Fixing Facebook, The Internet, Money, And Most Other Digital Stuff

Blockchains and other cryptographic protocols are useful for online payment processing and other digital exchange systems, and p2p protocols for decentralized or crowdsourced security validation are highly desirable features of a modern digital system of accounts. What I dislike about Bitcoin (the best-known blockchain implementation) is that it invites speculation just as if it were gold. A modern digital system of accounts is best served by a unit of account that is relatively free from intrinsic value and thus free from speculation.

My sense is that making a universal transaction accounting/auditing system (also known in distributed and p2p computing circles as a distributed ledger) part of a “native” internet protocol suite will make it more stable. If it is ubiquitous it becomes like air and people are less likely to speculate on air than on gold or bitcoins. Such a core Internet protocol would provide an automatic  “audit trail” of every applicable read and write transaction, including but not limited to every payment, that is posted.  Such a protocol could be used for many important applications:

  • intellectual property management, especially for individuals posting on blogs and social media
  • micro-payments such as those proposed by Jaron Lanier in Who Owns the Future
  • retail payment systems
  • international payment systems, exchanges, etc.

Because its use could become so ubiquitous it should be designed and built very openly and carefully by a large public institution such as W3C, or by open crowdsourcing — not by a lone entrepreneur or small shop. What I’m proposing is actually an upgrade to the internet protocol suite — the core internet protocols — that would maintain a link between every named resource and a metadata file. I’m not current enough on the tech to get more specific or detailed about the implementation.

The innovation I suggest is to permanently and unbreakably link every named resource (or its URI) on the Internet to its own metadata file. I call that file the metadata “tail” or “fork”. Such a file might be a flat file, a structured database, a distributed hash table, an encrypted block chain, etc. — I leave that to better software engineers than me. The link between the named resource and its metadata tail must be unbreakable for the life of the resource and the metadata must be inviolable. The link should be maintained as deeply in the internet core protocols as possible. It may be possible to implement the metadata store itself at a considerably higher layer to allow for easier updates to the data store technology. After all I am probably advocating the creation of trillions of gigabytes of metadata here. A sort of audit trail of practically every read or write operation on the Internet.

Every resource’s metadata file would contain the following metadata:

1. At the minimum: creation date and author

2. Other optional metadata might include owner (if other than author), ownership rights, expiration date, etc.

3. History (audit trail) of every read, write, copy, payment, etc. transaction involving that resource.

We know that getting money is a means to getting many things of value, not that it IS value. And its fungible and persistent (durable) so its very handy and convenient. We’d be hard pressed to design money without this convenience, fungibility, and durability and still get people to use it. That’s the catch 22 for people hoping to solve ANYTHING by inventing new forms of money or non-money or whatever.

But we do have some serious problems with old forms of money. So I nominate (with tongue in cheek) dried fish as the new international standard unit of accounts. No, make that coconuts. Or barrels of oil. Or Bitcoins. or killoWatt hours (kWh) of electricity … Whatever we choose, if its a finite natural or virtual thing in limited supply people will rush to acquire it and if possible “corner” the supply. So maybe its best to use something in unlimited supply, such as plain, immaterial numbers. Oops, no, people have been speculating on “the numbers game” forever.

The more I think about all this the more I think my proposal to update the internet core protocols to add an “audit trail” of all transactions is the only solution to our problems —  with money, with accounting fraud, with social media content rights,  and with lots of other difficult problems  too numerous to mention at this point.

Poor Richard

PS My only innovation (if it is such at all) is placing the link to the metadata repositories deeply into the internet core protocol stack and applying the protocol to potentially all reads and writes on the Internet, not just financial transactions. It may also be innovative (or not) to propose individual and distributed metadata repositories, possibly using blockchain cryptography, rather than a common repository, for each and every named resource on the Internet. The main problem to overcome is the volume of metadata. The current Bitcoin blockchain would probably break under such volumes.


Further Discussion:

  • Poor Richard: Debates about money, accounting, credit, debt, etc. seem mostly anachronistic to me. What we should be more concerned with designing is the digital micropayment economy (protocol) proposed by Jaron Lanier in “Who Owns the Future” and which I try to imagine one approach to in my rough note  Fixing Facebook, the Internet, Money, and other stuff
  • Edouard Bry: Poor Richard, what about large purchases like a car, a house?
  • Edouard Bry: Poor Richard, that proposal negates anonymity. Personally I believe total lack of anonymity is not realistic from a human perspective. It’s OK conceptually but it does not take enough into account the need for some privacy most human beings have…
  • Poor Richard: An Internet-wide micropayment system can be used for all purchases, large or small, but at the small end it provides a unique service that Jaron Lanier explains in “Who Owns the Future” and related videos.  Thus far Lanier is not well-liked by many of the P2P, FOSS and “free culture” people. Lanier does not describe the implementation of the system, which is what I have tried to address. No one has yet proposed any specific user interface details, but the user interface would allow all internet users to make and receive payments of any size — but of special importance it would permit very tiny payments of fractions of a cent for comparably small services and goods like clicking a “Like” button or for posting or reading a facebook post.
  • Poor Richard: Edouard Bry, do you think Poor Richard is someone who would abandon anonymity? No. The application must include strong cryptography and access controls for varying degrees of privacy for different applications. Like block chains, a micro-payment protocol will be used by a wide variety of applications in addition to micro-payments. An Internet-wide micro-payment system can be used for all purchases, large or small, but at the small end it provides a unique service that Jaron Lanier explains in “Who Owns the Future” and related videos. So far Lanier is not well-liked by many of the P2P, FOSS and “free culture” people. Lanier does not describe the implementation of the system, which is what I have tried to address. No one has yet proposed any specific user interface details that I know of, but the user interface would allow all internet users to make and receive payments of any size — but of special importance, it would permit very tiny payments of fractions of a cent for comparably small services and goods like clicking a “Like” button or for posting or reading a facebook post.
  • Andrew Bransford Brown: I kind of agree, however, it is an incremental process. You might have a look at It solves the payment part. The structure might also solve the “metadata” issue you are referring to. “Promise Language”
  • Bernd Nurnberger: Interesting. Not sure I can agree in light of this: “Silicon Valley megacorps have no interest in transparency. They don’t want to talk to reporters who would ask them real question about their for-profit surveillance business operations. Why would they risk it when they can fall back a trusted crisis PR technique: shut the doors, don’t pick up the phone, lie low for a while and wait for the storm to pass.” 

  • Poor Richard: Andrew, the applications, like payment processing, could be incremental, but it is fundamental to my idea that the various applications I mentioned would all share a common back end that I call an automatic audit trail protocol for the Internet core protocol stack.
  • Richard Saunders: A world citizens movement and ultimately world governance could be set in motion simply by updating the internet core protocols to allow for secure “voting” on nearly all internet content
  • Adam Lake: Richard Saunders, why not use a protocol like email for p2p social networking with all data on personal servers?

  • Richard Saunders: Search “p2p email”. I haven’t investigated any of them, but it seems like a good idea for us to adopt p2p versions of the apps we use. That’s a different level of interaction than the core internet protocols which everyone uses automatically by default. They don;t need to make any decision or choice about it. Everyone worldwide is already using a common set of digital “tools” to interact with the internet therefore building a worldwide movement by using those common tools is as much a no-brainer as possible. I suspect there are forces within the internet governance community that fear the idea of building secure voting technology into the core internet protocol suite because of the potential disruption of all the old vested interests and powers.

  • Marco Fioretti: “secure internet voting” cannot exist, period. It’s not even wrong.

    As for “p2p versions of the apps we use”, and just for general reference (I have NO time to work on it for free, you are all sincerely welcome to do it yourself, or find somebody else who can!) here is a faster, much simpler way to get something similar soon. An intermediate but IMO unavoidable step towards real “p2p versions of the apps we use”:

  • Richard Saunders: @Marco Fioretti “secure internet voting” cannot exist

    Marco, is your objection to the word “secure”? I mean it only in a relative sense. If relatively secure financial transactions can exist, relatively secure voting can exist on the internet, can it not?

  • Marco Fioretti: “If relatively secure financial transactions can exist, relatively secure voting can exist on the internet, can it not?”


    Financial transactions are relatively secure only because if they go wrong someone surely notices it, often immediately, and comes asking for a refund or repetition. With internet voting, it’s impossible to realize that something bad happened. Unless it’s not secret, which would be so bad to be half disgusting half ridiculous.

    It’s absolutely impossible to guarantee that all software+hw combinations used for voting by people who by and large use their birth date as password or never update software etc… would be free of trojans, keyloggers and such. This has proved tolerable for making online payments only for the reason in the previous paragraph, it could never happen with voting. People who couldn’t be bothered to vote could even never notice that their computer was infected to vote on their behalf.

    If voting happens outside a safe place, there is no protection from abuse as in any variation of “vote now what I tell you and never tell anybody, or I’ll shoot you”

    etc etc. So no, relatively secure voting CANNOT exist on the internet. Period. Believe me I do NOT want to offend, but it makes me sad to see how many people who apparently thought of this for more than 2 minutes still propose Internet voting.

    And above all: WHY? Let’s assume just for the fun of discussion that all I’ve said doesn’t exist: what would be the REAL advantage of internet voting?

  • Richard Saunders: @Marco “what would be the REAL advantage of internet voting?

    I use the word “voting” broadly to include things such as “liking” and rating (+1, -2, etc.). Using an encrypted distributed ledger provides an audit trail. My point is that an encrypted distributed ledger (perhaps some type of “blockchain”) should become part of the core internet protocols. This would allow the world to rate any internet content or to “vote” in some fashion on everything. Security is always relative, so higher value data would need more protection, just as now.

  • Melvin Carvalho: …Using the new structured data layer of the web, contracts, governance, anything that an be modelled with data can be created. When you look at the web, try not to think of giant corporations controlling it, or locking it down, it was made for everyone to do anything they want. Any use case you can imagine with a block chain is doable on the dencentralized web.
  • Richard Saunders: Melvin, structured data and linked data are typically defined by triples: subject – predicate – object. This does not automatically constitute a strongly secure distributed ledger. If that is what one is after they still have to build that somehow. If we want to create a strongly secure distributed ledger, a bitcoin-style blockchain may not be the best route. BUT WHAT IS?

Notes on Property in Commons (draft)

[I’m publishing this draft work-in-progress here to make it easier to get feedback. Feel free to leave a question or comment]

Elinor Ostrom makes the point that commons-pool resources and commons property are different animals. Any particular commons resource can be held under a variety of different property regimes or property law systems. But commons resources and commons property are often confused and used interchangeably.

Resources vs Rights


The Bundle of Rights



Bundles, Systems, and Holders of Property Rights (Schlager and Ostrom 1992)

“…most institutional analysts are familiar with the Schlager and Ostrom work on property rights (Schlager, Edella, and Elinor Ostrom. “Property-rights regimes and natural resources: a conceptual analysis.” Land economics (1992): 249-262.). In this piece, they lay out a conceptual map for bundling of various types of property rights with a goal of showing that ownership is more than a simple binary division. Their revised table (from a 1996 book chapter) looks like this:”

property roles and bundles of rights - Ostromspace




property-rights bundle - big

The Bundle of Property Rights — Click to enlarge (


Estates—Rights in real property which are or may become, possessory

1. Freehold estates—exist for an indefinite period of time

a. Fee estates (a fee, an estate in fee, estate of inheritance)

(1) Fee simple absolute—the greatest degree of ownership.

(2) Fee simple defeasible—can be defeated by some condition subsequent

2. Less-than-freehold estates (a leasehold estate)—exists for a determinable period of time—a form of personal property.

a. Estate for years

b. Estate from period to period (e.g., month-to-month)

c. Estate at will

d. Estate at sufferance

[from  Real Estate Trainers, Inc..Legal Aspects of Real Estate]


Concurrent Estates (tenancy in common, joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety)



Trust (private, charitable, beneficial, etc.)

Beneficial Interest

Community Land Trust

Public Conservation Area

Private Conservancy


Doctrine of Mortmain


Do collective property rights make sense? Insights from central Vietnam


We draw on empirical results from three case studies of property rights change across forest and fisheries ecosystems in central Vietnam to investigate the circumstances under which collective property rights may make sense. A generic property rights framework was used to examine the bundles of rights and associated rights holders in each case, and to assess these arrangements with regard to their contextual fit, legitimacy and enforceability. The cases illustrate the interactions between private and collective rights to lands and resources, and the trade-offs inherent with different mixes of rights.

1. Introduction

Responding to the challenges of rural poverty and environmental sustainability requires a flexible mix of individual and collective property rights. Resource-based activities shift, depending upon, among other things, household needs, local ecologies and market opportunities. For these reasons, conventional categorization or advocacy of private, collective or public rights rarely account for the complex realities found in particular places (Barry and Meinzen-Dick 2008; German and Keeler 2010). Many property rights arrangements tend to enclose specific areas or reduce some people’s access to specific goods. Overlapping but differentiated ‘bundles of rights’ (Schlager and Ostrom 1992) and hybrid property regimes can offer a more effective lens for understanding property rights complexity. In the context of a mixed public-private or collective rights situation, such bundles of rights may be related to access, withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation of resources, or parts of a resource, through time and space (Barry and Meinzen-Dick 2008). Farmers or fishers may advocate for part of a bundle of rights (extraction, for example) with other rights residing with the collective or the state (management or alienation, as an example). Sensitivity to circumstance or context reveals that individual, collective and public property rights each have merits (Evans et al. 2010). The challenge for the resource manager, donor or policy-maker is to ‘read’ when and where different rights regimes may be appropriate to support poverty alleviation and sustainable rural livelihoods more generally.

Vietnam has moved from forms of collectivization and state ownership that began in the late 1950s to an ambitious ‘renovation’ program leading to individual land titling in the late 1980s (Do and Iyer 2008). The Doi Moi period (or ‘renovation’) aimed to transform a centralized, state-planned economic system into a more decentralized, market-oriented system whereby the private sector would become the main engine of growth1. One aspect of these reform policies was to devolve authority over production decisions to farmers and enterprises, and to establish property rights (for agricultural land and in some cases for individual households to manage forest areas) to encourage investment and provide a form of collateral for rural dwellers (Sunderlin et al. 2008). The majority of Vietnam’s 90 million people have access to small amounts of land (1–2 ha), particularly in rural, agriculture-focused areas (where 72% of the population lives) (HDR 2009). Policy reforms in the 2000s (e.g. changes to the 2003 Land Law and Fisheries Law) recognized the role for collective rights, once again, to manage forest areas and fishing grounds. However, in the context of increasing privatization of land and marketization of rural production, the contextual fit, legitimacy and enforceability of collective rights has been uncertain…

Insights from the cases highlight how the needs and aspirations of individuals and households do not easily conform to conventional property rights narratives (private vs. collective) or the implementation of policy prescriptions that emerge from these narratives. Results of the analysis contribute to common property theory by showing how local actors may choose to collectively manage and use natural resources (forest lands and aquatic resources in this case) as part of a broader strategy to obtain individual bundles of rights (which may include access, withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation of resources, or parts of a resource) within the context of a collective rights policy framework.


Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems, by Elinor Ostrom (2009 Nobel Prize lecture slides)


Individual garden plots on soviet collective farms

The sovkhozy tended to emphasize larger scale production than the kolkhozy and had the ability to specialize in certain crops. The government tended to supply them with better machinery and fertilizers. Labor productivity (and in turn incomes) tended to be greater on the sovkhozy. Workers in state farms received wages and social benefits, whereas those on the collective farms tended to receive a portion of the net income of their farm, based, in part, on the success of the harvest and their individual contribution.

Although accounting for a small share of cultivated area, private plots produced a substantial share of the country’s meat, milk, eggs, and vegetables.[citation needed]Although never more than 4% of the arable land in the USSR, private plots consistently produced roughly a quarter to a third of agricultural produce. Private plots were among many attempts made to restructure Soviet farming.[citation needed] However, the weak worker incentives and managerial autonomy, which were the crux of the problem, were not addressed.[citation needed]

The private plots were also an important source of income for rural households. In 1977, families of kolkhoz members obtained 72% of their meat, 76% of their eggs and most of their potatoes and eggs from private holdings. Surplus products, as well as surplus livestock, were sold to kolkhozy and sovkhozy and also to state consumer cooperatives. Statistics may actually under-represent the total contribution of private plots to Soviet agriculture.[4] The only time when private plots were completely banned was during collectivization, when famine took millions of lives.[5]

Soviets Pushing Food Production On Small Individual Plots…

Soviet law allows country and city dwellers alike to farm as much as one half a plots,— and the yield per acre far outstrips that of state and collective farms.


Party, State, and Citizen in the Soviet Union: A Collection of … – Page 258 – Google Books Result

The collective farm member’s personal household plot 57. use of a plot of land adjacent to their house as a vegetable garden, orchard, or to meet other needs.

Under the Collective Farm Charter (1935), individual farmers were permitted to keep small garden plots and a few animals for domestic use, and to sell surplus production in local free markets.


See R. W. Davies, The Soviet Collective Farm (1980); W. Hinton, The Great Reversal (1989); A. Etzioni et al., ed., The Organizational Structure of the Kibbutz (1980).


owners lavished more care and effort on their own crops than on collective or state fields. Comparative Economic Systems: Transition and capitalism alternatives – Page 96 – Google Books Result

Self-Sustainability of Subsidiary Household Plots: Lessons for

region actually was a combination of collective, state, and individual farming. Subsidiary household plots (lichnyye podsobnyye khozyaystva in Russian) culti ….. hectare, while the average yields in Russia are 18-20 centners per hectare. ….. Durgin, F., “Household Garden Plots,” RSEEA Newsletter, 13, 3, September 1991
The Meaning of Property “Rights:” Law vs. Economics?“Given the importance of property “rights” in economics, it might be expected that there would be some consensus in economic theory about what property “rights” are. But no such consensus appears to exist. In fact, property “rights” are defined variously and inconsistently in the economics literature.”

Analysis: Cuba’s derechos de superficie: Are they ‘real’ property rights?

A derecho de superficie is a derecho real over land that does not belong to its holder (the superficiario), but that the owner of the land in question concedes while retaining the title (dominio, or ownership) to the land itself. The superficiario is thus allowed to build and/or plant on the land while the laws acknowledge his own rights over the buildings or structures and plantations so emplaced as independent from the title holder or land-owner’s rights. Superficie rights are usually only temporary in nature. Once the superficie rights expire, when the term stipulated in its title (the grant or concession creating it) runs its course, or when it is otherwise extinguished, a reversion takes place and the owner of the land takes title to the buildings or improvements made on his land by the superficiario.

Over the past few years, the derecho de superficie has been enjoying a comeback in a number of countries — in Spain, in Argentina, even in China. And the Cuban Civil Code’s provisions on this topic are often cited as an example by those who urge their countries’ legislatures to make superficie rights part of their laws.

One of the reasons behind this resurge is intrinsically tied to societal models that, even if presently evolving (some faster than others), seek to keep the direct ownership of land in the hands of the state, such as Cuba.


Pensacola Beach is actually located on a barrier island in Escambia County, connected to the mainland Pensacola and Gulf Breeze by the Bob Sykes bridge. The land belongs to the Federal Government by virtue of a 1947 deed which leases it to the businesses and residents in 99 year increments, making them long-term leaseholders through the Santa Rosa Island Authority, instead of property owners.

Santa Rosa Island Authority

Pensacola Beach, is owned by Escambia County, Florida, and is under the direction of the Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA). The SRIA was created by the Florida legislature in 1947 under Chapter 24500. The SRIA does not receive tax support from the taxpayers of the county. It is fully funded from rental fees collected from business and residences on the beach.

The Authority is made up of six members, five are named by members of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioner and whose term is the same as the commissioner who appointed them. The sixth member is elected by the registered voters on Pensacola Beach. The sixth members’ term is two years.

Because of restrictions placed in the legal document from the United States government, land may not be purchased on Pensacola Beach; instead property is rented by the Island Authority for varying periods of time.

Pensacola Beach is about 1,474 acres, which make up approximately 30% of Escambia County on Santa Rosa Island. Pensacola Beach is about eight miles long and a quarter mile at its widest. At the present time 60% of Pensacola Beach is public use or public service land with the remaining 40% rented for residential and commercial use.


Open access vs. the commons

When Hardin (1968, p. 1244) asked his readers to “[p]icture a pasture open to all,” he was referencing an ungoverned open-access regime from which nobody could be excluded. Yet by calling the resulting collective action problem “the tragedy of the commons,” the notion of common property became conflated with the lawless (or law-free) condition of open access. The distinction between open-access and common property was made decades ago by Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop (1975) and has been reiterated by Ostrom (e.g. 1999, pp. 335–336; see also Schlager and Ostrom 1992) and others (e.g. McCay 1996, p. 113; Dagan and Heller 2001, pp. 556–557; Eggertsson 2003, pp. 75–76). Yet confusion on this point has yet to be fully eradicated. Recognizing that nearly all “private” property is actually owned (or at least used) by groups, such as households or firms, offers one way around this blind spot. These everyday examples of non-tragic commons lead us to ask not whether common property is feasible at all, but rather under what circumstances and at what scale.


Lee Anne FennellUniversity of Chicago Law School,

Elinor Ostrom’s work has immeasurably enhanced legal scholars’ understanding of property. Although the richness of these contributions cannot be distilled into a single thesis, their flavor can be captured in a maxim I call Ostrom’s Law: A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory. Ostrom’s scholarship challenges the conventional wisdom by examining how people interact over resources on the ground – an approach that enables her to identify recurring institutional features associated with long-term success. In this essay, I trace some of the ways that Ostrom’s focus on situated examples has advanced interdisciplinary dialogue about property as a legal institution and as a human invention for solving practical problems. I begin by highlighting the attention to detail that characterizes Ostrom’s methodology. I then examine how Ostrom’s scholarship yields insights for, and employs insights from, property theory. Next, I consider the question of scale, an important focal point of Ostrom’s work, and one that carries profound implications for law. I conclude with some observations about interdisciplinarity as it relates to research on the commons.


anticommons; commons; interdisciplinarity; models; scale; semicommons

Adam Smith on taxes, inequality of riches, regulating banks

adam smith on taxes“The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state ….[As Henry Home (Lord Kames) has written, a goal of taxation should be to] ‘remedy inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and burdening the rich.'” — Adam Smith

“Though the principles of the banking trade may appear somewhat abstruse, the practice is capable of being reduced to strict rules. To depart upon any occasion from those rules, in consequence of some flattering speculation of extraordinary gain, is almost always extremely dangerous and frequently fatal to the banking company which attempts it.” — Adam Smith

Swiss to vote on 2,500 franc basic income

Swiss to vote on 2,500 franc basic income for every adult | Reuters.

Five cent coins are pictured in the air in front of the Federal Palace during an event organised by the Committee for the initiative ''CHF 2,500 monthly for everyone'' (Grundeinkommen) in Bern October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

BERNE | Fri Oct 4, 2013 10:55am EDT

(Reuters) – Switzerland will hold a vote on whether to introduce a basic income for all adults, in a further sign of growing public activism over pay inequality since the financial crisis.

A grassroots committee is calling for all adults in Switzerland to receive an unconditional income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,800) per month from the state, with the aim of providing a financial safety net for the population.

Organizers submitted more than the 100,000 signatures needed to call a referendum on Friday and tipped a truckload of 8 million five-rappen coins outside the parliament building in Berne, one for each person living in Switzerland.

Under Swiss law, citizens can organize popular initiatives that allow the channeling of public anger into direct political action. The country usually holds several referenda a year.

In March, Swiss voters backed some of the world’s strictest controls on executive pay, forcing public companies to give shareholders a binding vote on compensation.

A separate proposal to limit monthly executive pay to no more than [12 times] what the company’s lowest-paid staff earn in a year, the so-called 1:12 initiative, faces a popular vote on November 24. [In the US top executives earn 350-400 times the income of the lowest-paid employees. –PR]

Swiss to vote on 2,500 franc basic income for every adult | Reuters.

Direct Democracy — US vs the Swiss

In the US, getting 100,000 signatures on a petition at (presently a shutdown casualty) within 30 days supposedly will get you an official response from somebody at the Whitehouse. Gee! Sort of like those vague, non-committal letters you get back if you contact your Congressperson about some topic?

In Switzerland, 100,000 signatures automatically puts your petition on the ballot for a national referendum!

Switzerland’s Referendums

“Frequent referendums concerning changes to the constitution as well as laws are the key element of Switzerland’s unique and well established tradtion of Direct Democracy. More than 100 years of experience with referendums on national, cantonal and communal level have shown that Switzerland’s system of referendums guarantees not only a maximum amount of self-determination to the citizens but also a stability of the political system Switzerland is often envied for.”

So Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (and Ben Franklin’s “Republic, if we can keep it”) has not perished from the earth; only from the US; and it has moved to Switzerland.

Dr. Franklin said,

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

and with no little irony he wrote to Joshua Babcock:

“Dear Sir, London, Jan. 13. 1772:

“I have lately made a Tour thro’ Ireland and Scotland. In these Countries a small Part of the Society are Landlords, great Noblemen and Gentlemen, extreamly opulent, living in the highest Affluence and Magnificence: The Bulk of the People Tenants, extreamly poor, living in the most sordid Wretchedness in dirty Hovels of Mud and Straw, and cloathed only in Rags. I thought often of the Happiness of New England, where every Man is a Freeholder, has a Vote in publick Affairs, lives in a tidy warm House, has plenty of good Food and Fewel, with whole Cloaths from Head to Foot, the Manufactury perhaps of his own Family. Long may they continue in this Situation! But if they should ever envy the Trade of these Countries, I can put them in a Way to obtain a Share of it. Let them with three fourths of the People of Ireland, live the Year round on Potatoes and Butter milk, without Shirts, then may their Merchants export Beef, Butter and Linnen. Let them with the Generality of the Common People of Scotland go Barefoot, then may they make large Exports in Shoes and Stockings: And if they will be content to wear Rags like the Spinners and Weavers of England, they may make Cloths and Stuffs for all Parts of the World. Farther, if my Countrymen should ever wish for the Honour of having among them a Gentry enormously wealthy, let them sell their Farms and pay rack’d Rents; the Scale of the Landlords will rise as that of the Tenants is depress’d who will soon become poor, tattered, dirty, and abject in Spirit. Had I never been in the American Colonies, but was to form my Judgment of Civil Society by what I have lately seen, I should never advise a Nation of Savages to admit of Civilisation: For I assure you, that in the Possession and Enjoyment of the various Comforts of Life, compar’d to these People every [American] Indian is a Gentleman: And the Effect of this kind of Civil Society seems only to be, the depressing Multitudes below the Savage State that a few may be rais’d above it.”


Poor Richard

Related articles

adam smith on taxes

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state ….[As Henry Home (Lord Kames) has written, a goal of taxation should be to] ‘remedy inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and burdening the rich.'” — Adam Smith

Public Banking

[From Public Banking Institute – Banking in the Public Interest.]

Public Banks are …
  • Viable solutions to the present economic crises in US states.
  • Counter-cyclical, meaning they are capable of reducing the negative impact of recessions, because they can make money available for local governments and businesses precisely when private banks decrease lending.
  • Potentially available to any-sized government or community able to meet the requirements for setting up a bank.
  • Owned by the people of a state or community.
  • Economically sustainable, because they operate transparently according to applicable banking regulations
  • Able to offset pressures for tax increases with returned credit income to the community.
  • Ready sources of affordable credit for local governments, eliminating the need for large “rainy day” funds.
  • Required to promote the public interest, as defined in their charters.
  • Constitutional, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court

Public Banking — it already works in the United States and is catching on!  20 States are considering some form of state banking legislation.

What’s Happening in your State?

Find out by clicking on the map or here.

Are you interested in starting a county-owned bank? Visit our new county bank webpage here.

Is happiness a warm gun?

Is happiness a warm gun? The UN 2013 World Happiness Report suggests…not so much.

What’s the Happiness Report?

In July 2011 the UN General Assembly passed a historic resolution. It invited member countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help guide their public policies. This was followed in April 2012 by the first UN high-level meeting on happiness and well-being, chaired by the Prime Minister of Bhutan. At the same time the first World Happiness Report was published, followed some months later by the OECD Guidelines setting an international standard for the measurement of well-being. The present Report is sponsored by UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (2013 World Happiness Report)
In the UN’s 2012 World Happiness Report the US ranked number eleven in the world for overall happiness. In the 2013 report the US dropped to 17th place. One of the major reasons cited for the changes in rank is “perception of corruption.”

In the table below, the observations about climate, guns, and taxes are my own.

Peace, Poor Richard

Source: World Happiness Report 2013

Source: World Happiness Report 2013

Related PRA 2.0 post: General Utility 2.0

The Top 100 Externalities of Business

[Poor Richard’s note: in most cases “externality” is a euphemism for accounting fraud.]

“…the profits of high impact business sectors would be wiped out if the costs of environmental damage and unsustainable natural resource use are accounted for.”

Natural Capital at Risk

Report: Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business

A publication from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Business Coalition

The study, “Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business” was commissioned by the TEEB for Business Coalition to identify the world’s largest natural capital risks and opportunities for business and their investors. The report, authored by Trucost, quantifies environmental externalities such as damages from climate change, pollution, land conversion and depletion of natural resources, across business sectors and at a regional level. It demonstrates that the profits of high impact business sectors would be wiped out if the costs of environmental damage and unsustainable natural resource use are accounted for. This report highlights the urgent need for businesses to manage natural capital assets and reduce liabilities. Businesses and investors can take account of natural capital impacts in decision making to manage risk and gain competitive advantage.
 Headline findings are:-

  • The primary production (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, mining, oil and gas exploration, utilities) and primary processing (cement, steel, pulp and paper, petrochemicals) sectors analyzed are estimated to have externality costs totaling US$7.3 trillion, which equates to 13% of global economic output in 2009. The value of the Top 100 externalities is estimated at US$4.7 trillion or 65% of the total primary sector impacts identified.
  • The majority of environmental externality costs are from greenhouse gas emissions (38%) followed by water use (25%); land use (24%); air pollution (7%), land and water pollution (5%) and waste (1%).
 Highest impact externalities are:-

  • Coal-fired power in Eastern Asia and Northern America rank 1 and 3, respectively estimated at US$ 453 billion per annum and US$ 317 billion. These consist of the damage impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, and the health costs and other damage due to air pollution. In both instances, these social costs exceeded the production value of the sector.
  • The other highest impact sectors are agriculture, in areas of water scarcity, and where the level of production and therefore land use is also high. Cattle ranching in South America, at an estimated US$ 354 billion ranks second. Wheat and rice production in Southern Asia rank fourth and fifth respectively.
The report assessed more than 100 environmental impacts using the Trucost environmental model which condenses them into six eKPIs to cover the categories : water use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste, air pollution, water and land pollution, and land use. These Environmental Key Performance Indicators (eKPIs) were then quantified by region across over 500 business sectors. The method used has limitations and is only designed to give a high-level indication of the priority sectors and regions where natural capital risk lies. Limitations in the method are outlined in the report to support ongoing development of this type of analysis.
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