Monthly Archives: July 2013

Expanding the bureaucracy and the fallacy of the slippery slope

Those who oppose minor and perhaps reasonable expansions to the power of the government on the grounds that that power will inevitably be expanded abused are not necessarily committing the fallacy of the slippery slope.  Extensive precedent has shown that once any task is institutionalized in a government agency, it will forever have a lobby which is dedicated to expanding its purview and budget. No matter how rigidly and narrowly the original mission is defined, the continuing employment and power of the bureaucrats responsible for it becomes an end in itself. Perhaps one of the simplest examples of this is the list of United States Federal Agencies.

Operating independently of market constraints, the bureaucrat has no obligation to prove his efficacy or any continuing need for his services, nor any need to balance the value of the service he provides against the cost. He works tirelessly to find new crises which must brought under his control or to worsen (usually by means of perverse economic incentives) the very problem he is tasked with solving.

In the aggregate, the mass of bureaucrats in any given society work subvert the energy of the remaining productive people until civilization disintegrates into hyperinflation and bankruptcy. Their intentions may initially be purely benign, but their work requires ever greater degrees of evasion and mass brainwashing as they search for victims and enemies in ever wider circles of society.

No matter how trivial the problem to the solved, once a political solution is attempted, the issue can only be expected to become worse and more expensive. Can you think of a single instance when a bureaucracy resolved the issue it was tasked with solving and fired itself?

It should be noted that this trend also manifests in large corporations, whenever it becomes so large and vertically integrated that individual departments are able to operate outside the pressure of the market and thus outside the pricing mechanism as a means of valuing services.   Fortunately, the wealth destruction of corporations in a free economy is limited by its revenue, and it need not exhaust the entire wealth of a society in order to it collapse.

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Filed under Economics

Understanding and judgment in nature and society

In the natural world, we can attempt understanding, but not judgement. We can ask why the lion hunts the antelope, but not whether it is right or wrong. We can feel pity for the prey, but we know that while the antelope must die for the lion to live, neither can be said to be more deserving of life. They act as they must to survive, and to judge their method of survival is as irrational as criticizing the earth for going around the sun.

But with human action, it is different. Humans have the power to choose their way of life, and so affect their existence for better of worse. As fellow humans, we can observe the choices of others, understand their consequences, and apply the lessons to guide our own actions. And so, every human action that we observe has the potential for judgement: does this choice improve or worsen the actor’s life, and how would affect mine?

Some people tend to judge without understanding, by following their emotions or someone else’s edicts. Others attempt to understand without judging, viewing other humans as another kind of wildlife, and themselves as the indifferent observer. Both habits lead to disaster if pursued consistently. As mortal animals, our time and resources are limited, and so we must learn from others actions which mistakes and people to avoid, and which habits and people to value. Understanding must come first; if we judge without understanding, we fail to use our primary means of survival (our mind) and enslave ourselves to whomever’s moral edicts we happen to hear first. We must attempt understanding far more often than we judge because obtaining the evidence needed to form a conclusion is never a certainty.

The person who refuses to judge is just as much a slave to the moral edits of others as he who judges without understanding, as neither develops the ability to form his own opinions, and so both fall victim to the first preacher of right and wrong. As mortal beings, our way of life requires that we understand both the facts of nature and the facts and consequences of human action. When it comes to human choices, we must keep in mind that every action and every man-made thing carries the possibility and responsibility of moral judgment.

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Eight billion smartphone-enabled humans will change everything

Mobile phone subscriptions now total 98% of the world’s population. Virtually the entire world’s population (87% of the total population) now has a cellphone.

What’s next?

Personal computers are a mind-expanding device for the world’s first wealthiest one billion people. But they are a very primitive, early adopter device in comparison to the smartphone. A smartphone is a personal computer which is tiny, wireless, and increasingly aware of its environment.

There are over one billion smartphone users now. In a few years, the entire population of cellphone users will be smartphone users. A few years after that, every cell phone will exceed the power of today’s high-end desktop.

In early 2014, we will see high-end smartphones with print-quality screens, 8 cores, and 4GB of memory, and the graphic power of today’s high end video game consoles. By 2016-2018 every cell phone will have the power of a modern desktop.

What happens then?

The speed of innovation for a technology is limited the size of its market. Personal computers have been rapidly growing in adoption, but hit a peak at one billion users. They are not feasible in much of the rest of the world, and soon they will become irrelevant in the developed world. Smartphones have a potential customer base of seven to eight billion users, which means even faster technological progress. Within a decade, personal computers will disappear from common experience, replaced by cloud-backed communication interfaces and sensory nets.

Most pundits assume that the non-elites of the world will standardize on cheap (sub $100) commodity smartphones. I think what is really revolutionary and exciting is that the entire world will standardize on the minimally-functional smartphone necessary to join the human community.

The smartphone used by the world’s other six billion people will offer the minimum functionality needed to participate in the persistent-connection-enabled marketplace. We cannot say now what that functionality will be.

For example, for current smartphones, the “base” functionality means capacitive touch, HTML5 web browser, HD video, 3D graphics, an app store, etc. Future devices will have their own minimum functionality that will serve as a gateway to full membership in society, in the same way that car or credit card ownership does in some parts of the USA. It may be immersive holographic headsets or quasi-AI-capable CPU’s.

Global smartphone adoption will universalize and democratize access to the marketplace in the same way that jeans have universalized and democratized fashion and Coca Cola and hamburgers have democratized diets. But unlike these trends of fashion, opening access to the marketplace is a transformative paradigm shift. It will enable new business models such as digital currency, distance learning, and many that we cannot now imagine.

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