Fatal Flaw of Centralized Power: Star Wars Edition

I think it’s a nice bit of commentary that proponents of centralized power like Emperor Palpatine or Darth Vader have such a penchant for big, planet destroying weapons like the Death Star.

The Death Star had several fatal flaws.

First, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  While the Death Star is big and powerful, it’s only one weapon.  With so much of the Empire’s resources wrapped up in it, all the opposition has to do is destroy one weapon to seriously weaken the Empire.

Second, it’s one weapon with a fatal flaw. In a universe with people who can use the Force, don’t build a space ship the size of a small moon with a lone, unprotected vent to the main reactor core.  C’mon.  Perhaps the Emperor thought he had eradicated the Jedi, so he got sloppy.

Third, don’t piss people off.  Fear is usually a good motivator.  But, there’s a tipping point.  If you push folks too far, like blowing up an entire planet full of life to make a point about your might, those who remain may stop fearing and rebel.

Central Planning

Lack of central planning isn’t the same as lack of planning.  I thought I had this original thought recently.  Then I opened Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society to the pages I had marked for quoting on this blog and this was the first one I came to (p. 53):

Despite the often expressed dichotomy between chaos and planning, what is called “planning” is the forcible suppression of millions of people’s plans by a government-imposed plan.  What is considered to be chaos are systemic interactions whose nature, logic and consequences are seldom examined by those who simply assume that “planning” by surrogate decision-makers must be better.

It turns out, I had read it some weeks back and it must have just registered in my long-term memory.

Sowell’s point works well with this insight from Steven Landsburg, that believers in central planning have been led Continue reading

Traffic

Why doesn’t a small group of people or people control the flow of traffic from a central location?  Wouldn’t that be better than the system we have?

It’d be more efficient than having steering systems in each and every vehicle.  This central control group could use sophisticated math models to predict traffic flow and produce the most optimal flow so we can spend as little time on the roads as possible and be as safer. We’d have fewer accidents or rush hours.

Most people realize this is a ridiculous suggestion.  Most people intuitively understand that controlling traffic centrally would be  difficult, if not impossible. The outcome would be disastrous.

The driver of each vehicle is responsible for safely piloting that vehicle and constantly taking in surrounding stimulus and responding to meet two primary objectives – safety and destination.  Drivers make many tiny micro adjustments in steering to keep vehicles on the road, in the appropriate lane and operating in a fashion that is predictable by other motorists.  Drivers pilot the vehicle from garage to parking space with an amazing level of safety and accuracy.

Yes, there are horrendous crashes.  Some are caused by people not fulfilling their personal responsibility of operating the vehicle safely, some are caused by equipment malfunction and some are caused by simple mistakes – we are human.  The risk of wrecks are an accepted trade-off to driving.  The wrecks caused by a central control system could me much more dangerous.

We know wrecks happen and we try to take reasonable precautions from preventing them.  For example, we generally keep our vehicles operating in good repair to minimize the risk of an equipment failure.  Also, we ensure that our windows are clean and clear so we can sense and respond to surrounding traffic.

We also adhere to driving rules so that others have a good idea of what to expect from our vehicle.  Some of those rules are codified by laws, like speed limits and running red lights.

Others are improvised and based on our experience.  Have you ever left a big event in a busy parking lot?  Where two lines of vehicles merge into one, we generally let one vehicle from each line take turns entering the single line.  Those who follow this practice are generally rewarded with a thank-you wave. Those who violate it are subjected  to cold stares from the occupants of other vehicles.  Both are examples of feedback that reinforces convention and are effective for modifying our behavior.  Sometimes, you’ve simply made an honest mistake, but you remember those cold stares and next time and adhere to the merging convention.

Most people will understand these things.  They’ll understand that the current driving “system” we have today, nearly the world over, where each motorists is charged with the responsibility of commanding their own vehicle in a safe and proper fashion, works much better than a system that can be imagined to be controlled by some central group that is not privy to all of the localized feedback and individual preferences.

Why can’t they have the same intuition when it comes to things like government health care or education?  Don’twe realize that centralized control of such systems can have the same disastrous outcomes as centralized control of traffic?  Education is a perfect example.  In many areas, K-12 education is doing poorly because its managed from a centralized body and the importance of localized feedback in the system is low.  For example, a low income parent who is not happy with a teacher provided by the public school system has very limited ability to choose another teacher.