Instead of punishing bankers why not disrupt them?

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Instead of punishing bankers why not disrupt them?

I'm not the biggest fan of banks. Not content with crashing the world economy my own bank took the time to personally defraud me. The EU is currently planning to cap banker bonuses and this is just nuts.

It feels like an attack on the UK, where the lions share of our economy is banking and people coming to see the Queen. 

It feels anti-capitalist - why bankers? Why not footballers or movie stars or orthodontists? 

But mostly it feels like the wrong form of revenge, too easy to circumvent and ultimately likely to be toothless. Banks may say they have to pay outlandish bonuses to attract the best talent, but really it means the industry is ripe for innovation. Regulators should figure out and then remove barriers to entry (and throw up barriers to unfair competition, and hold competitions to encourage innovation) so that startups and software can eat the financial services sector.

Too big to fail all at once, but not too big to be disrupted into irrelevance. 

(All Politics Posts)

Bringing a SHIELD to a conker fight

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bringing a SHIELD to a conker fight

I've supported the SHIELD Act before, which would force patent trolls to pay legal bills for unsuccessful shakedown attempts, but a TechCrunch article today made me think this through some more. 

SHIELD would be a serious deterrent for trolls who have their eye on large companies with the means to defend themselves. But trolls eat startups first and a startup is often unable to fight through the courts and get to the point where SHIELD would help. If the troll is after something like $1,000 from every company using a scanner then not many businesses are going to risk going to court. And if the troll isn't interested in any reasonable settlement then the legal fees and management distraction can kill you

SHIELD is well intentioned and would certainly help. But we need to stop examining patents before issuing them and do the job properly for the few that ever get used in anger. 

(All Politics Posts)

Bishops

Updated on Monday, May 24, 2021

Not this kind of Bishop...

I’d love to not care what the Church of England thinks about allowing women to become Bishops. But sadly it’s the established church of England and we allow Bishops to sit in the House of Lords (which needs a complete overhaul, that that’s a different blog post).

The Government’s position on the vote is to be “disappointed”:

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister thought there should be women bishops and was disappointed at the result of the vote, but that it was “a matter for the Church to decide”.

Nick Clegg is disappointing. Which Book of Prayer to use is a matter for the Church to decide. Excluding women from the upper management of the official state religion when those managers also play a role in Government is a travesty.

Unless we’re going to allow Jedi in the legislature it’s time to kick the Bishops out of the Lords. It’s also past time to disestablish the Church of England and have proper separation of Church and State in the UK.

(All Politics Posts)

San Francisco 2012 Propositions

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

San Francisco 2012 Propositions

Following yesterday’s post on the California 2012 Propositions here’s a shorter post on how I’m planning to vote on the San Francisco (PDF) ballot initiatives:

A: City College Parcel Tax

Yes, happy to pay another $79 a year to support City College.

B: Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond

Yes, park improvements for a littler over $50 a year.

C: Housing Trust Fund

Yes, a modest amount of money to include affordable housing in a city that desperately needs it.

D: Consolidating Odd-Year Municipal Elections

Yes, because there are too many elections already.

E: Gross Receipts Tax

Yes, makes more sense than taxing payroll and doesn’t tax businesses until you’re over $1M in revenue (whereas the payroll tax hits pre-revenue startups).

F: Water and Environment Plan

No, this is a study on draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Which is just crazy. I might not support building it today but it makes no sense to look at getting rid of it now. Plus that water is really nice.

G: Policy Opposing Corporate Personhood

Yes, because a San Francisco policy will totally reverse hundreds of years of legal precedent. More seriously, corporations are not people and while a policy won’t reverse the malign influence of unlimited corporate spending on elections it doesn’t hurt to whine about it a little.

(All Politics Posts)

California 2012 Propositions

Updated on Thursday, December 26, 2019

My favorite proposition would be one to do away with propositions altogether. We need Legislative Service instead. But there is an election on Tuesday and a fresh slate of propositions for California and San Francisco that need to be decided. My thoughts on the statewide propositions are:

30: TEMPORARY TAXES TO FUND EDUCATION. GUARANTEED LOCAL PUBLIC SAFETY FUNDING. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.

Yes, grudgingly. I hate that Governor Brown has a knife to our throats on this one. If it passes then we get $6 billion of extra annual revenue, largely for education. If it fails then because the revenue is already in the budget we’re looking at further evisceration. The sales tax component is regressive, I prefer proposition 38’s more balanced income tax increases across the board. I actually like that the proposition 30 money hits the general fund – I hate measures that earmark money so specifically that there is no room for maneuver. So yes on 30 and no on 38.

The arguments against proposition 30 seem to be that it isn’t specifically earmarked (which I see as a plus) and that we shouldn’t be raising more money for education and public safety while also building out high speed rail. But as the 8th largest economy in the world California should be able to mange to improve public transport and education at the same time. Both are critical to long term growth and prosperity. There is also the argument that you can’t trust government with any money or decisions and that any problem can be handled by just reducing ‘waste’. I don’t really buy that and if you do you might be better off somewhere like Nevada.

31: STATE BUDGET. STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTION AMENDENT AND STATUTE.

No. ‘Local Action Plans’ would allow local government to circumvent state laws and this doesn’t seem like a great idea. Allowing the Governor to make budget cuts without the state legislature smells bad as well. Publishing bills in advance of a vote to help prevent pet projects and pork from being stuffed in sounds good, I wish it had been included as a separate proposition rather than lumped in here (in general Proposition 30 suffers from being too broad).

32: POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS BY PAYROLL DEDUCTION. CONTRIBUTIONS TO CANDIDATES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. It’s just a naked attempt to stiff unions and further increase the corporate money stranglehold on US politics.

33: AUTO INSURANCE COMPANIES. PRICES BASED ON DRIVER’S HISTORY OF INSURANCE COVERAGE. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. This allows insurance companies to offer a discount based on how long you’ve been insured with another company but also allows them to punish you for a lapse in coverage. If you choose to be without a car for more than a few months you can get a large increase in coverage. It doesn’t seem that the pros outweigh the cons here and the fact that the proposition is funded by the chairman of Mercury further tips me towards a no vote.

34: DEATH PENALTY. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Yes. I don’t care about the cost of the death penalty, or particularly in it’s effectiveness. I’m fundamentally opposed to the death penalty because I don’t think the state has any business taking life in cold blood. I also don’t think you can guarantee that you’re not executing someone who is innocent.

35: HUMAN TRAFFICKING. PENALTIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. Punishment for specific offenses shouldn’t be dictated by ballot initiative. Most of these crimes are Federal anyway and so any changes in CA law would have a minor impact (KQED reports 18 offenders in CA prison for trafficking). There is a provision expanding the definition of human trafficking to include copying child pornography… sounds great but you’ll probably end up doing 15 years hard time for backing up your teenager’s phone after they’ve been sexting.

36: THREE STRIKES LAW. REPEAT FELONY OFFENDERS. PENALTIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Yes. As the law currently stands you can get life in prison for drug possession. The US really needs to stop throwing everyone in jail. Judges should have the latitude to make the sentence fit the crime and not be automatically forced to throw away the key. This proposition makes three strikes a little more humane – I’d rather see it done away with altogether but it’s a step in the right direction.

37: GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS. LABELING. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

Yes. Personally I don’t really care about eating GM food, but a lot of people care very deeply and it seems reasonable to provide this information. The main argument against is sinister special exemptions but these boil down to alcohol (not labeled the same way as food to start with) and animals that have been fed GM food but are not GM themselves.

38: TAX TO FUND EDUCATION AND EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. See 30, above.

39: TAX TREATMENT FOR MULTISTATE BUSINESSES. CLEAN ENERGY AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY FUNDING. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

No. I’m not really sure which way of determining how to tax multi-state businesses is best. Allowing businesses to choose which method they use doesn’t seem the right way to go. If this proposition was just about changing the tax calculation I might be in favor, but unfortunately it also funnels around half of the additional revenue to a new outfit to spend on clean energy projects over five years. As the proposition is sponsored by one hedge fund manager you’ve got to believe that there is a hedge fund posed to benefit from the extra spending.

40: REDISTRICTING. STATE SENATE DISTRICTS. REFERENDUM.

Yes. Approves the outcome of the Citizens Redistricting Commission. The backers of the proposition have withdrawn support for it (Republicans trying to throw out the new districts), it’s only on the ballot because it can’t be removed – a yes vote in this case keeps things the same.

(All Politics Posts)

Support SHIELD–a small measure of patent sanity

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

A friend pointed me at the SHIELD (PDF) act today. This bill would make unsuccessful patent trolls pay defendants’ legal bills. It’s not as good as my radical plan to fix patents, but it’s a step in the right direction. If you care, let your congressperson know. Here’s the note I just sent to mine:

Dear Rep. Pelosi,

I'm writing to let you know that I support the SHIELD act Introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). As an entrepreneur and professional software developer I have personally experienced the job destroying effects of ill founded patent litigation. Any step to reduce this drag on our industry is a welcome step.

Regards,

Rob Ellison
San Francisco 

(All Politics Posts)

House of Lords - time for Legislative Service?

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

House of Lords - time for Legislative Service?

I've mulled the idea of having an upper chamber randomly selected from the public like jury service for some time, often over a pint with a friend who prefers to remain nameless. This friend wrote an outstanding letter to Mark Harper which is included below by his kind permission. 

Mark Harper didn't manage more than a stock response, and neither did Matthew Offord and so it doesn't seem that the British Government is taking up the concept any time soon. We talked about the e-petition system but it turns out that it's limited to 1,000 characters and submissions are vetted for duplicates. There is an existing e-petition with this idea written by Simon Ferrigno which I've voted for, and if you support the legislative service idea please do the same.

Dear Mr Harper

We understand that you are working with the Deputy Prime Minister on the matter of an elected second chamber. We’re sure that many proposals and reports have crossed your desk on this topic. We’d like to share something we came up with when the issue was initially raised a few years ago. Having kept abreast of developments via media reports, we were both surprised not to hear anything similar mooted.

Our suggestion is that the second chamber be made up of ordinary members of the public drawn from across the country, randomly selected from the electoral roll, typically for up to 2 weeks of service. The system would be administered in a similar way to jury duty, albeit on a national basis. These people would be brought together, put up in decent accommodation, well fed, and otherwise made to feel as if their presence and contribution is both valued and important. They will be tutored, in an unbiased fashion, on the background of the Bill under their consideration. The syllabus could be defined by the civil servants who draw up the legislation under consideration. At this point, a multiple choice test on what they have been taught will be administered, but the results will not be revealed.

After the test, they will have the specifics of the Bill explained to them by two barristers (selected by parties for and against). The barristers will have the ability to bring in subject matter experts (perhaps drawing on the talent pool currently in place in the HOL). At the end of the evidentiary stage, the “constitutional jury” will have the opportunity to debate the issues and pose any further questions they may have to the barristers or witnesses.

Once completed, the constitutional jury will vote on the matter(s) at hand. The only votes that will actually count are those cast by people who passed the multiple choice test (as long as a quorum is reached). The results will only be reported as percentages. No one will ever be told if their vote counted, and all members of the constitutional jury are recorded as having served in deciding the matter.

Among the numerous advantages, as we see them, are:

  1. Politicians are often heard bemoaning the lack of public engagement with politics. This is an ideal way of re-engaging ordinary members of the public with the business of politics and what happens in Parliament.
  2. The primacy of the House of Commons will be ensured due to the transience of the members of the second chamber.
  3. There are no expensive elections to be paid for, nor will anyone’s voting record need to be skewed to ensure their re-election.
  4. As this chamber will be entirely made up of randomly selected members of the public, there can be no claims of cronyism.
  5. Voting along party political lines may be reduced; hence the decisions made are those that a random cross section of society deem to be right, rather than the whips.
  6. As the names of the constitutional jury are not disclosed until after the final voting, lobbying by vested interests will be reduced.
  7. The second chamber does not necessarily need to be based in London. In fact, there is no reason why it cannot become a travelling roadshow, convening on a rotating basis in major towns and cities around the UK. This may go some way towards quietening some of the accusations that Parliament is London-centric and lessening talk about the Westminster Village.
  8. Should Parliamentary time be short and the workload high, multiple constitutional juries can be assembled (perhaps in different locations), to work in parallel considering different Bills.

We realise that some members of the House of Lords serve on multiple select committees. We’ll admit to not having a plan for how these will be staffed in the future. One could assume that for now, they can be appointed by Parliament continuing to draw on the talent pool from the current HOL and augmenting any vacancies with new appointments proposed by a committee of civil servants.

We realise that all parties are currently wedded to the idea of an elected second chamber. Is there any way that this could work as a viable alternative?

Yours sincerely...

Photo credit: UK Parliament cc

(All Politics Posts)

Reviews and Links for June 2012

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

3/5

A love triangle set in the turmoil of post-graduation. Well written but left me a little cold, I just didn't care for the characters or the sudden resolution.

 

Links

An important update from the International Earth Rotation Service http://t.co/n5VcLNH3 <- warning,="">

Seeing Beyond the Human Eye: Video of beautiful scientific and artistic photography http://t.co/aZsFEfh1

ITHCWY: Mission:Explore Food - Get It Now: I posted a few months ago about my brother's crowd funded book, Mission… http://t.co/1A2FEkHN

Kate's #MEF151 looks hard! http://t.co/Qo4N4weY #fb

Pyura Chilensis, the living rock http://t.co/54moGgML

Ghosts With Shit Jobs: http://t.co/CjDH5mz6 #fb

Google's Nexus 7 tablet image leaks onto the Web http://t.co/nuLji4zz via @CNET - holy crap that's a big bezel #io12

Robot Hand beats you at Rock-Paper-Scissors every time. http://t.co/W4K1zAeq (Robot hand crushes rock, robot hand crushes scissors...)

Moon Landing http://t.co/oHFSCowO

Patent 'trolls cost $29bn a year' http://t.co/VQRiKFtb

Facebook Just Changed Your Email Without Asking http://t.co/z9QRi3qP

#Bernal now has a Solar Pump http://t.co/e40lcNLY

House of Lords reform: Nick Clegg's crazy plan is a pay day for has-beens and never-wozzers via @Telegraph http://t.co/kDjbqTFh

Future of ATA = more dishes. Not that expensive. What about it @NancyPelosi ? #SETIcon http://t.co/uobbZ065

Meeting moons at #SETIcon http://t.co/MXykt1QK

RT @erinbiba: http://t.co/Ahh0IhXq - a directory of ways for YOU to participate in space exploration. (Build a rover, get your name on a ...

Is Jupiter helpful to life on Earth? In some ways yes, in some ways no. #SETIcon http://t.co/pG1U3mf3

http://t.co/mZWx5FIr Turing Suicide in doubt?

Gaia corollary: http://t.co/9lPllPbT #SETIcon (re global organism)

Intelligent life: it's all about the unknown unknowns #SETIcon http://t.co/Goo7ngUq

Gorgeous start to the second full day of #SETIcon 2. http://t.co/f0bbwW4V

Was God required for the Big Bang panel rather unfairly stacked 100% against God #SETIcon http://t.co/Keg164Vo

How to find aliens: advice from NASA, SETI and the EMH. #SETIcon http://t.co/HAHZrbv6

ITHCWY: SETIcon 2: I'm at SETIcon 2 this weekend. It's a mix of science, sci-fi, religion and general speculation… http://t.co/jifR8Ang

http://t.co/FZo6GzxJ #todo #SETIcon @myEN Kepler archives opening in October

Success of Kepler Mission is staggering. Discovering water worlds, planets everywhere. #SETIcon http://t.co/4EytfDks

On the cusp of routine spaceflight - at #SETIcon http://t.co/iUU6GgEz

I'm reading Mission:Explore Food on @graphicly! http://t.co/z0iqfQKJ

Far-Fetched Scams Separate the Gullible from Everyone Else http://t.co/M8SyoAvH

Scout: get notified every time Congress proposes legislation with keywords you care about http://t.co/OlU04P45

Exoplanets http://t.co/CAu4C9v9 #fb

Falsehoods programmers believe about time - riff on the malleability of computer time http://t.co/sznLoFlH

JustAnswer Becomes http://t.co/U0xZtr5Z, Raises $25 Million Series A http://t.co/r5IQzmFZ via @techcrunch #PearldotcomLaunch

VatorNews - JustAnswer rebrands as Pearl, raises $25M http://t.co/MTveL1qB via @po_st #PearldotcomLaunch

http://t.co/U0xZtr5Z Has Professional Advice, for a Price http://t.co/RnyqID2G via @mashable #PearldotcomLaunch

Andy Kurtzig Raises $25M To Take Expert Services Online With http://t.co/U0xZtr5Z - http://t.co/PPFhu3q8 #PearldotcomLaunch

JustAnswer Becomes Pearl, Comes Out From Under the Radar http://t.co/5l3UTZ1M #PearldotcomLaunch

A Pearl (.com) Comes Out of http://t.co/LZa65dD3 http://t.co/tUhBuEhe via @HuffPostTech #PearldotcomLaunch

Customer Story - Dr. David Helps Nick Recover from Brain Hemorrhage: http://t.co/HK59IUw2 via @pearl.com #PearldotcomLaunch

RT @Pearldotcom: http://t.co/x1sGSaBc is now in beta, come check us out at http://t.co/ePbqZPiU! #PearldotcomLaunch

RT @MissionExplore: Mission:Explore Food – Video yourself doing one of the missions from the book and get a free copy http://t.co/TpkoBOaY

ITHCWY: Near-plurality of idiocy: "In the 30 years since Gallup started asking people whether they believe humans… http://t.co/9f5FoX9Z

BBC News - Alan Turing: why the tech world's hero should be a household name http://t.co/5eqmNyXY

ITHCWY: Petrol & Marks & Spencer: I recently got back from a trip back to the UK. Every time I go back these days… http://t.co/cV0N8tY7

+1 Error Code 451: an HTTP error for censorship http://t.co/OoA942o8

#todo @myEN Mobile-Friendly Pet Locator PetHub Closes $1.3 Million Seed Round http://t.co/DtkMMSoj

Bridge birthday thing... http://t.co/bBEc7TiC

Brrrr-earnal http://t.co/dD4FiXrv

Defensive Patent License: judo for patent-trolls http://t.co/h6Eq82kr

3 of 5 stars to The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides http://t.co/aJwE7cIz

Check out this presentation : How to stop sucking and be awesome instead http://t.co/fqW1ZTG5 via @slideshare

Transit of Venus AND Sutro Tower Serendipitously Photographed from Bernal Hill http://t.co/bZAogCf8

Office has laid on EURO 2012 coverage. http://t.co/8dDStstW

Ridiculously nice walk with Rudy. http://t.co/u6E9H1Gg

ITHCWY: Playmobil http://t.co/bIuMirqh

(All Politics Posts)

Near-plurality of idiocy

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015
"In the 30 years since Gallup started asking people whether they believe humans evolved, evolved under the guidance of God, or were created fully formed by God, the percentage of people adhering to the creationist view has actually gone up slightly over time, and now stands at 46 percent of the population."

Depressing.

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Open Immigration

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Open Immigration

I'm increasingly in favor of opening up immigration. Partly it's a general sense that a person shouldn't be tied to a country by the accident of birth. Being free to migrate seems to me like it should be a basic human right. 

Partly it's the economic benefit. I'm in the software/Internet industry and I've been lucky enough to work in Silicon Valley via visa, green card and eventually citizenship. I hope I've also been a net benefit to my adopted home. I've certainly paid plenty of tax and helped to create a fair number of jobs. Vijay Govindarajan writing on the same topic lists a few more[1] illustrious transplants:

"Consider that the co-founder of Google is Sergey Brin, a Russian. The co-founder of Sun Microsystems is Vinod Khosla, an Indian. eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar, who is French. The co-founder of Juniper Networks is an Indian, Pradeep Sindhu. YouTube was co-founded by Steve Chen, who is Chinese. Yahoo! was co-founded by Jerry Yang, a Chinese immigrant. Andy Grove, a Hungarian, co-founded Intel."

Not that you need to create a billion plus dollar company to have a positive impact.

There are of course economic risks - primarily cheap labor lowering wages (albeit also lowering prices) and freeloaders benefiting from social programs without contributing back.

But cheap labor is getting those jobs anyway. It's a fundamental inequality that companies can shop around internationally for cheap employees but people can't shop around internationally for a job. And the impact of the freeloader problem can be reduced by requiring some length of residency before providing benefits. 

Of course some jobs require physical proximity and can't be outsourced and some level of freeloading will always be possible. This brings me to the third reason I support open immigration. It would bring a huge amount of focus to international development. If people are free to live and work where they want then there will be a huge motivation to improve living conditions and economic opportunity around the world. It might be the only way to make real progress in this area.

This policy could be unilateral, or it could be based on reciprocal treaty - the latter probably being more[2] practical, and hopefully fostering immigration in both directions.

[1] More in the sense of greater, not additional.

[2] More in the sense of closer to, I don't think it's actually very likely to happen.

(All Politics Posts)