Monthly Archives: February 2019


As promised, I’m going to journal my rather slow progress through Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, at least from my perspective. Today I’m taking a look at the introduction.

First off, I’m impressed. Either the writer or the translator has a rather smooth writing style–not something you necessarily expect from an economist. I’m also impressed by an economist who openly says that his answers are imperfect and incomplete.

Piketty leaps right away into his argument–that we have avoided the Marxist apocalypse but not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality. He looks at the historical analysis, going through Malthus to Ricardo, Marx, and Kuznets. After explaining why he does not agree with the Kuznets curve–i.e., inequality decreases as industrialization and economic development increases, he goes on to discuss his sources. He is also careful to point out that the modern theorist can more easily deal with massive amounts of historical data than their predecessors. He flat out says “It is much easier to study the history of the distribution of wealth today than in the past. This book is heavily indebted to recent improvements in the technology of research.”

Thank you computers. I guess.

He sums up his conclusions as follows: first, “one should be wary of any economic determinism in regard to inequalities of wealth and income.” Extrapolating from data gathered during the 1910-1950 time period is affected by both World Wars and policy decisions taken in reaction to those conflicts.

Second–which Piketty identifies as the heart of the book–“is that the dynamics of wealth distribution reveal powerful mechanisms pushing alternately toward convergence and divergence. Furthermore, there is no natural, spontaneous process to prevent destabilizing, inegalitarian forces from prevailing permanently.”

He spends some time discussing the forces of convergence and divergence, sounding a worried call that the forces of divergence leading to greater income inequalities may be getting stronger, though he considers his conclusions to be less dire than Marx’s.

Then he outlines the geographic and historical boundaries of his study. Historically, he’s looking at the dynamics of wealth distribution on national and international levels since the eighteenth century, with a caution that there is not always adequate historical data. Primary foci are the United States, Japan, Germany, France, and Great Britain, identifying France and Great Britain as having the most complete historical sources. He considers France to be particularly important because first, as a result of the French Revolution, there was a systematic method established to record wealth in land, buildings, and financial assets. Secondly, France’s rate of population growth is a more reliable and consistent means of measuring the impact of such growth than say the United States due to stability of territory and population increase.

This particular point struck me as something I hadn’t considered before. Piketty comments that “the dynamics and structure of inequality look very different in a country whose population increases by a factor of 100 compared with a country whose population merely doubles.” As an American and non-economist I really hadn’t sat down and considered this factor. He goes on to stress that this rate of growth reduces the strength of the inheritance factor in the US, but that we can’t necessarily generalize to the whole world from the US. He considers France to be a more accurate source for anticipating future developments.

Piketty goes on to discuss the theoretical frameworks of this work, getting in a zinger about the problematic dominance of math in economic theory while downplaying historical research and collaboration with the social sciences.

Overall, it’s an interesting introduction to this work and a heck of a lot more readable than a lot of other economists I’ve read. It’s clear I’m going to be learning a lot about things that never popped up in my studies of political science, and it’s going to be useful not just in further development of my political understanding but in potential science fiction worldbuilding work.

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RadCon 2019

Some days you just gotta love how fandom pulls itself together. One recent example was the last RadCon, located in the Tri-Cities.

Now RadCon has always been somewhat of an interesting science fiction convention. Because it’s located near Hanford there’s been a bit of a draw toward panels based on science topics and a heavy number of attendees with science and engineering backgrounds. There’s a regular core of gamers. Cosplayers. Writers. Its attendance pulls as much from the Portland, Seattle, BC, and Spokane areas as it does from the Tri-Cities.

So when a bad winter storm hits the week before RadCon, that’s going to be problematic, right? Six inches or so of snow at the Pasco Red Lion and even locals snowed in. Ice all over the place. Around 500 attendees canceled due to weather–including panelists, presenters, and dealers. Eeek. A conrunner’s nightmare, right?

Well, that’s not accounting for the dual nature of the Pacific Northwest. West of the Cascades, snow is rare. People just don’t have the tools to manage large amounts of snow, much less deal with driving in questionable weather. Even those from elsewhere who do have experience with snow get frustrated with what they see as inadequate preparation for the rare heavy snow event (when you are talking about something that maybe happens 2-3 times in ten years, city budgets aren’t inclined to include snow removal equipment as a regular budget and training expense. BTDT, ever since experiencing my first big snow event in the 60s). But there’s just not a lot of incentive to dedicate much attention to something that goes away within a couple of days, which is the usual state of affairs when a big snow dump hits Portland or Seattle.

Those of us who’ve lived here all our lives know and accept this reality with a shrug. Some West-siders learn how to handle snow and do so well. Or they grew up in snow country and they adapt to the West-side freakouts.

But east of the Cascades, especially for those populations who live in and around mountains? No big deal for most of us, just like it is for the minority of West-siders with snow experience. And that got reflected in RadCon attendance. Both the Columbia River Gorge and Snoqualmie Pass had a small window opening up for safe traffic to reach RadCon. The experienced and the bold in Portland and Seattle went for it. And then there were the Canadians…..

The question still remained…was anyone going to show up? And what was going to happen with the holes in the schedule because people couldn’t travel safely?

Attendance got answered pretty quickly on Friday, when the registration lines were as long as they ever were–only perhaps for not as long as in years when the weather behaves. Granted, there were still fewer people there than in past years, but nearly every panel I attended had at least a partial audience, and others were standing room only. We panelists marveled at the number of people who showed up for 9 AM panels on both Saturday and Sunday.

Programming told panelists to feel free to jump into panels that had less than four panelists (while checking with the other panelists, of course). So we rose to the occasion, filling in so that most panels had a full range of presenters.

It was fun. The con had a more intimate, collaborative feel to it. I was able to visit with people I don’t normally get to talk to, and relax at the same time. I missed seeing some people who didn’t make the drive, but then again, not everyone is cut out for winter driving. It wasn’t overwhelming, and even though we drove home in a little bit of weather, it still wasn’t bad.

I’ll probably remember this RadCon as the Yaktrak con, since I ended up wearing my Yaks every day to hike over the icy path from the Best Western to the Red Lion. But I’ll also remember the new people I met, and others that I got to know better. We all pulled together to make things work, and they did. Gotta love it.

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Snow, winter, writing, CAPITAL

Well, hello there. I guess maybe I need to spend a bit more time blogging these days. Instead of composing lovely blogs in my mind while Doing Stuff, then not following through when I finally get to a computer because I forgot the brilliant post…I’m going to dance through with just the plain stuff and if it turns out to be brilliant, great. And if not…such is life.

In any case, we’ve finally got some decent snow amounts that aren’t ice here in NE Oregon. I’ve been really annoyed by the Wallowa winter this year because it’s been light on the snow front but with just enough (and temps hovering right around freezing) to cause ice. Lots and lots of ice. There’s been times when I’ve gone out to see Mocha where I needed to hang onto her to keep from falling when I bring her in for grooming and attention. She has extra-big nail heads on her front shoes which help with traction…if anything, she’s more likely to slip on her hinds right now. And four feet are often more stable than two. At least the two of us aren’t slipping at the same time!

Currently we have temperatures in the teens and six inches of snow, with rumors of The Big Dump coming soon. Nonetheless, today was the first time in several weeks that Mocha and I could caper in the snow. She was eager to trot and then lope, but I kept her under wraps because we’ve just not been able to get as much work in this winter. But we both enjoyed a short, brisk lope in the snow. It’s similar but not the same experience as skiing–wind in my face, flying along, snow swishing along her feet. I’m hoping the conditions hold for a few more snow rides, at least.

I’m ditzing around with writing right now because I have stuff going on–all writing-related but it’s also all not the novel. I’m putting the final touches on a self-publishing class I’ll be teaching in two weeks, and working on a short nonfiction project that I managed to land a few weeks ago. I’m wanting to get it off my plate and sent to the editor before we leave for Radcon. And then there’s other things I’m doing as well.

And today I finally got my hands on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in a particularly Wallowa County way. Last night I saw a notice on the local Facebook marketplace that someone was selling books. I clicked through, noticing philosophy, logic, and Greek classic titles I either already own or have read and don’t feel the need to own. Then Capital popped up. Since I’m flush after a successful sales weekend at the Grange’s Sweetheart Sale, I asked if it was gone–no. So I set up a meeting with the seller at the local chocolate and coffee shop. When I got there (after spotting the horde of hungry quail working through the birdseed underneath the feeder and prepping for the Mocha ride), I paid him for Capital, chatted for a few minutes about writing (he had a Moleskin he had been writing in), bought a chocolate, then headed out for Mocha time. He was tucked in for a cozy afternoon staring out at the snow, writing, and reading yet another thick philosophy book. Can’t blame him…but I had a hot date with a chestnut mare.

In any case, we might get dumped on tonight and tomorrow, we might not. We’re right at the edge of this storm. Nonetheless, between projects and Piketty, I’m ready for it.

Oh, and planning the next quilting project. Gotta do that too.

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