Thursday, December 06, 2018

Regulation - and freedom

We are heavily regulated… and it shows how free we are! 

Oh, if only we had civics education!  Take the standard libertarian complaint about how heavily regulated Americans are, listing the vast numbers of laws and rules on the books. (A number that nevertheless went down under VP Al Gore’s “Re-Inventing Government” reforms and always goes up under Republicans.)  

One explanation often offered is that modern life crams so many people close together in a technologically complex era. And yes, that's a contributing factor. But the impression then is that our ancestors must have been more “free.” 

You know it's not true. Just close your eyes and envision life for 99% of our ancestors, as serfs or peasants or laborers for an endlessly boring series of lords and estate-owners and priests and kings, whose power was capricious, overwhelming. You think you have it worse? Go attend any city council meeting and observe the impudent shouting by local citizens, arguing fearlessly and indignantly over one detailed rule or another. 

It’s true we face more rules, in the raw number of specific acts (mostly stupidities or crimes) that are forbidden! But there is a huge reason for the complexity of our laws. And that reason is not higher population or the extra intricacy of modern life, nor nanny-state meddling. 

The reason for the vast number of modern rules is that we are vastly more free.

== What??? ==

Consider that most human societies operated under one central (and zero-sum) principle:

“Whatever is not specifically allowed is automatically prohibited.” 

In the past, a cop or priest or thug would approach you and demand “Who gave you permission to do that?” Unless you were a lord, you needed to show it was allowed. There was no need for a lengthy rule-book. The law was: “ask for permission first, or die.” 

In sharp contrast from 99% of human history, our current fundamental (positive-sum) premise is the opposite:

“Whatever is not specifically prohibited is automatically allowed.” 

If no one is being endangered and no harm is being done, you can demand the state’s officials prove to you that it’s forbidden. (Granted, you should demand very carefully if you are black. Alas, still. Have that cell cam turned on. Hands-free. Then keep pushing gently at the envelope.)

That is why our laws are so complex! Because what’s forbidden is the exceptions to a generality that’s freedom. 

EXAMPLE: those of you who have taken flight school know about the “upside down wedding cake” control zone around airports where you must report in and obey traffic controllers. The complexity of the shape of this zone arises for a simple reason, and it is not that rule-makers are meddlesome fuss-budgets. 

The air traffic control zone is complex because regulators carved away every chunk of sky they did not need to regulate. Because they shared the same instinct. Most of those serving on the rule-making committees were themselves private pilots. And the thought was always: "Is it really necessary to report-in here?" (See it explained in detail.)

Yes, you are suffering cognitive dissonance, right now. Well, stretch your mind (it’s what you come here for!) Dig it again. U.S. air traffic maps are far more complex… more “regulated” … precisely in order that pilots should be more free.

There are zillions of such examples. Here's another place where I discuss the  "miracle of the four-way stop-sign intersection." And I wish every one of you would do the experiment that I recommend there. Go to the nearest 4-way stop sign intersection and just watch, for a while. And be amazed.

Again: “Whatever is not specifically prohibited is automatically allowed.” And hence, that means there must be more rules that specifically prohibit a lot of special cases amid a vast sea of liberty. A sea that you never notice, the way a fish ignores the water!

It's tragic we don’t teach Americans that this is their core assumption, so they never parse it out. And hence, you get libertarians who reflexively pour hate at the very civil servants and fairness rules that Adam Smith himself recommended, as counterweights against the real enemies of freedom across 6000 years - those kings and priests and owner-lords. Nor is it just Americans who would benefit from greater understanding. 

Alas, by neglecting to talk about such basic fundamentals, we raise generations who cannot acknowledge the freedoms they take lazily and ungratefully for granted.

== Restoring civics ==

Good news? See where some states have started to address the “Civics Gap” that actor and activist Richard Dreyfuss has long campaigned about, with his “Dreyfuss Initiative.”

Even better news, it is a mix of red and blue states, passing rules that high school students only graduate if they can pass the same test as an earnest immigrant seeking citizenship. 

Every foreign student at U.S. universities should be taught about this! How about requiring a civics class of every foreign undergrad and graduate student? China keeps close tabs on its students and plants a “Confucius Center” next to more than 100 U.S. universities, to maintain indoctrination. But we don’t need to convert anyone, just send them home with some ideas in their heads. 

Especially the fundamental meme that “Whatever is not specifically prohibited  -- and for reasonable reasons that were deliberated openly -- is automatically allowed.”  

What a memic seed! We need to start using our advantages in the peaceful battle of ideology between authoritarianism and the enlightenment experiment.

== Time to discredit Supply Side Voodoo? ==

I've elsewhere spoken about the passing of President George H. W. Bush. But let's put aside the gruesome horrors of his catastrophic foreign policies. I agree that domestically he was a gentleman and stark contrast to the present Republican Party. He sought to address problems through an art called "politics" and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, plus assertive measures that cleaned up our rivers and seriously reduced Acid Rain. And he was an archetype of courtesy and calm and decorum(!)  Moreover, while he knuckled-under to support the increasingly insane-predatory GOP tax policies, he did -- once -- give those policies their proper name -- "Voodoo Economics."

Impervious to evidence or facts, today's Republicans clutch so-called "Supply Side" theories that have been 100% disproved by 30 years of diametrically opposite outcomes. Take the latest news:

“Large pharma companies spend more on share buybacks to boost share prices (and stock options — the main way that executives get paid) than on research and development. Pfizer, for example, spent $139 billion on share buybacks and dividends in the past decade — and just $82 billion on research and development in the same period. (The chief executive’s pay was also a reported $27.9 million in 2017.)” See “Big Pharma is hurting drug innovation.”

Dig this. The GOP Tax Bill was one more Supply Side deliberate lie, promising that the trillions fed to corporations and their high-caste owners would go directly to R&D and productive capacity (increasing "supply.") Not a single Supply Side prediction or promise ever moved the needle even a little toward coming true. Ever! (No wonder they wage open war against science and all other fact professions.)

Instead, as Adam Smith himself predicted, gusher influxes of wealth to aristocracy do not get spent (by most) on research or production, but rather on "rentier" or rent-seeking asset bubbles. Except for an entrepreneurial few, it is always, always true.

And in handing over this asset-bubble fix, we the taxpayers are plunging into debt. (Deficits always accelerate during GOP rule and always at least start decelerating under democrats. Always.)

Now, as we see with today's news of an inverted yield curve and a stock market reversal, clearly one of these asset bubbles is about to crash. In this case, the bubble was inflated -- without generating any actual wealth, R&D or productive capacity -- by a trillion dollars spent on stock buybacks -- a practice that our parents in the Greatest Generation wisely outlawed... back "when America was great!"... and when the WWII generation's favorite human was named Franklin Roosevelt.

And finally....

The former Polish Defense and Foreign minister describes in detail the methods by which the Kremlin is - right now - waging active ‘hybrid wars’ of conquest against Russia’s neighbors, rebuilding the Soviet Empire.

California, already by far with the best election laws in the nation, is pioneering a new process in half a dozen counties that may offer a glimpse of the future.

Oh, but now the East Wing – the Office of The First Lady, which does not exist in any legal or Constitutional way – publicly calls for the firing of a national security advisor. OMG seriously? 

All I can do is repeat the ever-applicable mantra: “WODI!” or “What If (Michelle) Obama Did It?” What hypocrites.


Unknown said...

NB: California's new voting system is very similar to what's been in place in WA state (where I live) for more than a decade, with the addition of the voting centers. Here, everyone gets a ballot by mail a few weeks ahead of time and you can either mail it in or drop it at a drop box.

Mark Olbert said...

Thanx, Dr. Brin! This is, without a doubt, the best, most accessible refutation of the "we're overregulated!" meme I've ever seen. And, brilliantly, it achieves that goal by inverting the argument of those who assert that laws and regulation reduce freedom...which is both inspired, and wickedly, ironically funny :).

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin under the previous post:

The idea that any sane or decent residual Republican can see the tsunami of cheating, from the gerrymandering that kep the GOP in control of many legislatures to the bald power grabs we now see, and not purely vomit with disgust, persuades me that I was wrong. There may be no salvageable wing of moderates, Just Confederate traitors, down the line.

That's exactly what I mean by #ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans. I didn't start out feeling that way, but there's no more doubt to give the benefit of. That doesn't mean that they're all happy with Trump, or with the mischief that their party engages in, but when it comes to actually doing something about it, they're content that the cheating keeps those socialist Democrats out of office.

In Wisconsin, "We're just trying to keep the governor from enacting a liberal agenda," is stated as a legitimate justification for a power-grab. Today's Chicago Tribune quoted a legislative leader explaining that they've allowed the governor (that is Republican Scott Walker) too much power, and they're just restoring balance to the Force or whatever. Well, giving your own governor "unitary executive" power and then taking it back from the other side is not correcting a problem, but rather continuing the problem by other means.

Alfred Differ said...

I used to take temp jobs where they needed traffic flow data that could not be captured by those little hoses they draped across the intersection. For example, some left turn lanes are dual use. You can turn or go forward. When the city needed to know just how many turned left, they were trying to figure out how long the left turn lanes really needed to be. I got to sit at the corner or on a little hill with my counter and watch and capture what the pressure sensors couldn't do. (Nowadays it is probably possible to automate it all.)

One thing I got to see even at intersections with complex traffic light arrangements is that the rules people actually followed were far more complex than the lights would allow. Drivers looked at each other and made snap decisions without talk or hand signals. Drivers coped with pedestrians outside crosswalks, crossing at the wrong time, or simply needing more time. Little old granny got the time she needed, but the lazy-assed teenager didn't.

In later years I learned what was actually happening that I had already seen. Hayek explained it well in his work. There are rules and then there is legislation. Most of the rules we follow are entirely voluntary and not written down. In fact, it's probably not possible to write them all. Legislation happens when we have to write them. That's what happens in a common law nation where what is not expressly forbidden is allowed. Occasionally we have to write them down.

My libertarian inclination isn't about living a life of no rules. That simply doesn't work. What I ask of people is they take care before writing them down. Is the rule you want to write and turn into legislation or statue ACTUALLY in use among us in large enough numbers that we'd shrug our shoulders and accept it as a matter of course? Are you guilty of social engineering? Are the people who violate it doing actual harm? If we can avoid writing it down, we are effectively carving away what does not need regulating and leaving it to voluntary rule making. We ALL know how to make rules and negotiate them on the fly, so it's not like anarchy will set in. The lazy-assed teenager is told to move his butt while the old granny is given more time. No regulation is needed for her for that to happen and it probably wouldn't work even if we tried to write it down.

The best regulation enforces a rule already implemented voluntarily.

Jon S. said...

And sometimes what seems common sense has to be legislated anyway, because some people are such jerks they'd run Granny down for taking too long. Those cases tend to be more rare than many people think, though - under pressure, as in natural disasters, humans tend toward a basic decency, which is heartening.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Regulations and Laws are subtly different

Laws are the "Top Level" - they set the scene -

Regulations are the understrata - the details

And in both cases they should always start with a "Purpose Statement" - which should be the most important part of that Law and the part that the courts use when people argue about them

The USA has

The Preamble to the Constitution

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This was the “Purpose” Statement - and should be considered to be the MOST IMPORTANT PART of your Constitution

All other parts should be looked at through the “Lense” of the Preamble

In Order to;

Form a more perfect Union,

Establish Justice,

Insure domestic Tranquility,

Provide for the common defence,

Promote the general Welfare,

Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,

Everything else is just the laws to achieve those 6 things

Here (NZ) we try to do our laws like that - we START with a “Purpose Statement” - so that the courts know what we were trying to do when they have to interpret the laws

This also should mean that the "Legislators" should be producing short "Laws" - just a few pages

Under that level where the details that Dr Brin talks about are determined it should NOT be the job of the "Elected Leaders" - but of their subordinate "experts" - his pilots arranging the upside down wedding cake

If some legislation is 50 pages then it is NOT "Law" and should not be created by the Legislature -
The Legislature should be concentrating on the top level and the civil servants producing the regulations under that

David Brin said...

This stunningly blatant and illegal coordination between the NRA and the 2016 Trump campaign, including $30 MILLION - the largest outside group activity for Trump - is just the tip of the iceberg.

Trump saw that the money sources for the NRA were about to be revealed and he took measures to keep NRA fonors secret... a blatant violation of a dozen laws including the Hatch Act. Why? Everyone knows that much of the NRA's funding comes from Russia.

Bob Neinast said...

And supposedly when told that he needed to work down the debt, Trump (in 2017) responded by saying he wouldn't be around by then to be blamed.

David Brin said...

Yipe! And this is Tucker Carlson, calling Trump a failure and embarrassment.

Trump has one survival mode. He is under orders from McConnell. "We will try to protect you so long as you appoint judges from this list. That's it."

Tony Fisk said...

This sounds a bit like the Wiccan rede: "An it harm no one, do what thou will".
I'm not sure how far back that piece of advice was coined, however. Seems to have first been used by Alastair Crowley in 1904, and draws from John Stuart Mill's "Harm" principle in 1859. All of which could be said to be modern era.

If you want a break from your local political insanity, try some of ours.
The Australian Parliament just ended its final session for the year. The Morrison Govt pulled every filibuster trick in the Senate to prevent losing to a bill allowing asylum seekers stuck on the offshore concentration camps to be provided medical help.
They were so desperate to stop it that they were willing to pass on their egregious security bill forcing software companies to provide backdoor keys to "law enforcement".
The ALP then drop all their proposed amendments to allow the bill, as it stands, to become law.

ie. the bill any reasonable Australian wanted passing got blocked, and the one every expert in the field has been saying is an awful idea got a free pass, through the back door.

Face. Palm.

Zepp Jamieson said...

If Trump has lost Tucker Carlson, he's lost the trash right--and that was his base.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Quoth the Doctor: "This stunningly blatant and illegal coordination between the NRA and the 2016 Trump campaign, including $30 MILLION - the largest outside group activity for Trump - is just the tip of the iceberg."
We may get details on the Maria Butina plea deal tomorrow. She's the flame-headed Russian operative to represented the oddly American-sounding Russian group "Right to Bear Arms".

the hanged man said...

Larry Hart.


I have come to realize that Republicans are Christians who hate Christ’s message and patriots who hate democracy. They hate women and minorities and diversity in general.

The poor creatures don’t know themselves at all.

David Brin said...

It's worse. There are millions who are decent people and good neighbors and not-racists... who suckle "liberals are commies and you will ignore kremlin-aristo-mafias and recite the following magical incantations about science." The suck more desperately the more untenable their hovel in a decaying house of rats and rage and cheating becomes.

It's not that There are no good republicans. It's that their only recourse is to chant "all liberals are commies" while obeying propaganda concocted at the command of men who were all raised as communists.

Mike Will said...

I greatly admire the wave of science popularizers and apologists that really blossomed starting with Carl Sagan. Darwin might have launched that wave 160 years ago, but he was dragged down by his times. As H.G. Wells put it:
“Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe."

Man is a curious beast. Philosophy (in its original Greek sense) and rationality cannot be taught. Love of knowledge is an innate hominid characteristic that can only be squelched or kindled. Ivory towers cannot hold the line against The Dark Side of the Force. If education is only another church, then we're doomed. You're quite right Dr. Brin, people will often choose instead to "recite magical incantations about science". -General- scientific literacy is the ONLY way forward.

"Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is."
- Isaac Asimov

Larry Hart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

If Trump has lost Tucker Carlson, he's lost the trash right--and that was his base.

Hannity is still kissing his ass, though.

Joseph Discenza said...

I don't understand why you call supply-side theories "so-called." That's exactly what they are: Stimulus to increase the supply of some economic good. Those are exactly the policies we want in a supply-constrained economy, and that's exactly the reason they haven't worked since WWII. We live in an economy of abundance, so much food, so much stuff. Our economy is constrained not by supply, but by distribution, and arguably by labor ("There just aren't enough qualified workers," employers lament, although they usually mean, " ... who will work for the lousy wages I want to pay").

We need to apply those policies to the areas where we are constrained: job training, infrastructure, and even cash payments to those at the lowest end (who will spend nearly every penny they get), increasing demand.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

It's not that There are no good republicans. It's that their only recourse is to chant "all liberals are commies" while obeying propaganda concocted at the command of men who were all raised as communists.

Well, ok, but #ThereAreNoGoodRepublicansWhoAreHelpingInAnyMeaningfulWay comes off a bit awkward.

Larry Hart said...

Joseph Discenza:

I don't understand why you call supply-side theories "so-called." ...

We need to apply those policies to the areas where we are constrained: job training, infrastructure, and even cash payments to those at the lowest end (who will spend nearly every penny they get), increasing demand.

So you agree that what we need is demand-side stimulus.

Your argument with Dr Brin seems to be a semantic one. What he said was:

Impervious to evidence or facts, today's Republicans clutch so-called "Supply Side" theories that have been 100% disproved by 30 years of diametrically opposite outcomes.

You're hung up on his choice of dismissives, "so-called", by which you perceive him as denying that trickle-down theories really are "Supply-Side theories". No, he's being dismissive of the Republican argument that "Supply-Side theories" are exactly what is all situations, no less.

The adjective "so-called" is describing the theory that Supply-Side stimulus is what is needed today. It's not describing the depiction of Republican arguments as Supply-Side theories.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm pretty sure the 'so-called' dismissive label implies that the proposed idea is actually a fraud. The 'supply side' label is being used to gloss over what is really a tax change plan. The fraud is that the plan pays for itself.

Alfred Differ said...

Nonsense claim [painted over by label that implies intellectual legitimacy]
"Lower taxes on the rich. They will invest and make money for themselves AND a broader segment of the market. That broader segment pays taxes proportional to income, thus they will pay more in taxes without paying a higher rate. The extra revenue from below makes up for or surpasses the loss of revenue from the top."

More sensible claim [though libertarians still get upset over it]
"Raise taxes slightly on everyone, but a bit more at the top. The increased revenue at the top results in a loss of investment capital in the low-risk bond markets, thus bond rates might go up. The increased revenue, however, can be used to retire debt reducing bond supply. These two factors influence supply AND demand for low risk debt instruments and might be bad, a wash, or an improvement."

What we saw from Bush-41 was a compromise with the Congress that looked more like the latter claim. What we saw a little later from Clinton was more of it. The result worked out as federal budget surpluses, though partly due to an economic boom period. What we saw with Bush-43 was a return to the former claim AND two unfunded wars AND a financial bust period. The result of that was an explosion of deficit and federal debt.

There are lots of fiscal policy arguments for this or that objective, but the notion of 'supply side' and 'trickle down' has been shown as a failure often enough that we should treat people supporting them the same way we treat people supporting actual, hard-core socialism. Both ideologies lead to considerable harm to real people.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

The 'supply side' label is being used to gloss over what is really a tax change plan. The fraud is that the plan pays for itself.

Although that claim is used to sell the fraud, I think the fraudulency (if that's a word) is more fundamental than that.

The fraudulent claim is that the rich and corporations will spend their newfound windfall on infrastructure and hiring. Not only does history disprove that claim again and again, but Republicans should understand exactly why. Capital invests money only to the extent that it has to do so in order to eventually make a profit as a return on the investment. If you simply hand them the profit as "welfare", they have no incentive to "work" for profit via investment. They can metaphorically sit on the couch and watch tv all day.

Supply-side only sounds good if you imagine that corporations want to do nice things for their employees, customers, and surrounding society, and that they are simply constrained from doing so by lack of funds. That's almost exactly backwards. Corporations "want" to hoard as much wealth as possible. only grudgingly spending it if there's a decent chance the results will be more profit than otherwise. Corporations are not a money source; they're a money sink.

So it's not just a matter of whether the plan costs tax revenue or increases tax revenue. The entire claim is a falsehood, in exactly the same way as if I were to claim that you'd get more power out of a hydroelectic plant by diverting an extra supply of water directly to the bottom of the waterfall.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

There are lots of fiscal policy arguments for this or that objective, but the notion of 'supply side' and 'trickle down' has been shown as a failure often enough that we should treat people supporting them the same way we treat people supporting actual, hard-core socialism. Both ideologies lead to considerable harm to real people.

Now, here I'm on board 100%.

Supply-side should have been dead in 2006, but we apparently keep forgetting to sever the head and bury the body parts at separate crossroads.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Both ideologies lead to considerable harm to real people."

We have a lot of data that shows that about "Supply Side" - We have ZERO data that shows that "hard core socialism" leads to harm

What we do have is data that shows that powerful countries can use their economic and military might to crush smaller countries that try anything that whiffs of "socialism"

As far as "Supply Side" is concerned historically the lack of capital used to constrain the economy - right up until the invention of the "Stock Market" - not since then!

David Brin said...

"Socialism" is a very large category with vast numbers of subsets that range from anarchism to communism to Social Security and the Interstate Highway System.

"Supply Side" is a specific set of tax policies that feed tax cuts to the rich, promising they will behave in ways they have never been seen to behave.

Alfred Differ said...

‘Socialism’ is a term that has been made intentionally fuzzy in the US in the same way has happened to ‘liberal’. I’m not using it that way, but I didn’t want to write a book about the exact meaning. I could, but posts are limited to 4096 characters. 8)

The ‘hard core’ socialists aren’t evil in their intent, but the consequences of their actions lead to evils because they work to destroy a particular gisting technique humans took countless generations to refine. Markets generate ‘prices’ that represent and compress preference information between two traders. It is a very lossy compression method, but works EXCEEDINGLY well at motivating producers to arrive at markets with goods and services and take risks.

Loss of this method is at the heart of socialism in its oldest sense because proponents would replace it with a more family friendly method humans use to economize resources within bands. We know these methods in our bones. They involve indirect reciprocation. They involve our core virtues. Many people believe these methods can apply to communities larger than HG bands, BUT THEY DON’T SCALE. We know this. We’ve known this for countless generations, but our instincts reject what our intelligence knows. It doesn’t FEEL right, but it sure as hell works and has made us the dominant species on Earth.

In the early part of the 20th century, economists managed to prove that the socialists could not do better than the market pricing system humans invented through trial and error. I mean that literally. They PROVED it. The Socialists among them accepted the proof too, but the common man has not. Every socialist society has had to re-invent a pricing mechanism if they hoped to be efficient. Those who did can reach a someone balanced approach. Those who resisted saw negative GDP growth and starvation of their populations. The 20th century saw tens of millions of people starve needlessly because leaders thought they knew better. THEY DID NOT. We see the same lesson being learned in Venezuela today. Eventually, the criminals wind up running everything into the ground.

Duncan | You are wrong. We have mountains of evidence. We have mountains of bodies too.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Larry wrote: "Hannity is still kissing his ass, though."

I suspect Hannity knows at this point he has nothing left of lose. If Trump goes down, he's going with him. Carlson has just enough distance that he can wriggle out from under the asteroid strike that is about to hit the American right.

Trump, incredibly, is insisting that today's filing show he did nothing wrong. Betty Bowers acidly remarked that Trump thinks that "Individual-1" in in a world of hurt, though.

Bob Neinast said...

I'm really kind of sad that Mueller keeps referring to Trump as Individual-1. Can you imagine what sort of amazingly offended tweets we would get if the documents all referred to Trump as Individual-3?

Larry Hart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Trump, incredibly, is insisting that today's filing show he did nothing wrong. Betty Bowers acidly remarked that Trump thinks that "Individual-1" in in a world of hurt, though.

And I'll bet that David Dennison guy is in for a world of hurt. :)

Bob Neinast:

'm really kind of sad that Mueller keeps referring to Trump as Individual-1. Can you imagine what sort of amazingly offended tweets we would get if the documents all referred to Trump as Individual-3?

In reference to a Marvel Comics in-joke, I recently suggested "Individual-616".

Of course, Jared Kushner would then be Individual-666.

Duncan Cairncross said...

We have mountains of evidence. We have mountains of bodies too

Yes evidence that totalitarianism PRETENDING to be "Socialism" does not work!!

In the case of Venezuela we see that the Oligarchs have the ability to sabotage an attempt at a different system - especially when aided in that sabotage by a "Superpower"

David Brin said...

I've made a distinction. "Socialisms" that enhance opportunity, especially uplifting children or infrastructure and ending any waste of talent, are justifiable... though libertarians are welcome to offer alternative ways to fix the same problems. e.g. toll roads or insurance-based protection from fire or toxins.

I quite share many (not all) libertarian objections to "equalizing outcomes." We can make failure non-lethal and make life rich with 2nd chances. But failure itself is a vital part of competitive creativity, the force that actually propels almost all progress.

David Brin said...

And so the transition to a Pence White House begins:

Alfred Differ said...

If a policy proposal does not harm to the market mechanism that constructs prices that front for far more complex sets of information representing usage preferences, I generally won't lump it with 'socialism' even if I dislike the policy. There is always the 'small government' argument to be made against those policies, so labeling them as socialism is entirely unnecessary while also being incorrect.

As a small example, my friends used to argue for breaking up NASA in the 90's. We wanted to split it up a bit because some parts of the agency had a tendency to vampirically feed on the budgets of other parts. There was also the issue that some parts competed with market participants essentially forcing them into a government/contractor relationship. Going after government contracts requires a certain level of expertise, thus the organization and people to do it, that non-government market entities don't have. By turning entrepreneurial efforts into government service providers, we felt they were destroying a market niche that was FAR more likely to get us to the stars than they were.

The argument for breaking them up to free the parts of the agency from being sucked dry is a small, divided government argument. If your budget is independent of mine, you don't have to staff up the same way to defend it like you would if the money could be shifted around post-appropriation. We wanted the parts doing airplane research and Earth observation research split out. Energy research too. The bold among us wanted planetary and human flight organizations split away too and it wasn't hard to understand why.

The argument for blocking them from dictating terms in the market, though, was about socialism. If you run a company and the only reasonable path forward for you that involves meeting payroll involves becoming a federal contractor, you will become a federal contractor. You will hire people appropriate to the work and your culture will adapt until you believe in the ways of federal contracting. You won't even seen the entrepreneurial folks making rockets in their garage as being in your niche. They are just hobby guys doomed to playing with toys. In this approach, NASA was destroying the pricing mechanism. As a payload designer, I COULD NOT BUY a test flight without working with federal contractors. They set their prices according to the preferences OF GOVERNMENT. See the issue? The market for federal contractors wasn't really a market. It was a single buyer or just a few buyers who got their money from the same place. No price? No information available about purchasing preferences! The guys who actually flew rockets didn't even see us. We were utterly invisible.

I don't mind so much when people want to extract money from my wallet to provide a social safety net. I'm willing to make an argument for there being a better way. I'm willing to make an argument that they need NOT resort to theft to achieve their Best Of Intention (BOI) objectives. This form of theft IS typical among socialists, but it doesn't destroy price discovery. It merely risks negative sum feedbacks. I'll make arguments for reducing just how negative they get, but I'll fight tooth and nail to defend price discovery processes.

Alfred Differ said...


I still respect you a great deal, but you are dangerously wrong. If you advocate for a governance system that actually requires we find saints among us to lead and serve, we are in SO much trouble my eyes will cross. People are people. Some are saintly and some are far worse. There is a fairly large percentage of us who are true sociopaths, but manage to get by in life without getting into too much trouble.

The tendency of socialism to destroy price discovery mechanisms leads to serious problems in making preference decisions from 'central planning' organizations whether they be government, churches, or just a neighborhood community group. Start with a mix of people facing such problems and the meek will fail early leaving us with people who have strong wills and egos. Some people KNOW they don't know how to solve a problem and they sensibly back away hoping others can help. Some DON'T know and don't know that they don't know. Iterate this and ask what the evolutionary pressure produces.

It isn't that authoritarians are pretending to be socialists. It is that socialism fails to scale, non-authoritarians get it, and we are left with authoritarians running things. Since many, many of us are RWA followers, socialism leads to people who are totally !#$%'d. It might take a few years to produce the obviously fascist end result, but one gets there eventually if one does not step off the road. There aren't enough angels among us to lead. The few who are don't survive the process.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
You say that - and you MAY be correct - but there is absolutely no evidence that is what would happen

You are in the position of somebody saying that wood will not burn because when you try to burn wood at the bottom of your swimming pool it does not ignite

"The tendency of socialism to destroy price discovery mechanisms"
There is a similar tendency of capitalism to "destroy price discovery mechanisms"

In today's USA that is working very well - the power imbalance between the workers and the employers has totally "destroyed the price discovery mechanism" for wages
And the employers are additionally using illegal labour to keep wages suppressed

You can also look at medical prices as another occasion where capitalism has "destroyed price discovery mechanisms"

The "socialist" "price discovery mechanism" like
here (NZ) seems to work a LOT better

If you look at the entire cycle from
New Science
to Good idea
to Working Model
to Production

Capitalism is only important in the last of those four steps - the other three are almost always done on the public dollar

If you don't have totalitarian loonies like Mao and Stalin destroying the system then the same mechanisms that work for the first three steps could work fine for the last one

We simply don't have any actual tests

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

All I can do is repeat the ever-applicable mantra: “WODI!” or “What If (Michelle) Obama Did It?” What hypocrites.

When it comes to First Ladies, it was even worse when Hillary Clinton "did it".

Carl M. said...

Don't worry, the Democrats are well on the way to become as nutty as the Trumpkins:

Time for a new party.

Larry Hart said...

@Carl M,

You're engaging in what Dr Brin calls out by equating isolated, fringe liberals with a core tenet on the authoritarian right side. "The Democrats" are not a party of nutty militant atheists the way The Republicans are a party who must give fealty to Christianism, even the ones like Donald Trump who most certainly don't let religion get in the way of having a good time.

I'm sure such people exist who find "meaning" in atheism and defend their irrational beliefs with as much zeal as religionists do. I'd wager, though, that most irreligious people come to it as I did--a growing realization that tales of the supernatural are as made-up as Santa Claus and Batman. Atheism is simply giving a name to the freedom to live and think free of the social constraints (one might say "political correctness") imposed by religion. No more and no less. Not a substitute form of worship.

I perceive atheistic zeal as a reaction to oppression by religion--an initial push at the envelope of freedom to make sure there are no hidden bars after all. Kinda like British comic artists who come to the US, discover the First Amendment, and revel in drawing topless women and saying "fuck" in dialogue. It's an initial reaction, not a lifelong ambition. Militant atheism exists only because of militant religiosity. The opposite is not the case.

As Dave Sim put it (back before he became religious himself), "There is no Church of Newton's Laws in which we give thanks that an object in motion or at rest remains in motion or at rest until acted on by an outside force. What exactly would we be giving thanks for?"

John Sears said...

Reading the above discussion on socialism v capitalism, my thoughts strayed, and I started to wonder if Capitalism is not just an economic system, but also a political system as well.
So many countries' governments have been captured by the multinationals as they use their resources to push forward the rules and regulations that favor them. Indeed, the reach of corporate and oligarchal influence into the realm of politics seems unstoppable.

The above applies to most 1st and 2nd world countries, and perhaps quite a few more.

Alfred Differ said...


You think there is somewhere else that isn't at the bottom of that pool? I respect your rosy optimism. I really do. In this case, though, I don't think you CAN be right. Homo Angelicus is a figment of our imagination. So is Homo Demonicus. It's just us.

That capitalist systems can produce harm to the pricing mechanism I'll easily give you. That's why I'm willing to support sensible regulation that deal with cheats. It's not the system causing the harm, though. It is the authoritarians and cheats within the system doing it. It's just us.

Capitalism isn't perfect in the idealistic sense, but it is the best system we've invented. Look at the definition McCloskey described, though, and not the one created by the selfish bastards we have to regulate against. McCloskey's version is the one that actually works and it requires some regulation and tolerates some theft in the name of generosity. It easily tolerates collective decisions to provide certain services by government that are pulled out of the market. I'd argue for a better way when those pull-outs are suggested, but capitalism can tolerate it.

As evidence, note that NASA isn't dictating terms in the launch market as it once did in the 90's. My friends and I figured out a way around them. It took a lot of work and patience, but we did it.

The Mao's and Stalins are among us. The are mostly powerless until we give them a system that enables them. It is the RWA followers who are actually dangerous. They create those systems.

David Brin said...

Haven't seen Carl M. for a while. Welcome back to one of the oldest and smartest web communities, Carl.

But as you'd guess, I shrug off any attempt to smear the moderate-liberal coalition with the nuttiness of some fringe elements. This is more pernicious than it seems, because it is a truly scary symptom of right-wing insanity, to point at anecdotes (whether true/false/exaggerated) and declaring "all liberals are like that!"

The war on Science is propelled by this. One science accountability commission found a case of less-than-zealously-rigorous behavior by one climate group... and that anecdote has been screeched from the rooftops as discrediting all of science, even though it was a science commission that corrected the fault.

We know: "Being smart doesn't automatically make you wise."

The mad right extrapolates: "Being smart MAKES one unwise."

Don't deny it. You know this is true.

Seriously, by now you should have an opposite-reflex. Anecdotes CAN be useful! In they can disprove a UNIVERSAL!

Example. Find one anecdotal exception to my generalization that the mad right wages war vs EVERY fact-centered profession. If you cannot find ONE exception, then my generality is tentatively proved, and it is overwhelming proof of madness.

Otherwise, anyone raving a single anecdote is likely engaging in cult-wish pursuit.

Anonymous said...

I just found out that John Kelly says that Donald Trump is an idiot and:
Then-chief economic adviser Gary Cohn says Trump is "dumb as [poop]," and is "an idiot surrounded by clowns."
National security adviser H.R. McMaster, according to a report in BuzzFeed, has called President Trump an "idiot," a "dope" and a man with the brain of a "kindergartner."
And billionaire media baron Rupert Murdoch reportedly called President Trump "a [effing] idiot" after a phone call on immigration.
¡ Murdock also realized that Donald is an idiot!...
Waww…… Under these circumstances, I am surprised that even North Korea did not launch to invade the United States; taking advantage of the enormous chaos and division in Washington.
¿Have you noticed that often, Donald looks on his side, and when he does that, it looks a lot like the way chickens watch? ... Which is weird.


David Brin said...

All this has proved my decade of lectures to all about the fantastic skill and professionalism of our civil servants and officer corps, who continue to protect us.



Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

But as you'd guess, I shrug off any attempt to smear the moderate-liberal coalition with the nuttiness of some fringe elements. This is more pernicious than it seems, because it is a truly scary symptom of right-wing insanity, to point at anecdotes (whether true/false/exaggerated) and declaring "all liberals are like that!"

Not only "all liberals", but then "The Democratic Party is just as bad because some Democrats are leftists, and some leftists are dangerous." At the same time that the Republican Party as an entity has to bow and scrape to its insane wing, even those who privately disagree.

BTW, I find it amusing in an it-would-be-funny-if-not-so-dangerous way that Carl sees the mote in the eye of religious-level zealotry of atheism without recognizing the beam in his own eye--that Libertarianism is more of a religion than atheism, including its inherent belief in miracles, and the propensity to double-down on that belief when reality doesn't conform.

Larry Hart said...

Oops....missed the onward