Monday, July 09, 2012

Do Sci Fi attitudes reflect our times?


Congress now speaks a full grade level lower than it did in 2005. Falling from grade 11.5 to 10.6. Using the Flesch-Kincaid test that gives your kids the "reads at a 10th grade level" score, the Sunlight Foundation has measured the vocabulary used in Congressional speeches over the years and found that the level has dropped suddenly. For both parties, but particularly amongst Republican Congressmen, particularly amongst the newest batch, such as Rand Paul (3rd worst, speaks at an 8th grade level.) Indeed the entire worst ten are Republicans (eight of those are freshmen.) And the more conservative they are, the worse their speech (dropping by three full grades from center to fringe.) Interestingly, amongst Democrats with less than 10 years in Congress, the trend is similar, those closest to the political centre have the most complex speech, while those further to the left drop by about a grade. But for Democrats in Congress for more than 10 years, the trend is sharply reversed.

Are candidates dumbing down their speech, or are parties dumbing down their candidates?

Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of Americans think that President Obama would be a better leader than Mitt Romney if an alien invasion were to happen.  Hm, well, yes... and?  So?  A survey for National Geographic finds extraterrestrial visits not that crazy an idea to most Americans. Thirty-six percent of Americans think aliens have visited Earth, and almost 80 percent believe the government has kept information about UFOs a secret from the public.

Sigh. Mr. Sci Fi and aliens here... and I am in the 12% who say “not!”  But that hasn’t stopped me from issuing taunts at alien lurkers.  Which you can laugh at (aloud!) in Existence.

Is this a sign of the times -- correlated with the public's attitudes toward science?

Indeed, North Carolina legislators want to stop planners from using the state's own science panel's prediction of sea level rise (about 1m by 2100, fairly conservative). Alack! There is one potential salvation from this madness.  For the insurance companies to make clear that, in 20 years, they plan to go after all the doofuses who delayed prudent measures by squelching the reasonable advice of the scientists who actually knew what they were talking about.

Part of the hysterical incantation that “government is never good” comes from folks who actually believe we would have had jets, rockets, telecom, weather forecasting, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, the Internet, or countless other things, without the advanced R&D that we, as citizens, agreed to pay for because the benefits and ROI lay beyond any plausible Return on Investment horizon of major corporations.

And if we - as a people - had drawn only a small “businesslike" 5% royalty on those things, all red ink in the budget would today be erased.  HALF of economic growth in the last 60 years is attributed to Science and Technology.  And here is just one of many documents making that point.

Hence, the War on Science... and on all other intellectual or knowledge castes is a lot more than just politics.  It is a stab at the very heart of any chance for your grandchildrens’ prosperity.  Think about it.  (But then, people who come here are already thinkers.  You already HAVE thought about it. So I’m wasting breath.)

See also: Unscientific America: Denying Science at Our Peril

==Politics & Economics for 2012==

What is Bain Capital?? Co-founded by Mitt Romney in 1984, Bain would buy a company and increase its short-term earnings through firing workers and shuttering plants in order to borrow enormous amounts of money. The borrowed money was used to pay Bain dividends, however, those businesses needed to maintain that high level of earnings to pay their debts. When they couldn’t, that meant plant closures, more layoffs, bankruptcies, and in many cases, the end of the business. Yet these bankruptcies still meant huge profits for Bain’s investors. Furthermore, Bain continued to collect management fees even as companies failed.  As the New York Post reported, during his 15 years as head of Bain, Romney “made fortunes by bankrupting five profitable businesses that ended up firing thousands of workers.”

Our Wall Street friends are offshoring even their own subordinates’ jobs...

David Cameron held his first meeting with Francois Hollande and threatened to veto the new French president’s plan for a European tax on financial transactions. The Prime Minister made clear he will block any French move that would harm the (banker-financiers) of the City of London. Many of you have seen how firmly I support the transaction fee which - at 0.1% - would scarcely be noticed by humans like you or me, but shift power away from a few brokerage houses doing High Frequency Trading (HFT) which inflates bubbles, creates wild speculative swings, dashes in to rob buyers and sellers of the “price difference” they count on... and may (as I explain elsewhere) lead to the "Calamity of Skynet.”  I have lived in both London and Paris. I know the quirks of their inhabitants.  In this case, the London quirks add up to -- wrong!

On NPR I listened to an interview with Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, about his new book The Road to Freedom, which is clearly a take-off from Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom Now, I started out hostile, since I consider the AEI to be one of the core nexi that gave us neoconservatism and almost every rationalization for the monstrous hijacking of American Conservatism, turning it into a force that has done indescribable harm to America and the Western Enlightenment Experiment.

Those of you who know me can attest that I parse this denunciation not from any “leftist” position, but as an acolyte of Adam Smith and a believer in the proved creative power of fair and vigorous human competition.  As Smith declared - and as 6000 years of history have shown - the worst enemy of markets, freedom, and (yes) capitalism has always been monopolistic oligarchy.  The very force that pays AEI’s bills and bribes its boffins to concoct a rationalizations for a return of feudalism. And yet...

And yet, listening to Brooks, I got a sense of a rather reasonable fellow!  An intelligent person who believes in nuance and even something anathema on today’s right -- the possibility of negotiation and mixed/pragmatic/innovative solutions to modern problems.  Fr example, he takes the attitude that government should be working to prepare us for a world of climate change, whether or not the worst fears prove valid.

How much of his stance is feigned?  Perhaps as part of an effort to keep despairing smart-conservatives from bolting the GOP, as nearly all the formerly republican scientists, teachers, journalists, economists, medical doctors and others already have?  Or else, is he the real deal?  An archetype for the dreamt-of return of the Goldwater-Buckley conservative?  That nearly extinct species who spoke with gentility and calm willingness to negotiate with their neighbors? How I miss em.

56 comments:

Buck said...

Why is it that book covers with roads on them never have a visible destination? It just... keeps on going. Speaking of covers, the cover says 'Arthur' not Albert.

It's an interesting problem, populism. How does a multi-millionaire lawyer convince his constituency that he's ahem, worth electing again? By 'being one of the guys.' It's very sad that the politicos think 'the guys' are stupid, that in order to emulate them, one needs to appear dumb. The curious part of that is that it seems to be working.

Unknown said...

Or do long-term middle-of-the-road politicians learn to speak with more obfuscation? I prefer a politician who speaks at an eighth-grade level and actually says something understandable to the one who uses lots of ten-dollar words but says nothing in great volume.

The ones who stay in longer probably find that they don't need to use as much fog and blather. Political inertia has benefits.

Paul451 said...

Re: Obama vs the aliens.

I commented elsewhere when this came up, that I think the question is a clever way of asking "Who do you trust in emergencies? Who can run the military better in a war? Who is better at foreign relations?" while short-circuiting the usual political allegiances and cultural assumptions.

"Thirty-six percent of Americans think aliens have visited Earth, and almost 80 percent believe the government has kept information about UFOs a secret from the public."

Wait, what do the 44% who don't believe in alien visitation but do think the US govt is hiding information about UFOs, think the US govt is hiding?

Paul451 said...

Unknown,
The analysis compared speeches in the Congressional record over time. Current speeches are at a lower grade-level than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago. So it's not due to older politicians becoming wafflier as they become more entrenched.

[Where does "wafflier" come on the Flesch-Kincaid test? Do I get points for knowing that the root of "waffle" as speech ("waff", yelp) has no relation to "waffle" as food ("wafer")?]

Anonymous said...

Declining flesch indexes in politicians probably relate more to Frank Luntz's political consultancy. Simple, uncomplicated ideas win elections. In private, I suspect the freshmen politicians can be no less eloquent than their elders - they just have been told not to (to win elections). Consider also this - in our efficiency-obsessed society, flowery or intellectual speech Is often a liability. OTOH Ben Bova's old 'marching morons' story comes to mind...

Darrell E said...

"I prefer a politician who speaks at an eighth-grade level and actually says something understandable to the one who uses lots of ten-dollar words but says nothing in great volume."

The range of possibilities is not a binary set though. I much prefer a politician who speaks at a high level with high ratios of valid information/fluff and openness/obfuscation.

Politicians who meet those criteria are admittedly few and far between, but perhaps if more people raised their standards that might begin to change.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately they play to the voters they think they can swing and ignore the rest. This has made for interesting politics in Australia after they did a census and discovered the actual number of people who are citizens born elsewhere. Backflips over night in both political parties about asylum seekers. Your readers are not likely the people the politicians are trying to reach.

Darrell E said...

"Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of Americans think that President Obama would be a better leader than Mitt Romney if an alien invasion were to happen."

I find that fascinating. I'd love to hear from those out of that percentage that are planning on voting for Romney over Obama in the real upcoming election, just how they came to their choice.

Do they think of Obama as more capable of dealing with disasters than Romney? If so why would they think Romney more capable of dealing with the current real disasters in progress right now?

Or should this be taken as an indication that Obama is going to win by a landslide? I am skeptical. Human fickleness is the more likely explanation.

Alex Tolley said...

There is one potential salvation from this madness. For the insurance companies to make clear that, in 20 years, they plan to go after all the doofuses who delayed prudent measures by squelching the reasonable advice of the scientists who actually knew what they were talking about.

How would/could they do anything other than deny payouts on their policies? Bill the state government in 100 years?

AFAICS, their only prudent course is to use the uncertainty to raise insurance rates, especially to policy holders on the coast. But what is teh betting those wealthy policy holders will claim some future FEMA funds to be made whole, as they do today?

ell said...

If the insurance companies raise rates on coastal properties, then they'll have to pay out, and if the sea level rises faster than expectead, they'll have to pay out a lot. They may instead add an amendment to policies exempting damage from sea-level rises.

As for grade level in speech: When every fifth word is "like" and each sentence contains "you know" at least twice, the calculated grade level will drop.

CJ-in-Weld said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CJ-in-Weld said...

May I pick a nit with a minor point of the post? Language "grade levels" may be meaningless:

News flash: Congresscritters using slightly shorter words and sentences

AND

No, Members of Congress Don't "Talk Like 10th Graders"

cirby said...

ell:"If the insurance companies raise rates on coastal properties, then they'll have to pay out, and if the sea level rises faster than expectead, they'll have to pay out a lot."

Not quite. If they raise rates on coastal properties, then they may have to pay out - but it's a lot easier to get a rate increase from insurance regulators if you can wave a new threat category at them. There only has to be a perception of a threat, not a proven one.

Paul451:"Current speeches are at a lower grade-level than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago. So it's not due to older politicians becoming wafflier as they become more entrenched."

It's probably more a bell curve situation. They get elected because they're a "plain speaker," start obfuscating for the next few years to stay in, and go back to shorter words once they're established as a senior politician.

Darrell E:" I much prefer a politician who speaks at a high level with high ratios of valid information/fluff and openness/obfuscation."

Name one who's currently in office in Washington.

Darrell E said...

Cirby: "Name one who's currently in office in Washington."

Forgive me for asking, but as you did not choose to include the sentence just after the one you did quote, are you intentionally quoting me out of context? I can understand that you really wanted to make that comment, but the sentence just after the one you quoted from my comment directly contradicts what you seem to be trying to imply with your comment.

Not to mention that the context was "preferences." It is not required that something exist for it to be preferred.

In any case, off hand I can think of two politicians in Washington that can usually be counted on to meet my speech preferences. Al Franken and Bernie Sanders. Please note that I am not talking about party, policy, ideological or any other kind of preferences, but speech preferences as per my original comment. Though I do think there is a correlation between the incidence of these attributes.

Mark said...

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”

"If you can't explain something simply, you don't know enough about it."

― Albert Einstein

"Eschew Obfuscation"

-- Unknown


I don't think congressmen speaking at higher grade levels is necessarily a positive thing. Somethings are complex enough that detailed analysis is required. But most debates are about fundamental ideals, priorities and morality. These need to be debated with simplicity and passion, if you are ever to get anyone on your side.

For a good counter-example, listen to Newt Gingrich, who uses fancy-sounding language to prevent needed to say anything at all.

Carl M. said...

AEI is also the current home of Charles Murray. They be mixing some brains in with their Republican talking points.

Rob said...

I can't name one. I don't know them well enough.

I *can* name a *former* House Rep who left, more or less in disgust over the tenor of debate in Congress: Washington's Brian Baird. I was very happy to have him as a Congresscritter and I'm sorry he's gone.

Ian said...

"I don't think congressmen speaking at higher grade levels is necessarily a positive thing. Somethings are complex enough that detailed analysis is required. But most debates are about fundamental ideals, priorities and morality. These need to be debated with simplicity and passion, if you are ever to get anyone on your side.

For a good counter-example, listen to Newt Gingrich, who uses fancy-sounding language to prevent needed to say anything at all."

For good counter-counter-examples, consider the Gettysburg Address; the Declaration of Independence; the US Constitution; John F Kennedy's Inaugural address and MLK's "I have a Dream" speech, all of which test at a University level reading standard.

Robert said...

One of the things I really enjoy about the Nook (the Nook Touch at least) is the ability to touch a word and have the system pull up a definition of the word. It's not always complete, mind you - I've come across a number of words not included in the system (though one of the nice things about the Kate Daniels line of Urban Fantasy is the brief explanations we're given about different weapon types or little bits of mythology that are more than myth of course in a fantasy setting). But it's always nice to read a book and pause to look up a word that you are fairly certain you know... just to get a fuller understanding of the word.

I suspect susurration is a favorite word of some authors because it pushes their grade level of their writing up a few notches. ;) Amusingly, I found it in soft science fiction prior to Dr. Brin's "Existence" where he is susurratious in his use of susurration. ;)

Rob H.

John Thacker said...

For the insurance companies to make clear that, in 20 years, they plan to go after all the doofuses who delayed prudent measures by squelching the reasonable advice of the scientists who actually knew what they were talking about.

One of the problems with applying that to coastal areas and floods is that Flood Insurance is entirely a government program. It's run by insurance companies, but the rates (and payouts) are set by the federal government, and it's explicitly already set to continually bailout people who build too close to the ocean in places that periodically flood.

Perhaps ironically, Sen. Rand Paul opposes the existence of the National Flood Insurance Program. So does the rest of the "government is never good" crowd that you criticize.

If it were privatized, then perhaps what you want would happen. However, currently it's not the decision of insurance professionals (or scientists). It's the decision of Congress, which has repeatedly and on a bipartisan basis bailed out people who build expensive homes in flood-prone areas.

That is, apparently, the way that you want it.

Ian Gould said...

While I haven't read the Road to Freedom, Brooks recently wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal which is every bit as mendacious and doctrinaire as one would expect from a creature of the AEI.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304141204577509251648959104.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Paul451 said...

Ian,
Re: GA, Dec Ind, US Con, JFK, MLK...

All of which use notably clear language.

It seems to me that the posters confusing higher grade-level speech and "obfuscation", and lower grade-level speech with "speaking clearly" are buying into the propaganda of the "War" on the knowledge classes, that intelligence and knowledge are to be treated with automatic suspicion.

Proof: These are the politicians you hate. The ones today. The twisty, double-talking, spin-obsessed, manipulators. The ones who drown information in noise. And it's these who are speaking at a lower grade-level.

sociotard said...

I got to go see David in Portland last night! Definitely a perk of moving away from Idaho Falls. (no big-name authors visit there)

Chris Wright said...

About the government hiding UFO information from the public: I imagine that some UFO sightings are of military vehicles, and our government would be interested in hiding the specifics from the general public.

Ian Gould said...

Chris, similarly a number of UFOs back in the 60's were the lower stages of Russian missile tests or space launches.

The US government knew that but didn't necessarily want the Soviets to Know that they knew.

Rob said...

@sociotard, yeah, true, but you get the freshest potatoes in the world, and that's not nothing!

;-)

David Brin said...

Portland book audiences are sagacious and lively and I was happy to meet both old and virtual friends... Sociotard and Stefan Jones were standouts! Also the great Patrick Farley who painted the images in my EXISTENCE trailer.

Send it viral, for HIS sake! ;-)

Heading home at last, sigh!
db

Stefan Jones said...

My sister and her family were in Idaho Falls a few days back, stopping overnight on the way to scenic places around the West.

Portland is a fairly small city, but gets more than its fair share of author / artist / guest-lecturer visits. So getting relocated from the Bay Area wasn't much of a shock!

Tacitus2 said...

1. People who would actually bother to answer a question about who would be a better Pres when the Aliens arrive are no doubt a self selected bunch. Mostly superficial and silly, with a leavening of puckish humorists.

If you included Sigourney Weaver, Bruce Willis and Bill Pullman (Independence Day Pres?) in the sample offerings you would have very different and rather fun results. Still however, fluff sans real import.

2. Hold the Presses! Recently elected politicians use simple speech constructions! Geeze, ya suppose it has anything to do with them now being a generation entirely suckled on TV and its even glitzier offspring Internet and Twitter? Also, as the attention span and literacy levels of constituencies drops (the old are always leaving us) the pols are just adapting. Go back a century to the real orators of yore, their speech patterns and structures were laid down by a traditional education with Shakespeare, Greek and Latin. And the lingua franca of the day was the elaborate sermon on Sunday.

We live in flashier times. Better in lots of ways. Less good in others. Those who can still turn a nifty phrase from time to time are not all that clever by historical standards. Just ten fingered men and women among the Konbluthian thumb typers.

Tacitus

Tacitus2 said...

Hah! and I missed a key myself.

Kornbluthian.

mea culpa

Tacitus

matthew said...

I can think of three other national politicians that speak at a high grade level with relatively low obfuscation-quotients. One is a Senator from my home state, Ron Wyden (also known as the champion of a free internet.) Two are candidates for the Presidency: our current officeholder and the Libertarian Candidate, Governor Gary Johnson. BTW, I do consider Gov. Johnson to be that “honest foe” of liberals like myself. He’s a (partial) wingnut, but he will negotiate, and he likes ideas. One of the good guys in my experience. Plus, while Governor of my other home state (NM), he would find time to talk to any child that came to see him, as long as the child would run or do pushups or other exercise while they would talk.
I was at the Portland signing too, but I was one of the early signatures. I had to get back to my work to pour off about 16k pounds of molten superalloy. Sorry I missed meeting Sociotard, we could have a fun time arguing liberal policy together. Most sorry that I missed some of the question and answer session. Next book, then.

David Brin said...

Alert to Tony Fisk! I've been told there's been activity on the PBworks wiki about my "predictions" including

David Brin said...

Just home from an exhausting book tour. Ran into Stefan and Sociotard and others at Powells!

Tacitus, there is no excuse for the down-pandering... or else genuine stupidity... of politicians who are deliberately lowering the bar in public discourse.

You have Fox news anchors who were Rhodes Scholars with several masters who now go "aw shucks" and pretend not to know what 10th grade level words mean! Several have been caught on tape having used the words cogently and correctly just a few years earlier.

It is part of the deliberate stupidification of Red America, in which the Red Neck Comedy tour guys make it a badge of confederate pride to be dumb and unwise and unknowing and incurious.

Flew this afternoon with a jerk who spun out anecdote after anecdote but would offer no facts nor take any wagers... and who did not know who Barry freaping Golwater was... while heaping scorn on all "over-educated pinheads."

Sorry Tacitus. There are genuine medical syndromes in which a declining vocabulary is a very real symptom of serious health decline. What's more, you know this is true.

Tom Craver said...

"folks who actually believe we would have had jets, rockets, telecom, weather forecasting, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, the Internet, or countless other things, without the advanced R&D that we, as citizens, agreed to pay for because the benefits and ROI lay beyond any plausible Return on Investment horizon of major corporations..."

First, the "we as citizens agreed to pay for" part is pure nonsense. No one asked you or me or our parents or grandparents for our consent. That's just not how government works. No politican ran on a platform of funding rockets or the internet.

And let's be clear what you're claiming.

You are not talking about government as a big customer for privately developed tech, which then advances further or faster thanks to profits from selling products to government.

You are not talking about those items failing to be developed if not for precursor technologies government R&D helped pay for - that would just pointlessly push the question back a level.

You are claiming that no one would have developed anything on that list of technologies into useful products, if government had not directly spent on R&D to develop them from mere ideas or prototypes.

Sneer away, but I do believe that had government not stepped in, most of the items on your list would still have been developed and commercialized by now, though of course in slightly different forms.

Before the US government got into direct R&D funding in a big way, a large number of key technologies did get privately funded and developed to the point of commercial exploitation. The steam engine. Electric motors. Electric power distribution and lighting. The telegraph and telephone. The airplane. This demonstrates the potential to develop radical new technologies without government R&D.

So what changed?

Government R&D funding eliminates much of the need for private R&D funding, and creates the financial incentive to let government pay for work a company might have otherwise had to pay for to stay competitive or to break into a profitable new field.

Consider the internet and telecommunications: Private companies offered consumer and business time-sharing and dial-up information services well prior to government development of packet switching or TCP/IP. AT&T and others offered high speed switched data links. Private bulletin board systems predate standardization of the internet, and Fidonet protocol preceded commercial internet services. None of these were derivative from Internet technologies.

Had the internet never been developed due to lack of government funding, those would have evolved into something much like the internet, with the cheap/free and highly cooperative BBS services driving the big balkanized services to open up and interoperate or die.

Ian said...

"Flew this afternoon with a jerk who spun out anecdote after anecdote but would offer no facts nor take any wagers... and who did not know who Barry freaping Golwater was... while heaping scorn on all "over-educated pinheads.""

Tell him he was the Republican candidate for President in 1964 who ran on a platform of opposing the Civil rights Act of 1963.

Yeah, yeah he was "opposed to the extension of of Federal power" no matter how many people suffered as a result.

Tony Fisk said...

'Charlene' has editted before. Most of it is minor, but I'm not so keen on the changes she's made to the predictions index (Separate spreadsheet!?)

Tony Fisk said...

David, let us know if there's anything you want putting back.

Version control is a wonderful thing!

Paul451 said...

Tom Craver,
Re: Internet vs...

I don't think the Internet would have developed as naturally as you think. Watching it happen at the time, it felt like the rival schemes were caught utterly flat-footed.

All top down solutions (whether government ordained, or business created) were extraordinary clumsy, expensive silos. From Minitel to AOL. Everyone seemed to think that way.

FIDONet was the closest to the internet in being community driven development, a network of equals rather than a silo. But while there were commercial BBSes, it was not being picked up by companies for their own use, nor did it have the architectural flexibility to evolve into something as amazing as the internet.

It's those underlying protocols that allowed the internet to thrive, not the surface stuff that we think of as "The Internet". I can't see how anyone would have quickly thrown together something like WWW protocol on top of FIDONet.

(But it's hard to roll the tape back and imagine how it would it would have turned out. Some things are inevitable, and would have merely changed form. For example, trains appeared when they were not only due, but over-due. Britain's canals are testament to that. Steel and steam apparently had been independently invented many times before. So had someone invented the idea of rail centuries earlier, it might have happened earlier. But when people were looking for rail-like bulk-transport solutions, something was going to emerge. Likewise, flight was being hammered at relentlessly, something had to break. But there's a big difference between aircraft (the internet) and airships (Minitel/AOL.))

Robert said...

Private industry would never have gone into space. Why bother? What's up there that's needed? The investment in rocketry and developing safe and reliable rockets is quite high and would never have gotten off the ground. Concepts such as telecommunication satellites and the like wouldn't have been able to compete against less expensive pre-existing alternatives.

There are plenty of orphan diseases that are unfunded and untreated because the economies of scale are so small there's no value in finding a cure. And without government regulation we'd have plenty of quack cures that cause more harm than good... and don't say that lawsuits would rein them in because whoever has the biggest lawyers wins in a no-regulation environment. After all, what laws are there against bad medicine? None in a regulation-free environment. Thus no laws are broken and the quacks get away with murder.

Do you think we'd have a National Highway System if it was all done by private industry? No. We might have a series of toll roads, each owned by a different corporation, and we may even have partnerships between corporations allowing transit of corporate vehicles across toll roads without cost (quid pro quo) but no civilians would travel because it would cost too much. And without a public road system, industry itself would never get off the ground except as localized corporate towns because it would cost too much to live far away from one's workplace... meaning that workers would be at the mercy of their employers.

Further, we have historical evidence of what happens when the government does not regulate employment law. Just 100 years ago unions were broken apart by private armies and police gangs paid by the corporations. The lack of minimum wages impoverished millions of people.

In short, without government regulations, America would not be great. America would be a little two-bit power that never expanded beyond its borders because there was no profit in it and ultimately we'd have been conquered by the Russians after they eventually overwhelmed Germany and Europe after World War I ended.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

Yes, and no, a United States government with little regulatory power might not have precluded technological advances, it's a separate problem from development assistance. Government money can accelerate development, and it would be difficult to imagine where we might be without it, for instance, imagine Wozniak & Jobs growing up in some industrial town, without the stimulus of engineers working on defense projects. Heinlein or Hogan could've run with such an idea, me, not so much. FWIW, I see the problem not really in government or Wall $treet, just the human tendency of those who crave power having a hard time with moderation and balance.

Naum said...

@Tom\ Craver, not according to Vint Cerf and other architects of "modern" internet -- proprietary commercial interests had little desire in common protocol and their big vision were small sandboxes where they were in control of the technological "tool booth". Even when private sector did great research (i.e., PARC Xerox) most of the great minds there matriculated from government research projects but yielded little benefit for Xerox (despite being scooped up by Jobs and Gates after Xerox foolishly did not know what to do with these units). And most of the innovation that came out of "private" companies was due in large part to being state sanctioned monopolies (i.e., AT&T Bell Labs) that with guaranteed profit margin, could divert resources into R&D.

If you study the history of electrical grid, it was the utility companies that clamored for regulation and state adjudication and governing -- without it, meant absolute chaos.

Rob said...

There's no need to go very far to disprove what @Tom\ Craver claims.

I know what privately funded internetworks would have looked like, in part because we've already seen them. AOL was just such a network. So was Compuserve. They interoperated only with great difficulty.

Novell, in '93, was getting ready with AT&T to launch a venture which would have used Novell's IPX protocols to interconnect subscriber computers. (Frankly, at the time IPX was technically better. That's why so many of its features appear in IPv6.)

But AT&T was structuring things the way all phone companies are observed to structure them. They planned to eliminate competition, keep prices very high. The 19th century analogue was railroads. Ironically, even 19th Century railroads had government charters and assistance, at least in the form of guarantees behind their bond issues.

And even Compuserve and AOL couldn't have worked at all without a ubiquitous and price-regulated telephone switching system, but that, apparently, is beside the point.

sociotard said...

Hey look, Denise Rich just renounced her US citizenship.

For those who don't remember, she was the lady who gave lots of campaign donations to the Clinton campaign, and then Clinton gave her husband a Pardon.

Evidently she's trying to avoid taxes. Except for the lost tax revenue, I say good ridance to bad rubbish.

Ian Gould said...

She's moving from the US to the UK to avoid taxes?

She'll pay MORE tax in the UK than she would in the US.

David Brin said...

Tony could you write to me separately (after comic-con... meaning next monday!) to guide me back into the predictions wiki? I can then sift-search and (probably) find my password.


Tom Craver's stunning rationalization.... amounts to

1) "I know our civilization --- with its mix of private effort with consensus-political-democratically-decided joint projects (mediated by "government") --- has been vastly more successful at delivering everything I ever wanted, than any other society that ever existed."

but

2) "I also maintain that government and all the projects used democratic/consensual/political methods WOULD HAVE HAPPENED ANYWAY and probably heaps better, if we had simply dispensed with that Shared-effort crap."

Like every other living libertarian, Tom is displaying the utter dunce-i-tudinousness of a person who has no historical perspective, whatsoever and who never cracked open a single page of Adam Smith.

Dig his reasoning: the society he lives in was successful... THEREFORE any other society would have been, as well, especially if it dispensed with the methods that our parents used to get here...

... but instead relied upon the OTHER methods (e.g. reliance on mere corporate investment horizons and on the whim of accumulated power by owner castes)... methods that never ever ever ever worked in the past.

That is why it is a simple litmus test. Libertarians know no history at all and don't care and never read Adam Smith. Those who do read Smith and actually study history cannot use the L word. We must find another, even though we are the ones promoting both freedom and competition.

Tom Craver said...

Well, David has presented his well reasoned response.

I am, in fact, a libertarian dunce who has never cracked open Adam Smith and has no historical perspective since I lack any knowledge of history. David must be psychic, to know me so well!

Fortunately ad hominem attacks are extremely relevant to the topic at hand, since he presented not one other word of actual counter evidence or argument.

I guess I stand corrected!

David Brin said...

And notice you did not address a single one of my points. All you could do was whine, instead of standing up like a big, boy, with thick skin, and take the rough language as a man.

So I used Dunc-i-tude? Grow up and take it man! And dish it out!

Whimpering, instead of addressing the issue... which is actually a very interesting one!

I repeat: Do you like this society, which made more goodies and advances and comfort and science... and libertarians... than any other? By how many orders of magnitude do you prefer it?

In my case it is six or ten orders of magnitude.

So explain to me you blithe assumption that the methods our parents used to GET to this condition are all wrong, top to bottom...

... and OF COURSE going back to oligarchy, property-idolatry, and short corporate ROI horizons would automatically be BETTER!!!!!!!

Smith knew better. He denounced the very things guys like you hold up as religious dogma. Competition is central. But you guys instead worship the notion of feudal lords.

good luck with that.

David Brin said...

I'll leave this window on my tab for another day, then conclude we're both right.

1) that I used excessively pushy language toward you

2) that your pretense at intellectual honesty did not stand up to scrutiny.

db

Tom Craver said...

Shrug - ok, I'll answer your questions, even though you ignored my points, and continue to indulge in fantasies of what my political perspectives must be, and continue to throw insults. I even did you the courtesy in my first post, of trying to summarize your position, as you constantly harp on - which I'll note that you either did not do, or summarized so badly as to be unrecognizable.

Sure, I like a lot about US society. Some key issues that seem like proper roles for federal govt in our highly interconnected age, have been evolving about as quickly as human nature allows - minority rights, women's rights, gay rights, etc.

My dislikes fall in the realm where federal government has usurped roles it was never intended to have, without putting it to the consent of the governed. Up until the time of Roosevelt, whom you admire so greatly, our nation had the grace and wisdom to require constitutional amendments to make major changes to our social contract. Since Mr. Roosevelt, we just pretend that our written social contract with the federal government says something we all know it does not.

(I don't care to get into an argument over Roosevelt. Maybe his actions were more symptoms of a change than change itself; maybe he was more an exemplar of the change than the driver. Criticism of him is not my point here - his reign is a historical marker for the period where the change occured.)

I have no idea how to quantify how much I like our civilization, as compared to how much I would have liked the different one in which we either renegotiated our social contract, or followed it. I do know that whatever that number would be, it is dramatically lower than it would be if we had explicitly debated and renegotiated, and arrived at the exact same point.

rewinn said...

@Tom Craver:
I don't know what you mean about "...without putting it to the consent of the governed."
We still have elections and while there is much to complain about them, it's hard to argue that the things that traditional Libertarians complain about haven't been voted on.
Or are you observing that post-Citizens United, our elections have become the playthings of "persons" not eligible to vote, e.g. the monied interests behind Mr. Adelson, who single-handedly kept Mr. Gingrich in the running?

rewinn said...

@Rob H
May I disagree with "...America would be a little two-bit power that never expanded beyond its borders because there was no profit in it ..."
... because before WW1 we ran a pretty solid imperial policy in Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines and Central America. OTOH our technological advantages have made the casualty ratios of our conquests rather one-sided in our favor. I suppose we'll never know if a more equal level of technology would have led to less of an eagerness for conquest.

@Tom Carver
Is this an example of your argument:
"No politican ran on a platform of funding rockets or the internet."
I confess that I am elderly enough to recall that precisely the opposite is the case. JFK ran on a platform of closing the "missle gap" (and we need not here debate whether such a gap actually existed; either way, it was a potent campaign issue.)
Furthermore, the Moon project lasted through several Presidential elections, succeeding with a president of the party opposite that of the guy who started it.
That program, as well as its predecessors such as Mercury and successors such as the Shuttle, was popular enought that no-one of any note ran against it. If that's evidence that it was never voted upon, then so is Apple Pie and fireworks on the 4th of July.

David Brin said...

Tom. First, let's agree to disagree over what you consider improper behavior on my part, and what I consider to be you incessantly whining.

At least this time you parsed things (because I demanded it) in a way that lets us penetrate your deep, deep errors.

You conflate the results... which you admit have been staggeringly positive in the last couple of American generations, with your ASSERTION about the inflated role of government. Which (1) fails any fact test and (2) is fundamentally illogical.

(1) The Federal govt's share of the economy, and taxes pulled in and tax rates are all at historic lows. So is regulation. You declare your assertions about govt being a monster as if they were religious dogma, not to be questioned, passionately believed, despite their being abso-freaking lutely untrue.

What is the fastest growing accumulation of unaccountable power in America? While you sock-puppet the Fox line about civil servants, a different clade of power - the one despised by Adam Smith - is skyrocketing in power and recovering its ability to cheat and coerce and manipulate and allocate like the lords we had a revolution against. But in your partisan frenzy, you cannot see them at all.

(2) You claim to love the outcome of what our parents did, using Franklin Roosevelt's prescription of a mixed economy and mixed use of state and private efforts... then you proceed to screech that their prescription was all wrong!

Dig this, our parents, the wise "greatest generation" endorsed and loved and consensus re-elected and ratified the Rooseveltean social contract by such vast majorities and so repeatedly that only an ignoramus would declare that it was not "social contract." And they were there. You were not.

This fetish to call FDR satan incarnate is what I deem crazy and rewriting history. I do not endlessly admire him! In fact, I am a Smithian (non Randian, thank God) liberatarian who is glad that later govts dismantled some of FDR's structures!

The Interstate Commerce Commission and Civil Aeronautics Board are no more! They were captured by the industries they regulated and thus became oppressors.

Ah, but WHO eliminated them? Democrats, who have done more DE-regulating than the whining, bitching, insipidly ineffectual GOP ever even proposed to do.

I DARE you now to tell me what industries the GOP ever deregulated when in power, except finance, allowing them to do FIVE MAJOR RAIDS on the middle class in the last 40 years.

Finally, your screed earlier made it clear how incredibly illogical you are... and how poorly you actually read passages like this one, before responding.

Dig it. If you love the outcome of the last 70 years then you face a steep burden of proof that opur parents' method to get here, building the greatest middle class in history, was wrong.

Instead, you defend the trend of the last 20 years which has dismantled FDR,... and which led to the steepest DECLINE in the middle class in US history ...

...and the skyrocketing rise in the kind of wealth aristocracy that Adam Smith despised.

Rewinn is right. We are moving AWAY from consent by the governed. And the GOP is leading that move. And Libertarians of the "capital L" variety, who have become a cult of sock puppets, never learn from the fact that they get 1% every single time.

David Brin said...

People who can only see Big Brother rising in the direction they were trained to look... and never in other directions... are pretty pathetically myopic and tunnel vision.

When there is NO evidence that the authority figures they fear are getting any worse, then they are delisional.

When they can ignore 6000 years of history and the advice of Adam Smith, and instead chant as sock-puppets : "The oligarchic monopolist masters are our friendssssssssssssss"

Well, then, that is simply dunce-i-tude.

David Brin said...

enough here. we are two blogs old

Sangrail said...

I wonder if the example of Obama versus Romney in the case of an alien invasion, is a case of xenophobia outweighing xenophobia?

I.e. I highly doubt all of those 65% are going to vote for Obama. Worse, a good chunk of them won't vote because he's a [hawaiian-born-kenyan, muslim-in-league-with-Undead-Osama-bin-Laden, reptilian-monarchist] oh wait, I think they really just mean, a black man.

But, faced with the hypothesis of some true non-human threat, their alien-xenophobia would outweigh their race-xenophobia, and they would judge Obama to be the more competent candidate.

However, unless the aliens show up, I think Obama will have a harder time of it...
*sigh*

High Arka said...

(Fixed link.)