Money doesn’t matter

Well, obviously it does. But the whole ‘government cannot pay for healthcare’, or land, or education : thats nonsense.

And any politician that claims that is either ignorant, or has an agenda that involves deliberate repression of the population.

These are strong claims, so let me break it down. Also, I’m not an economist, if I’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick economics-wise, I’ll happily update this or at least add errata to it…

Money isn’t wealth. Its a thing you can exchange for other things, but it itself is not wealth. Easy example: when countries have had runaway inflation, and the price of e.g. potatoes has been going up 100% a day, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you will eventually be unable to buy potatoes. But a potato farmer with 10’s of thousands of potatoes won’t run out and go hungry.

We use money to scale our society. Without money, we have some problems. Firstly, if I want something you have, but I don’t have anything you want, I have to find someone who wants something I have, and something you want that they don’t want, and then do that trade, then come back to you to trade the thing you wanted for what I wanted. This quickly becomes a bottleneck on actually getting stuff done. Secondly, once someone, say a potato farmer :), has what they want right now, they will be very hard to trade with : if they trade potatoes for things they don’t want, they are gambling that other folk will want them in the future. That requires everyone to become a good gambler on the future value of things.

But just like money isn’t wealth, money also isn’t work. We work to exchange our time for wealth; except money isn’t wealth, so really we’re exchanging our time for this thing we can exchange for the actual things we want. Government *literally* create money anytime they want, and they destroy it at will too. If there’s too much money floating around, then (at whatever prices folk are used to) everything will be purchasable, and its very likely folk selling stuff will run out and raise prices as a result. Then it becomes harder to buy stuff, although everyone that recieved those raised prices has more money to buy with, so this continues for a while : this is inflation.

Too little money, and things that could be sold won’t sell, because there isn’t enough money at the prices folk are used to, and the folk selling don’t want to “lose money” (which is odd, because money is a promise not a thing, so if you’re in a deflationary situation, selling *right now* may well be better than holding on and selling later :)), so they will be slow to lower prices, will recieve less either way, and just like with increased prices, the decrease gets spread amongst the participants – vendors, owners, employees.

But these things don’t happen instantly :- there’s slack in the system.

So what does matter? What actually matters is a combination of resources and productivity: those are the things that determine whether we, as a society, can produce enough things for our people to have what they want and need. For instance, building a house needs the following resources: land, building materials, labour, power, as well as ongoing supplies of power, water and sewage processing.

If, given the people currently in our country, and what they are being paid to do today, we have both enough resources, and enough labour-and-productivity, to house, feed, heat, transport and entertain everyone, then the failure to do so is not one of money but one of choice. That builder friend you know who doesn’t have work right now could be building a house for that other friend you’ve got whose family is sleeping in a garage. The builder that’s not working because the family in question can’t afford to pay for the land or the resources, and the builder has nowhere to do the building, nor any stuff to make the building out of.

The core choice is : do we as a society think its reasonable anyone should have to sleep rough, or miss out on school, or any of a thousand examples of poverty, when we’ve got the resources and production capability to fix it? Do we think that? Really? And what are we willing to do to fix it? Right now, a lot of the production capability of our society is owned by 1% of our society. So less than 1% of people are deciding what is made and how its made.

Now, there’s a bunch of curly questions like, what about the foreign account deficit? What about the fact that lots of land is already owned by someone? How do we fairly get that family the house they deserve? Won’t some people just ride on the coat-tails of others? Isn’t this going to require taking things other people have already earnt?

These are all fair questions. My answers to those are:

  • If everyone had their needs met we’d have many more people contributing to creative things we can sell to foreign countries, more than enough to address any changes in the foreign account deficit from sorting things out here.
  • Our current system has huge wealth inequality; it doesn’t matter whether that inequality is in the form of money, or ownership of things, either we leave that 1% controlling 99%, or we redistribute things in some equitable ongoing basis. Wealth taxes, CGTs, estate taxes. Lots of options.
  • I’m not sure. I think ultimately it means capping the maximum wealth ratio between our richest and poorest people. e.g. the more wealth you have the more you’re taxed until eventually – at say 500K / year (gross) wealth growth, your marginal tax rate becomes 90%, and at some higher figure, say 1M/year (gross) wealth growth your marginal tax rate exceeds 95%. That way wealthy folk get to choose what things they keep : there’s no central planning department or other bureaucracy involved.
  • Folk already ride on the coat tails of other people. But its nowhere near as simple as ‘those dole bludgers’. Folk on the pension don’t work. Folk with ‘passive income’ (read investments whose growth is high enough those folk don’t need to work). School kids. And yes, folk on the dole. For some folk on the dole, the marginal tax rate already exceeds 100% – there are some steps in our tax system that make part time work while receiving the dole very very hard. Home makers are also something we support as a society. though less directly. But lets assume fully 10% of the country simply don’t want to work. Consider this in productivity terms. We get 10% less things done. Big deal. We’ve enough resources and people to deliver those essentials: food, shelter, power, education, with waaay less than 90% of our workforce. And as automation inproves expect that 90% to drop down towards 10%. At that point we’d want 90% of folk not working, I suspect.
  • Yes, folk will have to get taxed on what they have not just on what they are gaining. This makes sense though: we want the system to slowly drive equity for everyone. (Not equality, and not sameness, just equity). Taxing what you have is actually a lot fairer than taxing what you earn. Because if you have nothing, but start earning a lot, you’re starting way behind everyone else, so not taxing you much is pretty nice. And if you have a lot, but aren’t earning anymore, not taxing you is really just giving you a free pass: supporting you in terms of every single shared resource and infrastructure.



OpenStack Mitaka debrief

Well, last week was the 6-monthly OpenStack summit in Tokyo. It was fantastic to catch up with many folk, but with 5000 attendees, there are many more that I didn’t see than those that I did. Yet I find the sheer volume of face-to-face stuff nearly overwhelming. I wish it was quite a bit longer and less intense.

Over the next cycle I’ve committed to a few things…

  1. Kicking off TC leadership of scaling for OpenStack. That is, sparking the conversation with the broader community about what scaling means for us, and ensuring each project is paying some attention to it – in the same way that each project already pays attention to e.g. backwards compatibility – they can choose how much, and implementation and so on, but the basic user expectations and framework for thinking about it are shared across OpenStack. The performance working group is certainly related to this but scaling is different to performance.
  2. Replacing the oslo incubator process with one that creates the package straight away. This will go up as a spec for approval of course. The crux of the issue will be finding a way to preserve the freedom of early refactorings without API commitments, without breaking everything. The current approach in my head is to use versioned submodules within the package during the pre-1.0.0 phase, and liberally copy-paste things when API breaks are needed.
  3. Helping the app catalog folk a little bit by doing a review of their review guidelines – looking specifically for gaps (e.g. like the currently unsecured http attack vector).
  4. Start a broad discussion over changing the way we use minimum versions of requirements. Today we raise the minimum version of most requirements quite eagerly. Yet for some like libvirt we instead use feature detection and degrade gracefully when non-latest versions are installed. It seems likely that it would increase compatibility with distributions if we took that approach more widely, but we’d need some care to think through the ramifications.
  5. Kicking off a discussion about leadership training for TC & PTL members. We vote folk into these rolls, but leading isn’t a innate skill. With our constituency of over two thousand developers, spending some money on good leadership training seems like a sound investment. If the TC agrees that its a good idea, my plan is to seek funding from the Board, and aim to make the training be a pre-summit event. This was suggested to me by Colette Alexander.
  6. Seek some more eyeballs on the olso.messaging Kafka driver spec from the HP folk that have been working with Kafka.
  7. Establish connections between Yahoo & HP’s iLO team – they’re seeing the same sort of lockups we did with IPMI on the TripleO test cloud (and the infra-cloud folk are still seeing that) – so I want to see if we can get the bug fixed for everyone.
  8. Work up a clear spec on refactoring the testrepository and subunit2sql layers so that we have all the data store backends in one common repository, an HTTP REST API for consumers like openstack-health, and still have a good experience for CLI users.
  9. Lastly, but not least, work up a formal stabilisation cycle proposal to try and give everyone (product working group, users, core developers) what they want which we seem deadlocked on not doing today. The basic thing to me seems to be fear of the consequences of saying no to feature patches – for pretty good reason; many developers have their income directly tied to achieving things upstream, and when upstream says no, the ensuing discussion is fraught (and there is often information asymmetry present). What we probably need to do is find some balance point – and then socialise the plan very broadly – including the Board, so they can encourage member companies to look after their developers properly.

If any of these things are of interest to you, please feel free to reach out to me :).