Some Swedes Beginning to Realize the Danger of Being in a Cashless Society

Allowing largely unaccountable corporations to track the overall financial activities and flow of resources among an entire population presents a power imbalance that will inevitably lead to problems. The anonymous ability to pay with cash — and soon hopefully a legitimately privacy-focused cryptocurrency — is an imperative function in maintaining stability in today’s world.

In February, the head of Sweden’s central bank warned that Sweden could soon face a situation where all payments were controlled by private sector banks.

The Riksbank governor, Stefan Ingves, called for new legislation to secure public control over the payments system, arguing that being able to make and receive payments is a “collective good” like defence, the courts, or public statistics.

“Most citizens would feel uncomfortable to surrender these social functions to private companies,” he said.

“It should be obvious that Sweden’s preparedness would be weakened if, in a serious crisis or war, we had not decided in advance how households and companies would pay for fuel, supplies and other necessities.”

[…]

The central bank governor’s remarks are helping to bring other concerns about a cash-free society into the mainstream, says Björn Eriksson, 72, a former national police commissioner and the leader of a group called the Cash Rebellion, or Kontantupproret.

[…]

In this sense, Sweden is far from its famous concept oflagom – “just the right amount” – but instead is “100% extreme”, Eriksson says, by investing so much faith in the banks. “This is a political question. We are leaving these decisions to four major banks who form a monopoly in Sweden.”

[…]

No system based on technology is invulnerable to glitches and fraud, says Mattias Skarec, 29, a digital security consultant. Yet Sweden is divided into two camps: the first says “we love the new technology”, while the other just can’t be bothered, Skarec says. “We are naive to think we can abandon cash completely and rely on technology instead.”

Skarec points to problems with card payments experienced by two Swedish banks just during the past year, and by Bank ID, the digital authorisation system that allows people to identify themselves for payment purposes using their phones.

Fraudsters have already learned to exploit the system’s idiosyncrasies to trick people out of large sums of money, even their pensions.

[…]

But an opinion poll this month revealed unease among Swedes, with almost seven out of 10 saying they wanted to keep the option to use cash, while just 25% wanted a completely cashless society. MPs from left and right expressed concerns at a recent parliamentary hearing. Parliament is conducting a cross-party review of central bank legislation that will also investigate the issues surrounding cash.

The Pirate Party – which made its name in Sweden for its opposition to state and private sector surveillance – welcomes a higher political profile for these issues.
Look at Ireland, Christian Engström says, where abortion is illegal. It is much easier for authorities to identify Irish women who have had an abortion if the state can track all digital financial transactions, he says. And while Sweden’s government might be relatively benign, a quick look at Europe suggests there is no guarantee how things might develop in the future.

“If you have control of the servers belonging to Visa or MasterCard, you have control of Sweden,” Engström says.

Also a relevant entry: Pitfalls of a Cashless Society.

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Micro-Scale Nuclear Fusion Produced by Laser-Heated Nanowires

This could be such an important development for the massive generation of energy that it’s difficult to make a brief statement on it. Nuclear fusion’s potential brings with it immense potential for harm or benefit though — its power will have to be controlled appropriately.

Nuclear fusion, the process that powers our sun, happens when nuclear reactions between light elements produce heavier ones. It’s also happening — at a smaller scale — in a Colorado State University laboratory.

Using a compact but powerful laser to heat arrays of ordered nanowires, CSU scientists and collaborators have demonstrated micro-scale nuclear fusion in the lab. They have achieved record-setting efficiency for the generation of neutrons — chargeless sub-atomic particles resulting from the fusion process. Their work is detailed in a paper published in Nature Communications, and is led by Jorge Rocca, University Distinguished Professor in electrical and computer engineering and physics. The paper’s first author is Alden Curtis, a CSU graduate student.

Laser-driven controlled fusion experiments are typically done at multi-hundred-million-dollar lasers housed in stadium-sized buildings. Such experiments are usually geared toward harnessing fusion for clean energy applications.

In contrast, Rocca’s team of students, research scientists and collaborators, work with an ultra fast, high-powered tabletop laser they built from scratch. They use their fast, pulsed laser to irradiate a target of invisible wires and instantly create extremely hot, dense plasmas — with conditions approaching those inside the sun. These plasmas drive fusion reactions, giving off helium and flashes of energetic neutrons.

In their Nature Communications experiment, the team produced a record number of neutrons per unit of laser energy — about 500 times better than experiments that use conventional flat targets from the same material. Their laser’s target was an array of nanowires made out of a material called deuterated polyethylene. The material is similar to the widely used polyethylene plastic, but its common hydrogen atoms are substituted by deuterium, a heavier kind of hydrogen atom.

The efforts were supported by intensive computer simulations conducted at the University of Dusseldorf (Germany), and at CSU.

Making fusion neutrons efficiently, at a small scale, could lead to advances in neutron-based imaging, and neutron probes to gain insight on the structure and properties of materials. The results also contribute to understanding interactions of ultra-intense laser light with matter.

Further Examination of Federal Reserve Reform Proposals

On MLK day, reform of the Federal Reserve should be noted as important to advancing the policy of what’s referred to as full employment, which MLK was very plausibly a strong advocate for. The link contains proposals for that objective, with particular attention being directed towards the malign effects banking interests currently mechanistically have on the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve System has an unusual status as being a mix of public and private entities. The governors are of course explicitly part of the public sector, as presidential appointees subject to congressional approval. However, the 12 regional banks are private, being owned by the member banks in the district, which have substantial control over the district bank’s conduct.

This structure was put in place more than a century ago to fit the politics and the economy of the time. It is inconceivable that anyone constructing a central bank today would use the same framework. The archaic nature of the Fed’s design is perhaps best demonstrated by the distribution of the regional banks. Two are located in the state of Missouri. Meanwhile, the San Francisco region not only includes the whole state of California, but the rest of the west coast, and the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Idaho, in all accounting for more than 20 percent of the nation’s economy.

While there were reasons that a mixed public–private central bank and regulatory system may have made sense at the start of the last century, this is no longer the case today. The United States is the only major economy with this sort of mixed approach. The Bank of England, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of Japan, and the European Central Bank are all purely public entities. It is recognized that the conduct of monetary policy, along with the lender of last resort and regulatory functions of the central bank, are necessarily responsibilities of the government.

[…]

While there does not seem to be much basis for concerns that the Fed will act to support the political party in power, there is a real concern about a structure that gives the financial industry a direct voice in the conduct of monetary and regulatory policy through their control of the regional banks. This is really an extraordinary structure without any obvious parallels in our governmental system.

Both aspects of this relationship make little obvious sense. The financial industry certainly has useful insights on the conduct of monetary policy, but it makes no more sense to give them seats at the table than the manufacturing or tech industry. Monetary policy has an enormous impact on the national economy and affects every sector in it; there is no reason to believe that the perspectives gained from working in the financial industry are uniquely valuable.

Similarly, the idea that an industry would be able to pick its own regulator is truly extraordinary. It is understandable that industry groups will try to lobby and in other ways influence the decisions of regulatory bodies. The pharmaceutical industry places pressure on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve drugs more quickly, the telecommunications industry lobbies the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for looser standards on universal service, but in neither case are they given a direct role in appointing their regulators. No one would suggest that Pfizer or Merck should be able to appoint a commissioner on the FDA or that Verizon and Comcast should select one of the members of the FCC. The Federal Reserve Board is unique in this way, as the member banks within a district largely have the ability to control the selection of the bank president who plays a direct role in both determining monetary policy and regulation of the banks within the region.[1]

[…]

Inflation has been at relatively steady and low levels for most of the last three decades. In fact, since the Fed officially adopted the 2.0 percent average inflation target in 2012, the core inflation rate has consistently been below this pace. In other words, if we view the 2.0 percent inflation target as a proper goal of monetary policy, the Fed has failed by having too little inflation, not too much.

[…]

This subcommittee is considering a wide range of proposals that would alter the structure of the Fed. Several are quite useful in increasing openness and accountability. However, the ones which aim to give more control of the Fed in the hands of the banking industry, rather than officials appointed through the democratic process seem at odds with recent trends both in the United States and the rest of the world. It is difficult to understand the effort to privatize the conduct of monetary policy and to turn over control of financial regulation to the industry that is being regulated.

 

Scientists Find Where Nicotine Addiction Can be Blocked in the Mouse Brain, Providing an Advance to Blocking It in the Human Brain

Humans and mice have some similar enough brain structures that make this a relevant advance in giving people increased control to stop the scourge of nicotine addiction.

Brain researchers have pinpointed a small group of brain cells that are especially responsive to nicotine, and which might be the main culprits in driving addiction to the substance.

By tweaking these neurons in mouse brains, scientists were able to curb nicotine addiction in the animals. Not only have their results solved an important piece of the nicotine addiction puzzle, but they could also lead us towards new treatments for the problem.

Nicotine is one of humanity’s most popular drugs – it’s considered to be the third most addictive substance we know. And because it holds such a sway on our brains, it’s extremely difficult to quit.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is a leading cause of preventable death, with about 1,300 people in the US dying every day due to cigarette smoking or smoke exposure.

Which is why a team led by researchers from The Rockefeller University has been digging around brain chemistry to identify potential new drug targets that could help curb the addiction.

They focussed on two small brain regions located in the midbrain – the evolutionary older part of vertebrate brains, and one of the many brain features we share with mice.

These two interconnected regions – the medial habenula and the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) – are known to be involved in drug dependence, and also contain the receptors that nicotine binds to once it enters the bloodstream and crosses into the brain.

[…]

Even though so far we only have seen these results in mice, we do share similar brain structures with these animals, so the researchers are confident we can learn something about human addiction here.

“What all of this tells us is that the habenula-IPN pathway is important for smoking in humans,” says Ibanez-Tallon.

Now that the researchers know where to look, they’ll be further investigating how to manipulate the Amigo1 neurons in order to discover new ways to target nicotine addiction.

The study has been published in PNAS.

Big Tech as the New Predatory Capitalism

Big Tech has become corrupted with the immense power it wields, and there is growing awareness of the side effects of this phenomenon. I am personally a little too pedantic to agree with all of the article here, but it is definitely the type of analysis worth linking to in an era where corporations such as Google and Facebook are largely unregulated monopolies.

The five largest global corporations by market value are the five tech firms named above. Google has near-total dominance of the search market. Facebook welcomes two billion monthly users and manages six of the top ten social media apps globally. Amazon controls nearly half of e-commerce and over two-thirds of the emerging voice-activated digital assistant market. Apple and Google share control of the operating systems for mobile phones and tablet gadgets; add Microsoft and Amazon and you’ve covered virtually all electronic computing devices. Facebook and Google dominate digital advertising. Amazon is increasingly the only player for cloud services.

[…]

The effects of tech monopolization have been detailed, at book length, over the past year (see companion book review essay by K. Sabeel Rahman, page 104). We already know these firms have crippled entrepreneurship, by either buying out competitors or copying their features and using overwhelming market share to destroy them—tactics that would be familiar to the authors of the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts. We already know they’ve concentrated economic gains in a few small enclaves, leaving large swathes of the country behind. We already know they religiously avoid taxes and cut special deals with intimidated public officials, burdening the rest of society. We already know their surveillance capabilities rival any in history, handing over a comprehensive profile of your every waking moment for advertisers and behaviorists to exploit. We already know the addictive qualities of their products have undermined social relationships, expanded divisiveness, and transformed what it means to be human. We already know their drive for profits ignores how their platforms can be weaponized, scarring millions and undermining democracy.