Parasitic failure feedback loops

I recommend reading George Will’s, Detroit’s Death by Democracy.

He starts with an analogy that I agree with and have used before:

The ichneumon fly inserts an egg in a caterpillar, and the larva hatched from the egg, he said, “gnaws the inside of the caterpillar, and though at last it has devoured almost every part of it except the skin and intestines, carefully all this time avoids injuring the vital organs, as if aware that its own existence depends on that of the insect on which it preys!”

Government employees’ unions living parasitically on Detroit have been less aware than ichneumon larvae.

He provides us with a good axiom on feedback and failure:

When there is no penalty for failure, failures proliferate.

That’s something I encourage us to be aware of in all systems. What happens with failure? Is failure a negative reinforcing feedback (as it is in capitalism and sports) or a positive reinforcing feedback (as it is in government).

Then Will exposes the positive-reinforcing feedback loop:

Steven Rattner, who administered the bailout of part of the Detroit-based portion of America’s automobile industry, says, “Apart from voting in elections, the 700,000 remaining residents of the Motor City are no more responsible for Detroit’s problems than were the victims of Hurricane Sandy for theirs.” Congress, he says, should bail out Detroit because “America is just as much about aiding those less fortunate as it is about personal responsibility.”

There you have today’s liberalism: Human agency, hence responsibility, is denied. Apart from the pesky matter of “voting in elections” — apart from decades of voting to empower incompetents, scoundrels and criminals, and to mandate unionized rapacity — no one is responsible for anything.

Government does not eliminate scarcity

From George Will’s column, Seeds of our Dysfunction:

America’s public-policy dysfunction exists not because democracy isn’t working but because it is. Both parties are sensitive market mechanisms, measuring more than shaping voters’ preferences. The electoral system is a seismograph recording every tremor of public appetite. Today, the differences that divide the public are exceeded by the contradictions within the public’s mind.

America’s bold premise is the possibility of dignified self-government — people making reasonable choices about restrained appetites. But three decades ago, Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington postulated that America suffers regularly recurring political convulsions because the gap between the premise and reality becomes too wide to ignore.


Innovation v Bureaucrats

George Will’s column, The Inexorable March of Creative Destruction, is a good overview of the most effective innovation process (bottoms-up trial-and-error experimentation) and what impedes it (people who believe they can plan progress).

“…not a cent more”

George Will wrote an excellent piece refuting Elizabeth Warren’s collectivist logic.

Mark Perry posted about it on his blog Carpe Diem.

Responding to Mark Perry’s post and on this debate about how much the wealthy “owe to society“, mike k writes:

They owe exactly what everyone else owes and not a cent more.

The reason I like mike k’s statement is that it attacks the underlying assumption that a substantial portion of Bill Gates’ success is somehow due to ‘society’.

If this society assumption were true, then most of us would wind up to be as wealthy as Bill Gates, since we’re all in the same society.

But we don’t, so there must be explanations, other than society, that substantially account for his wealth.

Also missing from the assumption that the super wealthy ‘owe it to society’ is an accounting of what the wealthy has already contributed to society.

We ignore that his wealth resulted from what he has already contributed to society.

He earned his wealth by creating things that others in society found useful and valuable — enough so that they were willing to trade away some of their own hard-earned productivity to gain additional productivity and value from Gates’ products.

Creating products valued by the rest of us in society seems like enough payback to society already to me.

It’s only by ignoring the value that he has already added to society through his products that we arrive at the clumsy conclusion that Gates owes some part of his wealth to society (in the form of taxes — charity is also acceptable).

This notion of having the wealthy payback society twice (first when they create value and second when they receive the benefits of creating value) seems a lot like charging the guy who stopped to help you fix a flat tire on the side of a highway for using your tools and taking up your time while he fixed it.

Ron Paul is not an isolationist

Rarely do I defend politicians.  I’m not sure this is a defense.

It’s more of a correction, or maybe clarification on one distinction between conservative and libertarian thinking.

I’ve often heard Ron Paul’s “foreign policy” referred to by conservatives as “isolationist“.   My local conservative talk show hosts are guilty of this charge.  I’ve heard Dennis Miller do it repeatedly — even though he often interviews Ron and Rand Paul on his show and each time Miller calls Paul an isolationist, they correct him.

I’ve heard that exchange now three or four times in the past year, with the latest being Miller’s interview with Rand just before the Iowa debates (I believe it was around August 10, available on iTunes).  I listened to it today.

Miller said:

He’s a little isolationist for me, but on everything else he makes a lot of sense.

Rand Paul replied:

The foreign policy isn’t isolationism, it’s just that we should not go to war without declaring it formally, you know, like the Constitution intended.

I’ve also heard Ron tell Miller that he is not isolationist.  He said he support individuals trading with other individuals in other countries.  He just doesn’t think we ought to use our military beyond what it was meant to do — defend us.

I’m waiting for Miller to stop the flow of the show for a minute or two and ask one of them, Okay, maybe I have it wrong.  Can you explain to me how it is that you are not isolationist?  I’m not sure that has occurred to him to do that yet.  I’m also not sure it has occurred to Miller that perhaps he doesn’t know what isolationism is.

I’ve heard others do it. (Full disclosure: I might have done it a few years ago).

I think part of it is the conservative way to discount Paul and distance themselves from appearing to agree with a fringe candidate (we had this same struggle with identity when we went from liberal to conservative).

I think another part of it is, like Miller, conservatives don’t know what isolationism is and they haven’t thought much about when we should use our military and what the Constitution says about that.

Miller, and other conservatives, would do themselves a big favor if they read a blog post from George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux entitled, A Conflict of Visions Different than the one Sowell Identified, from March of this year.    The post is a copy of a letter Boudreaux sent to the Washington Post in response to George Will’s Column, Is it America’s duty to intervene wherever regime change is needed?

Here are Boudreaux’s key paragraphs:

Most modern “liberals” believe that domestic economic problems are caused chiefly by unsavory characters – “business people” – who impose their destructive rule on masses of innocent workers and consumers yearning for more prosperity, and that the best solution to these problems is government force deployed using armies of regulators to subdue these bad guys and to keep close watch over them and their successors.  Failure to intervene is immoral.  These same “liberals,” though, believe that foreign problems are typically the result of complex forces that can be understood only poorly by American-government officials; it is naïve to suppose that even well-intentioned foreign intervention by Uncle Sam will not have regrettable unintended consequences.

Most modern conservatives believe that domestic economic problems are typically the result of complex forces that can be understood only poorly by government officials; it is naïve to suppose that even well-intentioned economic intervention by Uncle Sam will not have regrettable unintended consequences.  These same conservatives, though, believe that problems in foreign countries are caused chiefly by unsavory characters – “dictators” or “tyrants” – who impose their destructive rule on masses of innocent people yearning for more democracy, and that the best solution to these problems is government force deployed with armies of soldiers to subdue these bad guys and to keep close watch over them and their successors.  Failure to intervene is immoral.

George Will

Thanks to Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek for directing me to George Will’s latest column, The danger of government with unlimited power.  Will provides an excellent history of the political origins of two schools of thought when it comes to government power.   That’d be nice to throw out at a cocktail party.  Ah, you’re more of a Wilsonian Progressive. Personally, I’m more Madisonian in my views.

Thomas Sowell gives a philosophical background in his book, A Conflict of Visions, which highly recommend.

Here’s a great sentence from the column:

Government’s limited purpose is to protect the exercise of natural rights that pre-exist government, rights that human reason can ascertain in unchanging principles of conduct and that are essential to the pursuit of happiness.

While I agree with it,  it doesn’t operate at the level I like to operate.  My pondering brain asks, what is a natural right that pre-exists government?  To me, that phrase plays the same role as the creatures in the woods of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village Spoiler alert: The creatures were costumes the adults used to keep the kids from wandering off and finding civilization.

I think there’s a better reason for limited government.  A reason that doesn’t require faith in pre-existing natural rights.  The answer is: “Power corrupts.”

But, still this isn’t the level I like to operate.  I wonder why does power corrupt?  I answered that on March 12, 2010 in my post Why Does Power Corrupt?

George Will on Education

Please read this excellent column by George Will, Betting (Again) On an Education Fix.  Here’s the lead-off:

Doubling down on dubious bets is characteristic of compulsive gamblers and federal education policy. The nation was essentially without such policy for grades K through 12, and better off for that, until 1965. In that year of liberals living exuberantly, they produced the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Now yet another president has announced yet another plan to fix education. His aspiration has a discouraging pedigree.

n 1983, three years after Jimmy Carter paid his debt to teachers’ unions by creating the Education Department, a national commission declared America “a nation at risk”: “If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” So in 1984, Ronald Reagan decreed improvements.

They did not materialize, so in 1994 Congress decreed that by 2000 the high school graduation rate would be “at least” 90 percent and students would be “first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.” Even inflated by “social promotions,” the graduation rate in 2000 was about 75 percent (it peaked at 77.1 in 1969), and among 38 nations surveyed, Americans ranked 19th in mathematics, just below Latvians, and 18th in science, just below Bulgarians.

So, eschewing “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” in 2001 President George W. Bush undertook the loopy idealism of preposterous expectations. No Child Left Behind decreed that by 2014 there will be universal — yes, 100 percent — “proficiency” in reading and math. That will happen if enough states do what many have done — define proficiency down. NCLB gives states an incentive to report chimerical progress, so, unsurprisingly, state tests almost always indicate much more progress than does the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal test.

Thank you George for a very nice summary of the history of increasing Federal government meddling in education.

The standards set by these administrations sound good and legitimate.  Better education.  Who’d be against that?  In fact, that’s the exact conversation blocking tactic often used to prevent an honest discussion of the merits of such policy goals.

Voice any amount of criticism against the government’s goals and supporters reflexively bristle and ask, “So, you’re against education?”  From there, they will not listen to a word you say.  In their mind, you are evil and hate kids.

If they would listen, I would love to tell them:

I want the same results as you – high quality education.  That’s why I am for something that actually works.

I am for an education system that is ever bit as good as any number of other systems that produce phenomenal, life-improving results through the free interactions of individuals.

I am for taking an honest look at the things we’ve done and assessing whether those have produced the intended goals or have moved us further from those goals.

With a short discussion about feedback theory, I can explain to you the mechanics of why centralized, government-controlled education produces such substandard results, if you’re interested.

If you’re not interest, then I would conclude that it is you that is against education.