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  • How inequality suppresses national wealth

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    It is a curious thing, but the American economy, like those of other developed nations, does not appear to be managed to maximize national wealth.

    Rather, it is managed to maximize profits, and to steer the distribution of wealth toward the already wealthy.

    How does this work? For one thing, the most profitable situation for many companies is to have just enough slack in the labor market to suppress wages. The nation as a whole might be richer if wages were higher, leading to higher demand, but if more money goes to people working for wages, the people at the top benefit less.

    From the 1940s through the 1960s, this was not in their control. That has changed.

    An example is the decision by the Federal Reserve Bank to increase the federal funds rate by 25 basis points in December. The Fed is supposedly shooting for an inflation rate of 2%, yet with the core Consumer Price Index running at 1/10 of that, .2%, they decided to raise interest rates, something the Fed usually does to tamp down inflation.

    The reasoning was that with unemployment down to 5%, inflation lurked on the horizon. But wages were increasing at a rate of 2.3%, making up some ground lost during the recession.

    And wages have a special place in the Fed's deliberations. Since Milton Friedman proposed it in the 1970s, the Fed has considered the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU) as part of their deliberations. Since they accepted the idea, median wages have barely increased in real terms, while productivity has increased vastly.

    There's a lot more to the phenomenon than the NAIRU, but the other elements are part of the same mindset. There is, for example, no real economic justification for the inflation target being 2% rather than, say, 3%, and considerable evidence that it leaves the economy perilously close to the zero lower bound (it's pretty hard, although not impossible, for interest rates to go below zero.) This can tie a central bank's hands when monetary stimulus is needed.

    There has also been a major shift in how public corporations are managed. Shareholders used to be regarded as stakeholders in a corporation, much like bondholders, employees, and customers. In the 1970s and '80s, there was a major shift toward managing companies to maximize shareholder value.

    This was based on the idea, advanced by Friedman, among others, that shareholders are owners, and a failure to maximize shareholder value was an owner/agent problem -- that is, the shareholders were owners, and management might operate the company in their own interest, rather than in the interest of shareholders. I went into some depth about why this is the wrong way to think about the problem in this post. I also recommend Lynn Stout's excellent book, The Shareholder Value Myth.

    The NAIRU also accompanied a concerted effort to reduce employee leverage in wage negotiations by undercutting unions, for example, by passing "right to work" legislation state by state, which basically makes it impossible to have a union shop.

    Now, there is a way to restore employee leverage over wages -- allow the unemployment rate to fall below NAIRU. After all, "non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment" translated into plain English is "the rate of unemployment at which real wages do not rise."

    The result of such a policy, in retrospect, is that the additional wealth produced by increase productivity does not go to the increasingly productive workers, but to people who do not work for hourly wages. That would be top management and shareholders. As Stan Sorscher notes in the Huffington Post article the above chart comes from, if wages had continued to track productivity, inflation adjusted wages would be about twice what they were in the early 1970s.

    Imagine how much more wealth this country would have if this were the case. More money would be in the hands of people inclined to spend it, and the increased demand would cause industry to expand to fill it. Concentrating wealth in the hands of the top .1% leads to a lot of money looking for profitable investments that aren't there because of a lack of demand, resulting in bubbles. But that doubling of wages hasn't happened, because the economic elites have rigged the system to increase their positional status at the cost of making the country as a whole poorer.

    What happens when unemployment falls below the NAIRU? What we saw in the late 1990s was that the labor participation rate increased, as people who had been out of the labor force discovered they could get jobs, and real wages started to rise.

    Now, one would think that would be a shining example of what can be accomplished, and one to be followed.

    But instead, we keep suppressing real wages, while demagogues work up anger among the white working class against immigrants and others they compete with for a piece of a pie that isn't growing.

    If the average wage were twice what it is now, I submit that this would not be possible. Right now, people who work for wages see top managers getting richer while they don't, meaning their positional status is declining.

    In addition, white male wages peaked in 1973. Women's wages have increased since then, so there is a loss of positional status here, as well. If the wages of both genders were growing, I doubt it would make much difference that women's wages are growing faster, but when you keep the size of the pie the same size and give more to someone, you set up a conflict.

    Not only are wages falling for white males, but labor participation if falling, so fewer are working for wages. While the male labor force participation rate has been falling since the mid 1950s, the female labor force participation rate was climbing until 2000. I strongly suspect we could create a lot more jobs without seeing much decline in the unemployment rate, because more people would come off the sidelines if they could.

    The result is a world where it is easy to set one group against the other, and this is a handy way to distract people from the issue of who is actually getting the money that isn't going to working men.

    When you've rigged the system, it's nice to have someone else to blame.

  • Free speech, but whose voice? Media ownership and democracy

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Thomas Jefferson famously said, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

    He considered a vigorous press essential for a nation to have an informed citizenry. So perhaps it should distress us that there are now about 33,000 journalists in America's newsrooms, down from a peak of about 57,000 in 1990. While the number of citizens to be informed has grown, the number of journalists to inform them has fallen by about 42%. So, we're well on our way to government without newspapers.

    This is mainly because of disruptions in the news business. There was a time when many cities had multiple newspapers, then there was a time when most towns had a newspaper, some radio stations, and some television stations. The broadcast media depended heavily on the newspaper to ferret out news stories that they could then cover.

    Newspapers, during the period when most cities had only one, endeavored to deliver a product that was viewed as impartial by their readers. In practice, this meant that newspapers reflected the politics of the populations they served. You could count on a New York paper being more liberal than one in some small town in Idaho, for example.

    National broadcast news for a time consisted of three channels. Again, the incentive was to appear impartial, in order to appeal to the largest possible audience. Attacks on the impartiality of the news media were effective in part because of this.

    The thing is, it was the limited number of news sources that made an attempt at impartiality necessary. When there were several newspapers in each major city, the incentive was to capture a large share of the audience, by making the paper interesting to a large group, sometimes in opposition to other groups. You might have a blue-collar paper, and one that appealed more to professionals and business people.

    But once the industry settled down to a series of local monopolies, the incentive was to appear impartial so as not to tempt anyone to start a competing paper. In the 1950s through the present,, most newspapers attempted impartiality to include as much of their potential audience as possible, and national news networks tried to be as inclusive as possible to avoid alienating parts of their audience.

    But one thing about news is, if you tell people what is really happening, you will sometimes end up telling them things they don't want to hear. The mess of the Vietnam War and the big cultural shifts that started happening in the 1960s were replete with stories about things people did not want to have happen, and did not like being told about.

    The objective of impartiality became problematic in part because of the forces tearing the country apart. Impartiality consists of telling stories that are full, fair, and accurate. Two of the three standards there are subjective, and I doubt Noam Chomsky and Dick Cheney could even agree on whether a news story was accurate.

    Fox News recognized this as an opportunity, rather late in the day, I'd say, when they launched in 1995. CNN had shown that a cable-based news network could be viable, and it occurred to Rupert Murdoch that there was an under-served audience of conservatives who did not like being told that the country was changing in ways they didn't like. He got Roger Ailes, a former Republican Party media consultant who had also been an NBC executive, to run his new network, which was designed to appeal to conservative viewers. The formula has been very successful, but now faces a demographic crisis because the average age of its viewers in 68.

    At about the same time, the internet, which had been non-commercial in the late 1980s, became fully commercialized. Soon, the cost of starting a news organization fell, and the cost of distribution fell to almost nothing. However, actually getting paid for news on the internet was practically impossible. Many news organizations started putting their stories on line for free, and news aggregators soon began to skim off what little money there was in internet news.

    So most internet "news" sites didn't hire a lot of reporters to get their stories. They became free riders on the reporting done by the declining news industry, and put their own spin on it. In fact, while the newspapers' stock in trade had been accurate reporting and attempted impartiality, the internet news sources' stock in trade is their bias. Appealing to a small part of the potential audience might limit their reach, but it guarantees them at least part of the audience.

    This is what happens when you have a lot of voices: More shouting. The economics of the news industry is the key to whether it attempts to be impartial or to give its readers red meat for their existing bias.

    What I hear from people still working in the newspaper industry is that the staffs are still shrinking. Positions go dark and stay dark, or a command comes down from on high that the budget must be cut by approximately the salary of a staffer. Newspapers, once cash cows, are being starved for resources. Fewer reporters means less actual news, and more competing outlets means more bias.

    What would Jefferson think? Probably that it was a lot like the newspapers of his time, that labeled him the "negro president." The press in his day could be vicious, and often carried their political bias right on the masthead.

  • A statement in favor of the Indiana Pi bill

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    In 1897, a bill was introduced in the Indiana legislature which would have had the effect of changing the value of Pi to 3.2, which would have made it possible to square the circle.

    Sadly, it did not pass at that time, but in the current age, people are entertaining equally logical policies, so why not revive the effort? The following is written as a speech for anyone who cares to advocate the policy again.

    Wake up, silly sheeple!
    I've something to tell you deluded people.
    The number Pi is an irrational factor
    and yet, we allow this unstable actor
    to help design our ships and planes
    smokestacks for factories, wheels on trains,
    circumference of our rocket ships
    and of the bowls we use for dips.
    Can we not reform this insane number,
    drug it to a harmless slumber,
    and while it dreams of circles true
    pass a law that makes it 3.2?

  • A cartopper for cold climates

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    The Sunfish is about the ideal cartopper for warm waters. When I was living on Okinawa, I sailed quite a bit on its ancestor, the Sailfish, and found it quite pleasant in warm water.

    However, that's a boat you'd sail in a dry suit in Puget Sound if you wanted to avoid hypothermia. I like the rig, and the fact that you can raise it or drop it while out on the water, and besides, Intensity Sails can provide a Sunfish "practice sail" for about $140. That's a major reduction in the cost of a boat, compared to the Snipe mainsail I bought a few years back for $800, which has only a little more sail area.

    So, what's needed is a boat that can throw less spray and have higher freeboard to keep the crew dry.

    Here's what I propose:

    I think a sufficiently skilled person could build this boat in a long weekend, perhaps with a little help, with a materials cost under $600, if you stuck with wooden spars. Build it in 4 mm okume plywood, it should come in at about 100 lb. unless you go with a lot more deck than I've shown. And you might want to, if you prefer a self-rescuing boat to one that relies on buoyancy bags and needs to be bailed after a capsize. The hull itself you could build with three sheets of plywood, but with deck, daggerboard case, daggerboard, and rudder, you're going to need a bit more lumber than that.

    With a low center of effort and easily driven hull, this should be a pleasant daysailer for one or two people, and manageable for carrying on a car with a roof rack. With a boat that you might launch off a beach, you either need a kick-up rudder and centerboard, or a rig you can raise or lower with the board and rudder already down. I've gone with the latter approach, since it seems simpler and results in a lighter boat. It should also paddle or row without too much effort.

  • War as a bar fight: Why democracies win

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Part of the allure of the authoritarian leader is that they won't be namby-pamby about pursuing their nation's interest, right?

    But that perception is puzzling in light of the evidence that democracies win a lot more of their wars than autocracies do. If you're interested in results rather than bravado, the stongman who leads his country into battle isn't the best choice.

    Benjamin A. T. Graham, Erik Gartzk, and Christopher J. Faris, †have written a paper that explains this in terms of a bar fight.

    In†The Bar Fight Theory of International Conflict:†Regime Type, Coalition Size, and Victory, (The European Political Science Association, 2015) they raise the question, who wins a bar fight? The answer is, usually the person with the most friends in the bar.Think of how many more allies Britain had than Germany during World War II. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the U.S. led coalition had 32 members aligned against him.

    One reason that was possible was that other countries knew that unlike Hussein, we did not intend to keep Kuwait. Standing up for the little guy, it turns out, is more popular than taking his lunch money and his oil fields.

    And consider the web of alliances in which America is a prominent member. NATO, SEATO, and other alliances are certainly better than the paltry alliances our old opponent, Russia, has managed to muster. Those who admire Putin for taking decisive action in seizing Crimea should remember, Russia's whole conflict with the Ukraine goes back to the fact that when it came time to choose between getting closer to Russia or the democratic West, the people of Ukraine made it clear they wanted it to be the West. Putin took action because he was losing to the soft power of the democratic nations of western Europe, and his "decisive" action was made necessary by his weakness, not his strength.

    Graham and the other researchers write:
    The biggest martial asset of democracies may well be that†they are better at making friends, not that they are better at vanquishing their enemies.
    Not that vanquishing your enemies is anything to be sniffed at. In general, wealthier countries beat poorer countries. But why are they wealthier?

    Daron Acemoglu, Suresh Naidu, James A Robinson, and Pascual Restrepo,†in the 2014 study†Democracy Does Cause Growth, (NBER Working Paper No. 20004
    Issued in March 2014)†argue†that--well, the title says it all, doesn't it?

    Here's a graph illustrating their point:

    In an introduction to the study, they state the following:
    When we disentangle what components of democracy matter the most for growth, we find that civil liberties are what seem to be the most important. We also find positive effects of democracy on economic reforms, private investment, the size and capacity of government, and a reduction in social conflict. Clearly all of these are channels by which democracy can increase economic growth, and a great deal of further research is needed. So, it isn't voting that matters, it's freedom. Not that you are likely to keep civil liberties if the rest of the institutions of democracy, such as rule of law and rule by the consent of the governed, disappear. You need those institutions to ensure that you can keep civil liberties, but the freedom to think and say what you want is, according to Acemoglu and his co-authors, the real spur to economic growth.

    I guess we shouldn't be surprised. After all, the strength of democracy is not in executing policy, it is in deciding what policy is worth pursuing. And if the example of the Soviet Union showed us anything, it is that the ability to produce the most steel is not as important as being able to decide what to produce. Consider American capitalism without the input of the Wall Street Journal and other commentators on the economic scene. Without them, who would embarrass inept executives, or question company policy? And if you say, well, dissident shareholders, well, they need freedom of speech as well. Consider that the youth of the Soviet Union wanted Levi jeans, not Soviet work pants. Free speech gives you fashion magazines and other means of deciding what to wear, therefore what is worth making.

    But freedom of speech is not the only civil liberty. Being secure in your property is not a feature of many authoritarian regimes, who seize the property of anyone they deem an opponent. If you can't be secure in your property, why invest in it?

    And as for the reduction in social conflict, that the study cites, that has a lot to do with John Locke's insight in†A Letter Concerning Toleration:that it is not people believing different things that causes social upheaval, it is trying to get them to believe the same thing. Given freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, a great deal that used to cause violence ends up just causing arguments.
    Arguments may not seem productive, but they are at least not as destructive as kristallnacht or other ethnic conflicts that result in the destruction of the businesses, homes or temples of the targeted groups.

  • Twice Sold Tales in Ballard Endures! An update

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Well, so far, it looks like we can stay at out location at 2001 NW Market St., at least for a while. The landlord says that he isn't in control of the space, the owner of the coffee shop is, and as a sublessor, my deal is with him.

    Several people have inquired about opening a new coffee shop in the Bauhaus space, but it seems the landlord can't negotiate with them until he's in control of the space. And that's tied up in a bankruptcy, or will be, is my understanding.

    So, for now, I'm in purgatory. I've talked to the real estate agent who called me in on the project, and he says that everyone who looked at the space found the part I occupy surplus to their requirements, which is why it was a good deal to bring me in. This gives me some hope that I can stay where I am with a new landlord when things get sorted, if I can be there with a rent I can live with.

    I'm pretty stressed about the whole thing, but for now, I'm still doing business in the same place. I'm still looking at places to move to in case things don't work out.

    So, come on down, our stock is as good as ever and we are still here from noon to seven every day, unless I find the foot traffic pattern is different with no coffee shop and have to change the hours.

  • Bauhaus coffee is closing, Twice Sold Tales Ballard needs a new space

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Today the employees at Bauhaus Coffee, which I sublease from, told me the coffee shop is closing. It looks like all the Bauhaus Coffee shops are closing. I'm trying to contact Joel Radin, the owner, because my lease is with him.

    So, I'll have to move. And this comes right during Christmas season, when I'd hoped to make a little money. Instead, I'll be looking for a new space. If you come by the store during our regular hours and we're not open, don't think we're closing down, it will just mean I'm out looking at possible locations.

  • Fed up with the Fed: The politics of interest rates

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    The Federal Reserve Bank is supposed to be an apolitical, technocratic organization that does things like attempting to control the money supply and keeping inflation in check. But that's not what the public statements from the agency sound like right now. They sound like politics.

    At the center of central banking right now is the notion that the best way to conduct monetary policy is with inflation targets. The current inflation target is 2%. That target is supposed to be symmetrical, that is, undershooting is supposed to be as bad as overshooting. You can bet if inflation were running 10 times that, there would be a huge panic and the Fed would go to any lengths to set things right.

    But with inflation running .2%, or one tenth of the target, the Fed is indicating that it will raise interest rates this month.

    Think about that. Inflation is running two-tenths of one percent, according to the core Consumer Price Index, yet central bankers are giving every indication that they plan to raise rates.

    This affects peoples' lives. Unemployment is running at 5% currently, but labor force participation is about 62.5%. As recently as 2007, the labor force participation rate was above 66 percent for most of the year. That would seem to indicate a csome slack in the labor market.

    But the CPI isn't the only inflation indicator. They are also concerned with the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, or NAIRU. And the assumption is, with a lot of people getting jobs, wage inflation will need watching. After all, inflation targeting replaced full employment targeting because of the wage-price spiral of the early 1970s.

    And there is a small spike in wages, which are increasing at an annual rate of 2.3 percent.

    So, price inflation is running at two-tenths of one percent, and wage inflation is running at roughly eleven times that. Should we worry?

    I'm not an economist, but as an outsider, my reaction is, of course not! Yes, wages are increasing at a rate of more than the magic 2% number, but there is no wage-price spiral. Price inflation is almost non-existent.

    Furthermore, wages have a lot of catching up to do. Consider what has happened since the Fed started worrying about the NAIRU:

    But why should they feel hard done by? Aren't they making nearly as much as their fathers?

    Well, look at this:

  • The uses of terror and the end of the world

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Some people called him Timur the Lame. Some called him Tamerlane. He was a Mongol chieftain who, in 1398, built a pyramid of 90,000 severed heads before the walls of Delhi, to let the inhabitants know what would happen to them if they did not surrender. They did not, and after the sack of the city and the annihilation of its inhabitants, it was a century before the city could rebuild.

    The uses of terror in war have a long history. Sometimes it works, as it often did for the Mongols, sometimes it fails, as it did in the terror bombing of London in World War II.

    One of the things terror is used for is to eliminate the gray zones, the areas where compromise might occur. No one in Delhi after Timur's ghastly pyramid rose was saying, "I'm sure this Timur is a reasonable chap we can talk with, make a few compromises, and conclude a peace at a reasonable cost."

    Terror draws a firm line between combatants. If you are Islamic State, and most Muslims are fleeing your state rather than flocking to it, eliminating the gray zones will eliminate the zones into which they are fleeing.

    In fact, Islamic State sponsored violence in Europe is explicitly aimed at making Europeans view as the enemy refugees fleeing the violence of IS and other warring factions in Syria. Their propaganda magazine, Dabiq, following the Charlie Hebdo attack, published an editorial that said such attacks† "compel the Crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone [where Westerners and Muslims co-exist] themselves...Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize ...or they [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens."

    The European Union's top diplomat,†Federica Mogherini, has said that all of the attackers in the November, 2015 Paris attacks were believed to be European residents, not refugees. All those who have been identified were. One who has yet to be identified carried a forged Syrian passport, which had been used to pass through Greece. Perhaps he was on a watch list in Europe, and was using the refugees as a way to get past border patrols, but if that were the case, why not a forged Belgian passport?

    It seems quite likely that the unidentified terrorist carried a forged Syrian passport because the aim of the attacks was to eliminate what Islamic State sees as a threat -- cooperation between Europeans and those Muslim refugees who have fled IS.

    Where terror is effective, it either terrifies the enemy into surrender, as was the intent of Timur's pyramid of heads or the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs, or it is intended to get the enemy to over-respond in a way that makes more people join the terrorists.

    That's a motive that fits very well with giving a terrorist a fake Syrian passport and sending the agent through the refugee route to Europe. The attacks have had the desired effect, at least on all the serious Republican candidates for president (that is, those with a serious chance at the nomination, regardless of the seriousness or silliness of their rhetoric.)

    It may seem that getting a powerful country like France as an enemy would be suicidal for a tiny protostate like Islamic State's "caliphate." But we must keep in mind that Islamic State is an apocalyptic cult which not only believes these are the end times, but strives to bring about the end times. As Graham Wood noted in his much-cited Atlantic article about Islamic State, this is not so different from the theology of the Branch Davidians, but instead of a compound with a few people in it, they control a territory with 8 million people.

    The frightening thing to me is that some of our politicians most eager to confront Islamic State, and to define the conflict as being between Islam and Christianity, are those with ties to American religious groups who believe we are living in the end times. About three quarters of Evangelical Christians believe this. I remember talking to a small-town businessman in the Puget Sound area who was telling me about a real estate investment, then paused to say, well, I suppose it seems kind of silly to think that far out, when the Rapture may happen at any time.

    Fortunately, he made the investment, which by now should have paid off.

    But that's the thing. Islamic State is Sunni Muslim. There are Shi'a Muslim who also believe we are living in the end times, and Christians, and Jews. It is possible that at some point, all the major actors in the Middle East will be led by people who believe the end of the world is coming, and that this†would be a good thing.

    There are many different versions of the end times; Islamic State contends that the "Romans"(Christians, or perhaps the Turks) led by the anti-messiah Dajjal, will push them near annihilation, until there are only 5,000 fighters left cornered at Jerusalem, then Jesus, the second most revered prophet in the Bible, will come to lead them and they will push back and eventually gain victory.

    But wait, isn't that the plot of the Left Behind series of books based on Christian eschatology? Well, pretty much, just a little difference about who the good guys are.

    The prophesy is in the source material for all the religions in the Abrahamic tradition. There are different versions of what that source material means. Some Christians, for example, think the end times have already happened.(the Preterist view, which says Revalations describes the events of about 70 A.D.) Others of all the faiths with this source material are sufficiently humble not to claim they know when the world will end.

    One problem with groups which hold these views is that they may not have any path to peace that is consistent with their beliefs other than the apocalypse. Another is that people will do far worse things in the name of making the world a better place than they will out of mere greed.

    Those who believe they are bringing an end to injustice can easily justify acts of terror involving the deaths of innocent in order to bring about more deaths, more terror, and a final, dramatic end to all that is evil in the world.

    The terror in Paris was intended to sharpen the lines of conflict. The ideal outcome for those who committed these atrocities would be to empower people who believe, as they do, that we are living in the end times, and who want to bring about the apocalypse. The strategy is to have terror beget terror, to bring about a final conflict that will end the world.

    The term self-fulfilling prophesy comes to mind. Let's hope it doesn't come to pass.

    Here's a list of the Paris, Nov. 2015, terrorists so far identified (seven of the eight attackers)

    Bilal Hadfi, 20 - French†(living in Belgium)
    IsmaŽl Omar MostefaÔ, 29 - French
    Samy Amimour, 28 - French
    Ibrahim Abdeslam, 31 - French†(living in Belgium)
    Salah Abdeslam, 26 -†French†(living in Belgium)
    Hamza Attou, 21 - Belgian

    Mohamed Amri, 27 - Belgian (born in†Morocco)

    The eight attacker was the one with the fake Syrian passport.

  • NSA ends telephone data collection, now no one cares who I call

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Today is the first day in a long time the National Security Agency is, according to it, no longer engaged in gathering telephone metadata. This is a tragedy my future biographers will lament.

    Now, no one cares who I call, and the record of customers calling to ask if I have a copy of some obscure tome is no longer being kept. The NSA'a metadata -- who calls me and who I call and when -- is just going to disappear into the ether. Future generations will never be able to go into the eventually declassified metadata and chronicle my long, twilight struggle to disconnect from Comcast, or determine whether I have drunk-dialed my ex-girlfriends.

    I know the project was not intended primarily to provide a resource for those who might, one day, want to chronicle the life of someone who has had no perceptible effect on the history of the world, who has never starred in a movie, recorded a hit song, or assassinated a world leader. But consider that the NSA was keeping one of the very few records of my life in existence.

    Yes, my friends and relatives will remember me for the rest of their lives, or until dementia erases all memory of me, but they will fade, like me, into unrecorded history. Only a few records in an NSA database will persist, in the manner of secret files no one cares about. It will be too much trouble to decide what is important in those databanks, to much trouble to actually determine that my data need not be preserved, so I expect those few records to remain on whatever media the NSA deems most archival.

    But tragically, all record of my calls ends yesterday, unless some rogue agent is secretly keeping the record of my existence alive.

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