Would independence make the U.S. Virgin Islands more Caribbean? Yes, I think so.

One evening after finishing a jog, I spied a young lady walking through the graduate residence I lived at during grad school. I walked up to her and introduced myself. Upon hearing her accent, I asked her where she was from. She told me Guyana. I responded enthusiastically and by saying that I was from the U.S. Virgin Islands. A sour look came across her face. She went on to tell me that I was American and not Caribbean.  I became indignant, wondering why she would draw that conclusion and told her that I was just as Caribbean as anyone from the region. She walked off with a look on her face as if she had stepped into a hornet’s nest.

I entered my apartment still pissed at what I perceived as an insult, but as I calmed down and started to process her observation, I saw, reluctantly, where she was coming from. Independence, it sounded like, was prerequisite for claims to being from the Caribbean region. Whether you came from an independent nation determined where you stood on the region’s totem pole.

For a number of reasons, I may have put this consideration out of my head. At the time of my encounter with the young Guyanese woman I had been on the U.S. mainland for roughly 15 years. I had become increasingly immersed in American, especially Black American, culture.  One of my saving graces had been the remnants of my accent. The other, closely related now I realize, was the company I kept while in Tallahassee. Most of my friends were either West Indian, descendants of West Indians, or preferred the company of West Indians. The few Black Americans I hung out with were some of the most open-minded people you could meet. Although I had received that type of treatment, albeit a lot less subtle, from the time I moved to the mainland, it had via that encounter become more pronounced.

Island nations had been going their own way since the early 1960s. The British Empire was in decolonization mode after the end of the second world war and the Caribbean was benefiting from it. Great Britain and Europe determined to take another route that would see them still exercise economic influence while dumping political responsibility on to their former colonies.  The United States got into the colonizer game pretty late in the Caribbean.

In 1898 the United States put the island of Puerto Rico into their portfolio. In August 1916, the U.S. entered an agreement to purchase the Danish West Indies from Denmark for a cool $25 million and renamed the territory the Virgin Islands of the United States. The purchase and eventual transfer in March 1917 were just in time for the territory to play a role in the protection of the Panama Canal via the establishment of a submarine base and other military facilities.

I will have to post on the legal uncertainty surrounding citizenship for the descendants of slaves in the territory but for now bear in mind that American citizenship became a crown for jewel for islanders and through the years, especially post World War II, the United States Virgin Islands (less of a mouthful nomenclature) would attract Caribbean people especially from the other islands in the Lesser Antilles.  Among those people would be my parents who met and married in St. Kitts and moved to St. Thomas in 1962.  I would enter this physical realm a year later, one foot in a Caribbean still under the direct rule of Great Britain, the other foot in a culture increasingly tainted in Americanism.

From childhood especially when traveling “home” to St Kitts, I was conscious of being in two different Caribbean realities. One night I am sitting in my great aunt’s house listening to the BBC. The next night I am in my living room in St. Thomas watching a one-week delayed television broadcast of “Mannix.”  Visiting cousins in New York, yes, I was from “the islands”, speaking with the funny accent, but I would have no qualms slipping into my best version of a Brooklyn accent just to fit in.  I was an American after all, wasn’t I?

And it is this attitude, that we are Americans versus Caribbean, that pervades the Virgin Islands’ culture.  The separateness from the rest of the Caribbean because of American citizenship is expressed with pride, so much pride that for the native-born Virgin Islanders, they look down on immigrants from St.  Kitts and other islands.  When I look back at my family’s network back in the USVI, it was primarily made up of people from St Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, and Antigua. Even today the Virgin Islanders I socialize with are either from St Kitts-Nevis or, as in my case, our parents were from St Kitts-Nevis. But whether you were born in St Thomas or an immigrant who became a naturalized citizen, your Americanism was viewed as a sign of superiority over the other island nations.

The irony, for it is for that reason that island nations look down on us and it is not coming from a place of jealousy.  I believe that they view a people who exercise little self-determination as second rate.  While I disagree with the description of my homies from the USVI as second-rate, I would agree that given our brain power and deep-water port, if we leveraged today’s technology to create our own economy, an independent Virgin Islands could be a force to reckon with in a Caribbean that needs to be led by a example of a dynamic fellow island nation. I would like to see that happen.

If you needed the internet that bad, you would have created it yourself

Monday 11 June 2018. We will see a repeat of the weeping and wailing that Hillary Clinton’s supporters did as they witnessed what they thought was impossible: an electoral loss to Donald Trump. Advocates for the treatment of broadband access as a telecommunications service will weep and wail not because of the loss of internet service, but because they will be out of bullets when the scare tactics imposed on millions of consumers do not come to fruition. As June goes into July into August into election season into Kwanzaa, another argument for attracting anti-Trump voters will fade away.  As the tyrannical Fake Left jump onto social media and create new forums and hashtags for the next rally, they will soon take for granted that the internet still works after all.

What I find disconcerting is the emotion attached to internet access. “If everyone is not connected, we will all sink into the pits of Hades.” “If I am not online, I am inconsequential.” “The internet is crucial to our daily living and well-being.”  None of this is true. Unlike water and energy, internet access is not a necessity for the continuation of life. Approximately 11% of Americans do not use the internet, according to data from Pew Research. More than likely, these individuals are getting information they determine as pertinent to their lives from old tried and true sources: first hand observation, published news sources, direct contact with government agencies, family and friends. These data sources are not as fast or as glitzy, but they have worked for centuries and more than likely were used by the individuals who built this digital world.

I expect the percentage of Americans not using the internet to fall over time when you consider that in 2000 approximately 48% of Americans were not online.  Our children are already internet savvy and this use of online services will only continue as they get older. As we on the tail end of the Baby Boom enter retirement, we may find ourselves using it more to connect with fellow Boomers who, unfortunately, may not be up to travel for various reasons.

What we need to avoid is allowing political factions such as the Fake Left to play on the emotions stemming from the belief that without net neutrality rules, consumers won’t be able to get to the websites of their choice, see speeds from their favorite websites slow down, or have their data sold to third parties they did not approve.  This narrative should be seen for what it is; another way to get votes.

If the Fake Left were really concerned about protecting your privacy and the speed at which you access data, they would tell you that you are responsible for reading the fine print of every service agreement for every information service provider you access. Arguing that terms and conditions are written in “legalese” is no excuse for skipping over disclosures and subjecting your privacy to abuse.  If, as the Fake Left argues, the internet is that crucial to everyday living, so crucial that it should be treated like a utility, then equal fervor should be applied to the consumer who decides to use online services.  In other words, the Fake Left should stop encouraging people who can’t fly to buy an airplane and attempt to fly it without bearing the consequences.

If you can’t get what your want from an information service provider in terms of privacy or speed, then maybe you should invest in consumer encryption services such as a virtual private network, or using a heavily encrypted network or browser such as TOR.

There are also the old methods of information gathering: a telephone (landline) and a newspaper, from which you can access by paying cash, the ultimate form of encrypted currency. Bottom line, there are ways to protect your individual privacy without implementing more onerous rules on society.

Courts and regulatory agencies as markets

For most of us every day folk, courts are places where we want a judgment that says, “We are right.” But courts are also “rules markets.” Rules markets are where frameworks for how we engage each other going forward are produced and depending on how broad the issue is defined, those rules may be forcibly consumed by others who were not a party to the conflict that brought the original rule producers together in the first place.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission provides an example. While the issue in that case focused on whether Colorado’s equal rights agency applied its civil rights rules in a neutral manner where civil rights violations were alleged, some Americans questioned why the consequences of that case should spill outside of Colorado and impact citizens and businesses in other states. The short answer is that externalities, whether positive or negative, from a court ruling enter society because of the structure of our legal system. The legal structure is centralized and the ripple effect of legal decisions spreads out to more citizens the higher up the legal rule production hierarchy you go. The interpretation as to what the rule should be for governing a relationship or conflict becomes the “law of the land” where the highest court becomes the market for producing legal rules.

I heard some of this concern from every day folk during a CSPAN session the day after the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling. “Why did this conflict have to escalate?” some asked. It escalated because a centralized legal system provides opportunities for individuals occupying a minority class to extend its views on how society should work to the rest of America by accessing and participating in the rule making process.

Conflict is a high cost for entering this “centralized rules” market, but a higher price is paid by the rest of society where we are subjected to rules produced by a small number of participants seeking to produce rules that favor their behavior and the detriment of limiting or modifying everyone else’s.

In my opinion, the limitation of the behavior of others as a result of rules produced in a centralized market is a negative externality or negative benefit. No matter the noble intent of the rule producers, where the rule produced impacts my behavior, it impacts my liberty.

One way to limit the negative externalities of centralized rulemaking is for parties to enter into voluntary agreements, agreements limited to the parties resolving the immediate conflict. It would be a lot cheaper for parties in actual conflict or anticipating conflict if the rules were produced as a result of voluntary engagement designed to head off conflict versus the other way around. It would also be less expensive for members of society who are not direct parties to the conflict since they would not be subject to rules that they did not produce.

Blacks live in a population, not a community

Black Americans have built their collective around a history of pain and suffering, a misery that a significant portion of the black population have never directly experienced. A part of the reason for the collective mentality stems from being a libations people. Some blacks in America have continued some semblance of the practice of commemorating the ancestors. All groups have some degree of reverence for the elders but I find that blacks in particular take the reverence to another level. Take for example John Lewis, the representative to Congress from Georgia’s 5th district. Mr Lewis, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987, rarely fails to remind us of his experiences marching with Dr Martin Luther King. For black Americans to turn Mr Lewis out of office would be sacrilege even though his effective over the years is highly questionable. As a messenger who reminds black Americans of pain and suffering, Mr Lewis is one of many architects of the narrative of a black community.

I have argued before that blacks do not have a community. At the risk of sounding like a fan of “trap music”, the poor and middle-income strata of blacks live in a mental, spiritual, political and economic ghetto where payday lenders, pawn shops, and tax preparers offering advances on internal revenue refunds make up the population’s financial district. Ride on MARTA in Atlanta and you observe that mobile broadband is the low cost digital source of entertainment for blacks in this income bracket. Over-indexed on both mobile broadband and social media, Facebook and Twitter are the databases and noise exchange platforms for the population.

Philosophically, Black Americans view the real world as a hostile place driven by ever present racism and a slave history that white Americans have not yet reconciled with their current privilege. Since this attack is directed at people with dark skin who can trace their lineage to Africa, most reactions from the black population comes from a collectivist albeit not entirely monolithic place.  Blacks feel trapped; they feel under siege.

Notice that I have been using “population” more than the typical word, “community.” Blacks do not have a community. Many view community as a social term. The social taint of the word is secondary. Community is an economic term with the accompanying social ordering of its members based on their contribution to the extraction, organization, and distribution of resources. At the base of a mining community is a mine and surrounding that mine is an ordering of human resources organized in such a way where you recognize leaders and followers; where you can identify where political and economic power is deployed and which classes are exercising what levels and amounts of that power.

It is the social orderings stemming from political and economic power that serve as platforms for a group’s culture, for the groups values as transmitted by the group’s leaders. I don’t see that in the black population.

Didn’t see it in Canarsie or Crown Heights. I haven’t seen it in West End Atlanta. I haven’t seen it in Baltimore. I haven’t seen it in Charlotte Amalie.  I saw populations of black people employed by non-blacks who actually owned the “vibranium.” I don’t see a community.

This lack of community along with the lack of values spawned from political and economic decision- making means, in my opinion, less of a barrier to pursuing individual self-interests.  Claims of community are empty for the black population where so-called community leaders and leading politicians have not been able to make heads or tails out of the centuries old relegation of blacks to the bottom of the political and economic totem pole. This major flaw in the community narrative is the cue for more blacks to “go their own way”, getting away from the false premise that skin color and pain throughout history should be enough to sustain monolithic thinking and poor political and economic gains.

The individual should aim to make competition law inconsequential

This morning between games of racquetball, a conversation among the racquetball posse came up regarding parsing out trophies for non-winners. We expressed our concern that giving trophies to children that finish dead last may be creating a society of slackers; a community of individuals that see no rewards from winning.  In the 21st century, Millennials is the group that has been taking much heat for expressing a value of entitlement based on just showing up. “Your mommy got you to the soccer game. Yeah me!” “We’re giving you an award for good citizenship because you tell everyone good morning while your grades are shitty. Yeah, me!” “You got an award for fourth place because the other guys in your bracket forfeited. Yeah, me!” Where does this attitude come from and should Millennials take the brunt of the criticism?

To the latter part of the question, I would argue that Millennials should not bear any part of the criticism. They are only reacting to a world that older grumps created and playing by the rules the older generation promulgated for getting along in this society.  I see this as a world created by the State and those who control the majority of private capital.  The attitude of these monopolists is that there is only so much of the spoils to share and if society is to maintain any validity, then the masses must believe that their participation in traditions and institutions and compliance with the rules will result in some type of reward, even if that reward cannot be tied to winning the actual prize.

It goes back to the “Logan’s Run Paradox” where if you want to continue life past age 30, you have to grab the crystal ball before being disintegrated by multi-colored lasers. Your aspirations must be encouraged, delusions fed, and your eye distracted from the reality that there is, at least under this current paradigm, only so much spoils to share. For over a century now, America’s paradigm of competition has been built on this lie and it is increasingly reflected in our political economy.

Americans argue that a competitive market structure is good for the economy; good for growth in jobs; good for the spread of economic opportunity. The United States over the past 120 years has crafted a regulatory framework that favors multiple participants in an industry driven by the premise that multiple providers are good for consumer choice and where prices are regulated by the ability of multiple firms to participate, the better. Actions by firms designed to keep other firms out of a market, whether those actions involve predatory pricing, vertical or horizontal mergers, or agreements between firms i.e. collusion, are prohibited by anti-trust law.  American government tries to regulate and create competition but is government’s attempt organic or an ill-fated effort to replace real competition with an artificial construct? In other words, is the State simply trying to make all soccer moms and their kids happy?

What the State refers to as anti-trust law is simply trade regulation law; regulating otherwise voluntary agreements between individuals to combine as an association that extracts and organizes resources for the purpose and creating and distributing goods and services. The State exercises its monopoly over a jurisdiction by regulating trade thus hoping to ensure that currency flowing through its payment system and the activities that generate tax revenue are left unimpeded. “Protection of the consumer” is a narrative expressed to the masses in order to garner their support for legislation that is onerous to trade.

The individual doesn’t need these laws once he understands self-reliance. The individual producing their own electricity with today’s technology need not worry about a utility’s monopoly. She does need to worry about the State’s invalid argument for helping to maintain it.  The individual using 3-D printing- technology to design and create tools and clothing need not worry about price gouging unless a so- called consumer protection agency extends its jurisdiction by promulgating rules that prohibits said production. The individual that generates valuable information and data for sale and transmits the value of that data via her own cryptocurrency need not worry about fiat currency created and issued by a central bank, unless that central bank and her ally, the treasury, promulgate rules that challenges the issue of an individual’s currency.

The individual, recognizing how inorganic consumer law is, should pursue personal policy that makes that public policy inconsequential.

Morgan Freeman finds out that the internet has turned millions of Americans into lawyers, prosecutors, and jurors

The only thing missing from today’s internet charge, trial, and conviction of actor Morgan Freeman on allegations of sexual harassment at a workplace are the digital eyewitnesses like the ones that caught Al Franken play-fondling Lauren Tweeden’s breasts.  In Mr Freeman’s case, the eyewitnesses were human. The prosecutors, lawyers, and jurors, however, are mostly digitized and charges and convictions merge and rapidly go viral in a globe that is increasingly connected.

My title implies that the number of arm chair attorneys and jurors has increased. Check your Twitter and Facebook timelines and observe your followers and friends opining on allegations by eyewitnesses (allegations not yet entered into any legal record) and an apology issued by Mr Freeman (questionable as to whether it is admissible as evidence and probably meaningless since he admitted to nothing). As to whether the number of commenters contributed significantly to the degree of virility, I would answer that while there was some contribution, the number of commenters was not the significant contributor. The main contributor is the number of online editors or gatekeepers.  There are more people today that are giving a “thumbs up” to posting a story.

If you lived in Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands in the 1970s, you had one newspaper and two television stations providing you news. That meant three editors deciding what local news got broadcasted and back then local TV news coverage was sparse, in my opinion.  Today the internet has changed that.  Alternative online news sites and blogs mean that a non-story to one editor is a scoop to another. It is not that the same level of information is spreading faster. Viral means to increase the amount of available information that gets to more consumers via digital means.

The increase in the amount of information reported is compounded by an enlarged forum within which the public is exchanging ideas. Some net neutrality advocates would call an enlarged forum an example of the openness of the internet where more media consumers can be heard. Hence the millions of armchair lawyers and jurors.

How valuable are these opinions? In a court they don’t mean much. Judges and attorneys would not want juror assessment tainted by uninformed opinion, meaning these days they would have to look under a rock to find people outside an earshot of a podcast on the matter.  To a social scientist the public exchanges online provide some data on attitudes toward the tawdry behavior Mr Freeman is accused of, but as an experiment, as a measure of opinion the public exchanges don’t provide the best data because the collection is not subject to the best controls.

Probably the only benefit that matters is that people can claim that while they are not a lawyer, they slept at a Holiday Inn and the ability to vent support, denial, anger, or frustration en mass is benefit enough.

For the individual, the political economy is micro.

Individuals have to act like foragers even in this technology dependent society. By forager I don’t mean having to grope around in the soil looking for roots, climbing trees for fruit, or hunting for fresh game. I mean that the approach to obtaining and using resources should be a microeconomic approach versus a macroeconomic approach.

The media especially persuades individuals that attention should be paid to the macroeconomy, whether domestic or global. Is national gross domestic product improving? How many millions were employed last month? How many more people applied for unemployment benefits? Did the President’s latest tweeted announcements lead to an uptick in the financial markets?

On the ground, particularly within the black population, I don’t hear chatter about the illusionary macroeconomy. The chatter is about the nominal prices faced by a shopper, whether the costs of food fits their budget, whether an employer has reduced a consumer’s work hours, and whether a family member can help out with a few extra bucks. People are preoccupied with managing the resources that are actually on hand.

It’s probably why macroeconomists sound so ivory tower, their policy proposals so pie in the sky. The average person in my population couldn’t relate to them if they tried because the positions of the macroeconomist sound so detached.

The late James Gapinski wouldn’t take kindly to hearing one of his former students writing off his branch of the economics profession so brusquely and being a fan of Diane Swonk (yes, some economists do have groupies), I cannot say that as people or professionals that macroeconomists don’t empathize with the everyday person. I believe most do. At best they present data about changes in the prices of commodities i.e. copper, corn, wheat, cocoa, oil, etc., that directly impact an individual’s microeconomy, but if global trade were curtailed would that mean the end of my existence or simply mean seeking alternative resources within closer proximity?

So where does the “foraging” come in? What do we mean by foraging? It is my term for self-sustainability. We should consider producing our own energy at a minimum, enjoying the benefit of less reliance on the grid along with lower costs per kilowatt hour of consuming electricity. Supplementing our food purchases with food that we can grow at home would provide an additional benefit of lower food costs.

The self-sustainable approach also makes us less susceptible to not only changes in the macroeconomy, but less susceptible to the transmission of macro rhetoric. Media and politicians would have less fear and uncertainty upon which to leverage their narratives and messaging. The political landscape would either be less noisy or we may see political packages that better align with the increased freedom garnered from self-sustainability.

The second scenario is less likely, unfortunately, because providing political packages that enhance personal freedom is out of sync with the goals of the State which is to create and maintain a dependent collective. Self-sustainability and certainty is a potent competitor to fear and uncertainty and the State would rather not aid the former.