 2021.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe it will be as early as August 15th. Maybe it will be as late as September 15th. The Trump case is multidimensional, interstate, federal, and international. Grand juries have been empaneled in Georgia, Manhattan, the State of New York, the Southern District of New York, and almost certainly the District of Colombia. Potential charges range from tax fraud to electoral interference. They are both civil and criminal, against the Trump Organization as a corporation and members of the Trump circle as individuals. But a lot of…


Everything You’ve Been Taught Is Wrong

Economics has been defined as the study of how people deal with scarcity: production, exchange, labor, capital, wealth, desires, values, incentives, goods, services, and all the other means that people use to create and distribute value. It’s usually described as “the dismal science” because supplies are limited, desires are infinite, and every choice has an opportunity cost.

All of this is bullshit.

Perhaps I should be more charitable. To be sure, for many centuries humans have been hungry, and cold, and slaves to desires both rational and irrational. There are physical limits to how…


For those who still doubt climate change

Pedersen Glacier, mid-1920s and early 1940s, image courtesy of NASA

“Climate is what we expect. Weather is what we get.” Mark Twain was right. But these days, we need to update his observation: weather is what we notice; climate is what we ignore. Weather happens at the human scale; climate happens at the scale of civilizations. It’s been easy, with day-to-day variations, to focus on the immediate and ignore the trends. That’s why it helps to find ways to visualize what’s going on. NASA has recently posted some visual aids to do that. This is not about IPCC estimates. It’s not about arguments…


And the Fun is Just Beginning

Michael Dziedic on Unsplash

Sometimes it seems everything is happening at once. There’s the good news: The District Attorney’s office for Manhattan has revealed they aren’t only going after Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg and Trump Organization Chief Operating Officer Matthew Calimari — and other members of their families. The DA apparently doesn’t require the cooperation of either of them to produce a strong case against Donald Trump for financial crimes, but the testimony of either of them would help to nail down the lid on his coffin, and the best deals go to those who…


The Case for Sortition

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

What is democracy? What is it for? Why should we care? Abraham Lincoln provided a summary better than any political scientist:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…

…that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

— Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)

Government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” So how’s that going for you? For a government “of the people,” the…


An Essentially Contested Concept

The idea of freedom is a long one. It has been subject to multiple interpretations, and its meaning has changed over time. It is one of what political scientists call “essentially contested concepts”: words with strong values and emotion attached, but without a common definition in practice. Essentially contested concepts are one of the reasons why so many of our political arguments go on and on, with people talking past one another.

Starting with the Greeks, the idea of personal freedom — to not be a slave to another man — was transformed into political freedom…


Political debate on the Planet of the Apes

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The political narrative is always important. People live and die in accord with their myths, and the struggle to define political reality is a fundamental element of American life.

Let’s drop the pretense that people are “rational.” Many try to be, and most think they are, but one incontrovertible fact from psychology, sociology, and anthropology is that we aren’t entirely rational — we’re rationalizing.

That said, there are some who argue better and some who do it worse. There are some who try to stick to logic and verifiable facts, and some…


Laugh Until It Hurts

Government, as George Washington once observed, is like fire: dangerous, difficult to control, and too useful to live without. The only difference between the state and organized crime is that the state is perceived to have legitimacy. People obey laws not because they will be punished if they don’t, but because they don’t question the right of the government to make those laws. If you are paying protection money to an extortionist, it’s not because you want to. It’s because you fear what he will do to you if you don’t. If you pay taxes, it’s probably because you believe…


And I Feel Fine

Please note: the modern filibuster looks NOTHING like this

The filibuster is a Senate rule: nothing more, nothing less. It is not part of American Constitutional law. It has nothing to do with maintaining “tradition” or the soul of the Senate. It is not a “tool that protects the democracy of our nation” (Senator Sinema) It is a parliamentary procedure, until recently seldom used, where one or more members of a legislature continue to debate a proposed piece of legislation in order to prevent a vote. The tactic goes back as far as Cato the Younger, who would speak until dusk — when the Roman Senate was required to…


TANSTAR

One of the more memorable acronyms is TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Popularized in libertarian fiction like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, it refers to the fact that if it looks like you are getting something for nothing you aren’t looking hard enough. Everything has a cost. For example, the internet. We avail ourselves of “free” services like Facebook and Google, but these corporations haven’t become the wealthy and powerful actors they are without selling something. What they sell advertisers and marketers and opinion-makers is you: your browsing habits, your interests, your choices, your…

Daniel McIntosh

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