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Rebirth of Reason

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Post 20

Sunday, January 29, 2012 - 5:09pmSanction this postReply

"... the middle class of 1955, luxuriating in their cars, comforts and gadgets would today be described as 'below the poverty line.'

In some ways, not all ways.  But there has been enourmous displacement in the last 50 years, and it is objectively evident in the numbers.

It's 1961.   I'm 6 years old, and in the kitchen of my buddy, Howie.  Howie has a brother, a stay at home mother who is active in the local PTA, and a father who graduated from HS and is a janitor at Beth Steel.   Howie's father is standing in the kitchen with one arm around his wife, who is crying and laughing.   They are staring at his first weekly take home check that cleared the miracle amount of $100.   They live in a clean neighborhood on a tree lined street, they send their kids to a good local school.  They think they have just won the lottery.

The day this is happening, JFK's federal budget is $100B, over half of which is for defense at the peak of the cold war.  JFK will soon give his speech at Rice, and America the nation, as well as American economies, are about to go on a tear.   A nation of inspired youth is about to head off in a hundred million different quests to change the world.  As well as the odd adventure in Vietnam.

Flash ahead to 2012.   The federal government spends over $3600B/yr of the nation's income, not $100B/yr.   But where are the stories of joyous janitors and their happy wives crying with joy over bringing home a weekly check in which Dad the HS grad has cleared over $3600/wk?   Only the federal government...

A federal government that, if you ask today's youth to identify even one thing that it does that inspires them, comes up massively short on the Rice speeches.  Solyndra?  Hollow speeches about affordable college tuition?

That janitor and his wife crying for joy in 1961 in his affordable house in a nice clean neighborhood with good schools did not regard himself as poor, even if someday a broke-ass America claims that he was.

That janitor in 2012 doesn't even exist in today's economies.   But we have a federal government that has exceeded the combined growth in inflation times population by over 250%.

Towards what end?  Towards what 'social good?'   Because the pictures from Detroit and Appalachia look worse, not better, after 50 years of totally empty promises.

What doesn't look the same is the real estate market in Northern Va where in some communities of 'public servants', the average price of a public servant mansion is over $1,000,000.    Seriously.   Seriously?

And, those are the objective facts.    America needs to wake up and smell the serfdom.


(Edited by Fred Bartlett on 1/29, 5:11pm)

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Post 21

Sunday, January 29, 2012 - 6:32pmSanction this postReply
Damn, Fred, do you ever write well!

You are awfully inspiring. In post 20, you lulled me in to your frame-of-reference. I felt at home there. There were 1961 Chevy's driving by, carrying happy people -- carrying laughing people. I was living and breathing and feeling what Howie's father and mother must have been feeling while looking at that paycheck. As you said, the evidence was in the numbers. It was a sense of a benevolent universe, a universe in which you could work hard to make your life better off -- and the harder you worked, the better off you got. Such as it should be in a universe of justice. All of the opportunities were there, waiting ... patiently ... for you to take a hold of their reigns and just about ride them to the moon.

Then came the "fire-breathing dragon" (Welfare Statism), hell-bent on making things better for the people -- better than they supposedly could make for themselves. Enter misery. Not the misery of having to get up every day and go to a job that leaves you physically exhausted. One could only wish for that kind of misery these days. No, it's the misery of an unnecessary reversal-of-fortune. A triumph of institution over spirit. A net loss. Ouch, that hurts me where it counts. As you said, we have 2.5 times as much government (per citizen) now as we did then. We have 2.5 times as much institutional power getting wielded around by arrogant, Machiavellian, virtue-imposters. With that kind of tacitly-accepted power swinging around, there is going to be a long trail of bodies. Maybe not physical bodies, but broken-down souls whose outlook has changed -- who lack the zest and the zeal of former times.

I wasn't born until 1968, but I remember seeing people interacting with reality differently than what I see around me now -- they had more confidence, higher expectations, more optimism. There wasn't so much in their way before.


Post 22

Sunday, January 29, 2012 - 7:24pmSanction this postReply
All I can recommend is that anyone truly interested in the facts presented actually get the book and really read it.  If you want to post rhapsodies, nothing stops you.

As for the book and its relevance to the ideas profitably investigated on RoR, consider the hapless natives of Tasmania and what they predict for Galt's Gulch.  7000 people divided into nine tribes who over a few thousand years lost, forgot and abandoned what their ancestors knew because these people survived in isolation without contact with the outside world.  When they arrived, they had fishhooks.  When they were re-discovered by westerners, fishhooks were not in their toolkit.

Prosperity evolves by trade.  Ridley provides many examples.  He even explores the "exceptions that prove the rule."  Ridley investigates the basis of exchange as sexually delineated work.  This is not reciprocity: you scratch my back, and I will scratch yours.  Reciprocity does not bring profits.  This same meat today from me for this same meat tomorrow from you is not trade. 

Trade was invented perhaps 112,000 years ago, or only 60,000 years ago, but it is evidenced first not by food or anything actually useful but from painted shells drilled for a necklace.  We trade for luxuries.  From that we have the iPod.

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 1/29, 7:25pm)

Post 23

Monday, January 30, 2012 - 5:19amSanction this postReply

Or, you can run this actual experiment:

Ask college graduates in 2012 the following question:

"What is it that this prosperous nation does today that inspires you?"

Then ask that same question, adjusted for the times, to college graduates in 1962. 

The expressed outrage at the Vietnams(for those who were aware in 1962) at the peak of the Cold War and the Iraqs/Afghansitans will cancel, but once we go beyond the baseline of what an external facing federal government does, there are going to be stark differences.   The results of the federal government that today spends over 250% of the nations prosperity in the name of ...what?... Solyndra? does not compare well to a nation barely half our present size, with a CPI only 1:7.5 our present.   The objective point being, we can readily account for a growth in the size of federal government from $100B to $1500B today, but not $3600B today, and that difference is nowhere close to showing up as 'prosperity' in the nation except for those connected to the public trough.

I'm for sure not disputing the premise of prosperity through trade and specialization, augmented also by value-proxies.  All of that is struggling to pay for what goes on at the public overfed trough.   But I am disputing and did dispute the assessment of 'poor.'    That upward looking nation in 1962 did not feel poor--even those that would today be classified as 'poor.'  Not in spirit, and not in fact, although charlatans can and always will and did then find examples of 'poor' to point to in lieu of actual argument, like those pictures from Detroit and Applachia in the 60's which look worse today and had absolutely nothing to do with anything then but specious political argument.

The youth of 1962 did not feel 'poor' in their assessment of their futures.   The optimism and energy of that generation was not being bled to death by an out of all control tribal free-for-some run by connected crony elites(Prospect Street to K-Street to Wall Street in a totally inbred parade)  to the bloated extent that it has been allowed to excess today, and that is no 'rhapsody,' just as neither is it propagandistic cheerleading of a prosperity that has nothing to do with commandeering other people's hard earned prosperity and directing it at our seldom calibrated (except in the negative) pet Soc. grad school experiments when we glom onto the guns of government.

Endlessly whipping out some mythical 'social contract' as license for state plumbers to run every half baked scheme they can imagine has more than lost its once luster.   Folks are seriously doubting that the fine print of that so called contract says anything at all about carte blanch empowerment for every crackpot theory, which is -always- the basis for whipping it out.  

The proof is in the results of 80 years of New Deal and 50 years of Great Society, which is accurately assessed in the answers given to that question posed to the graduating class of 2012 and their assessment of the future paying for all of this government constructivist excess -- including constant global empire building, Rhodes' "philanthropy plus 5%(to Raytheon, etc.)"    They sure aren't singing the praises of New Deal SS and Great Society Medicare.    They seem less 'inspired' to self-subscribe to ever higher tax rates (0%/0%, 1%/1%, 3%/3%,7.65%/7.65%, 5.65%/7.65% 'temporarily' and over their dead body back to 7.65%/7.65%, much less, what it would actually have to be to make the pig fly...all during a period when so few are paying the actual highest marginal tax rates that it couldn't possible make a difference to the outcome...)

The generation that paid 1%/1% on the first $3000 of income (also known as $30/$30 yr max per worker)was much more excited about bright future of FDR's SS.   Is this any huge mystery?  And at the very moment that the Ponzi-like progression of unsustainable politically arrived at accelerating benefits is running off the inevitable rails, we are reducing payroll tax and trying to bring back the ghost of Huey Long as our solution to keeping the political promises of charlatans long dead.  Because that is what a tribe in panic does.

The social contract argument in the 60's, as we stood at the shores of JFK's new gulf(and Newt's way late grasp at old vision), was that we had so many problems to fix right down here on earth.  We dragged out the pathetic pictures of our sores in Detroit and Applachia...and used that as our excuse to unleash a tribal power structure whose primary visible artifact after 50 years is not improvement in those pictures from Detroit and Applachia -- those pictures look as bad or worse today -- but an empire worthy real estate market in Northern Va, where in several communities of public servants and those who flock to the public trough, the average price of a public servant mansion is over $1,000,000.    

If it has been a while, take a ride up or down I-95 into DC.   Bring along your visible opulence meter, and watch it rise the closer you get to OPM Central.    You can't hide that much money and 'prosperity' being bled from those who earned it and skimmed off of 'the social contract.'   After all those E-1s have paid the price at the pointy end of the stick and return to try and find jobs in their hometowns in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennesse, Pennsylvania, Ohio and so on,  it isn't they who parlay their positions at the broad bottom of the command pyramid into a soft-landing at a Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics or Harris or Raytheon or SAIC or the hundreds of flag waving opportunistic feeders that make up Ike's MIC.  The soft-landing assembly line running from military managed program offices into Ike's MIC is  the smoothest running and most well oiled construct known to mankind.  What goes on in defense contracting is unsightly and unimaginable except by those who do it for a prosperous living.

The point "it is far better to be poor in Detroit today than Dhaka" may be true, but it is not an argument for accepting the new federal feudalism, nor is it an argument for signing unseen social contracts used to grant carte blanch powers.

There is prosperity because of, and there is prosperity in spite of.

A book about prosperity because of is well worth reading.

A rant about prosperity in spite of can easily be scrolled past, but at this point, that begs the question.


(Edited by Fred Bartlett on 1/30, 5:37am)

Post 24

Monday, January 30, 2012 - 1:11pmSanction this postReply
I don't want to take away from the primary point of this book; I found after previewing a few pages of it, that I had to buy it and read it. I agree with its premise, and would add 'value-proxies' as one of the special to mankind inventions which have been lubricants to the trade/specialization magic which has benefited us all.

But, just like with this topic, the effects of embracing value-proxies have not all been positive; simply, in balance, so far, they have netted out way net positive.

So far. With required diligence.

And perhaps it is my background as a development engineer, but I have always found that the positive aspects and benefits of life largely take care of themselves; it is part of what makes them enjoyable.

It is certainly enjoyable to celebrate the positive aspects of modernity, but it is the navigation around the negative aspects which require attention. A beautiful garden requires weeding, and without the weeding, a beautiful garden is only enjoyed for so long.

Still, it's important to understand why we weed at all, and that is certainly the outcome, which is that beautiful garden.

We don't exist to weed, but weed we must.


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Post 25

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 5:57amSanction this postReply
There is a fringe but powerful scheme in engineering called 'recursive failure analysis' a personal favorite, that sounds like it is something that is applicable only after the fact(like, by the NTSB after a plane crash), but nothing could be farther from the truth.

It is most useful right from the start of any development project, from the blank paper stage.

It is not all about focus on failure on negativity; it is about focusing on what is necessary in the universe, as it is, to achieve positive outcomes.

For those positive outcomes that fall from the sky, un-abetted, no such focus is necessary; we simply enjoy them.

For all other constructed outcomes, focus and navigation around the rules must be applied as well as calibration of our informed guesses after the fact of our informed guesses.

It is applicable to anything that man constructs, and as well, it illustrates the fallacy of man constructing everything. There are some things -- like 'economies' -- that are inherently not subject to this kind of constructivist design, precisely because the constructivist process is uncalibratable at the level of detail required.

It is a simple and recursive method.

Suppose you want to construct a 'foo.'

Why do you want to construct a 'foo?'

Because a 'foo' has this/these positive outcomes or effects or external attributes:

In order to achieve those outcomes or effects or external attributes, a 'foo' must have what inputs, characteristics, or internal attributes?

What subsystems that provide those inputs, characteristics, or internal attributes must exist?

What events or circumstances can cause a failure to provide those required inputs, characteristics, or attributes?

Prioritize those events and circumstances, and then ask the question, 'what design actions can be taken to minimize the existence of those failure causing events and circumstances, and bring about instead the positive realization of those required inputs, characteristics, or attributes?

Having defined the required subsystems, the external characteristics of which are the above required inputs, characteristics, and attributes, repeat the above analysis on each of the subsystems.

Lather, rinse, repeat, until you have reached an acceptable level of solid enough(based on your time/$ budget)foundation for reliable subsystem building blocks(each of which has the necessary likelihood of successfully delivering its required effect characteristic as an input to a higher level abstraction system, all the way to the 'foo.'

This process, properly scaled to time and budget, and with prioritization at each level, can focus your efforts only on what you -need- to achieve the highest level outcome you are aiming for.

It is not focusing on the negative, even though it is referred to as 'recursive failure analysis.' It should really be called 'recursive avoidance of failure analysis.' It is focus on what you need to succeed to realize a 'foo.'

When coupled with 'get off of paper as fast as possible, and start the recursive discovery of reality', and when balanced against the reality that it is not possible to predict every mode of failure on paper, so that it is not reasonable to let this recursion run to the hundredth possible imagined cause of failure, it can be a very effective scheme for marshaling the focus of a design team tasked with creating a 'foo.'

But it is itself just the start of an iterative process. It must get off of paper, and the sooner the better. And the reason for that is calibration and confirmation at the earliest possible stage.

And...that is the issue with applying such constructivist concepts to fundamentally uncalibratable concepts, like 'economies.' It's great for building 'foos' unless the 'foos' are inherently uncalibratable.

And yet, that doesn't stop us. So we take on the appearance of constructing economies. We pull strings and push levers...and we never calibrate or confirm our actions.

Instead, we mud wrestle after the fact, and can not only NOT predict what is going to happen if we push a button or pull a string or move a lever, but we can't even reach consensus on what either just happened or even, long ago already happened when we once did. It is as if we believe, when it comes to economic constructivist design theory, that as soon as our pencil leaves the paper after that first constructivist sprint, we have defined reality, and all that is left is for us to sow up with our theories and convince each other that we did all the math right, so don't believe our lying eyes when we are all standing in these smoking constructivist ruins.

Only social engineers believe that, because they must. They have no choice, because their science is inherently uncalibratable at the level of detail necessary to be called a science.

Prosperity as a function of social construct evolves, and sometimes, into a cul de sac.

The long term evidence is in; time to back it up. Our blind social constructivism has led us astray of prosperity.


Post 26

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 6:11amSanction this postReply
Having first hand experience in quality control and ndt technical expertise I really enjoyed the concepts you described. Great post Fred.

Post 27

Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 11:44amSanction this postReply
Yes, ditto the above. Great post.

This place is a bit like visiting a beautiful garden: thanks to those here who are doing all the planting - and occasionally, the all important weeding.

Post 28

Monday, February 13, 2012 - 9:14amSanction this postReply
I would have to move my lips to read Rational Optimist any slower.  It is better than a fine meal with fine friends.  It will only end too soon.   I also have a bedtime story, a DVD set, Connections presented by James Burke.  (Burke is a bit windy and I caught one contradiction in the first half hour, two opposing claims of fact not reconciled.  But, all in all, it is pretty good.)  Burke makes many of hte same points as Ridley about synergistic interactions as people come together to enjoy leisures and pleasures.

Ridley's thesis is that we err when we study history as wars between kings.  Not that those do not have consequences (largely negative) but they only impede an upward push that cannot be denied.  Ridley and Burke do examine why China failed to capitalize on its intellectual gains.  Gunpowder, paper, printing, noodles, silk, the compass, and more, all were submerged when the Ming Dynasty unified the country.  Unity is bad for business.  But the Mings rested on something deeper, a worldview that tolerated them in a way that was countered by many currents and forces in the West. 

So, in our time, I find it less instructive to worry about the political power of econometricians and more interesting to associate with game designers. 

Mokyr, et al.,offer the same general thesis in The Invention of Enterprise.  It is true that in imperial Rome and imperial China, business was looked down on.  As a consequence enterprising people often found other outlets for their energies in rent-seeking and government appointments.  But at the very same time, merchants and crafters did carry out their  trades.  More important though was that whatever was going on in Rome or China, there were other places.  In other times those places changed.

Silicon Valley still thrives, even though California's government is suffering. 

Jane Jacobs suggested that rather than looking at nations (or American states), we should focus on cities.  The city is where prosperity happens.  It is true that national laws can dominate and that many cities are political centers as well.  Largely, however, if you feel uncertain about the economic climate where you are, then google, bing, and wikipedia yourself some data and find a different place, a different city.

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