Tuesday, January 8, 2019

When Things Go Wrong: Humanity's Basic Challenge

Yesterday I struck back against Tucker Carlson's attack on Mitt Romney's Bain Capital. When a corporation is in decline, someone has to do something, because most likely the current management ain't up to the job.

So what do you do? Do nothing and let the corporation go broke? Have the government do a bailout, as per "Government Motors" in the aftermath of the Crash of 2008? Have NGO activists take it over? Take a poll of financial journalists?

The bigger question is what do you do when anything goes wrong? Years ago, I learned this at work discussing communications protocols with other engineers. The point is, the other guy said, the only interesting question with data communications is what do you do when there is an error? The case where no error occurs is trivial. The question is: what do you do when something goes wrong? This is a gigantic issue: everyone of us is connected into the internet, and believe me, there are errors going on all the time, and yet you and I are almost unaware of this. As far as we are concerned, the internet "just works."

Believe me, the internet does not "just work." Indeed, the internet was invented by the Defense Department's DARPA precisely to solve the problem of what would happen if a nuclear blast knocked out a section of the nation's communications system so that it didn't work. They had no idea that the protocols they developed would be robust enough to work under conditions of billions of global thermonuclear smartphones, but they were.

Now, the fact about humans is that we don't like it when things don't work. But neither do we like to prepare for disaster. We just prefer to do nothing to prepare for a rainy day and then blame politicians and corporations when something does go wrong.

However, you will note that, when disaster does strike, humans immediately jump in to help. The so-called "Cajun Navy" that helps people in the floods after hurricanes is an example of this. And I am not judging the virtue of the bass-boat guys that man the Cajun Navy. The fact is that, instinctively, many men feel that the coolest thing to do after a hurricane is to launch the bass-boat and get out there to help.

This is the biggest problem with government programs. When advocated and passed, nobody thinks of what to do when things go wrong. And the fact is that it is almost impossible to reform a government program while it is starting to go wrong. Only after it is dead on the floor is it possible to change things, and this is not a bug but a feature. We want the laws to be, ideally, unchanging: an immutable statement of justice and redress. But how do you write a law for something that will change over time, like, for instance, education? The answer is that you can't. What you create, when you create a government program, is a great big expensive monster that cannot respond to change and cannot fix itself when things go wrong. Our government education system was set up over a century ago to educated immigrants to literacy and teach them to be conformable factory employees. But what about the children of people already literate and adapted to the wage economy? What about adapting education to deal with online teaching and knowledge? And so on.

But people, when things go wrong, do something about it. They hate to do it, but they do. And the market economy is infinitely adaptable to change, and is full of emergency protocols, like bankrutpcy, for the time when things go wrong. Probably one of the reasons we all hate the market economy is that we don't like it sounding warning signals way before we are ready to respond.

So why do progressives respond to the mess of health care by proposing a bigger, more expensive, more centralized system, when all the problems are caused by the existing centralized administrative system that creates new special interests for breakfast and is inevitably destined to control costs by rationing?

You can ration the economy with prices, or with rationing. If health care is rationed by price, then it will be constantly trying to deliver more service at less price, as with Wal-Mart and consumer products. But if health care is free at the point of delivery, there will be no price rationing and no attempt to improve and streamline service delivery. Health care will be rationed by rationing. That is all.

Why do progressives refuse to learn the lesson of the market economy? It is because their trade is politics and power. And the way to wield power is to control a resource that people want, and have the power to deal it out to your supporters.

And if you are a Person of the Subordinate Self it never occurs to you that there is any other way to order affairs. If you need something, you go to you lord or your political boss and ask for it. Hey, that's the way the world works -- if you are a serf or a slave.

That is the basic question of our time, and any time. When things go wrong, what do you do? Do you go to your overlord? Do you call in Mitt Romney and Bain Capital? Or do you try to figure it out yourself with your fellow humans?

Our problem is that, in last two centuries, incredible new ways have been invented to solve problems short of waiting for disaster to strike. But most of us still practice the culture of the feudal peasant. We expect our lord to solve the problem for us.

But as I say: when you are an underling, or even a spoiled "little darling" of some political power, there comes a day when your lord leaves you by the side of the road because you are no longer of use to him, and all his promises of protection lie broken in the dust.

And what will the robin do then, poor thing?

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