GhostwrittenGhostwritten by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So cruising along in this book, somewhere near the end of the beginning, thinking, "hey, it's kinda like #9 dream" only more disjoint & hard to follow when, SUDDENLY, he blew my mind and tied everything together. cool. It's too much to ask that this twist isn't spoiled often in the reviews, so be careful how much you read online. I recommend against reading even the book jacket. Instead, just go get it.

Oh BTW an epic movie on Cloud Atlas is coming (has somebody mentioned that already).  It seems frankly too big to succeed, but I'll be sure to go.


Whew, 2/3 now and enjoying a burst of joy at the individual moves Mitchell makes. I want to say there's something very special about these books, but there's a middle missing.  I don't much miss it, but it isn't there.  It's plot of some kind.  There's plenty of action but no particular thread of continuity.  Not because Mitchell can't do it though. In fact, hiding behind the kaleidoscope is a Grand Strategy. It will all be revealed to hang together at once at the end, in a giant rogue wave of coherence. Along the way, you can see the web of cables gathering: it will be Check and Mate in one move after a midgame of mindless (seeming!) wandering. If he were a girl he'd have only a regular body, but the mind of a tiger and perfect skin. If he were a musician, it would be a grand symphony and each individual note played perfectly buy with only a barely perceptible melody.  Which brings me to the notes.

Lots of sentences are individually quotable.  I'll give you one, here, where the present story's hero Marco has just encountered a conceited, biddable, beddable woman in a London falafel shop. The sentences are individually beautiful, sad, or maybe laugh out loud funny.  They're so good that it would be possible to read the book over a year's time, just ingesting a page or two to adore the prose.

So you can enjoy Mitchell with a microscope or a telescope.  Right in front of your nose at normal magnification, in the mid-game, perhaps it's just ok, but each separate story is still interesting.   This is what Italo Calvino was trying to do.

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Election time, when we all think about economics.
I've posted on Tribal Economy before & this is an amplification of that idea.

The thing is, I want to tell you that I've found this miraculous elixir of prosperity. It's potent, it's everywhere, it's abundant.  Not infinite, no, but there's enough to go around.  It's oil, stored sunlight.  You can light the darkness. You can turn it into plastic, melt rocks to make iron, and maybe best of all, power tractors made from iron and grow a hundred times (I'm sure it's more than that) the crops you could otherwise.

So we have a largess, an inheritance, a trust fund to guarantee our leisure.  If you accept that homo sapiens is a viable species, that we could build huts and dig for potatoes and worms, bring down the occasional buffalo, then we're well enough equipped to survive.  With the great power amplifier that is energy (whether oil, solar, nuclear or wind, animal) coupled to our talents, we're sure to live easier than hunter-gatherers.

Olde Tyme economic policy held that there "should" be full employment because of this.  I can produce more than I need, so my production lifts us all, and why wouldn't we want that: some equitable arrangement is surely possible.  Keynes said it's a complex dynamic system and can get stuck in miserly caution where the positive feedback of productivity needs a kick-start.  (Hayek said, "watch out it's too complicated so don't meddle.") So where do we come down on the argument?  This year's election is sometimes cast as a referendum on that question.  I think it's a little different; it's not about a kick start.

I say the essential point is whether somebody, anybody, wants me to work or not. Of course that want is expressed indirectly through desire for what I could produce.  Well, what about satiety?  What if nobody wants anything.  Somebody's already running the tractor so we've got 99 slackers and the farmer ain't one.  So what is the problem? We started with me wanting work. Presumably I'm no just dedicated to watercolors because I'm not part of the tractor deal.  Maybe a few guys have formed a tractor collective and they won't share the fruits of their labor:  "We've got 5 of us, that's enough to drive this thing full time, so go looking elsewhere."

But what will they do with 95 unneeded rations?  That's none of your beeswax. "Store it up for the kids, maybe.  Or make likker, or iPhones, who knows?  We'll think of something and the point is, it's ours."

So ownership has altered situation on the ground hugely away from the mathematical average. Plainly it's a critical factor.  Before you all jump to the conclusion that I'm gonna go all commie on you, I'll say I agree the guys who built and drive the tractor need to get something for it, to motivate them to do that work. We can't all lay in the hammock or nobody eats. I get that. However, if they get it all, all the crops, then I'll still be a hunter-gatherer, elevated only very slightly by virtue of sometimes selling them a bit of pottery in exchange for a rare fine dinner.  Alternately, we could ALL work, just as hard as we used to farm, and create more value for everyone, but if just a few have all the wealth, and are sated, then the elixir of prosperity's bottled up and can't get out into the economy.

This is my nutshell argument for high capital taxes. Not capital gains, well those too, sure, but capital itself is what I'm after, perhaps through the mechanism of inheritance tax. We need to reward work, but we also need to get value out there, coursing through the economy. Our presupposition of ownership is just that, a premise.  It doesn't have any natural reason to be the baseline. "Check your premise" is a phrase bandied glibly: I'll adopt it.

In an age long gone when power flowed from the strength of your arm, it was awarded blindly by genetics, perhaps unjust but ephemeral as life. In an age of property ascendant, power is similarly unjust but indefatigable.  Even I at first said "law" there instead of "property," falling prey myself to the pervasive bias that property is a God given right.  I say this part of the constitution is too strong. We need to engineer enough turmoil into the system to make it possible for anyone to climb the mountain, and untenable to stand casually there forever without toil.

So I don't want a kick start, a jolt, an encouragement, a troubled asset relief program.  I want a fundamental change in the angle of repose that controls how steeply wealth can be piled. I think that can be found in IP law, capital gains and inheritance taxes.  We need to turn those knobs, a little, and for a long time.  That will control the system to a new and more broadly joyful setpoint.
I need to write more. Looking back I remember being frightened with Miles in the car, afraid he was very sick, I have so much political frustration, making beer with Bernardo, watching William run the mile, my job change. These are all things worthy of at least a note or something!  I got started on the topic thinking of a hut trip and some of the pictures people took, and the ephemeral and fading nature those pictures seem to have on Facebook, a site I simultaneously don't even like much, and yet have become dependent upon to archive my very life!  So that's triggered some scrapbooking gene, no doubt temporarily.

For this summer at least, the singular item going unrecorded so far, is pain. OTOH I expect everybody "gets" to suffer their own probably substantial dose of emotional and physical pain. So I won't dwell on this: it's not special or remarkable. Putting up with it as everybody does is something between heroic and just plain old necessary, or maybe both at the same time. I'll try not to be too whiny...

Anyway, this post is mostly a note to self to write more. Not that it'll be here, but in a journal or something.  I'll try to keep this blog more sporadic, & hopefully thus less irrelevant, than a diary.