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Fixing Government: End Central Planning

Let’s say you have a chain of ice cream parlors, ten in all, sprinkled over a large metropolitan area. You’re planning your next quarter, and so you send out a press release telling everyone in reading distance which parlors they should shop at, on which days, which flavors they should buy, etc.

Let’s say you have a chain of ice cream parlors, ten in all, sprinkled over a large metropolitan area.  You’re planning your next quarter, and so you send out a press release telling everyone in reading distance which parlors they should shop at, on which days, which flavors they should buy, etc.

Something tells me that is not the way to do it.  The ice cream flows according to where the customers decide to go.  While they do take past reports of ice cream flows under advisement when they decide to look for it, if they happen to end up a kilometer from the nearest ice cream, the ice cream will eventually move to them.

This is one of the basic tenets of modern economics: let the distributed information direct resources.  Barring cosmos-scale advancements in computing power and information gathering, we must accept that the more distributed and informed agents will achieve better results.

Why is it, then, that we still practice central planning?  Why is the tax rate fixed until it changes?  Why does Congress intervene to thwart their own wisdom in basing Medicare payments on the Sustainable Growth Rate method?

The answer is simply that although it’s recognized that central planning is ineffective at best and dangerous in most cases, it feels good.  You see, for all their brave rhetoric, congress feels vulnerable.  They worry ceaselessly about their ability to continue serving us in a broken capacity.  Likewise, businesses feel as though a dark cloud could pass and Washington could decide to legislate them into obsolescence.

So they create symbioses.  Now, they need each other, joined at the hip, and find themselves stuck when circumstances change.

Solving the burdens of central planning takes very little changing, but the hardest thing to change still must: the congressional affairs with businesses must end.

Instead of mandating a certain tax rate, and having to adjust it based on economic conditions, the tax rate should already be sensitive to the economic conditions.  Instead of passing the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate only to keep balking to the point where now Medicare provider payments have nearly doubled since the early 1990s where they should be nearly flat, they would let the rates move with the rest of the economy.

An ocean of information, the economy abiding fixed pillars in its middle is an utterly laughable suggestion.  While man may one day be capable of such constructions, by that point the need for their creation seems absurd, and building them today only carries us to torment when they fail and send huge pieces of debris tumbling at us across the waves.

Let us raise our sails once more and be ready to trim them according to the ocean rather than expecting the ocean to accommodate us.

The Coming Fragmentations

Very few people refuse to slice a large pizza and eat it as a single unit. Even the few that do (you monsters) would cut up a pizza that was twice the size. Another way it happens with pizza is when the parties to the pizza could not agree on a single set of toppings, so different portions of the pizza have different toppings.

As any system grows, the cost of maintaining it as a single system grows.  When a system becomes a certain size, maintenance of it is too high, and fragmentation is required.

This can be seen in pizza.  Very few people refuse to slice a large pizza and eat it as a single unit.  Even the few that do (you monsters) would cut up a pizza that was twice the size.  Another way it happens with pizza is when the parties to the pizza could not agree on a single set of toppings, so different portions of the pizza have different toppings.

But it can also be seen in a few non-pizza places, which I will examine below.

Government

There’s a reason why a world government has been opposed by many people for a long time.  The size of such a government would be so big, with so much bureaucracy, that we would all die trying to figure out which floor we needed to visit to requisition a pencil to fill out a form to submit that would let us take our street-crossing test so that we might return home.

At some point, government at one level may grow too large, and it should fragment.  We have in the USA a national government, with state, county, and local governments.  At some point we will need to rework the layers so that we have regional governments (some of which might overlap), or specialized governments (eg, the Mississippi River Government that would manage collective interests for states and regions directly related to that river).

When we learn to manage the layers of government, we will be able to institute world governance that is not a threat to individual liberty.

This type of fragmentation might be called stratification, since it deals most particularly with layering the governments.

Transportation

The transportation in America, of humans, anyway, is primarily by autonomous transport (ie, cars).  There is some use of buses, trains, planes, and boats, but these are fairly limited in scope and, therefore, use.  In certain areas, the road-based system has grown too large, and it should be fragmented to help reduce that burden.

You can only build so many roads before it does no good.  It makes far more sense to add alternative transportation to augment the system.  This means that fewer people are reliant on the original form, and more of the traffic does not overlap.  It’s equivalent to adding multiple traffic channels in other systems.  Instead of getting cross talk on a radio, you can simply move some traffic to another channel, and continue with multiple sets of conversations independently.

This type of fragmentation is also a form of stratification.

Browsers

At some point it may make sense to fragment the browser.  When it happens, the OS gets new services to handle different parts of what’s currently in the browser.  That includes HTTP, bookmarks, cookies, authentication, signup, and rendering.

Some of these are already partially fragmented in the form of libraries, and some browsers like Uzbl already try to move toward a browser that is reliant on outside components.

While the functions could permanently remain in the browser, with other applications relying on the browser as a service, the benefits of moving them outside will reach a tipping point for most systems and users.

This type of fragmentation isn’t about the layers as much as about specialization, which it could be called.

Mobile Devices

One day the mobile device will likely fragment.  You will still have a dedicated component with a CCD for a camera, one with broadband wireless IO, one with a screen, but you won’t have a separate screen on your camera and phone.

In that world, you could use your computer screen as the head for your mobile device, for example, and you could use the power from the train to power your phone or mobile computer, saving your battery for later.

This is also a form of specialization, and some aspects are already there.  Many smart phones use WIFI when available instead of the wireless broadband.  There are also a few smart phones with the ability to plug in to a netbook-style dock.

Online Services

The final fragmentation for thought today is of online services like Facebook, but also things like Google and Wikipedia, and even the DNS itself may fragment.  There’s an ongoing push for someone to come up with distributed social networking.  Diaspora is the most prominent attempt, but others are working in the same direction.  This type of fragmentation might be called democratization, because its primary goal is to restore the control over the service to the users.

But it also has other benefits, including the possibility of improved utility.

Stratification, Specialization, Democratization

The three types of fragmentation today were in layering the functions, in breaking up by activity, and in distributing the control of systems.  They all have their places, and some systems will require a combination of them, or even something different entirely.

But we should be aware of the systems we interact with, and we should consider whether the problems we see are caused by other factors, or if they are due to the system outgrowing its britches.

The examples are numerous.  I could go on.  Economic systems, little league sports organizations, insect colonies, large-scale computing, military, etc.  The abstraction of fragmentation is quite useful, and even more so when intelligently put into practice.

The Insanity of Simplicity

An brief examination of the paradox of regulations and why the insanity of simplicity wins.

My claim is that we would be better off having regulations that do exactly two things:

  1. Require some specific disclosures related to whatever we currently prescribe, rather than prescribing the behaviors themselves.
  2. Have teeth to revoke charters or otherwise blow away any company that fails to meet the disclosures in a timely and truthful manner.

I’ll be writing more about this in the future, but for now I’ll just say that I’d be very happy/curious to hear arguments against my claim or examples that show it’s wrong.  Note that I mean that instead of a law saying, “you cannot sell baby cribs made out of gremlins,” it would say, “you have to tell people exactly what your cribs are made out of.”

Obviously, I’m going with the idea, “if people know the cribs are made out of gremlins, they won’t buy them, and the crib maker will start using marshmallows instead.”  Does this bear out?  More later.