Friday, October 08, 2010

Lighting out for the territories

This week's vocabulary word is pantisocracy, coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1794 to describe a utopian scheme cooked up by him and his friend Robert Southey. They proposed to get 12 families to emigrate to America and live communally, and even had location picked out (the Susquehanna Valley, for some reason).
Their plan is as follows: Twelve gentlemen of good education and liberal principles are to embark with twelve ladies in April next..... Their opinion was that they should settle in a delightful part of the new back settlements; that each man would labor two or three hours in a day, the produce of which labor would, they imagine, be more than sufficient to support the colony ..... The produce of their industry is to be paid up in common for the use of all; and a good library is to be collected, and their leisure hours are to be spent in study, liberal discussions, and the education of their children..... The regulations relating to the females strike them as the most difficult; whether the marriage contract shall be dissolved if agreeable to one or both parties..... America is certainly a desirable country.
It's easy to hear the pre-echos of the Zionist movement 100 years later, or the 1960s communards. Coleridge and friends never realized their dream, and he sought utopia in opium instead:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
I don't see today's youth investing in such romantic schemes, which is probably for the best. The world no longer has large uncolonized areas for elites to project their fantasies onto. Burning Man is a party where people pretend to be pantisocrats for a week. Maybe the next crop of idealists will put their energy into re-engineering the places they find themselves in rather than looking for an empty place to build on from scratch.

[for John Lennon's 70th]

25 comments:

exuberance said...

tee hee, he said panti-so-crat! :)

Reading up on nutty utopian projects is such a guilty pleasure. Pantisocrat is perfect!

TGGP said...

"The world no longer has large uncolonized areas for elites to project their fantasies onto"
Mark Twain, 1800's: "Buy land. They've stopped making it"

Seasteaders, 2003: "Memo: Production Resuming"

mtraven said...

Oh gack, seasteaders are exactly the wrong people doing the wrong thing. Maybe the two negatives cancel out -- after all, if enough libertarians go exile themselves onto a steel pseudostate, that will make it easier for the rest of us to get stuff done.

Don't get me started, but anybody who can write something like "At least, in the first world, government spending is sand in the gears of progress." on the fucking Internet is a moron. And three generations of Friedmans is more than enough.

David Xavier said...

Speaking of nutty utopian projects, can I recommend my favorite: 'New Australia'. This was a utopian socialist settlement in Paraguay founded in 1893 by the New Australian Movement from Australia! (Of course socialism is an elitist nutty utopian project in itself.)

jlredford said...

One group that has lit out for the territories over and over again is the Mennonites. Starting in Holland in the 1500s, they went to Germany, then the Ukraine, then the US and Canadian Midwest, Siberia, Paraguay, Central America, Tanzania, the Congo, Indonesia... They are pacifists, and are usually permitted into a land because they are wonderful farmers. Then the local ruler tries to draft them into the army and they take off again.

Because they can live off the land itself wherever they go, they can establish communities in places that most would find uninhabitable. There's actually lots of open space in the world if you're willing to work it hard.

Anonymous said...

Government spending may have had something to do with technological progress fifty years ago, but what about today? The space program, once such a fruitful source of technical innovation, is moribund. Instead of (say) a manned voyage to Mars or a permanent moon base, Obama wants NASA's primary objective to be making Muslims proud of Islamic culture's contribution to science and math (which essentially ceased - what? about the thirteenth century?).

Similarly, military investment in technology isn't much these days, as the country becomes increasingly bogged down in a low-tech war in Afghanistan - and for the first time since World War II the army is actively buying mules, which are better suited to the rough Afghan terrain than motorized transports. On the home front, government spending on food stamps is at an all-time high. Instead of encouraging the immigration of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, the governing class appears to prefer the untrammelled entry of millions of ignorant and illiterate peasants. It seems to me that the more our population comes to resemble that of the Third World, the more our economy will come to resemble that of a Third World country. Is this "progress"?

Peter Thiel's opinion, quoted in a lengthy op-ed by Holman Jenkins in the October 9th edition of the Wall Street Journal, is that technological innovation has stagnated. His arguments are persuasive, and his intellect, his credentials, or his business acumen are hard to dispute.

mtraven said...

Having spent basically my entire life in or near the academic/industrial research world, I can with some confidence say that you (surprise) have no idea what you are talking about. In fact I just started a new job that's supported from government research grants -- NSF for now, DOE hopefully real soon now. Your tax dollars at work!

Research is by definition exploratory work that has no definite short-term payoffs (if it does, it's development). The more competitive a market is, the less companies can afford to dedicate resources to research. The fact that it is often difficult to capture IP on fundamental discoveries is another factor.

Given that, the entities that CAN support research are governments, corporations that enjoy monopolies or near-monopolies, and individual billionaires. We're seeing some interesting action in the last category from people like Bill Gates in malaria and Paul Allen in AI, but that's no way to run a democratic civilization. The monopolies that did fundamental research in the sixties (like IBM and AT&T) no longer hold that position, although they do manage to do some research, but Microsoft and Google are picking up the slack. But aside from these (siginficant) exceptions, support for actual basic science comes from governments.

There are definite downsides to government funding of research -- it's inherently going to involve a good dose of bureaucratic scelrosis. The ARPAnet (precursor of the Internet) came about partly because ARPA, a defense research agency, had permission to distribute funds in more idioscyncratic and less bureaucratic ways than normal.

That article about Thiel had a real prize-winningly stupid opening line: The housing bubble blew up so catastrophically because science and technology let us down. Right, worthless parastical shits who whore out what little brains they have to the intellectual sinkhole of the WSJ have a right to tell scientists they aren't producing enough to rescue the financial industry from the clusterfuck it caused.

And I don't care how rich Thiel is, he's a libertarian and so not likely to impress me with his intellect. Speaking of crazed billionaires funding research, he's one of the prime backers of the Singularity Institute, which is one of the reasons it's basically a flaky operation.

Anonymous said...

The question is not whether I know what I'm talking about; it is, rather, does Peter Thiel know what he is talking about?

He points out that in academia and amongst tech entrepreneurs, there is a widespread belief that technology is burgeoning, but that is because these people are raising money. The rest of the public is not raising money on the glowing promises of new technology, and is not so convinced.

If you followed Thiel's reasoning beyond that first sentence you quoted, it might make sense to you. Obviously, the proximate cause of the collapse of the housing bubble was not that science and technology let us down. It was that a lot of credit was extended to people who weren't creditworthy, backed up by insufficient and overvalued collateral. But underlying that extension of credit was an overconfidence in continuing economic growth driven by technological progress. Absent that progress, there is no growth. Absent growth, there are not enough resources available for repayment of the debt.

Thiel's point that it is the growth based in technological progress which has prevented the industrialised world from falling into a Malthusian trap, and from being subjected to Ricardo's "iron law of wages," seems entirely reasonable. But will technology continue to progress at a rate that will continue to prevent these terrible events?

The word "credit" has its linguistic roots in the Latin "credere," to believe. Like any credo, credit is an expression of belief and faith - belief that a borrower's promise is valid, faith that he will pay back his debt. It's easier to entertain those particular beliefs if one holds a more general faith in the dream, sometimes described as characteristically American, that the future will be better and more prosperous than was the past.

Crashes may be explained technically in the language of economics, but at bottom economics is just a branch of mass psychology. All crashes are in some way or another crises of faith or confidence in the future. Our society has been "betting on the come" of continued economic growth for years. Then nothing came.

You don't have to engage Thiel's arguments if you don't want to, but your condescending evaluation of his intellect based on his libertarianism, and description of his philanthropy as "flaky," aren't very persuasive. They're just name-calling. Your dimissal of him as a crazy billionaire invites the rejoinder that if you are so much smarter and so much more sane than Thiel - then why aren't you that much richer than he?

mtraven said...

Thiel is a businessman, not a scientist and not a engineer. He's in the midst of companies like PayPal and Facebook that, while they may have interesting social impacts, are not in fact doing much fundamental technical or scientific innovation.

That WSJ article, as you yourself noted, didn't do a very good job of presenting his views. If you can point to an actual coherent written argument of his I'll see what I can do.

He's probably right in that the growth in productivity and standards of living from technology has slowed compared to, say, the period from 1900-1960. But he's probably wrong about the reasons.

Anonymous said...

If the reasons suggested by Thiel don't explain the slackening in technologically-driven productivity and living-standard improvement, then what does?

mtraven said...

Low-hanging fruit, basically. To take a population that is largely rural, without so much as electricty or indoor plumbing, and turn it into an urbanized and industrialized civilization is an enormous advance. Even though the rate of invention is increasing, the economic impact of that very basic shift will be hard to match.

Anonymous said...

If you use 1960 as a cut-off date, that argument might be maintained. However, technical innovation and productivity growth from, say, 1960 - 1990 (after the low-hanging fruit had been harvested) continued apace. The 1990s saw the dot-com boom and bust and there's been little real growth since.

You write, as to the sources of funding for research, that "there's been some interesting action in the last category [individual billionaires], but that's no way to run a democratic civilization."

Do you think having everything run by an unelected and unanswerable bureaucracy or judiciary is a good "way to run a democratic civilization"? Because that's what most of the U.S. government, or the government of the EU, now amount to. "Democracy" is mostly a side-show.

At the local level, where it should most directly reflect the wishes of voters, democracy has been eviscerated. Consider local school boards, which sixty years ago had genuine control of public schools. It's been taken from them bit by bit, here by consolidation of districts, there by state and federal bureaucrats, and elsewhere by unfunded mandates from on high. Now a school board is just a bunch of stooges employed to do the unpleasant task of laying the taxes to pay for everything, and to take the fall if something goes wrong. To no one's surprise, the quality of public education has steadily declined. The same evisceration of real authority has characterized village boards and county commissions. States have been deprived of their autonomy to almost as great an extent. At the federal level, the role of Congress has been reduced essentially to taxation and appropriation - though our elected representatives don't and in many cases can't read the bills that are drafted for them by their hirelings - and, in the Senate, confirming bureaucrats and an occasional judge. The president's command over the executive branch is limited at best; most of it, by design, is made up of semi-independent regulatory agencies. The ordinary citizen is much more likely to meet an IRS agent than anyone for whom he ever voted.

Bureaucratic sclerosis? Indeed. The country is suffocating under its burden. This coming October 15, my accountants instruct me, I am obliged to write a tax estimate check for $730,000. What value do I receive for this?

If I wrote a check to anyone else for that amount, they might at least say thanks. From the government all one gets is the privilege of living for the next three years in fear of a further shakedown under the form of an 'audit,' or a penalty for some alleged failing. These people are simply thugs under the color of law, a bit more superficially polished, but really no better than the Chicago mob of 80 years ago, strong-arming merchants for 'protection money.'

I'm glad you confess to feeding at the public trough. You have an obvious conflict of interest, and would never represent that what you are doing was anything but worthwhile. Why should anything you say on this subject be taken seriously? Permit me my doubts. I've read about too many tax-subsidized 'research' projects that rivalled those of the Academy of Lagado, which engaged in extracting cucumbers from moonbeams, softening marble for pillows and pincushions, or propagating a breed of naked sheep. Twenty-first century life imitates eighteenth-century art.

mtraven said...

The 1990s saw the dot-com boom and bust and there's been little real growth since.

Don't confuse speculative bubbles with progress in actual science and technology. The period of "no real growth" saw the completion of the human genome project, and the cost of doing sequencing has been decreasing at exponential rates (even faster than the Moore's Law-driven fall in cost of computation). The impact of these developments will be enormous, and that impact has approximately nothing to do with whether Wall Street is in a manic or depressive phase.

What value do I receive for this?

There are few things more repellent than rich assholes whining about having to pay taxes to support the society that makes their wealth possible. The retarded anti-tax sentiment prevalent on the right may be somewhat forgivable when it comes from the middle classes for whom taxes are actually a burden, but not from your ilk.

Why should anything you say on this subject be taken seriously?

Perhaps because I know what I'm talking about?

My new job is with a project that curates biological databases for scientific research. These databases are used by hundreds of scientists around the world. The DOE contract, if it comes through, will be to augment these databases with tools to support tailoring microorganisms to produce synthetic fuels, drugs, and other things that promise to increase the actual wealth of society. So tell me, what great social utility do you provide to justify your apparently enormous income?

In any case, if you think my conflict of interest invalidates what I write, please feel free to not read it.

Anonymous said...

"Microorganisms to produce synthetic fuels" - do you mean yeast to ferment corn mash to produce ethanol? That's been done for a long time, and ethanol fuel is an uneconomical proposition, not to speak of the idiocy of turning food into fuel. Ethanol synfuel is a typical politically-driven industry that would not exist but for the subsidy it receives from government - the same as wind power.

Markets are a better means of allocating capital for the development of energy resources than is government. Government only distorts, often with disastrous results. Would we have had the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe had foolish regulations not put many much more easily and cheaply accessible oil reserves on dry land or in shallow water off-limits? Had those resources been available, the markets would not have supported deep water drilling.

Drug development is an area where the United States has been a leader precisely because it has not had universally socialized medicine or the implicit price controls that accompany it. How have state subsidies encouraged drug development in countries outside the U.S., where they are its primary source of funding? Blackguard America's "big pharma" all you want, but match its record for innovation in pharmaceuticals anywhere else in the world.

As for what I do - well, I provide employment for quite a few people, and support quite a few families. I have been fortunate enough in business not to have to lay anyone off these past few years. I believe my capital accomplishes more in my hands than it does in those of a government that mostly wastes its revenues - whether on pointless wars abroad, to try to install "democracy" in places as inhospitable to it as the North Pole is to the culture of orchids - or to mindless bureaucracy that dictates such minutiae as what kinds of light bulbs, toilets, and shower heads we may buy - or funds 'research' of the sort that the late Sen. Proxmire used to expose with his 'Golden Fleece' awards. We are being fleeced, all right - and our government is perilously close to forgetting that it must only shear, and not skin, the sheep.

mtraven said...

It means tailoring microrganisms to produce all sorts of things. Here's a reasonably good summary.

You are simply ignorant of the way in which science and technology works, and it's not worth arguing with you. You are using the Internet, which was a joint development of the government/military/academic/industrial research system. It was not developed by the market and never would have been. Synthetic biology is in a similar state now to how the Internet was in the 70/80s, with a mix of government and private efforts to develop it.

As for what I do - well, I provide employment for quite a few people, and support quite a few families.

Bully for you, so does the mafia. I asked you what social utility your work has, and if it justifies the large amount of money you apparently earn from it, and if it gives you license to criticize scientists and engineers whose work actually has a chance of increasing the world's real wealth.

Anonymous said...

Publishing, banking, and insurance are my businesses - mostly serving the unglamourous daily needs of ordinary midwestern folks. We do a good job, which is why we've survived. We no business with any units of government beyond the local, and so are not dependent on government to any extent for that income, unlike the Robert Rubin types whose incomes are derived from state-capitalism rather than from markets.

Taxes support the government - not "the society that makes" my "wealth possible." Government is not civil society. Indeed, government seems mostly to be engaged, either passively or actively, in undermining civil society. Look at the performance of the public schools, for example.

To suppose that private enterprise would not have developed the internet had not the government provided its initial structure is to speculate about an hypothesis contrary to fact. We do not know what the private sector might have developed in the absence of ARPA, which as you yourself admit, was quite atypical of government agencies. The telegraph, telephone, radio and television industries were private sector developments. Most recently we have seen the development of wireless telephony, also in the private sector.

Back before we had e-mail, we had Telex. Most businesses of any size could communicate via telex in much the same way we now do by e-mail. Of course, it was expensive. But so were mobile telephones, which (by development of cellular technology) have now become quite cheap. How can you know that a similar development might not have taken place with the private-sector Telex system?

You simply can't say that markets could never have developed something like the internet on their own. If you are anything like the epistemologist you claim to be, you ought to realize that to say history could not have taken any other course than it did is not logically defensible.

It seems to me that the taxes I pay give me all the "license" I need to question whether some of the supposed research that is undertaken at taxpayers' expense is worth while, or is just money down the drain like so much else that government does. You are not even a first-class boffin yourself - you only "curate databases" for the boffins that are actually breeding these specialized yeasts. You'll have a merry ride, no doubt, on the taxpayers' nickel, whether or not there is any benefit to them. Of course you're for it; you have an obvious axe to grind. I'll consider believing in an idea when people start to put their own money behind it, rather than those whose precept in life is "dinnae fash, it's nae our siller."

Thiel is hardly alone in his pessimism about techological development; see also Scott Locklin on this subject at:

www.alternativeright.com/main/the-magazine/the-myth-of-technological-progress/

Anonymous said...

And see also:

charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2010/05/doing-science-after-death-of-real.html

An excerpt:

"What we think of as science is now merely a branch of the bureaucracy. It would, indeed it does, function perfectly well without doing any valid science at all.

"Indeed, modern professional science functions perfectly well while, in fact, *destroying* useful and valid science and replacing it with either rubbish or actively harmful stuff..."

The author, Bruce Charlton, is a Professor of Theoretical Medicine in Britain, and I doubt you will be able to accuse him credibly of not knowing how science works.

mtraven said...

Publishing, banking, and insurance are my businesses

In other words, you're an unproductive middleman. Well, certainly middlmen provide some usefulness (although we have far too many of them), but they are definitey inferior in my value system to people who actually make stuff.

You simply can't say that markets could never have developed something like the internet on their own.

Well, obviously you can't know with certainty how a counterfactual historical scenario would play out. But in this case, there's plenty of evidence, since there were many commercial consumer computer networks around the time the Internet was being made available to the public, such as AOL, Compuserv, and Prodigy. None of them had the open architecture of the Internet, nor would you expect them to since it wouldn't be in their owner's interest. In fact, the previous major telecommunication system (the phone system) was also held closed by its owners and had to be opened up by the courts to allow innovations like fax machines to take off. So it's pretty clear that private companies would never have come up with a system like the internet on their own.

Your opinions on science and technology are of no interest to me whatsoever. You obviously have no knowledge and no interest in obtaining any.

Bruce Charlton is a well-known incompetent and enabler of cranks. It figures you'd be a fan

Anonymous said...

Unproductive middleman? How so? We buy paper, ink, make plates, print, bind, and sell. The entire product is made from scratch under our roof. As for banking, yes, we borrow from our depositors and lend to our customers; have been doing it since 1914, with the result that lots of those customers now have better lives. The same is true of insurance.

Who are you to sit in judgment of the 'social utility' of businesses that have been built on millions of voluntary transactions with willing customers? No one forced them to buy our products and services. They could easily have done business elsewhere, or not at all - yet they decided, of their own free will and accord, to be our customers. That is ample validation of 'social utility' without the approval of your high-mightiness.

I contrast this with government, which exacts its taxes under the threat of force - indeed, to quote your own words, "so does the mafia." I see very little difference between the mafia and the Obama regime; save that it operates under color of legality, and thus with greater impunity than the mafia. As a suckling at the public tit, you partake in a part of that brutality.

Of course, you just finished rhapsodizing in another post about the 'wise engineers' that rule China. There, presumably, 'social utility' is decided by some faceless bureaucrat rather than people voting with their pocketbooks. And woe betide him who defies that bureaucrat - off to the lao-gai with him. This is the problem with a philosophy of government founded on Marx's slogan, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." How is it determined what one's ability and one's needs are? A member of the nomenklatura must decide. It is to that status that people like you at least aspire, if they don't already occupy it.

As to state subsidy of science and technology, I may not be an expert, but I do know that Germany, beginning in the Wilhelmine period, extensively subsidized science, more than the United States has ever done - and it lost the First World War in spite of this. The scientific subsidy continued under the Third Reich, which increased the subsidy (e.g., Peenemünde) - and it lost the Second World War in spite of it. In the Soviet Union, science and technology - like the entire economy - fell under the complete control of the state, which allocated generous resources to it. The Soviet Union still collapsed, in spite of it - because however much it subsidized science and technology, the subsidy was insufficient to raise economic productivity to a level at which the socialist model was sustainable.

If you don't find my opinions of interest, why do you continue responding to them?

Anonymous said...

The gist of the complaint against Charlton in the linked piece was that the journal he edited did not subject its articles to "peer review."

Since when did this become a sine qua non?

Were Boyle's works peer reviewed? Were Newton's? Boerhaave's? Lavoisier's?

If not, were they not therefore "science"?

You obviously have no acquaintance with the history of science, and probably no interest in obtaining any.

mtraven said...

Unproductive middleman? How so? We buy paper, ink, make plates, print, bind, and sell.

Good for you. You are a middleman who sits between people who write and people who want to read what they've written, and extracts rents from the process.

Now, as I already said, that's not useless work, but it's definitely secondary, very much like retail stores. I like books and even have fondness for particular publishers and imprints and bookstores, but I don't think they are as important as writers.

I am curious as to why a publisher, who presumably has the resources to turn his words into paper and ink and get them in front of large audiences if he wanted, would spend so much time making anonymous comments on an obscure blog.

Who are you to sit in judgment of the 'social utility' of businesses that have been built on millions of voluntary transactions with willing customers?

The voluntaryness of economic transactions is greatly exaggerated by ideologous like yourself. Tom Slee's book No one makes you shop at Wal-Mart is a good refutation of such arguments.

As to state subsidy of science and technology, I may not be an expert, but I do know that Germany, beginning in the Wilhelmine period, extensively subsidized science, more than the United States has ever done - and it lost the First World War in spite of this. The scientific subsidy continued under the Third Reich, which increased the subsidy (e.g., Peenemünde) - and it lost the Second World War in spite of it.

Yes, and the Allies who beat them had no government subsidies for science and technology, and operated strictly on free-market principles.

Seriously, that is one of the stupidest arguments I've ever heard.

The gist of the complaint against Charlton in the linked piece was that the journal he edited did not subject its articles to "peer review."

No, it's that he dispensed with peer review and also published garbage. Peer review is a highly imperfect filter in many ways, but if you think you can do without it you better be damn careful to maintain quality in some other way.

Anonymous said...

I do write for a couple of my publications. I take the time to comment here because it is necessary on occasion to combat the enemy in his own lair.

You reason very curiously - gushing over China's "wise engineers," for example, even though they can't seem to keep lead out of children's toys, don't distinguish powdered milk from melamine, and operate a lao-gai of over 900 prison camps for political dissidents. I contrast your favorable view of the Chinese government with the antipathy you have displayed in past comments toward the government of Singapore, economically a much freer country, and, even politically, somewhat freer than is China. It must be because Singapore is friendly to private property, and keeps its underclass on a tight rein.

You don't understand the correct usage of the term economic rents. Economic rents are what a politically-favored, monopolistic or oligopolistic business extracts from its transactions, above and beyond market returns, as a result of engaging in restraint of trade. Economic rents typify state-capitalism rather than market capitalism.

My businesses are no Wal-Marts - they have plenty of competitors and do not enjoy market dominance. Indeed, in the business of real-estate lending, the government (through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) holds market dominance. One either has to meet or beat their terms. For some banks, that meant requiring even less down, or dealing with borrowing customers even the GSEs wouldn't touch. For others (mine included) it meant competing for better-quality credits with lower rates. Because we chose the latter path, we survived. I recall some of my board once looked enviously at the returns shown on some competitors' call reports. Many of those competitors have now been taken over by the FDIC. I know quite well what competing against market-dominant businesses is like - but I don't have one, nor do I wish to.

Certainly the WWI and WWII Allies, and the West in the Cold War era had LESS government subsidy for scientific research than did their enemies, and still prevailed. Unlike their enemies, the Allies' research during the two World Wars consisted strictly of ad-hoc measures directed at specific wartime goals. It did not go canoodling on for decades during times of nominal peace.

The question ought to be, are meandering peacetime expenditures comparable to those of the Germans or Soviets necessary? Can the ones now ongoing be strictly examined, and wasteful ones eradicated? Of course they can. Looking at some of the "research" that has received government subsidy in the past, it is obvious that much of it has been money down the toilet. See Wiki's listing of a few, s.v. "Golden Fleece Award." Likelier than not, your yeast-breeding project will be a blind alley at best; at worst, a huge boondoggle consisting mainly of creative wool-gathering.

mtraven said...

I take the time to comment here because it is necessary on occasion to combat the enemy in his own lair.

The enemy is trembling.

Re China: That I admire the presence of engineers in their government implies no respect for any other aspect of it.

You have of course inverted the meaning of that post, which was that if China is to be our enemy/competitor in the future then we are going to be at a disadvantage if they are being run by people who can actually do things and we are run by lunatics. But I guess I expressed myself too subtly for you.

You don't understand the correct usage of the term economic rents.

I used to work for a large academic publisher and understand perfectly what it means and how it applied to their business model. They owned the imprints of prestigious journals and could charge university libraries pretty much whatever they liked for basically very little added value (I did not work for the publishing side of the business -- I worked for a scientific software startup that they acquired). It may not be equally applicable to publishing in general, but I think it can be -- the published of a newspaper, for instance, exploits the fact that not everyone can afford to buy a printing press and exploits this lack to charge people for access to its products. Of course, the internet blows this model to hell, although it creates new opportunities for other kinds of middlemen, such as Amazon.

Certainly the WWI and WWII Allies, and the West in the Cold War era had LESS government subsidy for scientific research than did their enemies

Do you have any data to back that up? It's irrelevant in any case -- there were a great many differences between the combatants, such as that Germany had cleverly exiled or murdered a good fraction of their scientists.

Unlike their enemies, the Allies' research during the two World Wars consisted strictly of ad-hoc measures directed at specific wartime goals. It did not go canoodling on for decades during times of nominal peace.

You must live on a different universe than I do, because in this one the research establishment that sprung up during WWII most certainly did continue on after the war was over, bringing us all sorts of things from H-bombs to the Internet.

I hear they are making a movie out of The Man in the High Castle, so counterfactual post-WWII scenarios are going to be trendy -- maybe you can cash in.

You are boring the crap out of me at this point by repeating things that were stupid the first time around, so unless you manage to say something new this will be my last comment in this thread.

Anonymous said...

To show there was no private sector research in the USSR does not require "evidence," since there simply was no private sector in the USSR. Do you seriously propose otherwise?

Private research in Germany was nationalized long before World War II began. Evidence of this is easy to find. See, for example, Willy Ley's many editions under titles like "Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel," etc. The chapters about the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR) show how its private research into rocketry was absorbed by the Nazi state, and its leading lights were effectively drafted into the German military establishment.

Contrast this with the situation of the American liquid-fuel rocketry pioneer, Robert Goddard, a private inventor of the Edison or Bell type; or the development of solid-fuel rocketry (and much else) under Theodor von Kármán at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, founded privately at Cal Tech, a private university. GALCIT did not get a government contract to start the Jet Propulsion Laboratory until 1943, although its researchers had been investigating rocketry since 1935 with private funding. Its first grant from the quasi-governmental National Academy of Sciences did not come until 1939 and was just $1,000.

Many similar examples could be offered to illustrate the relative paucity of U.S. government support for high quality research. I suggest, as an interesting read, Louis Fieser's autobiography, "The Scientific Method" (Van Nostrand, 1964). Though Fieser is best known as the inventor of napalm (which he did do with government funds), his research into Vitamin K in 1939, which made him a contender for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1941-42, was private.

Fieser's other major government-funded research apart from napalm was on a hare-brained scheme to attach incendiary bombs to the bodies of bats gathered from the Carlsbad caverns. These were intended to be released over Japan, where, according to plan, they would nest in the thatched roofs of Japanese houses before the incendiary devices were initiated by their timers. The resultant fires were expected to cause widespread panic. Something had to be done to control the bats during the attachment of the incendiaries and their transport to the theatre of operations. It would not do to have loads of gibbering bats with incendiaries attached, flitting about in the bomb bays of B-29s. So it was decided to induce hibernation by refrigerating them. It worked like a charm; the brass were reassured by the researchers that exposure to fresh air would waken the bats as they dropped from the bomber planes. Alas, on a trial run over the New Mexico desert, this theory failed in its application - all of the bats, save one, plummeted straight to ground. The sole survivor took up residence in the quonset hut belonging to the commandant of the Los Alamos facility, setting it on fire quite nicely. This demonstration did not, however, persuade the Army of the wisdom of the idea, and the bat-bomb project was scrapped. A typical piece of government-funded research!

Another good read is Andrew DeQuasie's book "The Green Flame," published by the American Chemical Society in 1991. DeQuasie worked from 1953 through 1960 on a project for the U.S. Navy involving the use of boranes (boron hydrides) as rocket fuels. Boranes are high-energy fuels and pyrophoric. They are also highly toxic, and have largely solid combustion products, which makes them comparatively unuseful because they reduce specific impulse. While preparing his book, DeQuasie discovered some declassified papers from the parallel Army research on borane rocket fuels, Project Hermes. He writes:

"Oh, what a scandal I could make of that! Way back in 1955, they knew that 'boron hydride fuels... did not fulfill theoretical predictions of high performance.' And yet the navy and air force persisted in pouring multimillions of dollars into it for 4 more years!" Another sterling example of Uncle Sam's stewardship of taxpayer funds.

Anonymous said...

As for China, look what its engineers have done - excluding, for the moment, their quite effective oppression of its population. Lead in toys, melamine in powdered milk, basically disastrous environmental effects... such triumphs of engineering! If these people can "do things" other than, by means of a command-and-control economy, contriving to generate a trade surplus by gaming exchange rates, what is it?

On the role of government-sponsored enterprise in our own economic collapse, check out the Washington Post's story in today's edition, headed "Fannie, Freddie bailout cost is likely to rise to $154 billion, agency projects." The article reveals that their bailout, already at $135 billion, is likely to cost $19 billion more, and could cost as much as $124 billion additional if the economy should start to shrink again. It might thus run up to $259 billion.

No repayment is in sight, as contrasted with the TARP funds extended to private-sector institutions. Most of them have repaid them with interest - indeed, some didn't need TARP funds, but the money was forced on them. Even AIG is working on paying its TARP monies back. The total program, at first estimated at $700 billion, is estimated now to cost less than 1/10 that, inclusive of all private sector recipients.

Dear old Uncle Sam has a reverse Midas touch. Almost every enterprise he lends himself to turns to excrement = probably including your yeast-breeding.