Large Nib Icon bliterati. [sign in] or Register

Welcome to joe's Page

joe's Essays



Stream

Favorites

Recent Comments

[Thu May 24 02:42:59 2012] joe wrote:

First, I should say I generally agree with the idea that we should consider whether private or public action most efficiently addresses any particular issue (though I have some criticisms there that I may write about separately).  However, your hypothetical above gets to my central criticism of this essay (and most libertarian theories for that matter):  Someone will always open that box and take the guns.  The temptation is too great.  Even if you didn't want to wield them against the others, you would want to have some to defend yourself in case someone else decided to open the box.  Well, perhaps you can envision a (somewhat utopian) scenario where the island is populated by highly educated modern people with sensibilities about violence and coercion who could resist that temptation.  Even so, the real world is contingent upon our past.  And in our past every society larger than a tribe has opened the box.  Consequently, our choices have been about how to shape something that already exists, not about whether it should exist.

When you say that government hasn't solved any problems, I have to strenuously disagree.  Government has evolved over the last several hundred years in ways that have yielded vast benefits to human welfare, producing direct benefits and promoting the ability for private sector actors to innovate and prosper.  You might counter that much of what government has done over that span has been to change course from prior government policies that were, in hindsight, oppressive, unfair, cruel, and stupid.  And that would be mostly correct, insofar as it goes.  However, that leans on the assumption that there is a scenario where our ancestors did not open the box.  If, on the other hand, you take the view that is inevitable in any sufficiently large social group someone will open the box (which, again, history seems to support), then efforts to reform government from something that is brutal, autocratic, and oppressive into something more enlightened can yield massive benefits.

Thus my overriding criticism of libertarian theory:  The power of coercion exists and will be exercised.  The only real questions, to my mind, are by whom and to what purpose. Tightly constraining the coercive power of democratically-managed actors does not eliminate the exercise of coercive power, it merely shifts it to other, non-democratic actors.

It is generally accepted (perhaps especially by libertarians) that people will generally seek to exercise whatever resources they possess to their own advantage.  I believe that many people would, if they possess the power to do so, exercise coercive power to their own advantage.  This is not always bad.  Contracts, for example, borrow the coercive force of government to enforce private actions.  And contracts are a necessary feature of a prosperous economy.  Moreover, people do exercise coercion to enforce them.  Until we went all soft and allowed people to declare bankruptcy, there were prisons for people who did not pay up on contracts. 

Additionally, I would argue that wealth is a form of coercive power.  Wealth can pay for the direct exercise of coercive power, legal or not (see Pinkerton Guards).  In many places in the world (including arguably in the United States), wealth can purchase government policies and favorable legal decisions bending coercive force of government to its ends.

I know I'm cutting this far shorter than it should be, but I have other things I would like to get to tonight and want to cut to the chase -- my basic view is this:  unless government takes an active role in promoting social welfare and limiting disparities in economic power, economically powerful parties will find ways to co-opt and/or circumvent the government and exercise coercive force to their own advantage, thus undoing the central benefit that the libertarian approach is intended to provide.  You get all of the coercion, but less (or none) of the accountability and democratic management. That struggle between those who possess private wealth and power and institutions embodying public power has always gone on and will always go on.  All the libertarian approach does is handicap one side of the fight.  And I, alas, am not nearly rich enough to favor the private side in this struggle.

 

[Thu May 24 01:12:02 2012] joe wrote:

The Wisconsin brand of pragmatic progressivism is something the nation direly needs these days.  I'd hate to think a punk like Walker could hold it down.  It has been interesting seeing Wisconsin become one of the hottest political battlegrounds in the country.  I'm sure the coverage will be pretty intense between now and November.  And I agree that there is a threshold at some point where advertising money has a diminishing (or even negative) return.  It seems to be a pretty high threshold though.

joe replied to About bliterati
[Wed Apr 18 01:40:47 2012] joe wrote:

Also, comments  show <title><rating><first sentence> in the title bar when collapsed.  I think it'd be better if it was just <title><rating>.  It gets a bit messy looking with the sentence included (see the Phase Shift comments).

joe replied to About bliterati
[Wed Apr 18 01:14:30 2012] joe wrote:

First, Hank, congrats on the site.  I'm very impressed with what you've done here.  I really hope this takes off.  I've started working on my first essay, though it may take me while to finish it.

Second, is there a preferred way to submit site feedback?  I was thinking that you may want to add to your to-do list a feature to allow people to specify which comments to show/expand (similar to what /. does) so that I could select "expand all" or "expand all with a rating of 3 or higher".

joe replied to Phase Shift
[Wed Apr 18 01:05:45 2012] joe wrote:

I think you're right. Well, depending on what you mean by very robust. But it definitely seems like having a baseline safety net would make sense.

I'm thinking of something like the northern European social democracies.

Essentially, you could take one big company with 10,000 employees and turn it into 1,000 companies with ten employees each. As the company is divided in this way, efficiency sky rockets because market forces can reach down into spaces that used to be buried under layers of bureaucracy. In fact, you could cut out so much middle management and bureaucratic hoop jumping that I suspect that you'd need a lot fewer than 1,000 ten employee companies to do the work of a 10,000 employee company.

I'm not sure I agree with this.  It seems that in most markets we've seen the opposite trend -- in many scenarios consolidation wins out over fragmentation.  You may lose out on some efficiency at unit level, but gain scale efficiencies, synergies across business units, and (often) market power.  Do we really want to have separate HR, finance, IT, sales, marketing, etc. for each 10-person unit?  Theoretically, you could outsource all that, but that creates its own inefficiencies. 

Additionally, macro-level strategic direction seems to play a very large role in the Second Economy (to use the term from the article andrewc linked to).  Apple, Google, Facebook, et al. didn't achieve their current dominance through micro-level efficiency, but from executing on a few really good strategic decisions.  Apple as a whole is tremendously successful.  But if you smashed it into a thousand pieces, how many of those pieces could really flourish on their own?  I think you could attribute a very large portion of Apple's success over the last decade to one individual.  Only one of the Apple fragments would get Steve Jobs.  What would happen to the rest?

joe replied to Phase Shift
[Wed Apr 18 00:43:59 2012] joe wrote:

Interesting article, very on-topic.  The author (Bill Davidow) promises at the end to discuss a way to reverse the trend in a future post.  I'll be curious to see that and get Hank's reaction. 

joe replied to Phase Shift
[Wed Apr 18 00:33:56 2012] joe wrote:

Once they can do them it will only be a matter of time before they can do them better than we can. What exactly will people do then?

Serve as batteries for the computers?

joe replied to Phase Shift
[Sat Apr 7 03:42:29 2012] joe wrote:
This seems necessarily right in a lot of ways. But I think it argues for a very robust social safety net. First, for the transition, which will likely be very difficult for a great many people. Second, just as a recognition of the realities of entrepreneurship.

On the transitional matters, I agree with you that the impacts of the transition are already being felt (jobless recoveries are a good illustration). Even if we could install the proper educational system overnight, it would still take a generation before the products of that system hit the workforce. And it would take several generations before all of the previously (mis)educated people move out of the workforce. And in that long period of time, there may be a great deal of suffering for those I'll-prepared workers. And, of course, we can't revolutionize the educational system overnight. The sort of reforms you're suggesting are not even on the radar at this point. It may take decades for that sort of adjustment. It's a long time to ask people to wait before addressing their suffering.

But even once everyone has adopted a properly entrepreneurial mindset, you're asking everyone to enter a lottery that most people will lose. Even very smart entrepreneurs fail frequently. And not everyone is going to be smart. Creative endeavors are always challenging, and being in the right place at the right time counts for a great deal. By contrast, manufacturing has the advantage of being relatively steady and predictable. For an entrepreneur-based economy to work, people will need to be free to fail without dire consequences for themselves and their families.

Additionally, I wonder if there aren't social capacity constraints on innovation and entrepreneurship. How many truly innovative endeavors can we support before hitting a saturation point where attention and funding are depleted? It strikes me that society can adjust only so quickly to new ideas and technologies. Maybe there isn't a limit (or at least not a practically significant limit), but I don't think this should just be assumed without consideration.
[Fri Apr 6 20:19:05 2012] joe wrote:
This is pretty much on the mark. You could throw in Valentines day while you're at it for all the same reasons.
joe replied to Why I Trust Google
[Fri Apr 6 20:04:29 2012] joe wrote:

Hank,

You've got a lot of good stuff in here. Cloud computing is a big deal and is shaping a lot of markets now. I agree that companies in this space have every reason to be careful to maintain their users' trust. However, I am not as sanguine as you about the prospects of them appropriately caring for all of our data for a couple of reasons.

First is the simple matter of security. It has proven very difficult for many companies to maintain the security of online data. Even things that very obviously need to be protected, like credit card account details, are lost or hacked with shocking regularity. The more of your personal data that is put in the cloud, particularly the more it is consolidated in one account, the greater the risk of exposure becomes.

So security is an issue. But I think the more interesting issue is one of perspective. I think in many cases the companies in this space get too absorbed in their technology and cool products and fail to see their implications for end users. Google makes a good example. Street View is an awesome feature, but it has raised a host of privacy issues, from people photographed in compromising locations/situations, to Street View cars recording the names and locations of all of WiFi hotspots, to actually capturing live data flowing across those networks (including emails and other personal data). Or the Google Buzz privacy debacle. Or Google's recent decision to unilaterally consolidate information across all of its services to build detailed user profiles. Or the location-tracking data Google collected from Android devices and iPhones. And take a look at the concept videos circulating for Google's upcoming augmented reality glasses -- imagine what sort of data they could accumulate once they get a few million of those in circulation.

In each of these cases, I don't believe the company meant to do anything wrong. And in each case there were legitimate business or technical reasons for them to do what they did. A lot of this data can be used to support really cool features or to drive advertising revenue that supports the myriad awesome free services Google offers to the public. But it appears that engineers and product teams are often too wrapped up in the cool things they're working on to see the bigger picture regarding privacy issues. Also, I think in some cases they simply have a different perspective on privacy issues given their comfort and familiarity with the systems in question and their insider's perspective regarding the inherent goodness of the company.

In short, I don't think motivation or the company's prudently considered best interests are really the key where privacy and personal data are concerned. They may want to do the right thing, but still fail to recognize what that is. If you asked them to draw the line across which they shouldn't venture, it is quite likely that they'd draw it in a significantly different place than the rest of us would.

For my part, I would feel better about the situation if there were more clearly established legal norms regarding the handling of private personal data. Europe has done a much better job on this front with the EU's Data Protection Directive. The U.S. has taken an ad hoc approach, with occasional investigations by the FTC, FCC, and Congress when a privacy issue receives a lot of press (including several of those I listed above). But it's not entirely clear who has jurisdiction over these issues or what the standards are. If we could take some of the difficult line-drawing questions out of the hands of people involved in the products, it would probably be a relief for the cloud service providers as well as their users. I think it is inevitable that this will happen at some point, and I'll feel better about entrusting my data to the cloud when it does.

joe replied to Domain Name
[Tue Feb 7 03:07:41 2012] joe wrote:
This seems pretty solid to me too. I like it.
joe replied to Goals
[Tue Feb 7 03:05:13 2012] joe wrote:
I think you should make the home page a relatively high priority. There should be a lot of stuff on the root page (which may vary depending on whether someone is logged or not) that will pull people into the content and features of the site. The articles displayed should be based both on freshness and activity levels (and there should be some way for users to ascertain the activity level on an essay without opening it up (comment count or rating or something). There should be links to the "about the site" article, user guides, FAQs, did you know that you can xxx... And, of course, once you know what your theme is, you can give it a little more graphical flash.
joe replied to Root Tags
[Tue Feb 7 02:57:06 2012] joe wrote:
First thought is that there are a lot of inconsistencies in the current tag structure. Society could encompass several of the other tags. Economics could go under social studies, as could government. Literature could be under society. Places is sort of an odd bird -- presumably an essay about china would have something to do with one if the other categories (economics, government, literature, etc.). But i can see the utility of it as a root tag if i want to pull up all the essays having to do with china. My thought would be to get rid of society. Create culture (which could encompass literature and entertainment and other things) and public policy (would contain education). Technology could be a separate root tag, or merged with science to be science and technology. Similar with government and politics.
joe replied to About bliterati
[Thu Feb 2 04:23:45 2012] joe wrote:
I like your explanation, and would be wary of making it much longer, but I think you could say something about the broader need for more contemplative and ideas-focused dialogue in society. Sure there is the Atlantic and a few other publications of that ilk, but by and large, most media coverage of social, political, and scientific topics is shallow and crass. Ideas about public policy, for example, only seem to matter to them to the extent that they allow someone to score some sort of political points. And that appears to be the mode that best meets their commercial requirements. We need better discussion and better ideas, and perhaps a whole different approach is required. A well-designed crowd-sourcing effort maybe able to accomplish what large commercial entities cannot. I might also lose the part about the need for a critical mass. What you say is right, but it seems to describe a challenge that you need to overcome rather than a selling point of the site for users. And it will be a significant challenge in the early phases of the site, and on some level may strike a little too close to home (I domt know if I want to contribute here because I'm not sure they'll generate enough content to be viable in the long term).
[Wed Nov 23 02:45:16 2011] joe wrote:
First post!

Comments


Why I Trust Google (Rating: 1)
[Mon Mar 12 19:49:42 2012] hank wrote:
Registered users can gain the ability to moderate comments.

Hey Joe. Just posting this in comment form to see what happens when the system goes to email it out.

I've got a draft of an essay called “Why I Trust Google” you could look over for me. There is a revise tool available, so if you have any changes to suggest you could check it out.

Domain Name (Rating: 1)
[Mon Feb 6 18:09:48 2012] hank wrote:
Registered users can gain the ability to moderate comments.

Hey Joe. let me know what you think about my comment on domain name.

I also wanted to leave a comment so you could see it in the daily email when it goes out. Hopefully.

Re: Domain Name (Rating: 1)
[Wed Feb 8 03:46:24 2012] anonymous wrote:
Registered users can gain the ability to moderate comments.
I did see it in my email update. I commented yesterday. I like your idea, particularly with regards to creating a new word. I think a one-word name is the way to go. Bliterati is a good proposal.