Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Libertarians and Conservatives must choose: Competitive Enterprise or Idolatry of Property

Even conservatives now admit that conservatism has changed.  Take the Ronald Reagan who Republican activists idolize in abstract; in real life he raised taxes, increased regulations, signed environmental laws, and (worst of all) negotiated countless compromise give-and-take, pragmatic measures in tandem with a Congress run by the other party. As did Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, giants who argued with genteel courtesy and who revered both knowledge and intellect, especially science.  Even the most fervid Tea Party aficionado would avow that today’s GOP has little room for such things – as Goldwater and Buckley themselves proclaimed, to their dismay, before they died.

In this analysis, I’d like to focus on one of the directions that conservatism has gone a-wandering.  But note first: I’ll try to do this without taking a single position that could fairly be called even slightly left-of center - by the old standards at least.

My entire critique will be from what used to be a completely conservative perspective. You’ll know this by the historical figure whom I cite above all others.

It begins provocatively, with prominent online commentator John Robb, who offers a simple… and clearly-correct… explanation for the gross mismanagement of the U.S. economy in the 21st Century - an appraisal that seems both tragically on-target and stunningly ironic. Ironic in ways I plan to elaborate -- and I expect you'll not look at the hoary old “left-vs-right” axis in the same way, ever again.

For starters, Robb shows that the patron saints of modern libertarianism and conservatism -- including Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek -- were right in their core message...

.... proving that today’s peculiarly myopic libertarians and conservatives are wrong in theirs.

The Smithian Fundamental

In order to grasp that apparent contradiction, let’s start by asking: what did Smith and Hayek say?

No, it wasn't "laissez faire" or  social darwinism or extolling the virtues of greed. Though both men praised private enterprise and market initiative, they did not share today's idolatry of personal and family wealth as the fundamental sacrament of economics. Those who most-frequently bandy Smith's name appear never to have cracked open a page of "The Wealth of Nations" or 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments."

Rather, Adam Smith essentially founded our modern phase of the Western Enlightenment by anchoring a central postulate -- one that Pericles and Locke discussed earlier, and that others, like Hayek, later embellished. The postulate that human beings are supreme rationalizers and self-deceivers.

Moreover, across 4,000 years we’ve seen that whenever a small group of men become powerful enough to control an economy and command-allocate its resources, they will do so according to biased perceptions, in-group delusions and fatally limited knowledge. Whether they do the normal oligarchic thing -- cheating for self-interest -- or else sincerely try to “allocate for the good of all,” they will generally do it badly. As a blatant recent example, Robb cites the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Wealth-of-NationsThe reason for this failure was that the Soviets relied on central planning.  A system of economic governance where small group of people -- in the Soviet Unions case bureaucrats -- had all the decision making power.  They decided what was spent and where.  Even with copious amount of information, they decided badly. Why did they decide badly?  The massive economy of a modern superstate is too complex for a small group of people to manage.  Too much data.  Too many uncertainties.  Too many moving parts."

Indeed, the transformation of modern China from a Maoist calamity to a mercantilist success story began with their abandonment of nit-picking central planning in favor of capitalist-style enterprise.  Of course, the Chinese ruling caste retained overall control, “guiding” categories of credit and investment while executing a grand mercantilist strategy, the same process that Japan accomplished masterfully, during its own rapid primary and secondary phases of export-driven economic development.

Alas, for Japan, (but as a few of us forecast in the 1980s), national development eventually hits a tertiary phase when simple-minded, predatory mercantilism breaks down. If history and human nature are any guide, the Chinese will hit the same “wall” when economic complexity surpasses the ability of any planner-elite to comprehend or manage.  For all his faults - and the many ways he's misinterpreted - Friedrich Hayek understood this well. He showed how an obsession with Guided Allocation of Resources (GAR) eventually turns skilled planners into smug blunderers.

the-theory-of-moral-sentimentsNow this barrier can shift, as computers and sophisticated models let rulers extend their period of competence a bit longer. (It helps, apparently, that nearly all of the top Chinese leaders began their careers as engineers, responsible for actual goods, infrastructure or services, not as lawyers, politicians or “business majors.”) Still, however you look at it, there is no way that the old ruling principle of GAR that held in 99% of human societies could possibly work in a tertiary economy as intricate as the United States. As Robb continues:

The only way to manage an economy as complex as this is to allow massively parallel decision making.  A huge number of economically empowered people making small decisions, that in aggregate, are able to process more data, get better data (by being closer to the problem), and apply more brainpower to weighing alternatives than any centralized decision making group.”

Now all of this may sound surprisingly well... "libertarian"... given that both Robb and I are highly critical of today's right! But bear with us, because what's at issue is a fundamental conflation and betrayal of the very essence of libertarian and conservative fundamentals ... The ultimate irony and hypocrisy.

What Robb describes here is the central discovery, not only of Smith and Locke, but of Benjamin Franklin and the American framers... as well as Galileo and the founders of modern science.

Ever since civilization began, nearly all societies were dominated by centralized oligarchies, priesthoods or hierarchies who ruled on policy, resource-allocation and Truth for 4,000 years of general incompetence mixed with brutal oppression.

Today, by sharp contrast, all three of the Enlightenment’s great arenas -- democracy, markets and science -- feature a revolutionary structure that broke with the oligarchic past. The old, arrogant, top-down approach was replaced with something else. Something that great Pericles described 2,000 years earlier, during the brief Athenian Renaissance.

That something is the most creative force in the universe. The principle that propels evolution, in nature, and that brought humanity into existence. It is -- 

Competition.

Elsewhere I’ve called the Enlightenment’s principal tool Reciprocal Accountability (RA). But it really is just another way to say "get everybody competing." By dividing and separating power and -- more importantly -- empowering the majority with education, health, rights and knowledge, we enabled vast numbers of people to participate in markets, democracy and science. This has had twin effects, never seen in earlier cultures.

1) It means everybody can find out when a person stumbles onto something cool, better or right, even if that person came from a poor background.

2) It allows us to hold each other accountable for things that are wrong, worse or uncool, even when the bad idea comes at us from someone mighty.

Never perfectly implemented(!) -- this reciprocally competitive system nevertheless dealt far better than any predecessor with that problem of human delusion. None of us can see and correct all our own errors, past a cloud of rationalizations. But when RA is healthy, then criticism flows. And others (your opponents) will happily point out your errors, for you. What a deal! And I’m sure you're happy to return the favor.

The result? An Enlightenment Civilization fostered by Smith, Locke, Franklin etc., but propelled by tens of millions of eager participants. Inarguably the most successful of all time, cutting through countless foolish notions that held sway for millennia -- like the assumption that your potential is predetermined by who your father was -- while unleashing creativity, knowledge, freedom, and positive-sum wealth to a degree that surpassed all other societies, combined.

Even the most worrisome outcomes of success, like overpopulation, wealth stratification and environmental degradation, come accompanied by good news -- the fact that so many of us are aware, involved, reciprocally critical, and eager to innovate better ways. 

Lip Service to Wisdom

So, what’s that irony I spoke of, earlier? How does this central principle turn around and bite today's libertarians and conservatives, proving many of them fools?

TransparentSocietyClearly, Everything I’ve said, so far, ought to make a libertarian or conservative happy!  Indeed, my nonfiction book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom, is all about how open information flows can empower reciprocal accountability and competition, the things that make democracy and markets and science great. (There have never been humans more inherently competitive than scientists; try talking to one, some time.)

So where’s the problem? The problem is that it’s all lip service on the right! Those who most-loudly proclaim Faith In Blind Markets (FIBM) are generally also those proclaiming idolatry of private property as a pure, platonic essence, a tenet to be clutched with religious tenacity, as it was in feudal societies. Obdurate, they refuse to see that they are conflating two very different things.

Private property - as Adam Smith made clear - is a means for encouraging the thing he really wanted: fair and open competition.  Indeed, the propertarian reforms that Peru instituted under the guidance of Hernando de Soto, vesting the poor in the land they had always farmed, resulted in a boom that delighted both libertarians and socialists.  Safe and secure property rights are a boon... up to a point.

But anyone who actually reads Adam Smith also knows that he went on and on about that "fair and open" part! Especially how excessive disparities of wealth and income destroy competition. Unlike today's conservatives, who grew up in a post-WWII flattened social order without major wealth-castes, Smith lived immersed in class-rooted oligarchy, of the kind that ruined markets, freedom and science across nearly 99% of human history. He knew the real enemy, first hand and denounced it in terms that he never used for mere bureaucrats.

When today's libertarians praise the creative power of competition, then ignore the unlimited propertarianism that poisoned it across the ages, we are witnessing historical myopia and dogmatic illogic, of staggering magnitude. 

The Irony of Faith in Blind Markets

GuidedAllocationWhen Adam Smith gets over-simplified into a religious caricature, what you get is "faith in blind markets" - or FIBM - a dogma that proclaims the state should have no role in guiding economic affairs, in picking winners of losers, or interfering in the maneuvers or behavior of capitalists.  Like many caricatures, it is based on some core wisdom. As Robb points out, the failure of Leninism shows how state meddling can become addictive, excessive, meddlesome and unwise.  There is no way that 100,000 civil servants, no matter how well-educated, trained, experienced, honest and well-intentioned, can have enough information, insight or modeling clarity to replace the market's hundreds of millions of knowing players.  Guided Allocation of Resources (GAR) has at least four millennia of failures to answer for.

 But in rejecting one set of knowledge-limited meddlers -- 100,000 civil servants -- libertarians and conservatives seem bent on ignoring market manipulation by 5,000 or so aristocratic golf buddies, who appoint each other to company boards in order to vote each other titanic "compensation packages" while trading insider information and conspiring together to eliminate competition. Lords who are not subject to inherent limits, like each bureaucrat must face, or rules of disclosure or accountability. Lords who (whether it is legal or not) collude and share the same delusions.

Um... in what way is this kind of market "blind"? True, you have gelded the civil servants who Smith praised as a counter-balancing force against oligarchy.  But the 5,000 golf buddies -- despite their free market rhetoric -- aren't doing FIBM at all! They reverting to GAR. To guided allocation, only in much smaller numbers, operating according to oligarchic principles of ferocious self-interest that go back at least to Nineveh.

If you want to explore this further, including how the notions of "allocation" and "faith in blind markets" get weirdly reversed, and how Smith and Hayek are betrayed by the people who tout them the most, see my article: Guided Allocation vs. Markets: An Ancient Struggle.


Economy-past-presentHence, at last, the supreme irony.  Those who claim most-fervent dedication to the guiding principle of our Enlightenment: competition, reciprocal accountability and enterprise -- our neighbors who call themselves conservative or libertarian -- have been talked into conflating that principle with something entirely different. Idolatry of private wealth, sacred and limitless. A dogmatic-religious devotion that reaches its culmination in the hypnotic cantos of Ayn Rand. Or in the Norquist pledge to cut taxes on the rich under all circumstances -- during war or peace, in fat years or lean -- without limit and despite the failure of any Supply Side predictions ever, ever, ever coming true.

An idolatry that leads, inevitably to the ruination of all competition and restoration of the traditional human social order that ruled our ancestors going back to cuneiform tablets -- Feudalism. 

Growing past the "left-right axis"

Let's be clear. Every aspect of my argument, today, was from the perspective of an admirer of Adam Smith, of market enterprise, science and freedom. It has been a paean to competition. Not a single argument even referred to socialist or left-wing parts of the spectrum.  Sure, I hinted that some liberal endeavors -- e.g. mass education, civil rights, child nutrition and national infrastructure etc. -- empowered greater numbers of citizens to join the fair and open process of Smithian competition. It's a truth we can discuss another time. But then, Adam Smith was called "the first liberal" and liberalism isn't "lefty" anyway.

No. This indictment of today's right was made entirely from the core postulates of the libertarian right.  Indeed, what Robb points out - and that I elaborated here - is a reason for sincere libertarians and conservatives to awaken and rebel against the hijacking of their movements by an old enemy.

competition-idolatry-cash-brinThis is an internal matter, a cancer within libertarianism and conservatism. If there are still honest-smart men and women within those old and noble traditions, they should think carefully, observe and diagnose the illness.  They should face the contradiction. Discuss the conflation. And then do as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and many others have done....

Choose the miracle of creative competition over an idolatry of cash.

They should stand up.

=====    =====    ======

==See also:

LIbertarianismGuided Allocation vs. Markets: An Ancient Struggle with strange modern implications

Defending Enterprise from its defenders

More Thoughts on Libertarianism: Finding a New Path

and Articles on the Economy: Past, Present and Future

195 comments:

nazgulnarsil said...

democracy, science, markets. one of these things is not like the other. democracy only allows you to optimize when someone finds a solution if everyone agrees it is a better solution. there are forms of democracy that fix this. such as, I don't know, maybe having 50 different regions each of which competes and allowing people to vote with their feet and wallets. of course last time someone tried this there was a war.

tracy said...

Property is a function of labor, labor which is a function personal effort. You have a significant investment in 'property'. Intellectual property. Property is not just the amount of land held by regal landowners, or minerals by oligarchies. It is the result of each of our labors and if our effort bears no fruits....why bother?

Alex said...

Interesting, though I think you're off the mark. It's not a law of nature that keeps your 5000 golf buddies at the top, and in fact there's an immense amount of churn. Roughly half of the billionaires in the world are self-made. 14 of the Dow 30 date have been added to the index in the last 14 years. Barack Obama went from being a no-name state senator to the most powerful man in the world in a span of four and a half years. As long as smart nobodies can take on stupid somebodies and win - and they can and do - then the centralization of power argument you're making is rather vacuous.

Also, what precisely is your solution? Yeah, stop worshipping private property, and...what? Do we confiscate Wal-Mart because it centralizes too much power? Say that companies are only allowed to nominate poor, unaccomplished folks to their boards? Yes, there's corruption inherent in things like executive compensation, but I think you're peddling a cure worse than the disease here.

Tim H. said...

Seems from here that when a contemporary business person speaks of competition, they're only looking for a place at the trough and a unthreatened income. Looks like The United States has put far too much effort into protecting existing fortunes from competition, allowing them to lose their edge.
"maked", an informal creative process.

Jonathan said...

I don't follow the logic of this post.
Competition starts out as a force for good but then at some point, the people who succeeded get together on the golf course and use their power to do what exactly, make people buy their products and/or at prices they don't really want to? How exactly? Sounds like if you are correct you've stumbled across a sure fire money spinner. Buy the equities of these companies list as a hedge find take 2 and 20 fees and you can give up on writing novels for a living.

The only area that resembles what you describe to me is the financial sector but as any card carrying libertarian knows, modern banking isn't a creature of the free market. Banking ought to be a dull utility, matching borrowers and savers across various time frames in a currency that is not subject to fractional reserve banking laws. (What other goods or services have the legal right to be exclusively owned by many people at once?)
The price of money is set by a small room of academics (with terrible forecasting track records) working in a central bank, and the largest debtors in the world are the governments.

Without a fiat money and laws supporting fractional reserve banking, one wonders how much smaller the state, the financial sector and how much better off we'd all be.

Tim H. said...

Just read the John Robb link, yes it's a bit like the United States got an economic lobotomy. We seem to have learned all the wrong lessons from the cold war.

CulturalEngineer said...

Great article!

Please consider some ramifications... in brief outline:

Whether for an individual or a social body, decisions* are the fundamental element, the only element under its control determining its success or failure... its survivability.

*I define here a decision as an idea + an action. And idea is used in the broadest sense... "I think I'll turn left at the next corner"...once executed... is all you need as I use the word.

When more than one individual is involved... decisions are arrived at, communicated and implemented through transaction.

In a hunter/gatherer society few technologies were required for transaction. Close proximity and shared values and culture made them unnecessary. Words, gifts, laughter, fists and sex managed to get most intentions across.

Scaling the social organism required technologies of transaction...

Some of them are: writing, armies, money, governments,thumb-screws, photographs, movies and the Internet...

These all have a role in decision... but money most especially is designed for just that job... it transfers an intention (idea) that a particular action be taken from one to another.

(In this sense torture devices and advertising are also rather dedicated 'decision technologies' in a much less subtle way than movies or mere words.)

This also suggests that there is some need for consideration about the distribution and/or availability of decision technologies.

This gets into some complexities... (no, we shouldn't distribute all the money and torture devices equally)... BUT at the least it does suggest that a certain leveling of the transaction landscape may be part of the solution.

A needed utility:

An Internet wallet system, under some form of Commons ownership enabling a viable, one-button micro-transaction (and larger transactions as well) catalyzes not only vital abilities in peer-to-peer co-ordinated action not otherwise viable in a scaled social organism...

But also catalyzes a network (or network of inter-operating networks sharing certain characteristics) which can protect both the individual as well as the Commons by acting as a counter-balancing institution against groups within it.

I'm convinced this is a missing and needed transaction fundamental and that this is the method for its implementation.

I'll be attending Douglas Rushkoffs ContactCon in NYC with demo on Oct 20.

Leveling The Transaction Landscape: Technology and the Campfire

Re-Igniting the Enlightenment: On Building Landscapes for Decision

Chuck said...

This article misses the point that many of those who idolize cash over competition are funded by people who made their billions by cornering limited markets. Broadcast media, in particular, are cornerable due to the electromagnetic constraints on the number of practical channels. So those who get rich by quashing competition in these areas can then use their media to promote anticompetative deregulation.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The saddest thing about central banking is that human civilization has lost a full century of progress that could have been developed toward generating a free market monetary system. This is not an easy thing to do in a complex technological civilization.

Although it was a good starting point many years ago, gold and silver standards are probably less than adequate for our modern civilization.

Jerome Smith, a free market financial advisor, once suggested that money in the future should be backed with a "market basket" of commodities. This market basket would include gold and silver, but also other valuable commodities that would change from time to time as the value of those commodities changed.

The loss of 100 years of progress in the development of a stable market-based money (with just the right amount of dynamism) has been enormously devastating. Much of the loss of our freedoms has been due to a centralized banking system that has not been appropriate for a free society.

Our civilization progressed rapidly in many respects over the past century, but the careful development of a correspondingly-advanced medium of exchange simply did not happen.

There should have been a century of careful market-based refinement in the development of a money system appropriate for a 21st century civilization. Soon, we will have to try to catch up on our century of lost progress. For that endeavor, we will need an amount of wisdom that humans have rarely shown.

Pangolin said...

The problem with this kind of economic thinking is that there is a tendency classify different things as the same thing in order to simplify the whole enough for comprehension. It doesn't work under stress.

To use a real world comparison; in ceramics if you try to lump different clays into the same mold it looks ok when wet. When you fire these figures they break; sometimes they explode.

I feel our economic problems arise because we keep trying to cram everyone and everything into simplistic models that don't work. Some services work better socialized and other are better off as highly competitive, small company, fields.

Robert said...

To me, the real problem is the combination of deregulation with guaranteed bail-outs. I have a suspicion that sub-prime mortgages packed into securities would have gone nowhere in a real market: someone who knew she would face personal bankruptcy if she bought bad stocks would have done some research - real research, not using one of those stock-buying programs that people who should have stayed in science were writing - wouldn't have touched the things with a ten-foot pole. But with everything guaranteed by the taxpayers, why not just party?

As for Ayn Rand, whatever else you may think of her (I have some problems with her too), she would have taken one look at this mess and said "Free market, my ass! To hell with them all!" in her own godawful version of the English language. Give her credit where credit is due. And just imagine what she would have thought of Bush II, outspending Roosevelt and hobnobbing with the kind of religious fanatics who would have driven her into instant apoplexy. No, there's a lot wrong with Ayn Rand, but she would have nailed this crisis, I think.

I may have been unfair using gender-neutral language in my first paragraph. The behavior of the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street isn't something for the economists or even the psychiatrists to analyze - it's 100% alpha male primatology. And as for the temper tantrum in Congress that almost threw our country into default, why didn't they just reach into the backs of their pants and throw? It would have been healthier and safer for everyone, not to mention more honest.

So, I don't think we're up against people with Blind Faith in Markets - we're up against frauds or dupes of the New Lords.

Finally, as someone who works on a reservation, I know if we really believed in absolute property rights, the vast majority of Americans would pack up and go back to the Old World. Today, that's something hardly any even of the original Americans would want.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

As for Ayn Rand, whatever else you may think of her (I have some problems with her too), she would have taken one look at this mess and said "Free market, my ass! To hell with them all!" in her own godawful version of the English language. Give her credit where credit is due. And just imagine what she would have thought of Bush II, outspending Roosevelt and hobnobbing with the kind of religious fanatics who would have driven her into instant apoplexy. No, there's a lot wrong with Ayn Rand, but she would have nailed this crisis, I think.


What galls me is not so much that Ayn Rand would have admired the way Bush-43 handled things (I agree with you that she would not), but the fact that the admirers of the way Bush-43 handled things cite Ayn Rand at every turn AS IF she'd be on their side.

In other words, my complaint against Randroids is not that Rand HERSELF would have supported their position, but that they seem to THINK she would.

Eray Ozkural said...

Dear Brin,

Just like the ideal of communism failed (as in the often cited Soviet example), the ideal of capitalism has failed as well. To be honest, both do not and cannot exist in an ideal state, it's like fitting square blocks into circular holes. The 5000 golf buddies is the natural result of capitalism with no bounds. It's that simple I think. On the other hand, the only alternative is not "central planning". Rather, we can have a better democracy. I think that is an obvious solution but difficult to implement. :)

I think it's not necessary to look for some core wisdom in early capitalists either. They obviously didn't think that well, they still thought that a class distinction was "good", so I will gladly dismiss their views entirely, instead favoring egalitarian principles at heart.

So, the allocation need not be "central", but "fair". This is a concept that is wholly lacking in capitalism. Yet, OS designers know something about that. :) No need to maintain any of those old ideas, we can do much better.

lightning said...

Hmm. Identifying those 5000 would be an interesting project for somebody with 1337 research skillz. Some (the Royal House of Saud) are obvious; others I'm sure work very hard to keep their activities hidden.

anne.ominous said...

I think the one doing the conflating here is none other than David Brin.

David, you are guilty of gross stereotyping, worse in that it isn't even accurate stereotyping.

Let's forget conservatism for the moment, except that I will state that about half the time you seem to be conflating Libertarianism with Conservatism, when in fact they are completely different philosophies. As someone who has given the Nolan quiz to hundreds if not thousands of people, I can attest that the reality closely follows the theory: people of libertarian bent are as likely to lean left as right.

But further, you seem to be taking the words or attitudes of a few Libertarians and generalizing that to all, even though the generalizations you make are not actual Libertarian principles. For example, while Libertarians do believe in property rights, this is more a matter of resistance to coercive government than it is a belief or obsession about absolute rights. On the contrary, a true Libertarian would be among the first to agree that my right to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose, and that property rights follow similar principles.

If your hoarding or abuse of property (be it land or dollars) is damaging to society, then contrary to what you imply, the Libertarian philosophy would be to do something about it. And contrary to the popular stereotype, Libertarians are not anarchist, or per se anti-regulation. Rather, their belief is that the minimum regulation THAT ACTUALLY WORKS is the best solution. Not no regulation. For the simple reason that even well-intended regulations have negative (and often unforeseen) consequences, and that therefore unnecessary regulation is a bad thing.

An example of "good" regulation, according to the Libertarian philosophy, would be antitrust laws. True, Libertarians believe that in an idea world antitrust laws would not be necessary. But of course we do not live in an ideal world, so the Libertarian philosophy of "the minimum regulation necessary to get the job done" would almost by definition have to include antitrust legislation.

Many people I have spoken to who are ignorant of actual Libertarian philosophy seem to think as you do about it. Sadly, it is an example of speaking from ignorance.

And by the way: you also seem to go out of your way to conflate Libertarianism with Rand's "Objectivism", but they actually differ widely. Libertarians in general consider Rand to have been an extremist, borderline nutcase. She had a few good ideas but any good idea can be taken too far.

Pangolin said...

Ah, the old, no-true-Libertarian fallacy rears it's ugly head once more.

If only we could find an actual Libertarian that was a true libertarian we could all live in the libertarian utopia.

LarryHart said...

Jonathan:

The only area that resembles what you describe to me is the financial sector but as any card carrying libertarian knows, modern banking isn't a creature of the free market.


And as I just said to...Robert, I think...progressives like myself and libertarians like Dr Brin would both tend to agree with you that the machinations of Wall St and its influence over Washington does not constitute "free market" or "captialism".

The semantic problem is that the Tea Partiers and other right-wing Republicans whose agenda IS the Wall Streeters' agenda (the Wall Streeters reciprocating with campaign contributions and job offers) manage to get away with portraying THEMSELVES as representing free-market capitalism. Or more to the point--they get away with portraying their opponents as being AGAINST free-market and AGAINST capitalism.

Say what you will about that portrayal being inaccurate, but it works. Large numbers of voters will back these guys for no other reason than because they (voters) are on board with "free-market" and "capitalism" being the good team.

LarryHart said...

Alex:

Also, what precisely is your solution? Yeah, stop worshipping private property, and...what? Do we confiscate Wal-Mart because it centralizes too much power?


I'd start with the idea that there is such things as "the commons", which IS rightly regulated by government (especially in a democratic government of We The People). Air, water, and public throughways come immediately to mind as belonging to this category. One could also make a case for essential infrastructure such as electricity.

It should not be necessary to make a false choice between extremes of "private property" or "central planning", as if one rule applies to all things. What is needed is the recognition that the environment which we all share and which sustains all of our lives is not--and should not become--anyone's private property.

I don't claim here to have a fully-defined list of what should or should not be part of "the commons", but I am asserting that the first step is to recognize that the concept OF "the commons" is a valid one, and does not require giving up the notion that other things belong in the realm of private property.

Stefan Jones said...

I think Larry has it nailed.

Arguing about root principles with these loons is about as productive as arguing with a creationist.

sociotard said...

Sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison is suing the producers of the upcoming blockbuster In Time, which he claims infringes the copyright on his much-anthologized short story "Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman".

Among his demands is that all copies of the film be destroyed.

In Time is due for release next month. It is set in a dystopian world where everyone has a set amount of time in which to live and no longer. That is the plot of the Ellison story as well. Ellison, who is notoriously difficult to work with in Hollywood circles, has been trying without much success to market a version of the story of his own.

In addition to wiping the movie out of existence, Ellison is seeking injunctions to prevent release of the movie while the case proceeds.

Few observers give the suit much of a chance because the infringement statute doesn't extend to ideas, only the expression of ideas.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Guys
As an engineer I think the key feature that will produce Dr Brin's 5000 is - Positive Feedback -
a "free market" is a system with positive feedback -
Them as has - gets
Even if everybody had equal ability random chance would make some richer and being richer they would become even richer and so on
Historically this process continues until the rich - "buy the levers of power"
Soon afterwards you get the revolution
It's like Monopoly (the game) one player wins
Government's job is to maintain a civil society, this requires the government to prevent this from happening by redistributing the wealth when it becomes too lopsided
You can either have a small redistribution all the time or periodic massive redistributions
(revolutions) - this is one of the main reasons I turned down a green card - I don't want my family to have to live through a revolution

J said...

Agreed, and some do "stand up" and David Brin just did, and that does no good at all. Look at Republicans, Teapers or not. If Republicans could face facts, or reason, or common sense, or intellectual authority, or even directly contradictory experience, they'd have left the Party years or decades ago.
So what do we do? Any suggestions? I have some ideas…

David Brin said...

VARIOUS RESPONSES:
Nazgul misses the whole point. Democracy operates off competitive opposition. In that sense it is excactly like science and markets and justice courts, the other three "arena" systems. See "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit." : http://www.davidbrin.com/disputation.htm

Sure all four differ profoundly in the details. (See the article.) But the core essence is the same. When they work at all it is because most participants had maximized knowledge and were able to let their judgments shift with the accumulation of new evidence arising from competition. True, Democracy is failing this test right now, because we are in a state of civil war.

Trcy, property is perfectly defensible as a useful source of both allocation and incentive. But I am speaking of its idolatry, which was the poison in 99% of human cultures where freedom and markets were ruined by its insane worship.

Alex, you speak of self-made billionaires. Yet again, without even once glancingly looking at history. The reasons that most are now self made are 2-fold.

(1) much recent wealth was tech-driven (hence the right's "war on science' is suicide, but that's another matter)

(2) All of this has happened against the backdrop of the incredibly flat social and caste hierarchy we inherited after WWII. And that is going away rapidly as we speak. Against that backdrop, sure, there's a lot of new wealth.

But can you force yourself... please?... to actually glance at the last 6,000 years? Name for me a time when "churn" was the rule? Have you read Adam Smith to see that lack of churn was his biggest complaint? Can you cite ONE generation that had the kind of churn you describe? One?

Don't you bear a steep burden of proof in your blithe assurance... funded as propaganda by outlets paid by oligarchs... that everything's just fine and we don't have a thing to worry about?

"Also, what precisely is your solution? Yeah, stop worshipping private property, and...what? Do we confiscate Wal-Mart because it centralizes too much power?"

Um, have you ever heard of anti-trust laws? If you are under 45, you probably haven't since they aren't enforced anymore.

"Seems from here that when a contemporary business person speaks of competition, they're only looking for a place at the trough and a unthreatened income."

Read Adam Smith and see what he says about "rent-seeking" income. Today's equivalent... dividends and cap gains... are taxed LOWER than hardworking folks and innovative investors. LOWER! Smith complained bitterly about that.

Jonathan, like all of today's libertarians, you wave assertions and aphorisms without once even glancing at human history. Again, have you read even ONE word of Adam Smith?

MORE==>

David Brin said...

CONTINUING ANSWERS FROM BRIN:

Interesting stuff Cultural Engr.

Chuck, I did not miss that point. It is what Adam Smith complained: that the top elites then USE their power to ensure that others cannot compete with their sons, from below. It is the quandary of feudalism and the reason why crazy ol' Rand was too smart to let herslf be cornered... the reson why NONE of her characters ever had offspring... in order to keep her readers from wondering... "Hey, I'd be a slave to that spoiled brat who never created a thing!"

Jerry yopu base a steep burden of proof for your wildly unbased assertion that this - by far the greatest and most advanced and rapidly progressing and scientific civilization WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER if only it never did all the things that it did. Can you even see what a bizarre assertion that is? It isn't scientific or logical.

It is religious.

Pangolin is right that we are cavemen, trying to run an almost-interstellar civilization. We do not know what we are doing! Hence government is a series of patches to fix and tweak... PLEASE LOOK AT: http://bit.ly/cBBgY8

Seriously, if this patchwork INTERESTS you... instead of provoking insipidly stupid rage, then look at http://bit.ly/cBBgY8

Robert you are right that even Rand would have recognized that the Bushites were worse than any conceivable combination of democrats.

More ==>

David Brin said...

CONTINUING ANSWERS FROM BRIN:

Ezray, I think you missed my point entirely. Capitalism hasn't failed. Honest, genuinely competitive capitalism is the most successful economic system of all time.

Capitalism is under attack! And its enemy is not "socialism" right now. The federal government (non-military and non-security state) hasn't grown much since Jimmy Carter. (Despite Tea Party ravings.) No capitalism is under assault by feudal lordship-oligarchy and the monopolists whom Adam Smith despised.

People who truly admire capitalism should STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR ITS ENEMIES!

Lightning, just ask Warren Buffett. He could name the 5000 oligarchs in a trice.And - to be fair - the Oracle of Omaha would ask that any measure that reduce their power apply to him, as well.

Anne says"while Libertarians do believe in property rights, this is more a matter of resistance to coercive government than it is a belief or obsession about absolute rights."

Sorry Anne... it is PRECISELY this obsession with hatred... with hating government rather than loving freedom and capitalism... that is the problem of nearly all of today's libertarians.

Please please... with a wholly open mind... re-evaluate at: http://bit.ly/cBBgY8

More==>

David Brin said...

CONTINUING ANSWERS FROM BRIN:

One more thing to Anne. I will respect my fellow libertarians more when I see ONE of them EVER cite the 6000 years of oligarchic cheating that Adam Smith called the great destroyer of freedom and markets. Other than Carl Milsted... one of you, even once. Ever.

Duncan, you go to the root of it. People with "5000" level oligarchic power think that it proves they are super-mutant smart. But if they were, they would not be pushing us toward France in 1789.

sociotard said...

That nasa anouncement I linked to earlier? Nasa found a planet orbiting two stars. They had the lucasfilm rep because of the similarity to tatooine; it has two sunsets at once.

Tony Fisk said...

Hmmm, a lot of hostile comment (Well, reciprocal accountability was invoked...!)

I note that most detractors ignore Brin's comment that he's deliberately arguing this from a libertarian perspective (to avoid having his target audience consign his lefty nonsense into the trash can before they've read it through) So, if you prefer 'lefty nonsense' (ie economic sound bite mantras) then wait for another time, perhaps.

Tony Fisk said...

I saw the 'Tatooine' announcement as well. It makes me wonder (only slightly seriously) if the only reason we do science is to back up what we see in the movies.

(update: Kepler may have found 4 such systems!)

Tony Fisk said...

A long time ago, I wrote a waffly blog about the growth habit, and about how competition seems to be a horribly inefficient way of promoting things (I think it was in response to the glacial manner in which the Australian telecommunications industry was getting privatised, and how much advertising was being done for so little)

Now, I don't have any alternative, but maybe this issue comes to the fore in a hypothetical 'quaternary' phase of a free market?

David Brin said...

Tony, my promotion of competition and reciprocal accountability as the core elements of enlightenment comes with both irony and caveats.

CUT-THROAT competition of the kind idolized by Rand, is exactly what warrior-thugs did all through the ages. They thereupon created monopolies of power to crush any further competition.

Enlightenment competition arenas only operate well when they are MAINTAINED, like fragile but magnificent cornucopia machines. They need perpetual tuning, since very smart people will find every conceivable chink and corner and excuse to cheat.

In other words, there is a level at which bureaucracy is absolutely the health measure of libertarian/capitalist enterprise. If the liberal interventions are all measured against just a few metrics. Not just does this enhance justice and goodness... but does this actually enhance the number of active, knowing, capable and vigorous competitors?

The great irony? Liberalism has mostly done that!!!

It is conservatives who praise faith in blind markets FIBM who mostly betray is.

Jacob said...

Hi David,

You asserted that the Oligarchy is practicing GAR. Can you give some specific examples of it? Or did you mean by negation of competitive options they limit our choices?

Hi Tracy,

David Brin wasn't arguing against property. He was arguing against it as sacrosanct. Consider the following easy example. Video captures someone fatally shooting another preson. Police would like to take the gun from that person in order to match balistics. If property is sacrosanct, the police can not seize that property even on a temporary basis.


Hi Alex,
Excellent counter points. Do you believe that the oligarchy is responsible for Republican Anti-Science? Or is it perhaps just foregin interests trying to hamstring American power?


Hi Jonathan,

Some of the 'how.'

Economics of Scale allow big buisness to operate at lower cost per product than smaller ones. The negative influence of size is larger organization and management which if often bad. Now a buisness that is operating more efficiently can beat those that aren't. It is extremely easy for a hugh buisness to starve out a small businesses by running a temporary (a few years) loss. At which time, that buisness from lack of competition can
raise prices. There are lots of factors which help known buisness vs new competition. Government can setup policies which promote competition. However, government has a lot of things which aren't streamlined and hurt new buisness. Sometimes these rules are created specifically to restrict competition.

Hi J,

This is a good place for ideas.

Tony Fisk said...

Maintenance: I think this needs to be applied most in arenas we all use or have access to (infrastructure), and which needs to be held to a set of standards, which is where a GAR overseer comes in. I think I'm with Larry, there.

Hi Jacob. While David is quite capable of answering his questions, I can provide you with a couple of recent local examples of oligarchic GAR.

Baillieu gov't reintroduces alpine grazing on the pretext of a scientific study (even though every scientist approached to head it so far has promptly walked away from it)

They have also legislated to restrict the placement of windfarms, potentially causing the industry to shift interstate (it's been pointed out that coal mines don't require a 2km setback from residential properties)

Both these actions have been interpreted as payback to rural supporters.

This, after less than 1 year in government?!

More generally: I mentioned standards before, and the jockeying for position to control those standards is very fierce (just look at the naked aggression shown by Microsoft in order to impose OOXML as an IEEE documentation standard a couple of years ago)

David Brin said...

Jacob asked "You asserted that the Oligarchy is practicing GAR. Can you give some specific examples of it? Or did you mean by negation of competitive options they limit our choices?"

Elimination of competition is inherently GAR. But there is also the way they appoint each other onto company boards in order to vote each other outrageous compensation packages, acting in effect like blood parasites on the necks of those corporations.

Think, by the very logic of capitalism, high ceo salaries should ATTRACT NEW TALENT to the field of corporate management until the supply of brilliant corporate managers outstrips demand and the prices fall. That is capitalism! But they never consider that the very logic they use should result in a limitation on these French Royalty level compensations.

The one excuse I've heard is that the very best managers are mutant-level good. They are like tall, fast NBA players, nonlinear and by far worth any price! But NBA mutants can prove they are worth it by clear statistical performance measures and ticket sales. In contrast, there is famously almost no correlation between CEO compensation and company health.

The packages are determined by other golf buddies.

duncan cairncross said...

Re the mutant level CEO compensation packages
These are actually counter productive!

Given that being a CEO is hard work a sensible person would accept a huge salary for a short time and then retire with his family
The only people who don't are insatiable - one of the signs of madness!
Very high salaries "filter" out the rational people

Pay peanuts - get monkeys!
Pay millions - get loonies!

Brendan said...

Perhaps Harlan should try patenting the ideas in his stories instead of copyrighting them. The Patent Office seems to give patents to the flimsiest "product" ideas so I am sure much of Harlan's conceptual work would probably qualify.

Tim H. said...

Concerning interlocking boards and executive compensation, it's like the the steelworkers got to negotiate compensation with the teamsters. Since much stock ownership is in large funds, run by generously compensated executives, shareholder democracy is unlikely to correct the situation. My guess is this will continue until an economic collapse that is too large for the government to stop.

LarryHart said...

duncan cairncross

Given that being a CEO is hard work a sensible person would accept a huge salary for a short time and then retire with his family
The only people who don't are insatiable - one of the signs of madness!
Very high salaries "filter" out the rational people


Radio host Thom Hartmann notes that the astronomical salaries commanded by CEOs indicates (by simple supply/demand) some sort of shortage of qualified people. What quality is it that is in such shortage? Mr Hartmann speculates that the necessary characteristic which is in such short supply is sociopathy. One needs to know how to run a company AND to be able to destroy the environment and the lives of fellow human beings.

LarryHart said...

Paul Krugman's NYT column (not blog) today on the anti-compassion aspect of the current GOP debates.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/16/opinion/krugman-free-to-die.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/16
/opinion/krugman-free-to-die.
html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

There's more to the article, but this is the conclusion:


...
In the past, conservatives accepted the need for a government-provided safety net on humanitarian grounds. Don’t take it from me, take it from Friedrich Hayek, the conservative intellectual hero, who specifically declared in “The Road to Serfdom” his support for “a comprehensive system of social insurance” to protect citizens against “the common hazards of life,” and singled out health in particular.

Given the agreed-upon desirability of protecting citizens against the worst, the question then became one of costs and benefits — and health care was one of those areas where even conservatives used to be willing to accept government intervention in the name of compassion, given the clear evidence that covering the uninsured would not, in fact, cost very much money. As many observers have pointed out, the Obama health care plan was largely based on past Republican plans, and is virtually identical to Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts.

Now, however, compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.

And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

Are voters ready to embrace such a radical rejection of the kind of America we’ve all grown up in? I guess we’ll find out next year.

Eneasz said...

http://bit.ly/cBBgY8 doesn't take me anywhere, bad link?

Dirko said...

David,"An Enlightenment Civilization fostered by Smith, Locke, Franklin etc..." ah, they are like listening to the golden, oldies - now musty and a little bit quaint. If you think are present problems can be cured by the ole formula of horse and buggy competition, then you are similar to the French thinking the Maginot line will stop the Germans. With unlimited funding, Wall Street and the corporations are riding rough shod over your noble Adam Smith. In addition, outsourcing and the approaching Singularity, are making ole style employment a thing of the past. If a machine can replace your job economically (say fork lift operation), you are toast. If U.S. prisoners can work for less than slave labor in India, than they are toast. If there is an approaching Singularity, mankind's and machine's genius will go (is now going) to funneling more wealth to the already wealthy. In fact that should be the clearest identifying characteristic of the Singularity. The fact is that fewer workers are needed to support civilization. In such circumstances, new visionary thinking is a necessity or take your pick: engineered pandemics, narco-state killings, Bolshevik-style revolutions. Rejected, useless biomass doesn't think logically, and certainly won't be reading Adam Smith while trying to warm up in the libraries.

Dirko said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that I definitely think that Biff-Back-to-the-future living will also be part of our bright Post-singularity existence. By the way, I just helped a friend by letting him move into one of my old cars for shelter. And I also ran an extension cord for his use. Maybe I should give him a copy of Adam Smith to read?

David Brin said...

Carl Milsted... you there? The ReformtheLP site is down, alas.

Robert said...

Bob the Angry Flower put it best in pointing out the flaws of Ayn Rand. =^-^=

http://acceleratethecontradictions.blogspot.com/2009/03/going-galt-aftermath.html

http://acceleratethecontradictions.blogspot.com/2009/03/
going-galt-aftermath.html

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Rep. Gohmert (R, Texas) has submitted a "jobs making" bill to compete with Democrat one. It works by, you guessed it, reducing taxes. Specifically, it would reduce the corporate tax to zero.

The PDF of the complete two-page bill.

From his website:

Washington - Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01) released the following statement today after introducing the “American Jobs Act of 2011” which will create jobs by taking the corporate tax rate to zero.

“We have heard a lot of rhetoric about job creation from President Obama over the last several days. After waiting to see what the President would actually put into legislative language, and then waiting to see if anybody would actually introduce the President’s bill in the House, today I took the initiative and introduced the 'American Jobs Act of 2011.' It is a very simple bill, which will eliminate the corporate tax which serves as a tariff that our American companies pay on goods they produce here in America.

This bill will actually create jobs in America. Right now, American manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas. What is really insidious about this tax is that corporate taxes are paid by the consumer – built in to the cost of the good or service. Corporate taxes are paid for by people in the form of lower wages to American workers and less money paid out in dividends in everything from 401K retirement accounts and to those who would risk their capital in business ventures. This type of capital investment is where jobs come from.

Unlike President Obama’s bill, which clocks in at 155 pages, the 'American Jobs Act' is only two pages. The American people want to see jobs and economic growth and this bill guarantees that outcome. America would instantly become a safe haven for businesses resulting in an explosion in revenue increases. If we really want to create jobs and grow the economy, we must pass ‘The American Jobs Act’ now.”

sociotard said...

And, in the category of things that belong in the novel "Earth"

A portable brain scanner powered by your phone

Robert said...

Looking at David's comment on Duncan's first post gives me an idea on where Tolkien and Lewis may be coming from:

1. Take the old lords.
2. Remove chivalry, honor, and courage.
3. Eliminate High Mediaeval art, music, and poetry.
4. Add modern devices for blowing people up, spying on them, and/or torturing them to death.
5. Bingo! You've got the New Lords, or, even worse, mid-20th century totalitarians of the sort Lewis and Tolkien were familiar with.

Visceral Romantic Reaction is almost unavoidable for someone who considers the New Lords the representatives of our age.

Something to add to the quite fair and perceptive comments David has made about Tolkien from time to time.

anne.ominous said...

Well, David, I would be happy to read your article or whatever it is, but that link doesn't work.

As for your other comment, I don't know how to answer it because it seems to have no context. Cite 6000 years of oligarchic cheating how? In what context? Are you implying that Smith was pretending that did not exist? I don't get what you're trying to say there.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I wanted to add a bit to the idea of the 5000 rich guys that vote each other lavish compensation packages, with no regard to company performance.

This should not be possible because of reciprocal accountability in the form of the shareholders replacing the board members in the annual elections.

The reason this doesn't happen is because the shareholders tend to be mutual funds who repackage the investments for the mutual fund investors. In other words, the individuals that are most interested in how well the CEO's do don't actually own any stock in the company they are invested in, and so can't vote for the board of directors.

The stock holders (the mutual funds) don't care, because they don't make their money from holding the stock, they make their money off of the investors. Even worse, the mutual funds are operated by corporations with CEO's and Boards which make up part of the 5000.

Regards,

Hans

David Brin said...

Anyone know how to reach Carl Milsted? His Reform the LP site is down including my articles about political spectra and implicit-explicit social contracts!

Anne, Smith was the first since Pericles to boldly propose a WAY to end 6000 years of oligarchic cheating, by dividing power and insisting on open, transparent competition. Marx laughed and said it can't happen because of human nature! But it's worked maybe 40% since 1776... a staggering % rate!

Our job is to restore Smith's notion - and that of Pericles. It can't be done with socialism (except the very basics that Smith himself urged.) And it sure can't happen under an idolatry of the very aristocrats Smith loathed.

Robert said...

I've got several links on a variety of topics - I was procrastinating on posting them, I'm afraid. ^^;;

First, here's an article on the cost savings of using private contractors. The result? There are none. If anything, it costs MORE to use private contractors. How much of this is because the contractors were hired under the cronyism of the Shrub and how much from issues with contracting itself remains to be seen:

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/us/13contractor.html?_r=4&ref=politics

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/us/
13contractor.html?_r=4&ref=politics

Next, a short article that probably everyone is aware of, concerning people in the Tea Party Debate cheering the concept of letting someone without insurance die. Let's see... many in the Tea Party consider themselves good Christians. But I get the feeling if Christ were to show up today and insist that they show charity and mercy to their fellow men, they'd be among the first people building a cross on which to crucify Christ on. I'm sorry, but saying you're a Christian doesn't hold water when your actions say otherwise.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/12/tea-party-debate-health-care_n_959354.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/12/
tea-party-debate-health-care_n_959354.html

We also have a study showing that long-term unemployment benefits has a marginal impact on unemployment rates. Claims that it turns people into "slackers" by Republicans is in fact incorrect, according to the study, and may in fact encourage people to continue looking for work rather than leaving the workforce entirely.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/16/extended-unemployment-ben_n_966111.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/16/
extended-unemployment-ben_n_966111.html

Governor Scott Walker is in the news again as his aide Cynthia Archer, one of his top aides, had her house raided by the FBI. Walker is reserving judgment until he knows what the raid was about.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/16/scott-walker-cynthia-archer-fbi-raid-wisconsin_n_965899.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/16/scott-walker-
cynthia-archer-fbi-raid-wisconsin_n_965899.html

On a scientific note, there has been a discovery of a possible ancestor species to homo sapiens and related line. The bones show both ape-like and human-like aspects to them, and may alter how we view the process of human evolution (such as when we started evolving our brains).

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/08/australopithecus-sediba-bones_n_954212.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/08/
australopithecus-sediba-bones_n_954212.html

(To be continued)

Robert said...

Monks at a Japanese Buddhist temple have been planting sunflowers in the agricultural regions surrounding the Fukashima nuclear plant. Sunflowers are known to absorb radiation and can hopefully help in the cleanup process. The monks have planted field mustard, amaranthus and cockscomb, which are all believed to absorb radiation and soak up toxins from the ground.

http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/civics/sunflowers-planted-in-japan-absorb-radiation.html

http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/civics/
sunflowers-planted-in-japan-absorb-radiation.html

On a topic I personally enjoy, here's a newspaper article on the growth of webcomics and how webcartoonists lack a guild... but let's be honest, they don't need one as most aren't paid for their efforts, they just post their stuff online for free.

http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/arts/Sidestepping-Newspapers-Comics-Go-Online-129662013.html

http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/arts/
Sidestepping-Newspapers-Comics-Go-Online-129662013.html

Finally, my thoughts go out to the people hurt and families of those hurt and killed at the accident at the Reno Air Show that has seen three dead and at least 50 injured. This strikes home for me because a month or so ago, I was at a work party where I and a number of my coworkers witnessed a van lose control and go into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring three others. As a MERT, I was on the scene... though I needed to force myself each step of the way. Part of me wanted to just walk away. :(

I hope no one else dies from the Reno incident. Again, my thoughts go out to them.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/16/reno-air-show-plane-crash_n_967137.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/16/
reno-air-show-plane-crash_n_967137.html

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

Robert

There is something odd going on behind the scenes in Wisconsin. In general I should caution all to wait and see, as preliminary info is usually wrong in whole or part.

But what has trickled out so far is....odd. There seems to be some kind of investigation going on regarding public officials using their work computers and work hours on political activities. The Archer raid is strongly hinted to be part of that story.

Now to be sure, that is not an appropriate thing for elected officials to be doing, but in the grand scheme of things, heck, much of what President Obama is doing of late-on our dime-is flat out political activity, so it seems a strange thing to, quite literally, make a Federal case out of.

As libertarians all, we should be alarmed if this turns out to be the DOJ getting political payback for Gov. Walker's actions against public employee unions. I mean, Presidential administrations come and go. This activity gives me creepy Nixonian vibes that you would howl at if the Pres. were a Republican.

But as I said, wait and see. The folks being raided could have been printing counterfeit Benjamins in their basements I suppose.

Tacitus

Corey said...

Hmm, that is interesting Tacitus, and I definitely agree.

As you say, we'll see.

Chetmo said...

David,
Very well said, sir! I, as an ideological "rational anarchist" feel that the conservative movement has long ago deserted me, for the very reasons you cite.
I'm intrigued by your connecting economic competition to parallel processing: an idea that seems obvious, but one I failed to discover till now.|
If I may promote myself a bit, my blog often refers to the work of Joseph Schumpeter in terms of previous boom and bust cycles of our economy. Perhaps you should reconsider your references to Smith and Hayek, as they failed to note the connection of innovation in technology as a driving force in profits, and creative destruction of employment. I'm also interested in looking at the advent of credit cards, debit and "check' cards, electronic fund transfers, and their impact on banking and monetary policies. Since actual cash transactions now make up less than a third of all monetary exchanges, how will that change Monetarist theory? Perhaps we could do some "parallel processing" on the subject?
But you're a busy man, and I wouldn't want to keep you from your
work...
Thank you for the article, and your time..

David Brin said...

chetmo welcome! Finding the right metaphors for what's going on is fine. I naturally believe in my metaphors.

But we need to anchor them in reality. When one set of blithe predictions never comes true, it is a good place to start metaphor culling.

Best example. supply side economics.

anne.ominous said...

But what you don't seem to understand, David (or perhaps I did not make sufficiently clear), is that I am not arguing with you over principle. I happen to agree with what you are saying there. And I also agree that people who are property-obsessed are not on the right track.

Rather, these are the two points I was trying to make:

First, actual Libertarian principles are not property-obsessed. As I mentioned before, my right to swing my fist ends at your nose, and the same is true of property. For example, allowing anybody to do anything they want with their land is not a Libertarian concept, if what they do with it is harming others. An example of that might be pollution or other ecological destruction.

Of course Libertarians would prefer that free markets and other such forces would take care of such things, but again Libertarian philosophy is not against legislation if that proves to be necessary in order to accomplish that goal.

And (without having the benefit of having read your piece on the subject), it seems to me that this is in keeping with your idea of social contract. But without that other information I am half-guessing about what you meant.

The second point I wanted to make is that I have been involved with the Libertarian party, and people in it, for many years now. And I don't know a single Libertarian who thinks the way you claim they do. And that's where lies my biggest problem with your statements. It does not appear to me that the people to whom you refer are actually representative of Libertarians.

Now, I will grant you: some people who call themselves Libertarian can be a bit extremist. A certain television personality comes to mind, who has recently started calling himself Libertarian even though over the years his musings (or rantings, some would say) have not been very Libertarian at all.

I have spoken to a few -- but only a few -- who think ALL government regulation is inherently bad, or that people should be able to do whatever they want with their property, under any circumstances. But those are not, in fact, actual Libertarian principles.

Those people have misplaced themselves; they probably belong in the Anarchist and Republican parties, respectively.

But if you happen to find that material, please by all means post a link. I am curious and would like to read it.

anne.ominous said...

By the way, I also don't disagree with you about "Supply Side" economics... but on the other hand what you might call "Consumption Side" economics does not work either.

I have been something of a student of the economic history of the U.S., and one of the things I found in my studies surprised me a great deal. That is: if, as a scientist, you accept that a theory is only as good as its ability to predict, then Keynesian economics must be rejected.

Because in comparison to Monetarist or Austrian economics, the Keynesians' record of prediction is nothing short of miserable. More of a joke, really.

Robert said...

Tacitus, I'm reserving all judgment on the Walker incident. However, I suspect the real reason for the investigation was the lost votes that then turned up concerning the election of a State Supreme Court Justice. That does have a federal bearing as if those votes had not turned up, it is entirely possible the wrong person would have been elected. In short people's votes (Republican in this case) were initially not being... um, not sure of what the exact wording is, but basically I believe the Supreme Court has ruled that everyone's legal vote must be counted. This almost didn't happen.

Obama's actions concern me greatly. I wish we had a viable Democrat who was willing to run against Obama at this stage of the game. Because he's failed in his promises... and he's shown inadequacies in being a leader. He's a mediocre President at best because he fears confrontation - or rather, he fears how his actions in a confrontation will end up being portrayed.

----------

anne.ominous: You keep saying your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. I disagree. If you were to swing your fist at me and stop short of hitting, but I backed up because I thought you were going to hit me, fell down a flight of stairs, and broke my back (or died), are you responsible?

Yes. Because the act of you swinging your fist threatened me. Even if you never intended on hitting me, the mere fact you acted means you are guilty of assault, even if there was no battery. My being harmed is a direct result of your action.

This holes true to the Libertarian ideals as a whole. I was once Libertarian. I realized something however: libertarianism is intrinsically flawed because historically it has been shown that when business is allowed to run amok, it will do everything it can to screw over everyone else, be it competitors, employees, or the environment. 120 years ago politicians were in the pockets of business. Businessmen bought and sold politicians and ensured that politicians friendly to their interests got into power. The result was massive pollution, massive mistreatment of employees, union-busting, graft, corruption on a huge scale, and monopolies and duopolies in most major businesses.

The truth is, government regulation is required to ensure business does not abuse its trust. That is why I am now a Social Libertarian. The government should stay out of our personal lives... but when you have something that can effect the lives of multiple people such as a corporation or infrastructure or the like... then government HAS to be involved to ensure things remain on the up and up.

Rob H.

rmp said...

The ruination of the conservative party into this libertarian-populist mess has been 1) the rise of the religious, apocalyptic right, and 2) the rise of the business/MBA politician.

The neo-Hamilitonian conservatives kept them both in check for a long time, but since the 1980s, both have come to dominate conservative leadership.

As Arthur Schlesinger wrote, the business community consisted in the "elimination of courage as an essential quality in a ruling class." Just look at Mitt Romney.

David Brin said...

anne I am on the road, but it seems to me that you are doing the
thing of the right today. You make assertions and that
suffices!

Never mind that all mainstream economists
know, with total historical fact, that Keynsian
approach work circumstantially... under a range of conditions
that we are starting to understand. Meanwhile the
VERSION of austrian economics called "supply side"
has an absolutely perfect record of total failure.

EVERY predicted outcome of pouring jugular gushes
of money into the maws of the aristocracy has utterly failed
to result in increased economic activity, increased
investment in productive capital, increase tax revenues or
lowered deficit. Absolutely never, in any way, ever.

Please study money VELOCITY. We need hi velocity now
and money in the newly employed lower middle class will
go right out as highvelocity economic fuel. Money to the wealthy
has LOW velocity! That was used as the argument to favortherich during high
inflation!

As for your 'definition" of libertarianism. Fine, I call myself
one too. If you define every reasonable element and exclude
all the crazy stuff... fine. I'm one too. But you are too blithe
in ignoring that most "libertarians" today are stark jibbering
different than your definition.

Please. Read Adam Smith.

LarryHart said...

Anne Ominous:

Because in comparison to Monetarist or Austrian economics, the Keynesians' record of prediction is nothing short of miserable. More of a joke, really.


I admittedly lack training in economics, but I do know that Paul Krugman has about a 200% accuracy rate predicting everything that has taken place since the 2008 crash. That doesn't seem to jibe with your assertion. Meanwhile aren't the Austrians the ones who have been predicting hyperinflation just around the corner?

LarryHart said...

Meanwhile, I come here looking for hope during an episode of existential despair. I think it was kicked off by the news that Republicans are going beyond keeping poor people away from the voter roles into the realm of changing the way the states THEY control apportion electoral votes to in effect gerrymander themselves a permanent electoral-vote majority, insulating themselves against voter backlashes. They really do seem to be making their move, and President Obama just doesn't seem to have the popularity to overcome it next year. It's very similar to the realization ahead of the 1980 election that Reagan was going to win--except that certainty came very late in the game, say around October before the election. This would be analogous to a feeling of certainty IN SEPTEMBER 1979 that Reagan was going to be our next president.

I'm not entirely convinced this feeling of dread overcoming me is warranted by reality. In this crowd, I feel able to describe it as the feeling of dread that overcame the Trantorians (and caused Mayor Indbur III to surrender without a fight) just ahead of the Mule's invasion in Asimov's "Foundation and Empire".

I'm starting to wonder if there really IS a Mule at work. What might THAT hypothesis explain?

David Brin said...

Never ever do I see a dem come out and say "you gerrymander your own states but demand we un-gerry ours. HYPOCRITES!

Geez... we had two aggressive democrats... Weiner and Franken. Now weiner's gone.

Where's Franken?

anne.ominous said...

David: I did not post supporting facts because I did not want to hog the forum. I have pared this down to fit. My supporting facts are about 1400 words or so.

Let's do a brief rundown of Austrians vs. Keynesian predictions for major events of the past 80 years. (Keynes' theories were not around that long, but many principles of Keynesian economics were known and often followed before Keynes).

Feb. 1929: Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek predicts monetary policy will soon cause a market crash. Proto-Keynesian Irving Fisher echoed the mainstream view that the economy was fine! Things were never better! -- the day before the crash.

Keynesian-style "stimulus" was big in the Great Depression. How well did it work? Maybe Henry Morgenthau, FDR's Treasury Secretary, should know? He wrote about it in his diary:

"We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong … somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises. … I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. … And an enormous debt to boot."

Best skip over the war; there are too many conflicting opinions of its effects to have a meaningful discussion. I am averse to discussion that can lead nowhere.

But at the end of WWII, Keynesians predicted utter economic disaster: their "scientific" theory said the economy could not absorb all the unemployed troops coming home at once.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NAIRU-SR-and-LR.svg

What actually happened: starting that very year, the U.S. saw some of the best years its economy has ever seen, before or since.

3 failures of 3. Not just a little wrong, but 180 degrees from reality.

I have more but I will skip over most of it. But when Austrians were predicting the ".com bubble" of 2000, Keynesians were again saying "Come on in! The market's fine!"

And Austrians clearly, publicly, predicted the collapse of 2008. Proof:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2I0QN-FYkpw

Watch Austrian Peter Schiff, in 2006, explain not just what would happen but WHY.

Yet Keynesians, like Art Laffer, of "Laffer Curve" fame, again predicted the opposite of what happened. They literally laughed at Schiff. And kept claiming everything was fine, until after the fact.

That was an oft-repeated scenario, for 80 years. And I haven't mentioned: Keynesian theory said the "stagflation" of the 70s was literally impossible (the Phillips curve for one thing). When they were forced to accept reality, they scrambled to explain the anomaly, but could not. It was Milton Friedman who offered a halfway plausible explanation, not a Keynesian.

I understand velocity and why it is good. And I've read Smith, thanks. I agree about “getting back to Smith”. I don't know where you think there is disagreement.

But as for Keynes. History is on my side. If you would like to discuss it more, let me get my references together, and some free time, and I guarantee you will learn something.

"Supply-side" is NOT Austrian, BTW. It has its basis in the Laffer curve, which Art Laffer said he learned from Keynes himself. It is merely a slight leaning to one side of basic Keynesian theory. If you don't believe me, check Wikipedia or more authoritative sources.

As for Libertarianism: I was referring to stated party principles. Perhaps not "libertarianism" with a small "L". Apparently your experience with them has been different from mine. I can accept that and learn from it. But I find your apparent attitude that your own experience is somehow more authoritative or better than mine to be... well... never mind. I'll remain polite.

Tacitus2 said...

Robert

You are badly misreading the State Supreme Court race incident, but are at least drawing the correct conclusion, that we must wait and see.

Tacitus

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

None of the evidence @annie's presents is probative as to Keynesianism:

1. Something said by someone who was not a Keynesian but a "proto-Keynesian"
2. A quote by one man at one point in the Depression
3. Nothing about the actual result of Keynesianism in ending the depression.

We are all entitled to our opinions, but we are not entitled to our facts. It's not really very interesting to argue whether the world is round or whether FDR's programs really did help end the Depression. However, I do enjoy the "No True Libertarian" fallacy and the "No True Austrian" variation.

Let me confess that I, too, went through my Libertarian phase (shortly before or after my Socialist phase, I don't remember which ... they aren't really that much different). Ultimately experience has persuaded me that there is no Grand Theory of Human Behavior that Explains Everything. This may be because we aren't smart enough yet, or more likely, it may be that intelligent critters recognize Grand Theories as things to exploit. Gamers know what that means.

Anonymous said...

Out of those 5000 golf buddies controlling the economy, I would bet 2000 of them are in government. Nobody can dominate completely without having a seat at the table of government. One hand washes the other. Sever the ties between business and corrupt politicians and things will work out just fine. I also agree with the others here, there is plenty of churn at the top. Lots of people who were rich just a few years ago are flat busted now.

David Brin said...

Notice guys, they always always refuse to answer the challenge and look at the last 6000 years. Or ever ever read Smith.

To look at the stunning success of American after FDR stopped trying ridiculously to balance the budget and went fully Keynsian, is impossible to deny... so they focus on the period when FDR was DABBLING in Keynsian stimulus. Never, ever do they look at 1940 through 1965... the biggest boom in the history of the world.

Nor the fact that Keynsians LEARN. Under Clinton they actually made their approach CONTINGENT upon circumstances! Even the Pharaoh knew, in fat years you pay off debt and in lean years you spend. Clinton did that. Paid off debt when things went well. Something they'll never credit him with. Ever.

What did the bushites do, when we had fat years? Buy down debt? (As the middle class wanted, according to polls)? No, they obeyed the oligarchs and gave all the surplus to the rich.

Supply side promised it would all come back into the treasury and pay off the debt FASTER! Did it? In fact did any of that largesse go into increasing supply, as Hayek predicted, through investment in new plants and equipment and products? No. The oligarchs spent LESS on productive investment and hoarded nearly all of it, reducing the velocity of all that money to near zero. Then many of them raided us for more...

Lean times came. Where was the savings that Joseph and Pharaoh and Clinton all knew we'd need, someday? Without those tax gift gushers to the rich and those insane wars, we could have stimulated like mad... like we should have... gotten people to work with high velocity pay they'd immediately spend... and still been in great fiscal shape.

There are no excuses for these assholes. They plunged us into land wars of attrition in Asia. They stole top to bottom. They left us with ZERO statistical measures of national health in better shape than when they took over.

They created a second Depression. Why are we even talking to people so delusional they can defend such #%##!?

anne.ominous said...

Rewinn: First, you are conflating libertarianism with a particular economic theory, which is invalid on its face. They are two different things.

Second, I was citing INSTANCES of history, I was not attempting to prove them. For that, all you need is Wikipedia and a couple of history books. Look it the hell up yourself. It's easy enough to do and if you really do, you will find that what I stated was accurate.

But as to that one point I have to say: if the Secretary of Treasury truly did not understand what was happening economically at the time, then please tell me who the hell did.

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

Oh, and the utter fantasy of "churn"... my God! SHOW me the churn instead of waving a blithe assertion... that defies 6000 years of blatant history.

Why are they fighting against the Inheritance Tax so hard, if they don't expect to pass it on to a new feudal caste?

Don't give me the "family farm" BS... EVERY liberal politician has been willing to negotiate a new floor to the tax. 2 million? Three? Five? Ten? How much before your Family Farm becomes a stinking rich bunch of spolied agribusiness brats? Twenty million?

If EACH of the farmer's kids get a five million dollar swathe of farm perfectly tax free... will you allow the rest to be taxed at the same rate that a secretary pays on money she earned with the sweat of her brow?

Is there ANY number you'd be willing to negotiate, and give up the fake-i-zoid mantra about family farms? Because negotiate is all your opponents ever ask... while you refuse to do that... ever.

anne.ominous said...

David:

Not ONCE have you addressed any of my specific points, or bothered to find out how much I actually know, yet you dismiss my arguments anyway with vague (so far NEVER specific) pronouncements about ancient history and how much you assume I know about them, all the while spouting inaccuracies of your own.

Once again: "Supply Side Economics" is a fundamentally KEYNESIAN idea. It follows Keynesian economics through and through, via the Laffer curve I have already mentioned. And 5 minutes on Wikipedia (not to mention better sources) will tell you that.

As someone who had training as a scientist, you should be ashamed of yourself. You are doing nothing but tossing about straw-man arguments, you aren't addressing the other party's points, and are in general doing a botch job of the whole thing.

Listen up: you say that Keynesians learn, yet history clearly shows that after 80 years of Keynesian-STYLE economic control by the government, as little as 3 years ago they were still -- as they have ALWAYS, invariably done -- fiddling and partying while Rome burned.

History does not back you up. And I am done, as it has become obvious to me that trying to have an intellectual discussion here is a complete waste of time.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Anne

"Not ONCE have you addressed any of my specific points,"

You haven't given any points - just a politicians quote and a quick rant,

Give some points and we will see if they can be backed up

David,

I agree about the "Churn" - once you have a few millions in assets you need to be a real numpty to reduce your value

Some people do, mostly show business types everybody else socks enough away to support themselves and their families

What would you call a "businessman" who let millions flow away and ended up poor?
That takes mutant ability!!

LarryHart said...

Anne Ominous:

...But when Austrians were predicting the ".com bubble" of 2000, Keynesians were again saying "Come on in! The market's fine!"

And Austrians clearly, publicly, predicted the collapse of 2008. Proof:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2I0QN-FYkpw


Yet Keynesians, like Art Laffer, of "Laffer Curve" fame, again predicted the opposite of what happened. They literally laughed at Schiff. And kept claiming everything was fine, until after the fact.


Ok, if the Laffer Curve is Keynsian and the "Fundamentals are sound" mantra of Phil Gramm in 2008 is Keynsian, then clearly I've been arguing the wrong terms because I have no idea who is on whose team.

So let's not be confused by terms like "Keynsian" or "Austrian". I'm asserting that Paul Krugman is always right and that Supply Side is always wrong in their respective predictions. "Always" being intentional hype, but still, both assertions are close enough to "always" that it's clear which of the two we should laugh out of the room and which we should take seriously in planning next steps.


That was an oft-repeated scenario, for 80 years. And I haven't mentioned: Keynesian theory said the "stagflation" of the 70s was literally impossible (the Phillips curve for one thing). When they were forced to accept reality, they scrambled to explain the anomaly, but could not. It was Milton Friedman who offered a halfway plausible explanation, not a Keynesian.


Meanwhile, the current crop of deficit-hawks and gold-bugs keep predicting with that same religious certainty that government deficit-spending leads inevitably to hyperinflation, even as depression and deflation threaten the economy. You want to claim that deficit-hawks and gold-bugs are "Keynsians"? Fine. Nothing would surprise me any more.

You sound to me like the Canadian comic-book writer Dave Sim who turned religious in the 90s and decided that the parts of the Bible that didn't sound insane were God, but the parts that DID sound insane were the Devil PRETENDING to be God. Thus he could take the entire Bible literally, even the parts that contradict the other parts by dismissing all the bad stuff with "That wasn't God talking." You're doing the same thing here--dismissing anything Supply-Siders get wrong with "That's Keynsianism".

Ultimately, I don't care whether Keynsianism is good per se. All I know of Keynsianism is that Krugman is in that camp, and that Krugman has a 350% record of predictive hits. And Supply-Side is always wrong in its predictions. If Supply-Side economics forecasts rain, you should sell your umbrella and invest the proceeds in sunscreen futures.

Robert said...

I notice, anne.ominous, that you failed to answer my own points to you. Or do you silently agree that your right to swing your fist does not end at my nose but in fact ends when I feel threatened by you swinging your fist?

Or about the historical basis on how allowing business to do what it wants (which is a fundamental aspect of Libertarianism - have government get out of the affairs of business - nevermind that business often meddles in the affairs of government so to gain competitive advantage; that's okay because it's "good business sense") resulted in the American people treated as chattel with fewer rights than the slaves that the North went to war ostentatiously to free (and of course to "save the Union"), the environment treated as a huge waste dump, and massive amounts of corruption in government as every business that had extra money worked to buy every politician it could?

This is Libertarianism. You can't state "Separation of Church - er, I mean Business and State" because business and government have always been intrinsically linked.

Under Libertarianism, where government has no say in the doings of business (even if, say, business somehow was not allowed in turn to influence government in return), any new business that tried to compete with a monopoly would find its supply chain dry up as the monopoly forced the suppliers not to tend to the new business, assuming they didn't just sell their business to the monopoly. If a new business somehow managed to have an internalized supply chain then the monopoly would pressure retailers not to carry the new business's products. And then there's sabotage.

Oh wait, you say, sabotage isn't allowed because it's... against the law? That's against Libertarianism. You just had a government intervention in the affairs of business.

If you want an example of the FAILURE of monopoly, look at Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly. It squashed a number of discoveries and inventions created by its own employees because it would have threatened the phone industry as a whole. This includes the initial principles that would lead to computer hard drives. If Maw Bell had not devoured this invention, World War II may have been fought with computer-guided aircraft, precision bombing (in that specific targets and the surrounding region would have been bombed, instead of entire German cities), and the like.

But government = bad and business = good. Hmm? That's the argument. Along with "business does things more efficiently than government." Despite the fact tens of thousands of businesses, even those run with excellent ideas and good business plans, go under every single year. That's despite my above-linked article concerning the HIGHER COST of military and civilian contractors compared to the government doing things itself. You want facts? I'm telling you facts. And you don't want to accept them.

Sure. Government should not meddle in the affairs of its citizens (so long as it's not something that harms someone else, such as abuse, property destruction, or the like). But when it comes to business? Governments need to be involved.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Paul451 said...

Alex:
"Also, what precisely is your solution? Yeah, stop worshipping private property, and...what? Do we confiscate Wal-Mart because it centralizes too much power?"

So "Stop Worshipping" == "Burn Down" ??

LarryHart,
"I'm starting to wonder if there really IS a Mule at work."

Counter-evidence: Mule's society worked well.

Anyone looking for David's article on the three-axis political spectrum (errr, volume?), from the Reform the Libertarian Party site, the Wayback Machine has it:

http://web.archive.org/web/20101031100957/http://reformthelp.org/reformthelp/marketing/positioning/models.php

Paul451 said...

Anne,
As LarryHart hinted, I think you're obsessing over nomenclature to the point where it blinds you to what people are actually saying. If you take a step back, you will find the conversation less frustrating.

For example, the "not real libertarians". That is, and has been, David's point in his political rants. He considers himself a libertarian and a conservative, and he hates the people who are using those terms.

He's not saying they are wrong because they are libertarians or conservatives, he's saying they are wrong because they're not!

(volembe: Unit of rhetorical "volume")

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

LarryHart,
"I'm starting to wonder if there really IS a Mule at work."

Counter-evidence: Mule's society worked well.


Heh.

But I'm speculating that a Mule is just BEGINNING to work his influence, not that one has already been in charge for five years. Think "Foundation and Empire" rather than "Second Foundation".

Tangentially (perhaps lending credence to the Mule hypothesis), today I'm off of the despair and into a sort of resigned "looking at the bright side" of Republican rule.

Beginning with Day 1 of the Perry Administration, we will be spared the ridiculous GOP talking points that have dominated political discourse since Jan 2009. Almost magically, "the deficit" will no longer be a problem. And the whole line of argument that begins with "It's been x number of months already--how long are you going to keep blaming Bush?" will evaporate like the morning dew, because after 8 or 12 or 16 YEARS of failed supply-side policies, the ensuing Lost Century will still somehow all be the fault of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.

Paul451 said...

Robert (RAH),
Random semi-unrelated thought that popped up while reading your last.

A common criticism of the financial markets is that it's "a casino". But if you've ever seen the anti-fraud security in a modern casino, the absolute obsession with preventing fraud, we should be so lucky.

(If, in the analogy, the government is the casino management, the tables are the market, the gamblers are the investors.)

If casinos notice that a gambler is winning unusually consistently, even if they can't prove cheating (card counting, roulette timers, inside men, etc), they can still throw the player out of the casino for the mere appearance of cheating. You can keep your winnings, sir, but you are no longer welcome in the gaming rooms. And then publicise that to all other (nominally rival) casinos on the strip.

Imagine if the government was that obsessed with catching and eliminating financial fraud!

anne.ominous said...

Paul451: I have already settled the "libertarian" issue between us as far as it is likely to be settled. There was no misunderstanding there at all.

It is David who has been apparently misunderstanding me, seemingly thinking that I disagree with him about Adam Smith (although I haven't the slightest idea why he thinks so), and he has repeatedly told me to read Smith, as though he is convinced that I don't understand him, when Smith has actually never been a point of contention at all.

The only real disagreement, where we appear to agree that we disagree, is over Keynes. David said that Keynesians learn, but my whole point was that history shows very clearly, as recently as 2008, that they HAVEN'T learned a darned thing. Keynesians kept insisting, for example, that the stock market is the main indicator of economic health. All the while ignoring other indicators that other schools of economics have shown to be more reliable. And even though they had already failed horrifically on that very point at least 3 different times before. (One of those was before Keynes' theory, but mainstream economists were still going by the same basic ideas.) And most recently only about 7 years prior.

No, Keynesians have proven beyond reasonable doubt that even after decades of lessons, they do NOT learn, even when others all around them are pointing out their failures of perception with billboards and loudspeakers.

Josh K. said...

Can you please give the Tea Party some credit. These are the question being brought up. They are trying to get back to the founders original argument. It is a new/old phenomenon one group has been taking this debate and misrepresenting and reframing the question for their on ends.
Results matter. Just because you say you believe in something doesn't mean you actualy understand or believe in it. What you are describing is Crony Capitilism and it is not Free Market Based.
One of the things you did not mention is that with out honesty and integrity and holding each other acoutabe for what we say and do a free market system will not work.(But maybe that was your point with this post, and you just didn't come right out and say it.)
:-)

A post I wrote:
http://the-tao-of-josh.blogspot.com/2011/06/stuck-in-middle-and-what-do-we-really.html

I think you think that the Tea Party, Conservatives and Libertarians are confusing Libertarianism and Conservatism which are to different points on the political spectrum. The article "Positive & Negative Liberties in Three Dimensions" goes into this:
http://www.friesian.com/quiz.htm

With our curent school system we are on our own re-education ourselves. We have only been for the last hundred years taking the conversation and debate out of the public arena.


"Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?" - Thomas Jefferson

"Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the limits of the law,” because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual." - Thomas Jefferson

With out property rights you have no free market, but we have to exercise our rights within the respect for others rights.

We are working on the problem,
Josh

Josh K. said...

Ps. Can I copy your post and put it on my site with out giving you credit or a link back?

LarryHart said...

Josh K:

Can you please give the Tea Party some credit.
...
What you are describing is Crony Capitilism and it is not Free Market Based.
One of the things you did not mention is that with out honesty and integrity and holding each other acoutabe for what we say and do a free market system will not work.

That's exactly the point.

The Tea Party CLAIMS to be in favor of free-market capitalism, but their political influence is weilded in support of CRONY capitalism.

I'm giving them credit (blame, actually) not for what they claim to support, but for what they actually DO suppport--the routing of democracy, the ensuing "freedom" of overlords, and the "right" of ordinary citizens to engage in (Dr Brin's term here) a hypergamous surrender-reflex to those overlords.

Josh K. said...

"It is only those who do not understand our people, who believe our national life is entirely absorbed by material motives. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things we want much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists."
- President Calvin Coolidge, January 17, 1925

In certain ways in the last 86yrs we have made President Coolidge a lier. We need to get back to our routes or at lest get better at advocating them.

Josh

Josh K. said...

Larry please get your head out of the main stream medias ass. Just because they media says something doesnt make it true.

As a Tea Party supporter this is what I believe, limited government, true free mark and personal liberty.

The Tea party was and is against the bail outs and picking winners and losers. Are there bad actors trying to fly under the guise of what the Tea Party, yes. But name one group that doesn't have a bad eliment that's hard to route out.

It's the Barney Franks and Bushs of the world that said Franny and Freddy and the banks were to big to fail. That bailed out big auto.

So don't tell me what I believe and don't believe.

Peace, but you pissed me off,
Josh

rewinn said...

@anne.ominous said...

"I was citing INSTANCES of history, I was not attempting to prove them.

Your "instances" are not probative of your assertion. Your argument is as sound as "Keynesianism is false because cheesecake is made from dairy products".

"...Look it the hell up yourself..."

Potty words are not persuasive.

"...you will find that what I stated was accurate."

Even if accurate, they are not probative. Do you know what "probative" means?

"...if the Secretary of Treasury truly did not understand what was happening economically at the time, then please tell me who the hell did."

If you want to prove that unemployment did or did not decline during the New Deal, your probative evidence would be actual data on the subject, not a snippet cut out of context.

Your quote is classic heresay: a statement offered for its truth by someone not present. Heresay is never as good as direct evidence, and @annie offers no direct evidence because he or she knows that it is against her.

@annie - if you are not trolling, give me a number: how many of your factual assertions must I debunk before you change your theory?

Give me any number. Any at all.

Josh K. said...

Sorry, Brin, but if Larry can produce a Tea Party that has supported a crony capitalist group or action. Let me know a I'll denounces them on my blog. I personally dont Suport Rick Perry and know very few who do for this very reason.

But base acusation piss me off.

I'm getting tiered of them,
Josh

Robert said...

Odd. Once again anne.ominous ignores my comments and goes after arguments that ao believes can be debated. The thing is, silence can speak volumes. And failure to defend an argument can be taken as defeat, a point that gave the Birthers validity for a long period of time.

I have seen this type of behavior before, on forum boards. Dr. Brin, there is no point in debating anne.ominous any longer. ao is just a straw puppet being used to bait people on this forum. There is no actual legitimate intelligence or intent to properly debate behind these posts.

Rob H.

Jacob said...

Hi Josh,

The Tea Party would be a much better movement if it planned to build as much as it destroyed. If you want to remove a government program, first identify why its there in the first place. Many will agree that government could be run better. The Tea Party should use its intelligence to make a better more efficient way to accomplish the original goals. Destroying a government program and later expecting the need to be filled is unwise and a major reason for rejection of the Tea Party.

David Brin said...

Jacob, you are assuming that the Teapers are motivated to be like Barry Goldwater, whos genuine libertarianism led him NOT to hateful contempt of the people for wanting an FDA to protect them from bad food and drugs. He admitted that the FDA was needed... FOR THE LACK OF A FREE MARKET ALTERNATIVE.

S o he sought to pass laws that would goose the insurance industry into filling the gap by earning their profits off making their clients live longer. Competitively. The industry sabotaged him and joined the movement to capture the entire republican party.

Wow Paul... that Way back Machine is GREAT!

For the record, folks, here is my tinyurl for that long and (brilliant!) detailed appraisal of libertarian values and the left-right axis and overall utopian dreams:

MY LIBERTARIAN ESSAY in four parts - about how libertarianism might look, if it grew up.http://tinyurl.com/polimodels

Therein I appraise why the left-right axis fails and several suggested alternative 2 and 3d axes.. I discuss why Marxism and Libertarianism had almost identical-looking "ultimate utopias, but very different suggested ways to get there, and why both paths defy science... but a third path seems plausible. In another chapter, I discuss the American passion for dreams of Suspicion of Authority (SoA) and why this makes for the ultimate political irony. I then discuss why most human civilizations had social orders shaped like a pyramid, with a tiny oligarchy ruling from atop, but the recent "diamond shaped" social order (featuring a large and vigorously competitive middle class) is what Adam Smith, libertarians AND moderate liberals all should fight to preserve.

David Brin said...

Anne.... this was my party. I asked you first. You have squirmed relentlessly to avoid even once conceding the relevance of oligarchic tyranny and market repression in 99% of human societies. It is the keystone human dilemma and the central problem that our entire civilization was set up to deal with, by creative competitive opposition, yet, you dismiss it with a shrug. AGain and again.

Note that my entire position, from The Transparent Society onward, has been as a faithful son of Adam Smith, demanding a preservation of fair competition. Sometimes that calls for classic Goldwater solutions - eliminating "captured" govt bureaucracies like the ICC and CAB (both of them eiped out by democrats, not republicans... though Godwater led the GOP minority that cheered and helped...

... and sometimes enhancing competition means INTERVENING to help the poor, to build infrastructure, to build great public universities and make sure all kids grow up healthy and ready to compete. And science, more science, lots more science.

And antitrust and a tax system that keeps us from repeating 6000 years of dismal oligarchic ruination.

And transparency.

All of it... every last bit... is aimed at maximizing the number of skilled and vigorously creative competitors. The thing that socialists and oligarchs both hate.

Now you try to split hairs and call the utterly failed Supply Side madness "Keynsian"... say what????? Look at WHO pushed Supply side and who pushes it today! Grover Norquist the ruler of the GOP. Every "pledge" taken on the right is utter devotion to supply side voodoo. And they bandy the words "austrian school" all the time, often in the same sentence!

To be clear about this. The people who scream the loudest against Keynsianism are the same as those pushing Supply Side. Your hairsplitting may be correct at some level of theory. But when one group wants to give another trillion dollars to the rich so it can be hoarded at LOW VELOCITY and aggravate social disparity... while the other group wants to put a trillion dollars into the pockets of hurting lower middle class unemployed when it will instantly take on HIGH VELOCITY and end a depression and reduce disparity...

...I think we are talking about two very different things.

David Brin said...

Ugh...
Sure, split hairs. You and i both know that F Hayek is misquoted by these right wing proto-oligarch would-be monopolists, just as they misquot Adam Smith! I will concede your point! That if he were alive today, Hayek would denounce the supply siders and all their get and the entire GOP. SUre, I'll concede that!

If you will concede that 6000 years of history are relevant and should be front and center in our discussions.

David Brin said...

Robert, a libertarianism that gets down to basics would be about engendering creative competition. All their hifalutin airy-fairy talk about "coercion" becomes hypocritical claptrap when they help recreate the social order that Smith despised and that will empower feudalists to coerce my children into slavery.

But if they emphasized the miraculous creativity and force-balancing effects of competition, they would be faithful to their founder, Smith, and to the CORE essence from which all real liberty arises. Oh, but then they'd have to admit Smith was right and governemtn plays a role and isn't ALWAYS the reflex horrid font of all evil.

Self-reighteous indignation is a drug and so they will never make that shift.

LarryHart said...

Josh K:

if Larry can produce a Tea Party that has supported a crony capitalist group or action. Let me know a I'll denounces them on my blog.


If Dick Armey's "Freedom Works" isn't a crony capitalist group, what is?

Do you count Rand Paul as a letitimate Tea Party member? His assertion that government has its boot on the neck of poor quavering BP is just what I'm talking about. According to his philosophy, BP has the absolute right to foul our planet because any regulation against such fouling would eat into their God-given right to maximize profit. And we non-rich citizens should shut up and be grateful because some day, when the economy improves and government is neutered, BP will graciously pay us subsistence wages.

I personally dont Suport Rick Perry and know very few who do for this very reason.


Seriously?? The Tea Party isn't cataputing Perry to front-runner status for the GOP nomination?


But base acusation piss me off.


Try being a liberal some time and then tell me about base accusations, taken for granted IN the mainstream media.

No, I'm not telling you what you believe, and if you truly don't support Rick Perry and crony capitalism, then I have no problem with your personal beliefs. But I see what the nominal Tea Party stands for by their public positions as the GOP presidential race shapes up. And the Tea Party has been pissing me off since the anti-Obamacare town hall disruptions of 2009. You're angry because someone disagrees with you? Welcome to the club.

sociotard said...

Even if accurate, they are not probative. Do you know what "probative" means?

Meh. I believe it is next to impossible to 'prove' [b]anything[/b] in economics. Economics is one of the branches of science that I think human beings are fundamentally unable to ever understand. It's on my list next to climate science and cognitive science. All are things that are just too complicated for our poor monkey brains to grasp.

Jacob said...

Hi David,

It wasn't so much an assumption as a desire for the Tea Party to improve. Either A) Those members with good motivations would gain the influence and we'd see improvement or B) Those members would despair over how close to the truth outside perception of them is and leave.

When outsiders attack a group, they turtle and are forced to ignore the dark place they live in. I was trying not to be negative in hopes that my meaning would be heard. I wish the Brain didn't shortcut so easily.

Corey said...

@Sociotard

Having never undertaken any studies of not on the topic, I can't speak to economics, but having studied both neuroscience and climatology in not insignificant depth, I can say that our understanding is far better that you give credit for, and more than sufficient to draw many causal relationships with a very high degree of certainty.


I can tell you exactly how a neuron works, down to the chemical level, what numerous neurotransmitters do (and what substances promote/inhibit them, aka "drugs"), what part of your brain is responsible for non-verbal learning and memory, which is responsible for comprehension of fear or aggression, how reflexes work, and how parts of the brain interact to create association areas (which integrate sensory and memory information for processing).

If you were to sever your corpus callosum, I could tell you EXACTLY how it would and wouldn't affect your ability for processing of visual information.


Likewise, I can show you isotopic signatures and quantitative analyses using a few different methods that both demonstrate that humans are, beyond any form of doubt, responsible for the observed net increase in the carbon contained in Earth's carbon cycle. I could tell you the absorption spectrum of various GHGs, or model how much water vapor loss would occur in the atmosphere for a given temperature drop (well okay, *I* couldn't do that, but I could show you such models), and I could show you where those models have been shown correct during both long term temperature trends and short term variations for volcanic eruptions (which also impacted temperature in exactly the way models called for, as we saw with Pinatubo). I could show you the strength of the CO2 forcing, and give you a pretty good idea of how feedbacks would interact for overall climate variability, again corroborated by numerous physical phenomena operating exactly as we would expect.


In neither case do we know everything, but this isn't a dichotomous situation, so neither is it a case where we know nothing, far from it.

Economics is affected by funny factors such as human psychology, but likewise, I suspect we know far more than you're giving credit for.

LarryHart said...

Josh K,

Regarding your assertion that the Tea Party doesn't back Rick Perry...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/rick-perry-the-tea-party-frontrunner/2011/08/29/gIQApMiMnJ_blog.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/
blogs/the-fix/post/
rick-perry-the-tea-party-
frontrunner/2011/08/29/
gIQApMiMnJ_blog.html


For much of the last two years, we’ve debated how much power self-professed tea party supporters would have over the 2012 presidential nomination fight.

Yes, they shocked the world by nominating their preferred Senate candidates in places like Delaware, Nevada, Colorado and Alaska in 2010 but a Senate primary isn’t the same thing as a presidential primary; the money, scrutiny and electorate are all bigger.

But, new data from Gallup suggests that the tea party retains considerable power within the GOP and its backing of Texas Gov. Rick Perry has installed him as the frontrunner in the fight for the nomination.

Roughly six in ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents identify themselves as tea party supporters and among that group Perry takes 35 percent of the vote — well ahead of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (14 percent) and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (14 percent.)

Among those who describe their support for the tea party as “strong” Perry has an even wider 30 point lead over Bachmann with no other candidate rating above single digits.

David Brin said...

Jacob, there comes a time when you have to decide whether you will stay with a crazy ally who is dragging you off a cliff or break the alliance.

Please read http://www.davidbrin.com/1947.htm

Conservatives have put up with the hijacking of their movement way too long.

sociotard said...

Having never undertaken any studies of not on the topic, I can't speak to economics, but having studied both neuroscience and climatology in not insignificant depth, I can say that our understanding is far better that you give credit for, and more than sufficient to draw many causal relationships with a very high degree of certainty.

Regarding Neurons: I think Dr. Brin might still disagree with you, when he wrote, The way I see it, this model neglects to consider the neuron itself, as a -- well -- cellular automaton... or independent calculating entity... that follows its own complex set of rules in reacting to environmental stimuli. STimuli that include the state and actions of its neighbors, but also chemical washes in the surrounding substrate and so on. There may be hundreds of complex rule sets, each of them interacting with each other non-linearly and mediated/moderated by INTRACELLULAR structures that we, even now, know very little about.

Granted, that was in 2006, but I can't imagine we've completely mapped out all those functions in five years. That'd be just one wave of grad students.

More on Cognition: Even if we have completely mapped the functions of neurons, we haven't even figured out what the right questions are for the actual subject of cognition. A lot of those questions are stuck in philosophy department la-la land. Examples?

Free Will! What is free will? Is it real or just a conceptual construct that allows society to function? (our courts give a different sentence to a man who 'chose' to steal rather than one whose 'free will' was heavily influenced.

I've heard free will is based in quantum effects in the neurons themselves, but that's just randomness. That's saying that my D20 >chose< to make my paladin miss the orc. I don't buy that my dice have free will.

I've heard free will arises from decision makeing algorithms, in which case Pandora has free will. That doesn't feel right to me.

Understanding! What does it mean to understand something? To not just have file in your database, but to understand it? Is it just having millions of links and tags between concepts and memories (the last theory I heard) If so, Pandora understands the files in its heavily linked and tagged database. (even if it doesn't have the ability to assign those tags to new songs)

Awareness/Conciousness! There are people who spend decades wondering how to even frame this question appropriately. I won't try to do it justice. If anyone here has spent a lifetime pondering it and done any better than Aristotle or DesCartes I'd love to hear about it. Basically, the philosophy here is not developed enough for the computer designers to work with, and might not even be developed enough for the neuroscientists to use.

sociotard said...

>Continued<


Climatology Again, this field is just too complex. We have models yes. Lots of them. And while each of them has had periods of strong sucess, they also don't seem to agree well.

I'm reminded of an internet debate I read about involving a frustrated man. He wanted to plant a tree, and had heard about climate change. Fine, he said, and went to look at the models to see what tree to plant for the coming climate. One model said his town was going to be more swampy and rainy, while another said it would be dusty and dry. Thanks, science.

You know how they have those petitions signed by a few thousand scientists saying that carbon emissions are causing climate change. That is the exact extent of agreement. Climatology can't tell us really what changes are coming. The climate is just too complex, and because it involves so many areas of study, from solar physics to meteorology to biology to you-name-it, no one man can really put it all together. It's just too complicated.

Alexander the God There is a short story by Asimov that demonstrates this. In the story, a boy creates an AI named Bucephalus to help him conquer the world. Alexander adds more and more complexity to Bucephalus to better and better model the stock market and other systems. Eventually, Bucephalus realizes that in order to model the stock market, he would have to model all of its participants, including himself. This causes a modeling recurssion and Bucephallus breaks.

That's us. One brain can't understand another brain. A thousand brains might be able to break a brain up into comprehensible chunks, so you can find people who understand a neuron, or a lobe or something. But Conciousness? Awareness? Thought? That's way beyond our reach.

The same applies to climatology. It's too complicated. You'd have to model people to understand the total climate of the earth, and that is impossible.

rewinn said...

@Sociotard and @Corey - there is a FUNDAMENTAL difference between sciences that are merely complex, such as climatology and neurophysiology, and sciences of human behavior, such as economics ... and that difference is this:

Climate don't care if we understand it, and neurons don't care very much. If eventually we get to a Climate Science that works as well as Computer Science does today, we might have some crashes here and there but the climate can not use our knowledge of it to screw up out attempts to manipulate it, nor reach outside of the climate itself to change its behavior.

In contrast, economic actors care about economic behavior, VERY much, and are willing to invoke powers from outside the economic system. If we ever got to an economic science that works as well as computer science does today (... and who knows ... maybe we have ... ask a real economist, not me ...) then some economic actors would use that information for their own purpose, screwing up the model. To the extent that the model can incorporate knowledge of the model held by economic actors, some of the actors may seek advantage by screwing up that knowledge, using functions outside of the economic system.

Come to think of it ... that's one way of looking at the self-defeating behavior of working-class Soviet Communists and Tea Partiers ... they have been infected with a mind virus that alters their perception of how economic systems works, leading them to political actions that cut their own throat.

rewinn said...

@Sociotard ... that said, I brought up "probativeness" because @annie had asserted, basically, "Keynesianism sukz" and claimed she could prove it. You may be correct that it is impossible to prove Keynesians either right or wrong (...whatever that may mean...) but it is helpful to point out when evidence produced in support of a proposition is not "probative" (that is to say, tending to support or disprove the proposition) because discussing nonprobative facts cannot help determine the value of a proposition.

Corey said...

@Sociotard


There's a lot of things we don't understand in cognitive science; I never said there weren't.

Ultimately, however, cognition is just a process of collecting data, from memory to sensory stimuli, and analyzing it to synthesize a product.


We know a LOT about what happens when humans encounter certain kinds of data, from the areas of the brain that will process it, to much of the interactions that will occur, both on a cellular level (no, we don't know 100% of how neurons work, but we know the basic principle, and we understand a very large portion of their functions, from the causes of action potential, to the effects of numerous neurotransmitters in synapses), and also on a systemic level (again, I can't tell you everything about how you think, but sever a given part of your brain, and I can tell you a ton about the effect it will have).


Yes, there are features of cognition we don't understand, including a good portion of the emergent behavior, but to suggest that we have NO fundamental understanding is absurd. We know a ton about the fundamental functions of the brain, and can both predict the effects of given alterations to it (which is why we can prescribe medications for disorders and have some measure of success), as well as correctly diagnose the causes of many observations.


Again, it's this dichotomy being presented between knowing everything, and knowing nothing. It's clearly neither, and failing to know everything doesn't stop us from have a very robust fundamental understanding of a lot of what the brain does, and how.

Corey said...

As far as climate goes, well to be honest, you seem to have some very fundamental misunderstandings of what it is that climatology even studies.


"And while each of [the models] has had periods of strong sucess, they also don't seem to agree well."

That's not true; the vast majority of models, in climatology and meteorology agree the vast majority of the time.


When they do disagree, it's because of smaller factors that aren't well understood that can change the outcome, though usually not enormously. All models agree on the vast majority of the physics of climate, and poorly understood features of climate are continuously being understood better.

That's hardly the picture you paint of a fundamental inability to understand climate. We understand climate as well as geology, physics, chemistry, countless fields of biology, or anything else, which is to say there is a lot we don't know, but a tremendous amount we do know.




Some features are difficult to constrain, for instance, we're almost 100% certain that climate sensitivity to 2xCO2 is 2.5-4.5C, and we've compared that to point of evidence after point of evidence, always arriving right around 3C with error bars, but that 2C range has been difficult to constrain further.

Clearly, there are aspects of how climate will react that we don't fully understand, but to say we have NO fundemental understanding? This is clearly not the case. We actually understand an enormous amount.


"I'm reminded of an internet debate I read about involving a frustrated man. He wanted to plant a tree, and had heard about climate change. Fine, he said, and went to look at the models to see what tree to plant for the coming climate. One model said his town was going to be more swampy and rainy, while another said it would be dusty and dry. Thanks, science."


Climatology does not predict small-scale features. The overall climatic forces on this planet may be largely understood, but local variability is not something that's particularly predictable.


This is not what climatology aims to study in the first place. Climate is studied over large areas, on large time scales, and when you realize that, you realize that we have a very good understanding of now things work, within the confines of what climatology seeks to understand in the first place.

Claiming that we have no understanding of climate because we can't predict the conditions in a town a couple of miles across is like saying we don't understand stellar physics because we can't predict what a 100m wide section of the sun will be doing for a given four minute period. Limitations to the scale of predictability does not change the fact that we know a lot about why stars do what they do (with an ever-growing body of knowledge that hardly suggests some fundamental inability to ever fundamentally understand stars).



"Bucephalus realizes that in order to model the stock market, he would have to model all of its participants, including himself. This causes a modeling recurssion and Bucephallus breaks...

You'd have to model people to understand the total climate of the earth, and that is impossible"


But climatology doesn't study that, either, anymore than aerodynamics studies what shapes people will try to build planes in, because it just studies whether or not they'll fly.


Climatology isn't concerned with the actions people will take. It merely seeks to understand the RESULT that will arise after a given action is taken.

Corey said...

Think of a climate model like a model of a Connect 4 game. It can tell you how high a piece of a given color will be if its dropped in a given hole, and how many spaces will exist above and to the sides of it, and what colors it will be adjacent to, but it cannot predict what hole a person will drop it into, nor does it seek to, because that's a different field of science.


If you want to study what people will do, go study psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Climatology merely studies how the Earth's atmosphere will react to given stimuli.


Can it predict everything that will happen, at any spacial and temporal scale? No, but that doesn't mean we don't have a very robust fundamental understanding of what's going on; we do. We know enough to tell a lot about what climate will do. Not being omnipotent does not mean having no understanding.


As we learn more, we'll be able to make better predictions, and on smaller scales, but for now, we know enough to model most of what the Earth as a whole will do (and even what large components of it will do), over large time scales, in response to strong stimuli, like an increase in the solar or GHG forcing, or an influx of aerosols.

Honestly, Sociotard, NO field of science would stand up to the standards you're putting forth; I hardly call that a knock on neuroscience or climatology.

My major is ecology and evolution, and really, THEY wouldn't stand up to the standard you put fourth, either. I know another guy who studies stellar physics, and his field wouldn't stand up to this standard, either.


The most any scientist can usually claim is that A.) They have enough of a fundamental understanding to model things with a useful degree of certainty and B.) that understanding will continue to improve.



"Conciousness? Awareness? Thought? That's way beyond our reach."

Oh really? Why, because we don't understand it now? That's hardly compelling.

Do you want me to show you something that was way beyond our reach 500 years ago?

Here you go:

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/80/260532429_0e35c1e0b1.jpg


Why does the sky make colors that weren't there before? And how do those colors know to always arrange themselves in the same order? Why that order, and not some other?


Back only an evolutionary blink of an eye ago, when humans were the same as they are today in every physical sense, that was way beyond our reach.

Corey said...

@Rewinn

As I said before, I can't really speak to economics.

It's not something I study in sufficient depth.

Corey said...

@Sociotard

By the way, a little of my post sounds a little more dismissive than I intended; don't take it personally, I really just didn't have much time to type, since I'm limited to small breaks between studying for an exam tomorrow, so tone might have suffered a bit there.

sociotard said...

@ Corey, no offense is taken. It takes a lot to shake me. For what it's worth, I intend no offense to you or your colleagues.

Could you give an example of an actually useful thing climatology can do then? The only one I've heard yet is "Don't emit so much CO2 because it will change the global climate."

I don't expect climatologists to predict climate for a city, but it would be nice if they could give a good estimate for a region (say 200-300 miles diameter). If it can't tell a man what tree to plant, it can't tell the farmers what crops to grow. Should they grow things resistant to flooding or drought? Well, science doesn't know that. I've seen some try to advocate assorted forms of geoengineering, like a manmade Pinatubo, but even there I see lots of arguing about what that will effect. That tells me that climatologists don't even really know what will happen at the global scale, and that the geoengineering advice isn't useful either.

"Conciousness? Awareness? Thought? That's way beyond our reach."

Oh really? Why, because we don't understand it now? That's hardly compelling.


Because we don't even know what questions we should be asking! At least caveman bob could look up and know that yes, there were colors in the sky. Then he could wonder why they were there. We don't know if Free Will is even a thing, let alone wonder why it is there.

You know what it smells like to me? I once had a physics instructor (just 112, nothing fancy) tell the class that the world of Physics was pretty well mapped out. Yes, there were a few more niggling things, some rough patches to be ironed out, but that physicists had a really good idea about how everything worked. Then I dug around and found out that same thing had been said before. Before quantum effects. Before Relativity. Each time physicists thought they had it pretty well figured out, only to discover that they knew nothing of the real fundamentals.

The difference is that I'm not sure Cognitive Science and Climatology can hump it over the next hill and rediscover how little they know.

David Brin said...

Remember, the same general equations and models transformed the Weather Report from a 3 -hour joke to a 14 day forecast you'll use confidently for planning what to pack on a trip.

All right, so extending it to years and decades is hard. These guys -- I know some who have studied climate and weather on ten planets -- are very smart, very competitive and if they AGREE on a general warning, we oughta listen.

Paul451 said...

Rewinn,
I once heard someone say that economic theories work perfectly until someone tries to put them into practice.

(Although they are wrought in theory, they are ultimately pure empiricism. Pattern matching. But once you set monetary or fiscal policy based on that theory, you change the pattern and the theory no longer holds.)

Sociotard,
"Understanding! What does it mean to understand something?"
...
"One brain can't understand another brain."

I guess it depends on your definition of "understanding", hmmm?

(nomoppec: Nerd word-victory.)

anne.ominous said...

David:

Precisely as I stated. First, I still don't get where you think we disagree about Smith. I have not said one word to contradict your statement about that.

Second, it has been my party, too. And your consistent attitude that somehow your experience was for some reason more important or authoritative than mine is nothing short of insufferable.

And -- this is the last thing I am going to say in this blog thread -- it is far from "splitting hairs". YOU were the one who claimed that "Supply Side" was an Austrian concept. But in fact it IS Keynesian, via the Laffer curve. If you don't believe that, spend 5 damned minutes with the Wikipedia article on supply side economics and educate yourself. You can look it up in more authoritative texts if you like, but it would just be a waste of time because they will only tell you the same thing.

And THAT is what I meant about an attempt at an intellectual discussion here being a complete waste of time. The fact that you did not know that supply side economics was merely a form of Keynesianism is forgivable... or at least it would be if you hadn't been spouting off all over the place about "supply side" economics. But the fact that you wouldn't even bother to look up the reference I gave you seals it for me. Ignorance can be excused; refusal to correct it when Wikipedia is 30 seconds away is not.

I am truly done here. Reply or not, as you please; I won't be back to read it.

Paul451 said...

anne.ominous,
"YOU were the one who claimed that "Supply Side" was an Austrian concept. But in fact it IS Keynesian, via the Laffer curve. If you don't believe that, spend 5 damned minutes with the Wikipedia article on supply side economics and educate yourself."

First damning line from the first section of the article:

"Supply-side economics developed during the 1970s in response to Keynesian economic policy, and in particular the failure of demand management to stabilize Western economies during the stagflation of the 1970s, in the wake of the oil crisis in 1973.[6] It drew on a range of non-Keynesian economic thought, particularly Austrian school thinking"

Developed "in response to" Keynesianism. Drew on "non-Keynesian" thought, "particularly Austrian school thinking". Anything else?

In fact, there's only one single throw-away line in the whole damn article that supports your point:

"Some economists see similarities between supply-side proposals and Keynesian economics."

That's it. "Some economists" see mere "similarities"; not "based on" or "part of". (And even that is apparently rejected by supply-siders themselves in the next sentence of the article.)

So how about calming the fuck down and having an actual discussion with people?

LarryHart said...

rewinn:

there is a FUNDAMENTAL difference between sciences that are merely complex, such as climatology and neurophysiology, and sciences of human behavior, such as economics ... and that difference is this:

Climate don't care if we understand it,...

In contrast, economic actors care about economic behavior, VERY much, and are willing to invoke powers from outside the economic system. If we ever got to an economic science that works as well as computer science does today (... and who knows ... maybe we have ... ask a real economist, not me ...) then some economic actors would use that information for their own purpose, screwing up the model. To the extent that the model can incorporate knowledge of the model held by economic actors, some of the actors may seek advantage by screwing up that knowledge, using functions outside of the economic system.


That's the fundamental problem with Asimov's psychohistory as well. In the "Foundation" series, the author got around it by having the psychohistorians keep everybody else ignorant of their machinations, but that's only an attempt at CONTAINMENT rather than a SOLUTION to the mathematical problem of a science of predictions which includes the effect those predictions themselves have on the outcome.

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

Come to think of it ... that's one way of looking at the self-defeating behavior of working-class Soviet Communists and Tea Partiers ... they have been infected with a mind virus that alters their perception of how economic systems works, leading them to political actions that cut their own throat.


Worse than blindness...that mind virus causes a negative feedback loop in which evidence is interpreted to mean the diametric opposite of what it demonstrates.

Thus instead of Paul Krugman's conclusion that the 2009 stimulus wasn't forceful ENOUGH, we get "Stimulus didn't work--let's never do that again."

And Republicans are able to obstruct any action that might improve the economy and then run (SUCCSESSFULLY, mind you) against Obama's failure to improve the economy.

And thirty years of failure of Supply-Side theory to produce the results advertised doesn't disssaude its proponents from sounding like their counterparts on the Communist Left with "It just needs to be tried in a purer form."

LarryHart said...

Oops...that last post of mine should have been attributed to rewinn, not to sociotard.

Sorry.

sociotard said...

All right, so extending it to years and decades is hard. These guys -- I know some who have studied climate and weather on ten planets -- are very smart, very competitive and if they AGREE on a general warning, we oughta listen.

I will agree with you about the "general warning". A strong majority of people who study climate are able to agree that bad things will happen if we continue using our atmosphere as a sewer.

But exactly what will happen? They don't know. And they can't, because the subject is too complicated.

Remember, the same general equations and models transformed the Weather Report from a 3 -hour joke to a 14 day forecast you'll use confidently for planning what to pack on a trip.

Weather forecasts are still not good enough for day to day use. They still can't tell me if I should bring an umbrella on a given day, at least no more acurately than I can by looking out the window. For a good example, watch the huricane predictions every year. "This one will go this way and that one will go that way." Watch how often they're wrong, even one week out! That's what happened with Katrina, IIRC.

Stations get their precipitation predictions correct about 85 percent of the time one day out and decline to about 73 percent seven days out.

On the surface, that would not seem too bad. But consider that if a meteorologist always predicted that it would never rain, they would be right 86.3 percent of the time. So if a viewer was looking for more certainty than just assuming it will not rain, a successful meteorologist would have to be better than 86.3 percent. Three of the forecasters were about 87 percent at one day out — a hair over the threshold for success.


I've brought up this point before. Dr. Brin responded:

Weather forecasting is not about first-order being right about this or that happening. It is second order... estimating how the most likely ODDS shift over the next week or so. And thus, though the 5 day is no good at specifying "it will rain at 4pm sunday" it has improved fantastically as predicting "a water-heavy front will be passing near your town in a week."

I still have a hard time seeing how useful that is. That isn't enough to tell me what days to plan a picnic or if I should take an umbrella on a given day. I guess farmers might like that information. For the average man living day by day, the weather report is still a waste of newsprint.

rewinn said...

Meanwhile, in Transparency Space, an Illinois court ruled it's unconstitutional to criminally prosecute the open audio recording of your own court case.
This may not be as big a victory as it would seem, since the state anti-eavesdropping law is still in effect, it may be only the felony prosecution that is out of bounds (leaving open the possibility of misdeameanor or civil prosecution), and there are many other states with similar laws not directly affected by this one case, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

Robert said...

On an interesting scientific note, computer gamers managed to unravel the structure of a key protein in the AIDS virus that has stumped scientists for decades. In three weeks, gamers of the online game Foldit managed to predict accurate models for the protein.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/19/gamers_crack_structure_of_aids_protein_in_three_weeks/

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/19/
gamers_crack_structure_of_aids_protein_in_three_weeks/

Rob H.

Corey said...

@Sociotard

The problem is that you seem to be confusing understanding with availability of information with which to apply that understanding.


If I gave you the layout of a golf course, the wind speed and direction during the flight of a ball, the ball's exact starting position, and the exact direction and strength of force applied to it, as well as the spin, could you tell me where the ball would land?

Of course you could, because that's well-understood physics.

What if I only gave you the force and direction, with a 30% margin of error, and could only tell you the wind speed during the ball's launch?


How accurate would you be then? I'm guessing not very. In fact, the range of variables is such that you could make equally valid different assumptions, and so your predictions wouldn't even have precision, let along accuracy.

Do this lack of predictive ability mean that suddenly you don't understand physics? No, it means you're constrained by available information on variables.



In weather forecasting, we don't know EXACTLY what the temperature is over every square inch of land and water in, say, a million sqmi area (100x100x100 mi), or the exact local lapse rate over every square inch of every elevation change in the terrain, or the exact barometric pressure (or pressure gradients), humidity, static charge in the air, location and size of temperature inversions, localized insolation (incoming solar radiation) or atmospheric composition, over every cubic inch of said area.


We DO fundamentally understand how weather does what it does in response to these factors, and given either a powerful enough computer, or even just a few centuries to sit down with a big enough notebook and a slide-rule, we could chunk out the math of how all that would play out, because we DO fundamentally understand the physics of these things.

What constrains forecasting is the limitations of information we have to input in in the first place, and models differ in the first place, not because they disagree on most of the physics, but because they take different assumptions of the unknowns (in order to show different scenarios).

A lot of data just isn't there, because we aren't all-seeing. Stuff has to be estimated, and averaged, and sometimes just downright parametrized.



You see, sociotard, I think where you're getting caught up is what's actually meant by "prediction" in science.

Contrary to common misconception, scientific prediction DOES NOT mean foretelling the future. What it means is understanding how a dependent variable will react if a certain change is made to a certain independent variable.

Because we almost never know the latter, science is absolutely not an exercise in magic predictions of the future.


I don't have time to give you specifics of what we can and can't specifically say about climate or cognition right now; again, I'm time-limited for the moment, but I do want to get this concept across.


We do absolutely fundamentally understand the physics of weather and climate. What we lack is a perfect measurement of the starting conditions, or an ability to predict what actions humans will take to alter them. All we can do is say "well if humans decide to input X, the climate will do Y".

Corey said...

Take James Hansen's 1988 model, for instance. He gave three scenarios for the variables affecting climate, and illustrated how the climate would react, because we understand that.


The three scenarios differed in anthropogenic and some natural output.

In scenario B, he predicted a modest rise in GHGs, tempered by modest actions, and predicted one major volcanic eruption in the 1990s, both of which he got right (and his model reacted correctly, but he got the year wrong, because he can't predict the future of what a volcano will erupt). In other words, what really happened came pretty close to one of his scenarios, and so we can see how well the model did for that scenario, accounting for where his scenario was wrong.


His predictions were very good for about 16 or 17 years:

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/hansens-1988-projections/


Year-to-year he was wrong, again, because of things like Pinatubo being in '91, rather than the later year he guessed at. But the scenario that was closest to reality produced the model that was closest to reality.


What happens with our models when we DO know most everything that happens? This is a straight up test of how well they take our understanding, combine it with our data on the influences, and produce the correct result (thereby testing if we've got the physics right):


http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/is-climate-modelling-science/


Now, again, there's limits to data to apply our understanding to. We didn't start measuring TSI until 1978, data on exact atmospheric composition is worse and worse the further back you go, etc, so sometimes the models still don't match perfectly.

Read the article though, it explains a lot of this.


Our understanding still isn't perfect, not by a long shot, but can give a very good idea of what climate will do in reaction to a specific set of influences. The limitations are far more in knowing what those influences will be (again, can't predict the future), than in a lack of understanding of the physics.

I'll comment more later; this was just to give a vague idea.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

anne.ominous,
"YOU were the one who claimed that "Supply Side" was an Austrian concept. But in fact it IS Keynesian, via the Laffer curve. If you don't believe that, spend 5 damned minutes with the Wikipedia article on supply side economics and educate yourself."

First damning line from the first section of the article:

"Supply-side economics developed during the 1970s in response to Keynesian economic policy, and in particular the failure of demand management to stabilize Western economies during the stagflation of the 1970s, in the wake of the oil crisis in 1973.[6] It drew on a range of non-Keynesian economic thought, particularly Austrian school thinking"

Developed "in response to" Keynesianism. Drew on "non-Keynesian" thought, "particularly Austrian school thinking". Anything else?


Thank you for putting THAT to rest!


So how about calming the [eff] down and having an actual discussion with people?


While I would ordinarily caution against the potty-mouth, in this case, I can only reiterate, "Thank you."

anne.ominous said...

LarryHart:

Nice way to cherry-pick your quotes! Did you bother to read the whole article, or pay attention to things I stated earlier, or did you just read that paragraph and stop?

I was presuming some prior knowledge of the history of economics. If you READ YOUR HISTORY you will learn that early Austrians are responsible for formulating a great many of the foundational elements that Keynes eventually incorporated into his own theory. That does not mean that the two schools of thought are very compatible... on the contrary.


But: borrowing from some "Austrian thinking" does not Austrian economics make. "Supply Side" economics is solidly based on Keynesian theory and mathematics. The only major difference -- as I have pointed out before -- is the Laffer Curve, named after Art Laffer, a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian. (Look HIM up too on Wikipedia if you like... in the sidebar under "influences" you will see one name only: John Maynard Keynes.) The Laffer Curve is the primary deviation -- if you can even truly call it that -- from mainstream Keynesian theory. And it's not even much of a "deviation": Laffer never took credit for inventing the curve with his name on it. He claimed (and still claims) that he personally learned it from Keynes himself!

Austrian economics in fact does not agree with "supply side" economics. While Laffer's followers might have borrowed an idea or two, other than that one major difference it is entirely Keynesian in nature. They use the same equations, the same math, the same THEORY.

So the fact is, LarryHart, if you actually knew even a little economic history, you would see how wrong your superficial assessment is.

But armchair economists like you and David, from all appearances, are like armchair quarterbacks. You always know more than the people who actually studied the issue, eh?

So stop telling me to calm down. I have stated nothing but easily verifiable facts. Go ahead and take the trouble to actually verify them if you like. David is a perfect example of someone who seems to feel that because he knows a lot about some things, he is automatically an authority on others. In this case, he is way off base.

Robert said...

The basic idea behind the Laffer curve - at least at the endpoints - is sound. If you have a tax rate of 100% nobody pays and your revenue is zero. So, if you lower the rate, your revenue goes up. Pure common sense, which Laffer was wise not to take credit for it.
The question is whether the US was ever at the far side of the Laffer curve, and the answer is probably not. Not in Reagan's first term, and definitely not under Clinton or if the Bush II tax cuts expire, or if Obama's modest requests pass.
Sweden almost certainly was at the far side of the Laffer curve in the early 80s, and had a budget crisis in the 90s. Now Sweden has a top rate around 50% (it was over 90%), has contained (not abolished or significantly reduced) the Welfare State, and is weathering the current financial crisis well. Of course, it also helps that they invested much less in Greece than the Germans did. Aber das ist eine andere Geschichte, und wird einen anderen Mal erzaehlt.

- Bob Pfeiffer

LarryHart said...

Anne.Ominous:

LarryHart:

Nice way to cherry-pick your quotes! Did you bother to read the whole article, or pay attention to things I stated earlier, or did you just read that paragraph and stop?


Acutally, that wasn't me who posted the quote in the first place. I just thanked him for it.

I've never claimed to be schooled in economics. In fact, I took at face value that maybe you knew what you were talking about with the Laffer Curve being Keynesian. All I did then was change my claim from "Keynsianism is right" to "Paul Krugman is right". I've got no dog in the fight over "Kenysianism" vs "Austrianism". OTOH, I have a huge desire to see "FDR-style New Dealism" drive a stake through the heart of "Supply-Side", cut off the head, and bury the body at separate crossroads.

If that means, by whatever semantic logic, that I'm agreeing with you, so be it. I don't have a problem with that, just as I don't have a problem if by not favoring Rick Perry for president, I'm agreeing with Josh K.


So stop telling me to calm down.


Uhhh...again, that wasn't me. I just thanked him for it, because your "David Brin disagrees with me so I'm holding my breath until I turn blue" tone is wearying, and I'm glad to know it's not just me.


I have stated nothing but easily verifiable facts.


The fact that 30 years of supply-side has failed to deliver on its advertised benefits is verifiable by reality.

The fact that everybody can't "austerity" themselves out of a Depression at the same time is verifiable by common sense.

The fact that you're done posing here and won't see any responses is demonstrably false.

Robert said...

I've been telling people ao is a troll and to ignore the poster for a while now. And yes, ao, your behavior is very much that of a forum troll and I've seen it replicated hundreds of times in the decades I've been on forums and Listserves.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Feh, Anne, you absolutely refuse to accept the plain fact that the PROPONENTS of supply side are exactly and precisely the same as those talking the loudest about the Austrian School.

Sure, that perfect overlap, between supply siders and hypocrites who CLAIM to favor the Austrian School does NOT mean the Austrians are responsible for Supply Side! You refuse to stop skimming and READ carefully enough to see that I AGREED with that!

But I will try one last time. Repeating till maybe even you will notice that I conceded the point.

I AGREED WITH YOU that the mad/oligarchic right has hijacked and mis-quoted Hayek! But you just skimmed and missed that part.

I AGREED WITH YOU that the Laffer idiocy would have been repudiated by Hayek and the best Austrians! Hayek would have called today’s republicans monsters! What more do you want from me?

I AGREED WITH YOU that it was unfair to associate the Austrian School with the madness of Supply Side and its insane proponents, who have done so much harm to America and Europe.

What more do you want from me? You are in an indignant snit, unable to even notice when you’ve won.

Rob said...

Bob, *nice* reference to Michael Ende's neverending book!

Robert said...

Dr. Brin, you're arguing with a classic troll. It doesn't matter if you agree with the troll, it will continue to berate you and insist you are wrong because that is what trolls do.

Ignore it. They go away when ignored for long enough.

David Brin said...

Well... I though my response rather clever, for all of that.... ;-)

David Brin said...

===> continued with new posting

Tony Fisk said...

@anne.nominous, By all means provide other references to support your thesis that supply side is Keynsian.

Meanwhile, I confirm Paul's* reading of the wikipedia article you referred us to: Supply side economic is in response to Keynesian thinking. An opposing view. That was the main thrust of the entry. To call that 'cherry-picking' is to indulge in the bullying tactic of 'projecting'.

*Larry was quoting Paul.

----

David's reference to money velocity puts me mind of Flannery's description (in 'Here on Earth') of the 'mammoth tundra': mammoths acted like (traditional/wooly?) bankers: consuming the grass and spreading it about to keep the nutrients in circulation. Then the supply-side neolithic hoarders wiped 'em out for a quick snack and ensured all that lovely green stuff got hoarded away in peat bogs and permafrost. A once flourishing ecosystem turned into tundra.

Erm, I may well be stretching the analogy, but wasn't the GFC precipitated by a lack of credit? Just recently, a news economist likened the current situation as one where there was now credit lying around, but no bankers able to use it. (I have an image of their carcasses littering the overgrown grasslands, turning rank)

ingloc: a supply-side language which promotes a belief while suppressing the transfer of other ideas.

Corey said...

You know, cleverly feeding trolls is still feeding trolls :)

michael j pastor said...

David, I'd like to suggest that you call the term "social darwinism," "social neo-darwinism" for two reasons: one, he didn't create the term, and it has the connotation that he did when it doesn't have the "neo" in front. Secondly, Darwin thought exactly the opposite of how people use the term today: he believed that empathy, sympathy, cooperation and social interdependence were key "higher evolution" traits and probably what differentiated us from our only slightly less social cousins (as you well know)

anne.ominous said...

David, I just broke my word and came back here to read again.

Quote David: "Meanwhile the
VERSION of austrian economics called 'supply side'
has an absolutely perfect record of total failure."

That looks like perfectly clear English to me, and is directly contradictory to your other statements. So which should I believe were sincere?

You say I was "skimming", but in fact I stopped reading your comments after that, except for the occasional bit that caught the corner of my eye.

"Supply side" economics, as defined and once practiced by our government, is not even remotely Austrian in nature. That's a simple fact. It was conceived by a Keynesian and with one major exception it is solidly, irremovably rooted in the same Keynesian theory, and the same pseudo-scientific graphs and equations, with which Austrian economics fundamentally disagrees.

I am aware that elsewhere you say you were agreeing, but it is that one statement with which I was taking issue. It hardly seemed ambiguous.

Roger Burgess said...

David:
"All of it... every last bit... is aimed at maximizing the number of skilled and vigorously creative competitors. The thing that socialists and oligarchs both hate."


If you think that, you do not understand socialism. At all.

daveawayfromhome said...

probably too late, and I dont have time to make sure that it hasnt been posted since last I read here, but this is relevant, so I'll post it anyway:

The 24 Types of Libertarian

Drea said...

I'd like to agree with your assertion that 1% of the US owning 90% of the wealth is a bad and dangerous thing. But is the root cause really private property?

I do hear debate in the Libertarian blogs about this. Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has argued that technology is creating a more talented-take-all economy, which creates this pattern. In which case you may be right, but a solution that doesn't undermine RA isn't obvious.

Arnold Kling has jobs speech that combines this with the corruption of government by those 5000 and others to protect their wealth.

Adam Thomas said...

Yes it is true, innovation is a powerful tool to help retain and attract the best talent. This has become a huge issue in fast growing economies.Enterprise Innovation Management

Romantic Heretic said...

Several things.

1. I refuse to use the word 'libertarian'. I prefer 'minarchist' or 'anarchist'. One reason is because 'libertarian' cuts the people that use it off from history. The other is because using 'libertarian' cedes the high ground in a debate to the 'libertarians'. The word makes it seem as if a person arguing against 'libertarianism' is arguing against the very idea of liberty. Which in my case at least is not true.

2. Competition can be a good thing but it has to be kept within ethical limits. As my favourite writer put it, competition is, "An activity in which there are more loser than winners. Otherwise it's not a competition. A society based on competition is therefore a society that consists mostly of losers." One of the purposes of government is to make sure the losers don't lose more than their money or profession.

3. Most of the 'capitalists' these days are not. They are executive employees. But they believe they are capitalists and they believe all capitalists are wealthy, so they pay themselves huge sums. Unfortunately neither of these propositions are true. following is one of the major reasons we're in so much trouble now. We're allowing delusional people to make our economic decisions.

My thoughts today.

David Friedman said...

(Sorry to post this so late--I came across the post on someone else's site)

“But anyone who actually reads Adam Smith also knows that he went on and on about that “fair and open” part! Especially how excessive disparities of wealth and income destroy competition. ”

Perhaps you could cite the relevant passages? I have read Smith, both of the famous books, and while he complains at length about the use of government power for the benefit of the “merchants and manufacturers” and argues that a society should be judged by the standard of living of the masses, I cannot remember any passages that fit your description.

I’m not a particular fan of the current GOP, but their offenses against the idea of free market are mostly over issues such as immigration, drugs, and other “social” issues. I can’t remember any of them coming out in favor of government granting monopoly privileges to favored corporations or setting up “protective tariffs,” which are the sorts of things Smith objected to, although perhaps you can offer examples. And the current attack on the salaries and pensions of government employees fits quite well with Smith’s comment in his discussion of taxation, that the one form of income which it might be appropriate to tax is the income of people paid by government.

David Brin said...

Romantic H: When we discuss competition it is vital to recall that the aim is to achieve a "positive sum game" in which everybody benefits, though the producers of the best goods and services benefit a bit more. It is perfectly legitimate for government - reflecting the general and deliberated and popularly accepted social contract of that decade - to tweak market rules in order to encourage positive sum outcomes.

And it is also legitimate for libertarians to be the party that stands up and keeps reminding us that such tweaking is dangerous! I would never try to ask libertarians like David Friedman to abandon their role of skepticism toward government meddling! That's their role and I wish they were the #2 party in America today.

Ideally, they would do this COMPETITIVELY... by admitting that the FDA and OSHA were created in order to solve genuine, horrible problems... but then proposing innovative ways to get insurance companies to take over solving those problems.

Alas, you see no such spirit among today's Randians. Only a churlish, snarling grouchiness and contempt for their neighbors...

...that helps explain why they get no more than 1% in every election, leaving the right-handed point of view clutched in the undead grip of the undead horror that is today's GOP.

David Brin said...

David F... are you seriously telling me that you read Adam Smith and did not notice the relentlessly repeated critiques of oligarchy-cronyism? Yes, ha had to be careful not to insult the actual lords and kings.

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith wrote the following:

"This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect, persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments."

And that's just one of SCORES of such comments that I've no time to find for you. Geez. Read him again.

Then, David, find for me one or two - JUST one or two -- pre enlightenment moments (in societies with iron and agriculture) when the enemies of market enterprise and freedom were NOT conniving oligarchies of the owner caste.

Use your D&D dice... be fair and ROLL UP random decades and locations! You may spend a whole day rolling dice before you stumble randomly upon even one era when the great enemy of freedom was.... bureaucrats.

Dr. Archibald said...

1- Empirical fact: The USSR did remarkably well: The ratio of 1970 to 1928 GDP was only surpassed by one country: Japan. Robert C. Allen argues that this was due to other reasons than simple informational or incentive failures: http://www.amazon.com/Farm-Factory-Reinterpretation-Industrial-Revolution/dp/0691006962

2- Japanese MITI grew weaker and weaker over the years (http://www.amazon.com/MITI-Japanese-Miracle-Industrial-1925-1975/dp/0804712069/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1322494941&sr=1-1); And the lost decade was due to a bursting of the property and asset buble built in the 80s. Extremely tight monetary policy did not help.

3- More competition is not always desirable: Particularly when you have large scale economies (generally in more capital intensive industries). The potential for large deadweight losses due too much competition is a real danger (eg. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQLN3WejR9U Whereby the threats due to incumbency kept the providers out of each other out of their respective markets, and didn't fuse to increase scale economies)

Dr. Archibald said...

*[The failure of the Soviet System] was due to other things than informational or incentive issues.

David Friedman said...

Brin wrote:

“David F... are you seriously telling me that you read Adam Smith and did not notice the relentlessly repeated critiques of oligarchy-cronyism? Yes, ha had to be careful not to insult the actual lords and kings.”

Your claim was a bit more specific than that—you said he went on and on about “how excessive disparities of wealth and income destroy competition.” Italics yours.

Brin wrote:

“In The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith wrote the following:

"This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect, persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments."”

Or in other words, the disposition to admire the rich and powerful is a cause of corruption of our moral sentiments. That says nothing at all about disparities of wealth and income destroying competition, which was what you said he went on and on about. “destroy competition.” Italics yours.

“And that's just one of SCORES of such comments that I've no time to find for you. Geez. Read him again.”

Perhaps you should read him. Or at least refrain from attributing your views to him unless you can actually produce passages where he states those views. You made a specific claim and have failed to produce any support for it. If you really have seen Smith going on and on about something, it ought to be easy enough to produce at least one example. But apparently not.

“Then, David, find for me one or two - JUST one or two -- pre enlightenment moments (in societies with iron and agriculture) when the enemies of market enterprise and freedom were NOT conniving oligarchies of the owner caste.”

Or in other words, no, you do not actually know of any passages where Smith said what you claimed he went on and on about, and so prefer to change the subject.

So far as the idea that Smith’s views fit yours, you might want to take a look at his first maxim of taxation, which is tax incidence in proportion to income—corresponding to a flatter flat tax than even conservative Republicans argue for.

This must be the third or fourth time that I’ve come across someone complaining about conservatives claiming Smith without having read him—and then going on to do precisely that themselves. I had a blog post on the subject earlier this year. It seems to be a recent fashion.

David Brin said...

No David, you are the one here debasing yourself.

You come in - as so many conservatives do these days - ignoring the general topic or the sweep of the essay in question, and instead pick-bone over a matter of linguistic minutia.

You KNOW in fact that I could rephrase my assertion in ways that made it obvious. Smith despised the patent-right monopolies of the East India company and the way that the lordly caste threw their weight around in legislated self-serving benefits that avoided competition.

You know this, yet you try to nail me and yell "Aha!" when I refuse to spend the hour it would take for me to thumb through my marked up Smith and find the EXACT quotation you demand.

Feh! I do not have that hour to spend on a homework assignment from you that is distraction-nit-pickery.

Give me those counter examples! Use those D&D dice and roll up random decades and places that had metals and plows, across 6000 years, and TELL ME when you assert the enemies of freedom and markets were anybody other than the owner-caste. DOn't try hard and mentally sift for the exception (I can think of three.) Let's see how long it takes you randomly.

SHow me you did the chart... and then I will accept your geas to find what you already know Smith said.

David Brin said...

Conversation has died down here. Please follow me to the LATEST blog posting at ahttp://davidbrin.blogspot.com and chase me into that comments section. I will notice and answer there.

david b

Cristian Vimer said...

@ David Brin: it may be true, but you still haven't come up with a specific quote from Smith about this issue. You should be more prepared to do so when you make specific claims, especially with a master of logics like David Friedman on your case. It shouldn't take an hour if it's so obvious
@ David Friedman: I can see mr. Brin didn't have a specific quote to satisfy you, but is it true that this was Smith's message, in spirit, lacking a specific quote?

David Friedman said...

Brin writes:

“You come in - as so many conservatives do these days - ignoring the general topic or the sweep of the essay in question, and instead pick-bone over a matter of linguistic minutia.”

To begin with, I’m not a conservative—probably less conservative than you are. Beyond that, my point isn’t one of linguistic minutia. You made an assertion about Adam Smith that wasn’t true. I challenged you to offer a quote to support it, and you responded by loudly insisting that of course it was true—and then offering a quote that didn’t support it.

What irritates me about your posts, here and in a couple of earlier exchanges, is that, so far as I can tell, you simply don’t care whether the facts you assert in defense of your position are true or not—all that matters is that you are on the right side.

“You KNOW in fact that I could rephrase my assertion in ways that made it obvious.”

If the assertion was true, and you had the basis to know it was true, you could easily enough have come up with a passage where Smith said what you claimed he had said over and over again. It wasn’t and you couldn’t.

“Smith despised the patent-right monopolies of the East India company and the way that the lordly caste threw their weight around in legislated self-serving benefits that avoided competition.”

If you actually were familiar with Smith, you would know that his attacks are mostly not on the “lordly caste” but on the “merchants and manufacturers.” He goes out of his way to try to argue that the policies he believes are in the interest of the population as a whole are also in the interest of the landowners, sometimes stretching the argument pretty far to do so. My guess is that that was a tactical decision—he wanted to persuade the landowners, who had most of the political power, to do what he believed should be done—but that’s only a guess.

As far as I can tell, it never occured to him to suggest that the solution to the problem of people using government to suppress competition was to make the distribution of wealth and income more equal—that's your idea, not his.

He certainly objected to people using government to protect themselves from competition, as do I. But the particular point you were attributing to him was that disparities of wealth and income destroyed competition, and, true or false, that wasn’t what he was saying. And you had the gall to do it in the context of a complaint about other people projecting their views onto Smith.

“You know this, yet you try to nail me and yell "Aha!" when I refuse to spend the hour it would take for me to thumb through my marked up Smith and find the EXACT quotation you demand.”

If you knew that Smith went on and on about the subject, which was your claim, it wouldn’t have taken you an hour—and you wouldn’t have had to offer an irrelevant quote instead.

“Give me those counter examples! Use those D&D dice and roll up random decades and places that had metals and plows, across 6000 years, and TELL ME when you assert the enemies of freedom and markets were anybody other than the owner-caste. DOn't try hard and mentally sift for the exception (I can think of three.) Let's see how long it takes you randomly.”

Or in other words, you don’t care whether the facts you allege about Smith are true or not. You want me to argue about your conclusion, and aren’t willing to concede that you were supporting it with an invented fact.

Which relates to why you take it for granted that I’m a conservative. You apparently can’t imagine that anyone would care whether what you said was actually true or not, since you don’t—everything has to be seen as merely a question of whose side you are on. That’s a common enough attitude, left, right, and center—as it happens, my standard example, which I’ve discussed on my blog, is someone whose political position was very close to mine.

David Friedman said...

Cristian asks:

"is it true that this was Smith's message, in spirit, lacking a specific quote?"

No.

Smith objected to people using government power to suppress competition. So far as I can tell, it never occurred to him that the problem was the unequal distribution of wealth or that the solution was to make the distribution of wealth and income more equal--that's Brin's idea, not Smith's.

David Brin said...

Each of us demanded of the other a time-consuming exercise. Yours consisted of pedantic nit-pickery... while absolutely evading the chief point of my essay. Indeed the chief point of ALL economics and politics across 6000 years

Aha... you're "not a conservative"! I totally agree. The mad, murdochian thing that is today's conservatism has Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave. But again, disingenuous! As a libertarian you share the core conflation that my article is about! Propertarianism = market competition.

So Smith objected to the hijacking of government to meddle in commerce? Duh!

You blithely ignore the issue of WHO does this hijacking of government. Those who own and operate the government. Smith lived amid lords who could have him arrested for lese majeste or any direct criticism... are you forgetting what was going on, across the Atlantic?

You here openly admitted exactly what I asked you to admit. That those with the money and influence to sway government to act in their unfair interest where the ones Smith railed against. Thank you for making precisely my point.

Now, YOU stop using minutiae as distraction. GIVE ME those counter-example. Across 6000 years. Starting RANDOMLY with dice, roll up decades and locales.

DO the experiment David. Find me the era when the oppressors weren't the owner caste, jiggering society's rules so that their children would not have to compete with the sons of serfs.

Feh. I'll not come back here. Follow me to the Rand posting and hector me in comments there.

David Friedman said...

Brin complains that I am "absolutely evading the chief point of my essay."

Entirely true. I'm not interested in arguing with you about the "chief point" of your essay. As I commented in an earlier exchange, if I can't get you to care whether the facts you assert in your arguments are true, I don't see any point in arguing with you about the past 6000 years of human history or what is or isn't wrong with our society.

In this particular case, you did something that I have seen several other people do online and elsewhere. You accused other people of projecting their views on Smith in order to falsely claim his authority for their views, in the process demonstrating that they weren't actually familiar with Smith's writings. You then proceeded to do exactly the same thing yourself.

I've read Smith—when I taught history of economic thought The Wealth of Nations was more than a third of the course—and I object to people, left or right, misrepresenting him. I'm not sure which is worse—people who pretend to be familiar with his work and then treat their guesses about what he must have said as facts, or people who deliberately misrepresent him. I'm willing to criticize you when you do the former, just as I was willing to criticize Rothbard when he did the latter.

neil craig said...

Friedman is certainly correct that Brin's assertion of what "anybody who has read Adam Smith" knows is not true.

Since Brin is basically accepting that as a given and asking us to move on, lets point out that the oligopolostic ruling class who construct laws to limit competition and cream off money for themselves are considerably more heavily represented in the Democrat party than in the Republicans (look at Gore getting $500m to build a car in Finland or all the windmill scandals) and most strongly opposed by the Tea party. If Brin really believes in what he is saying (apart from the making up of Adam Smith's views) he must now be an enthusiastic Tea Party supporter since they certainly follow Smith and Hayek in opposing monopoly and the Democrats equally certainly don't.

I welcome the conversion.

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The problem here that everyone is ignoring - competitive enterprise *is* the idolatory of property. A question that I asked the former CEO professor I had in my MBA finance class was, "isn't the purpose of the corporation the maximization of profit, and can't that only be established by the establishment of monopoly? Where does the need for profit end?"

Cui Bono, indeed. Selfishness and ambition drive capitalism, and without the hard hand of voter-based regulation at the neck of the selfish, screaming beast of free enterprise, the beast that is necessary to drive our markets and feed us will rampage, and destroy us.

capdancer said...

Interesting article and comments. I'd like to go you one better than competition being the driver of evolution. The more fundamental principle is interaction; without it, there is no competition.

I'm a biologist and approached protein interaction networks from the bottom up - how could such things evolve and what would drive that, in a pre-cellular equivalent state? Autocatalysis and hypercycles were part of the answer, but the relevant part of the point here is that interaction allows the exchange of information. DNA is the information molecule because it is hugely interactive, while proteins are the gatekeepers; they are not and thus become the most powerful players in the networks that control life.

Anyway, applying network theory of Barabaasi et al to systems of government is what Wikileaks and the internet is doing, in effect: setting up random connections between parts of the system, thus reducing network diameter - an informatic short circuit. This is what will ultimately disempower the elite - taking away their control of information, as they lose control of the nodes that they use to limit the flow.

So, while it might be true that the two options for Libertarians and Conservatives are limited as you propose, the options for Progressives are not. We prefer to value human interaction, facilitated through the exchange of information - you've heard of humanism, right? - and, ultimately, to the demise of controlling *representational* modes, including democracy, copyright, patents, stock exchanges and etc.

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I think this article would have made more sense if it had focussed on a particular example of the thinking Brin wishes to criticize, probably Norquist. Lumping libertarians and conservatives together doesn't really work unless they agree on the principles that Brin deplores.