Posts tagged ‘ALWAYS’

Welcome to the Fight, Sort Of

After years of apparently being OK with California's absurd restrictions on development and crazy environmental laws that tied most everything new up in the courts for years, Kevin Drum suddenly thinks they may be flawed now that they are slowing development he likes (wind, solar, high density housing around transit stations).  Drum is a classic technocrat, who is OK with absolute state authority as long as the state is doing what he wants it to do.  I am reminded of what I wrote technocrats 7(!) years ago:

Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the technocrats always cry “our only mistake was letting those other guys take control”.  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.  A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.  Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent design.  And you can hear the lament – how did we let Bush and these conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My answer is that you shouldn’t have built the machine in the first place – it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.  And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was political, based on a conservative administration’s opposition to abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well, what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA’s politically motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial lawyers.  In establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the principal, contradictory to the left’s own stand on abortion, that the government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for their own body  (other thoughts here).  Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn’t.  It was unjust to scheme to control other people’s lives, and just plain stupid to expect that the machinery of control you created would never fall into your political enemy’s hands.

Wow, What a Jerk!

I have nothing to add to this takedown, but in case you have not seen it you should really this.  A printed magazine called Cooks Source took an online article written by an author (Monica Gaudio) without the author's permission or any payment.  When the author complained and asked for a small bit of compensation (in the form of a donation to the Columbia Journalism School, lol), the magazine editor fired off this amazing email to the author whose work she stole:

Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me"¦ ALWAYS for free!"

For Monica Gaudio, this must have been a bit like the person who stole your car calling you to complain that the car needed to be washed.  Incredibly, the editor then proceeded to dig the hole even deeper.

Why Does Socialism Sometimes Seem to Sort of Work, At First?

Sometimes industries get nationalized, and they seem to do OK, at least for a while.  Sometimes when countries go socialist, and they appear to function well, at least at first (Sweden, for example, was held up as a model for a while).  I had a couple of thoughts on this topic as we seem to be at the precipice of nationalizing the health care industry in this country:

  • Among some, the work ethic dies hard.  Medicine is a great example.  Because of how difficult it is to become a doctor in this country, the medical profession attracts very few people with poor work ethics.  One can see these folks continuing to work hard, even under socialized medicine where many of the incentives to do so have been taken away.  It can take a whole generation for socialism to kill the work ethic in an industry, but when it finally does so, the effect is dramatic.  For example, doctors in the US see 60% more patients in a day than doctors in countries with socialized medicine (ie everywhere else).  Eventually, though, the highest talent, most motivated people move on to other industries or occupations where their hard work is rewarded, and are replaced by a new generation of workers who are attracted to a job where only attendance (and sometimes not even that) is required.
  • Incentives can work quickly, or they can take a while to operate.  Some incentives can work quickly -- for example, if on any given day, the government were to decide to cap gasoline prices twenty percent below the market level, we would see gasoline lines in less than a week.  On the other hand, the welfare program of the late 1960's provided incentives for out-of-wedlock births that took 20+ years to reach its peak.  Beyond the moral failures of socialism, one** of its practical failures revolves around incentives.  Customers get subsidized products or services, forgetting that that this will cause people to use more than is available.  Employees don't get rewarded for merit or hard work, but the system is constructed such that it won't work without these.
  • Assets and capital equipment act like a storage battery.  Businesses that are purely human, like a restaurant, you can screw up in a week.  I think everyone has had the experience of going to a service business under new management and being really disappointed.  Capital-intensive businesses, particularly extractive ones, can be looted for decades by kleptocratic governments.   Even so, the game can't go on forever.

What drives me most crazy is when socialism's advocates answer criticisms about socialism's consistently dismal long-term results by saying "but it will work if only we can get the right people in charge" (usually this means the speaker and his/her cronies).  If you are a Star Trek fan, you will understand why I call this the "John Gill Fallacy."  As I wrote before:

Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel
good at first when the trains start running on time, but the
technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of
idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the
technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys
take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on
another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

** Other failures of socialism include this.  And this:

You can't make better decisions for other people, even if you are
smarter, because every person has different wants, needs, values, etc.,
and thus make trade-offs differently.  Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots is willing to take post-stroke risks by playing pro football again I would never take, but that doesn't mean its a incorrect decision for him.

Politically Correct Medicine

I am always floored by the number of progressives who embrace all kinds of wacky non-scientific health theories.  These are the same folks who criticize creationists as being anti-scientific.  I am not a creationist, but I might be able to embrace it faster than I could, say, the insanity that is homeopathic medicine**. 

Unfortunately, these are the same folks who will likely make up the backbone of the socialized medicine bureaucracy when and if the US finally decides to hand health care over to a consortium of the Post Office and Walther Reed.  So here is a preview of what we will get:

Tom and Donna (not their real names) are professional
shamen. They teach classes in shamanism at a "foundation", where you
can learn "soul retrieval healing", help the dead "continue their
journey into the Hereafter", and investigate "the Fairy Kingdom". These
soul retrievers and Fairy Kingdom investigators also work for the NHS "”
where, according to Tom's foundation profile, they "use complementary
therapies to help those with mental health difficulties". Shaman
therapies are not the only unorthodox treatments for which the NHS will
gladly pay.

Taxpayers are also subsidising Emotional
Freedom Technique (EFT) "therapy", in which, according to one NHS
trust, "subtle energies" are reordered via "tapping with the fingertips
to stimulate certain meridian energy points while the client is "˜tuned
in' to the problem". "¦If EFT doesn't do the job, an NHS foot massage
might help. Reflexologists believe that each part of the foot maps to a
different organ, and that massaging a particular point can treat that
organ. Medical doctors think it's absurd. "¦Most depressing of all for
the rational taxpayer is the NHS Directory for Alternative and
Complementary Medicine, which aims to promote "dowsers", "flower
therapists" and "crystal healers". We've just learnt that some
hospitals are removing every third light bulb to save money, and that
nurses are being paid half the minimum wage "” or being asked to work
for nothing "” at others. That's how bad the financial crisis has
become. Meanwhile, the National Health Service is employing shaman
fairy enthusiasts as psychological counsellors, enthusiastically
providing treatments invented by "an ordained minister and a personal
performance coach" who thinks tapping your body can cure diabetes,
promoting dowsers and crystal healers and spending vast amounts on
therapies that can't be scientifically supported.

Just as with the Walther Reed mess, the left wants to write off this stuff as just bad management, as an exception.  But unfortunately, this is the rule for government management.  It always goes bad.  Mismatched incentives + lack of individual choice + strong unionized bureaucracy most concerned with its own job security + impossibly complex information flows = mess.  Always.  I get very tired of the excuse, as I wrote here, that "if only we were in charge, everything would work great." 

Throughout these years, libertarians like myself argued that there
were at least three problems with all of this technocratic statism:

  • You can't make better decisions for other people, even if you
    are smarter, because every person has different wants, needs, values,
    etc., and thus make trade-offs differently.  Tedy Bruschi of the
    Patriots is willing to take post-stroke risks by playing pro football again I would never take, but that doesn't mean its a incorrect decision for him.
  • Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may
    feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the
    technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of
    idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the
    technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys
    take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on
    another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

Everyone has had a turn running the place (except libertarians, I might observe) and everyone has screwed things up.

** I am amazed I have not posted a rant on homeopathic medicine, but searching through my archives, I don't find anything.  If you don't know, here is the fast answer why homeopathy is silly.  Advocates of homeopathy argue that they can make certain substances more effective by diluting them, and the more they dilute them, the more effective they are.  Go to one of their web sites, and you will see dilution rations that translate into having less than one molecule of the active ingredient in a mass of water the volume of all the world's oceans.  Advocates argue that even though the molecules are gone, some sort of resonance remains.  Uhh, right.

Repeat After Me ... Its Not Just One Party

Kevin Drum opines:

What happens when you combine "fast track" procurement, minimal
oversight, pork-based contracting, and a comprehensive lack of
responsibility for results? Well, you get the Bush administration, of
course. More specifically, you get the Coast Guard's disastrous
Deepwater program. Nadezhda runs through the grim details.

This is perhaps the single greatest fallacy that props up big government.  Specifically, the notion that corruption, inefficiency, and stupidity are failures in government related to certain individuals.  The implication is that if only "our party" was in control, big government would be great.  Except that both parties have had their chances in alternating fashion for 70 years (what I would call the era of really big government) and government has been a mess regardless of who has been in control. 

People like Hayek and Friedman have written who books about it, so I want try to elucidate the whole theory, except to summarize that the nature of incentives in government, particularly the big sacrifice-one-group-for-another government we have today, will ALWAYS lead to massive failures.  Period.

I wrote over a year ago that statism always comes back to bite its creators, because no matter how beautiful the machinery of government control, you can never control for the human beings who get behind the levers.  At that time I pointed to three fallacies, of which the third is particularly relevant to this post:

  • You can't make better decisions for other people, even if you
    are smarter, because every person has different wants, needs, values,
    etc., and thus make trade-offs differently.  Tedy Bruschi of the
    Patriots is willing to take post-stroke risks by playing pro football again I would never take, but that doesn't mean its a incorrect decision for him.
  • Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may
    feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the
    technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of
    idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the
    technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys
    take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on
    another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.