Who Owns Silicon Valley?

View of Silicon Valley in 2012, showing major employers
Vintage 2012 view of Silicon Valley showing major employers. “Silicon Valley IT Company Topography” by Wayan Vota is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Or more precisely, who owns Santa Clara County? With the cooperation of local officials including the County Assessor, a consortium including the Mercury News has determined who owns the greatest value of real estate in the County.  Tech giants Alphabet and Apple are second and third, but the number one owner turns out to be Stanford University.

Some other important information:

Proposition 13 is mentioned, but the incentive which keeps old people in their homes which become unaffordable to most families is not explored.

Local opposition to development, preventing housing construction which might otherwise occur, is discussed.

Stanford’s existing holdings include commercial property, but their current acquisitions seem mainly to provide housing for some of their elite employees.  These people are able to buy houses at favorable prices (relative to the area), however Stanford retains the land and retains the right to buy the house back eventually. Local non-Stanford people complain, of course, but do not offer to sell their properties at a discount.

Apparently California practice is to assess all real estate, even that which is exempt.  This enables meaningful estimates of ownership even tho $13.3 billion of Stanford’s $19.7 billion in real estate is exempt.

Several local officials were interviewed.  They don’t discuss how it feels to know that your opposition, Apple and/or Google, has control of much of your communications and might be monitoring them.

Well worth a read for those interested.


Hydraulic economic model– the Phillips Machine

MONIAC at the London School of Economics
MONIAC at the London School of Economics (from Flickr Commons)

Yes, you can build an economic model without computers.  In fact, around 1950 New Zealander Bill Phillips did, modelling economic flows not with electrons, but with water.  He built a total of 14 of these “MONIACs”, one of which has been restored by Allan McRobie and can be seen in operation in this video. McRobie is a hydraulic engineer, not an economist; Phillips at first was neither, nor was he a plumber, but rather a journeyman electrician and polymath (eventually an economist at the London School of Economics).  McRobie describes the machine’s operation in some detail.  Like many economic models it fails to consider the role of land, but it does have a bucket representing optimism (perhaps Keynes’ “animal spirits”).

Phillips’ original design had an additional feature, a high-voltage connection that could be used to execute meddling politicians or bankers (see the video from about 17 to 19 minutes),  but that has been removed in the restoration.

Like Henry George, Phillips smoked and died young, in 1975 .

Heartland podcast seeks government action

Heartland Institute publications and web pages usually position it as anti-government, or at least pro-less-government-than-we-have-now.  But their podcasts are a bit less controlled, sometimes just providing an interesting take on something we might not have thought about (There was a great one about “how much does the Burning Man Festival have to pay for insurance?” that seems to have disappeared from Heartland’s site).

Now we have one insisting that the government needs to break the Google monopoly and vigorously enforce “privacy” laws against Google. The mp3 of this interview with Scott Cleland, author of Search and Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc is here.

Cleland seems to want government to protect us from the threat that Google is.  I agree that Google can be a threat, as they really do want to organize all the information about all of us, and seem to be pretty good at it. But I think the real threat will happen when Google and Government merge.  Until then, we are probably best advised to use the good cheap or free alternatives to Google’s services, and to work without signing in to Google to the extent possible.

My own experience with Google Adsense, btw, occurred when trying to buy some traffic to the Henry George School web site.  People concerned about “poverty” might be interested in us, so I tried that keyword.  The problem was that most of the news articles Google coded as “poverty” were about crime and criminals.  So I excluded some words, I think it was “gun”, “police,” and a couple others.  Adsense failed to recognize these exclusions.  On one of the google discussion groups I found other people who have experienced similar problems.  Eventually, Google said something to the effect of “if you want to keep advertising with us you’ll have to pay more money per hit.”  I guess we would have had to pay enough to justify having a Google Human get involved, and that was too expensive, so the project was put aside.  The dollar cost was modest but the benefit was more modest.

Who are putting their lives on the line for us?

A new report(pdf) from the U S Bureau of Labor Statistics provides 2009 data, pretty much consistent with earlier years, about fatality rates (per 100,000 equivalent full-time workers) in various occupations:

  • Fishers and related fishing workers 200.0
  • Aircraft pilots and flight engineers  57.1
  • Farmers and ranchers 38.5
  • Roofers 34.7
  • Refuse and recyclable material collectors  25.2
  • Driver/sales workers and truck drivers  18.3
  • Miscellaneous agricultural workers 16.7
  • First-line supervisors/managers of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers 16.2
  • First-line supervisors/managers of construction trades and extraction workers 15.2
  • Grounds maintenance workers 15.0
  • Taxi drivers and chauffeurs  14.9
  • Police & sheriff’s patrol officers 13.1
  • All self-employed workers (included in the various occupational categories) 12.0
  • Firefighters 4.4

When I think about what occupations are really important to the maintenance of civilized life in my community, I definitely think of the farmers and the refuse collectors. And in an emergency, sometimes I have had to call on a taxi driver.  Some of the other categories maybe are less essential. I like fish, but not enough to risk death.

Of course police and firefighters face dangerous situations, but they are trained, equipped, and staffed to deal with them.  Maybe we need to give equal attention to some other essential occupations.

Illinois judges

We elect our Illinois  judges, and vote periodically to retain them, all of which doesn’t seem to improve their quality over what we might get from “merit” selection.  In theory it could, but who, except some local lawyers and victims, knows anything about the various judges?  At election time some of the former do publish evaluations, which seem to affect 5% or 10% of the vote and might be reliable.

But now there’s a place where we can all share our experience and views on individual judges. Judgepedia is a rather sparse wiki right now, but it could be the right place to record your experiences, or even just what you read in “in the papers.”  There seems to be a page for every judge in the state (and nationwide too?), with a map of the “circuits” and a link for each.

Presidential candidate endorses Georgist reform– sort of

The present adjustment of Henry George’s celebrated land tax could also be considered.

From Ralph Nader’s position on taxation.  Unfortunately it’s so far down in the document that even folks who read the position won’t likely notice it.  And I don’t quite know what “present adjustment” means.  Earlier in the text he does seek to replace taxes on “work and consumer essentials” with taxes on “the clearly addictive industries (alcohol and tobacco), pollution, speculation, gambling, extreme luxuries…[and] [t]iny taxes (a fraction of the conventional retail sales percentage) on stock, bond, and derivative transactions…”  Can’t say I agree with all of this, but at least there is some recognition that taxing work is a bad thing, and that Henry George might have something to contribute to today’s tax debates.  Which, as far as I know, puts him ahead of the other candidates.

New Census Atlas

I just discovered that the U S Census Bureau has issued a new Atlas, which they say is their first since 1925. (The press release is dated January 31, did everyone else already know about this?) It’s downloadable chapter by chapter as pdf’s, which is great since it costs $165 in hardcopy. This is not new data, but a compilation of stuff that was already available, though I suppose many of the maps are newly-prepared.  One might ask why it takes almost eight years after census day to prepare a report, but this one will not.

My favorite section, so far, is Chapter 2 on population distribution. There’s a map showing when each county reached its maximum population. For hundreds, it was more than 50 years ago. Other county-level maps show population changes since 1980. These maps should be persuasive to any rational person who fears that the U. S. is becoming overpopulated. It is unfortunate that the Atlas doesn’t contain tabulations to go with the maps, so I cannot tell you how many counties reached their peak population before 1960, nor by how much the total population of these counties has declined since the peak.

Capital Market Dysfunctionality

It’s not the way a Georgist would describe our main economic problems, but it doesn’t fit badly. Paul Woolley, a former (reformed?) investment manager and IMF official, has established his Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality.   One way he states the problem:

By most measures finance has become the dominant industry sector accounting, for example, for between 30% and 40% of the aggregate profits of the quoted corporate sector in the US, UK and globally, compared with only around 10% forty years ago

Not only does this mean a lot of money is being paid for a service which isn’t really central to our economy’s purpose, but also that much of the best talent in many fields is diverted to playing financial games rather than useful work.

Of course, in his talk he did not mention land.  Since his background is in finance, I guess he looks at the problem as a capital market problem rather than a land speculation problem.  As a Georgist, I tend to think that the problem can only be solved by making speculation in natural resources unprofitable.  Woolley however will probably show many ways in which the problem can be reduced, or at least postponed.   His site shows many papers related to the subject, many worth a look I think. (Of course quite a few of the papers are not available free.)

One reason I am inclined to think this is a serious effort to address the issue is that Woolley is apparently funding the work personally.