[FoRK] Cutting through the stimulus BS

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sun Oct 25 20:17:46 PDT 2009

You are assuming I mean one mechanism because you think I'm invoking an 
old pattern.

J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
> 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.

Painfully stupid.
>> 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.

I don't see that there are plenty of well-funded competitive companies 
making much progress on these things.  There is a little.
>> 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.
I didn't mean that it was top down?  Give 100 year leases on some 
government land or work out something for large tracts of cheap land, 
pledge to provide basic infrastructure (roads, utility long-haul), 
perhaps a little American Indian reservation-style financial guarantee 
arrangement, and allow entrepreneurs to start cranking.  Company towns 
are more top-down than I am proposing.  And they have poor dynamics, two 
reasons I was steering around them.
>> 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.

I still disagree about that.  More researchers with more resources and 
incentivized people ready to build funded solutions that are created has 
to be better than a smaller R&D and entrepreneurial market.
>> 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.

I'm advocating "get out of the way" plus "make way for" the people that 
"will" develop this technology.  As an obvious example, the solutions to 
the Darpa Challenges would not have happened as soon or been as widely 
appreciated had there not been a Darpa Challenge.
>   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.

We have, mostly, government by committee.  Government decisions are 
needed sometimes to cut through red tape, make something more 
attractive, or similar tweaks to the status quo.  It can be useful, and 
sometimes not all that expensive.  There are many better ideas than 
blindly bailing out the financial industry.


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