A new serfdom

On money and negative interest rates.(you can read about this on WSJ at a fee, or Bloomberg,  or Zero Hedge (which I admittedly take with a pinch of salt) for free.)

Hmm. Harvard. As one of my friends (a world-class leader in his field, and not trained at Harvard) said dryly ‘You can tell a Harvard man – you just can’t tell them much.’ It has produced a large number of billionaires. This may have bearing on the rest of this. It also has an economics professor called Ken Rogoff. I’m sure it may well have valued academics whose work does not make me imagine an outcome of mobs, smoky torches and pitchforks…

Professor Rogoff believes that negative interest rates could be a good thing. He also believes that cash (as in physical money) per se is a bad thing. The former forces spending, so vital for the engine for economies, and the latter facilitates crime, money laundering, tax evasion, and even illegal emigrants.

I suspect he’s completely right… from the point of the billionaires, or at least the very wealthy and powerful. Probably from the point of view of government (who hate competition in the crime racket. That is after all the origin of several ruling houses, and I suspect most government, despite smoke and mirrors to contrary).

But what about as a general thing: for those unlikely to go to Harvard or be billionaires or even millionaires?

I would argue that for those outside that select group – this can be translated into one word: serfdom.

Let’s think about the negative interest rates, for example. Why, it would mobilize cash, make for immediate consumption. Isn’t that good? There is no point in saving as that money will be worth less, next year. And mysteriously, inflation will not go away… so it’ll be worth less, twice. Now I’ve argued before that inflation effectively robs savers for profligate borrowers, and that historical norm cycle of inflation followed by deflation worked both to encourage and build savings and then to encourage investment –as that could bring a better return than just holding onto that money. There was an almost seasonal quality to it, a sort of drawdown-refill-drawdown-refill-drawdown process – which worked in the longer term – even if it wasn’t much fun at times in short term (depending if you were a debtor or a saver). The world slowly got to be a better place to live in.

Negative rates – available to banks from the state, and paid to savers by the banks (not, naturally to borrowers, would indeed free a rush of savings – and make a rush of borrowings. Wonderful for stimulating the economy! Wonderful for banks – after all if the bank can borrow at -1% and lend at 5%, it’s no different to borrowing at 3% and lending at 9%. They profit on the margin, not the figure. Their figure is always positive.

But where is the refill? And what happens next year?

“But we haven’t had deflation for decades! Where was that refill? We’ve got fiat money and reserve banks and printing presses now.”

Indeed. Outside habit and obstinacy saving has not been encouraged for a long time. Fiat money printing (and the inflation this causes) have ruled instead. Yes, there have been investments that could leave you making a return after inflation. But generally speaking, the banks and the wealthy tried to limit that. But it was possible and wise to at least lose slowly while adding your savings, having security, and possibly the goods or services that you wanted at less cost than if you borrowed, and then spent years paying it off. As an indebted borrower, you are, de facto, a serf, in thrall to your lender, chained to that job (or another that pays well enough to match). You dare not lose it, or you could lose everything. It’s not a long step to the serf of the middle ages, who worked the land he did not own, lived in a miserable hut at his master’s will, who could not leave or even change jobs without his master’s permission – a master who took most of the proceeds of his labor and lived very well off it – a life of insecurity, working principally for someone, who, often as not merely inherited the position and invested precious little of that profit in making things better for the serf.

“Ah, but if you have a good credit record, you have security! You can borrow as much as you might need.”

Indeed. And you can give part of your income to the lender, and you will need to keep working. And the threat of bankruptcy, forfeiture and a poor credit record will keep you on the master’s estate. That part of your income that you will give to lender = cost of good or service + cost of the loan allowing for depreciating value of money + handsome profit for the lender. If you’d simply stuck dollars in the bank and got interest largely cancelled by inflation you’d have lost some to inflation, but the handsome profit for the lender would have been yours to spend – which as Joe Average makes money circulate more than Fred Banker 1%, and spends locally would have been better for the economy – if not Harvard graduate billionaires. And if you’re hurt or sick or unhappy at your job… well you don’t have to worry about paying it back, and remain trapped there.

At best negative interest rates cause a brief burst of consumption and investment, and thereafter mean that any consumption and infrastructure investment must carry parasitical rent seekers who add value but mean the consumer and infrastructure investment must carry their weight as well. And they have no practical choice but to (unless of course you enter this equation with a lot of money. In which case you produce a product, which you sell, and the consumer pays both you and the bank if that product is something they can’t afford in the very short term of accumulating money.

With negative interest rates, you’re better off putting dollars under your mattress. Enter part 2 of Rogoff’s equation – get rid of physical money. Neat, isn’t it?

“But you can’t be robbed!”

Really? Well, yes, people are robbed. You can work out the probability, and you can take measures to reduce the chances. Does that beat the utter certainty that some of cash will ‘vanish’ every day you keep it in the bank? It’s an equation a lot of people might like to reach their own decisions about – but if there is no cash, you won’t.

And have you worked out: if there is no cash, who will keep track of the numbers? Who will provide that little card hooked up to the computer system? Ah yes. Mister negative interest rates bank. Or failing that, perhaps the alternative scenario. Mr Negative interest rates and tax you government. While neither would protect you from robbery – not by themselves or others, neither have a record that says “This would be a good idea” – either for the economy or the individuals. The one thing I think we can guarantee is that it would not stop crime, or curb tax evasion. Oh yes, the government would extract more rent from Joe Average. But the rich and powerful don’t pay taxes now, and would, I assure you, not pay taxes then. But the serfs would. Much better for collecting from them. You can just take as much as you like from their accounts (the banks ALWAYS play ball with the bigger crooks, including governments).

One has to ask: what without the possibility that people would keep their cash under the mattress is there to keep either the banks – who usually work hand in hand with governments, or the governments – who usually work hand in hand with the banks, honest? Seriously, the very existence of cash is protective – just as an armed society is protective against despots.

As for the illegal immigrants… well. That depends on the serfdom conditions in their own countries – or even outright starvation. I don’t think a lack of cash to send home will stop ‘em. And, anyway, the people Professor Rogoff’s economics work for don’t care where the serfs that scrub their floors and manicure their lawns come from. They can be legal or illegal serfs.


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Dave Freer’s Mailing list

Given that I am to marketing what Godzilla is to wristwatch repair, I’m doing something incredibly foolish here. The one promise I can make is I am unlikely to bother you very often – but if you enjoy my books and stories, and would like to know when the next one is out, and bits of news about them – well please sigh… sign, yes I mean sign up. I will give away stories and books every now and again, announce specials and probably not waffle too much about how my piggies are growing.

If you would like to sign up, click here



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A new e-book is up!

The picture is a link –

Tom is a cat in trouble. The worst possible kind of trouble: he’s been turned into a human. Transformed by an irascible old magician in need of a famulus — a servant and an assistant, Tom is as good at being a servant as a cat ever is. The assistant part is more to Tom’s taste: he rather fancies impressing the girl cats and terrorizing the other toms by transforming himself into tiger. But the world of magic, a vanished and cursed princess, and haunted skull, and a demon in the chamber-pot, to say nothing of conspiring wizards and the wickedest witch in the west, all seem to be out to kill Tom. He is a cat coming to terms with being a boy, dealing with all this. He has a raven and a cheese as… sort of allies.
And of course there is the princess.
If you were looking for ‘War and Peace’ this is the wrong book for you. It’s a light-hearted and gently satirical fantasy, full of terrible puns and… cats.


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Power, Bullying and ‘isms’

It’s been a while since I wrote up one of my ‘Philosophy behind my stories’ posts to bore everyone rigid with. So if you have insomnia… help is at hand!

One of the current memes being aggressively pushed is: On attacking and demeaning someone of another race (usually white) “I can’t be racist, I am not white. Whites are in power and dominant and you have to be that to be racist.” or on attacking and demeaning someone of another sex or orientation (usually male, heterosexual) “I can’t be sexist, I am not male. Males are in power and dominant and you have to be that to be sexist.”

Oddly, I believe there is a fragment of rightness in what on the surface makes as much sense as a hedgehog full of LSD reciting the Koran backwards. In Latin. With a lisp.

Racism is quite simply and clearly prejudice (against or for) on the basis of race. Sexism is prejudice (against or for) on the basis of sex. Both rest on the mean group characteristics always trumping the individual’s characteristics. Think about it: it can’t actually work any other way. Obviously there are no ‘exclusions’ – the concept transcends current circumstances and passes quite cheerfully through cultures and history.

Of course, logic says (and this is the grain — a tiny one — of rightness in the bizarre meme) to translate that prejudice into discrimination which could hurt (or help – let’s not forget it works the other way too) the other person/s involved is that the individual expressing that racist/sexist prejudice needs to be in a position of power to do so.

But of course what is missing in the meme is that power is relative and localized. Coming back to my own work, I have a character in Crawlspace and Other Stories — Laggy — who was a Khorozhet slave, before being liberated by HAR Marines (and hereafter are certain spoilers. Proceed if you have read the space-set murder-mystery, or don’t care).

So: naturally a hero… well, certainly a hero by current sf-tropes. Slaves are by definition always wronged, always victims, always good (Jack Vance was the last author I can think of to not go with this trope. A brave and vastly under-rated and under-appreciated author.)

Let’s play this one through, logically. A slave is at the bottom of social pyramid. He has to be a victim…

Except of course he is not alone at the bottom of that pyramid. And among slaves there too is a hierarchy. Laggy, it turns out, was a trusty. A slave who exploited other slaves. When we take a close look slaves or prisoners… it turns out that, actually, this is quite common, and widely reported, except in modern fiction. There is also the interesting assumption that someone who has been enslaved was somehow always an innocent saint before the bad men (always in modern sf, by bad white men. Once again, history is not congruent with this version of the narrative. Enslavement and slave-keeping haven’t actually been limited to any one race or culture. It seems to have cropped up for a long long time – those bad white men were plainly in the pyramid building business.) came took them from their peaceful vegetarian matriarchal idyll and enslaved them. Let’s face it: innocent saints living in peaceful vegetarian matriarchy are probably very easy to capture and enslave. But of course, in reality such societies tend to die quite quickly unless protected by people who are none of the above, or extremely isolated with very high natural mortality. And even there: saints are thin on the ground. Slave takers didn’t care if you were a wife-beating child abuser who murdered his neighbor, or a saint. The former probably got away or possibly sold out the latter, but if a tribe or a village – or a stray individual got captured, the slavers didn’t do a thorough background check before issuing a ‘be a slave’ license (as in A MANKIND WITCH, where they enslaved someone they should have either ransomed or handed over for the dead-or-alive reward, and better dead). Slaves have to be a cross section of humanity too. Good, bad and mixed. Extreme conditions bring out the hidden best in some, and the worst in others… except in modern fiction.

Nor is the other standard trope: even if they were axe-murdering drug pushers when enslaved… when freed they’ve learned from the experience and become good people (TM) and would never ever exploit (or enslave) anyone else. It does happen — and that is at the root of our criminal justice system (I don’t think this ideal, but that’s a different discussion, different books). But if it worked that way all the time, there’d be no recidivism. That’s not true, and neither is the assumption that just because someone has been a victim, they will not victimize someone else. Sadly, that is not the case. It does happen that the former victim is determined not to do the same… But it is far from inevitable. And, because we are the center of own perceptions, it is quite plausible (and I suspect common) for someone to be be bullied… and at the same time to be bullying another. Or to join in bullying another to avoid being bullied. Or to have been bullied when small, growing and bullying others. And this is at the heart of CRAWLSPACE – Laggy is presumed innocent and good because he was a Khorozhet slave. In actual fact he’d murdered the man whose identity he’d assumed, been captured along with the other miners on the rock, and ended up as a trusty – by betraying some of them. He had seen opportunity with liberation – and kept the other (alien) slaves who had hidden during the attack, hidden after liberation, and still slaves. His slaves now, unaware that they’d been freed – a process he repeated with highly addictive drugs and the prostitutes at his bar. Note that the story does not portray ALL slaves as like Mr Laguna, or even most slaves. It is merely a hopefully plausible example of the variability and of the importance of relative power in any circumstance.

So what does this have to do with racism, sexism and the trope of “I can’t be… because I’m not a white male, and I have no power to be that in a society in which white males are dominant.” Well, it’s just power is a local or proximal thing, and, logically differs on the basis of the individuals (not groups) in the power relationship. So for example, you might (if you were a moonbat excusing your racist and/or sexist behavior) say White Men still dominate business and politics in Western society and therefore I can’t be. Or even more illogically ‘historically white men were dominant’… Well, let’s take traditional publishing. Historically white men were dominant. But that’s a shifting picture, which, with 74% women employed, and at least 70% in editorial… only 51% in management (and by the salary/age facts those men in management are old, and gradually fading from the picture. In ten years time it’ll be — conservatively — 85% female, and 70% female management.) Given an editor’s (or even someone in marketing) power over an author, it is perfectly accurate to say, despite history or the larger picture of society, the women in publishing would be well positioned to apply sexist prejudice against male authors. On the other hand male authors might be sexist about the editor, but he is in no position to discriminate against (or for) her as a result. The same is not true of the other side of the power equation. It’s not the situation in the wider society, it’s in that relationship. And the historically abused can be abusers. Sometimes they feel it is ‘payback’. Of course, it is never payback to the actual individual person/s who hurt them, but a payback to the ‘group’- which usually boils down another individual/s who may well not ever have inflicted any hurt on any of their group, and who may be in a very fragile personal position. Just because someone is a man, does not mean he is not also poor or suicidal or mentally unstable. When you treat individuals as individuals, that is obvious. When someone is a ‘group’ you can be wildly wrong.

Power determines who can bully who. And it is proximal power. Just as the kid who might come from an intelligent, well-off, socially and financially powerful family can still get the crap knocked out of him by a big kid whose single mother is on welfare and is slightly thicker than your average Hugo ‘Noah Ward’ voter (i.e. needing ‘breathe in, breathe out’ instructions to stop themselves dying of anoxia to the brain cell*) in the locker room, it’s a question who has power in that circumstance.

We’ve had a similar dose of insanity with sad/rabid puppies, with publishers, editors, powerful and successful authors with multiple awards shrieking loudly that the puppies and the nominees – who are none of the above – are bullying them. How, pray? Oh and despite all the evidence to the contrary, they’re sexists and misogynists (even the women) and white racists (even the not-white, or married to not white folk). And, besides the fact that it’s wildly inaccurate, what difference would it make? They have no power to apply prejudice. The inverse, of course is not true.

It has always struck me — as a guy who believes in judging individuals as individuals — how sometimes what is called ‘discrimination’ or sexism or racism is no such animal. Take the cop who hears a noise in an alley – he steps into it and sees a white woman and a black man wrestling desperately. He can only deal with one of them. It’s dim, he sees knife steel, but has no idea what’s happening. What does he do? By the current PC rules one way he’s a sexist, the other racist.

Maybe he should call for a safe space for them talk about it.

Or go for coffee and leave them to it, which is what I am going to do.

*if you think this is a bit harsh, you haven’t thought about the obvious ‘reply’ to this. Nor what good recruiting fodder it is for their foes.


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A little Bolg

A little snippet from the WIP, where a Bank – or its minion – has swindled two retired little old ladies out of their life savings. Unfortunately they are retired fertility goddesses, and have called on the services of the redoubtable PI Bolg to get their money back or at least release a large fly agaric maddened berserker with a double headed axe in the Bank…


Instead, armed with a little knowledge – always a dangerous thing, and without my Glock, or even a suitable double bladed axe — they have metal detectors — I went to the bank.

The woman at reception, when I got to the head of the queue, looked down on me. I’m used to that, at my height, even with the high heels and latex mask. None-the less, coming from a bank employee it could possibly have made me little more gruff than usual. “I want see a Mr Philip Dally. About an investment product.”

“Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes.” I have been given quite a lot, and never returned any. Royal ones too, and they’re supposed to last better. I was appointed holder of the royal trousers once, but only once.

She frowned at her screen. “I don’t have a record of it. What is your name please?”

“Dickson.” I’d been told there were a lot of them, and in a way we all are.

She shook her head. “Sorry. You can’t see Mr. Dally without an appointment.” She sounded very pleased about that.

“But my friend Mr. Jasmin” – I had the Vice President (Investments) name from the ever informative internet – “assured me he would see to it that I got an appointment.”

That plainly was a different matter entirely. “I’ll just see if he’s free, Mr Dickson.”

And indeed, he was. How surprising. I was escorted up to his office.

Given the timing – and the night before, he was drinking coffee and trying to look awake and enthusiastic. He failed at both. Poor fellow looked as if he could use a purge, so I helped him along in that direction. They scan you for firearms, but not rapid and violent laxatives. Fintan had needed elephant dung in a hurry at one stage of some of his experiments, and had run a little batch of this stuff up. It had almost destroyed the circus I’d been working at, at the time. I kept some for other people’s emergencies.

A little misdirection, a few minutes small talk about Mr. Jasmin and our acquaintanceship at the Country Club and wonders of hunting golfs together, a pastime that Dally seemed to envy, and the vast amounts of money coming out of my real-estate venture… and an expression of extreme distress suddenly delightfully enlivened his beautifully shaven and rather pallid face. It was a thing of joy that I was sorry not to record for my clients. It wasn’t quite as devastating as a berserker with an axe that Gersemi had wished for, although I had a feeling Dally’s underwear might not agree with me.

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Twisty Christmas Tales is free

for the 8th and 9th so get in quick


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Makers and breakers

You can find a new guest post here on L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Superversive Blog

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