Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Case for a Scientific Nation: Part One

While the Democrats held their gathering, I kept getting messages: "How did you know offshore banking havens, like the Caymans, would become a big issue?" Referring to my 1989 novel EARTH, in which secret caches of stolen wealth became the world issue by the 2020s.

Despite grim satisfaction from successful forecasting, I get no charge out of a looming, worldwide class war, (discussed a few posts ago... and we'll revisit soon).  It could be tragic, wasteful and dangerous, though unsurprising, if you study history and human nature. Fortunately, we'll have good billionaires on our side - Buffet, Gates etc.  But it will be rough. And enough of that.

Anyway, scores of other matters leaped to mind, during the Democratic Convention.  Especially the role of science in this election.

First though, a confession. It's a rough time for contrarians. My liberal friends hear me go on about Robert Heinlein and Adam Smith: how creative competition makes positive sum civilization. Libertarians call me an "eco-nut," a comprimiser and a "bleeding heart."  I like to straddle fences, pointing out flaws and positives to all sides, encouraging the pragmatic negotiation for which Americans were once renowned...

... till we plunged -- or were pushed -- into phase three of our Civil War.

Alas, despite that contrarian instinct, I must take sides, because one wing of American political life -- the same one that was wrong in all the previous stages of civil war -- has veered away from the logical, courteous, cautious, pragmatic and intellectually cogent conservatism of giants like Goldwater and Buckley, into fevered fact-aversion unparalleled in the U.S. since the pre-1861 Know Nothing party. I'd love to see a mature conservative or Libertarian movement present at the negotiating table, standing up sensibly for the role of competition in a mixed and agile civilization.  (See The Republican Party's NeoCon Re-Invention.)

Adam Smith's enlightenment  suffers when they are absent. Indeed, perhaps sane conservatives will rise up someday against the hijackers of their movement... as liberals once did once, in the "Miracle of 1947."

Overcoming the dogmatic followers of Rand, Limbaugh and Murdoch and Prince Waleid, they might bring the spirit of Smith and Goldwater, Heinlein and Buckley back to the table, reminding us that the state is not always the whole answer.

While admitting that it isn't always the enemy.

== What can end our Civil War? ==

Nice dream? Well, it assumes there's still a "table" at all.  Instead of a smoldering pile of ash, in our modern era of no negotiations!

Alack, it will take a rout, a towering, epic defeat this November, for that kind of re-assessment to happen.  Hence, every smart person I know in the castes hated by the New Right - scientists, entrepreneurs, economists, teachers, doctors, military officers, engineers, economists, civil servants and so on - had their eyes fixed on Charlotte this week, hoping for more than just some sane liberals to vote for.

What will finally convince those moderate, sane, Buckley conservatives and Smithian libertarians to help end the civil war, by making November a rout?  They need proof that this struggle is not between left and right.  Instead it is between future and past.

What it will take is . . .  a re-dedication to science.

== Making Science an Issue ==

The professional pols don't want to go there. Even those who like science fear discussing it. If you start talking like a boffin, especially after two decades of Fox propaganda that scientists are cowardly, conniving, herd-following elitist lemmings, you might get hammered as a "snob." Nor is the other side guilt-free in the dumbing down of American discourse. The left has contributed to this problem, an aspect I'll discuss in Part Two.

Still, there has been some movement!

For example, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have both agreed to address the questions posed by Shawn Otto and See their answers here. (And support the effort, if you can!)

Indeed, there is room for some encouragement. Mitt Romney's answers about climate change have shifted from his adherence to the Fox party line, back to the answers - vague but not troglodytic - he used to give, before the primaries. That is, he went reasonable for ScienceDebate.  Of course he also still voices the "I doubt it" answer, depending (chart it!) on which audience he is speaking before... as if he does not quite realize that we have recording devices in this century.  Ah, well.

Unfortunately, to date, only two members of Congress have responded to the ScienceDebate questions! And House Speaker, GOP Rep. John Boehner outright declined. (See the site, to easily pressure your own congress-critter to answer!)

Go look the answers over.  Discuss them here in comments and with your friends.  Make science policy an important topic. And if folks don't seem to care, ask them why.  Their answers may illuminate what's at stake.

== Science is the linchpin of this civil war ==

Next, in Part Two, I'll talk about how some democrats, too, have sinned against science, but how -- despite that -- this issue still distills a crucial difference, one the should decide any reasoning U.S. citizen during Phase Three of the American Civil War.

No, this election is not about left-vs-right. (Not when the economy, stock market, business startups, innovation and every other metric of competitive market health always does better under democrats.)

No, it is about whether we'll remember that half of all economic growth since 1945 was propelled by science, technology and innovation.  And whether we might decide, once again, to be a pragmatic, scientific and calmly reasonable people.

==Continue to The Case for a Scientific Nation Part 2

See also: Unscientific America: Denying Science at our Peril


David Brin said...

Science distills the choice that we face.

Unknown said...

David Brin,

Regarding this statement in the blog entry:

Mitt Romney's answers about climate change have shifted from his adherence to the Fox party line, back to the answers - vague but not troglodytic - he used to give, before the primaries. That is, he went reasonable for ScienceDebate. Of course he also still voices the "I doubt it" answer, depending (chart it!) on which audience he is speaking before... as if he does not quite realize that we have recording devices in this century. Ah, well.

See this article on Karl Rove's statistical methods for targeting messages to specific demographics. I think that's what you're seeing in Romney's (euphemism coming) 'tactical messaging':

As Democrats learned more about the scale of what the Bush campaign had done, they realized that the opposition’s edge wasn’t about a particularly potent set of consumer files it had acquired but rather the political structure they had built around them. No Democrat, and certainly not Kerry, had invested as much in individual-level targeting as Bush had, or did so early enough to integrate it fully into the campaign’s operations. A Washington Post analysis of the $2.2 billion spent on the presidential campaign — split almost evenly between efforts on behalf of Bush and Kerry — concluded that Bush’s $3.25 million contract with Gage’s firm TargetPoint was among the best money spent that year. The Post story pointed to the increase in Bush’s turnout in Ohio, and included one quote from an anonymous Democratic operative declaring that the party’s targeting power was a full election cycle behind the Republicans’.

As Quinn explained these machinations to DeShong, she took out a paper napkin and started diagramming. She drew a line to represent the partisan continuum, from left to right, and then laid upon it a series of bars reflecting targeted messages. One bar symbolized “terrorism and late-term abortion for older Hispanics,” Quinn said, while another of different length was “terrorism and guns for male union members.” DeShong sat dumbfounded by the squiggly lines, until Quinn explained her point: Democrats were polling to make messages for broad audiences, while Republicans were modeling to match messages to specific audiences. They were able to do that because they had not only better data than the Democrats to find the voters they wanted, she went on, but also the statistical tools to profile those they couldn’t reach and nonetheless predict what views they were likely to have.

Unknown said...

I should add that recording and disseminating self-contradictory opinions expressed while campaigning may be a viable counter to this messaging approach. Your response to Romney's numerous inconsistent statements suggests perhaps a wider distaste for that strategy as well. Bush may have simply been better at controlling media than Romney, or technology may have improved since '04 (youtube and Facebook use penetration, for example) such that it constrains the Rove game somewhat.

Unknown said...

Oh, and for laughs, check out this week's National Review cover:

Confirmation that it's really their cover...

National Review inspired by Soviet Realism? LOL! Uhhh, looks like a contract graphic designer just trolled the National Review editorial board pretty hard there. How could they have missed it?!?!?!

Ian Gould said...

A few days back we had a discussion about the value of human space travel (well specifically about commerical space travel.)

Now, I'm pretty firmly of the view that there's a direct economic case for space exploration in general and for human space travel in particular.

But beyond that case (which I'm happy enough to expound on if people wish, although in DAvid's presence my contributions are likely to be largely superfluous) I believe there are important nontangible benefits from space exploration.

For example: hope.

Take a look at this picture of US astronaut Sunita williams, an Indian-American woman, specawalking outhside the International space Station.

Now I'm sure that most of us find that a pretty picture, maybe even inspirational.

But pause for a secodn ot thin kwaht it means to (in no particular order) to women, to girls considering a career in science; to Indian-Americansl to Indians and especially to Indian women.

I'm absolutely certain that that picture is taped to thousands of fridges and bedroom walls and is the wallpaper on hundreds of times that many computers and phones.

Let's also pass for a second and ask the question David is probably thinking: in what other culture, in what other time would such a picture have even been conceivable?

White Whale said...

Science is a reconciliation of method and outcome, utilizing empirical data. I fully support its methods, but think it blatantly clear you do not.

I'm sure there is a way for you to block me, finally, in order to protect your unwarranted vanity, so I will note as my last post that I wrote you a love note:

You are not exceptional: you are typical. People like you cause most of the unnecessary suffering in the world. The evil have always been with us. It is those who harm us while claiming to help us, the enemies in the gate, the "smiling faces" who are ignorant of their own malice, that represent the greatest threat to democracy, freedom, and human dignity.

Naum said...

I have never talked to so many people who were so thoroughly convinced that their vote didn't matter, that it would not be counted, or that it would be stolen, or that their very right to cast it would be so hamstrung with official bother that it would cease to be a right and simply become another inconvenience. They're angry. They still may try. But if you're looking for a sub-theme for why things are the way they are in the polls, that's my stab at it. The country's dead-level, frustrated and angry, but not necessarily motivated, and a substantial number of people think the whole thing is a waste and an equally substantial number believe that it's not on the square. If I were running the president's campaign, I'd shut the hell up about Simpsonp-fking-Bowles and put John Lewis on an airplane and let him tell his story in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and everywhere else this atavistic authoritarian nonsense is going down. There's more at risk here than anyone knows.

~Charles P. Pierce

Rob said...

Naum, I think the structural problems are more influential than the problems of fraud. We have a lot of educated people in the United States, which is to say, virtually all of us can read and make a list.

So preferential voting (instant-runoff or second-choice balloting etc) and proportional apportionment of electors ought to be the law by now. It's not, which binds me to Seattle, all eastern Californians to the coastline, the center of Salt Lake City to the rest of the State, etc...

LarryHart said...

J Maynard Gelinas:

Oh, and for laughs, check out this week's National Review cover:

National Review inspired by Soviet Realism?

That cover brought something to mind, though. Early visions of "socialism" were about spreading wealth that really did take a lot of human effort to produce. The fear was that the socialist masters would force everyone to toil endlessly at farming, factory work, etc in order to meet the endless "needs" of the population at large.

What we progressives in the late-20th/early -21st century deveolped world seem to envision is a different animal altogether. It's more like a recreation of the Garden of Eden, where technology is able to do so much of the toil that a human being really should be able to support a family by performing (say) four to ten hours of work a week maintaining the infrastructure.

I understand that what I propose is an ideal, not a 100% accurate description of reality, but it is an ideal that seems within reach. In this worldview, people who want to do less work and kick back enjoying other pursuits are neither lazy nor parasitical. We don't demand to live off of the toil of others--we instead demand a society in which enough of a commoms is left "common" so that there is enough means of survival to go around, without letting private inviduals swoop in claiming "ownership" of all the resources and demanding slave-like obiscience from anyone else in order to obtain a share.

"Socialism" as a scare-word to mean "You productive people will have to work for the benefit of the rest of us!" isn't at all what I have in mind when I propose that modern first-world citizens should't have to work longer hours for lower pay and less security than our parents and grandparents.

sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, given your opinions on accountability/transparency, did you have an opinion of (or found time to read):

Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11

Just curious.

David Brin said...

I know Jack Goldsmith and I expect this book to be subtle, informative and actually rather reassuring, to those capable of appreciating subtlety and information.

Unknown said...

Center for Strategic Analysis and International Studies analysis of "Impact of Preventative Strikes Against Iran's Nuclear Facilities".

Pay close attention to "Military Strike Israel: Scenario II, Page 89, Low Yield Earth Penetrating Nuclear Weapons". Analyses of this sort are regularly produced, but it's unsettling just the same.

Unknown said...


What we progressives in the late-20th/early -21st century deveolped world seem to envision is a different animal altogether. It's more like a recreation of the Garden of Eden, where technology is able to do so much of the toil that a human being really should be able to support a family by performing (say) four to ten hours of work a week maintaining the infrastructure.

I understand that what I propose is an ideal, not a 100% accurate description of reality, but it is an ideal that seems within reach. In this worldview, people who want to do less work and kick back enjoying other pursuits are neither lazy nor parasitical. We don't demand to live off of the toil of others--we instead demand a society in which enough of a commoms is left "common" so that there is enough means of survival to go around, without letting private inviduals swoop in claiming "ownership" of all the resources and demanding slave-like obiscience from anyone else in order to obtain a share.

OK, so first of all I'd like to throw away the term 'socialism' in this context. Let's instead use, 'centralized planning' vs. 'competitive market' as a framework. By shifting outside of terms like 'communism', 'socialism', and 'capitalism' hopefully we'll avoid preconceived notions about each. For 'socialist' state central planning in the Soviet Union and under Maoist China was vastly different than 'socialist' Democratic-Socialism mixed socialist-capitalist systems still in place throughout much of Europe.

The first question I ask is: What happens when private enterprise consolidates production into so few hands that cartels and vertically-integrated monopolies form? Is this outcome much different in its impact on market efficiency from centrally planned state monopolies? I don't think so. So, one could argue that whether private or public monopolies form, central planning along the lines of Soviet style socialism is the result regardless of its political form.

So this leads to another question: Is that bad?


Unknown said...

On Capitalism versus Competition

David Brin has argued that 'competition' is the engine of innovation, not 'capitalism'. That is, fostering market and social competition leads to discovering new and innovative solutions to problems, which - ultimately - creates wealth and thus improves society. Aggregation of capital into production monopolies is thus, like state monopolies, the enemy of innovation.

Veblen makes a similar point in "Theory of the Leisure Class". I'll quote:

"The leisure class is in great measure sheltered from the stress of those economic exigencies which prevail in any modern, highly organized industrial community. The exigencies of the struggle from the means of life are less exacting for this class than for any other; and, as a consequence of this privileged position we should expect to find it one of the least responsive of the classes of society to the demands which the situation makes for a further growth of institutions and a readjustment to an altered industrial situation. The leisure class is the conservative class." (p. 131)


"From this proposition it follows that the institution of a leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of sustenance, and so reducing their consumption, and consequently their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new habits of thought. The accumulation of wealth at the upper end of the pecuniary scale implies a privation at the lower end of the scale. It is commonplace that, wherever it occurs, a considerable degree of privation among the body of the people is a serious obstacle to innovation." (p.135)


"...such surplus energy as is available is also likely to be expended in the acquisition of goods for conspicuous consumption or conspicuous boarding. The result is that the requirements of pecuniary reputability tend (1) to leave but a scanty subsistence minimum available for other than conspicuous consumption, and (2) to absorb any surplus energy which may be available after the bare physical necessities of life have been provided for. The outcome of the whole is a strengthening of the general conservative attitude of the community. The institution if a leisure class hinders cultural development immediate (1) by the inertia proper to the class itself, (2) through its prescriptive example of conspicuous waste and of conservatism, and (3) indirectly through that system of unequal distribution of wealth and sustenance on which the institution itself rests." (p. 136)

Thorstein Veblen
"Theory of the Leisure Class"
Ch. "Industrial Exemption and Conservatism"
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-955258-0

Veblen's point here is the by aggregating capital to force general society into wage peonage, the leisure class limits innovation across society in much the same way Brin suggests is the difference between 'capitalism' versus 'competition'.


Unknown said...

On The Viability of Central Planing Given Advancements in Computational Modeling

Prior to Salvador Allende's CIA ouster by coup d'├ętat in 1973, he and his economic advisors were known to have been building a computer system for economic production planning and pricing, combining both an economics model with real time data collection. This system was dismantled shortly after Pinochet took power.

Others have proposed similar systems, on the presumption that the reason Soviet and Maoist central planning failed was due to poor information and a lack of market feedback systems to indicate production and pricing across the economy. Using computational modeling with real data, they argue, could resolve these problems and make central planning viable.

My opinion is that it won't work. The reason for this is that even tiny perturbations in the market can have major Nth order unpredictable effects that are still poorly understood. Thus, while the 'magic hand of the market' can be understood metaphorically through cybernetics, complexity theory, and chaos theory, etc. as ecosystems. But these toy mathematical models are still woefully inadequate to predict outcomes across real physical economies (or natural ecosystems, for that matter).

So, when you ask about whether 'socialism' could be a viable alternative model to the current parasitic 'capitalist' system, my sense is that the underlying question amounts to: Can central planning create a viable economy such that individuals would be freed from unnecessary toil so that they can competitively create? And my sense is that, 'no' that's probably not possible.

The question then becomes, what can be changed within capitalism that such an outcome could prevail? And I don't know. I'm not alone. Communist sympathizer Slavoj Zizek says much the same thing in his short youtube presentation: Don't Act. Just think. It's short and worth a look:


David Brin said...

JMG - first, just so you are up to speed. Most of the older folks in this blogmunity are familiar with the terms "GAR" and "FIBM"... so do have a look.

While competition does have fantasticeffects stimulating creativity and cooperation within motivated teams... its biggest positive effect is in the overcoming of humanity's worst curse... self-delusion. You cannot catch your own delusions, but OTHERS will willingly point them out for you. They will even do it for free!

The tragedy of 6000 years was that leaders attained power to escape competition and accountability and crit of their deluded notions. This led to horrid statecraft and as Hayek showed, it leads to bad decisions whenever the number of deciders is small, whether they by government bureaucrats or 5000 colluding gold-buddies in the CEO caste.

ALL prior societies operated under "GAR". Lately the west has experimented with increased use of competition and the LEVELING and UPLIFT that is necessary in order to increase the number of skilled, confident competitors. This has led to our burst of fecund positive sum games. See:


1) FIBM often becomes a fig leaf dogma of incantations that shelters attempts by oligarchs to eliminate government measure to spread competition!

2) GAR-centered nations keep trying. The Soviets were able to create massive primary economy structures like Dams, but collapsed when it came to refrigerators. The Japanese mixed capitalist structures with state centered planning and ferocious predatory mercantilism, a model copied bu China Inc.

But all GAR systems eventually his a Wall of Competence. China is hitting its wall, building up vast vast amounts of undesired inventory that no profit-led system would ever create. This inventory excess will soon be dumped on the market, destroying western jobs and creating deflation.

David Brin said...

Meant to say: "...whether they be government bureaucrats or 5000 colluding golf-buddies in the CEO caste."

But gold-buddies works too....

reason said...

it would be nice if you had a reference to justify this claim "(Not when the economy, stock market, business startups, innovation and every other metric of competitive market health always does better under democrats.)". I know that it is generally true (Angry Bear for instance had a series of posts on this.) But it is not good to make unsupported assertions.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Reason
David has put this as a challenge - for anybody to identify any metric that has done worse under the Dems

(He actually wants one that has done better under the Repubs - means the same thing

Nobody has come up with a convincing - or even plausible - metric so far - over a year so far -
INMHO that makes it a "supported" assertion

Jumper said...

This leads me to wonder who can acquire competitive bids easier - large institutions or individuals. I am thinking of my color printer, and how I am at the mercy of the manufacturer to get cartridges at an inflated price. Whereas for large institutional printing jobs, salesmen are actually proposing real volume savings to purchasers of their products. I remember also leaving IBM in around '90 and my manager said that color printers for the home market were a pipe dream - they would be too expensive. Granted, he wasn't a "central planner" - just one manager in the printer development group. And IBM did fund spinoff Lexmark. But institutions not only make obvious errors, they are capable of repeating them.

Ian Gould said...

"From this proposition it follows that the institution of a leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of sustenance, and so reducing their consumption, and consequently their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new habits of thought."

If this intended as a description of the present day ether globally or in the developed world then "the leisure class" are as incompetent as Obama is in his alleged quest to destroy capitalism.

Anyone who thinks the Western poor, much less the middle classes
lack "the means of sustenance" needs to get out more.

Unknown said...


Veblen wrote that in 1899. I used it as a comparison to my understanding of Brin's perspective in that comment. Am currently reading 'Allocation vs. Markets'.

For Brin, my only quibble thus far is his lumping in Freud with Marx as if neither have anything meaningful to say. Freud may have been wrong about Penis Envy and Dream Analysis, but his general thesis on the unconscious was remarkably prescient. Further, his critique of human society as trapped between individual aggressive and sexual impulses in contrast to aggregate requirements for socialization, in Civilization and Its Discontents, is freak'n brilliant. With Marx, I'd say his critique of capitalism is worth reading, but his proposed solutions - particularly in Capital - are bunk. No time to get into that now, as I have plenty to read and little to say in depth until finished.


Paul451 said...

[Collected responses to comments in the last few posts.]

David desJardins,
Re: Space tourism
"sending people on suborbital joyrides so they can say "I went to space!" has almost nothing to do with what would actually advance useful space technology."

If you talk to the people involved in NewSpace (Musk/Bigelow/Rutan) about "Space Tourism", it quickly becomes clear that they are not talking about "Tourism" in the typical Earthly sense. (Nor about a few billionaire adventurers seeking distraction/bragging-rights.) They use the term for any self-funded human space flight. Many of Virgin Galactic's pre-booked customers are universities and other researchers. Richard Garriott subsidised the cost of his trip to the International Space Station by selling his services in-orbit.

Robert Bigelow, particularly, bristles when people talk about "orbiting hotels" as a primary market for his commercial space-stations. He sees his major market being split between minor nations who want government-funded space research, but can't afford the whole launch program, and corporations/universities/etc in the same position. Those who want to control their own space program, without going through NASA/ESA/RKA/etc. One of SpaceX's early products for their capsule will be the "DragonLab" for non-government (or non-US) research.

Paul451 said...

Jerry Emanuelson,
Re: Gary Johnson, LP party.

I think the "sane" LP (and the Greens) have made the wrong decision in running independently as third parties. The Tea Party has shown how to leverage a small percentage of support to have a disproportionate effect on major party politics. (I suspect due to those who hijacked the original TP movement. They knew they didn't want a third party, they just wanted an easily led faction within the Republicans.) Even though they are a small portion of the Republican Party membership, the TP have successfully run out every remaining moderate Republican (and by moderate, I mean sane-conservative.)

The Greens should be a small-p party within the Democrats, dragging them to the left. The LP should have wings within both major parties. Those who are primarily social-libertarians joining the Democrat-voting LP. And those who are primarily economic-libertarians joining the Republican-voting LP. Supporting candidates in the primaries who make the right noises, vote the right way in Congress. Subtly changing the dominant language patterns within the parties.

Voting third-party in the US, even if you aren't in a swing state, is silly. If you could reliably command 2, 3, 5% of the popular vote, you could own either or both of the major parties. So why settle for less?

[Here in Australia, I can safely vote for as many minor parties as I want, but still vote for the least-worst major party (and thus against the most-worst), and I have done so in every election since I turned 18. But your system doesn't work like that.]

Paul451 said...

Re: Removing Spam.

Modern Spam isn't to get click-throughs from readers here, it's part of SEO tactics to raise their rankings on Google. When Google's bot sniffs your blog and sees the pages you and we've linked to, it increases the perceived value of those pages, in some complex overlapping way. So it is worth deleting them, although manual deleting is probably too slow to prevent the SEO effect they seek.

Speaking of 'bots: Perhaps your net-guy can write you a small script to instantly auto-delete anyone/anything you add to a kill-list? Whether High Akra & Mountain Goat, or "web designers Bangalore" & "Paper Cup Machines". (Or someone here might be able to point an admin-script that is compatible.)

Paul451 said...

Re: SkeptiControversies.

The problem I had with the "Elevator-gate" scandal was that Watson and her side did exactly what was done to them. Watson may not have named the elevator-guy, but she didn't hesitate to use her power to name'n'shame young female Skepchicks who disagreed with her (even at events where she knew they'd be present). Nor did the self-appointed defenders hesitate denigrating anyone (male or female... particularly female) who disagreed with Watson's behaviour towards other women. Seeing men on Watson's side, bullying and socially ostracising women who disagreed with Watson bullying other women, would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

Paul451 said...

Now back to this post., but speaking of Tea Party like factions, perhaps the next move after the "Science Debate" is a Science Party, a funding/lobbying faction operating within both parties?

Support science or we run a candidate against you in your primary.

Acacia H. said...

I found this in "Time" magazine (online) and had a cynical thought I'll share with all of you after the quote: Romney said in an interview that aired Sunday that he would keep in place elements of the federal health-care law signed by Obama in 2010. On NBC's "Meet the Press," Romney said: "I'm not getting rid of all of health care reform. Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I'm going to put in place."

The cynical thought? Romney will eliminate all patient protections and policies to reduce costs for people. He will, however, keep the Mandate forcing people to buy healthcare, taxing the poor who are unable to buy healthcare because they cannot afford it due to preexisting conditions that insurance companies refuse to cover. That way he keeps the mandate he forced on Massachusetts, while giving insurance companies the protection he needs to to gain campaign contributions.

Rob H.

Jerry Emanuelson said...


In the final analysis, you are saying that I should vote for a candidate that I detest, just because the "least-detested" candidate is in a major party and has a chance of winning.

I am neither primarily a social-libertarian or an economic-libertarian, so which party should I support? What I am most against is the ruling duopoly.

I would really like to experience both social freedom and economic freedom. I believe that both freedoms are equally necessary in order to live a full and enriched life.

What exists for the first time this year is a chance for me to simultaneously vote against the ruling duopoly, and FOR someone who is both highly qualified and agrees with my pragmatic libertarianism.

I DO live in an important swing state. I hope that Gary Johnson can get enough votes to swing the election, even if it is only two or three percent of the vote. It is not clear in my state which direction he would swing the election. That doesn't matter to me. If Gary Johnson can swing the national election (which he very well could), that would be the best of all the likely outcomes. It would shake up the ruling duopoly.

The two major parties have done everything they can to keep Gary Johnson off the ballot and out of the public eye. Ballot access laws in most states are designed to keep the ruling duopoly in power. Both parties of the ruling duopoly have made themselves into the political enemies of pragmatic libertarians.

Jerry Emanuelson

David Brin said...

Reason, please link me to the Angry Bear list and I will then see which states need to be added.

JMG: Freud and Marx both followed similar arcs. The grandsons of Rabbis, they believed the world could be cured with incantations... though analytical ones. Both Freud and Marx are still highly valued for their early work. I think you should be more aware of how much Marx contributed to the economic theory and analysis of the process of capital formation. He was spot on, in many areas...

...till sycophants drew him down the same path as Rand and Freud. "If I say it it must be so" guru-hood.

Paul, I will delay spamming protections so long as the spew-dopes we've seen recently can be shrugged off as loony yappers.

Romney will keep ALL of Obama Care (remember, it is HIS plan!) Except a fig leaf allowance for states to "opt out" in some way. Remember that's his main complaint.

I fully expect he would charge for the center, as president. But he is a liar and he'll appoint 10,000 jerks to manage us and many will immediately help the Bushites steal us blind. A calamity with surface moderation.

David Brin said...

Jerry E... and wish you much success pushing Gary Johnson in your swing state. (I will send him money soon.)

1- he is the best candidate the LP ever ran.

2- I dream of a strong LP attracting enough disgusted libertarian Republicans that it can become a center for such thought (and marginalize the Randian cultists) and thus help to put the party of lincoln in its grave, at last, as Lincoln, were he here today, would want.

3- I confess tactical reasons. In your state you will probably help Romney to lose, which the nation desperately needs.

So do not expect us to try to talk you out of anything here. Except in details. Like realizing democrats are better for enterprise than perhaps you are aware. And that their attitudes toward science are not just better, but white against black.

Stuff like that.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The most concise statement of "The Case for a Scientific Nation" ever made by a politican was made exactly 50 years ago this coming Wednesday. The text of that speech, as well as the speech itself (in several formats), is available at:

Much of what was said 50 years ago is still applicable today. JFK probably didn't write that speech, but he clearly agreed with it. Politicians like him just aren't around any more.

Jerry Emanuelson

Unknown said...

Your link could use some comment purging.

David Brin said...

Sorry about the comment spam in the 2006 posting about Gar vs Fibm... someone must've been pissed off by it and gave the URL to a spammer. Waste of time to fix it now... just comment here!

David Brin said...

Virginia lawmaker: Children with disabilities are God’s punishment to women who previously had abortions.

rewinn said...

" Children with disabilities are God’s punishment..." would, in a sane universe, really REALLY anger Sarah Palin.

But only " a sane universe..."

Tooch said...


I find your definitions of FIBM and GAR an interesting way of simplification of the issues to try and generate alternatives to current government. The mention of using a "gar" to work as governor to balance the potential excesses of FIBM rings alarm bells to me. It seems to have no better potential than the dysfunctional two party system we have now. Setting up anything like "gar" controls always come down to "whom do you trust to make those decisions?". Such as allocation of resources, food, raw materials, etc.... How long would it take a "gar" to become a full bore GAR.

rewinn said...

In The American Conservative's latest issue, what appears to be an actual conservative describes our plutocracy's secession movement in "The Revolt of the Rich".

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

We are still left with the fact that markets are not really rational, and people don't make decisions rationally in general. Here's a good read discussing this:
Even central planners with fairly good decision-making abilities will still likely be way off because of these innate frailties. Not to mention, neither the market nor central planning can account for the truly new phenom]ena. I support nuclear power, but it is certainly possible (maybe!) that some variant of cold fusion might suddenly be proven, and then investment in uranium plants will be the wrong decision. [Probably a bad example, as I have no evidence that any of the cold fusion stuff is anything meaningful at all!

Unknown said...

I've finished reading the 'Allocation vs Markets' essay. I also sat down and thought about it for a time, rather than immediately launching a text editor to respond.

I see the similarities between what I wrote to LarryHart in that comment and what Brin posted to his blog six years back. But I'd like to counter that noting the similarities between state and private economic planning through monopoly is somewhat pedestrian in nature, in that the idea isn't terribly original. I'm sure one could find plenty of quotes along similar lines during the Trust Busting period up to and during Theodore Roosevelt's presidency.

Further, if one were to look back earlier at the great debate in the founding of the US between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, though not couched in modern economic terms, the question of centralization versus decentralization of power was the primary crux.

Still, Brin's work is well done and I was pleased to read it.

On Neoconfucianism:

Calling China's current political leadership as Neo-Confucian is seems a swipe against a set of philosophical ideas that might be of use in this discussion. If one were to go back to Zhuxi or Wang Yangming's words directly I think there's plenty of intellectual gold left to mine. For example, the Confucian "Rectification of Names" and "Doctrine of the Mean" seem directly relevant to extremist GAR and FIBM ideology (to use your terminology). Just a quick blurb on those two ideas:

Rectification of Names refers to the importance of naming things as they are. That is, it is a recognition that names affect the perception of things, and that naming things in ways contrary to a thing's reality distorts our perception of that thing. In modern day, this can be thought of through the lens of Frames of Reference and the abuse of reference frames to manipulate perception. Frank Luntz is a master of carefully choosing words with embedded meanings to shift frames of reference within the populace in order to misrepresent an underlying meaning and shift popular opinion by misrepresentation.

Doctrine of the Mean is relevant here when considering that extremist and doctrinal views have ossified and stuck the workings of the state. You refer to modern examples of this as the divide between GAR and FIBM, both of which as ideologies lead to such consolidation of power and wealth that aristocracy forms (or is presumed). The Doctrine of the Mean is intended to avoid these extremes through critical analysis and discovery of destructive selfishness.

"[The Mean] focused on the conflict in a human mind precariously balanced between selfish and unselfish tendencies - the former identified with what were called 'human desires' (customarily used to mean 'selfish desires') and the later with the moral imperatives of the Way implanted in human nature as received from Heavan."

"The easy susceptibility to abuse of one's legitimate self-interest, one's fallibility, as well as one's proneness to self-deception, found expression for Zhu Xi in the terms of 'the human mind is precarious, the mind of the Way is subtle [and difficult to perceive].'"

(Both Pg 731: Sources of Chinese Tradition; Wm Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom; Columbia University Press '83.

But this defense of Neoconfucian thought as relevant to modern problems would require some research time to pull enough quotes to make a serious and detailed case.


Unknown said...

Proposed Solution:

I do have the sense that it falls apart in the end. That Brin faces the same problem Zizek notes in the failures of both state socialism seen in the Soviet Union and western style oligarchic capitalism seen prevalent today (interesting that Brin would point to the Zaibatsu as well).

Anyway, two issues I see:

1) His defense of this technocratic 'middle way' of crafting and restructuring legislation and regulations to create a level playing field for all market players is based on a metaphorical analysis of the system based on machinery. It is thus bereft of specifics necessary for making policy. (though, to be fair, so too is NeoConfucianism).

2) It ignores how easy it is for small yet dedicated groups to game the system in ways no one else notices until it's too late. I'll use a modern crowd-sourcing example.

I doubt anyone here knows of, but ages ago it formed as a response to Slashdot's perceived over reliance on central editorial decision making in their story publication choices. The kuro5hin publishing system was based on a public queue of articles where each registered user had a vote to promote a given article to the front page. It worked great until the community grew so large that gaming the queue for fun and profit destroyed the community - and then ultimately the site itself. Digg is a later example of that phenomena. Reddit will be (really is, users just haven't noticed it yet and fled).

I mentioned this problem before and don't think I got a satisfactory answer. Crowdsourcing is a real-life implementation of the ideals Brin promotes: vast decentralization, reliance on multiple views to cancel out crazy self-deception, heavy reliance on transparency for effective self-regulation, etc. Yet in the real world it has proven remarkably susceptible to coordinated manipulation.

So, David: Have you thought through that problem and do you have a link to another essay of yours where you respond in detail? Or can you give a response in a comment?


Unknown said...

See the graph!!!

The Cause Of Riots And The Price of Food

What causes riots? That's not a question you would expect to have a simple answer.

But today, Marco Lagi and buddies at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, say they've found a single factor that seems to trigger riots around the world.

This single factor is the price of food. Lagi and co say that when it rises above a certain threshold, social unrest sweeps the planet.

The evidence comes from two sources. The first is data gathered by the United Nations that plots the price of food against time, the so-called food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The second is the date of riots around the world, whatever their cause. Both these sources are plotted on the same graph above.

Ian Gould said...

Relevant to the discussion of the war on science:

Harassment of climate scientists is a predminantly American phenomenon.

Paul451 said...

Jerry Emanuelson,
"I hope that Gary Johnson can get enough votes to swing the election, even if it is only two or three percent of the vote. [...] It would shake up the ruling duopoly."

Like Ross Perrot did in 1992? And Nader's Greens did in 2000? They almost vanished in the very next election when voters realised that even their greatest success didn't "shake up the ruling duopoly" and that instead they effectively helped elect what they consider a worse candidate, that they actually moved the country in the opposite direction. If the LP actually do get a significant result in your state, it will only succeed in destroying support for the LP everywhere thereafter. Contrast that with the Tea Party movement. Which gets to pick candidates in one of the major parties, and sets the tone for whole campaigns, wildly out of proportion with their actual voting power. There's nothing to stop the LP doing that to both parties. Just 2% of committed voters would be enough to swing many primaries. That shakes things up.

So, under the current US voting system, people like you have two choices, one which destroys the very movement for change, and the other which disproportionately amplifies the power of that movement. And you've chosen the former.

Even if you want to be able to vote for a minor party, without handing the election to the most-worst party, you still need to change the voting system itself. And in that, every supporter of every minor party is your ally, from far-left to far-right, along with a hell of a lot of moderates who just want to see things change. So why not pitch in with all of them to form a pair of Better-Voting-Party factions, working inside each of the majors; selecting, supporting, funding-raising, and voting for candidates who pledge to support changes to the voting systems that allow second-choice/IRV/ranked-votes. [I presume, given the US system, that you'd need to focus on the County and State levels for electoral reform.]

But I honestly doubt you would even support people who are already working on voting system reform. I get the impression that you like your outrage/despair too much to do anything positive.

High Arka said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jumper said...

Good point on third-party tactics. Somewhere I read an essay on how perhaps the third-partiers (?!) should, instead of trying to support many Party candidates, should focus on a few of their best contenders across the country, and focus resources on those few. This strategy would not necessarily require their chosen candidates to leave either of the main parties. Focusing on only their best and brightest and most ideologically sympatico candidates would remove much of the sense of disgust at dealing with the evil Big Party.

Unknown said...

So, I followed High Arka's link to his blog entry and then followed the link from there to the debate between he and Brin, which I promptly ignored. Instead I found something else there of interest.

I'm a bit confused. Is "Ian" and "Ian Gould" the same person or two different people?

Anyway, we were discussing Maoist China a few posts back. We had a disagreement. Regardless, in that thread "Ian" had a debate with David regarding facts about the China Relief Expedition. I'm not clear on the entire context of that debate, since the comment system here is from the dark ages seemingly before even USENET threading became commonplace, but I do want to say that I think Ian is correct on this score.

Empress Dowager Cixi may have foolishly supported the Boxer movement, who clearly attacked foreign interests and people in China, but the international response (which included US troops as well as others from Great Britain, France, Russia and even Japan) sacked Beijing in force with little sense of propriety. It may not have equaled Japan's Rape of Nanjing in severity, but it was nothing the United States should be proud of for having taken part in.

reason said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "States" - are you suggesting a state by state analysis - Angry Bear's analysis was by presidential administration. The fist one is here:

But there is one from only a couple of days ago:

reason said...

Here is another one:

reason said...

Here is something with respect to States:

Jonathan S. said...

Arka, you betray your ignorance once again.

I encourage you to read "Earth", paying especial attention to the references to the Helvetian War. Dr. Brin wasn't prophetic for discussing the existence of offshore banking havens - those seem to date back to shortly after international trade became commonplace, and traders realized they could store their wealth in whichever location charged the lowest taxes - but for discussing the political import of said havens. And the uprising of those who feel disenfranchised by politicians in their own nations who use said havens.

Of course, if you're just trolling (which seems, increasingly, to be the most probable explanation for your postings here), well done. You've gotten your response. Now you can go back under your bridge and gloat for a while.

Jumper said...

Perhaps having infestations of trolls is a sign of success. I would guess it does not feel like it. I have few comments on my site. Neither does the current one here. Arka claims in bio to be female, btw. Not that it makes a difference online. Except for pronouns.

A friend in the mental health field gently chided me for expressing surprise and outrage when people seemed nuts. He pointed out that statistically about 5% - one in twenty! - of people you meet casually have some sort of issue going on. This has stuck with me, and helps make me realize that people have problems I just don't (and won't) know about. And I hope it makes me less mean.

sociotard said...

J. Maynard Gelinas, that Food Price Index article was interesting, but it seemed pretty narrow. It doesn't go back very many years, and it limits the part of the world it looks at.

Jerry Emanuelson said...


The Libertarian Party has been around for a long time. Its main problem has been that libertarianism, as it existed around the time of the Libertarian Party formation, was strongly dominated by various kinds of dogmatism.

Until the recent nomination of Gary Johnson, the political party was still dominated by dogmatism, even though there were large and growing numbers of non-dogmatic libertarians who simply avoided all political parties.

Pragmatic libertarianism is not a fringe philosophy in the United States. A very large part of the population here describe themselves as economically conservative and socially tolerant. It is the dogmatism of the LP that has kept itself at the fringe. Historically, moderate pragmatic libertarianism has been the dominant philosophy of U.S. citizens (but not of U.S. politicians).

If most people in the country knew about Gary Johnson and his ideas, I don't think that he would be regarded as a fringe candidate at all. In fact, he might just win. I am not the only person in the country who is disgusted by the Republics and the Democrats. I have just been disgusted with them longer than most people.

One of Gary Johnson's internet ads points out that all of the presidents memorialized on Mt. Rushmore were elected outside of the two-party system. The peculiar political sickness of the United States during the past 40 years has not been its dominant condition throughout its history.

The Republicans and Democrats of the past 4 decades have given us perpetual wars and perpetual deep economic crises. I do not like living inside a George Orwell novel.

As I said earlier, I refused to vote in any presidential election until this year. The reason was simply that I believed that a system where most people were voting against the person that disgusted them least was a dangerous way to get political leaders.

Jerry Emanuelson

Jerry Emanuelson said...

I hope it was obvious that my last sentence in my latest comment should have ended, "I believed that a system where most people were voting for the person that disgusted them least was a dangerous way to get political leaders."

Jerry Emanuelson

Anonymous said...

Wild guess on why Romney won't show his tax returns: It would reveal that he owns the company that owns the voting machines.

David Brin said...

Guys do not feed the trolls, especially the lefty troll whom I am 80% sure to be the oldest obsessive drive-by dope in the list.

David Brin said...

JMG thanks for the kind words... though I never claimed that the insight was wholly original - that small numbers of capitalists can be just as delusional and mired in group think as small numbers of bureaucrats... tho millions of modern Americans seem never to let that occur to them.

THANKS for the educational passages about confucian doctrines. Indeed, there is wisdom there. Alas, our power of delusion will make anyone perceive themselves as being the moderate centrist seeking the "mean." The breakthrough of the Enlightenment was empowering ALL citizens to hector the mighty by denouncing the elites' delusions. This was not permitted under systems prescribed by confucious or indeed plato. Those systems preached at philosopher kings to be RESPONSIBLE... but inherently allowed to to be kings.

In any event, the modern Chinese leaders certainly view themselves as ideal confucian/platonic philosopher kings.

U do not defend a technocratic middle way. You appear to misunderstand.

I defend the methodology that led to all enlightenment positive sum games. The unleashing of a maximum number of fully aware and confident and skeptical competitors, free to see all and criticize all and leverage their creativity against all knowledge. This is the root of The Transparent Society.

It is the method that created all our positive sum game and that *ironically) unleashed unprecedented cooperation and compassion into the world.

(For a rather intense look at how "truth" is determined in science, democracy, courts and markets, see the lead article in the American Bar Association's Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000, "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition." )

"It ignores how easy it is for small yet dedicated groups to game the system in ways no one else notices until it's too late."

It does NOT ignore this problem. Indeed, it is the only method that has ever succeeded in staving off or minimizing this pervasive human problem.

"Crowdsourcing is a real-life implementation of the ideals Brin promotes: vast decentralization, reliance on multiple views to cancel out crazy self-deception, heavy reliance on transparency for effective self-regulation, etc. Yet in the real world it has proven remarkably susceptible to coordinated manipulation."

Now you are offering a better criticism. Indeed, I discuss precisely this problem both in the journal article cited above and in EXISTENCE. The first step is for crowd-romantics to stop expecting that all will be solved just by expanding connections, with out fierce new methods of accountability.

David Brin said...

I do not claim that the US should be proud of its participation in the Beijing expedition, which, though horrifically excessive, was a direct result of relentless drooling stupidity, and aggressively awful statecraft on the part of Chinese leaders.

Understand, most empires that behaved that stupidly, for that long, across history, were dismembered FAR WORSE than China had been, by 1911, when the people finally got fed up and found the cojones, with lots of private American help, to rebel.

Anyway, my core statement remains and I pose it again. Name for me ONE foreign power that was ever China's friend as often and as consistently as the US. Scan all of Chinese history and find one. Any at all, that tried so often (though tepidly) to speak up for china's sovereignty and development. and defense against invaders. I truly am curious.

Jerry E... I once speeched a Libertarian Party national congress. I consider myself to by a Smithian libertarian... and hope that when the LP finally gets above 5% they'll draw enough pragmatic types that the numbers take off and drain the mad-GOP of its last blood supply of intelligent homo sapiens. I intend to send Gary Johnson money.

The same day I send some to Obama, next week.

Yes, dems and gopper both do war. But the differences in style are night and day and worth your vote.

Ian Gould said...

Another one for the Ostriches: The AIG bail-out has returned a profit to the US government.

All $182 billion the government invested in AIG has been repaid and the government still has a 22% stake in the company to sell.

The alleged multi-trillion-dollar cost of the various bailouts is actually south of $100 billion.

Ian Gould said...

"Name for me ONE foreign power that was ever China's friend as often and as consistently as the US. Scan all of Chinese history and find one."


David Brin said...

Russia... choke sputter... choke gasp.

David Brin said...


Unknown said...

David Brin wrote:

I do not claim that the US should be proud of its participation in the Beijing expedition, which, though horrifically excessive, was a direct result of relentless drooling stupidity, and aggressively awful statecraft on the part of Chinese leaders. 

Understand, most empires that behaved that stupidly, for that long, across history, were dismembered FAR WORSE than China had been, by 1911, when the people finally got fed up and found the cojones, with lots of private American help, to rebel.

Oh my.

David, perhaps instead of later focusing on their campaign against Korea, the Ming Emperors would have been better served to use Zheng He's naval fleet as a template for an armada to storm the Mediterranean in the 1440s and 1450s. At that point they had ship mounted cannon, naval vessels over 400' in length, and could move tens of thousands of people across whole oceans in a single flotilla. Imagine if Emperor Chengzu had decided that instead of dismantling the navy and turning inward due to excessive fleet cost and other internal disputes, perhaps conquering and colonizing far away lands to extract tribute might have been the better choice. It might well have been the European powers colonized first instead. China certainly had the raw transport and firepower advantage at the time.

But they didn't.


Unknown said...

It's instructive to look at the text of Lord Macartney's journal as he communicated between Emperor Qianlong and King George III. The British King wanted trade with China to resolve a balance of trade issue, because while British wanted Chinese pottery and silks, the Chinese didn't like course British textiles made of wool and linen, nor did they think much of British pottery and the quality of other goods. One might argue that the Chinese could have made use of at least some industrial technology, but the Chinese foolishly didn't want that either. They liked their stable stagnation.

One thing the Emperor didn't like was the opium trade. About the only thing the Chinese did buy from the Europeans was that drug, which large numbers of people abused. Like modern states today, China concluded that drug abuse destroyed social cohesion and sapped people of their identity and strength. The Chinese banned opium internal production and consumption, which predictably led to an internal black market. The British were only too happy to oblige these Chinese smugglers and drug dealers. And then the Chinese government had two problems: 1) rampant drug abuse; 2) massive silver outflows for a 'good' that wasn't. The international balance of payment issue had reversed.

This is what led to the opium 1840s wars. With British cannon armed steam-powered boats chugging up the Yangtze engaging in 'gunboat diplomacy'. And, of course, with their then superior firepower, the British won. And the Qing faced unequal treaty after unequal treaty with the western powers from that point forward.

The Boxer Rebellion was initially a bottom-up populist revolt, the Empress Dowager reacted by supporting them only after it had become powerful enough that she was forced to choose between supporting an internal rebellion versus supporting foreign invaders who had abused China for centuries.

The Beijing Expedition should be viewed in that context.

Finally, I find it interesting that you would on the one hand promote decentralized power, individual liberty in exchange of ideas and trade, the rights of the citizen over the sovereign, etc… while on the other decry the actions of a duly empowered state acting in what they perceived as the interests and desires of their local population, to simply stop engaging in trade.

The Chinese didn't engage in expansionist military gamesmanship into European territory. They just said, 'Hey, you know… we don't want to buy your sh*t. Go f*uck off.' Whereupon the western response was war; forcing drugs on the population and then reaping financial benefits as drug dealers; later funding internal insurrection and toppling a longstanding sovereign state; fanning the flames of warlordism to maintain instability; putting in place a weak puppet government ostensibly a Democratic Republic but just as bad as anything before; and finally leaving the western powers, and China, open to Japanese invasion on the one hand and internal communist revolt on the other.

Talk about blowback. Talk about stupid statescraft. Had the Ming Emperor known, Europe would remain a colony of China today.

Just say'n...

Jumper said...

Dwight Williams said...

David: as regards concerns about Canada's future?

It's an ongoing concern of mine, and I'm not sure that Mr. Gregg is wrong here. It parallels a lot of what went on the USA during the Bush II years, yes?