Thursday, February 14, 2019

"From Profits ... To Prosperity"

Retired electrical engineer Darwen Cook of Chico wondered some years ago what would happen if economics was viewed from an engineering perspective. "Economics," he writes, "had no cohesive guiding principles like the other sciences that I studied and used for engineering." Worse, he says, economists focus on profits rather than prosperity. What would happen if all that changed?

His answer is detailed in a comprehensive set of recommendations that is at the same time a manifesto for an Economic Humanist Party movement. Cook calls his idea "economic engineering," an approach "based on axiomatic principles and human rights intended to achieve maximum economic prosperity for the vast majority of all humanity sustained indefinitely."

"From Profits ... To Prosperity: Blueprint For A Democratic Humanistic Economy" ($19.95 in paperback, independently published; also for Amazon Kindle) is written in the form of proposed legislation Cook dubs the Humanist Economic Reform Act (HERA). 

It's informed by the Economic Bill of Rights, which Cook says is implied in the U.S. Constitution. Key rights include "the right to equal valued pay for equal valued work," "the freedom from the oppression of an economic privileged class," and "the right to a living wage sufficient to achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

"I have reformulated Capitalism," Cook writes, "as a democratic, axiomatic, mathematical system. I call this reformulation 'Humanism.'" The axioms act like a kind of Euclidean geometry for economics. They are not the product ofeconomics but rather introduced from the outside (by an engineer) to guideeconomics. 

The first, for example, maintains that "the fundamental reason our economy exists is to serve humanity in facilitating the worker/consumer duality by achieving maximum prosperity for the vast majority of mankind." It recognizes that humans shouldn't be treated as commodities "such as zinc or soybeans .... This axiom ends the possibility of economic slavery once and for all!"

His proposal involves expanding the Federal Reserve into a fourth branch of government, called the independent Economic Control Authority, and the replacement of Social Security with a "National Fund payroll deduction plan" to increase retirement benefits. 

What if the economy were engineered for human prosperity? Here, at least, is one man's answer.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

"Spillway Emergency"

Oroville Dam, February 7, 2017. "As water releases from the flood control spillway ramped up to 54,500 CFS (cubic feet per second) in anticipation of inflows expected from rainfall, DWR (Department of Water Resources) employees noticed an unusual flow pattern; the bottom of the spillway appeared to have suffered partial collapse." 

As William Sager and Wayne Wilson note in a chilling, book-length account of what happened next, "the initial discovery of the problem was almost by accident." Two DWR electricians, making a routine check, saw concrete "flying through the air on the spillway," a piece described as "'about the size of a Volkswagen minibus.'"

Five days later, with the main spillway crumbling and water overtopping the dam's emergency spillway for the first time in its history, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea ordered the evacuation of 180,000 downstream residents. 

The hour-by-hour story, what journalists call a "tick-tock," is told in "Spillway Emergency: The Story Of The Failure Of The Oroville Dam Spillway And The Evacuation Of Oroville" ($20 in paperback, independently published; also for Amazon Kindle). Sager and Wilson, both fire service retirees and Oroville residents, were among those evacuated. 

They conducted interviews and scoured documents and have produced a superb account, fair to all sides, covering "triumphs" as well as "missteps" (especially by DWR). 

The book doesn't assess causes of the main spillway failure; after a survey of flooding incidents in Oroville since 1849, it focuses on how CAL FIRE (which provided emergency response mentoring), DWR (led by Acting DWR Director Bill Croyle), and local law enforcement had to set egos aside and work as a unified team. It did not come easy, but it happened.

February 12. "At 2:00 p.m., the emergency spillway was already eroding at the rate of thirty feet per hour." Structured as a series of connected "monoliths," at 3:15 it appeared monolith 3 might collapse. "At 3:50 p.m., a DWR geologist briefed the unified incident commanders in the DWR boardroom. 'Imminent failure of weir due to head cutting, one hour to go before that happens.'"

One hour before the unthinkable.

In the forward, Honea says the book "chronicles one of the most tense, uncertain, and frightening experiences of my career."