[FoRK] Closing funny bits, was Re: Malthusian machinations

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Thu Jun 17 11:33:41 PDT 2010

On Jun 17, 2010, at 12:36 PM, Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo wrote:

> Fair enough. I have no doubt I sound a little strident when we get close to this area. But are you saying that capitalism isn't pretty much out of control? Or, perhaps more correctly, too much in control?

I'm saying that for the most part, most present attempts to induce "control" of anything are doomed to failure.  Ironically, the best way to "sustainably" (cough) and reliably "control" markets is through judicious application of certain market mechanisms to prevent moral hazard.  Unfortunately we don't do this effectively for the most part today.  Anywhere.  Sometimes I think we intentionally set up structures to *encourage* moral hazard.

More later.  There are numerous ways to go about this.  As long as we continue to view things as a choice between coercion and chaos, we're not going to succeed.

> I'm not sure that's entirely true.

Reached to far, did I? 

Mmm, but it sounded good, dinnit? ;-)

> We, the masses, are as ill-prepared to drive corporations as we are to pilot Spaceship Earth.

Corporations drive themselves, unavoidably;  they will blindly, mechanically seek to find the highest point in the fitness landscape in which they operate, knock whomever is sitting there off their perch, and occupy said space for as long as possible.  They can't be reasoned with. They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop in their pursuit of fitness optimization, ever, until and unless they fail and become bankrupt.

This is not a bad thing, however.  They are *very* predictable.

The occasionally-problematic emergent behaviors they engage in may in fact not be due to any ill-will or bad behavior or even intent on the part of their human constituents.  They are a social decision / preference aggregation function that quite often *subtracts* intelligence, intent, and all the rest of it from the decision process, and quite often produces results that are quite contrary to the preferences of *any* participants in the process.  Legally / formally, they are people.  Idiot zombie people.  Legally / effectively, they are liability shields and moral hazard multipliers.  The very *purpose* for such illusory mechanics is suspect in the first place.

But.  Better than gubbiments in almost every respect. ;-)  In particular:  because they are so mechanical and predictable, they are much more *controllable* than the whims and frenzies of political fashion and the organizations that sustain such.

> You implied that businesses aren't geared to worry about these "externalities"; that it's really not their business to do so. It seems to me there's no reason better behaviour couldn't/shouldn't be a fundamental part of any corporation's business.

Violent agreement.  My assertion is that the system as a whole is not presently wired to cause externality-internalization to occur spontaneously in the private sector.  Should that be the case?  Probably.  Can it?  I have a few ideas.  But it's certainly not the case today.

More directly, what I'm saying is it's rather foolish to fret and hand-wring about corporate behavior when they're simply, blindly, mechanically doing the very things that we set them up to do.  Hate the game, not the players.  And, if you hate it enough, seek to change it.

> Especially in the United States where they are awarded virtual citizenship simply by virtue of existing. Is it not reasonable, then, to expect the same sort of awareness and responsibility of their impacts as we do of each other, individually and collectively?

Agreed:  authority and accountability must be aligned.  Disagreed:  corporations are *not* people.  Until we dispense with that fiction, then all the rest of this absurdity will persist.

> You will expect and teach your twins to be aware of things beyond their personal and immediate comfort and convenience and insist that they act responsibly in that context. Why *shouldn't* we expect precisely the same from BP or Wal-Mart or Goldman Sachs or ....?

Because, despite all legal fictions, corps are *not* people.  Yet, anyway;  maybe someday.  It's like expecting your robotic lawnmower to act responsibly;  doesn't make much sense.  You don't anthropomorphize the thing;  you merely make sure that the environment it can operate in is appropriately constrained to prevent catastrophe.

You do have a robot lawnmower by now, right? ;-)


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