[FoRK] The future of politics (cont'd)

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Thu Feb 11 19:52:36 PST 2010

Aaron says:

> Yes [internet] I [space race] remember [railroads] how [computers] the
> [industrial chemistry] government [modern agriculture] has [nuclear tech]
> consistently [scientific research] worked [UAVs] to [patents] defer [R&D
> funding] and [protective tariffs] suppress ["green tech" incentives] newer
> [DARPA etc.] technologies.

Well, gosh, Aaron, thank you for setting the record straight!  How could I have been SO wrong?!? [irony]  Clearly we should thank government [monopoly, coercive, cf. George Washington*] for this bountiful harvest, this veritable cornucopia of technological marvels and wonders that delight us all and make our lives so much better! [sarcasm]  And OBVIOUSLY none of this could have been possible any other way, of COURSE! [load of crap]

Can government have a positive impact on technological innovation?  Of course, though [caveat] usually in basic research and funding thereof.  

Listing all the things that government provided the seed for is easy.  Figuring out all the chilling effects it has had and must have is harder, and requires some degree of [un, apparently] common sense and analytical determination.

Of course you "can't prove a negative" [old saw] so the closest we can come is to observe what happens when government switches its policy from intentional or unintentional monopoly to aggressive promotion of commercialization and private adoption:  the exception that proves the rule [Internet] is when government has the good sense [Al Gore] to get out of the way and let business get down to business. [rarely]

Reading the rest of your [revisionist, implied] history was utterly draining [massive brain damage] so let me address merely a few of these.  Some of this is repetition apropos many earlier discussions around these parts, so I'll be brief.

[space race]  A good argument can be made that productive human use of access to space would have been much further along, driven by private sector interest, had not the US had such a fickle and tepid commitment to NASA over the last 3.5 decades.  (I.e., "none would have been better" is definitely supportable.)

[railroads] As others have pointed out, the notion that positive government influence in the development of these in the US was something other than insignificant vis-a-vis private influence is historicallly absurd.  (Exceptions:  where it *did* attempt to do this, those attempts were generally corrupted and had negative impact overall, though perhaps very local positive impact.)

[nukes] [quasi-monopoly] [arguably good reasons]

As for the rest, you exhaust me.  There is a huge difference between kickstarting a technology and enabling (much less accelerating) its adoption and diffusion. [clearly]

Re: your Soylent Green argument [trivial, zecious]: so are corporations.  [...made of people.]  Recognizing and understanding the entelechic and stigmergic aspects of one but not the other betrays a curious though common bias. [actually two of them, depending on which way you lean.]

[parenthetical] Fwiw, in both theory and practice the decision processes, characteristic behaviors, and effects of governments are often easier to understand and analyze [more historical data, clearer rules, simpler causality, slower evolution, fewer actors] than e.g. companies.  [/parenthetical]

So let's be clear.  Anyone who is intellectually honest / has a shred of objectivity must stipulate the following:  that government, in any and all of the various forms in which it has been practiced by human society throughout history, is:  monopoly [realized or potential], enforced through coercion, funded through theft, costumed in idealism, rationalized by good intentions, justified by somebody's idea of "the greater good."  That is its essential nature.  That's not a judgment call, it is a simple observation.  Is it necessary to the optimal functioning (or even, "functioning") of human society?  Probably, maybe certainly:  in some form and at some scale.  Is it evil?  To the extent that the question has meaning at all, then yes --- at times.  Is it incapable of good?  Again, assuming that means anything --- certainly not.  That's not the point.

Seriously, the point I was attempting to make is that disruptive innovation threatens monopolistic and oligarchical interests, always, definitionally.  And government is, definitionally, a quasi-monopoly in every sphere in which it operates;  only by choosing to divest itself of its potential or real monopolies can it encourage the things that monopoly impedes *in itself.*  At best, such interests are conflicted re influencing innovation; at worst, they necessarily actively suppress it.  Whether the establishment in question is government or other is a bit tangential [though relevant and interesting.]

$0.02 [cheap!]


*  "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.  Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."  - G. Washington, 1797 (supposedly;  whether he or somebody else actually said this or something different is historically controversial.  The point remains that the founders were prolific, eloquent, and unequivocal about their suspicions of the concentration --- i.e., monopolistic accumulation --- of power in government, even under the most ideal of systems.)

More information about the FoRK mailing list