[FoRK] Cutting through the stimulus BS

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Sun Oct 25 18:39:17 PDT 2009

On Oct 25, 2009, at 1:18 PM, Stephen Williams wrote:
> It's all about psychological effects isn't it?  These are often  
> indirect.  The optimism of doing something via the stimulus somewhat  
> offset the cries of doom, gloom, and disaster long enough for people  
> to take a breather and get back to living and working more or less  
> normally.  (Except the unemployed, who probably have already passed  
> through the angst of financial disaster and have found a fall-back  
> position.)

The stimulus fell flat because it is predicated on everyone  
uncritically buying into transparently bogus magical thinking.  
Instead, they rightly dismissed the supposed upside as non-existent  
and accounted for the adverse consequences of epic wastefulness.  
Apparently there are not enough credulous Americans around for neo- 
Keynesianism to work as advertised.

Neo-Keynesianism is the idea that you can astroturf your way to  
prosperity. Just because it is attractive to the political class does  
not mean it is a good idea.

> The thing that I don't like about the stimulus choices is that they  
> gave away too much money with too little direct positive benefit.

What did you expect? It is more than a little pollyanna-ish to expect  
that this money would not be largely wasted on political cronies.

Even worse, a lot of R&D funding is currently being held up in  
Congress and will not be disbursed until some time in 2010. A lot of  
existing R&D programs are being suspended for lack of funds while  
billions are being liberally spent on pointless make-work programs  
that will never produce anything of value.

> For instance, I would have favored spending a whole lot to bootstrap  
> a new auto industry, more or less as a clean break from the existing  
> one.

Why? There are plenty of competitive auto companies already doing  
this. A waste of resources. Let's do something original instead.

> Start serious efforts to create inexpensive "company town" like  
> environments, except not actually owned by the companies involved.   
> Perhaps something between a homeowners association and a credit- 
> union like structure.

Why? These kinds of top-down initiatives have been tried numerous  
times before and failed just as often. We'd be better off with some  
original attempts at innovation rather than rehashing the same old,  
dead horses.

> A key set of ideas would be to make this a push for highly capable  
> robotic factories, cheap, modular vehicles, electric or other low- 
> maintenance hyper efficient propulsion, and AI automated self- 
> driving (a la Darpa Challenge) vehicles.  Resolve to solve the  
> technical, economic, and legal issues.  After success, plan to solve  
> the efficient auto / train integration and automated aircars.

Most of this is already under development and funded. Throwing even  
more silly money at it won't make the research happen faster, it will  
just waste money.

> We have plenty of technology to get started on all of that, probably  
> having success in 5 years.  We just have to collectively decide to  
> do it.

We don't need to "collectively decide" a damn thing, except may be for  
everyone to get out of the way of people that *will* develop this  
technology.  Collective decisions are good at producing exactly one  
thing: expensive white elephants that only a government could afford  
to waste money on.

A fast path to future technological prosperity by political committee?  
Seriously? I thought we outgrew that silly idea in the mid-20th century.

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