Supersonic Man

January 22, 2021

Sanity is your responsibility as an adult

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 4:24 am

When people hear the word “sanity”, they tend to think of it as pertaining to medical or psychiatric conditions over which an individual may be powerless. But those cases are actually the exceptions, not the norm. For most of us, how sane we are is actually a matter of choice. We choose every day whether to remain fully engaged with reality as it is, or to fall into some form of denial or delusion. Some of us make these choices mindfully, including many who have to deal with mental health challenges, and some of us do not.


December 16, 2020

thank God for the Puritans

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing — Supersonic Man @ 7:04 am

The Colonies which went on to become the United States of America had two kinds of settlers and founders. One kind sought freedom of worship, and the other sought wealth. The former settled in the North and the latter had the South all to itself. The two founded quite different cultures: one of them invented modern democracy and made this land a beacon of hope for oppressed and exploited peoples all around the world; the other participated whole-heartedly in oppression and exploitation, and came close to snuffing out that beacon a few generations later.

In the early days, Puritans did own slaves, but their religious consciences prevented the levels of abuse that became routine in the South, and once an abolitionist movement grew in later generations, it was rooted in Puritan thought. Even the harshest and least tolerant early Puritans produced thoughts such as “Liberty is the proper end and object of authority,” and the idea that community leaders could be chosen and removed by the people.  In Massachusetts, the “Body of Liberties” document forbade enslavement of most people as early as 1641.  And those who were enslaved — mainly Wampanoags from the losing side of “King Philip’s War” — in many cases got themselves freed by the colonial courts.  Two centuries after the Body of Liberties, one accusation that slaveowners hurled at abolitionists was of excess Puritanism.

If it hadn’t been for the Puritans and similar religious sects, America might never have become a democracy. Without them, America would be nothing but a land of assholes, and politically would probably have started with feudalism and ended with fascism.

December 6, 2020

the Amiga 1000 was better built than I thought

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry,life,technology — Supersonic Man @ 9:26 pm

An Amiga 1000 was the first computer I ever bought with my own money, and I still have it. And I always knew that in some ways it was well built, because that one I bought back in the eighties still runs, whereas the far more expensive and rugged and professional Amiga 3000 that I bought in the nineties died long ago. But now I’ve found that it’s even truer than I thought.


November 30, 2020

everything rockety is happening in December

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,technology — Supersonic Man @ 8:12 pm

This coming month, especially the middle part, has got a crazy concentration of innovative rocket events all scheduled around the same time. Of course many of them may see their schedules slip by a few days or a few months, but if not, it’s going to be kind of nuts keeping up with all the firsts happening in this brief period. Let’s run them down:

Dec 6: Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe will reenter the atmosphere with rock samples from asteroid Ryugu.

Dec 11: Russia’s space agency will make a second test flight of their Angara A5 rocket, in which a central booster has four more of the same kind of booster stuck onto its sides. Why is it so significant if this is a second flight rather than a first? Because the first flight was in 2014. They’ve been reworking this thing for six years.

Dec 17: China’s Chang’e 5 lunar lander will attempt to drop moon rocks back on Earth. If successful, these would be the first new batch of moon rocks anyone has retrieved since 1976, and would end any doubt that Russia has now been supplanted as the #2 space power. Hopefully it will also be a wakeup call for NASA, which thanks to Congressional pork-barrelry has wasted billions and billions on the SLS rocket and Orion capsule, which both look likely to be obsolete relics before they see much useful service.

Dec 19: Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit (a distinct company from his Virgin Galactic) will make a second try at reaching orbit with their LauncherOne rocket, which launches horizontally at high altitude from under the wing of a 747. (The first attempt aborted early when a pipe failed.) Incidentally, Virgin Galactic is doing a suborbital test flight of its own on Dec 12 or 13.

Dec 20: China’s space agency will make a first test launch of a new midsized rocket which they hope to eventually make reusable, like a Falcon 9 — the Long March 8. This is actually coming earlier than expected, which is almost unheard of in rocket-land.

Dec 22: A new rocket company called Firefly will attempt to launch their Alpha rocket from Vandenberg. It’s a lot smaller than a Falcon, but bigger than Rocket Lab’s Electron — a large small rocket, you could say. Everybody’s been assuming that small rockets like the Electron would soon be competing in a very crowded market, but as yet no such crowding has actually happened — for the time being, the Electron still stands pretty much alone. If Virgin and Firefly both succeed, those days will definitely be over.

Dec ??: Another new company, Astra, is trying to make their second launch attempt by the end of the year. (Their prior attempt went off course and crashed.) If they succeed, they will have the world’s cheapest orbital rocket, and it’s designed to go into mass production. And they’re based right here in the Bay Area.

I might also mention that there’s a new Chinese company called Deep Blue Aerospace which has said they’ll try launching a new Nebula-1 rocket by the end of the year, but as yet I have no idea if this claim is to be taken seriously.

And before any of these we can probably expect to see SpaceX fly a Starship prototype to an altitude of 15 kilometers (50,000 feet) and then try to land it in a complicated belly-flop maneuver, which regardless of whether it succeeds or fails, should be quite a sight either way. They’re also debuting the Dragon 2 as a cargo carrier, so the space station will have two Dragons docked at once.

Meanwhile, ULA is going to attempt two launches of their Delta IV Heavy, the rocket that used to be the most powerful available before the Falcon Heavy came along. They only tend to do one or two launches a year, and aren’t planning any for 2021, so it’s weird to see two scheduled in the same month. After these, there are only three more Delta IV Heavy launches scheduled before the rocket (the last of the Delta series) is to be retired.

Update: How did things go?

Hayabusa 2’s reentry capsule was successfully retrieved from the Australian outback on Dec 6 in excellent condition. One sample container yielded “a good amount of sand… along with gases,” and the other had gravely chips. The total amount was about five grams.

The Dragon 2 cargo flight went up later that day, and docked on Monday the 7th. (Other routine Falcon 9 satellite launches went up on the 13th and 19th.)

The Starship test flight goal was lowered from 15 kilometers to 12.5 (the original plan had been 20). On Dec 8 the launch was aborted 1.3 seconds before ignition. On Dec 9 it went up, but the landing burn didn’t quite work, and it hit too hard and made a fireball. SpaceX says the fuel header tank had too little pressure. This caused one engine to shut down early, and another to burn out its insides with excess oxygen.  [In February, the next test crashed even harder. In March, the next one touched down with only a slight crunch, then blew up on the ground a few minutes later. Also in March, the one after that exploded in midair.]

Chang’e 5 successfully got its rock samples into lunar orbit and handed them over to the return vehicle on Dec 8. That vehicle spent several days raising its orbit and started its return trajectory on Dec 13. The canister landed early Dec 17 with 1.7 kilograms of samples. The orbiter then departed for an additional mission.

One Delta IV Heavy launch — the one originally scheduled for August — went up on Dec 10. The other is now slipping into 2021.

Astra put their rocket on the pad and readied it for flight on Dec 11, but scrubbed due to excessive winds. They finally launched on Dec 15. It flew correctly but came up short of orbital velocity by 480 meters per second, meaning they got about 95% of the way there. The upper stage ran out of fuel with oxygen left over, meaning the problem was an incorrect mix ratio, which is easy to fix.

Virgin Galactic’s suborbital test flight was aborted at ignition time on Dec 12, apparently due to a failed electrical connection. They had to glide to a landing.

But Virgin Orbit had to call off their December launch attempt due to covid. Too many employees were quarantined in the Los Angeles area’s surge of cases. They flew on Jan 17, and reached orbit successfully.

The Angara launch took place successfully on Dec 14.

The Long March 8 flew successfully on Dec 22. It may still be some years before they can make it reusable, but they are working now on making it quick and easy to launch with minimal prep work.

Still looking forward to the Firefly Alpha.  December ended with no word from the company on when to expect a launch attempt, and so did January, February, and March.

November 21, 2020

small commercial rockets

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,technology — Supersonic Man @ 9:16 am

In the world of rockets, most of the attention goes to the big boys — the ones that do the prestige missions that carry live people, or send stuff to the moon or beyond. And most of these are still governmental, like the SLS being built for NASA’s Artemis program, or China’s new Long March 5. Even for purely commercial launches, such as communications satellites, until recently most were done by commercializing launches on rockets built for governments, like the Atlas or Soyuz, or India’s PSLV and GSLV.

As yet only SpaceX has made a successful business out of privately constructing a large rocket, the Falcon 9. One other company has tried this: Orbital ATK, recently merged with Northrup Grumman, built the midsized Antares with the help of a Ukrainian company called Yuzhnoye. But the Antares has yet to sell a launch to a nongovernmental customer. And one more company will be trying it soon: Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. Also, the United Launch Alliance is building the Vulcan as a replacement for their Atlas, and SpaceX hopes to obsolete the Falcon with the Starship. As far as big rockets go, that’s the whole list. No purely commercial large rockets are in the works outside of the United States. Some have plans on paper, but they’re future hopes, not current projects. And for that matter, none of these is without some degree of taxpayer subsidy, though the Starship is nearly so.

But with small rockets, it’s a very different story. As technology has enabled satellites to be built in much smaller sizes, there has been a great surge of interest in little rockets. And the number of companies trying to be pioneers in small rockets is countless — there are literally dozens of them around the world, and nobody knows how many of them should be taken seriously.


October 25, 2020

why isotopes?

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science! — Supersonic Man @ 6:51 am

In the process of writing my lengthy unfinished article about how chemistry works, a side question came up for me: Why do the chemical elements have isotopes? Or more broadly, why do atomic nuclei always contain both protons and neutrons? All combinations consisting of anything but a single proton by itself (which acts as a nucleus when it forms a hydrogen atom) contain a number of neutrons approximately equal to the number of protons — often a slightly larger number, especially in the heavier elements. Why do you never see two protons stuck together with no neutrons, or vice versa?

It turns out that the answer is beta decay. This process is based on the nuclear “weak force”, which is shared between the two main classes of massy fundamental particles, the quarks and the leptons. (The “strong force” applies to quarks only. It’s what holds nuclei together.)


January 12, 2020

the English accent is stupid

Filed under: fun,Rantation and Politicizing — Supersonic Man @ 9:01 pm

Americans generally respect the English accent. I assume attitudes are similar, if not more so, in Canada, Australia, and so on. (Maybe not so much in Ireland.) People think the English accent sounds classy and refined. But if you look into how the English “Received Pronunciation” accent came to be so different from those of the USA and Canada and Ireland, the reason turns out to be ridiculously lame.

Classy is the important word here. The difference arose precisely because people thought it sounded more classy and refined. Until about the year 1700, most people in England spoke quite similarly to those in Ireland or North America, pronouncing letters such as R and O as they were written instead of with peculiar distortions. But after that, throughout most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as economic opportunity started to become accessible to commoners, those who were financially or socially ambitious did their best to emulate the manners and styles of the classes above their own, as a way to make a better first impression and be taken more seriously. And a very popular way to do so during this period was to attend a class in “elocution”. A whole industry sprang up of teachers and tutors who would train their students in how to talk in a way that sounded upper-class. And some of these teachers knew their job better than others. What they taught was often not so much a copy as an amateurish mockery of how their betters actually talked. But by the end of the eighteenth century these teachings were being incorporated into the standard school curriculum, and by the end of the nineteenth the aristocracy were following along with the changes to the common speech, imitating an imitation of themselves.

(Speaking of class, I once heard an astute observation that when an American is trying to face down a threat, and attempting to sound more intimidating than usual, you can tell what social class they belong to by whether they start talking more black in order to sound street-tough, or start talking more Brit in order to sound privileged. For 90% of us it’s the former, but in loftier social circles the latter is still regularly heard.)

But the silly part is where the accent the elocutionists were copying really came from. The answer to this starts in the reign of Queen Anne. As mentioned in my previous post, Anne was the last of the Stuart dynasty. Anne got pregnant seventeen different times trying to produce an heir, but none of her children lived past age two. Her sister Mary II, who preceded her on the throne (co-ruling with her husband William of Orange), had one miscarriage and no live children. So when it came time to put Anne’s successor on the throne, they had to look a lot farther afield than usual to find the “rightful” next in line. And who they came up with was her second cousin Georg Ludwig, Elector of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg (commonly called Hanover after its capital city).

When King George I took the throne in 1714, he spoke no English. He never did bother to master the language over his thirteen year reign. His son George II did speak English, but since he learned it as an adult, he of course had a German accent, as did the twenty-three political staffers that his father had brought over, and their families and servants. Only when they got to George III in 1760 did Britain once again have a monarch who grew up speaking English, and he was hardly the best role model for it because of his poor mental health.

The English accent which was spread by professional elocutionists has its origin in courtiers and toadies imitating the German accent of the Hanovers. And it wasn’t entirely just the Hanovers: before their time, William of Orange had spoken with a thick Dutch accent, and afterwards, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha married Victoria and brought a supplemental dose of German accent to the royal family, just to remind people how it’s done.

This is why the English accent of today often pronounces the short A as in German, and muffles the letter R as a vowel tone though it’s still used as a consonant. This doesn’t really explain how the long O turned into a diphthong, but I put that down to the errors of amateur mimicry. It’s the sort of thing that’s easy to do when exaggerating someone else’s accent. (Or maybe it came from trying to say Ö.) No positive reason exists for pronouncing English words this way; compared to American or Irish English, the ease and clarity of speech is objectively poorer. Since getting established as a norm the accent has continued to evolve, going in its own direction without any more German input.

If you listen to the various regional accents from around the edges of England, most of them are less affected by this Germanization, which was strongest in the central urban areas. But if you want to hear how English is supposed to sound without the affectations of the eighteenth century’s professional ass-kissers, you need to go at least as far as Ireland, and to hear the most accurate version, the place to go might be Appalachia.

Though Americans do generally think that today’s standard English accent sounds classy and refined, people conversely also recognize that falsely affecting this accent is often a hallmark of a pretentious classist snob. Little do they realize that this actually applies to the accent as a whole: it only came to exist because pretentious affectation was widespread at a time when classist snobbery was the norm.

January 9, 2020

Just how Game-of-Thronesy was Olde England?

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 10:59 am

All the scheming and backstabbing and murder in Game of Thrones was famously inspired by a power struggle in fifteenth century England known as the Wars of the Roses, in which the rival houses of Lancaster and York repeatedly waged civil wars to overthrow each other. The timeline went like this:

1399: Henry of Bolingbroke overthrows Richard II, ending the Plantagenet dynasty and founding the Lancaster one. (But Henry was himself a Plantagenet, making this house a “cadet branch” — the Lancaster name is from his mother’s side. His father had once been Richard’s regent.) Henry’s army confiscates land and spreads ruin on all who oppose him. From now on, the court speaks English instead of French. Richard II dies imprisoned in the Tower of London, supposedly by starvation, which may have been self-inflicted.

1400-1410: Henry IV fends off numerous rebellions, plots, and assassination attempts, greatly aided by the ever increasing military prowess of his son and heir, Henry of Monmouth.

1410: Young Henry pressures his ailing father into handing over the majority of his power.

1413: Henry V succeeds his father. In the next few years he more or less conquers France. This, combined with concessions to anti-Lancaster factions and a general attitude of forgive-and-forget, cements his legitimacy and diminishes rebellions.

1422: Henry V dies young and is succeeded by the infant Henry VI. His father’s conquests start to unravel, thanks in part to Jeanne d’Arc. Young Henry is crowned King of France but never gets to rule it.

1453: The Hundred Years War ends with England almost entirely expelled from France. Henry VI suffers a mental breakdown and becomes unfit to rule (if he wasn’t already). For the next eight years he goes in and out of lucidity. His wife Margaret of Anjou and his Lord Protector Richard of York (another cadet Plantagenet) vie for power in his stead, their fortunes rising and falling with the king’s sanity level.

1455: Richard of York launches the first War of the Roses in an attempt to take the throne, after Margaret gets him dismissed as Lord Protector. Much of England decays into warlordism. He is executed in 1460.

1461: Richard’s teenage son wins the war and takes the throne as Edward IV, establishing the York dynasty. Crucial backing came from the wealthy and powerful Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker.

1470: Warwick, having not quite mustered enough clout to depose Edward himself, changes sides and joins the Lancastrians. With his resources, supporters of Henry VI march on London and retake power. Warwick apparently intends Henry to be his puppet.

1471: Edward IV deposes Henry VI for the second time, killing Warwick at the battle of Barnet. This time Henry dies in the Tower of London… whether accidentally or deliberately is not known.

1483: Edward V succeeds his father at age twelve, but a political scheme promptly leads to him and his brother being declared illegitimate. His uncle and regent the Duke of Gloucester seizes power as Richard III, and Edward and his brother go into the Tower for “protection”, but never come out. Edward’s loyalists attack, but Richard defeats them. Both sides of this battle are Yorkist.

1485: Henry Tudor (a distant cousin of the Lancasters, and grandson of Henry VI’s mother and her secret second husband) defeats Richard III in battle, and marries Edward V’s sister Elizabeth of York to unite the claims, ending the Wars of the Roses.

Yep, that is pretty darn game-of-thronesy (minus the HBO pornification factor, of course). Now, is this exceptional or is it typical?

Turns out, there’s quite a lot of this crap spread over the centuries. In Anglo-Saxon times, for instance, there were about five kings who gained power by conquest (some of them Danish), and two who found their paths to the throne cleared by their rivals suffering suspiciously convenient “accidents”. Several more won the throne through covert political struggles where we’ll probably never know what really happened.

The story is not too different in the time of the Normans and Plantagenets. Three kings took power by conquest, King John barely retained power in the first Barons’ War (which nearly resulted in Louis VIII of France seizing the country), Empress Matilda semi-deposed Stephen of Blois for a while before both factions were booted out by Henry II (the first Plantagenet), and in the second Barons’ War, Simon de Montfort seized power from Henry III for a couple of years but did not claim the kingship. Henry I was helped to power by another convenient death, and Edward III had to stage a coup against his own regent, the guy who (assisted by the queen) had deposed Edward II. And just as in Saxon times, the plots or rebellions or invasions that succeeded were just a fraction of the ones that were attempted. Henry II once put down a rebellion led by his own wife and sons. There was also a peasants’ revolt.

In Tudor and Stuart times, things calmed down somewhat, but this time included the English civil war, which saw Oliver Cromwell and then Charles II win power on the battlefield. It was also during this period that “Bloody” Mary I seized power at the head of an army without needing to fight, and Elizabeth I had to fend off Mary Queen of Scots. A century and a half after Bloody Mary, William of Orange also arrived with an army. It may have been more or less ceremonial, but its presence is what persuaded the unpopular (and Catholic) James II to skedaddle. The important difference is that this time, William and Mary took power only on terms set for them by Parliament, which had essentially just used them as a lever to dislodge James. Traditional games of thrones were now generally a thing of the past.

The period was brought to a close by Anne, the successor of William and Mary, and last of the Stuart dynasty. It was under her that the component British countries were turned into the Kingdom of Great Britain (at a time when Scotland was in economic crisis and in no position to decline… said crisis having largely been created by William).

Since that time, the succession has remained orderly and lawful, though George II did have to fend off one last failed usurpation in 1745, backed by Scots who’d been promised independence by the Stuart descendant they called “Bonnie Prince Charlie”. Under the Hanovers and Windsors the power of the throne has been steadily reduced, making it more ceremonial with every generation, and no longer worth fighting and killing for.

I hope I live to see the day when the process is completed, and Britain becomes a Republic in which there is no longer any such thing as a royal house.

France got there, and their royal shenanigans in the fourteenth century were about as bad as England’s in the fifteenth — in fact, this period was a second source of inspiration for George R.R. Martin’s tale. He particularly points to a series of historical novels about this period called Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings) by Maurice Druon. He also took inspiration from Scotland, particularly for the really bloody bits like the Red Wedding.

Many of the Game of Thrones characters drew inspiration from people mentioned above: Cersei from Margaret of Anjou (with some Italian influence), Joffrey from Richard II, Robb Stark from Edward VI, Tywin Lannister from Edward I, and so on. Tyrion has some Richard III in him, and Daenerys has Henry Tudor crossed with Cleopatra, with bits of Jeanne d’Arc and Alexander the Great.

January 4, 2020

the edge of space

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science! — Supersonic Man @ 11:32 am

There’s a controversy about where “space” begins. The internationally accepted standard is the altitude of 100 km, which is known as the Kármán line. But in the USA, many advocate for the more lenient definition which says you’ve been to space if you rise to an altitude of only 80 km, or more traditionally, 50 miles. Which view is more correct? Well, when an orbiter reenters the atmosphere, the point when reentry heating starts to get significant is around 120 km, so in my view the 80 km line is definitely the less valid of the two.

In the end, I say both are bogus: you aren’t really in space until you get to at least 200 km up, high enough so that it’s possible to orbit the Earth a few times without promptly falling down from drag. You can’t orbit for very long at 200 km up — useful satellites start at about 300 km — but it is at least possible to orbit for a little while, like a day or so, at that altitude. There are plans afoot to orbit very low satellites between 160 and 200 km up… but only by using continuous power to compensate for drag. At 100 km altitude, you are in the ionosphere, not in space, and probably won’t make it around the Earth even once. In fact, the ionosphere actually extends above most satellites… which is intentional, as this means they will eventually come down. Keeping most satellites this low is a policy which reduces the long term risk of “space junk”. But I would say that if you can orbit, you’re in space.

December 20, 2019

capitalism, free enterprise, and entrepreneurship are three separate things

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 6:27 pm

Those who claim to speak for the positive value of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise often try to convince you that the three are all one thing, and that the arguments in favor of one apply to all. This is not true.

One who practices capitalism may also be an entrepreneur who practices free enterprise, but this is not necessarily the case. A person might be a capitalist, entrepreneur, and free-enterpriser all at once, or any two of the three, or just one (or none).

Let’s start by looking at what, strictly, each term refers to. Then we can look at how the distinction becomes important to keep in mind.

Entrepreneurship is when people invest their personal capital, or capital financed by debt, into starting a new business, and then try to grow the business larger. The key factor is that growth and success depend on their own effort and skill in developing the business, rather than on just the capital that was invested.

Free enterprise is the absence of official and unofficial barriers to trade and business — a condition in which those who have an idea for trying a profitable venture can succeed or fail on the value of the idea, rather than be obstructed by some law, regulation, or privilege. (One gotcha is that when good productive ideas are liberated and empowered, you can also end up enabling opportunities for crooked scams.) The term “free enterprise” is loosely also used to refer to the practice of operating a business venture which depends on these conditions, rather than being dependent on, for instance, subsidies or protectionism. Of course, those whose businesses are dependent on an advantage of this sort often like to pretend otherwise, and co-opt the term even though it doesn’t apply to them.

Capitalism has a strict technical meaning: it is the practice of using wealth to increase the productivity of labor. Someone who buys a nailgun to replace a hammer, or a backhoe to replace day laborers with shovels, is engaging in capitalism. To clarify this, we must also point out that technically the terms capital and wealth do not refer to money, but to tangible assets such as land and equipment. Anything of value is wealth; anything durable which is used productively is capital. (If it’s consumable rather than durable, it’s stock.) It is these physical assets which increase labor productivity, not the money that was spent on them. Assets which enhance productivity can also be less tangible, such as a copy of Photoshop or the contents of a reference manual. (Education and training also increase productivity but are difficult to characterize as capital.)

A main side effect of capitalism is that the more capital is invested in your job, the less you have a claim of ownership over your own productivity. If you can’t do similar production on your own with your own equipment, much of the value of your work will inevitably be claimed by your employer instead of by you.

Using capital to increase the productivity of labor is the classical meaning of capitalism. In modern society, capitalism has another meaning which grows out of this: because after one capitalist invests in productivity, he can then sell that set of productive resources to another for cash… in the end, what capitalism amounts to in places like Wall Street is the practice of using money to buy ownership of workers’ future productivity. Investors end up having no direct connection to, or even knowledge of, the physical capital which actually enables the business to produce; they deal only with money, yet they fill the role of a capitalist because they own these durable resources, and the organizations and systems that have been set up to put them to full use.

And this brings us to why the apologists for Wall Street capitalism want you to conflate what they do with free enterprise and entrepreneurship. Both of those things create wealth, and have a lot of positive value for society. Both are rightly defended against the sort of encroachment that can cause economic prosperity to be undermined. But capitalism as practiced by Wall Street does not create wealth, it only asserts control over wealth. Wealth creation depends on labor and skill, not on money… and especially not on money which is simply used for speculative trading rather than for adding productive capacity. Speculative trading does not count as true capitalism, but those who practice this parasitic means of making money would, of course, rather you did not draw that distinction.

One of the favorite activities of Wall Street capitalists is to wait for an entrepreneurial outfit to get into financial trouble, then use that trouble to buy up control of it at a bargain price. At this point, if the workers are lucky there might be some new investment in productivity, but more often the result is that productivity is sharply decreased, in order to turn durable assets — including intangible assets such as brand reputation — back into money. This kind of raiding is technically the opposite of capitalism as it was originally defined, but those who practice it still want to be taken for practitioners of free enterprise and entrepreneurship, because a more honest look at their livelihoods is so much less flattering.

Investment banker types conflate capitalism with entrepreneurship so that they can call themselves “job creators”, even though as a class they often destroy more jobs than they create. And they conflate capitalism with free enterprise so that the social need to liberate creativity and productivity can be misconstrued as an excuse to give free rein to parasites and predators.

If we as a society want to encourage the benefits of capitalism, we should draw a clear line between true investment which raises production, and activities such as speculative trading and raiding, which do nothing to create new wealth or benefit the overall economy. Our policies should encourage the former but not the latter.

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