Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Midweek filler -- some of it biting and some way-cool!

For this mid-week posting, let's offer up a series of interesting snippets and links... many of them thought provoking but across a wide variety of topics.

First... some terrific journalism and a real life adventure story! Read this riveting tale of goodguy “pirates” against genuine evil-villain pirates, as eco-vigilantes tail and pursue the most notorious, Interpol-listed rogue fish-poaching ship. “Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished.” Vividly illustrated, this cat and mouse saga has a dramatic conclusion… and a lesson that we need better law at sea.

A major shift in religious tendencies: "The United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago. That's the top finding — one that will ricochet through American faith, culture and politics — in the Pew Research Center's newest report: America's Changing Religious Landscape," reports USA Today.  "Atheists and agnostics have nearly doubled their share of the religious marketplace, and overall indifference to religion of any sort is rising as well. Only the historically black Protestant churches have held a steady grip through the years of change." 

Speaking of which, did any of you see the advert for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, - narrated by Ron Reagan - during the last week of the Daily Show? Wow. I am not actually an atheist!  But the message here is not "hate God."  The message is leave each other alone and keep government out of it.

Except -- as I describe elsewhere -- when politicians wear religion on their sleeve and openly declare that specific doctrines will control their use of policy and governmental tools. Including nuclear weapons. At which point, take them at their word. Especially watch out for politicians who avow to praying for the end of the world. 

== smarter people ==

This will be the first year that I miss the annual FiRe (Future in Review) conference — one of the best tech-futurist meetings on the planet. Held this year at a ski resort in Utah in October. Do look into attending, if you are a tech industry CTO or other C level person. Opening night talk will be by Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transport Technologies. Dirk, who earlier worked at SpaceX, has taken this idea and moved it into the world of not just crowd-funding, but crowd-design, with a crew of 200 engineers working collaboratively for stock, uniting their skills to design and build the world's first Hyperloop.  Now, that is exciting.

Is all of this leading somewhere cool? Phil Plait has more fun with the science of Star Trek.  And mostly I agree. Though a couple of nopes might be “maybes.”  Above all, Trek encourages geeks to ask such questions. "Wars" doesn’t do that. Star Wars is vivid, visually gorgeous silly stuff -- with a patina of outright evil that I hope Disney will finally exorcise.

Kind of interesting shows!  TED talks by master illusionists.  A kewl interview with the brilliant Penn and Teller.  And yes, Teller speaks!

== A potpourri of "outcomes" ==

Take that, Blue America - we’re number one! Montgomery, Ala., has more cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia than large U.S. cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans, according to a report released today from a renter’s website. Southern cities such as Memphis, St. Louis, New Orleans; Killeen, Texas; and Fayetteville, North Carolina also made the top 10 of the list. 

What… ALL of the top ten? And how many more? Please dig this well... I did not start this and I am only fighting back, when I point out that Red America is not, as they relentlessly claim to be, "more moral."

I’ll gladly stop talking about such things — along with rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, divorce, domestic violence, gambling etc… when Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz and Fox News stop yammering lies about how much “more moral” bubba-folk are than all those pencil-neck university types. You’re not. Not by even a single metric.  Not one.  So can it and let's work together like grownups.

Meanwhile, the number of uninsured Americans decreased from 36 million people in the first three months of 2014 to just 29 million people in the same period in 2015. Of the top 10 states that witnessed the sharpest declines in uninsured rates, seven of them have expanded Medicaid and launched a state-based marketplace exchange or state-federal partnership under the Affordable Care Act, while two have established one or the other. 

Oh, but Obamacare was going to destroy the American health system, remember?  Send rates through the roof? Well, insurance rates had been seeing double digit rises all through the decade before the ACA passed, so let’s see how much worse it’s gotten!

“Monthly premiums for California's 1.3 million Covered California customers will rise a modest 4 percent, on average, officials with the agency said Monday. This increase is slightly less than last year's increase of 4.2 percent for consumers who bought policies on the state's health insurance marketplace.  Some consumers could even achieve a reduction in their premium, of an average of 4.5 percent, if they choose to shop around.  "This is another year of good news for California's consumers and further evidence that the Affordable Care Act is working," said Peter Lee, Covered California's executive director.”  And -- "Throughout our negotiations, consumers in California saved more than $200 million."

Okay, here’s what’s going to happen.  The Cult will deny or refuse to look at such facts – (or those regarding Climate Change, or a myriad other wrongheaded incantations) – until the evidence is as overwhelming as a tsunami.  At which point, Rupert Murdoch's spin machine will suddenly announce: “Of course public exchanges and individual mandates work! It was OUR PLAN all along!”

And here is the infuriating irony. When they claim credit for the success of Obamacare... they'll be right! It truly was the Republicans’ own damn health care plan, all through the 1990s and until 2008… whereupon they suddenly reversed and declared it to be satanic, because Barack Obama adopted it, and gave it coooooties.

Trust me, a time will come when they will loudly claim credit for Obamacare.  And you heard it here, first.

=== FINALLY... help me post a grand list of future-oriented sites! ===

This coming weekend I will post one of my major Resource Blogs -- a list of online sites that deal with the future.  From iO9 and the Long Now all the way to the CIA... places where you can reassure yourself that at least some members of your species have prefrontal lobes and are using those "lamps on the brow" to peer ahead.

At least a little. You are invited to suggest your own contributions to the list, under comments.


Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: You are welcome to take your beef to the folks at CAISO and explain why what they do can't work. They HAVE learned a couple of the stupid ways to run things and corrected their business model, but when I was there the only people who were really complaining where the municipal monopolies who participated in the wholesale market. I had little sympathy.

@LarryHart: The people Ayn Rand described weren't real humans, so I'm rather dismissive of her suggested solutions. Individuals are the atoms of society... until they aren't. When we surrender part of our sovereignty for family, church, and community, its pretty obvious her brand of individualism must fail. Ultimately, there is a lot more to consider in the economic calculation besides prudence.

Regarding private police forces, there would obviously need to be a set of market rules that protected the civilization in which we are all immersed. The third world concern you have is what you get with no such rules. Civilization fails unless we act to protect and extend it to all within its borders.

They key sticking point regarding private police is one of perception. If I hire a company to do essentially what I described, there are a lot of people who would immediately label us as 'organized crime' since they don't permit such a transaction within the community. The liberal within me points out that something is illegal only when it is MADE illegal, but that only really works for legislation. Law (in the 'common law' sense) has no such restriction because it is discovered. When the members of my community decide I'm into organized crime, I am. Period. That's what has to change before private policing can work. People have to understand how it might work and be to their benefit.

(Now onward to the content of this post.)

Jonathan S. said...

I have to point out a bit of inconsistency on Phil's part. He says "No" to artificial gravity, then says "Maybe" to tractor beams - even though both involve the hypothetical graviton. If you can manipulate gravitons to make a tractor beam, you can widen the focus a whole bunch, drop the intensity, and make artificial gravity (and, presumably, have the ability to modulate the focus so as to produce inertial compensators).

They're all implications of the same technology, just as assuming the possibility of transporters implies replicators (both food and industrial varieties).

Duncan Cairncross said...

a devotee of Ayn Rand who insisted that you could trust someone who was only interested in lining his own pockets

I think I have identified the main flaw
Maslow's Hierachy of Needs
Once you have enough of something you are "satiated" and move onto the next level
- I don't see this as "steps" so much as a spectrum

If I was badly broke and in debt then a bit more money would be really important to me,
I'm not wealthy but I'm not hurting so a bit more money would be welcome but is not my chief aim
IMHO most of us are like that - money is important but NOT the be all and end all of life

Somebody who thinks
"that you could trust someone who was only interested in lining his own pockets"
Has satiability problems and believes everybody else is the same

So they have now fixed the problems that led up to the ENRON debacle?
That example absolutely proves my point.
Even if they miraculously made things work twice as well then it would take hundreds of years to counterbalance the ENRON thing
It just does NOT WORK - you just end up enriching the sharks and impoverishing the consumers

dennisd said...

Resource Blog for the future-minded.
These sites deal with the 'big picture' point of view.
Attempts to understand human history within cosmic, geological and biological time frames.
The Big History Project grew out of David Christian's research & teaching while at San Diego State University. He's now at Macquarie University, Australia.
Frank White book discussed the overview effect astronauts gained while viewing the home planet from space. The Overview Institute seeks ways to bring the overview effect to planetside audiences through visual media and first-hand accounts.
Started by Richard Saul Wurman, designer and Jack Dangermond, ESRI founder. Goal is to make the torrent of Earth/GIS data more understandable via better designed data visualizations.

David Brin said...

Some things are inherently competitive because they involve products or services that are fungible and inherently amenable to competition. In those realms, that stretch from art and restaurants to banking and yes science is deeply competitive, the main regulatory concern should be keeping the playing field flat-open-fair so that most players help keep each other accountable, despite a universal human tendency for players to try to meet in secret and conspire together to corner markets and compete less.

Government can play a major (liberal) role in maintaining flat-open-fair (1) by breaking up excessive concentrations of market etc power, (2) regulating to ensure externalities are included in product costs, (2) Assisting poor children to become confident, educated and empowered new competitors, eliminating the greatest sin of feudal predecessor societies, vast waste of human talent.

The role of regulator is only HALFWAY amenable to competition. It must incorporate competitive processes such as politics, civilian oversight boards, freedom of information to empower NGOs and all that. But the actual application of regulation unto the markets and or our streets cannot be itself competitive... commercial police force is simply insane. The umpires must be thoroughly supervised and competitively accountable. But their day by day actions have to be immediate with force of law.

reason said...

"yes science is deeply competitive, "

I would put it differently - science is fundamentally co-operative but is deeply disputative. i.e. It lives from differences of opinion (a bit like politics). So competitive (in a sense, yes) but not obviously open to markets (what is the reward, who are the buyers).

reason said...

To put science and markets in context think about Big Tobacco and Big Oil in relation to science. Science is after truth - which may or not bring money with it. Usually, knowledge is valuable, but it is not always excludable (in fact it shouldn't be if you want to maximise the value) or exploitable.

Daniel Duffy said...

Loved the Star Trek tech review. While FTL via Alcubierre warp bubble may never be possible as it requires the type of matter and energy that does not exit in this universe, wormholes may be possible via the Casimir effect.

"The Casimir effect shows that quantum field theory allows the energy density in certain regions of space to be negative relative to the ordinary vacuum energy, and it has been shown theoretically that quantum field theory allows states where the energy can be arbitrarily negative at a given point,[43] Many physicists such as Stephen Hawking,[44] Kip Thorne,[45] and others[46][47][48] therefore argue that such effects might make it possible to stabilize a traversable wormhole."

So take two pairs of charged plates that create a stable wormhole between them. Park one in orbit about the Sun and take the other with you on your starship travelling some fraction of c. Upon arrival decades or centuries later (assume the crew is a generational ship, uses cold hibernation or experinces time dilation) the second pair is parked in orbit around the alien star to complete another leg of a wormhole "subway system". These stable wormholes would be to a vast galactic empire what paved roads were to the Roman Empire.

Daniel Duffy said...

Casimir wormholes also allow the possibility of a functioning time machine.

In the first example, take the plates parked in orbit around our Sun and accelerate them to 99.99999999999999999% of c. If this is done (say on January 1, 2500) it will effectively always be this date at our end of the wormhole.

A spaceship entering the other end of the wormhole (say on January 1, 3000) will emerge instantly at the other end 500 years earlier. But not sooner than that because the time travel opening did not exist prior to this date.

Now a suppose we find the remains of an ancient, extinct alien civilization who developed this technology which is still functioning long after its Creators have died out. Suppose that they have a wormhole time machine created in on January 1, one billion bc located only a 100,000 light years away.

So our exploration ship could travel through the alien wormhole time machine, emerge circa 1 billion bc and travel back to Earth at nearly light speed so that the crew experiences hardly any passage of time due to time dilation.

That crew could time their arrival (and time spent at nearl light speed) to visit any era of Earth's existence or human history (essentially the plot of "City on the Edge of Forever").

Then they can kill Hitler.

Daniel Duffy said...

Phasers and photon torpedoes? Not exactly. But the next generation of US Navy destoyers will be armed with the next best thing - battle lasers and railguns.

Teleportation? Not possible. But telepresence technology already exists:

Shields? Under development to protect crews from space radiation:

Replicators? They're called 3D printers:

Medical tricorders? Soon to be on the market:

How cool is that?

Instead of the old Chines curse, "May you live in intersting times", how about a new American blessing:

"May you live in cool times."

Todd Green said...

One of my favorite futurist sites, since you asked...

Paul451 said...

From the last post:

"Private fire and police is not a good idea as the public good is lost. Suppose your neighbor decides to free ride on the fire service. Do the firemen put out the neighbors blaze to save your house, or watch it burn down setting your house alight too?"

This exists within the US. Some fire-depts are essentially semi-private. If you don't pay a fee to the host town, you are indeed unprotected. There have been many cases of the dept being called out to a fire, wetting down and protected the neighbouring homes which have paid (and only those which have paid), while allowing the non-paying home to burn. Most police departments are "hired" by the community, and have a different electoral system to the civil government.

[Back in the day there were many private fire depts. They were notorious for running what were essentially extortion rackets on local businesses. Using arson to drum up business. Sign up with us or your building will mysteriously burn. It's why cities started to form their own fire departments. Same happened with early US experiments with private police.]

The story about the business group that tried to gerrymander a voterless district (and accidentally left one student resident as the sole voter), is another example of this. An apparently completely arbitrary group has the authority to levy property and sales taxes in a region, which already has many other layers of authorities also with the power to levy taxes and make bylaws.

School districts, fire districts, mosquito prevention districts, home-owners associations. As an outsider, the bizarre overlapping jurisdictions of different tax-authorities in the US is already too close to the libertarian wet-dream. It's funny that the lesson so many American's draw is that it's the "democracy" part that's the problem. And that Alfred thinks he would have less to worry about if his son was subject to a few hundred unregulated private police guilds in his city.

The US is "democracy" as would exist in Hell's "Department of Ironic Punishments". As if one of the US Founding Fathers made a pre-Revolutionary wish on an evil Genie's lamp that the US "become a real democracy"...

raito said...

If the FFRF's message isn't 'hate God', it's awful close from what I see of their actions locally (and I'm in the epicenter). I dislike zealots of every stripe, and they're some of the worst. They seem unable to distinguish between secular and non-secular.

I particularly disagree with their stance that any display of religion on public property is a no-no when such displays are open to any group who applies.

It's not that I think that someone shouldn't be watching for the separation of church and state, but I really wish it wasn't those guys.

Alex Tolley said...

@raito "I particularly disagree with their stance that any display of religion on public property is a no-no when such displays are open to any group who applies."

In practice that isn't true, as we've seen with a number of cases (Judge Moore and 10 Commandments in Court House), and the notorious recent case of trying to erect a satanic statue.

@Paul451 - I am aware of private fire departments, and even a recent story of they actions in allowing a non-covered house to burn. I didn't know about the extortion racket, but it makes sense. What I was questioning was whether they would act sensibly to restrict fire spread, or just be stupid about it. You can imagine the idiocy of not putting out town house blaze in San Francisco and allowing adjoining houses to catch fire.

Alex Tolley said...

The success of teh AcA is pretty unequivocal, and even better there was a natural experiment between states that had exchanges and those that refused to do so. We'll see what happens now as SCOTUS ruled that states must facilitate coverage.

The ACA still has issues with network coverage. I've seen practices that publicly deny service to ACA insured. Personally I think the ACA success should be used to get full coverage via a Medicare for all, and use this to seriously bend the curve on H/C and drug costs. Insurers should just be allowed to offer extra coverage for private treatment and procedures not generally covered for cost reasons. I'd also like to see much more emphasis on pre-natal care as the US has an abominable record with infant mortality, preventable.

Jeff B. said...

Regarding the ongoing discussion on the merits of public (governmental) vs. private services...

I work in a Federal agency that underwent drastic privatization of a governmental function. I viewed this from both the (newly created) contractor side as an unwilling RIF recipient, and several years later from the Federal oversight. What many advocates of privatization fail to realize is something Dr. Brin points at indirectly; to successfully use contractors, any government entity must invest significant resources into oversight.

Many agencies fail to realize the essential conflict in values and goals between them and the contractors; I was privileged to sit as an employee-elected member of the sole contractor, and immediately realized that while the agency's goals were there, they were second-tier to costcutting and maximizing profit.

Many contracting agencies fail to dedicate proper resources to oversight, thinking only that "contractors" = major cost reduction. The result is often disaster; staffs of 50 inspectors and integrity folks cannot possibly watch multiple contractors with staffs of thousands. Depending on the function, successful oversight could require nearly as much staff as the agency held prior to hiring contractors.

And an aside re: private fire depts, several of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels explain the lack or organized firefighting guilds because of the extortion temptation...

Jeff B. said...

"I was privileged to sit as an employee-elected member of the sole contractor"

Sorry, that should've been "employee-elected member of the board of directors of the sole contractor".

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Yes… CAISO dealt with that. Most Americans remember 2001 for 9/11. The folks at CAISO remember it for what ENRON and friends did. The wholesale market was redesigned a bit after that and then a lot a few years later. My last year there was 2009 when they pushed the final design change that was part of a big package.

Dismiss their work if you like, but if you don’t know the details of the change, what market problems were fixed, and what the other ISO’s are trying out in an ‘experimental’ arena, then I don’t think your point is made. What you’ve shown is more of a faith position than anything else. You BELIEVE it can’t be done. Prove me wrong.

David Brin said...

The ACA has flaws. Indeed, in abstract, I quite dislike it. There are much better potential systems for a service that is essentially non-fungible and and unlimited need. Health care is not a market system.

Still, the ACA's current flaws are actually far smaller than I expected. The policy wonk designers actually pre-handled lots of contingencies very well. And a good thing! Since our frozen political system is unable to do the natural and grownup thing -- examine the system 3-5 years later and pass amendments and tweaks to improve it. Not one suggested tweak has come out of the bilious whining against the ACA (which was their own damned plan) on the right. Murdoch wants all flaws retained, in hope that those flaws will cause the ACA to visibly "fail."
There is a word for such behavior and it is not "politics." The word is treason.

Anonymous said...

Isn't St. Louis in the north? And isn't Kileen, Texas the home of the huge Ft. Hood Army base? And isn't Fayetteville, NC the home of the huge Ft. Bragg Army base? Not exactly Bubbavilles.

Alex Tolley said...

CAISO is an example of a model that overcomes the separate systems inefficiencies that results in natural monopolies for power supply. I did once read that there is a US town that has 2 suppliers and delivers via 2 different distribution systems of wires.

We know that Enron was able to game the system to extract excess profits from the system and did so with the approval of the Bush appointed administrator at FERC. I will grant that CAISO is coming up with some innovations for suppliers that might be useful. However, we also know that utility bills by PG&E are rising faster than inflation and that this shouldn't be happening is there was effective competition in the power supply. This may not be CAISO's fault, but rather the regulatory captured PUC, but I don't know enough about the complexities of the system to untangle the problem.

BTW, I was looking to Solar City for solar panel installation and they still do not let you draw power when the grid is down. The only way to do this is to install batteries and draw from them, but this still looks like an expensive solution today. Hopefully in a few years battery storage may decline enough to make this feasible - perhaps with cheaper materials or a different technology (flow perhaps?).

Alfred Differ said...

Look to your PUC for competition issues here in CA. Market rules currently protect small users from seeing real prices, so the distribution market isn't really a market. CAISO addresses the wholesale market, but some of the equivalent organizations back east go farther.

What Enron and others actually did is game the bidding environment by playing with the supply. They brought generation offline because they could and that impacted the auctions for what remained online. It's a neat trick and wasn't illegal, but it's also another form of cheating.

Our governor got a little panicky too, unfortunately. There is nothing quite like being under attack to move your emotions.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Jeff has it right

Privatizing a "natural monopoly" like power or water only works IF
You have a rock solid oversight

The only problem with this is it is effectively another layer and cost money

Even if the private concern can reduce costs a bit the addition of the oversight layer completely eliminates any benefit to the consumer

What we end up with is simple
When services are privatized the cost to the consumer rises

There are a few - Alfred talks about CAISO
where oversight and a heavy legislative hand manages to keep the sharks from biting the consumers too much
If you want to talk about the "cost to the consumer" of operations like CAISO then you need to add the cost of the oversight and legislation which is normally paid through local government and not directly by the consumers

Overall privatization is some sort of religion or a scam - It always costs the consumer more and benefits the sharks

Jumper said...

I had the ugly experience working as a private oversight manager. The whole business model is flawed; we competed with companies who were willing to ignore construction code violations and still write them off (perjure themselves!) as completed per code. We had to work in a compromised position. The city would be vastly better off if they performed the entire function themselves. The revenue stream would be exactly the same but instead of paying my (former) employer, the city inspectors departments would receive the fees.

Jumper said...

I need to point out that power and water don't need to be public but the transmission systems for these are what are the natural monopolies. (TV in the cable-only zones/era is also one, but the FCC takes care of the non-cable spectrum natural monopoly. And of course I get my internet via cable so internet TV doesn't help affect that much.)

Alfred Differ said...

I'm not convinced I know what a 'natural monopoly' is or that they exist. Sounds a bit to me like the argument that natural governance requires Kings and rigid hierarchy. Even transmission systems don't have to be monopolies, but I'm willing to accept a market demand that they be so. Obviously, I'd rather not have multiple sewage systems attaching to my house when I intend to pay for only one of them at a time. The same applies to water and power and who knows what else. If you all WANT one transmission system, that's fine, but it still doesn't have to be state owned and operated. The state can and should delegate that power to a non-profit charged with managing the asset and creating a market for providers and consumers. I don't even mind if the market aggregates consumers behind service groups who play in the wholesale market that remains, but there is no naturalness to any of this. We arrange it as we prefer it to be.

Regarding contractor oversight, it's not that surprising that civilian agencies don't know how to do this. There's no money to be made doing it right, so talent hires on elsewhere. From my experience, the money savings for government come from the fact that we contractors aren't as unionized. You can hire and fire us fairly easily if your contracting office has any brains. Obviously, we are profit motivated, so there is a bit of a conundrum having us serve people who aren't also profit motivated. They aren't even risking their own money.

Jonathan S. said...

St. Louis "in the north"??

The northern part of Missouri, maybe - but if you try to tell any Missourian they're Northerners, you might have a fight on your hands...

David Brin said...

Anon: Missouri is in Red America. And are you disowning the military, now? Quibble however much you like. But the bruise gets hammered and hammered. There are arguably no metrics of general wholesomeness of behavior in which red states and counties (except Mormon ones) don’t do worse than average for blue ones. And I will STOP mentioning this when Huckabee/Limbaugh & friends stop outrageously claiming (screeching) the diametric damned-lie opposite.

Till they halt that Goebbels-level Orwellian-level Big Lie utterly-opposite-to-true assertion, I'll be here answering with the truth.

Jumper said...

Alfred, I should explain that the city government didn't pay us. The law/regulation is that the developer paid us to inspect the work of the contractors. If the government had paid us to enforce the will of the people, it would have been a lot smoother! In addition, we had no power to halt work. The city has that power, did not cede it to us.

Alex Tolley said...

Here is an explanation of "natural monopoly"

Alfred Differ said...

I’m not convinced commercializing police forces is an insane idea either. Doing it in one fell swoop certainly would be, but that’s the usual result of any change when we don’t take an incremental approach using pragmatism as a guide. Arguing this can’t work is a bit like arguing against democracy when most people poo-poo the idea. There are good reasons why it might be difficult, but we can probably work out many of them and cut over piecemeal if we decide to do it.

For example, consider property crimes and the role the police report plays. Kiln People shows how we might be tempted to decriminalize property crimes and leave them to the civil courts or adjudicators. There is no sense going in that direction unless we also intend to remove the state from writing reputable police reports of events. When the state intends no further action beyond the writing of the report, we should ask ourselves if there is another way. Could the parties involved in the ‘crime’ hire their own people to write reports? Could a reputation market serve well in judging the report writers when adjudication occurs? Hiring your own investigator who has a poor reputation wouldn’t be worth much no matter how glowingly he describes you. Adjudicators might be private too for many decisions.

There should be obvious limits on a private force’s options to coerce. They’d probably be similar to what we as individuals face today. We already have the option to arrest our fellow citizens if needed, but few of us know the rules for doing it right. If one does it wrong, one is guilty of false imprisonment which carries stiff penalties. A private police force would obviously have to have a good reputation and good training or we wouldn’t contract with it.

So… I’m unconvinced. The more trouble we have with police overstepping their powers, the more we should consider these options along with adoption of accountability rules.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: Thank you for the link, but it just helps me make my case. For example, consider the term ‘efficiency’ and how they measure it. What is it exactly? In thermodynamics, it has a precise definition as the ratio of the work done by an engine relative to the heat input. The meaning of ‘work’ requires one to know the purpose of the engine. In economics, the purpose of the engine (power transmission lines, sewer lines, etc) depends on a social agreement whereby we all effectively act as if we are one customer of one mind. The moment we do that, monopoly makes sense because we have CHOSEN to behave that way. If the agreement does not exist, efficiency cannot be defined except by imposing meaning upon those who disagree.

Economics is a wonderful field where we have lots of these terms that upon closer examination fail to be meaningful. For example, power transmission lines have a purpose of transferring generation to distribution nodes in the network if you are a consumer or a distribution agent. That is not the case if you are a different kind of agent and want to game the market as ENRON did. They benefited from inefficiency for a time, so their trading algorithms optimized for a different purpose and a different kind of efficiency. The so-called natural monopoly was revealed to be unnatural when a market cheater exploited us.

There IS a good argument to be made, though, for state involvement when the entry costs are high. I would still prefer the state delegate the power, however, to avoid politicizing the decisions. When there is serious money on the table, investment will be drawn toward influencing the decision makers. Constrain where those investments can be made by constraining the latitude decision makers have.

It is best to avoid too many assumptions about the naturalness of a market arrangement. Until you do, you’ll fail to build defenses against the cheaters who find your blind spots and exploit you like viral or bacterial agents do. Plan for any trick you can think of to create fair competition, though, and those bad agents will face live intelligences at the defenses. Competitors are motivated T-cells.

Alfred Differ said...

@jumper: Okay. That makes sense. You were 'captured overseers.'

David Burns said...

RE natural monopoly, technology is reducing the minimum efficient scale, allowing for more decentralization and experimentation. Improvements in distribution methods might also reduce the supposed inefficiency of redundant infrastructure. And redundancy has benefits as well as costs.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

That site - natural monopolies
Says - "If unregulated, and privately owned,the profits are likely to be excessive. In addition, the natural monopolist is likely to be allocatively and productively inefficient."

The key words are
If unregulated, and privately owned

So you either need to have it NOT privately owned OR you need another layer to "regulate" it

Private ownership leads to gouging the consumer or to an additional layer (that must be paid for) to control the sharks

Things like trains sharing the rails are just a fiddle to enable some of the sharks to have a bite

Privatization has been tried for many many services and in lots of countries
The failures are legion and the few successes are questionable at best

Can a private monopoly if run very well and properly regulated work better than a badly run state enterprise

Can a private monopoly if run very well and properly regulated work better than a moderately well run state enterprise

The solution to a state enterprise not running well is to fix the bloody thing - not privatize it

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: You point out more of the squishy terms. 'Unregulated' generally suggests we haven't written any legislation prohibiting behaviors. There are no markets, however, that are unregulated in the common law sense. We all impose our ethics to some degree on market participants other than ourselves. There might not be a regulation specifying punishment for a particular kind of fraud, but I can always go pick up a gun and shoot someone for wronging me and my family. We tend to write the legislation to stop exactly that kind of response.

I get how monopolies tend toward excessive profits, but might disagree with many as to why. When competition vanishes, prices no longer carry meaningful information about the scarcity and uses of their underlying commodities. Instead, they describe the pain points of consumers of those commodities. Competition is required to know the value of something relative to something else. Without it, all you learn is how much someone is willing to pay before they'll shoot you and take it instead.

I'm going to disagree with you on your last claim, though. Can a private monopoly if run very well and properly regulated work better than a moderately well run state enterprise? I think the answer is 'We don't know until we try.' There is a serious problem for both entities. Centralizing information for proper planning is often impossible and even when it is, it might run counter to the personal interests of those involved. Besides, any badly run organization is obviously inferior, so no comparison is necessary. Fixing any organization is worth trying.

I'm with you about avoiding privatization if someone is hyping it as a fix-all solution. They are probably snake-oil salesmen and should be run out of town. That doesn't mean I want to defend the state run agency, it's just that I'm tempted to hang the hucksters who would exploit our frustration. 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

'We don't know until we try.'

But we have tried - multiple times - how many bites should we take out of this cherry?

IMHO we have tried this so often and failed so often that the default should be a state owned and operated organization and the burden of proof should be on anybody proposing privatization as to why this privatization is different

Alfred Differ said...

Okay... trying to be on topic briefly now... 8)

My personal experience with atheists and agnostics is that the growing number in the US is with the group of people who prefer to keep such matters private. They take the Protestant position that one does not need a formal church to be saved and progress toward the logical conclusion. They do their thinking and deciding themselves and adopt a sliding position that starts with "don't bother me" and finishes with "I have it worked out, so... really... don't bother me."

There also appears to be a growing segment of us who just don't care. We get lumped in with the "don't bother me" crowd because to outward appearances we are the same. We aren't, though. We finish with "There is nothing to work out... that I can work out."

I'm in the later group, but I've found it best not to rub anyone's nose in it. Many Americans stick to a belief that this is a private matter to be shared only with those who obviously want to share. Even my Catholic friends tend keep these things private within their sub-community.

Best argument I've seen for keeping religion out of our government came from one of my Catholic friends. He pointed out he already knew about theocracy and didn't want another. He's a firm believer and happy about it, so I just smiled and thought to myself 'amen.'

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: No. We don't know. We DO know a number of dumb ways to try and shouldn't repeat those no matter how many snake-oil products are offered. We also know that socialism fails miserably... and why. What we don't know is a universal statement about what it takes to make state agencies perform. You are making a faith statement when you argue they are better.

We have a pretty good idea of how monopolies form, but there are competing narratives explaining why.

We have a pretty good idea for how bureaucracies wind up serving their own interests, but there are competing narratives explaining why. Solutions for fixing errors depend on why they happened, so it seems obvious to me that we must avoid universals.

Remember you are talking to a classical lib here. I'll place the burden of proof on those who demand state involvement and quite Adam Smith and F.A. Hayek to support me. There are good arguments for state involvement and I'll listen to them, but I'll reject nonsense about 'natural' monopolies and squishy terminology.

Duncan Cairncross said...

We also know that socialism fails miserably...

Except where it has actually been tried - Sweden, Norway, Germany.....

Alfred Differ said...

Nonsense. All of them try a modified type of socialism where markets still determine some of the prices. They work well where their markets function. We don't know if they work well in comparison to market options elsewhere.

Von Mises showed where the socialist calculation fails. Even the academics surrendered on his point.

F.A. Hayek showed where the planning calculation fails and must fail. Popper drove it home without a direct reference to it when he argued for an indeterminate universe.

Socialism cannot work. What we have are pseudo-market and monopoly constructs.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Now a suppose we find the remains of an ancient, extinct alien civilization who developed this technology which is still functioning long after its Creators have died out. Suppose that they have a wormhole time machine created in on January 1, one billion bc located only a 100,000 light years away.

So our exploration ship could travel through the alien wormhole time machine, emerge circa 1 billion bc and travel back to Earth at nearly light speed so that the crew experiences hardly any passage of time due to time dilation.

That crew could time their arrival (and time spent at nearl light speed) to visit any era of Earth's existence or human history (essentially the plot of "City on the Edge of Forever").

Then they can kill Hitler.

Except that they can't, because they didn't.

Unless you are contending that they could have secretly killed Hitler on April 30, 1945. But really, what would have been the point of doing it then?

This is the problem I have with backwards time travel outside of fiction. It is not possible for someone from the future to appear in my living room at this moment, because I'm looking right at it and he's not appearing.

I can almost believe in time travel to the future, but it would have to be like in Asimov's "Pebble in the Sky"--a one-way trip.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

I am aware of private fire departments, and even a recent story of they actions in allowing a non-covered house to burn. I didn't know about the extortion racket, but it makes sense. What I was questioning was whether they would act sensibly to restrict fire spread, or just be stupid about it. You can imagine the idiocy of not putting out town house blaze in San Francisco and allowing adjoining houses to catch fire.

You've it exactly upon why it makes sense to think of some functions as being for the benefit of the community rather than simply for individuals. In a crowded city, "putting out the neighbor's fire" is almost as essential to me as it is to the neighbor. Likewise, being surrounded by sick people who can't afford medical care is a public health danger to me as well, even if my health insurance is paid up.

Jumper said...

You might find it instructive to research the interesting role of the Confederate Supreme Court.

Alex Tolley said...

Efficiencies are a bit of a red herring in the above thread. PUBLIC goods and services need to be aligned woth the public needs, not the subset of shareholders in a provate company. Of course govt bureaucracies may not align their interests , but at least their mission us to do so.

What i find is that privatizers generally try to reframe the argument to an economic one rather than a social one. Thus education is seen as only a private value and should be paid for by the beneficiary. Dame with H/C. Which goods and services should be considered public can be argued over, but to me we should keep private companies away from these services unless we can be sure their interests can be aligned with the public. Competition between suppliers does not align interests, just ensures that monopoly profits can be stymied.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Socialism cannot work
And neither can "Capitalism"
If you are dealing with pure "isms"

What we have is various mixtures of the systems and the more "socialist" mixtures appear to work better than the more "capitalist" mixtures

Unless you mean "Central Planning" cannot work?
Which has nothing to do with socialism

David Brin said...

Even Robert Heinlein called for socialism in realms of life where competition makes no sense. In one novel his wiseman character says "of course food and basic shelter are free! What kid of people do you take us for!"

I have offered a simple test. Does the state intervention work towards increasing the net number and fraction of the population that can and will feel knowingly and confidently empowered and eager to compete in some productive or creative or service or product-making or truth-seeking area?

There is a long list of "socialisms" that pass that test. Infrastructure and maintenance, mass education and health and anti-poverty interventions. R&D. Market regulation to ensure honesty and anti-monopoly and other interventions to promote effective competition.

Where the left collapses is when they try to use socialism in areas that are inherently better if left competitive... life (mostly) art. Art in schools? Fine; builds the corps of talented competitors. After which art is and should be the most cutthroat competitive and unsubsidized of all human activities.

It gets dicier in re market manipulation that "chooses winners and losers." But society has a right to peer ahead and apply a thumb on the scale so that some things that have long term consequences cost more... e.g. coal.

David Brin said...

Larryhart there are a dozen or so standard time travel loop systems. By now we all know them all....

Paul SB said...

Here's a story I heard on the radio this morning about a program to reduce teen pregnancy in Colorado that was originally funded by private money, and though it was spectacularly successful, when the private money dried up the Republican leadership refused to provide state funding, in spite of how much money it was saving the state.

It kind of goes with Dr. Brin's theme for this post.

Jonathan S. said...

Private police forces? That may sound wonderful from a strictly Libertarian-philosophical viewpoint - but where the hell does it leave someone like me, who is too broke to "contract with a reputable police force"? Are you really so devoted to your philosophy that you are willing to accept the poor becoming perpetual victims, unable to garner even the least relief because they can't afford to pay a law-enforcement agency?

And if you are, I submit that you've wandered from "political philosophy" into the tangled brambles of "theology", with your faith that your privatized services will save you when the poor rise against you...

Tony Fisk said...

Private police forces? Only in America!

Tony Fisk said...

A little something* for those who lie awake, shivering through the long nights of a nuclear winter, wondering how it might have been had right wing authoritarian rulers come to dominate the World.

*Basically a parochial, left wing rant coming on the heels of a monumental cock-up by Australian Border Force. The results of the study may be of interest, though.

Daniel Duffy said...

Larry "I can almost believe in time travel to the future, but it would have to be like in Asimov's "Pebble in the Sky"--a one-way trip"

It is already a proven fact - time dilation. The crew of a ship travelling at near light speed would only epxerience a a few moments while thousands or millions of years passed.

locumranch said...

As excited as I was by the possibility of attending the FiRe (Future in Review) conference this year, it only took the $6500 two-day conference attendance fee to drive home its purpose as 'Bohemian Grove' equivalent for a rich oligarchic elite, 'Choosing the Future Today to Maintain Corporate Dominance into the Indefinite Future', so I will most likely not attend as I prefer the slack-jawed non-elite company of my red-stated brethren who owe their proud syphilitic legacy to the Tuskegee Study.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this infamous product of a historically-privileged intellectual elite, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment was a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African-American men in Alabama. This could explain, methinks, why Alabama "has more cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia than (any other) large US cities".

It also makes me wonder what other fine surprises the FiRe elite has in store for the rest of us.


Alex Tolley said...

@Tony - I was going to comment that the simulation is not going to reflect reality, then I read the section about refugees...

Interestingly we are seeing right now which nations are helping and which hindering. Surprisingly Germany is on the helping side (at least officially, even as there are protesters). Once the UK would have been a helper, but no more apparently, as "Little Englanders" mentality plus austerian policies are denying help.

Back in the 1980's the BBC(?) had a drama about a refugee crisis from Africa, that ended with massed landings of Africans in France as the authorities dithered about turning back the ships or worse. IIRC it was very prescient about the situation we are seeing today, but without the wars and political repression worsening the situation.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - I think most of us are well aware of the Tuskegee experiment. I see this very much as a product of its time - authoritarian actions done on innocent citizens. It would be criminal if done today as informed consent must be given, and deliberately harming subjects would be verboten.

But isn't this authoritarian behavior desired by a fraction of red state citizens that are supporting GOP candidate policies, especially Trump. And what about Christian fundamentalists that want to strip assets from atheists and deport them to Siberia? Aren't we getting rather close to interwar Germany with these desires? Read that link from Tony Fist and at least consider that this is what the "red states" want. While "end of times" beliefs are scary, they are not new. I well recall the effect on Europeans when Reagan said he would invoke nuclear war against the USSR, but it was OK because Christians would have a heaven to go to. Talk about dismaying to non-believers. It was the sort of talk one expected from Jihadists, but coming from the mouth of the US president. It was a big topic of conversation at the time, particularly scary when it was revealed that the so-called dual-key for US nukes on aircraft stationed in Britain, weren't. The Thatcher government was somewhat embarrassed to have that revealed despite the assurances that had been given at the time.

Jumper said...

The attitudes which led to the Tuskegee study have been fought by progressives for decades and more, but remain strongest in the areas of bigoted yahoos so beloved by locumranch. Is there such a thing as "logic salad?"

David Brin said...

Riiiiight. A tech-business conference that's completely open and costs --- wow! -- $6500 is a Bilderburg secret masters meeting! Whoopeeeeeee!

locumranch said...

Riight!! I guess Poll Taxes & Jim Crow Laws that discriminate by the imposition of financial barriers are similarly OPEN and egalitarian.

Alex & Jumper: There is no appreciable difference between right-wing (conservative) and left-wing (progressive) authoritarianism.

Also, in reference to Paul_SB's comment about the Colorado program to reduce teen pregnancy that was "spectacularly successful", I was personally involved with this study and it does not mean what he thinks it means. The teen population involved was disproportionately (more than 85%) Hispanic -- a population that traditionally respects encourages & 'plans for' pregnancy in association with the traditional 'Quinceanera' celebration -- meaning that this "spectacular success" reflects the destruction of Hispanic Family Value traditionalism (aka "Diversity') followed by the outside imposition of idealised Blue Progressive Morality.


Jumper said...

How bigoted is that? As if Latino culture is stuck in the dark ages and modernity is reserved for Anglos. Twisted and malevolent.

locumranch said...

I agree:

It is twisted and malevolent. It should make you angry!! Who are these damn progressives and why do YOU support their RACIST propaganda about the 'undesirability' of teen pregnancies?

These are the same 'progressives' who gave us the Tuskegee study.

matthew said...

Hmm, anyone that thinks "both parties are the same" in America might benefit from reading this:

The new Justice Department guidelines for using stingrays to capture cell phone activity now call for warrants to be issued before stingrays are used, and all non-associated data to be destroyed in 20 days. Also required for any agency that cooperates with a DoJ probe.

Anyone care to guess if this development would have taken place in a Republican administration? Hearty laugh.

And, if lolcomranch really is involved with the Colorado birth control events and not just lying about his background as I suspect...? I'm utterly horrified for his patients given his statements here and before about the "desirability" of teenage pregnancies. Not just raving nuts, but actively evil.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - you are trying to imply that the birth control program was forced on teenagers, whereas in reality is was an offered choice, removing the cost barrier. It was successful in reducing UNWANTED pregnancies. Conversely, not supporting this program is REDUCING choice.

Why should it be a government funded program. Because unwanted pregnancies are a public bad. They reduce opportunities for education, reduce earnings and hence taxes, require government programs to pay extra welfare services, and so forth, which affects all tax payers.

The conservative response? Reduce welfare payments to support these women and children. The extreme left can be authoritarian, but it is conservatives who are demonstrably so in the current environment. I don't suppose you also want to deny various citizens teh vote, including those pesky, democratic leaning women?

raito said...

Alex Tolley,

The Moore case isn't anything like what I'm writing about.

And the ACLU is not the FFRF.

Alex Tolley said...

@raito - my point was that all religions are not treated equally with regard to public displays. Could a judge put some text from the Koran in a courthouse without a major outcry? Far too many people think the

US was founded as a Christian country and will not tolerate other religions or displays of other religious symbols, especially on public property.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: No red herrings intended. I’m just pointing out squishy terms and then trying to show that they are. What exactly is a public good if it doesn’t benefit private individuals? At some level, we find the atomic beneficiaries. Who are they? What are ‘public needs’ if not private needs of many atomic entities? Very squishy. People toss terms like that around as if they were speaking on behalf of the public. No one has the ability to do that. We just pretend the usurpers can.

I get your complaints about privatizers reframing the arguments, but be prepared for the fact that many of us reject this ‘social’ extension of a lot of definitions. Education IS of private value. Its appearance as a public value is BECAUSE it is of private value to many, many people. There is no entity that can receive the public benefit except the atomic entities in a society. Communities are not even remotely atomic.

Duncan Cairncross said...


I really do not see the issue
Education is BOTH of private value - the educated get better life
AND of Public value because;
The "Educated" provide more value to society and education reduces the negative values of crime and deprivation

Most good things benefit both society and the individual
So when looking at a Cost/Benefit both benefits should be assessed
And if the society gets a positive benefit (more benefit than cost) saying that society should not pay for it because the individuals should is a "Dog in the manger" attitude

Alex Tolley said...

Public Good: "In economics, a public good is a good that is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others.[2] Gravelle and Rees: "The defining characteristic of a public good is that consumption of it by one individual does not actually or potentially reduce the amount available to be consumed by another individual"."


Public health is a classic example. Sewage treatment benefits everybody, whether they pay for it or not, and importantly, if everybody is healthy, the risks of disease transmission is lowered for the population. It therefore makes sense for this to be a public utility paid for by a tax or fee, rather than a discretionary purchase which would reduce its utility and value.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex
"The defining characteristic of a public good is that consumption of it by one individual does not actually or potentially reduce the amount available to be consumed by another individual".

That is a weird definition - I can't think of anything where that is the case
There are limits in the plant and in the pipes - if somebody uses some of that capacity then there is less capacity left for somebody else
Education - the same

I agree about the benefits to society of things like sewage and education
- but that definition is for the birds

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Fair enough. Let me try again to put my finger on the pain point. Suppose we identify education as having public value. Few are going to disagree, right? Suppose, though, it wasn’t. Who would get to say it wasn’t? With private value, it is clear who gets to say so. Who among us says so for a supposed public value? How many are needed? A majority? Super-majority? Minority? The ‘society’ that isn’t benefiting doesn’t have a spokesperson that can actually know the answer. They can think they know, but they might be wrong. If many are needed, how many? We protect the liberty of very small minorities. Should we when they disagree about the value the ‘public’ receives?

I rarely argue against public good and I’m not really doing it here. What I’m pointing out is the term is squishy because we imagine that there is some entity called ‘public’ and it knows what is best for it. The truth is that we usurp the identity individually and then do our best in the role. How many of us have to complain before we reconsider? How do we deal with group-think? Are there options in delivering a public good that get roughly the same effect while minimizing the minority of complainers? Does the water distribution system REALLY have to be owned by the state or have we simply grandfathered in a truly ancient assumption?

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: That is indeed an odd definition. It looks more to me like the meaning of 'externality' with the way you apply it to immunization and herd immunity.

Alfred Differ said...

Heinlein’s wiseman character could say that in a culture that is rich enough make shelter and food costs a small impact to income earners who get taxed to pay for it all. We are fast heading in that direction, so I have no issue as long as a super majority agrees this is the moral thing to do. The progressives among us have to be persuasive like they have been in the past when they got us to end slavery, establish a social safety net, pay for basic education and immunization, and electrified rural America. It can be done, but need NOT be done through state agencies every time.

Goal: Increase the net number and fraction of the population that can and will feel knowingly and confidently empowered and eager to compete in some productive or creative or service or product-making or truth-seeking area.

I couldn’t agree more. When a super majority agrees, you all are welcome to raid my wallet, but I want a say in how the state intervention occurs. I’m not asking for control, but I am demanding a bit of truth-searching when it comes to the faith many progressives place in government. I'll work with a super-majority when it comes to defining what is right and wrong most of the time, but I rarely trust them to have thought out the many ways to accomplish a goal, let alone establishing alternate social experiments to see what works.

Alex Tolley said...

Public Good: "ublic goods have two distinct aspects: nonexcludability and nonrivalrous consumption. “Nonexcludability” means that the cost of keeping nonpayers from enjoying the benefits of the good or service is prohibitive. If an entrepreneur stages a fireworks show, for example, people can watch the show from their windows or backyards. Because the entrepreneur cannot charge a fee for consumption, the fireworks show may go unproduced, even if demand for the show is strong."

Source: The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, written by Tyler Cowen

Worth reading the full piece for examples that meet or don't meet the definition, plus some solutions (that I think Alfred will like).

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
We can't operate purely on individual benefit
An individual human is cat food,
Only by operating as a society do we get to survive never mind thrive the way we do now

"Who among us says so for a supposed public value? How many are needed? A majority? Super-majority?"
That is a very good question - but for most "public good" it is not an issue
Things like education, sewage, water
Would get massive super-majorities if the question was asked
When something gets down to nearly 50/50 we should take the "conservative" approach with those wanting a change to show support

Does the water distribution system REALLY have to be owned by the state?

Well if you have a question you perform an experiment (or several) and analyze the results

A lot of countries have "experimented" with private water and sewage systems with very predictable results
Lots of money going to the sharks
Poor consumer results
Increased costs to the consumer

There could be a better answer than state ownership (city, region, state, country) but so far the other solutions have not shown that

At this stage we should need a lot of convincing before trying the failed experiment again
Just think about building a Battleship for your navy - a good idea?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Interesting article,

But it is a bit one sided

"The imperfections of market solutions to public-goods problems must be weighed against the imperfections of government solutions. Governments rely on bureaucracy, respond to poorly informed voters, and have weak incentives to serve consumers."

Private companies also
rely on bureaucracy
respond to poorly informed customers
have weak incentives to serve consumers

The "negatives" of government are also present in all large companies

So private solutions to "Public Good Issues" have to contend with the issues that governments have PLUS the issues of private companies
sharks and profiteering

Alfred Differ said...

Cowen is no slouch. I have one of his books and listen to him speak now and then. You won't see him being supportive of state run services very often, though. The fireworks show described would be delivered to the public because the service provider can't stop it effectively, but the 'good' doesn't belong to the public. It is a public good in the form of a gift offered by one private entity to nameless private consumers. Inducing the 'gift' is often the work of a state entity, but not always.

Maybe someone is confusing the meanings of 'good' here. In economics terms, it is a tradable processed commodity. In moral terms... well that's obvious. The production of a public good doesn't always have to be good. Draw up a cartoon with someone's prophet on it, distribute it, and see the proof arrive in the form of hate mail.

David Brin said...



Jumper said...

Human evolution and neoteny is what makes teen pregnancy kill so many women historically. It's not a matter of opinion. I wouldn't trust a misogynist's input on these matters. It boils down to ignorance and emotional problems.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: The Rand followers argue for operating on the basis of individual benefit. I don’t. That’s why I refer to the ‘atomic’ entity. For an admitted oversimplification try this on for size. Bachelor males tend to think for themselves until they marry and father families. They are atomic until they surrender part of their sovereignty for their family. At that point, the family is atomic. I WILL argue for recognizing that atomic thinkers tend not to share their goals with others unless it benefits them in trade, and even then they only share some of them. That lack of sharing is what shapes the rules and success rates of our various markets. Even isolated families are cat food in a modern society, but most avoid isolation and manage to coordinate well enough through markets and they do NOT surrender more sovereignty than needed. What they almost never do is share enough information (wartime is an exception) to make it possible to define the goals of a community, thus the efficiency of economic processes.

That we operate collectively in modern times is a given. HOW we operate that way is NOT. The vast majority of what we do never passes through a state entity. The information is never given to them. They make none of the decisions. Most of it passes in and out of our social atoms through our markets. Few people think about that because it is mostly transparent and rarely an issue. Ask questions about the best way to do something, therefore, and one is asking a truly ignorant body. They aren’t dumb. It’s just that they’ve never given it much thought.

Your battleship analogy might misfire on you. There is a whole lot of private input the public never hears about. Eisenhower understood and issued a warning about it. Surface ships tend to be partnerships between private builders and government with the talent being shared. Do you think the high rate of ship building that helped us win WWII was state originated? Heh. I’ll never argue that government processes are always inferior. I’d be guilty of an unsupported faith statement. Life is never so simple. Arguing that we’ve already tried privatization experiments and they don’t work is equally simplistic. One of the greatest partnerships that demonstrates the value in trying is the ménage à trois involving government, industry, and academia that emerged from WWII.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
We are in agreement about "what happens" - but I disagree about the mix

"The vast majority of what we do never passes through a state entity."

This I believe is totally wrong - the majority of what affects us passes through "state entities"

Food/Drink - state controlled hygiene, and controls on content and processing
(IMHO not enough state control leading to excessive amounts of sugar in all manner of foods)
Housing - state controlled standards
Breathing - Some state control of pollution
Power - heavily regulated -
Water/Sewage - state controlled or regulated
Transport - Roads are built and operated by the state, motor vehicles are regulated
Education - mostly public - state

There is very little or nothing that is pure market

Jumper said...

The nuclear family may be made of atoms but it's not universal. Unattached males have strong social ties in most cultures that have been minimized in the West, especially North America. Some go so far as to suggest a conspiracy by capitalists to encourage that fragmentation. I don't think it's simple.

David Burns said...

My gratitude to Alex for pointing to the definition of "public good", at least according to econ jargon. I think the discussants have been using the phrase to mean diffent things.

It is very easy to exclude persons from education, so it is not a public good. Education is a private good with large positive externalities. Perhaps we can think of it as an input to some other hard to define public good. I assume all of us would prefer to live in a society full of well-educated persons, for both selfish and generous reasons.

According to the idea, since education has positive externalities, we may benefit from subsidizing it. I was going to try to think of a snarky way to bring up all the other baggage that we strap onto it which may reduce its effectiveness in educating students, but decided just to blurt this out. Adding a political element to education seems to add a tendency toward indoctrination and homogenization.

reason said...

David Burns
"Perhaps we can think of it as an input to some other hard to define public good."

Try democracy.

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