>“One of my ambitions is to help our users put more food on the table,” says Jimmy Chen, the founder of Propel. His company makes a mobile app called FreshEBT that helps people among the U.S.’s 43 million recipients of the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) service to stretch their food-stamp benefits as far as possible.
I read "we're here to somehow insert fees between you and your food stamp money". The self delusion of these people is incredible.
Because there is a huge and complex domain of human motivation, appreciation for hard-earned things vs. taking them for granted and so on. USSR tried doing exactly that with the planned economy and trying to distribute the wealth more or less evenly and failed miserably. Mostly because people lost motivation for achievement and started blatantly faking numbers and statistics since the connection between the results of their work and their life quality was completely lost. As someone who survived that crash, I would really hope that SV can learn from others' mistakes rather than repeating them.
Actually if you look at where they started and where they got, they did a pretty good job in raising the very poorest our of poverty, electrifying the country, and really eliminating a lot of the abject poverty that was most of the country at the time of the revolution. Changes that the former (imperial) regime seemed uninterested in making.
Even into the 1950s and even 1960s quite a lot of people, including a surprisingly large amount of US government officials, thought that there was a chance the USSR could surpass the USA. I think such people were delusional, since the signs were pretty clear at the time (I was a child at that time, but I did study the USSR in the 1980s when it was very obviously not a threat to the west).
Don't get me wrong: the USSR was founded by a bunch of bloodthirsty assholes (Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky et al) and, for various reasons developed into a, yes, evil system. I don't blame it entirely on the people involved -- I think anyone who tries to follow that model, even with good intensions (and it's not clear the Bolsheviks had good intentions) is going to end up with a shitty result.
But dispassionately one thing they did accomplish was the thing you said they failed miserably at. And it's unlikely the Menshevik republicans would have pulled that off.
That's the funny part about it. USSR was basically an engineered society with eliminated "overhead" of debating, negotiating, marketing, private risk-taking, etc. It worked extremely well while the goals to achieve were basic and everyone agreed on them. If you're living in a glorified mud hut in the 20th century, it's a no-brainer that the goal #1 is to build industry, powerlines, etc.
Except once the common needs were satisfied, the system ran into stagnation. How this would be resolved in the West is a risk-taking individual starting a company, organically growing it into a bigger business, eventually creating workplaces, and in some cases - entire industries. Planned economy can't have that - the only way to create something new would be through getting state funding, i.e. being in good terms with the inner party circle. It's the same reason why big corporations often can't quickly adapt to changes lose to lean startups despite unimaginable resources available to them. Except when your entire country is one inefficient corporation, you're really fucked.
IMO, Russia is still greatly suffering from the lack of the "overhead" removed by the USSR. The majority of people expect someone else to plan and decide for them, they don't get the concept of watching for your own interests, they alienate and despise hustling and blame others for their misfortune. I really hope that's not the way U.S. is heading, because I'm not sure there is an easy way out of this kind of a trap.
You are vastly understating the magnitude of the USSR's problems.
Of course, starting from 1917, it was not that hard to achieve progress, because the starting point was so low. NEP (the New Economic Policy of 1920's) was very efficient - but it was unorthodox in Stalin's theories, so a lot of people ended up dead or in the camps.
It puzzles me why socialists all over the world last year celebrated the October revolution (start of a new tyranny) but not the February revolution (end of old tyranny). I suppose it is because of romantic sentiments, and not knowing what actually happened.
Country 1890 1900 1913 1925 1938
Russia/USSR 21 180 32 000 52 420 32 600 75 964
Germany 26 454 35 800 49 760 45 002 77 178
Britain 29 441 36 273 44 074 43 700 56 103
France 19 758 23 500 27 401 36 262 39 284
They were holding their own late into WWI and actually had an agreement to obtain Istanbul, which the Bolsheviks revoked (hard to fault them) along with all that they gave up in the separate treaty with the Germans. Imagine them sticking it out to 1918 with gains from being on the allies and the revolution averted. They would have been as well positioned as anyone in Europe.
What? How is having all your industrial infrastructure destroyed and 20 million of young, able-bodied males killed an advantage?
What does it matter, if 90% of the population lived in near complete destitution?
The economy crashed after the revolution
I can’t find any evidence that there was any economic significance to that war aside from loss of the fleet and human life. Bruised imperial egos for sure and likely contributing to an image of a week government, but I’m hard pressed to see how it could have had any impact on the industrial output of the country.
Depends on in what column you put the ~10% of the population they murdered.
I would think of them as "not raised out of poverty".
they did a pretty good job in raising the very poorest our of poverty
there's a big difference between a welfare state and full out socialism; the difference is largely about power... Socialisim is about giving the workers control over the means of production. The welfare state is merely about seeing to it that people don't starve.
We're rich enough, in America, at least, that with tax increases, we could provide the minimum for everyone, and pay for it out of the sorts of taxes we pay now (only, of couse, somewhat more)
There was a lot of effort in that direction here and in the UK in the '70s; there was a lot of criticism that the public housing, for instance, wasn't very nice, but what really ended it was the rise of the political movement that backed Thatcher (in the UK) and Reagan (in the US)
One argument against such programs is that they could allow people to have a lifestyle where they choose to never work, yet live a comfortable life and have lots of children. It seems like this could cause extreme population growth, but in a very bad way. Am I missing something, or is there a solution to address that problem?
2) If the market honestly has nothing for someone to do (or it’s of such low value that it falls below minimum wage), is it really a tragedy if they don’t work?
Somewhere within that gap is a decent system where poor people don't starve but are still incentivized to improve their situation.
I also don't really see how having children relates to any of this.
On the other hand, automation will probably force us into a welfare state one way or another.
So, I'm talking largely about rich nations like the USA. Here? it has been a long time since the population was restricted by food, so we can neatly sidestep that problem without resorting to Swift.
I do think it's important to design welfare programs to aid people who are leaving poverty. I personally don't think this should be done by cutting off the support if they don't work... But I do think programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit which help smooth the transition from being dependent on welfare to supporting yourself are super important...
(And I think the Earned Income Tax Credit is generally considered a good model of this; the idea is that instead of cutting out benefits as soon as a person gets a job, the government continues to supplement the income until they are doing well.
a basic income that everyone gets addresses a similar problem, and a basic income + a strongly progressive income tax could probably do something similar.
The corollary to "if X has what they need to live they won't work" is "the only reason X works is to not die".
While on a high level it can feel that way, especially at the lower rungs of society (where people get the worst kind of jobs). But ultimately humans have a lot of motivations for doing things.
Unfortunately many people cannot act on these motivations because they are too busy trying not to starve/get evicted/die from illness. A world where no one has to worry about these is something we could all work towards.
Of course the earth only has finite resources, but with our level of technology it is entirely feasible to sustain billions more people. The growth and progress of humanity is dependent on ever increasing available intellect to solve the worlds problems. If we ever want build massive civilizations spanning the solar system, it’s going to take trillions of humans. I’d rather believe in that kind of future than a stagnant “garden of eden” earth where we self limit our own progress.
Why do you think that would happen? Is there any basis for having that concern?
The argument is that if we give people a basic sustainable way to live and the least motivated to improve their condition will likely fall back to the basics.
Either way, socialism is about control of the means of production, and my point is that you can have a welfare state without changing the control of the means of production, as long as you have a means of significant taxation, which we have in place in the US already.
That's a ridiculous statement, of course, but it demonstrates that the economic notion of value can diverge wildly from most other reasonable notions of value. The seemingly inoffensive "economic value = value" approximation is actually a trojan horse used by libertarians to sneak the more objectionable aspects of their theories past casual observers and put a tautological halo over markets and their preferences.
It's a point worth keeping in mind when considering complaints that X system doesn't optimize economic value.
The price mechanism means that people have to make trade offs, and for anyone living outside of poverty, that's often a good thing.
To use a simple example, if you're a gamer you may want both a PS4 and an Xbox One, but if you only have the money to buy one, you have to choose which one you'd rather have. If you remove the price mechanism you've absolved the individual from making that choice, and you'll get greater demands for material goods as a result.
Resources should be allocated where they are needed the most. The price mechanism doesn't do that. If you don't have any money, a system based on the price mechanism doesn't know you exist no matter how great your need.
Capitalism frequently also results in economic waste and artificial shortages, it's not like communism has the monopoly on that.
But this is the case for lots of people with a fixed salary.
Define "we". World-wide, "we" are doing an absolutely amazing job of eliminating poverty.
Also, most industrialized economies don't really have absolute poverty: anyone who is poor has the right to social benefits to alleviate it, to provide the basics of food, clothing and housing (as well as other basics such as education).
So for example, in Germany, we talk about poverty being on the increase. But that is relative poverty, meaning a certain percentage of the average. So we can "increase" poverty by simply improving GDP w/o raising the bottom as much as the increase in GDP.
There’s already an enormous number of fees. Check out midway through  where it lists out the various fees JP Morgan got in their 2014 EBT management contract with New York State (it was the first example I came across, there may be a newer contract publicly available).
The federal portion alone (there’s a state-level component as well) of the cost to administer EBT services in 2017 were $4.2 billion , so there’s plenty of fees between recipients and food stamp money already.
That said, iirc it’s illegal for a third party to insert a fee related to EBT services. In fact, most of the fees that are charged aren’t directly visible to the recipient, but are rather charged on the backend as part of the administration costs.
Looking at the screenshots for the FreshEBT app, there’s a coupon section and the ability to find stores that accept SNAP benefits. It’s more likely that they’ll monetize via retailers and manufacturer promotions rather than via recipients themselves. Plus the marketing analytics components of being able to track EBT spending habits and tie it into all the other type of data you can collect by having an app installed on people’s phones. Not that there isn’t potential qualms about that monetization strategy, but that type of data is already available to the largest retailers and isn’t a new level of monitoring. And it shows the company’s incentive isn’t actively detrimental or predatory to the users like inserting fees, as you suggested.
We have the wealth on earth, yes, but fundamentally people are selfish. I think this behavior is largely driven by fear of losing everything, even for those most privileged.
I think it's a little more complex than that. Something that still doesn't seem to be well understood in the non-profit field is that of dependency.
The idea "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" should be the guiding principal of pretty much all non-profits (with the only exception, in my opinion, being for disaster relief). The idea being that the end goal is self-sufficiency.
I'm not a millionaire, nor am I likely to become one in my lifetime, but I recognise my own patterns of donating to charity, and I can see the charity/non-profits that I'm most likely to donate to are either involved with disaster relief, or are doing something that makes a lasting change. When I've donated to charities outside these groups, I've resented the expected "thank you for your donation, can you donate any more please". At that point, the charity has become, in a small way, dependent on my generosity, with no end in sight. I'd imagine there's similar resentment for millionaires and billionaires also.
But I toatally agree that for-profit companies have incentives that can become problematic when their customer base doesn't have anywhere else to turn.
You need to read the article more carefully, it says "But FreshEBT isn't a typical Silicon Valley product."
That's like saying nobody should ever be without water because of rain. There's more wealth than what's needed to provide necessities but it isn't located everywhere its needed and getting it there is often virtually impossible.
Because of that, other people are working on technological problems.
The cheaper it is to feed people, from a technological standpoint, the easier it is to solve the political problem.
On the other hand the US's failed state building exercises in the middle east is an example of the complete opposite. The US was/is literally burning money in an attempt to 'improve' another country. None of the nonsense about 'went for the oil' makes any sense when you look at the total cost, the destruction of a potential trading partner, etc. It is the 'oh no he is killing his own people/keeping his own people in poverty/pillaging his country for personal gain' type of mentality that enables the kind of self determination rejecting behavior that the US has been engaged in for a very long time. There are things that we can and should do to prevent atrocity, but we have consistently failed to strike a balance with helping states develop and have instead repeatedly opted to overthrow governments and destabilize regions, often in the name of improving the lives of their citizens. (Just look at the humanitarian disaster that has been the Arab Spring.)
basically how to unplug yourself from the economy to restore foundations to survive better when you're on the border of the system
Exponentially increasing cost is a problem for the most technocratic plans you can imagine. And in a democratic society not only will groups that have tons of children grow rapidly, they will also increase their share of the voting power at the same rate.
Also, Orthodox Jews have been around for a long, long time and are still a small minority almost everywhere. Small ideological sects with large families historically don't seem to take over the world.
It only seems that way because pre-1960, the world was entirely dominated by sects (e.g. religions) with large families. All the old religions are very traditionally pro-natalist for a reason. Go forth and multiply!
If the population didn't grow, it was only because there was just no more food to feed more mouths. So it was for all of human history until recently.
It's only now that there is a significant group of people who choose not to have large families, and who have the birth control technology to make it happen. As with past sects who followed this path, they will dwindle as a proportion of the population. We are in nothing like a steady state, and high-fertility groups absolutely will own the future, just as they owned the past.
Topical here is The Most Important Graph In The World:
This line of reasoning is so strange, like government is some sort of alien being, not an institution of the people, for the people.
Taxes are how you buy civilization. Voting is how you decide what sort of civilization you want.
"I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least' ... But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."
When I visited CalWorks (local government assistance program) to see if they could help my project financially, they were really excited and agreed to refer students (who are on the poverty line) and also pay the students so I don't have to. Before we joined, the only kinds of job training they were able to offer were the likes of Amazon warehouse packaging and hotel cleaning. I hope to empower more low-income earners to have the ability to simplify complex problems and problem solve.
Regardless, that's just a nitpick about the article. I'm happy that these businesses are doing what they are doing.
 FWIW, the article cited a comment from here, so this place must be important enough to cite as an example of SV attitudes
There's a long tradition of political extremism among engineers in cultures around the world; something to do with seeing society as a system simple enough that a single human being can understand the solutions to its problems. Hayek (who I disagree with on many points) even wrote a whole essay on it, with this very lovely point:
"It is this awareness of being part of a social process, and of the manner in which individual efforts interact, which the education solely in the sciences or in technology seems so lamentably to fail to convey. It is not surprising that many of the more active minds among those so trained sooner or later react violently against the deficiencies of their education and develop a passion for imposing on society the order which they are unable to detect by the means with which they are familiar."
Gambetta and Hertog tried to quantify this, and found that engineers were over-represented (drastically) in Islamist terrorist networks, and (less drastically) in Western right-wing extremism; and that Western left-wing extremists tended more towards a humanities education. I've read lots of newspaper write-ups of the book, but haven't gotten my hands on a copy, so I don't know their speculation on the causes of the left-right split they observed in studies.
They also have older scholarly write-ups, which I should probably take a look at, e.g. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/european-journal-of-...
EDIT: So, looked at that paper at last, and it seems the right-wing stereotype of SV people is likely true. They looked at Westerners to try to make comparisons, and while they found no overrepresentation in violent groups, they did look at surveys of political views of educated people by degree. The best data they could find was about faculty members from 1984, so keep the age and restricted subset in mind.
"The results are startling (Table 7). The proportion of engineers who
declare themselves to be on the right of the political spectrum is greater
than in any other disciplinary group: 57.6 % of them are either
conservative or strongly conservative, as compared to 51.1 of economists,
42.5 of doctors and 33.5 % of scientists, 21.4 % of those in the
humanities, and 18.6 % of the social scientists, the least right-wing of all
disciplinary groups. Only 1.4 % of engineers are on the left, as opposed
to 12.9 % in the social sciences and 16.7 % in law. Perhaps this is an
uncanny coincidence, but the four fields at the top of the conservatism
scale – engineering, economics, medicine, and science – are the same
four secular fields we found at the top of our main jihadist sample."
They also cited a more recent Canadian study (1999) with similar results.
Anyway, there are many other interesting findings in that paper; highly recommended.
There are several computational paradigms that we attribute to minds (and people) that more often than not backfire, finite state machines being the most obvious one. Sometimes it works, and we discover a great mental model to live by. Sometimes it goes really wrong and it all goes the modernist way (Mies van der Rohe and co).
This leads to another nasty effect: being incapable to commiserate with the people around us. If the mind is a deterministic black box and I'm not an alcoholic because I refrain myself from drinking, how come there are alcoholics. The answer must be: they do not try hard enough. Same with poor people, obese people. If things have not happened to me, the fact that happen to other people must mean that they've brought it upon themselves.
It's also noted that engineers are overrepresented among terrorists. 
I think it's because engineers believe that there really is such a thing as a coherent, all-encompassing political philosophy that will yield strictly best outcomes for a given set of constraints.
They're basically porting their mindset from a technical endeavour to a sociopolitical one.
Funny you say that, as most of the major Islamist terrorist groups were founded by or led by men with engineering backgrounds.
Blue Ridge Labs focuses on bringing together people who are interested in product, design and engineering to go out and apply tools of empathy and discovery to understand the problems faced by low-income and socially disadvantaged Americans.
For anyone who is at crossroads in their career, I would highly recommend reaching out to @BlueRidgeLabs. I vouch for and support the sincerity of their mission.
Have questions about Blue Ridge Labs? Reach out to @cromulus. Looking to find an engineering position in NYC reach out to @FreshEBT. I am @rksio
A startup is a newly established business - that is to say, just starting up.
There's nothing wrong with that, as it helps him achieve day-to-day his goals. But, the definition is otherwise limited in that it is not correct or useful outside of direct investors who are looking for fast growing companies that want to be called startups in order to get startup funding.
How to get poor people at least to an average income while making some money yourself.
I'm from Germany and at least here I have the feeling that the issue is mostly missing education opportunities for older people.
Sure, the "really" poor without any job have more time on their hands, but there are probably a huge bunch of people who could work as taxi diver or waiter, who can make 1000€ a month without the need of too much education.
While you probably can mingle with the "Arbeitsagentur" (part of the public service for unemployed people) to get the people without income paid by them while you re-educate them, the much bigger part are the people who work but simply don't make enough money to have an okay life.
Also, while you have to get the second part of the people like 1000€ a month so they can do their re-education fulltime, you also have to make money yourself.
All I found today were some models, where the re-educated had to pay like 10-20% of their first income as payment later. This doesn't sound too bad, since it forces the education-company to get them ready for jobs, but on the other hand it maybe prevents people from getting good jobs? I don't really know.
The other model could be more like Mozilla does it, getting big sponsors, but then you are working for the sponsors and not for your customers anymore :/
Incidentally, Silicon Valley isn't at even typically anti-government. That bit isn't even in the groupthink even if there's a particular anti-government dogma that isn't absent from the milieu.
(note: I'm not in SV or it's groupthink, I'm speaking as an observer of it)
But maybe that's what the author meant by the trade of time and convenience for cost.... I really, truly believe that money skills lead to the accumulation of wealth, and that they are acquirable (teachable) skills.
Citizens can opt for https://www.givedirectly.org/efficiency
You need money to make money. You need education, skills, connections, and health to get and maintain a job.
Have you seen the pictures of Skid Row in Los Angeles?
This is the reality on the ground in Los Angeles. There are several blocks in downtown Los Angeles, where when you step into it, it feels like you stepped into a land that time forgot. The people are destitute. They have failed at one thing or another in life, and that has brought them to this point.
And what is the result of this? It has created a micro-3rd-world-country, right in the heart of one of the richest cities in the world. Where people drive by in expensive Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla cars.
The rich don't care about this, because they will never drive through the poor parts of town. But for everyone else, it makes life miserable for all.
At some point, you just have to cut your losses with these people. They are not going to get any corporate job. They pan-handle, beg, and harass people on the streets. Society, the city, the state, and the federal government, must step in to provide a baseline for these people.
Give them a damn fake job, give them money, give them food, give them shelter. Just get them off the streets.
If society cannot do this for them, then take the next step, and go extreme. Incarcerate them. Make it illegal to be homeless. Throw them into a prison. At least that way, they will get fed, have a jumpsuit for clothing, and a warm shelter.
This is a human rights issue. And for the United States to claim that they are the greatest at human rights, then all you have to do is to look at the homeless, the underbelly of society, and see the people that has failed in society. And here, you will see the hypocrisy of a society that has no desire or inclination to help them.
As British economist Joan Robinson put it :"The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all."
How are either of those things exploitative?
This app has some short-term benefits, but it’s hard
to see long-term benefits. What if every government aid program was super easy to sign-up for and instantly check whatever you need. What would change? Less taxes from all the gov workers we’d no longer need?
A lot of people who could receive aid but don't have the time / ability / don't know that they could receive aid would get help? How is that not a good result?
And yes, it'd also mean that there's less effort required to find people who need help and verify them, and thus the overhead is reduced.
More of the people who need those services would be able to get them?
As someone mentioned in the thread, efficiency could lead to either better benefits to the recipients of the government benefits or they could result in contraction of the government workforce.
To that latter concern we must figure out whether people are employed by the government (or companies in general) to do a job or they're there also equally as a part of a social contract to keep the most people possible in gainful employment --which if the latter is true, SV startups are an anathema by design. People for the most part aren't building startups in order to require more people to keep things running --they tend to be in business to save their customers money.