Hygge-II

Witnesspedia
child:
  title: Hygge
  slug: hygge
  parent: 15338
  summary: Hygge, the first Distrikt
  keywords: worldbuilding, participatory
  image: https://edgeryders.eu/uploads/default/original/2X/7/7652edd3b02e8d76b305cbe85bc1c77f7c24afc5.jpeg

Hygge, the first Distrikt {style=“color: #fff; text-shadow: 2px 2px #000; padding-bottom: .4rem; font-weight: bold;” class=“leading-tight text-4xl”}

The political history of Hygge begins with the founding of Witness itself. {style="color: #fff; width: 80%; padding-top: 1rem; border-top: 1px solid white; background-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.4); " class=“text-2xl mt-4 mx-auto leading-normal”}


Hygge (formerly Distrikt 1; alternatively, Hygge) is the first Distrikt of Witness. Initially meant to be “the nervous system of Witness” and the seat of Denton’s power, this Distrikt went through a tumultous time after the Zero-Day Fracture set in motion a chain of events that would see Distrikts seceding and throwing aside the careful top-down planning engine that Hygge was designed to be.

Today, Hygge is a democratic socialist structure, with a military presence left over from the short but bloody history of the Marches and the Distrikts that broke off. It is still an emblem of power, the seat of many debates for representatives, and boasts perhaps the single largest peacekeeping presence in Witness. Outside of the the Library of St. Benedict in the Covenant, Hygge is the only Distrikt truly critical to the State Machine’s existence, as it houses key hardware, along with CIVICSMOD, a multi-distrikt team that operates the machine.

However, it is also a symbol of what some aethnographers dismiss as the classical ‘broken tower’ - an ancient institution and aesthetic, living long past its usefulness, stranded in a world that has moved on.

Indeed, Hygge itself has fractured at least oncee: the Great Reset of 22 0D led to stor-Hygge (‘Big Hygge’) and a budding microDistrikt, lille-Hygge (‘Little Hygge’), both running very different social contracts. Nor has its naming remained consistent. After Little Hygge established itself as the Dandelion Republic, ‘Big Hygge’, by default, became Hygge, even smaller than it had once been.

The politicians of Hygge maintain, of course, that their way of living makes a lot more sense, and indeed has learned from the mistakes of the past: whether the citizens agree is something learned only by traveling there.

POLITICAL HISTORY

“Look around! Forget these halls and look to the streets, the pylons that come up even as we think these thoughts. The real grievance of our citizens in this post-Sundering world, is not the work, but the insecurity of their existence. Our people are not sure whether they will be healthy; whether they will live to be old and unfit; whether they will be taken care of in their turn, as their grandparents once did and were. They look around as see a world where every square of land is critical, where every resource matters, and ask themselves what happens if they fall into illness, or into bad company, and whether society will recognize any obligation other than to use them and discard them once their time has come. We have called upon them to rebuild the world; we must ensure that they have incentive to do so, not just for their children, but for themselves."
- A Record of a Seabourne Few , J.C. Denton, Manifesto . Now collectively known as the Old Manifesto.

The political history of Hygge begins with the founding of Witness itself. Initially built as an administrative town, Hygge was intended to house Denton and the various committees that would govern Witness, the CIVICSMOD team, and a host of support staff that would maintain this system. As Distrikts began to demand their own space, people from all over Witness who wished to stay true to Denton’s vision were resettled in Hygge; as the Marches turned violent, and as the threat of military action grew (especially with regard to Libria), more refugees began to arrive, and the former Potemkin-like facade turned into an active population hub.

In the beginning, Witness (and thus Hygge) was designed to be a system where good were moved around exclusively by fiat, subject to decisions by many tiers of Committees and Working Groups, with Disruption Labs charged with being cross-domain superconnectors and bringing innovations ‘from the outside to the center’. Denton’s original plans seem to have been to transition to a limited market structure; notes from his Manifesto describe his admiration for pre-Sundering ‘Tiger economies’ - where once the population started growing, selected individuals would be given monopolies on the production of certain critical goods, and competition allowed to come into play a decade or two after the fundamental infrastructure had been set in place.

Ultimately, Denton’s goals seem to have been an economy where the state - with him as the de facto head - controlled the supply of energy, healthcare, law and order, and funds for dealing with climate change externalities. The State Machine was installed and calibrated to impute data gaps and create a hyper-efficient allocation of resources among ‘the First Million’ that would inhabit Witness.

Denton’s plans, however, relied on a tried-and-tested cohort of trained staff loyal to him, to whom he could hand out monopolies without fear. Witness actually set sail with a far more diverse population, and indeed a large part of dissent arose because of this favouritism and because population growth far outstripped Denton’s planned ramp-up times. Denton cronies were seen to be dynasty-building, while the worker population that had joined Witness at launch were given very few options - either to join the police, and gain some power at the behest of bureaucrat, or to be treated as labourers paying for their passage with sweat.

Post-Fracture

Post-Fracture Hygge was called Distrikt 1, and it did not stay in that state for long; both the Assembly and Libria broke away shortly after, leaving Hygge to deal with waves of migrants, a rapidly expanding military presence and very real fears that Denton was subverting state mechanisms into a wartime dictatorship. Both personal and government records show an overemphasis on influencing the affairs of other forming Distrikts and a dismissal of internal issues of Hygge proper (the name here being loosely used, as the Distrikt took years to be officially named).

“No, you don’t understand. He gave me an executive order to send all of his rations to the new espionage crew. Do you get what I’m saying? Denton is so into his shit, he won’t have anything to eat. God have mercy on us.” — Larry Quoia, former Second Secretary of Witness, messaging records

Four weeks after the Fracture, the State Machine would start recommending an ‘early retirement’ for Denton as part of a management plan, which was ignored for several years, even as the AI raised this recommendation in priority. Accounts confirm that Denton would have fits of rage if any of his subordinates mentioned the recommendation. One way or another, Denton’s supporter group was powerful enough that the State Machine accepted their support as part of the implicity social contract of Hygge; even as the mismanagement of Hygge became clear and basic infrastructure started to fail, pro-Denton supporters engaged in conflict with any newly formed anti-Denton faction.

These actions had ripple effects: in the case of Libria, for instance, it led to a solidification of their general anti-statist stance, whereas in the Covenant it created a cottage industry supplying weaponry and armor to loose militias sanctioned by various church orders.

Post-Denton Turmoil and the Great Reset

The years after Denton’s death were marked by more management struggle, a period described in Hygge history as the Letter-opener Wars - ‘letter-opener’ being street slang applied to the many bureaucrats that Denton’s pseudo-dictatorship had generated. Infighting resulted in Denton’s most experienced managers migrating or being banished to other Distrikts, and few chose to return for fear of death threats from the public - which were by now turning against much of the political infrastructure that Denton had set in place. Many of CIVICSMOD migrated to the Library of St. Benedict during this time for their personal safety while adjusting the domains and parameters of the State Machine to account for the new zeitgeist: the rest stayed behind.

The Great Reset campaign, spearheaded by CIVICSMOD programmers Gregor Samsidel, Janet Samsidel-Chiang, Erwin Lugoda, Peter Kleinman and Antonia Rybakov, took years to come to fruition. It began with a rebranding of Distrikt 1 to Hygge - a name carefully chosen to present a particular comfortable aesthetic to the world.

However, the meat of the Reset was nearly stalled by a critical decision: should Hygge have the State Machine running resource allocation by fiat - a hyper-efficient, but still imperfect version of Communism (given all the information problems) - or should it set up a welfare state with actively mutating policies to reduce the amount of suffering and prevent the gross disparities that had motivated protests in the first place?

In this, public opinion was divided. It was the newly-rebooted State Machine itself that proposed a solution: a Distrikt and a microDistrikt (partitioned according to public opinion polls), each running one option. Since much had yet to be proved about the efficacy of both systems, citizens could freely transition between these two regions - and, indeed, share goods and services across borders, to see if some stabilitity could be achieved. As a mover of resources by fiat, the State Machine would, in one territory, have the authority to directly pass suggestions citizens to handle actions that needed performing, optimizing based on skillsets, capabilities, proximity and so on. In the other, its role would remain in the realm of policy suggestions based on data-gathering and simulations.

Thus, the big and little Hygges were born. To prevent the State Machine’s finite computational resources from being taxed beyond measure, lille-Hygge, the smaller microDistrikt, implemented a bounded population on which the State Machine continously refines its information gathering. After Little Hygge established itself and its own identity, ‘Big Hygge’, by default, became Hygge, even smaller than it had once been.

This move did not happen without significant dissent. Even among Denton’s supporters, there was unrest at the idea of handing over so much control to the State Machine, an instrument viewed by some as dangerously flawed. While CIVICSMOD upholds promises made to release monthly status reports on the State Machine, many took the Migrant Train to other Distrikts as soon as the option became available.

Present conditions

The Hygge of today is embraced by many as a stable, ordered existence, obsessed with the concept of fairness, but equally criticized for its approach of minimizing negative impacts - sometimes at the cost of positive effects. Proponents of Hygge point out what is known as the Kleinman Paradox - for any decision involving two groups, three mathematical notions of fairness are possible, and the three are incompatible with each other; there can be proportional calibration out positive outcomes within each group, or groups can be balanced for the positive class, or for the negative class.

This mathematical conundrum - and Hygge’s particular tilt towards minimizing suffering - means that Hygge is often devoid of the high-risk high-reward manouevering available in market structures like Libria. Many a scholar has set themselves upon a quest to break this paradox. Several theoretical answers exist - among them is a scenario where the decision system is absolutely perfect, with definite and accurate answers instead of probabilistic modelling - but no such system exists.

ECONOMY

Hygge runs an economic system inspired by the social democracies of the second half of the twentieth century. The economy is mixed: most manufacturing, retail and services is run by for-profit private corporations. State-owned enterprises control the provision of most public services, like social security, banking, and infrastructure. Additionally, some Distrikt-owned companies compete with their private-sector counterparts in several key markets. These companies tend to provide basic, no-frills product and services at a competitive price: Hygge’s policy makers believe this to increase price competition and provide access to those markets to lower-income households.

Targeting of inequality measures

Limiting inequalities is a tenet of Hyggian social contract, and a key economic policy objective. Indicators of economic inequalities such as the Gini coefficient are closely monitored, and feature in almost all political and policy debates. Augurs keep track of an array of indicators of various inequalities, from the ones (energy, clean water) to more exoteric ones (beauty, inspiration). For most, measurements exist at various scales, from Hygge-wide to the neighborhood. The challenge for the incanters involved in Hygge’s policy making is to combine a sustained motivation to engage in productive activities with the presence (and resourcing) of very strong safety nets.

The solution that emerged is a complex web of policies, social norms, and political equilibria. At the micro level, it includes a focus on motivating the working- and middle classes to be more productive by providing opportunities for social mobility. At the same time, politicians leveraged the popularity of the generous welfare system to keep very wealthy individuals in a minority, and prevent them from unduly influencing policy. Wealthy Hyggians often responded by relocating elsewhere on Witness, typically on Libria.

Central banking and management of Distrikt budgets

At the macro level, Hygge is run according to the tenets of Modern Monetary Theory. It maintains full monetary sovereignty, and freely creates its own currency as needed. At the same time, augurs are constantly developing new techniques for making sure that government policies do not overcommit the economy’s capacity. Inflation is closely monitored for signs of economic overheating.

Macroeconomic policy is executed by two powerful institutions: Hyggebanki, the central bank, and the Ministry of Provisioning and Planning for Public Purpose, commonly called Mp4 or Hensigt

Hyggebanki is the only legal issuer of the local currency, the Danegeld; it also functions as the main financial regulator. New Danegelds are created by crediting the Hensigt’s current account at Hyggebanki. Additionally, commercial banks are allowed to create Danegelds by issuing commercial loans, but Hyggebanki imposes a tight monetary discipline onto the banks, with high mandatory reserve coefficients. Hensigt destroys Danegelds by taxing them out of existence.

Hensigt is in charge of managing Hygge’s Distrikt budget. They do this in a way consistent with the theors’ support of Modern Monetary Theory: so, while they do not worry about running deficits between tax revenue and governement expenditure of Danegelds, they do worry about controlling inflation. Macroeconomic policy consists of three main parts:

  1. Infrastructure provision (water, energy, transport, health care, education…). This is more or less constant over time.
  2. A Public Service Employment program. Any citizen that wants a job with Hensigt has a right to one. Remuneration of guaranteed jobs is set to be more than sufficient to provide for a fairly basic lifestyle, but noticeably lower than what the private sector pays for a similar job. The PSE works as an automatic stabilizer: when the private sector goes through a recession, it lays off more workers, that are quickly reabsorbed into the PSE. This maintains aggregate demand close to pre-recession levels. As the private sector picks up speed, it hires workers away from the PSE. Unemployment remains more or less constant (and low) across the phases of the business cycle.
  3. Public investments. These are new projects, like major infrastructure upgrades. In order to get the green light for one of these, Hygge political leaders need to make sure that they do not create inflation; and that no competing project is more attractive than the one being considered. Obviously, projects have costs that can be measured mostly in Danegelds, but dishomogoenous benefits: this leaves augurs with the difficult job of deciding between, say, adding a layer of resilience to insect protein production and a new art festival. They do this by a bundle of aethnographic methods, some quantitative, some qualitative, collectively know as dialogic evaluation.

Digital technology

Main article: Digital communication technology in Witness

As in many other domains, the founders of Hygge saw the role of digital technology in a way that was similar to that of the Denton era. From it, Hygge inherited the State Machine’s critical hardware, and the CIVICSMOD team operating it.

Present-day Hygge’s digital infrastructure is supposedly centralized, benevolent, and subject to democratic control. The governments claims a monopoly on the identity layer, with government-issue digital identities forming the basis for the provision of sophisticated e-government services. The whole system is tightly integrated: administrative information in all databases is linked together by the unique digital identifiers of each citizen, business, etc. The State Machine processes all these databases to produce allocation decisions and recommendation.

Social media in Hygge are considered to be a public service, and are publicly owned. However, many Hyggeans are also users of foreign-owned social media.

CULTURE

Hygge, depending on who one asks, is either a dream come true or a disaster waiting to crumble under the power of markets. However, those who made the claim that markets alone drive innovation have found in Hygge an uncomfortable counterpoint: Hygge remains one of the greatest contributors of public-interest technologies throughout Witness, driven in part because of the importance in Hygge culture given to inventors and technological pioneers.

Equal importance is given to bureaucrats who handle the complex machinery that turns the State Machine’s suggestions into practicalities, and to a rising class of programmer-politicians who can float new policy ideas as code and prove their virtue by simulation.

However, all is not perfect. Old monopoly connections die hard; some corruption still exists within the ranks of bureaucrats, especially those who lost everything in the Reset.

With their tacit support, black markets operate within Hygge, and street thugs often ‘run corners’ - operating in areas where the State Machine cannot gather information (usually accidental or deliberately created ‘dark zones’), using false IDs and masks designed to confuse facial recognition. An increasing street culture indulged in ‘Faraday caging’ - wrapping their electronic devices in homemade Faraday cages to prevent tracking by the State Machine.

Much of Hygge’s priorities, post-Denton, has been to restore what was lost: this includes not just infrastructure, but goodwill. This recent phase has been referred to as the Smoothing Years .With Hygge well beyond its foundation phase, a new, significant parcel of Hygge’s population is starting to question the decisions made at the beginning of the Smoothing Years, claiming that their society was modelled after “reducing damage, rather than increasing wonder”, thus generating a dull and unmotivated society.

Goro, the Wrecking Ball

So far, a group rallied under the Glorious Manifesto flag has released something unique to Hygge: a smaller AI by the name of Goro. This AI’s only function is to enact seemingly random behaviour suggestions for the populus as a whole. Those suggestions come in many forms, ranging from small reminders to consume more water to commands to stop any activity immediately and go to a certain location for a flash mob.

Most of Hygge’s population ignores Goro, treating it as a joke, but qualitative support has shown citizen support for Goro. Many in CIVICSMOD suspect that Goro is the equivalent of a ‘nudge unit’ that induces aberrant behavior in life in order perform a function similar to what random mutations serve in the process of evolution, disguising its signals beneath pattern of noise; others suspect Goro is purely aesthetic in nature, designed to add a touch of both serendipity and whimsy to Hygge.

Though the majority of the city disregards Goro in most of its suggestions, a few (less than 3% of the total population) follow its suggestions with a semi-religious fervour. commonly called “goroheads” in street slang, they’re generally ignored or mocked; however, some - especially proponents of Hygge-Bushido - believe that it merely is a matter of time before a big event pushes goroheads into a greater light than what they occupy right now.

CIVICSMOD and the State Machine École

One of Hygge’s most important characteristics is the role that it plays with regard to the State Machine. CIVICSMOD - the a consortium composed of programmers and politicians of all of Witness’ Distrikts - operates primarily from Hygge. The Library of St. Benedict is officially considered the property of this group, and, as such, this confers upon Hygge a significant culture of and access to knowledge about the computer sciences and the pre-Sundering world.

During the Smoothing Years, Hygge’s government made a significant investment in its diplomacy efforts to revert the bad political image it had acquired. One of the most impactful (and arguably effective) actions was the opening of CIVICSMOD to a multi-Distrikt body politics: all Distrikts are invited to send their own delegations to live and work in the State Machine (though still funded by their home Distrikts), and those delegations share the leadership and tasks in the State Machine’s care and maintenance.

By popular vote, this initiative was turned into a school for programming and systems design: as part of Hygge’s new diplomatic stance, positions and scholarships were offered to citizens of other Distrikts, even minor ones. This State Machine École, or Mach-Eco, was created and is still considered the best AI design training institution in all Witness.

TOPOLOGY

“Goro told me the blueprint looked like a flower when you saw it from above, can you believe that? I told it I was more going for a fruit sliced in half. ” — Pat Ayedemi

Seen from above, Hygge is both modern and quaint at the same time: a high-tech state deliberately maintaining an image meant to be warm and welcoming. Wood is highly prized and displayed here, and street lighting comes in the form of solar LED trees - wire and foil that casts a glow over recycled plastic streets. In keeping with its original design - which was to keep Denton’s administration at the center - Hygge spirals around the grounds of Newton’s Follow, turning into markets, entertainment venues, schools, and public services buildings on the way out. One end of it terminates very near to the Library of St. Benedict; this area is commonly known as the Army Quarter, because much of Hygge’s soldier-police officer corps are trained and housed here.

Denton’s architectural legacy still remains. Hygge is built in such a way that in the vast majority of situations, people can walk to whatever they need, rather than relying on any form of external transport. This structure forces the citizens to walk more than the average Witness citizen. For those reasons, Hygge is known for its population’s fitness, but also by its poor accommodation of people with walking disabilities.

During the Smoothing Years, and particularly under the vision of architect Pat Ayedemi, the city started to move away from Denton’s erratic style and actively worked towards its own representation of structures. Heavily inspired by the works of Oscar Niemeyer, an architect of pre-Sundering times, this ‘Hygge-design’ is marked by a particular radius of roundness, according to Mx Ayedemi: “equally pleasant to the eye and unperturbed by the forces of wind and rain.” It is now quite popular, especially among public structures, and has even seen adopted in some parts of the Covenant.

NOTABLE PEOPLE

Hygge is home to, among other things, the aethnographer collective that goes only by the name “Untitled”. They are most famous for their controversial Shopping Cart Theory:

"The shopping cart if the ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing. To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognise as the correct, appropriate thing to do. To return the shopping cart is objectively right.

“There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their care. Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it.

“No one will punish you for not returning the shopping cart, no one will find you or kill you for not returning the shopping cart. You must return the shopping cart out of the goodness of your own heart. You must return the shopping cart because it is the right thing to do. Because it is correct. A person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal, an absolute savage who can only be made to do what is right by threatening them with a law and the force that stands behind it.”

Not everyone agrees with them, and they seem sophisticated enough to elude even the State Machine.

Of course, there is CIVICSMOD, particularly Gregor Samsidel, Janet Samsidel-Chiang, Erwin Lugoda, Peter Kleinman and Antonia Rybakov. While CIVICSMOD prides itself on staying above politics, there is a hierarchy, and these four are right at the top; indeed, the Samsidels have more soft power than most politicians.

Susannah R. Basterfield was a key political figure in the transition between the post-Denton years and the Smoothing Years. Fabled for her capacity for negotiation and diplomacy, she was the first leader capable of harnessing power in Hygge without provoking the discontent of former pro-Denton supporters.

She is known for her special care for language, shepherding renaming schemes for many of Hygge’s processes and positions so that the city could renovate itself. She is believed to have named the Distrikt itself, though some sources disagree.

Known throughout Witness as “the best thief in the Century”, Jonas Kimura is a former top-grade student from the State Machine École who turned to cybercrime. Known for extravagant stunts in many famously guarded places in Witness and other cities, and several of his hacks have threatened inter-Distrikt peace as representatives have rushed to blame each other. His whereabouts and current appearance are unknown.

As the architect responsible for the renovation of Hygge’s rounded appearance during the Smoothing Years, Patrick Ayedemi’s influence extends far beyond Witness itself. Their work is considered a quiet revolution in urban planning, marred by an unsuccessful attempt at forming a cult that removed them from the public spotlight.

@alberto , @petussing, have at it. You now have two problems to deal with. Note that black markets and thugs exist.

First pass done. I am unconfortable with two whole economic systems living in the same subsection of the same entry, however. What I wrote now refers to
“Stor Hygge”.

Maybe the Red Plenty inspired Distrikt merits its own name, rather than “Lille Hygge”?

1 Like

Noted. Very rough, but I’ve set up the Dandelion Republic here: https://edgeryders.eu/t/the-dandelion-republic-microdistrikt/ and modified this entry to accommodate a full split. Have a look?

The Social Democracy aspect seems in line with what Hygge does – no problem, including watching Gini Coefficient closely.

Thugs: please explain. What thugs? I have looked it up on Google (not the same as a local’s knowledge) and see a lot about football thugs in Denmark. I could see this as being an interesting opportunity for there to be a thuggish sub-culture in a very plain-vanilla society, built around sport and nationalism. And for this to become systematic crime of some kind. Maybe connected to the following (performance enhancement drugs, anyone?).

Black markets: any of you know Boris & Arkady Strugatsky’s 1976 The Final Circle of Paradise? It’s a late-Soviet scifi critique of capitalism, in which a drug culture pervades a seeming “paradise”. The obvious black market would be for drugs – another opportunity for stories.

Modern Monetary Theory: I suppose that this would be run conservatively so as to avoid inflation, which is the main criticism mainstream economists have against MMT. I personally consider that the extent to which the Fed is currently monetizing the US debt by purchasing vast quantities of Treasuries to prop up vast debt issued by the government already is one step away from MMT: the final step would be for the Fed to issue checks to citizens and businesses to offset a recession DIRECTLY – therefore no longer creating the illusion of a vast debt that “must be” paid. So I’m less troubled by this than I would have been last year. BUT this means two things: as you both presumably know, some non-mainstream theorists (C.H. Douglas of Social Credit fame, for example) considered that banks should not be allowed to create money by making loans, and that they should be limited to taking deposits and lending only on 100% reserve requirements. This would resolve problems associated with lending bubbles such as the 2008-9 crash, but would mean that bank lending as an engine of economic growth would be cut off. However, if the government itself took over the task of lending, it could ratchet growth up & down tightly – maybe your Hyggean government, enamored of control, would like that. Downside, of course, is politicization of lending, but this would again be an interesting source of stories. And of course the other problem is politicization of who gets government checks when things turn down - another source of stories. Here Public Choice Theory, about the problem with the individual interests of bureaucrats, created by leftists’ bete-noir James M. Buchanan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_M._Buchanan), would come in handy as a mine for ideas.

1 Like

One last thought: Pavlina Tcherneva is an MMTer whose thinking I find interesting. In this paper she develops a mathematical model of “state-as-monopoly-supplier-of-money”, which is interesting, but here I have in mind to draw your attention to her Conclusion on the potential role of the state as the Employer of Last Resort. That would mean Unemployment=0%. In India there is an incipient version of this, in which the government offers unskilled labor jobs for peanuts; I suppose in a more sophisticated economy practicing MMT, the government might pay a so-called “living wage”, as long as the low-skilled are not too high in number, and their job would perhaps be tied to taking training in some kind of higher-paid skill. What kinds of jobs? Maybe the things “essential workers” do in the US, which we have discovered during the pandemic are less worthy of derision than we had arrogantly assumed. An interesting aspect of a government that does this would be issues related to border controls… let your imagination run riot…

1 Like

Aha. I really like this!

‘Thugs’ was a reference to alberto’s post on the previous Hygge, pointing out that various non-state actors would slowly begin to set up black markets of their own and police them. I should have been clearer.

This would resolve problems associated with lending bubbles such as the 2008-9 crash, but would mean that bank lending as an engine of economic growth would be cut off. However, if the government itself took over the task of lending, it could ratchet growth up & down tightly – maybe your Hyggean government, enamored of control, would like that. Downside, of course, is politicization of lending, but this would again be an interesting source of stories.

This is gold. It also fits in line with a government that is (supposedly) too afraid of externalities to let banks have free reign. And the political jockeying fits Hygge perfectly - a society that would essentially fork Risk-Bushido to develop a more Machiavellian version specifically around winning at politics.

Pavlina Tcherneva is an MMTer whose thinking I find interesting. In this paper she develops a mathematical model of “state-as-monopoly-supplier-of-money”, which is interesting, but here I have in mind to draw your attention to her Conclusion on the potential role of the state as the Employer of Last Resort.

Could you link the paper? India’s version is quite fragmented in implementation, since it’s an enormous place where individual states hold significant power, regardless of what the press generally sees - for example, Kerala is a completely different game from the central Delhi government. But I will start digging there - I know some folks, formerly, at the Center for Policy Research, who might be able to give me enough information to have an idea of what state to look at.

It’s sketchy. I’ll look around. Here it is (p. 19 of 20): https://modernmoneynetwork.org/sites/default/files/biblio/Pavlina_2007.pdf

1 Like

Here is a pretty good detailed description of what a government-based Employer of Last Resort program looks like, with specific reference to a program in Argentina after the 2001 default called “Plan Jefes”:
http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_732.pdf

1 Like

I was going to ask, Philip… if the local incanters are MMT people, then they should not be running UBI at all! They should be running a Public Service Employment programme, MMT’s flagship policy. Hygge is a fantastic opportunity to try to imagine how that would even work in practice. I find the problem fascinating, because, once you have PSE, it makes sense to use the workforce strategically, to produce public goods. This is acknowledged by Kelton, Wray etc: I wrote about it here:

Emphasis mine. So, if Hygge has a large workforce that the local top incanters can deploy towards “social ills”, they have two problems:

  1. “Provisioning”, aka making sure they don’t create more purchasing power than purchasable things in the economy, thereby driving inflation, like you say.
  2. Allocating effort among “social ills”.

That leaves the augurs with two big, nice problem. “Provisioning” is a sort of centralized economic planning – or at least I cannot think on any other way to do it. I imagine some kind of Leontiev’s input-output matrix method, whereby Hygge augurs would declare that, indeed, we have enough consumer goods to sell to the people employed under PSE, no inflation is forecast.

The second problem is to estimate the impact of alternative allocations of that workforce. This cannot be done by measuring GDP-like transactions, because workers are producing public goods, for which no markets exist. You could probably measure physical impacts, but then you have to measure a gain in, say trees planted in terms of foregone art exhibitions. A wicked problem indeed – one can only hope that aethnography has developed ways to make reasonably accountable, participatory decisions. Perhaps these ways are the distant descendants of the methods dear to @amelia and myself.

These two activities would be close to the fully planned economy of lille-Hygge. The (major) difference is that lille Hygge-plans everything this way, whereas stor-Hygge does not plan its market economy (producing private goods), but only its public service economy. Maybe the two Hygges could even share software and methods… this way we get closer to @Joriam’s original vision.

I am pretty inexperienced at macro. @petussing, would you be up for taking a crack at imagining running the central bank in Hygge?

But… but… I completely agree – no, not a UBI – they should be running a whatever-you want-to-call-it, a PSE or an ELR (Employer of Last Resort), which is what I called it in my post on this. Emphasis on “Employer” – jobs. So yeah.

The thing that links a PSE or ELR so tightly to MMT is that in order to fund it you are much better off controlling the money supply, so you don’t need to worry abut creating inflation. Moreover, in order to control the money supply tightly you severely limit the ability of banks to create new money by making loans (in a way competing with the central bank), and a rather simple way to do that is a 100% reserve requirement (only, unlike currently in the USA, you really mean it, and you don’t allow so-called “sweep accounts”, which banks use to “sweep” current account deposits, which are subject to the reserve requirement of 10% in the US, into overnight virtual savings accounts, which are not subject to RRs – this is why the RR hasn’t changed in the US in decades. But anyway…)

Ah, but I am an American – where no market exists – create one! That’s what carbon credits are, after all. So although there was never a market for climate change control before, suddenly one exists because a value has been created in an artificial market for releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Such a market exists in Europe also, of course, but it is so far moribund because politicians don’t want to piss off BOTH industry and consumers by setting a realistically high carbon price (at least $50/ton) and raising prices for products that include a lot of carbon (like Bitcoin, for example, because of high energy use, or of course planes, or lubricating oils, plastics, etc.).

Urban blight would only be a little tougher. But the big problem is of course not urban blight – we are solving this all over the US in cities by “gentrifying” poor areas, and therefore turning out poor people from crumbling apartments, razing them, and substituting young upwardly mobile Dual Incomes No Kids (DINKs – no I did not make this up) in condos. The problem is where do you dump the poor, and in this case the answer is you issue them a housing voucher – not as in Houston one that only works in down-market neighborhoods, but one that allows them to rent anywhere they want. Naturally this creates class conflict – more stories! It could be monetary (directly via the central bank a la MMT) or fiscal (from the Department/Ministry of Housing or a separate PSE administration), and in Hygge I would think they would tie it in with the PSE, so that you would generally be required to sign up for the PSE if you get a housing voucher (unless unable to work), and they would probably do a tie-in requiring that children remain in school until they at least graduate high school, or even better a trade school or college after high school. This would be somewhat similar to Brazil’s Bolsa Familia and/or Mexico’s Oportunidades “conditional cash transfer” schemes, which have been impressively successful:
(https://vox.lacea.org/?q=blog/bolsa_familia_reforms)

Maybe… what does running a central bank entail?

1 Like

The Dandelion Republic is coming along nicely https://edgeryders.eu/t/the-dandelion-republic-microdistrikt/

I can see the math of MMT, but I’m afraid I’m not well-versed enough in its nuances and problems to posit an equilibrium. @alberto, may I ask you do as you did for the Covenant and weave in yours and @petussing’s ideas into Hygge?

Ha. I did not know this!

Interesting challenge! I am staying out of this one, though, because I was part of the 1990s drive to bring market solutions to environmental problems – are you old enough to remember the Blueprint for a Green Economy? – and it crashed so painfully and comprehensively that I never want to touch the stuff again. It resulted exactly in what you say:

But, but, if you can see a path that made Hygge succeed where OECD countries have failed… well, go for it!

A possible source for an alternative take is Mazzucato’s Mission Economy. I am still reading it, and need to think about it, but I like her idea of market shaping. The main idea is that you disentangle market allocation from value theory: you steer value from the top, jettisoning marginal utility theory altogether, and then use markets as pure allocation devices. It’s partial equilibrium all the way down, without general equilibrium. But, of course, we could do both: you can do market instruments à la Blueprint in Hygge, and I can find somewhere else to tinker with Mission Economy ideas.

Actually, just thought of something: Philip, would you be up for a 1 hour open online discussion on “using markets to address social ills: from externality theory to mission economies”? It should be fun, and maybe we can bounce ideas off each other about cool stuff to implement on Witness.

1 Like

New Hygge is now online on the website, along with the Dandelion Republic!

2 Likes

Here is The Economist’s analysis of Mazzucato’s “Mission Economy”. My wife works for NASA as a Russian interpreter, so I have seen everything from as a kid watching the moon landing to the current shape of the agency. This is the Big Project approach to government – it implies much more confidence in the government’s capacity to manage large projects than I have. It seems to me we remember the few successful ones and forget the many failures. And obviously we forget how much groundwork and dedication and continuity and mutual agreement is necessary to establish the groundwork for that successful big project. Here is the whole thing:

" Mission Economy. By Mariana Mazzucato. Harper Business; 256 pages; $29.99. Allen Lane; £20.

In july 1969 America launched three astronauts into space, landed two of them on the surface of the Moon and safely returned all three to Earth. A remarkable demonstration of American might, the achievement still dazzles more than half a century later; no country on Earth could replicate the feat today. The contrast with America’s bumbling response to covid-19 could scarcely be more glaring.

In “Mission Economy” Mariana Mazzucato argues that societies ought to abjure tired ideologies and embrace the policy approach that put astronauts on the Moon. By setting grand missions for themselves, she writes, and deploying the power of the state in practical ways, they can become more prosperous and equitable. It is an appealing idea, even if America has rarely looked less capable of purposeful collective action.

Ms Mazzucato is an Italian-born economist of a heterodox bent, whose work has long challenged standard economic thinking about the role of markets and government in generating innovation. Her best-known book, “The Entrepreneurial State” (published in 2013), argued that American technological prowess is owed in large part to the strong influence of the federal government, which funded and bore the risk of the initial development of many critical 20th-century technologies. Conventional economic wisdom remains a target in her latest work, too.

Scepticism among dismal scientists about government involvement in markets is based on faulty assumptions, she insists. Common complaints about state meddling—that governments are less efficient than private firms, cannot pick winners, and are staffed by self-interested bureaucrats concerned only with their own status—are belied by an impressive record of government successes: developing the foundation of the internet, for instance, or extending financial assistance to Tesla. Not every public investment pays off. But, in Ms Mazzucato’s view, neither is the record of privatisation of public assets and outsourcing of public tasks an unmitigated triumph. In America and Britain they have produced plenty of wealthy consultants, she says, but not a revolution in public-service efficiency or vast savings.

A rethink is thus overdue, the author urges—and the Apollo programme reveals many ways in which a capable state can create economic value. The sense of purpose and urgency that infused the programme in the 1960s motivated the government agencies involved to innovate, Ms Mazzucato writes, as well as to improve communication and weed out inefficiencies. Retaining important technological capabilities in-house enabled nasa to engage in a more sophisticated fashion with private contractors and monitor their progress better. It also helped the government retain talent, since working for the state could involve meaningful engineering work, not just banal paper-pushing.

And the programme’s technological demands—like the need for smaller, more powerful and more reliable computers than were available at its inception—put pressure on contractors to innovate. They did so, fearlessly, because the state shouldered much of the risk associated with moonshot technologies. The government’s demand for cutting-edge kit sowed the seeds of the computing age to come. The mit Instrumentation Laboratory, tapped to develop guidance and navigation systems for the mission, swept up 60% of America’s output of integrated circuits at the peak of the Apollo effort. For its part, nasa helped shape the industrial ecosystem of America’s tech sector: to avoid becoming too dependent on any one contractor, it spread business around, implanting know-how across many firms.

These points are compelling. State projects can certainly go wrong, but there is no mistaking the vital role governments played in facilitating the development of rich economies. Conversely, the weakening of state capacity—to provide badly needed infrastructure and basic services, educate citizens, root out corruption, and so on—has hurt America’s dynamism and the welfare of its people. There is no shortage of daunting global problems in need of solving; Ms Mazzucato singles out the fight against climate change, campaigns to improve public health and efforts to narrow the digital divide.

Yet in the end it is hard to feel inspired by her book. America launched the Apollo programme at what may well have been the zenith of its state capacity. Not only was the government at its most capable, but state initiatives enjoyed maximum public legitimacy and confidence. That proficiency had been forged during decades of crisis: two world wars, a devastating depression and an existential superpower stand-off against the Soviet Union. The bipartisan consensus that supported a strong state shattered long ago; a new sense of national unity and purpose cannot be conjured out of thin air.

Arresting as Ms Mazzucato’s views on economic development are, her book does not really offer a route back to that purpose and cohesion. But that is what America needs most. Sadly, those goals look as remote and inaccessible as the Moon."

If you think it would be good to talk about this in a forum, I would be glad to do so.

Yes! Look at this:

However, this was made to accommodate @yudhanjaya’s time zone (Sri Lanka), so that might be very inconvenient for you. But you and I could just make our own appointment for that…

In the end, the Economist’s review of Mazzucato is underwhelming. They seem to say: “She’s right, all the way! but we cannot trust the government to be up to the task”. This is a blatant fallacy. Government capacity is not a parameter, but a variable. NASA was not inherited from the British Empire, but built from the ground up. NASA is a byproduct of Apollo, not vice versa. It took a mere ten years from foundation to Apollo 13; and the average age in the NASA control room during the lunar landing was 26.

Earlier this week I heard a lovely seminar by Scott Page, who argued that the decision of building an institution to support some kind of allocation has two consequences: the allocation itself, plus something he calls “civic capacity”, which has the sense that societies get better at deploying coordination mechanisms. If you do a lot of things with markets, you will get good at building markets; if you do lots of things by democratic processes, you will get better at democracy, etc. It also works in reverse: if we stop government from doing anything of substance, it will become bad at running things.

OK, Alberto – I’m in. It is not inconvenient for me late at night Central US time, up to 2 AM.

I have ordered the book and it will take about ten days to get here. I’ll start on talking points (probably expanding, confirming and finding sources for the ideas below), but I do not see how ten minutes could even enable laying the basis for an opinion on this question.

It’s a very interesting and important topic. I agree with you, up to a point. The Economist’s article is referring to current governments – large countries in the so-called “West” (which somehow includes Japan but not China or Russia) do not have a sufficiently unified government and electorate, to say nothing of policy continuity, to embark on such a project. I can’t think of many. Maybe some northern European countries – the usual Scandinavian suspects – of course they are precisely the ones who need it least. Your country, Italy? Of course not. Mine – the US – consumed with political infighting, and likely to be for the foreseeable future – the only good thing about that is that the future is hard to see, according to a Danish saying quoted by Niels Bohr. France? Mr. Macron would like it to be so, but he is very unpopular. In South America, Brazil is the country with greatest potential, which it has never somehow fulfilled, and it seems to be backsliding for now – who knows if that could change? Currently it seems the merest fantasy to imagine such a thing as a “Mission Economy”, and as we know, the best is the enemy of the good.

Nevertheless, what I would do is not state the obvious about current problems, which I just did, but to consider what would be necessary for a country to have the fundamental resources to pursue such a project. And I hope to consider this not from the perspective of a fantasist, but of a realist.

So for example, the US was initiated by Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican. It was formally launched by John Kennedy, a Democrat. It was able to continue from 1961 to 1972 and conclude under the Presidency of Richard Nixon, a Republican, primarily because it was organized in large part as a Cold War project, in competition with the then-USSR. This immediately suggests that the best way to rally the populace and Presidents of both parties is if there is a clearly identifiable and realistically nation-threatening enemy to push against. China is the obvious candidate at present. Maybe that would work.

But if you look at institutional capacity, the US government bureaucracy has suffered greatly under President Trump, who very very actively tried to subvert every department of the US government to serve him personally and his interests. Joe Biden has an enormous project rebuilding just about every department, with the odd semi-major exception of NASA (with the minor exception of all climate-related activity, which is being rebuilt). I don’t know how European countries are in terms of institutional capacity – Britain’s was supposed to have been great, but has produced a good deal of failure during the COVID-19 crisis. The same in a number of European countries (except, again, a few northern European ones).

And the entire concept of a government bureaucracy which is dedicated to the goals of the American people is subject to question. Yes, the CDC has done a good job during the pandemic, even as it was continuously undermined by Mr. Trump, but this raises the issue of how to ensure that bureaucratic goals do in fact follow the benefits of the populace, and who determines that? I mean, look at the American Environmental Protection Agency, which was basically gutted, and became an agency promoting coal and oil interests. How can that be prevented in today’s febrile political atmosphere?

The current clear candidate for a Mission Economy, in the US or practically anywhere else, is climate change. Unfortunately inequality doesn’t arouse enough passion and population-wide deep commitment. Most people don’t “get” the connection between social justice and national power, and the huge differences between the left and right over military power, the management of the economy (just mention the word “capitalism” in a quiet room of people with varied political opinions, and you will understand…), etc – would make it very hard to build unity. Even China might be brought in to work on climate change reduction/mitigation, although this would reduce the Cold War-style motivation. But how can Greta Thunberg be a poster child for climate change to motivate rural Americans? And I assure you, rural Americans would have the power to subvert such a program, such that it would be unlikely to be able to proceed without a plan to bring them along willingly.

Or probably anywhere else. Many countries are becoming divided along urban and rural lines – think India or France – and rural people are fighting back against the long-standing arrogance and disdain of urban elites. There are also dividing lines on immigration – the wrong immigration policy could subvert and destroy any “Mission” by creating divisions between supporters and opponents.

So the whole political conversation would have to be filtered through the lens of how it would affect “the Mission” – could a nation’s politicians stay on message like that? How can they be induced to want to? What’s in it for them? Apollo spread around a TON of money in projects to the home areas of powerful politicians to enable the project to succeed.

So I look forward to talking about this.

So… I have been thinking about this some more. And have a couple of additional thoughts:

  1. Although the Apollo mission was great, and I love it, it is less clear what it did for America. NASA talks about useful space-related products, but I think what was best about it is how inspiring it was. It didn’t put food on anyone’s table, aside from providers of space-related technologies. It did not solve the race problem. It didn’t make the country more productive. It made Americans feel better about being Americans, but it did not solve any of their actual problems.

  2. It seems to me that rather than being a START of anything, Apollo was a CULMINATION. It was initiated and completed, as I mentioned, as a result of the Cold War with the USSR. It was supported by an American government that was achieving goals of national unity, such as Civil Rights legislation and environmental legislation – this series of laws occurred throughout the period, again under both Democratic and Republican administrations. It seems to me that the ability of the country to improve itself came about most importantly because many of the people running the USA at the time were children or young adults at the time that the United States fought World War II. The victory in that war propelled a sense of national Destiny which, regardless of whether all the consequences were benevolent or not (clue: many were not), enabled US voters and legislators to suppose that it was time to solve some of the worst problems in the country, such as Jim Crow laws and environmental destruction resulting from the industrialization of the earlier 20th century.

  3. Many of the most vociferous supporters of Mr Trump and of backsliding in race and environmental protections today were young at exactly that time – in the 60s. Many of them became resentful of legislative support of certain groups of people, because they felt that everyone should advance on their own, or because they didn’t like race-based protections or preferences, or sometimes because they were just racists. They didn’t like being restricted in what they could do on their own property. They didn’t like the influence of “experts” and “liberals” whose determinations were not explained to them, or who simply thought they were stupid and not worth consulting – these resentments have grown for decades, or even since the Civil War – over 150 years.

    It is entirely possible to say that the populism we see today is a direct result of the successes of the 60s & 70s – those successes, as it turns out, were not successes for a pretty significant part of the population – about 40% – and they resented being disdained, ignored, looked down upon. Had more effort gone into ensuring widespread support for these policies, perhaps there would have been less resistance that only emerged over 50 years later.

  4. If this is true, then the REAL base for a fundamentally strong society has nothing to do with projects, which are mere epiphenomena on the surface of what is really going on – in the minds of the population. To solve this kind of issue requires a completely different set of policies. Forget mega-projects, work on capacity-building but don’t see it as the main focus. The main focus must be EDUCATION. First off: start education at age three, not five (as in France) – take children from the homes of amateurs and let professional work with them for five hours a day. This in turn means that the insane disdain in which we hold the educators of young children should be replaced with well-deserved respect, signaled by greatly increasing pay and resources available to teachers, ensuring high levels of education for the educators of young children, ensure that programs are sufficiently attractive that they can be selective in the candidates they choose. And the people teaching children should be highly trained and competent in conveying math and science concepts to young children.

  5. The educational program should be similar nationwide, and all programs should be overseen to ensure that they do not stray far from the ideal. ACTUAL history should be taught – that the United States was founded upon genocide, and to a significant extent built upon the bodies of slaves – in many US states both of these topics are glossed over, which means that people raised in the entire country do not have the educational background to understand why it is important to promote social justice, because they think that was all settled 60 years ago. Children should be taught to CELEBRATE culture, not just be “tolerant”. This is a multicultural country, and it has been one of the most important sources of its strength – that legacy is both emphasized (in the myth of “a nation of immigrants” – many of those were aboriginals and colonists and slaves) and downplayed (focus on the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture). And math/science all the way up. Arts all the way up. Physical education and training all the way up – not just school teams, but for every student.

  6. This kind of bedrock would enable all the rest – excellent bureaucracies, national unity, an educated voting public – as well as a society which understands and embraces science. Without it you have wrenching change whenever a liberal party is replaced by a populist party of the right or left, and no continuity, and no chance for what the French call “les Grands Projets”.

1 Like

Hi, @petussing, just dropping a line here to let you know I haven’t been ignoring this excellent thread, merely stuck with other work - and will come back to visit your thoughts as soon as possible.

I had some fun with an AI demo system that creates images from text, and had it make visuals based on the Distrikt descriptions. Here’s Hygge!

Hygge2 Hygge1

3 Likes