I agree

I’m reading David Weingberger’s book Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder.  I like it and recommend it.

In Chapter 9, Messiness as a Virtue, he writes about Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s, the inventor of the Internet, attempt to impose better categorization on the Internet.

Now Sir Tim — the title sits awkwardly on this modest man — looks out at his creation and wishes it were neater [better organized].

Sir Tim would like to introduce a better way to categorize the content on the web to make things easier to find.  While that may sound good to a lot of people, a point Weinberger makes throughout the book is that attempts made to categorize things by a person, or small group of people, is subject to the tastes, preferences and knowledge of those people.

Regarding the attempt to better organize the Internet, I agree with another Tim, Tim Falconer (and maybe the cause of disagreements I’ve had with some bosses in my life):

It’s better to do something and tweak it for the rest of your life than to get thirty people into a room to figure out everything you’re ever going to need.

My reasoning is that those thirty people will not likely think about everything or even the things that are important at all.


Arnold Kling asks obvious questions

Thanks to Russ Roberts of Cafe Hayek for the link.

In his post, Matching Narrative to Policy, Arnold Kling, an economist, asks:

— if the problem was that we deregulated too much over the past 20 years, then why doesn’t the bill simply reset regulations to what they were 20 years ago? or 30 years ago?

— if the problem was that house price increases and mortgage leverage got out of hand, then why does government policy continue to try to push mortgage loans with low down payments?

— if the problem is that lenders were exploiting borrowers (which would justify a focus on consumer protection), then why is it that we ended up bailing out the lenders?

Hats off to Kling for asking obvious questions.  I wish I would have thought of those.  These are some of the first questions that journalists should ask.

Excellent Post and Comments at Cafe Hayek

Russ Roberts made reference to David Rose’s good work in his post Justice and the Rule of Law at Cafe Hayek.  The comments section was good too.  Key paragraph from Rose’s work:

But a consequentialist judge would look beyond the law and consider the insurance mandate’s impact on society. Using this criterion, the consequentialist judge might see the mandate as a “benefit to public health” and a “compelling state interest.” Such thinking would lead to a loose interpretation of the Commerce Clause and an affirmation of an unprecedented loss of personal liberty in America.

Commenter MichaelSmith writes:

“Consequentialist” — at least as it is being used in this context — essentially means “collectivist”. It is an effort to obliterate the concept of individual rights in the context of evaluating the Constitution by substituting, instead, the thoroughly collectivist notion that “the public good” — or some similar allegedly superior “right” of the collective — trumps and cancels individual rights.

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On Success

If I need a statistician to tell me whether something worked or not, it didn’t work.

That’s a sentence that I think I came up with, but I wouldn’t doubt that I lifted it off someone and can’t remember who. Until proven otherwise, I’ll take credit.

This sentence came from my years working with statisticians employed by managers of for-profit companies to find out if something they tried worked or not.

My sentence ruffles the feathers of statisticians.  Many statisticians understand the limitations of their trade, but many  don’t.  Many non-statisticians don’t either.  When managers use statisticians to determine the effectiveness of a project, beware.

To me, the project needs to offer what I call a clear advantage.  I should be able to look at the results and clearly see that what I tried was better.

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The New Library

I’ve posted recently about my late adoption of Blockbuster’s online business model, about my satisfaction with my local library and about Apple’s iPad vs. Amazon’s Kindle.

The thought occurred to me this morning that these are all on a crash course and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.   Here are some thoughts on what might happen:

1) Libraries begin to offer media checkouts for the iPad, Kindle, etc. that can be handled online.  Mine already does this with audiobooks, so there’s some precedent for this.

2) Amazon, or other online sites, will begin offering a subscription service like Blockbuster Online/Netflix.  For a monthly fee you get to have two to three books checked out to your reading device at a time.

3) Long-term: Libraries will not need as much space to hold books.  They will struggle for relevance.  Some will figure out other creative ways of using the space.  My library already offers story times, book clubs, entertainment for children, internet access, classes and lectures.  Maybe they’ll expand these types of offerings and become more of a hub for community education and activities.

Milton Friedman – Open Mind

Here’s an excellent, and topical, interview with Milton Friedman.

Around the 7 minute mark, Friedman says:

I have often in talking to audiences, especially liberal audiences, offered them a challenge.  I challenge you to name me a single social measure which has accomplished its intended objectives rather than opposite, which has not done more harm than good.

Around the 22 minute mark, the host Richard Heffner says,  “…you just said that mankind is selfish and greedy and that has always been the battle cry of those who said, ‘therefore, we must impose controls upon them.'”

Friedman: Therefore, we have to put power in the hands of other greedy and selfish men.

Heffner: That’s the philosophic basis of the argument that the government must step in.

Freidman: It’s a false argument.  It assumes somehow that government is a way in which you put unselfish and ungreedy men in charge of selfish and greedy men.  Government is an institution whereby the people who have the greatest drive to get power over the fellow man get in a position of controlling them.  Look at the record of government.

That’s what government supporters never seem to recognize.  That was one of the points of this post, Anyone Mad At The Government? People in government are no different than the CEOs of the corporations that everybody gets so mad at (while voluntarily buying and benefiting from the products their companies produce).

We demonize CEOs and want to fire them when they screw up – which I have no problem with – but we also want to give government more power when it screws up.  That make no sense to me.  Some might say, “but you can always elect a different person in government.”  Which takes me back to Friedman’s last comment, “Look at the record of government.

The Library: One of My Favorite Government Operations

I often grumble about how government doesn’t do things as well as the private sector.

Yet, I love my local library.  It’s free to me. I can reserve books online, receive an e-mail when they’re ready to be picked up and go in and grab it right off the shelf and check it out myself in about 20 seconds.

The library system I use is funded by the taxpayers of three counties and it operates more or less autonomously from government, but it is governed by a Board of Trustees who are appointed by the government bodies of the three counties.

I have some ideas on why the library runs really well.  It’s the same reason that many police and fire departments run fairly well.  While they are taxpayer funded, they don’t answer to centralized Federal department, so the result or thousands of libraries and library systems throughout the country.

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