ROSC 16: Rebels with Full Bellies

ROSC16Thank God for experience. Last week we had another of our meetings at Jay’s bar, and it almost turned into a disaster. Only long experience saved it.

Everything was proceeding nicely until I saw my old friend Martin walking up to the bar with a man who creeped me out. This guy was perfectly attired and wore the same type of overcoat I used to see in and around power centers in Rome. (I lived in Rome for a short time.) This guy smelled of “heartless elite.”

The last time I talked with someone who gave me that vibe, she asked me about e-gold… which was attacked and destroyed a year or two later. Coincidence, perhaps, but I wasn’t about to take such a chance again.

I know that Martin worked for those groups for 30 years or more. (Though I never asked for details and he didn’t offer many.) I met him only after he had retired… and Martin knew things that he really shouldn’t have.

“Listen to me,” I said to our table with urgency. “I don’t have time to explain, but please trust me and get the hell out of here right now. I have to stay and deal with something. I’ll pay the bill, and I won’t be in any danger, so please leave now.”

They all looked at me, unsure of what was happening.

“There’s someone here who very much should not see you. Please go. Now!”

With just a bit of hesitation, they did.

“Email us later,” a few of them said on their way out.

“I will,” I said.

And then I turned my back toward Martin and the man with him. I didn’t want Martin to notice me until my guys were out of view.

I motioned to the busboy, who looked at plates of uneaten food and asked me with his eyes if he should really remove them.

“They had to go,” I said. “I’ll settle up with Michele.”

Martin was my gym friend. He was, by nature, a decent guy. But he grew up poor in a small town in Montana. And so, when one of these elites noticed his innate intelligence (he is very bright), they offered him good money and he accepted. When the time came, I think he was happy to walk away from drafting legislation, securing the votes for it, coordinating mega-corporate plans, and so on.

Once my young friends were clear, I walked up to Michele at the bar and asked to pay the bill. Michele was surprised to see me so soon (our food was served just a few minutes prior), but he was too busy for questions and we made our transaction quickly. And it was then that Martin spotted me.

“Paul, what a nice surprise.”

I really was glad to see him. Then he introduced me to his friend, whose name I’ll leave off. My first impression remained.

“Let me buy you a drink,” Martin said. “We have to wait for a table next door.” (As I mentioned before, there’s a restaurant next door, and the two establishments work with each other.)

I agreed, we got our drinks, and we sat at an empty section of the bar. I asked Martin how he was feeling, and we engaged in small talk for a few minutes. Then, wanting to include his friend, he went on to ask about Bitcoin.

“I remember you telling me about the genius of Bitcoin,” Martin said. “We were discussing it earlier, so perhaps you can help us understand it.”

I understood Martin’s interest. He saw Bitcoin as an intellectual entertainment. I was a lot less sure of the other guy’s motives. And so I stared at the guy, waiting for him to express an interest.

“What I’m trying to understand,” he said, “is who the prime movers behind it are. They say it’s decentralized, but there have to be a few people with outsized power. I’m trying to understand who that might be.”

“Well,” I said, “it really is decentralized. There is no office, no customer service, no one with final approval.”

“Yes, we are aware of that,” he said, clearly presuming that I wasn’t bright enough to grasp his intent, which I took as a good thing, “but I know the software has been updated, for example. Some group of people had to decide to do that.”

“Yes,” I said. “There’s a group of Bitcoin developers, but they are widely mistrusted. In fact, there have been several forks of the Bitcoin protocol, undertaken by groups who were very much displeased with the core developers. So, they don’t actually have oversized power, as you call it. And the miners don’t have to use their code anyway.”

“Then the miners have final say over things?” he asked.

“Not really. Some people think of miners as Ferengis… though unfairly in my opinion.”

He looked at Martin, to see if he understood what I was talking about.

“That’s a Star Trek reference,” I added. “The Ferengis were an offensive race who cared for absolutely nothing so much as numbers in bank accounts.

He looked confused, and I thought it was best to leave things that way. I turned things in a different direction.

“You know, Martin, I have a question of my own. We used to discuss macroeconomics, and perhaps you gentlemen can help me understand something.”

Martin smiled and his friend seemed content to accept the change of subject.

“I see, in the overall, a generally deflationary environment, due to technological advances, but all of the expenses faced by average people are rising in a near lockstep, soaking up the extra money… be it direct taxation, rising medical fees, paying for corn… ethanol… to be added to gasoline, and so on. Would you agree?”

“I do,” said Martin.

“Yes,” said his associate.

“What I wonder,” I went on, “is when the rising number of people who are officially ‘out of the labor force’ – and mainly on disability or some other handout program – will begin to rebel at being made superfluous.”

This time Martin said nothing, eventually making an “I dunno” expression. I turned to the other man. He seemed disgusted with the question but answered anyway.

“People with food in their bellies do not rebel,” he answered.

Just then Michele informed them that their table was ready. We politely parted company and I finished my drink.

Michele walked over. “Who was that other guy,” he asked.

“I don’t rightly know, Michele, but he’s not my kind of guy.”

“No, not mine either, I think.” Michele has a good nose for people. “But I tell you what, if I find out anything, I’ll tell you.”

I thanked him, shook his hand, and walked out.

On my way back to the train station I made myself happy by thinking of dozens of “rebels with food in their bellies.” Food simply isn’t enough. Complete personalities need to know that they are producing; that they’re doing things which improve the world.

Old Rabbi Heschel was right: Mankind is not always blind.


Paul Rosenberg