Thursday, February 25, 2010
Jerry Pournelle, who should be compulsory reading for anybody with responsibility in government, regularly says things nobody else either dare or knows enough to understand. Here are some remarks of his from recent posts:
the anti-government sentiments are rising. A few understand that there are no instant fixes. There is no way to jump out of our economic doldrums. There are principles that will work:
transparency and subsidiarity. Put more power back in the hands of the locals. Let us compete on regulation and compassion and taxation. But none of that will be an instant fix.
People will continue to try instant fixes. They won't work, but many will continue to try. The intellectual climate is there: surely something will work! Government can do something! Surely!
No: all that government can do is get out of the way, and that's not going to happen very quickly. The Iron Law has had far too long to operate.
Possony and I long ago concluded that the inevitable course of history is to convert more and more of the output of civilization into structure, until it becomes so congested that supporting that structure becomes the only thing it can do. How long it will take the voting public to understand this I don't know: it's hardly being taught in the schools and universities, which continue to tell people that government can fix things, and never say "The remedy is to do less and get out of the way."
We are in a hole, and we should stop digging, but the intellectuals at Harvard and the other major Universities don't say that; and people continue to listen to them. I'd sure rather have the present junior Senator from Massachusetts in that seat than its previous occupant...
People are scared, and our politicians aren't smarter than economic professors, and they're scared too. The smartest guys in the world got us into this, and don't know the way out
there is more and more evidence that much of the consensus for "do something, now," was manufactured, and that doubt is returning to the scientific community, and more and more real scientists have become Doubters if not Deniers; and that is all very much to the good. I don't think we understand carbon cycles very well, and I am pretty certain that the proposed remedies will not have much effect other than destruction of wealth and complicating recovery from the depression in the west. Now we need to rethink the situation
Bayesian analysis would say that the best strategy when faced with two alternatives of uncertain probabilities, at least one of which requires extremely expensive preparation and mitigation, is to employ information strategy: spend the relatively more modest sums to reduce the uncertainty before choosing the high expense mitigation
If NASA will begin funding real X Projects -- something I have been trying to get going for a long time -- the results will be good
Perhaps real science can win back the public trust. One way would be to support contrarian research -- not all contrarian proposals, but no longer the automatic rejections of "Deniers" we have had recently either.
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. And you can sell yourself into bondage...
Cheap energy plus freedom equals prosperity.
I see no reason for US troops to be in Europe. The French want us to sit on Fritz. Everyone welcomes the spending. I don't see what we get from it other than a large base, and I don't see why we need that. I do not encourage entangling alliances or becoming involved in the territorial disputes of Europe or the Near East.
Laissez faire capitalism and free trade are effective at creating goods, more so than anything else, but unrestricted capitalism leads to organlegging and the sale of human flesh in the market place. Command economies don't work. Free trade is usually a good way to limit the power of the central command economy.
Those are general principles, but when you add central regulations that burden domestic industry, then add free trade, you may be entering a death spiral of exporting jobs. We have managed that. We need to do something.
Mining and agriculture are primary occupations, and help balance the trade budget, but they won't provide employment for all the citizens. Without manufacturing, without wealth creation, the only employment is 'service' which at the extreme leads to creating wealth by taking in each other's washing. There has to be a source of that wealth. An economy in which the manufacturing job is exported to create a new job as a sales associate in the Wal-Mart can't lead to full employment or anything like it.
One reason we are not competitive is our regulations. Some are worker safety regulations. Others are economic. Many are "product safety" regulations. Some are environmental protection regulations. All of these are arguably useful in small doses; but need they be Federal? In particular the economic regulations that impose minimum wages and the like do far more harm than good, and are probably unconstitutional in the bargain. By unconstitutional I don't mean the cases haven't been decided by the Supreme Court, of course; I mean that the very idea of a Federal minimum wage would have horrified not only the Framers at the Convention of 1787, but everyone in Congress who voted for the Civil War Amendments that the Court uses to justify the enormous expansions of federal power that happened during the 20th Century, and everyone in the state legislatures when the relevant amendments were ratified.
My proposal for an Industrial Policy is to repeal nearly all the federal regulations and leave those matters to the States
you have to assume that if you give great power it will be used, and given enough power it will attract evil men. It is not a coincidence that the wicked brother often survives to become king -- one of the reasons for not having kings. Government is not villainy. It is, in the words of Franklin, "like fire a dangerous servant and a fearful master"; but he invented the Franklin Stove to make more efficient use of fire, and would no more have given up government than he would fire. That ancients always believed that good government was the gift of the gods, and the Framers understood that good government requires hard work and resistance to the temptation to try to accomplish too much.
You can't spend what you don't have unless someone will loan you the money. You can't build a boom by cutting spending. If you can find some money -- borrow it -- you might make some investments. The trick is to invest in things that will help build an economy. Inflated pensions and salaries aren't the way to do that. There are investment programs that help build an economy; for all the opposition to it, TVA generated energy and kept energy prices low -- a cent and a half a kw/hour when I was a lad. Low cost energy and freedom builds economies. That's an easy conclusion. Incidentally, "investing" by paying out pensions to stimulate spending and thus rebuild an economy doesn't seem to work: see the history of the Townsend Plan and look at Washington State for data on that. Massive environmental regulations don't help economies: look again at Washington State and the aluminum industry. Over-regulated public power doesn't work too well. And so forth.
Public investment doesn't work as well as private investment, but it can help a lot -- if it's investment. The Keynes suggestion of burying jugs of money and paying people to go look for them is not an investment, and we've done some things that are equivalent. They don't work.
when we decide there are topics we can't talk about, we may be making a more serious mistake than we know. I don't like being offensive to the mentally retarded, but they do exist, and their existence has consequences. Those consequences have to be discussed in any forum of public policy.
We live in an era in which that government of the government, by the government, and for the government apparently can never vanish from the Earth, but instead will continue to grow. Possony and I were working on The Strategy of Progress, an attempt to look at what conditions actually bring real progress to human affairs. Our initial conclusions weren't terribly encouraging. Human history consists of a strong and unrestrained pressure to convert output into structure.
The structure may at first be useful, but eventually it merely exists for its own sake, and after a while grows far beyond necessity, even beyond endurance. The Iron Law always prevails. Sometimes there are such rapid gains in output that the structure can't stifle them; but slowly it continues to increase, to regulate, and to control. Examples are the various Industrial Revolutions. The most recent was the Computer Revolution in which the various computer related industries -- Silicon Valley, Silicon Sagebrush, the Massachusetts Corridor -- were able to leap ahead. It's also one of the most discouraging because it shows just how quickly the structure can gain control over a vigorous industry.
There has been a revolution in medical science and capabilities, new drugs with astonishing effectiveness, new treatments for the untreatable -- I'm certainly a witness to that -- in medical equipment. The "health care" bill will end much of that, of course. New treatments are too expensive to give to everyone, so therefore none should have them.
The only remedy to any of this are the twin solvents of transparency and subsidiarity. Power can't really be destroyed once created. It can be fragmented. That was something the Framers very much understood (read the Federalist Papers). Meanwhile, appeals to common sense are futile: we all know the common sense solutions to many problems, but the government of the government by the government and for the government isn't about to allow that.
if NASA is directed to pay for launches, but no launches are paid for, it all depends on commercial returns from space; and that is largely a function of regulation, as with the nuclear power industry.
We're going to space, but what language will be spoken there is not assured.
The Iron LawPournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people. First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers are scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.
UPDATE See Also
When the people can vote themselves largess from the treasury, and impose taxed they do not pay, those people are rulers: at one time a small aristocracy, but is it different if it’s just numbers?
I guarantee you that if Congress were elected only by people who have paid more than $500 in income taxes in the previous year we would have a lot more economic freedom. The only thing worse than taxation without representation is taxation with representation in which the people represented are entitlement consumers rather than those obliged to pay for those entitlements
We have already in place regulation exceptions for small businesses. Some are for businesses with ten or fewer employees. Others apply if your business has fifty or fewer. There may be exceptions for those with 100 or fewer, although I am not sure of that.
My proposal is simple: double the exception numbers. Regulations that apply only to businesses with more than ten employees now apply only to those with more than twenty. Those that apply to more than fifty now apply only to those with more than a hundred. Etc. The effect would be to let successful small businesses expand easily. Those that have been making do by using part time employees can now let them become full time. Regulations would remain in place, but now they apply to fewer businesses. This would take effect immediately and be in place for ten years.
I suspect that the effect would be dramatic. Possibly it would not, but it isn’t going to hurt the economy
a project for those who have time: Government We Can Do Without Just Now
We cannot build a great world civilization without energy, and we can't get to that civilization without a period of dependence on nuclear fission power http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2011/Q2/view671.html#Saturday
Parkinson concluded that if government disposes of much more than 10% of GDP, things will deteriorate http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2011/Q2/mail670.html#Saturday
Welcome to the brave new world. England is used to that sort of thing. Americans are not. Yet.
I am rapidly reaching a conclusion, confirmed by a number of those in the rocket entrepreneurial community, and also several Pentagon people: if we stay outside NASA, the technology exists to build a reusable orbiter for under a billion dollars; probably far less than a billion.
This could be done by prizes, and at the moment there are two prize schemes to consider: a single prize of $1 billion, or a first and second prize of $500,000,000 for first and $250,000,000 for second. The notion of a second prize is intriguing but harder to sell. A second insures that more than one firm can raise capital to compete.
Discussion invited. But the astonishing thing is that for a billion or less (with room for profit and operations) we can actually demonstrate reusable, savable orbiters.
The purpose of the US education system is to insure employment of bad teachers. It is well known that the efficiency of the system as measured by student performance will be about doubled by firing the 10% worst teachers and apportioning their students out among the rest; that is overwhelmingly to be preferred to "smaller classroom size", teacher pay raises, or anything else that might be tried. Of course this won't be tried because the purpose of the whole system is to see to it that the bad teachers are not fired and are allowed to go through ruining lives until they get large pensions.
The second purpose of the system is to insure full employment for professors of education, many of whom have never done any actual teaching, but whose imprimatur is needed to get the "merit pay" advances you can get from "workshops" and various courses in education. Some education colleges actually prepare teachers to teach, but many simply punch tickets; a lot of bad teachers who ought to be fired get "merit" pay for having accumulated credits from education professors. My suspicion is that firing about half the professors of education would greatly improve the efficiency of the system but I don't have any studies or numbers to prove that; but I would bet money that firing the worst 10% would instantly improve the colleges of education just as firing the worst 10% of classroom teachers would instantly improve the schools.
The purpose of the schools is to extract money from taxpayers and pay it in ways that insure that professors of education and bad teachers get paid. It is not to create citizens, or to teach anything; it is not to train future Legionnaires. If we are to have Legions, the first thing we need to do is cut all ties between the Armed Forces school systems for service dependents from the rest of the education system and run it in a rational manner as it has been done in the past. Alas the trend is in the other direction, with more and more of the poison that ruined the US public school system spreading everywhere else.
The schools are awful. The remedy is well known: fire the worst 10% of the teachers, and we can increase school effectiveness by about 50%. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2010/Q4/view654.html#Wednesday
Taxing income rather than taxing spending produces one result; consumption taxing produces another. None of the analysis can be static, either. What government does has a great effect on prudent behavior. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2010/Q4/mail653.html#Thursday
My last hard-work assessment of "green" energy technologies was done in the 1980's, when I rated their importance for the future as:
Nuclear fuel recovery/recycling
Nuclear Fission (breeder)
Bio-mass waste product combustion (a booster for coal and natural gas, not stand alone)
Space Solar Power as a long term future
In about that order. ....If we are forbidden to use nuclear energy to get out of the energy shortage, perhaps the best course would be a large x-project power plant (x-project: build the best we can build with technology existing a year after the contract is awarded; don't rely on something yet to be developed).....OTEC is a good idea, but it's not likely to save the world since the places you can use it tend to be places where it's hard to get the energy from there to somewhere that it's useful.
the purpose of TSA is not security, it is to convince the American people they are subjects, not citizens. Salve, Sclave! [save yourself slave] http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2010/Q4/mail648.html#Saturday
I do note that a great deal of innovation now comes from American corporation laboratories and think tanks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Given the American school system this is likely to gain importance. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2010/Q4/view647.html#Thursday
the education system can be raised by the simple expedient of firing the worst 10% of the teachers, with the result that some of the poor Black kids will start looking like success stories. The potential of an IQ 90 to 110 kid is considerably higher than the actual academic achievement of such kids in our present school system. But then our present system is designed largely for keeping bad teachers employed at the expense of the students in their classrooms
(on friendship with Vietnam & a US base) Had Kennedy pursued US interests and understood what he was doing, it is a result that could have been achieved without all the US casualties. But that's alternate history. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2010/Q3/mail635.html#Monday (Jerry was a supporter of strongly prosecuting the Vietnam war on the grounds that one should fight to win, but this shows he was not a knee jerk hawk)
All our modern "smart cars" are vulnerable to wireless attacks that could stick the accelerator at full on, or lock the brakes, or disable all the cars on the road at rush hour. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2010/Q3/view636.html#Friday
"corollary to your iron law- The half life of a new governmental program is 2 years. Every two years, half of your effective people leave. Half of the replacements are "typical government workers" who never leave. Within 10 years, the government program is useless since 3% of staff will be effective workers. ".
It certainly has the immediate look of truth...
We cannot do without state workers, but we cannot do without responsibility either, and the civil service system as it has evolved (or degenerated) from the original premise has not proven to be correct.
How can one have careers in civil service, get experienced people to do the jobs, be fair to them -- and avoid what we see as the result? http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2010/Q3/mail637.html#Wednesday
I am no expert on monetization. I did advise readers to buy gold back when it was $400 http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2010/Q3/mail641.html#Sunday
IQ is the best single predictor we have for performance in tasks that use symbol manipulation and complex abstract tasks. Best single predictor doesn't mean it's all that good, and a combination of data such as was used in the University of Washington Grade Prediction Program is considerably better. Alas the court forbade use of the Grade Prediction Program because it predicted lower grades for certain racial groups http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2010/Q3/mail642.html#Sunday
If we are to take back our government there must be people willing to take it back -- and to be part of a new government. One of the benefits of self government is that not many think of it as a full time job. They have other lives. Yes, there will always be professional politicians; what must not happen is that the professional politicians also control the party structures. Self government means that the people governed take part in the whole governing structure; some hold political office, some become major party officials, some become minor party officials, some simply work a few hours a month on party matters; and those who do none of this pay attention to what is going on. ,,,,
Machiavelli said that if Republics rely on mercenaries for their defense, they take great risks; better to have citizen soldiers. Today the danger is not from our Legions... but from our hired political class. We have opted to entrust our political lives to mercenaries: career politicians, political managers, paid operatives and organizers; what we used to call political machines. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2010/Q4/view643.html#Thursday