Political Stream of Consciousness Part 1: Value vs Profit

Political Stream of Consciousness Part 1: Value vs Profit

I’m going to try and dump some positions on politics I have here in no particular order and see if some kind of coherent identity is apparent by the end. Even better a cohesive message that someone else may identify with. This is just a personal exercise after being inundated with histrionics and naked partisanship in these early days of Trump.

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A contemporary Eames chair which sells for $5000, betraying the original mission statement. There’s a moral in there that is germane here.

I think if I had to boil my position on the role of government in society and policy into one sentence, I would plagiarize borrow the Eames design slogan: government should do the best for the most for the least.

It’s just one sentence but there’s a lot to unpack. First of all is the action verb “do”. I think government should do things. Is it asinine to back up to that level? Maybe. Being embedded in the political atmosphere I’m in (Southeast Texas), I feel like that needs to be said. Many people here myopically want government to shrivel away completely, asphyxiated by dwindling budgets. I acknowledge the need and role of administrative (as opposed to punitive) government.

I think the government plays a role in guiding society toward a consensus state of progress. Consensus to me means broad goals of equality, justice, and health. That separates me from libertarians who think only a punitive government should exist. I say punitive vs administrative to separate the military and safety (police, fire) roles of government from administrative roles- basically everything else: regulations, trade, safety nets, etc.

I say that the government should guide society, that verb guide is intentional. To me that means the government should have a soft hand wherever possible. I believe in a smartly regulated market, and the value of competition and enterprise. At the intersection of both is smart policy that is sustainable and guides us to long term goals that could not be met with profit-driven enterprise alone, or government run programs alone. The government is basically an incubator for things that don’t derive profit but have value.

There is a deeper philosophical perspective I have here: value and profit are overlapping but not identical. Energy is both valuable and profitable. We need energy for everything, which includes noble endeavors that have value. On the other hand, some medicines have great value but little profit, or vice versa. A powerful vaccine may be incredibly valuable but the eradication of its target ailment puts itself out of market. These are just two illustrations but across every sector there are areas where value and profit diverge. I see the role of government as a regulating force to ensure that unprofitable endeavors of great value are addressed.

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~$1.8b revenue yearly, zero lives saved. 

Combining the “soft hand” with the “value-profit angle”- where the angle is the divergence between profit and value- and I start to see the kind of policy I think would work. Namely, using incentives and disincentives to guide business mostly, or to incubate business/nonprofits to support value without profit. To me this point of view allows me to marry two seemingly opposing views: that government should work through private enterprise, but that government should regulate businesses to maximize value.

An example of the former is the government contracting to or purchasing services from private business to have profit from value where there would otherwise be no profit. The simplest example of this is commissioning infrastructure. A more controversial example would be leveraging private enterprise to do things traditionally administered by civil servants, like education and qualified healthcare. I’m not diametrically against private education or healthcare- I want the best for the most for the least.

An example of the latter would be dis/incentives for business to guide their behavior away from negative value. Negative value is generally harm and costs to society that would otherwise be externalized without protections. Pollution is the most visible negative-value that is externalized when companies shirk their responsibility to clean up their mess. I would tax this behavior, use the revenue to contract direct cleanup or offsetting activities. This may or may not explicitly include carbon emissions, political will depending.

So the unholy alliance of the soft hand and value-profit angle puts me in a position to upset everyone. Your classic liberal would not like privatization of government-run education or healthcare. Your classic conservative would not like environmental regulations, particularly in the form of taxes. This is how contrarians know they’re on the right path.

Stay tuned, I think the next stream-of-consciousness will focus more on domestic punitive policy, institutional racism, right-to-life, and other lighthearted topics.

Second Post!

What I do at NASA

I said in my opening blog that I’m an aerospace engineer at NASA. What does that even mean? What is NASA?

I have seriously had to answer to people who thought NASA was shut down. I don’t want to disparage them, everyone leads complicated busy lives. I wake up every day thinking NASCAR is shut down and am bitterly disappointed that it’s not.

I also often have to answer what I do in social situations. This is tricky depending on the audience. Usually its a social gathering far outside work. For this audience I have to be brief, concise, and also tickle their fancy like a little bell in a closet. I can’t just say I do engineering- that shuts the conversation down. I’m trying to impress these people. For this situation I have a pre-packaged one-sentence response with a well placed cliff hanger that makes the audience beg for more:

I lead a team that designs and develops the ground system operations software for processing measurements of the Orion spacecraft’s position, velocity, and other things.

This has several buzz words that someone is bound to bite on, and ends with a handwaving other things. This way, if someone is already bored then they got what they asked. Otherwise, they can inquire more and further slate my ego. Yeah we take measurements from ground radars, space based satellite tracking, and the Deep Space Network. Yeah the ones with the huge dishes they use for the Mars rovers.

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Test footage of hair-based atmospheric re-entry heat sink to be used for the Orion spacecraft.

If on the other hand the audience is a fellow geek nerd, it gets tricky. These guys usually have low social skills and high technical skills with an unknown temperament. You can tell who they are by the way they are. For this type of audience I flip the script and get even more coy.

I do math.

Now the nerd’s area of expertise sticks out like a whip. The whip does a few things like whip things or allow passage over a crevasse, but it does not do everything. The nerd will attempt to link your work to his whip, in an effort to slate their own ego. He thinks he can drive your nail in with his whip.

We can’t have that. I’m the smartest guy in the room, even if I’m not.

By upping the coy to 90% or even higher, I deflect any attempt by the nerd to scoff at my work as “amateur and puerile”, which let’s be real it is. I work for years on a project which at best will send a handful of humans to an asteroid, at worst will get canceled upon Emperor Trump’s coronation. I maintain the air of mystery.

I’ll write articles about more detail, but will mete them out for the aforementioned reasons of ego market manipulation. Just take away with you that I do math. It’s complicated.

First Post!

Hello World!

This is Clark Patrick Newman. I’m writing this blog. Why do you care? You probably don’t, that’s OK. This is mostly an exercise for me.

I used to have another blog, but it was on tumblr. I don’t fuck with tumblr anymore, I’m a curmudgeony old man. I’m 33 years old, which in internet years is infinity plus 33 years.

I’m into a lot of things. I am a self-styled jack of all trades, master of none. I daydream a lot about things I could be doing besides daydream. This blog will serve as an outlet to write down these daydreams.

I am an aerospace engineer at NASA. I’ll write what I do in another blog post. All you need to know now is you should expect some of what a nerd would post.

Outside of engineering, science, and technology, I’ll write about social issues, music, comedy, sports, and other things that are typical of a middle class STEM educated white cisman.

Enjoy! Or don’t!