The Next Steve Jobs

Liz Holmes has patented new medical test techniques that reduce the amount of blood required from a vile to a drop. In many cases, this requires just a self-administered pin prick and eliminates the need for a phlebotomist lab visit. Liz is also inventing lab equipment that simplifies blood analysis, empowering non-technicians to run tests. An entire blood workup could be done in just a few minutes at the corner drug store, at a fraction of the cost of today’s lab work. Liz estimates that her inventions will save Medicare and Medical around $1/4 trillion.

In terms of cost, time, efficiency, and accuracy, Liz’s inventions will utterly re-write our understanding of medical blood work, and much more. This lady just may be the next Steve Jobs.

 


Slope Disparity, Wealth Inequality, and the Corporate State

From 1945 to early 1980s, the income of every U.S. economic class rose at roughly the same rate or “slope”. Since 1980, 99%-class “slopes” have flattened dramatically, while the top 1% has continued upward on the same slope. It’s easier to see on a graph:

CBPP2Income growth parity (IGP) is a core measure of a nation’s structural integrity. Since the early 1980s, the USA has been falling deeper into a dangerous socioeconomic slope disparity. When the disparity gets bad enough — and I think we’re very close — it leads to socioeconomic instability.

Economic historians call the last 35 years “the great divergence”. Our once-thriving middle-class (e.g., 1945-1980) has been systematically gutted, while a microscopically tiny super-wealth-class has grown effectively unchecked. According to Princeton economist Alan Krueger, of all the OECD countries, only Chile, Korea, and Switzerland have tax systems that have led to greater income inequality curves than the U.S..

The U.S. period 1945-1980 saw the creation of the healthiest middle-class in world history. But since the 1970s, the U.S. middle class (defined as income within 50% of median) has shrunk more than 16% (see chart). During this same period, a tiny number of Americans (the infamous 1%) boosted real income by nearly 300%. Even by absolute standards, America’s middle class is no longer the world’s strongest. And our poor are suffering more than at any time since such records started being kept (1950s).

In the early 1980s, U.S. tax rates were re-engineered to suck increasing amounts of wealth out of the bottom 99% and deliver it into the hands of the 1%. This was called Supply Side policy. The theory was that all that additional wealth and income growth concentrating in the 1% class would trickle-down to the poor and middle classes. But it hasn’t worked. Krueger notes that over $1 trillion of income has been shifted from the 99% classes into the 1% class — without a proportionate rise in the poor and middle classes. Here’s a graph from Jacob Hacker at Yale showing this shift since the 1980s:

lossgain_0Between 1945 and 1980, progressively wealthier individuals were asked to pay a progressively higher U.S. tax percentage, with massive windfall income being taxed the highest. There were no exceptions to this policy. You earned more, you paid a higher percentage of the national tax bill (though huge tax incentives were given for U.S. infrastructure investments, which every wealthy taxpayer took advantage of. American infrastructure, like Interstates and bridges and commons, thrived during this period):

average_effective_federal_tax_ratesThis was called fully progressive taxation. And it was brilliant. Massive wealth was still created at the top 1%, but not at the disproportional expense of the poor and middle classes.

But for the last 35 years, we’ve been redistributing disproportionate amounts of wealth from the pockets of lower and middle classes into the burgeoning accounts of a small number of American families. We are destroying our historical all-class socioeconomic contracts. And by doing so, we are destroying the foundations of American liberty.

Two other key 1945-1980 fiscal policies that kept the U.S. in slope-parity are capital gains and dividend tax rate. From 1945-1980, the average capital gain was taxed around 30-35%. Today it is 20-25%. From 1945 to 1975, dividends were taxed around 70-90%. Today it’s 20%.

Unlike the middle classes, very top earners derive most of their income from Capital Gains and Dividends — which are taxed at a far lower rate than 99% income sources (wages, interest, small-business income, rental income, farm income, retirement distributions, etc.). If these huge CG and D tax reductions to the ultra-wealthy truly “trickled down” we would have a strong and vibrant middle-class today. But these massive gifts to the ultra-wealthy are not trickling down. They have not been trickling down for 35 years. Alas, for the last 35 years, wealth and income-growth have been trickling UP from the 99% to the 1% without a proportionate sharing of the pie by our poor and middle classes.

After these sweeping tax code changes took effect in the early 1980s, we have seen an ongoing redistribution of greater and greater wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people. In 1976, the 99%-class possessed 80% of American wealth (see chart, below). Very healthy. Today, the 99%-class possess roughly 60% of American wealth, and by 2025 that may be reduced to 55%. This represents a 20-25% reduction of middle-class wealth in just 40 years, transferred directly into the hands of the 1%.

wealth disparity over time USAWealth distribution vs. national health is a well known econometric. There are a basket of countries that represent the healthiest nations on the planet today, by just about any metric (GINI, capital reinvestment stores, well-being indices, etc.), countries such as Norway, Finland, Denmark, etc.. Their 1% possess in the range of 25-28% of national wealth, similar to the USA in the 1950-1980 period. Very healthy.

The wealth ratios of a nation are never an accident. Whether by omission or commission, tax policy, over time, determines the class-wealth distributions of a nation. In its role of aggregating wealth accumulation, good policy can overcome any external force, such as GDP, inflation, trade imbalance, or money velocity. Good government adjusts fiscal and monetary policy to adapt to economic conditions, with a primary goal of maintaining a healthy 1% / 99% wealth and IGP balance (while properly funding the government). I’ve seen few studies on this, but have noted that the healthiest all-class social economies occur during a 1% wealth accumulation ratio in the 20-25% range. Today we are at or near 40%, which has directly led to what can only be called a dying middle-class. Wealth ratios, income slopes, and a nation’s social health are inexorably linked.

It should be noted here that wealth inequality works both ways. Stated simplistically, if tax policy engineers too much wealth out of the hands of the 1% investment-class, you undermine the stores of private capital required for smart, fundamental business creation, growth, and liquidity that creates jobs for the 99% (the extreme case is pure Marxist economic theory which eliminates all private capital). Conversely, if fiscal policy engineers too much wealth flowing into the 1%, you undermine the foundation and liberty of a healthy nation, which is middle class prosperity. We want to maintain the “maxima range” that optimizes 1% wealth with broad middle-class health and a “strong poor” (as we experienced 1945-1980). As Will Durant once noted, “the health of a nation is more important than the wealth of a nation”. Optimal health and maximized wealth are inexorably linked only through smartly engineered socioeconomic balance.

Today, we’re in a grossly imbalanced socioeconomy, both in terms of smothering top-heavy wealth accumulation and profound income slope disparities. This socioeconomic imbalance has been growing for 35 years. The reality of our plight is clear:

  • As a raw percentage, 99%-class real wealth has fallen dramatically and consistently for 35 years (sucked up by 1% interests). From 80% to 60%.
  • The middle-class has shrunk 18% during this same time, and continues to shrink
  • More people are living in poverty today than at any time since they started keeping census data in 1959
  • 1 in 5 Americans are now on food stamps – more than at any time since the program started
  • Fully HALF of all American children will be on food stamps before their 18th birthday – more than at any time in U.S. history
  • 77% of families are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with little or no savings to cover emergencies – the largest critically exposed % in modern U.S history.
  • Household savings ratios are today at their lowest moving average in modern U.S. history (this isn’t due to low interest rates — compare with China’s low interest rates but historically high household savings)
  • American middle-class debt ratios are again nearing their highest point in modern history
  • There are today a record number of multi-generational households forced entirely by socioeconomic conditions.
  • From 1945-1980, America had the highest GDP per capita in the world, by far. Today, we’re #13, and falling
  • Since 1980, while the 99% has been falling deeper and deeper into economic despair, the 1% has accumulated more U.S. wealth percentage than at any time since before the Great Depression. In fact, some have noted that our current economic disparity looks identical to the rising disparity that (in part) triggered the Great Depression. See this graph:
  • plutocracy

The latest Pew studies show that a vastly larger number of people consider themselves low-mid or lower class compared with 20 years ago. Critics argue that our lower class has it “better than ever” with “higher mobility” (often, such critics are “think tanks” funded by 0.01%-class interests, such as Cato, Heritage, and Manhattan). But caloric intake and flat-screen TVs are not primary indicators of wealth, prosperity, or well-being. An historically healthy distribution of national wealth, along with income growth parity, low debt ratios, and high savings rates are the key indicators of free-market well-being, and by these metrics the USA (and much of western civilization in general) has become sick and imbalanced. And getting sicker year by year.

We need the political will to bring our social and fiscal policy back into healthy and sustainable ISP (like 1945-1980). We need the political will to reverse engineer the dangerously excessive accumulations of American wealth back into the hands of our middle classes (like 1945-1980). But our government today looks more like a corporatocracy than a representative democracy. Elected officials consistently write fiscal policy benefiting a tiny oligarchy — not “we the people”.  Those with the most to lose from a return to true progressive fiscal policy are the same people with the highest influence on our lawmakers.

Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels wrote, “Senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents [the .01%] than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.” Desperately needed fiscal changes will not happen without a serious grass-roots movement of the people.

The Princeton and Northwestern studies are showing what we’ve intuited all along — that our elected officials are mostly working (writing fiscal policy) for the highest bidders, and ignoring the will of their lower- and middle-class constituents. Heck, when you’ve been promised a $2M/year lobbying position after leaving office, it’s hard to resist. When the lions share of your campaign money comes from a handful of .01% special interests, it’s hard to say no. FDR had a very simple definition of fascism. He said “whenever the government is controlled by private economic power, that’s fascism.” Eisenhower warned us that corporate control of government was in our future. Eisenhower’s prediction has come true.

Over 90% of national news media is controlled by just six corporations. These six news outlets are owned almost entirely by 0.01% interests — the same small group of families (and organizations) who championed supply-side fiscal policy in the 1980s, and promote the same self-serving policies today. News and information has become consolidated into the hands of those whose primary goal is to continue upwardly redistributing greater wealth and power. Today’s 90% news reports everything but our massive supply-side redistribution of wealth and income from the 99% to the 1%. Stories covering inequality are heard with increasing frequency from independent news organizations on ALL sides of the political spectrum, but rarely heard from CNN (Time), MSNBC (Comcast), Newscorp (Fox, Harper), CBS, ABC (Disney), or Clear Channel — The .01% Media.

National .01% media is skilled at creating and sustaining political identity. This goal is achieved via addictive polarization using divisive partisan programming which promotes and sustains anger, distrust, fear, and blame (of the “other side”). Left wing vs. right wing. Us against them. Bad guys and good guys. Political identity is a powerful drug in the hands of the world’s most skillful manipulators. But it’s mostly all a show. The .01% owners and ultimate programmers of news media are (surprise!) not much interested in political ideology. They are interested in maximizing personal wealth. Sharply polarizing media programming is mostly theater to keep people focused on endless political identity fights, while ignoring the elephant in the room.

Our six core media outlets rarely (if ever) report on our foundational problem, which is corporate control of government for the express purpose of .01% wealth consolidation. I challenge you to find a feature news story in the .01% media taking a sustained, in-depth look at .01%-control in government and media. I challenge you to find a .01% media report digging deeply into the impact of wealth on crony / lobby fiscal lawmaking. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are increasingly “owned” by these .01% interests (largely via campaign funding and revolving-door K-St incentives). Politicians are no longer working for the commons, for we-the-people. This is why lawmakers will continue voting for tax and fiscal policies that redistribute increasing levels of wealth and income growth from the 99% to their 0.01% handlers.

Grossly imbalanced income growth slopes are tearing this country’s “social contract” into shreds. The USA now has less slope equality than Kenya or Yemen. With the exception of Romania, no developed country has more kids below their country’s poverty line than the USA — while more and more of American wealth is being vacuumed up by an ultra-tiny number of individuals. And it’s getting worse, not better.

Throughout free-market history, it is normal and expected that powerful minorities will control a sizable percentage of a nation’s wealth. But Americans have not seen wealth and income growth disparity this out of whack since just before the Great Depression. And our disparity continues to grow:  One family of six people are now worth more than the bottom 40% of the American population combined.

The late Robert Feinman wrote, “We in the US need to decide if we are going to slip into an inefficient oligarchy and risk civil unrest, or redirect our resources and wealth into more equitable avenues. No society is perfectly egalitarian, but we … are probably near an economic tipping point. How we deal with the coming challenge is up to us.”

Other Reading: Return of the Oppressed, Peter Tuchin
Other Reading: The Pitchforks are Coming for us Plutocrats, Nick Hanauer

Related Links: Wealth for Common Good | Fair Economy

Start around 10:00 into video for a psychologist’s perspective:


The Holodeck On Your Head: A Virtual Media Studio

I was asked to give the Closing Keynote for the 2013 Audio Engineering Conference this week at Javits in NYC. The convention drew over 18,000 attendees. For my topic I selected “The Future of Audio Production 2020-2050″.

Added:  CNET reported here.

I spoke about the demise of “physical” post-production. The lecture was accompanied by around forty proprietary research graphs, not included here. By 2050, perhaps even as early as 2030, I showed (with extensive data) that most media post-production will be performed in virtuality, where every functional piece of equipment — every knob, fader, switch, and patch point — will be visible and controllable entirely in virtual space. This paradigm will encompass film editing, sound and music editing, game production, mixing, mastering, and just about any type of aural-visual post-production and delivery.

By 2040, we’ll have mostly abandoned the mouse. Physical touchscreens will be largely obsolete. There will be far fewer physical media objects — such as external audio monitors, keyboards, trackballs, personal desktop video monitors, and so forth. Save for a quiet room, a comfortable chair, and innocuous motion trackers, the physical “production studio” will largely be a thing of the past. Certainly, a number of “legacy hardware rooms” will still exist, but they will be dying curiosities.

Bottom line: we have moved from a desktop-culture to a hand-held culture, and now we are moving from a hand-held culture to a head-worn culture. Physicality will be replaced with increasingly sophisticated head worn immersion devices. Most of these basic changes will be well in place by 2035. And by 2050, head-worn audio and visual fully-spherical realism will be nearly indistinguishable from real-space. Audio will be mixed for a true three-dimensional sound space (in fact, we are doing this now). Visual production will require three axes of reality (also happening today).

During this transition, perhaps the only remaining piece of CEH (clunky external hardware) will be sub-woofers, which cannot be emulated with a headworn device. By 2025, today’s emerging object-oriented 3D audio environments (Atmos, Neo, Auro, etc.) will be commodity delivery formats. By 2025-2030, head motion tracking and hand gestural tracking will also be inexpensive, matured commodities.

A single desktop computer in 2050 will be equivalent to roughly 10 billion human brains working in parallel, so media processing power is no longer a bottleneck. The 2050 Internet will be hosting roughly 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bits of data, per second (10 sextillion bits/s).

Production and post-production studios of 2030-2040 will give us our familiar working tools:  mixing consoles, outboard equipment, patch bays, audio and visual monitors … or their real space DAW equivalents. The difference is that all of this “equipment” will live in virtual space. When we don our VR headgear, anything we require for media production is there “in front of us” with lifelike realism. It’s a Holodeck on your head. Headworn reality.

Matured gestural control (2030-2035) allows us to reach out and control anything in the production chain. Efficiency will be improved with scalable depth-of-field. Haptic touch (emulated physical feedback) will add an extra layer of realism (2030-2040), but it’s probably not necessary for media production emulation. Anything in the virtual room can be changed with one voice or gestural command. Don’t like the sound of that Neve 8086 console? Install the Beatles EMI Abbey Road console. A ten second operation.

But why stop there? Let’s dream bigger. Call up a complete AI symphony orchestra that fills your immersive vision stage. Call up a great concert hall (let’s try the Concertgebouw. Hmm, that’s a little too swimmy. Let’s try Boston Symphony Hall). Add a 200 voice choir. Add Yo Yo Ma soloing with his carbon fiber cello. You’re there in front, conducting and refining the orchestra with gestural and voice commands, making refinements to the score and performance, until it becomes exactly as you want it. We achieve a complete Virtual Audio Workstation, or more precisely a Virtual Media Workstation which can be tailored to fit any creative production goal.

DAW SlideThe future of audio, music, film making, game design, TV, industrial apps  –  any creative media construction, from inception to post-production — becomes truly boundless and limited only to our imagination. Personally, I dream about being able to think of music directly into a recording system:  a non-invasive brain-machine interface. It turns out that this dream is moving from science fiction to reality (link, link, link). And if we assume a two-year doubling period for cortex sensing resolution, by the early 22nd century our non-invasive brain interfaces will be about 20 orders of magnitude more powerful than today.

But will that give us the ability to think music and visual art directly into our computers? Or does it simply blur the line between our brains and our computers, so that the entire paradigm of augmented thinking and collective knowledge is radically shifted? At that point … when we have billions of devices globally networked, and each device is trillions of times smarter than the combined intelligence of all humanity … what will our species become? What will our collective thought processes look like?

Personally, I think these kinds of paradigm-shifting social questions are coming sooner than we may realize. And I think there’s both great promise and great risk with the technologies that are emerging. Or as my wife reminds me before my lectures, teach them that the heart is always more important than our technology. Or as Bryan Stevenson said, “we will not be judged by our technology, intellect, or reason. Ultimately, the character of a society will be judged not by how they treat the powerful, but by how they treat the poor.”

Nevertheless, somewhere in the future, we will create human-to-machine interfaces that respond and adapt directly to our personal imagery and creative ideas; so that one day just about anything we can imagine will become our art.

Millennia Media, FPC

Holodeck


Lessons From the Dying

Hospice worker Kathleen Taylor shares insights from the dying that remind us how to live now.

“People at the end of their lives are incapable of bullshit” – “at the end, people become these pure, distilled, crystallized, authentic versions of who they are” – “people talk about things they’ve never talked about before – they will reconsider things they’ve been certain about their entire lives – they do brave stuff like change their mind, and apologize, and forgive, they express love where it needs to be expressed, they find joy in the smallest moments” – “other things fall away at the end:  being right, being guilty, being busy, being self-conscious, being important…”

The number one regret of the dying? “I wish I had had the courage to live a life true to myself, and not to what others expected of me”. “Dying people teach us that it’s never too late to shed what is false, and to become who we truly are”.

“Take a hint from how people live their last days. If you really want to live every day like it’s your last, then do some introspection, discover and express your amazing uniqueness in the world, stop bullshitting, make your life story about how you truly are, because I believe the world needs you to”.


The Day The Earth Smiled

My friend Carolyn has this crazy idea for everyone to wave at her spacecraft on July 19. I’m crazy, and I’ll be waving and lifting a glass of Family Syrah in celebration.

Something great, something big, something very special that’s never happened before is about to happen! On July 19, 2013, the Cassini spacecraft, currently in orbit around Saturn, will be turned to image that planet and its entire ring system during an eclipse of the sun, as it has done twice before during its previous 9 years in orbit. But this time will be very different. This time, the images collected will capture, in natural color, a glimpse of our own planet alongside Saturn and its rings on a day that will be the first time the Earth’s inhabitants know in advance their picture is being taken from a billion miles away.

It will be a day to revel in the extraordinary achievements in the exploration of our solar system that have made such an interplanetary photo session possible. And it will be a day for all of us to smile and celebrate life on the Pale Blue Dot.

My fondest wish is that you, the people of the world, do exactly that.

I hope, at the appropriate time, regardless where or on which side of the planet you are, that you stop what you’re doing, go outside, gather together with friends and family, contemplate the utter isolation of our world in the never-ending blackness of space, relish its lush, life-sustaining beauty, appreciate the rarity it is among the Sun’s planets, and marvel at your own existence and that of all life on planet Earth.

And then, by all means, rejoice! Hoot and holler, twist and shout, raise a glass, make a toast, dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, or celebrate in silence. Whatever it takes. But be sure to smile, knowing that others around the world are smiling too, in the sheer joy of simply being alive on a pale blue dot.

Carolyn Porco
Founder, The Day The Earth Smiled