Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Central Planning and “Team Human.” Are we able to steer the ship, while letting markets do their creative thing?

Before getting down to the matter of central planning vs. market forces -- an argument that's raged since ancient Egypt -- I need to point out something regarding our current Constitutional Crisis over Congressional powers of subpoena and oversight. Never mind that the GOP used those powers endlessly in 25 years of Clinton hearings (that examined every pore, file and tax return, finding literally nothing). Now that scrutiny might shine on Republicans, Chief Justice John Roberts & co. must prevent a tsunami of light from eviscerating the oligarchy.**

In fact, it's arguable that this is none of the Court's business!

Consider how John Roberts just established precedent that legislatures have sovereignty rights that Courts cannot interfere with. (In this case, a sovereign right to deny voters any rights at all.) Yes, Roberts made that ruling as a last-ditch effort to preserve Republican gerrymander cheating...

... but amazingly, this bit of utter sophistry - The Roberts Doctrine — is one that House leaders could now exploit. Indeed, there is a way -- I believe -- to pull a judo move on the administration's stonewall tactic and get those subpoenas enforced.

The chief element of my proposal would be surprise... it might only be done once... and hence I've restrained myself from describing it in detail anywhere, before floating it past a member or senior staffer.

But one Democratic candidate has noticed what I am noticing. In a field of very bright folks, Julián Castro has been the one smart enough to look to the Fourth Branch of the U.S. government. I'd be happy to explain things to some smart staffer. Though alas, everyone seems so sure they have a clear view of things. What does anyone need outside perspective for?

== The recurring power fantasy ==

Central planning vs. Markets? 
You - yes you - are so sure you know all about this and have a firm 'side.' 
Can you pause to broaden it, a bit? ...

Central control over an economy is the great dream of all oligarchies. Even 'good' lords aim to justify their continued reign by the simple recourse of delivering good statecraft. Early Bronze Age societies succeeded at managing primary economies (hydraulic empires) with the super technologies of their day - irrigation and roads, boats and basic literacy by a few hundred priests and scribes.  Around 1200 BCE they hit a wall of competence and it all crashed down.

The classical powers that followed were more resilient and advanced. The Persian empire and Roman Pax had advanced primary economies, but finally hit their own wall, partly through incapabilityto adapt to environmental effects they were wreaking.

The third wave built a secondary economy of infrastructure and iron and coal, which Marx analyzed -- at first with real cogency, until he began believing his flatterers. Alas for his predictive reputation - the worker's revolution was supposed to happen in advanced economies like Britain or Germany, not the most primitive -- Russia and China. 

Lenin made excuses and declared that a socialist state can dispense with Marx's final stage capitalism, after all! It can plan a major secondary industrial economy as well as Adam Smith's competitive-blind capitalism. And for a while it seemed true! Soviet planners commanded "get a hundred train cars of cement to this dam construction site or you'll be shot." And to visiting western observers, it seemed effective! Dams sure got built.

"I have seen the future and it works," commented one visiting American.

(Elsewhere I show, in some detail, how probably the closest acolyte to Karl Marx, using his catechisms to predict an opposite future, was Ayn Rand.)

== Economies at the third level ==

Alas for the communist experiment, we were transitioning to a tertiary economy driven by consumers. While dams and highways are one thing, the Soviets hit their "wall of competence" when it came to centrally designing a refrigerator anyone would want.

The Japanese took these lessons to heart, with the next planned economy, incorporating what seemed an impossibly competent combination of overall planning with fluidity of market allocation among obedient but competitive companies, all propped-up by American indulgence toward predatory mercantilism.  Led by MITI, Japan blew past the Soviet wall... only to hit its own wall, in the 1990s.

Now it is China, led by brilliant former engineers, who are taking all the lessons from the USSR and then Japan, modifying them with vastly improved planning models, again relying upon the multi-trillion dollar subsidy of predatory mercantilism. The whole world benefits (except for the pollution and oppression). 

But again, we are endangered by the smugness of those who proclaim "this time there's no wall!"

== No wall? Is central planning becoming plausible? ==

History shows several things. First that every pyramid-shaped human society (that’s 99% of them) was ruled by oligarchies that were at-best moderately delusional and usually outright hallucinatory, confident that they knew exactly how to Guide the Allocation of Resources (See where I define and explain GAR.)

Second, as we’ve seen, these GAR fetishists always hit a wall of incompetence… though we have to admit, modern tools have let that wall shift substantially.

Third, introduced by Adam Smith, the alternative notion was to let the dispersed wisdom of vast numbers of private players coalesce – both cooperatively and competitively – through our arenas called Markets, Democracy, Science, Justice and Sports, where no one can suppress criticism, the only known antidote to error. 

By flattening all power structures and ensuring freedom of knowledge and speech, these arenas proved to be magnificent at piercing delusions… bad products, bad policies, bad theories, bad behaviors and bad ideas. The result? More success than all of the rest of human existence for half a million years.

But that very success generated another bad idea! While flattened power and distributed agency helped these arenas to achieve fantastic success, oversimplifiers turned Smith’s rejection of GAR into a different and just-as-stupid cult! FIBM or Faith in Blind Markets became an incantation, citing Adam Smith for something he never asserted and in fact actively loathed: the idea that society should assert no goals, have no hand on the tiller, insert no values into the mix of incentives that millions consider, in making market decisions.

(In case you missed it or skimmed, that just now was a key paragraph and you ought to at least understand it, even if you disagree.)

In other words, FIBM fanatics claim we should charge into the future lobotomized and blind, considering only what's right in front of us, pondering no long range goals other than the next quarterly profit statement. Indeed, under the Friedmanites, industrial ROI (return on investment) planning horizons shrank from ten years, to five, all the way down to 90 or even 60 days.

Of course the net effect is ironic. It has been to shove all decision making power into the ample laps of a narrow oligarchy, a caste of 5000 golf buddy CEOs and Wall Street arbitrageurs, along with foreign and domestic mafias, all of whom chant slogans of FIBM, but in fact aggressively behave like all past lordly classes… grabbing the power to do GAR.

Reiterating, they do not argue against command-allocation of resources and endeavor. They just want that the power of command allocation be theirs. The "C-Word" -- Competition -- falls from their lips, even as they strive to crush it.

In fact, the true friends of flat-fair-creative-productive markets have been the moderate or “rooseveltean” liberals who knew that Marx was right about a few things, like the tendency of corporate lords to consolidate into monopolies, duopolies or other market wrecking patterns of theft. Or that when parasites pull money out of the economy, it does not get invested in risky R&D or capital production equipment, but squirreled into rentier-passive asset bubbles that slow money velocity down to near zero. Exactly the achievement of every “Supply Side” (voodoo) vampirism of the last 40 years.

Dig it. While Republicans rage at regulation and the far-left sniff at "competition," It is only Regulated Competition that delivered the cornucopia fostered by the Rooseveltean social contract of the Greatest Generation. A contract whose dissolution is the one shared goal of every Republican policy.

Adam Smith would have no trouble with anti-trust laws, or with a society insisting that “externalities” like environmental effects get incorporated into the prices of goods available for consumer choice, so long as those incentive adjustments are flat, fair and predictable over spans that markets can adapt to.

Now, back to the present day and the central planning advocates in this world.

== They truly believe this time they’ve got it ==

Elsewhere I appraise some of the rationalizations that are now pouring from Chinese intellectuals, justifying the claim that only a centralized, party-ruled state can possibly (1) manage a modern economy, (2) distribute wealth properly as jobs disappear to automation, and (3) exert control over the new AI entities we are about to produce. These missives by Chinese scholars are typified by a recent one by Tsingua University professor Feng Xiang, which I critique here.

The crux: It has always been an appealing dream to plan an economy and an ideal state. That alluring notion may have long term merits - certainly we've become a lot better at it -- but we must also remain aware that till now there have always been "walls of incompetence." Moreover, there is a tendentious wish for this dream to come true, on the part of those who envision themselves as the "world directors" (from Huxley's Brave New World.)

The opposite notion has its own cult following: that central planning cannot work for long. That it is a chimera and a meddling tendency that interferes in Smithian market wisdom. 

All too often these folks are even worse! Because their rationalizations almost always excuse consolidation of allocation power in the hands of a small, incestuous and shortsighted oligarchy of owner-lords. Exactly the same old GAR approach but in feudal form, like the last 4000 years.

Adam Smith himself favored some degree of planning when it comes to overall priorities and goals, while leaving most allocation decisions to very well-informed and liberated citizens. In other words, as those computer models keep improving, there is no reason why they should have to be monopolized by top party officials or oligarchs. 

What if we all had them? A world market economy in which every citizen and consumer knew almost everything, with super models and analytic engines at beck and call? It's an image I don't see much discussed. Yet, it would still aim for that sweet spot, between fallible-but-necessary foresight and the flat-competitive interplay that gave us everything we now have.

We're told we must choose between two models: on the one hand proponents of centralized state planning who are clearly very smart and who have yet to reach their 'wall,' but who rationalize despotism while ignoring how much of their mercantilist success came because of western indulgence...

... versus a clade of would be oligarchic lords who claim to champion open-competitive-Smithian markets, while hypocritically joining with world mafia forces to send wealth and power disparities skyrocketing toward French Revolution levels. Their sycophant-flatterers are proved wrong, of course, when these would-be aristocrats cannot perceive the foolishness of waging war upon all fact-using professions, nor can they stretch their minds to ponder the word "tumbrels."

No, my friends, face it. Were he alive today, Adam Smith would be a Democrat. And the #1 (of many) silliness of democrats is that they don't proclaim it.


** CORRECTION: In an earlier version I said that an appeals court had ruled against Congress in the emoluments case. Actually the court did not rule against Congress on the emoluments case.The three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., found that the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia had no legal standing to bring suit on the emolument case. The Congressional case is ongoing. Fine. But when it comes to potential corruption of the entire Executive Branch via a crime specifically called out in the Constitution, I believe any and every citizen has "standing."


Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the previous comments:

I know I am more a spellcaster than scientist.

Kurt Vonnegut had an interesting way of expressing that. He said that, as a writer, what he tried to do was to put "body English" on real life events.

mudpuddle said...

great post

TCB said...

Okay, so central planning is a data processing problem. Breakdowns in central planning represent a data processing bottleneck.

Infamously, and perhaps apocryphally, during the Soviet era even women married to top Communist party leaders and Soviet generals could not get tampons nor sanitary napkins. They had to make do with torn-up old t-shirts while any woman in America could go to the store and buy a box of Kotexes. Reason: central economic planning was done by old men, who, surprise! do not menstruate. Old men want tractors and jet fighters, not cotton pads for mysterious womanly purposes... so they didn't direct even one factory to crank them out... that's what I have heard...

Therefore, central information processing about what to make and 'sell' is subject to a bottleneck even assuming the central decision makers mean well and if they don't... fuhgeddaboudit. If oligarchs only care about what crosses their own table and hang all the rest, well, commies or capitalists, doesn't matter. Bad decisions all around.

So, with distributed information processing, i.e. the marketplace, millions of customers in thousands of stores decide what to buy and so merchants order more of what will sell, and so on... bottleneck eliminated?

You'd think so. But maybe it has only moved. We, in late capitalism, have entire industries of advertising, public relations and social influence to make the hoi polloi, the People, i.e. the distributed processing units, want what the oligarchs WANT us to want. This is not as ironclad as the top-down command of the Supreme Soviet or the whims of the Sun King, but it still can make the supposedly superior information processing of The Market spit out results that don't make sense. In addition, we have learned that the Rational Economic Actor is a bit of a myth. We poor humans cannot figure out all the angles, all the time, in real time, with perfect fidelity to our best long term interest... we can be manipulated, and even without that factor we are not infallible...

TCB said...

Continued, sorta...

Sometimes I find that a biological metaphor clears thing up, a LOT. For example, my daughter worked for a search optimization company. She was thinking about leaving the firm. Would it ever grow? I explained to her that SEO's were like little fish swimming in front of the huge Google and Facebook sharks, snapping up little morsels that they dropped. The sharks were never going to drop any tidbits big enough to let a little fish become a billion dollar company. The ecological niche, even for the most able of them, is just not big enough... if the morsels are THAT big, the sharks would be having meetings every week about how to recapture them.

So. Let's view central economic planning from a biological stance. Think about your own mind/body. You have a fine frontal brain that lets you plan far into the future on the most grand schemes. But: would it be a good idea to achieve total conscious mastery over your body's most finely grained processes? As the author Colin Wilson once said, attention is like a searchlight: it illuminates a small area intensely but leaves everything outside it in darkness. You cannot pay attention to everything at once! What if you really did have to remember to breathe? To digest your food? What if you had to remember to tell your liver to filter out toxins, to tell your immune system which foreign organisms to attack?

You do NOT want that level of control! You could not handle it. You are much better off with most of these processes being automatic. You will live a lot longer...

TCB said...

What we end up with, I drunkenly suspect, is a layer cake of systems of which the most exalted is merely the latest: the more 'primitive' systems can run without it, but it cannot run without them. We, at the cellular level, can run without conscious direction, following successful strategies of old. Many of our body's systems are unchanged at a deep level for millions, or even hundreds of millions of years.

A tree does not need consciousness to get some tree-ing done.

But! Conscious planning has proven to be VERY effective at capturing resources and spreading into other ecological niches. We are Disruptive. Which brings me to the hubristic Chinese engineers in charge of their new control paradigm. Have they finally Solved It?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I doubt that. Their interests are still too narrow and selfish. If they had a 500 Year Plan to get humans and AI offworld, THEN I would think they were smart enough. Imagine if Hari Seldon only planned 25 years into the future. That's about what we see here.

Mickey Mouse with the magical broomsticks, that's the image.

As long as we're being honest, I'll go ahead and say it: I think Carlin and Vonnegut were right: we are probably finished, and soon. If we are not all dead in a couple of decades, I will be pleasantly surprised... if there were something I could do to change that, I'd do it right now.

TCB said...

EDIT: To clarify that last paragraph: I strongly suspect we have stupidly demanded, and gotten, conscious control of our own breathing.

Don Gisselbeck said...

One of the primary things we need to focus on is proportionality of outcomes. The abilities of non handicapped humans span less than an order of magnitude in anything that can be measured. (With a bit of training any of us would have no trouble scoring greater than 80 on the SAT, shooting less than 600 on a golf course, having a chess rating of more than 280, climbing l'Alpe d'Huez in less than 390 minutes, etc. Hell, magically reduce Rosalynn Carter's reaction time by 50% and she'd be hitting Justin Verlander fast balls.) My point is that the spread of remuneration should be less than an order of magnitude. This would have the salutory effect of markedly reducing the risk of blood flowing in the streets.

duncan cairncross said...


We try and do that here (NZ)

Our elected representatives (the leaders) make the top level laws including a "Purpose Statement" - what the law is trying to achieve

Then the next layer down the Civil Service "experts" make the actual regulations

This has lots of advantages not least that the regulations can be relatively easily changed and that the courts have the "Purpose Statement" in front of them if anybody complains

We need a mixture of Central Planning and then we need "Subsidiarity" when possible

Don Gisselbeck
I would change that to no more than 10 times the median - abilities like everything else that is optimised follow a skew normal distribution - a tight curve in the "hard" direction and a long tail in the "easy" direction

Larry Hart said...


We, in late capitalism, have entire industries of advertising, public relations and social influence to make the hoi polloi, the People, i.e. the distributed processing units, want what the oligarchs WANT us to want. This is not as ironclad as the top-down command of the Supreme Soviet or the whims of the Sun King, but it still can make the supposedly superior information processing of The Market spit out results that don't make sense.

This was exemplified in a "Simpsons" episode in which Lisa and Grandpa were both commiserating that no one listens to kids or old people. Homer comes downstairs saying, "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me." In his hand is a container labeled, "Nuts and Gum. Together at last, because you asked for it."

Darrell E said...

For too many people their policy positions are primarily dependent on their commitment to an ideology. For too many this means taking a number of claims as beyond reasonable doubt not because there is good evidence to support them but because of their commitment to the ideology. It becomes a moral litmus test. It becomes immoral to not agree with the ideology.

We've got to find ways to tweak our policy making systems so that the primary metric is what can be shown to work, in real life, to achieve what the policy was intended to achieve. Our policy making systems need to be reasonable enough and flexible enough to enact a policy, observe the results of the policy (by appropriate expert studies) and change it or toss it based on the results.

Duncan's description of the system in New Zealand sounds pretty good. Of course, the devil is in the details. It's all in the execution. Even the best, most reasonable system can be thoroughly corrupted. Enough of the actors have to be reasonably decent and fair. Too many people dishonestly trying to game the system and it will degrade. Right now in the US the liars, cheaters and stealers among our policy makers are a clear majority. They've pretty thoroughly trashed our system. We are at a crossroads.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Consider how John Roberts just established precedent that legislatures have sovereignty rights that Courts cannot interfere with. (In this case, a sovereign right to deny voters any rights at all.)

The supreme court already ruled in similar fashion during Bush v Gore, asserting that the Republican state legislature represented the direct will of the voters, and therefore the Democratic-leaning state supreme court has no right to interfere.

I've never understood how that squares with the US supreme court overriding Congress at will.

locumranch said...

David makes at least three indisputable statements of fact in this thread:

(1) That central control over an economy is the great dream of all oligarchies;

(2) That centrally-controlled economies, regardless of guiding ideologies, always hit their "wall of competence"; and

(3) That we are often offered a FALSE choice between two near identical socioeconomic models: one wherein proponents of centralized state planning who are clearly very smart, who have yet to reach their 'wall,' but who rationalize despotism and one wherein a clade of would be oligarchic lords who think they are very smart, who claim to champion open markets, but who also rationalize despotism.

David even manages to rightly concluded that GAR is just another name for central planning, and that is where he hits his own very "wall of competence".

Whereas others may note that centrally planned economies appear near identical to oligarchy, and may even go as far as to define oligarchy in terms of autocratic central control, our fine host pulls yet another euphemism for central planning out of his nether regions which he calls Regulated Competition.

Regulated by who you ask?

By yet another clade of would-be oligarchs who David thinks are very smart, who he euphemistically labels as the "Fourth Branch of the U.S. government", who are also know as a select group of unelected deep state bureaucrats, who he would empower to override democratic institutions for an ill-defined 'greater good' and who would rationalize despotism as central planners & oligarchs invariably do.

Please see David's three indisputable statements of fact about oligarchy & central control (above).

In all matters political, social, economic & climatic, we must never allow a select or elite cadre to arrogate central authority, no matter who smart & selfless we may believe them to be, because this way lays despotism, slavery & madness.


scidata said...

locumranch - funny post, thanks for the laughs.

Of course, you continue to construct, erect, clothe, and maintain the same sorry strawman. We optimistic futurist types go to great lengths to not extoll rule by elites. The entire argument is for distributed, fair, open, robust competition.

Imagine a very far (Asimovian) future. Would any kind of authoritarian GAR work? The only conceivable system is a non-pyramidal one, regardless of your particular political bent. It's not sociology so much as physics.

jim said...

In sociology there is something known as the Iron Law of Oligarchy, that says the more complex the social organization is the stronger the pressures towards oligarchy. It is depressing as hell but is very useful in explaining how large complex organizations operate.

Alfred Differ said...

Jim, (carry-over from last thread that our host helped make more relevant here)

This has been a very well know problem for many decades and people and the markets have not invented their way out.

I am going to disagree with you in a way that I think is relevant to this thread way more than the previous one. Central planning involves a knowledge problem as well as a data processing problem. It is the first one we cannot solve, few people realize that, and it matters to your general level of discouragement.

You argue that markets have not invented their way out. I argue that you cannot possibly know that. It is not that you are dumb or uninformed. It is that you CANNOT know it. Not possible. Not even theoretically. I cannot either. Not even theoretically.

Even when the planners are angelic (planning for a woman’s sanitary napkin needs as TCB noted), they will not have the information needed to make central planning work. Give them magical abilities to know our thoughts and desires and it STILL will not work. Why not? Because we do not know either. Yet… this is important… we manage to satisfy many of them even when we do not know that we had them. Not perfectly, but we manage IF we are allowed to act in a decentralized way on what we know.

Planning still happens, but it is the central planning notion that is doomed to failure. Literally doomed. Cannot work. 1=2. People believe it anyway because decentralized planning DOES work locally. Surely, what works locally is scalable. SURELY! Pfft!

Where your gloom runs into trouble is in thinking you know what the markets have invented and what they can invent. You do not know the first part, let alone the second. You think you do, but no one does.

So why would I argue that you should be more cheerful when I sincerely believe neither of us can know enough of what is going on to justify that cheeriness? Because we have done this kind of thing before and know the broad brush-strokes of how we solve these problem. Team Human does not function with one mind. It is composed of billions that know zillions of things on a local level. Team Human has invented a gazillion things and connects them in a bazillion ways changing them every day. I suspect Team Human already has most of what it needs to solve what concerns you and simply hasn’t felt the need just yet. However, it does appear to be putting an end to the coal industry. It does appear to be pushing photovoltaics far enough to make generation costs competitive. It does appear to be producing T-cells like you pointing out dire issues. I have seen others pointing out that we are simply going to have to learn to live with nuclear power and do it right. More importantly, I have seen many TWODA proposals catching on. I do not see many incandescent light bulbs in the stores where I shop recently. Electric vehicles are catching on earlier than I expected. Some of the things I see are probably local. I get that, but that is the point I am making to you. How would you know?

jim said...

Hi Alfred,

I really don’t have any strong objections to what you wrote above, but it still doesn’t change my expectations for a number of reasons.

1) Energy is fundamental to the economy (it is the ability to do work.)
2) More than 80% of the economy is powered by fossil fuels.
3) The global economy is huge, complex and the existing processes have a kind of momentum that makes fundamental change very difficult and time consuming.
4) The global climate is huge and complex with many time lags between actions and current and future conditions.

I think we can agree on all of those points ?

If we do then the big disagreement between us has to do with how much time we have left before we experience the full effect of our previous and current actions. It seems to me that you think we still have sufficient time to act and avoid most of the problems of climate change. I don’t think we do (because of those time lags).

Larry Hart said...


The old, cynical joke about experiencing a plane crash--later expanded to include an incoming nuclear strike--was that you had time to "bend over and kiss your ass goodbye!"

If your fears are justified, then isn't that really all we have time left to do? You fuss and cajole as a call to immediate, urgent action, but your underlying belief leads to the inevitable conclusion that no action is sufficient.

Is it any wonder people respond with a yawn? Not because they don't believe the sky is really falling, but because if the sky is falling, what can we do about it?

Duncan Ocel said...

Thank you for this great essay, David. It is nice to see laid down, paragraph by paragraph, this account of how the central planning torch has been passed down from nation to nation. Each time the torch passes, the wall moves, and the flaws of the past states are improved upon. The idea of a populist-accessible computer-model-planned state seems strong in many ways. Perhaps there really will come an iteration where there is no wall. A situation that comes to mind is one that undergoes a reduction in complexity compared to today: a regressive, Wendell Berryan farming confederacy could plan its simple markets with computers; so, perhaps, could a severely resource-starved, late-global-warming nation.

I am not ready to give up completely on the possibility of a successful centrally planned state, although market forces can be an elegant solution and the middle ground does seem feasible and appealing.

Alfred Differ said...

The usual issue people consider when thinking about central planners is the Resource Planning Problem (RPP). It is about data collection and processing. There is another, though, that the Austrian School refers to as the Knowledge Problem.

On a small scale, planning works imperfectly, but well enough that human bands survived. Imagine a group of 100 people living off the land. Resources X and Y are necessary, so they hunted or foraged for them. Someone among them was ‘in charge’ and organized to divide resources later. If an uneven division was necessary, it might be justified in terms of future needs to collect more of the resources in the next round. It might not have been pleasant to be someone receiving ration-level amounts while others receive more, but survival of the band ensured an evolutionary pressure on individuals to bow to group needs. Over time, there would have been general (if imperfect) agreement on the goals to be achieved by resource rationing. The band’s ‘planners’ could always be displaced if they abused their power, but new planners would start with the same RPP.

Somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000, humans stop agreeing on collective goals except under pressure. Without shared goals, the RPP is not solvable. Even if you have linear algebra and computation devices programmed with speedy algorithms, it cannot be done. Goals define the optimization’s fitness function. The moment a human group loses goal coherency is the moment planners simply cannot succeed, but that moment is not sharply defined. It is gradually approached and passed and planners find themselves approximating and interpolating. Without power to apply pressure, recipients of their work might choose to split into smaller groups where goals ARE coherent and solve a local RPP. Ah… but now, we have competing groups with different goals. Is there a way to work an RPP for them as if they were individuals? No. No shared goals. No agreed upon fitness function. That is why we invented markets. Traders do not have to agree on goals. All they need is to agree on price. MUCH simpler problem, though not easy.

In his later years, Hayek used ‘economy’ for trading where goals were shared and ‘catallaxy’ for trading where goals are not shared. Families economize. Corporations economize. Communities do NOT economize except under pressure. Few picked up the distinction, but he felt it was important to point it out. We confuse ourselves when we re-use ill-defined terms.


Alfred Differ said...


There is also the fact that people do not know what they want well enough for algorithms to use well defined fitness functions. I could tell you what I want for breakfast tomorrow, but not for a day 10 years hence. I could tell you how much I would pay for X TB’s of storage tomorrow, but not for a day 10 years hence. I am sure I would want an SSD and not one with spinning disks, but there might be better tech in 10 years that I would prefer instead. I JUST DON’T KNOW. Anyone who says they know themselves that well… and actually does… is not human or they are trapped in a feudal system where the prince/priest sets goals. Usually the later. Human in an inhumane system as in the last few millennia.

There is still plenty of room for regulation, though. Larger groups of humans can agree on rules of ‘just’ behavior. Murder bad. Fraud bad. These rules make up a ‘justice’ economy. It works up to a point, but there are limits on how large our groups can be and still agree on ‘justice’ goals. Abortion bad? Depends. Do you see it as murder? The danger of central planning in not limited to commerce markets. It is in all the markets for exactly the same reasons. A) We do not agree on goals. B) We do not know with precision what we want. The two are connected, but not the same. An even bigger danger arises when we try to use the rules of one market to plan another. That connects them as one game. Corrupting legislators and judges can be about making money AND avoiding justice consequences.

Avoiding central planning is a matter of humility. Admit to yourself that you do not know how best to assign resources, but you CAN help economize within your family, church, or company. Admit to yourself that you do not know the best rules of justice, but you CAN optimize within your local community, church, or state so local players in other markets do not do bad things without consequences. You have a rough idea of what you want. You have a pretty good idea of the differences between vice and virtue. If you want any of them applied broadly, it is best to leave the tools of coercion in the shed out back. Use them, and you convince those who do not share your goals to go get theirs out of the shed. They are going to do that anyway you say? Well… ponder your horizons of inclusion. Try not to expect too much conformity from your immediate neighbors at least. They know things you do not. They are the ones who answer the needs you have both known to you and unknown to you. Are your kids at risk of dying from smallpox? No? Do you know which neighbors helped make that happen… and what they had to know to make it happen?

Humans cannot agree on goals.
Humans cannot know with precision what they want.
Team Human is pretty good at figuring out how to solve the bigger RPP while adjusting for unknown unknowns. Not perfect. Makes mistakes at times. Better at it than ANYTHING ever invented from the minds of humans, though.

scidata said...

Scale is the main reason why I'm such a computational thinking wonk. We can abstract and draw graphs, but we're piss-poor at scaling reality (in both directions). Enter the computer.

Alfred Differ said...


1) Energy IS fundamental to the economy. If you look carefully, though, it is power that matters. If I wanted to light every room in my house 15 years ago I would have needed around 1KW. Not that I needed to do that, but that was the power requirement. Not so today. I can get the same level of illumination on about 200W. On top of that, I use more ‘spot’ lighting, so my instantaneous power demands are lower now than 15 years ago.
2) Most of the economy is powered by fossil fuels. 80%? Could be. I haven’t checked lately. What was it 15 years ago? What will it be 15 years from now? One we know, the other is damn hard to predict. My bet, though, is it will be lower than 80%. My investment portfolio is arranged on that bet too. Money where my mouth is. 8)
3) The global economy is huge and complex and full of inertia, BUT I don’t think it is that difficult to change it if you know where the fault lines are. Economies are like big substitution games. I buy lots of X to do A, but Y would work almost as well. If X costs a bit too much relative to Y, I’ll begin to switch. Whether it is a state gas tax here in California discouraging me from driving or the price of PV’s dropping enough to encourage me to generate my own power, the effect is the same. I’ll do what makes economic sense for me whether I’m a denialist or not. I’m not, of course, but I recognize that they ONLY way we are going to save ourselves is through TWODA while smart people are inventing the next miraculous bit of science/engineering. It’s not sciene that will save us, change the economy, or change our minds, though. It’s just us and we aren’t as complex as the global economy.
4) The global climate does have a lot of inertia in it. THAT worries me, but not in the ‘immediate death’ sense. It worries me because I don’t know. The solution is simple, though. More science. More study. More knowledge acquisition. We have enough people to assign to the tasks. All we have to do is pay their salaries. They already have the necessary motivation because …. GO TEAM HUMAN!

You might be right about us not having enough time, but I’m not going to assume that. If it smacks me in the face hard enough to drop me on my butt, I MIGHT begin to believe. Despair is a vice and I want nothing to do with it. 8)

jim said...


here is a chart on fossil fuels as a % of total energy

It shows that we have been around 80% total fossil fuels sense at least the beginning of the 70's. It has bounced around a little but not much. Of course sense the 1970 our fossil fuel use has soared.


I am sure that things will get bad, but there are many different levels of bad. If we act quickly and effectively I think we can still save human civilization. if we keep going business as usual for another decade or two I don't think we will be able to. And if things go badly humans will join the many other species that will go extinct in this mass extinction event.

Treebeard said...

Wasn’t the Federation a centrally planned utopia? I don’t recall seeing any democracy at work. Like Erdogan said, “democracy is like a train: when you reach your destination, you get off.” The destination if the Federation; If democracy turns against that vision, then of course we need a council with a fancy name to step in and correct the errors of democracy to keep us on course toward the glorious future.

A.F. Rey said...

Jim, that chart you linked to only goes to 2013, if I'm counting the bars correctly. What's happened in the last six years?

Larry Hart said...


Wasn’t the Federation a centrally planned utopia? I don’t recall seeing any democracy at work.

Later versions of Star Trek might have portrayed the Federation as overly utopian, though I don't recall specific examples of it being centrally planned.

In the original Shatner/Nimoy version of the show, we see very little of the structure of Earth or the Federation. Terms like "Federation" or "Starfleet" are thrown around enough to give the show a feel of verisimilitude, but in the show by show adventures, the Enterprise is largely on its own, except for the occasional visiting (incompetent) admiral or diplomat.

One thing we do know about the Federation is the Prime Directive. That they're forbidden from interfering in the development of other civilizations. Which is the opposite thing of what you're complaining about. You believe that humans have no right to "uplift" other species, and the Federation agrees with that.

Alfred Differ said...


Grim, I agree. Since the global economy has increased quite a bit along that timeline, the absolute amount of fossil fuel use should match closely.

However, one of the things I learned in investment classes was "Past performance is no indicator of future earnings." Something like that. Most of us ignore that warning because we know that past performance IS a good indicator for short term behaviors... up until black swans enter the picture... and they do. I can take a chance one won't appear tomorrow and bet the trend, but it IS a chance. It is a chance that dilutes in certainty to the point of silliness after more than a few days for some things and a few months for other things. By then, the odds of a black swan landing in your yard get high.

So... some of us take contrarian bets that assume the swan will arrive. Doesn't always work. In fact, it often doesn't.

So... some of us bet on volatility instead. We look for moody people. That can work better since it's not hard to spook people. When the Spook-in-Chief does it for us, we can get away with it without going to jail. Bonus!

Seriously, though, your chart says what was. Think about all the world changing events that happened during that time. Did ANY of them change our odds of survival for the better? What about the events you don't know because you can't know because the people who do know don't yet realize that what they know matters? Convoluted question? Sure. I'm pointing out the illusion, though. It's the illusion of knowledge. We aren't know-nothings, but neither are we know-it-alls. Most of us aren't even know-enoughs. Only collectively do we get to that.

Alfred Differ said...


The TNG series was supposed to be a partially post-scarcity society for humans on Earth. They didn't think it through, though. Not much anyway. Had they done so, most of the plot lines would have failed. That was the 80's, though. What did THEY know?

There are times when democracy and liberty conflict. In a post scarcity world, we might be able to do away with democracy and still manage to get along. It's hard to say. This is just the 21st century. What do WE know?

I like some of what V Vinge wrote about the writing of science fiction set in the near future. It's hard to do if you want to avoid fantasy plots. "What happens if" has to deal with the possibility of black swans and singularities in our capabilities or the first derivatives of our capabilities. A shaman spinning a tale 30K years ago would have missed the mark when explaining how we'd live 3K years ago for most of us and been wildly wrong at the 300 years ago mark. I was here 30 years ago and have a hard time remembering it as it was.

Democracy may be set aside, but I doubt we will go back to feudal planning. Too many of us are too wealthy now. We wouldn't tolerate starvation without killing our oppressors by the millions or more.

David Brin said...

Wow! What are those vitamins locumranch just took! Instead of spewing utter drivel and insane hallucination... like his previous 8 or 9 postings... this one (gasP0 tried to actually (adult alert!) PARAPHRASE my actual (rather than his insane strawman) point.

He even... choke/sputter/gasp ... to some extent... um... succeeded? And just when I was successfully starting to ignore him. WTF did you just TAKE, man?

Of course, he's still locumranch, so he proceeded to justify blithering hostility to all things Brin by then erecting a fatuous strawman of my final point, to flail at.

No... the enlightenment rules of regulated competition are NOT just another form of oligarchic control. They are the only method ever found that allowed large scale societies to evade that near-universal failure mode. They are the only way ever found to reduce or eliminate cheating so that creative cometition can take place that is generally flat-open-fair.

Do they use coercion to achieve those ends? Yes, under transparent supervision by citizens of the commonwealth and their elected representatives, and subject to endless argument and revision. And for 35 years those revisions have meant tearing down flat-fairness-aimed regulations that limited the freedom of oligarchs, instead feeding them gushers of our cash, under FIBM rationalizations for plutocratic GAR.

The experiment has been run. And just as sports leagues collapse without flat-fair regulation, so are our other systems when control is handed over to cheater lords.

the best response is logical, though. Locum attacks Rooseveltean fairness anti-cheating regulation IN TERMS OF BEING COERCIVE CHEATING by yet another would be aristocracy. And hence he accepts the premise that such things are bad. Poor lackey of oligarchs and cheater lords! You cornered yourself.

TCB said...

I have two fairly fresh stories to mention which address the topic of A.) Central planning follies under Soviet rule, and B.) The Brilliant Engineers Running China, Look How Clever they are!

Story A: The Most Senseless Environment Crime of the 20th Century, or how Soviet whaling ships nearly wiped out humpback whales around New Zealand in just two years for no good reason, except quotas. For bone meal!

"Whaling, like every other industry in the Soviet Union, was governed by the dictates of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministers, a government organ tasked with meting out production targets. In the grand calculus of the country’s planned economy, whaling was considered a satellite of the fishing industry. This meant that the progress of the whaling fleets was measured by the same metric as the fishing fleets: gross product, principally the sheer mass of whales killed."

There are those who say capitalism will kill us if we do not kill it first, but Communist states have been notoriously bad environmental stewards too. The Aral Sea is another example from the Soviets, and the Chinese have their dams and brand-new gigantic cities in the middle of nowhere with almost nobody in them...

Story B is the tale of Xu Xiaodong, a Chinese MMA fighter on a mission to expose 'fake' kung fu. Like Houdini and Randi, he has set out to expose frauds, in this case, "masters" of martial arts who can't actually fight. He knocked famous tai chi master Lei Lei straight on his behind, and says "I never thought of tai chi as a martial art. Tai chi is an aerobic exercise for the elderly." Burn!

Well, this created a scandal in China. Did Xu's fellow citizens embrace the spirit of CITOKATE?

Hell, no. They loaded the Social Credit cannon and blasted him, making Xu an early casualty of this new dystopian toy. The media said he was like a Western invader. He got kicked off Weibo (it's like Twitter, I guess) and all other social media, and lost his video channel.

Lest we think America is better, I used to listen to progressive talk radio here in Asheville, but the station pulled the plug. You can still get Rush Limbaugh though! I looked up one of my favorite hosts, Norman Goldman, and found out he quit doing his show soon after. He explains: Unfortunately, we've had to end the show, as there is no economic path forward. The two giant radio companies that own the AM political talk radio stations have essentially boycotted us and we got lost in the middle of the half-million-plus podcasts that are out there now - very few making money.

Norm is a lawyer, and his "Senior Legal Analyst Time" explanations of the ins and outs of civics and legal cases in the headlines were brilliant!

You can still listen to Limbaugh though.

TCB said...

By the way, Norman Goldman's website has a 5-part show segment on the front page, from January 20 thru January 24, 2014, that you can listen to, in which he spent a bit more than an hour and a half explaining EXACTLY how AM radio in the US got so Nazi'd up.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: I was here 30 years ago and have a hard time remembering it as it was.

Oh good, I thought it was just me.

TOS had better stories. Khan's DY-100 robot sleeper ship was sort of like the Independence-class ships.

Don Gisselbeck said...

We need to beat kneejerk haters of all central planning with the Montreal Protocols.

Larry Hart said...


I was a big fan of Norman Goldman, and often posted things he said on this site. I still miss him.

BTW, I live in Chicago with one of the only functioning Progressive talk radio stations in the country--WCPT. Several of the hosts are fans of Ashville as the island of sanity in North Carolina. Sort of like Austin, Texas that way.

Larry Hart said...

The snark isn't even hidden any more. Emphasis mine:

James O'Keefe created fake videos of ACORN workers that, when debunked, ended up costing him a judgment and $100,000 of out his own pocket. Charlie Kirk maintains a list of university professors who "advance leftist propaganda in the classroom," so that conservative students can avoid taking their classes. Benny Johnson is only 32, but he's already been fired from multiple media outlets for plagiarism and for faking his evidence. Bill Mitchell is a radio host who played a key role in promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory. Sebastian Gorka is a pseudo-academic, an Islamophobe, and may have ties to neo-Nazi groups. And what all of these folks have in common is that they are among the most notorious propagandists working in America today.

Another thing they have in common is that they attended a "social media summit" hosted at the White House yesterday. That descriptor, crafted by the administration, can hardly be taken seriously since there were no actual representatives of major social media platforms at the "summit."


There was also some shallow flattery of the folks in attendance and the standard railing agains the media, the Democrats, the deep state, and so forth. And a fair bit of kvetching about the census citizenship question. O'Keefe, Kirk, et al. were really hoping to get clear marching orders for 2020, and reportedly came away disappointed. Gorka was so upset, in fact, that he threatened to kick the crap out of a legitimate reporter who was covering the proceedings. In any case, it appears it will be on the propagandists to make up their own lies, misrepresentations and distortions going into 2020, so Trump has something to retweet.

locumranch said...

Scidata foolishly assumes that "fair, open, robust competition" will somehow prevent the formation of authoritative elitism -- as in the case of elite organisations like Google, Microsoft, Amazon & Standard Oil who invariably consolidate their elite market positions through coercion -- but it doesn't because competition is how authority and elite status are created & conferred.

Central planning appears to be the best pathway to fairness, except it's not because it redefines competitive outcomes as corruption (because competition is 'unfair' to losers) in order to create a false dichotomy between good government authoritative elitism as opposed to bad competition-based authoritative elitism.

David's solution to this dilemma is more central planning & escalating regulation. As an elitist committed to meritocracy, he supports competition -- as in the case of the democratic electoral process -- but only when it serves his elite interests, which is why he demands checks, balances and ever more central planning.

Paradoxically, the central planner must assume incorruptible authority in order to justify central planning, even though central planning invariably results in coercion & corruption, and this leads to a type of infinite regression in the quest to establish inhuman standards of incorruptibility.

As incorruptible as SCOTUS, Congress, POTUS, the Electoral College, the intelligence agencies, the deep state & the voter -- strike that -- I mean the INSPECTOR GENERAL'S OFFICE which would be incorruptible because it answers only to God just like a human king.

Strike that King idea because American David absolutely hates royalty. Instead, what we really need is an ARTIFICIAL MACHINE INTELLIGENCE to make central planning work because only machines are inhuman, incorruptible & merciless enough to make central planning work...

But only AFTER we make these AIs more human first by teaching them mercy, morals & human kindness because then, once humanized, the AI would be as trustworthy & incorruptible as humans are. Ha ha.


Larry Hart said...

Paul Krugman agrees with me:

And in case you haven’t noticed, today’s G.O.P. doesn’t believe that the will of the voters should determine policy, or that rule of law as normally understood should constrain the right’s efforts to get what it wants.

Larry Hart said...

This is why we can't have nice things. Emphasis mine:

Tracy Nuetzi, a Trump voter and resident of Florida, was an American citizen for 60 years, until the country decided she wasn’t.

“I thought, ‘This is a mistake, this must be a mistake,’” she said. Ms. Nuetzi spent nearly a year, from December 2017 to November 2018, trying to prove she was an American, and not liable to be arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


Ms. Nuetzi was born in Montreal to two U.S. citizens who were in Canada for less than a year while working for an American company. Having two U.S. citizen parents automatically makes you a citizen under Section 301(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, but with restrictions tightening under the Trump administration, 60 years later, that automatic citizenship wasn’t enough.

“I called to get a new passport, and they told me to go to immigration,” Ms. Nuetzi said. “But why would I go to immigration? I’m not an immigrant. Then I called Homeland Security and the woman on the other end of the line started laughing at me.”

It proved nearly impossible for Ms. Nuetzi to extract herself from the ICE machine.


For more than a year, Ms. Nuetzi was scared that she’d lost her country. If we can’t trust our system with a case like hers, how can we trust it with immediate border deportations?

“I don’t think anyone should be treated like that, period,” said Ms. Nuetzi.

In the end, she finally was granted a passport.

During her ordeal, she thought about contacting the president via Facebook to ask for his personal intervention in her case. She ended up doing it all on her own, but she said she continues to believe Mr. Trump will “make America great again.” She intends to vote for him in 2020.

scidata said...

Scidata foolishly assumes that "fair, open, robust competition" will somehow prevent the formation of authoritative elitism

Almost grasping it; 'somehow prevent' is the key phrase. In the far future, that flat, diverse, competitive landscape will prevent elitism and oligarchy the same way that healthy biomes prevent slime mold and mildew. It's way beyond any galaxy-spanning sociology, or even AI central planning.

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon S. said...

The economy of Star Trek is mixed, at best. In TOS, there was still a trade economy going on, and Starfleet at least was paid - Uhura was ready to pay ten credits for her tribble in "The Trouble With Tribbles", until Jones gifted her with it. (There was also a mention of Scotty having "earned your pay for the week" after saving the ship again.)

By the time of TNG, they had invented replicators, which, coupled with fusion and solar power, meant that the "core worlds" of the Federation - Earth, Vulcan, Tellar Prime, Andor, etc - were in a post-scarcity mode. If you wanted a thing, all you had to do was ask a replicator to make it. If you didn't have a replicator, you could get another replicator to make you one. There were still some items of value, particularly original art pieces and food cooked by living hands (replicated food, coming from the same pattern, would always taste exactly the same every time), but by and large the core worlds had no want.

On the other hand, as Sisko pointed out in a fairly famous speech on DS9, that didn't apply to the frontiers - sometimes there wasn't enough power to give everyone everything, sometimes there weren't enough resources yet to make replicators, sometimes it was just a matter of a colony that felt the crass consumerism of the Federation wasn't for them. And sometimes it was a matter of the region concerned being the potential battleground between the Federation and another state, as in the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone. Those worlds generally still had strong trading economies, of the sort the Ferengi Alliance could exploit-- er, I mean serve the interest of.

As for politics, each major world would elect (by whatever means that world chose) a representative to the Federation Council. The Council would then elect the Federation President, whose term of office was never mentioned on the show but which in ancillary fiction is generally assumed to be six Earth years (as the capitol of the Federation in TNG and later was Paris). Sounds like a democratic republic to me, even if some of the worlds like to call themselves "Kingdom" or "Hegenomy" (or, in the case of Andor, "Empire", although their last Emperor died 300 years ago after giving strict orders not to be replaced).

David Brin said...

I really need to read/edit:
locum's vitamins give us him at his best... able to fire his salvoes at my general direction after an opening that is an actual attempt at actual paraphrasing. Alas, it is the best we'll ever get. Because he is compelled to lie in defense of the indefensible:

"David's solution to this dilemma is more central planning & escalating regulation. "

We should not be surprised that he cannot -- inherently -- tell the difference between 4000 years of oligarchic cheating and a consensus-built, cooperation-base rule of law that is designed to enhance flat-fair competition. And lacking the latter... um... what would he recommend as a method to keep competition flat-open-vibrant and cheating-free?

(In fact I do have an alternative. The number and extent of regulations DECLINES when transparency makes them less necessary.)

The difference he's unable to perceive is that between fair regs in a sporting league and "The richest team may advance their ball 9 yards any time, during any down."

But I'm paying him attention. So aim achieved.

David Brin said...

Jon S I am a huge Trek fan and deem their attention to detail and historic consistency to be almost as important as their hyper-rare, guarded optimism (laced endlessly with critical thought experiments.)

Still, there's one major grievance. They treat the Klingon Empire as a large volume of space filled with just... Klingons. In TOS there was once or twice reference to the slave species that would languish inside such a volume of dominance. The Chernobyl story line offered a chance to fix that. But it goes unmeantioned in their desire to turn Klingons into burly, macho okay guys.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

They treat the Klingon Empire as a large volume of space filled with just... Klingons.

Going just by TOS, which would have been the only reference available at that time, I don't think it was ever made clear whether "The Federation" was a conglomeration of many spacegoing races who joined forces, or if it was Earth and the planets that earthmen had landed on and brought into the fold. In a later movie, we see that Vulcan preceded Earth and brought us into the Federation, but that always felt like a retcon to me, not consistent with the sense I ever had watching TOS.

If the Federation was mainly Earth, planets earthmen had landed on themselves, and planets with humanoids who earthmen convinced to join, then it doesn't seem strange that Klingon space would be similar.

locumranch said...

It's funny how those who support the incorruptible 'rule of law' often demand mercy, kindness & partiality (which they misidentify as 'fairness'), even though enlightened virtues like mercy, kindness & fairness are extralegal corruptions.

Yet, they chatter on, claiming that 'NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW', as they invoke the enlightened virtues to carve out innumerable exceptions for children, women, students, minorities, people of privilege, migrants, debtors & the oppressed.

I therefore argue that there is NO difference between cheating and a consensus-built cooperation-based rule of law that is designed to enhance flat-fair competition when both involve after-the-fact rule changes.

Changing the rules unilaterally, after play has commenced, without unanimous consent, represents de facto 'cheating'.

Do you want to pay full price for services that society gives other people for free? Or, be bound by rules, obligations, restrictions & punishments that others do not share?

Well, nobody does. It's called 'taxation without representation'.

Pick a crime, any crime & its associated penalty, from theft to domestic violence to federal obstruction, and I will show you the exceptions that disprove this so-called rule of law.

Know also that Scidata's claim about how a flat-diverse-competitive landscape will prevent elitism and oligarchy someday IN THE FAR FUTURE is an admission of its present day failure to achieve its stated goals.


scidata said...

locumranch: is an admission of present day failure

Lack of widespread literacy, especially scientific, is the cause of our current strife (the 'failure' label is way too premature). I, and many others, are working on it.

Re: Federation
The Jack the Ripper TOS episode talked of humanity spreading out into space pre-Federation (and taking the monster with them). This sort of follows Asimov's 'Spacers' (Asimov himself was at first dismissive of TOS, but later came around). My favourite history was from "Enterprise", where Earth brokered peace between the Vulcans and Andorians, and those three worlds founded the Federation.

jim said...

AF Rey

This is from Wikipedia
" In 2016 while total world energy came from 80% fossil fuels, 10% biofuels, 5% nuclear and 5% renewable (hydro, wind, solar, geothermal), only 18% of that total world energy was in the form of electricity. Most of the other 82% was used for heat and transportation."

and here is a link to 2018 (a bit worse, but not much change,)

We would need to see the % fossil fuel of total energy used fall by about 5% per year for a couple of decades to avoid the worst of climate change. That is a monumental challenge that we are not even trying to do.

A.F. Rey said...

Thanks, jim, for looking up the numbers. I was hoping that the situation had improved substantially in the last six years. :(

Larry Hart said...


My favourite history was from "Enterprise", where Earth brokered peace between the Vulcans and Andorians, and those three worlds founded the Federation.

To me, Enterprise in particular always seemed like a retcon--a reimagining of Star Trek history rather than background on the world we already knew. I can enjoy it for what it is, but it doesn't help explain anything about the stories that viewers would have been seeing at the time of TOS.

The Jack the Ripper TOS episode talked of humanity spreading out into space pre-Federation (and taking the monster with them). This sort of follows Asimov's 'Spacers'

That was more of my sense of what the universe of TOS was like. That both the Federation and Starfleet were essentially Earth constructs of earthmen spreading out into the galaxy. Other species were essentially "natives" that humans encountered on some of those planets, a subset being advanced enough to join the Federation if they so chose.

The fact that the Enterprise had a Vulcan officer seemed like a very unusual thing. And remember the suspicion that Spock fell under in "Balance of Terror" when Romulans were first seen to resemble Vulcans? That doesn't sound like the way a client race would regard its patrons.

David Brin said...

I skimmed and saw that the meds had worn off. SOmeone tell me when he says something under the influence of vitamins, again. Boy am I indulgent.

Meanwhile, a top item in our long list of desperately needed items that ALL members of our coalition for sanity want & need to do together, before doing any "splitter" raving about "DINOs." It is a very mild retraction of the War Powers Act, which needs to be trimmed down much more! But this version won support even from some RASR Republicans in the House.

Jon S. said...

Well, the Vulcans weren't exactly a patron species - they discouraged humans from launching the Warp 5 project, and then from sending out NX-01 at all, but they couldn't exactly do anything to stop it.

We do know that the Federation had a number of human colonies - Kirk was raised on one, until a planetary famine led the governor to order half the population killed (long before Thanos tried to scale this solution up quite a ways). We also know that there was at least one Constitution-class starship, the Intrepid, staffed entirely by Vulcans, leading one to suppose that perhaps Starfleet in those days used to separate out ships by species (it would simplify life support if the food processors and environmental controls only had to provide the necessities for one or two species, after all). Then one might suppose further that the introduction of replicator technology made it much easier to provision a ship to support multiple sapient species - no need to worry if what's available to eat might make a Bolian sick, for instance.

(No, TOS didn't use replicators, just "food processors". In the episode "Charlie X", Kirk complains that Thanksgiving is coming up back on Earth, and if the crew has to eat reconstituted meatloaf, the cooks should at least make it look like turkey. In another, he becomes annoyed when Yeoman Rand brings him his evening meal in his quarters - a salad, as per Dr. McCoy's orders.)

It's never made explicit, of course, but the implications are there, I think.

Meanwhile, over in the official Star Trek Online forums, it has been proposed that the existence of multiple sapient species who are kept segregated could be used as an easy explanation of the difference in appearance between Klingons as seen in ENT (and TNG and later), TOS, and DSC - the guys with the long heads and melted-looking ears might just be a different species from the space bikers with lobsters on their heads or the gold-lame-clad Puerto Ricans with the heavy eyebrows. This is entirely headcanon, of course - it's also possible that the Klingon Empire isn't anywhere near as expansive as they'd like people to think, given that the destruction of one moon of one world threatened to destroy the entire Empire in ST6.

David Brin said...

AF “Interesting re Cattalexy. But “Humans cannot agree on goals.” I would dispute this aspect.

Treebeard asks a fair question. In Trek there are occasional oblique references to representative and elected governance. But vastly more reference to issues of rights, individuality, eccentricity-protection, fair competition, justice and diversity and free expression. If you read Iain Banks novels you’ll see a semi-utopia in which all of those values prevail… but the ultimate authorities are benevolent uber AIs.

I do not claim to favor that approach. What I do assert is that the values I just described aren’t just “good” in being morally superior to primitive stupidities like oligarchy. Those traits are also the ones that are pragmatically useful in that they maximize idea generation, transparent error detection, productive argument/negotiation and effective navigation of the future’s minefield. By comparison, any unitary hierarchy is doomed to delusional error and suppression of error-discovering competition.

In other words, the greatest fault of inheritance/wealth based oligarch is not its moral faults - though those are immense. It is the long track record of spectacularly stooopid governance that we now call “history.” A litany of horrific error that only started to change when we initiated flattened-fair systems.

jim, the number of wondrous new technologies is amazing. Were we simply to develop them and more, while finishing the uplift of all children to creative citizenship, we should get out of the woods. But that will mean also the end of tyrannical hierarchy. And that is the hated outcome that has roused the world mafia-oligarchy to unite.

Tony Fisk said...

I think it's high time someone rediscovered Poul Anderson's future history series.
He did a similar Gibbon in Space thing that Asimov did with the Foundation series. No psychohistory, but breathing aliens.
What prompted that was talk of the Klingon Empire being full of just Klingons. All of Anderson's rival civilisations had minority groups. The most notable being the colony on Avalon,jointly founded by Humans and Ythri.

David Brin said...

Poul wasn't the greatest sf author (Frederik Pohl) or the greatest wordsmith (Cordwainer Smith? Gene Wolfe?) But he was the best storyteller I ever saw.

scidata said...

We have arrived at the bizarre state of affairs that has Europe lecturing the US on individual rights and the essential nature of civilization. Gene Roddenberry must be spinning in his grave. He was from Texas. The West Virginia October Sky story has a modern west Texas version:

Calculemus! (et ad astra)

duncan cairncross said...

"We have arrived at the bizarre state of affairs that has Europe lecturing the US on individual rights and the essential nature of civilization."

To me that is NOT bizarre - the USA has always "claimed" to be ahead of "Europe" on "individual rights and the essential nature of civilization" - but that claim has been dubious as hell right from the start

Slavery and it's noxious aftermath made the USA lag a long way behind Europe - right up until the present day

locumranch said...

The Star_Trek Universe became a dead end when NextGen became more concerned with protocols & rule obedience than big ideas, transmogrifying into the Deep State in Space.

Gene Wolfe was not know for his sense of humour but wrote beautifully in a way that highlighted his flawless grasp of Greek etymology & classical literature, until he descended into OCD.

EE 'Doc' Smith's work was remarkable for his casual racism, his SOA, his blueprint for incorruptible authority, & for coining the phrase 'Who watches the watchers?'

But, Eric Frank Russell was an unequaled storyteller for his ability to incorporate causative anti-racism, military strategy & sardonic humour into fast-paced adventure, so much so that his 'Wasp', 'Next of Kin' and 'Great Explosion' remain effective as antidotes against empire builders & would-be authoritarians everywhere.


David Brin said...

" the USA has always "claimed" to be ahead of "Europe" on "individual rights and the essential nature of civilization" - but that claim has been dubious as hell right from the start"

Dubious in many ways... but in even more ways spot on.

"Who watches the watchers" goes back slightly further. To Juvenal in ancient Rome. And 'incorruptible" doesn't happen without "accountable."

scidata said...

Slavery and it's noxious aftermath made the USA lag a long way behind Europe - right up until the present day

Yes and no. The US has indeed been fighting that battle in its streets and in its soul since the start. Europe largely exported that fight to far-flung colonies where a very different set of rules applied than those in its domestic humanistic parliaments. Anyway, I was really talking about the 20th century, when the US repeatedly doused the flames of barbarism that threatened to consume Europe.

Canada, Australia, and NZ have a somewhat different history. Beginning as usual with raw colonization, but evolving into sincere membership in the British Commonwealth.

scidata said...

locumranch: The Star_Trek Universe became a dead end when NextGen became more concerned with protocols & rule obedience than big ideas, transmogrifying into the Deep State in Space.

There's some truth there. "Star Trek: Discovery" is filmed at Pinewood Toronto Studios. I don't know any cosplay Trekkies. I do know a few engineers, physicists, and biologists. And I know a small village worth of IT types. We discuss ST occasionally. The consensus is that "Discovery" is a reaction to TNG, darker and less Pollyanna-ish. It still drips with PC morality, but in a more introspective way. The horizon-gazing Philosopher-King (Picard) has gone the way of the Dodo bird. I'm more of an Asimov fan, because he got it nearly right 75 years ago.

Larry Hart said...


Anyway, I was really talking about the 20th century, when the US repeatedly doused the flames of barbarism that threatened to consume Europe.

That's why its so unnerving to see how much those tables have turned.

Remember during the run-up to Iraq War II when Bush Administration officials tried to shame France and Germany as being too insufficiently militaristic? As if that's a bad thing instead of a miracle?

Canada, Australia, and NZ have a somewhat different history. Beginning as usual with raw colonization, but evolving into sincere membership in the British Commonwealth.

Just speculating here, but don't you think that was made possible by the warning example of the American Revolution?

scidata said...

Larry Hart: Just speculating here, but don't you think that was made possible by the warning example of the American Revolution?

Yes, certainly. It was a pivotal time. I don't think the War of 1812 gets the credit it deserves as a watershed in world history.

scidata said...

Maybe I was wrong about the lack of credit for 1812. I've been reading some fascinating alternate history essays and posts, both for a US and for a British victory. That's the thing about "Man in the High Castle" stories, the farther back in time the branch happens, the more impactful.

locumranch said...

David insists that "incorruptible" doesn't happen without "accountable, and I agree in principle, the problem being that with great power comes NO accountability, aside from the ineffective self-accountability of conscience, which is the why & wherefore of the fall of empires & the cyclic history model, because power corrupts & absolute power corrupts absolutely, which is why I conclude that there can be no such thing as "incorruptibility", as exemplified by the unopposed & unaccountable descent of the USA into corruption, warmongering & consequence-free belligerence.

It is as Ivan Karamazov says:

If God does not exist, then everything is permitted, nothing is forbidden, there are no rules to live by, no moral law we must follow and we can do whatever we want.

Now watch me rape & bite the head off this chicken.


locumranch said...

Kotopoulophilia is a thing. Accept it & celebrate it because it will soon be taught to schoolchildren as a legitimate sexual orientation & lifestyle choice.


David Brin said...

Thanks for the admission you need tight external control in order not to go wild with turpitude and horrific sadism. Most of us truly are better self-controlled and feel - in fact - zero temptation to behave in those ways, and the milder perversions - e.g. infidelity - are constrained by a combination of love and accountability. For you, apparently, it's tougher.

A flat-accountable society moves toward discovering Roy Moore's and keeping them out of office, capturing (eventually) even rich/powerful Jeffrey Epsteins and Dennis Hasterts (oops all republicans)... and reins in much less harmful perverts like Weiner.

While polysyllabic, L's pronouncement makes no sense. In such a humanity, flat-open-fair accountability is MORE neceassary. He is prescribing Nero+Caligula, followed by a dark age, followed by more Nero-Caligula.

Jon S. said...

"Most of us truly are better self-controlled and feel - in fact - zero temptation to behave in those ways, and the milder perversions - e.g. infidelity - are constrained by a combination of love and accountability. For you, apparently, it's tougher."

Or, as Penn Jillette put it, "Yes, as an atheist, I'm free to rape and murder as much as I want. And the amount I want is zero."

locumranch said...

I prescribe nothing. I merely point out that increased power means LESS accountability, across-the-board, affecting every aspect of society, from governance to guns to sexual orientation.

"In such a humanity", argues David, "flat-open-fair accountability is MORE necessary", begging the question 'More necessary for whom?', insomuch as David's so-called necessity amounts to a moral judgment about how society 'should', 'ought' and 'is supposed' to conform to his personal desires, expectations & belief systems.

David's 'Horizons of Inclusion' can hardly exclude perversions like Kotopoulophilia (aka 'chicken-loving') as it simultaneously celebrates an alphabet-soup of other behavioral & moral aberrations.

On a side note, there are many wonderful science fiction stories that deal with the topic of Cannibalism, so what's to stop men of science from chowing down on delicious, nutritious & environmentally sustainable human flesh?

Some musty old dietary injunction, social contract, superstition or religion?


Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

Or, as Penn Jillette put it, "Yes, as an atheist, I'm free to rape and murder as much as I want. And the amount I want is zero."

I get his point, but I'd say the dynamic is even different from that.

Religious people--or those cultivating a public image of piety anyway--like to claim that religion makes them moral while atheists are "free to rape and murder" (or as he-whose-posts-I-no-longer-read sometimes puts it, "Without God, all is permitted.") My observation of humanity for nearly 60 years is that the opposite is more often true. In a civilization, bad behavior is discouraged by many non-religious methods. Meanwhile, look at Donald Trump as an example--even taking him at his dubious word that he is in fact a Christian, he and his supporters act as if that designation allows him to break every commandment without consequence, precisely because he already has God's stamp of approval ahead of time.

I'd say it's more accurate that "With God, all is permitted." Which is of course, a different thing, in fact the opposite thing.

David Brin said...

I hate it when he takes his vitamins! He remains utterly loco, but cogent enough to parse statements aimed in my actual-general direction and requiring answer.

In this case, nihilism (nothing matters) is his fallback. And the answer is that what's "right" is to retain as wide a variety of options for our maximally insightful; and creative descendants as possible. And across 4000+ years, nothing has destroyed creativity or error-detection or options or insight more than top-down obligate rule by owner overlords. Almost anything is better. And enlightenment systems using consensus deliberated rules to maximize competitive-fair creativity has proved vastly, vastly better.

How weird that a supposed right winger makes not even a figleaf gesture anymore in favor of Competition. The word is hateful to them, now.

Should we be so tolerant of wide-range diversity as to allow Chicke-fetishists?

Depends. When virtual reality holodeck worlds (or near-term porn) can be guaranteed to NOT encourage acting such perversions out in the real world, and guarantee not to create markets for real world perversion of the lives of innocents, then we're likely to find it hard to forbid such things... as many people have passing fantasies they won't even tell their beloved spouses. So?

Such freedoms end when manifesting your fantasies in reality might constrain the lives of real world entitities. And a safety zone of protection is required.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

as many people have passing fantasies they won't even tell their beloved spouses.

You've got that right.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Such freedoms end when manifesting your fantasies in reality might constrain the lives of real world entitities. And a safety zone of protection is required.

Likewise, "religious liberty" ends when they constrain the lives of other real world entities. "Freedom of religion" does not mean you have the right to punish or kill others, even if you think God wants you to.

Tacitus said...

Epstein as a Republican? Open Secrets documents most of his contributions going to Democrats. And his choice in travel buddies and social contacts is at best skewed towards Power rather than politics. If reports of Bill Clinton traveling sans security detail with Epstein are in fact correct they should be mentioned with opprobrium.

Just dropping in.....the current political environment is making me increasingly uncomfortable posting under my "in the phone book" name. Doxxing today, milkshakes tomorrow, and what next?


Larry Hart said...

@Tim W,

I really do understand your concern about disproportional politically-correct pushback on the internet.

What worries me--and this isn't just you but a general thing--is when that sort of overbearing response is presented as a characteristically progressive response. Meanwhile, those (say Christine Blasey Ford) who publicly challenge right-wingers receive actual death threats almost as a routine matter of course. I see that as one more example in which norms and decorum are perceived as meant to constrain liberals, and that there's no reason to apply the same constraints on conservatives, because that's not what those constraints are understood to be there for.

Feel free to provide counterexamples to prove me wrong, but my perception is that doxxing by the left leads mainly to embarrassment, whereas doxxing from the right ends up requiring people to flee their homes in fear for their lives and those of their family.

None of this is to deny the legitimacy of your sense of vulnerability in social media. All I ask is to consider, if you feel that threatened, think what I feel like.

David Brin said...