J Thomas on December 17, 2010, 05:51:28 pm
It is fashionable to claim that the private sector looks only to the next quarter, but that's bullshit. Private-sector research initiatives often look ahead a decade or more

The whole raison d'Ítre for the creation of Bell Labs was to do speculative research without the necessity of making a profit; only to come up with interesting result.

But then, the phone system was a government-regulated monopoly that had more money than they could figure out what to do with.

Things would be different in an AnCap society with free competition. I don't know what would happen, and neither do you.

mellyrn on December 17, 2010, 06:40:38 pm
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I don't know what would happen, and neither do you.

Neither about anarchy, nor about climate, but you're willing to consider possible climatic outcomes and propose weirdities like, "Maybe humans wouldn't be competitive in Earth-normal conditions" as reason to try to keep things familiar.

We don't know what would happen, we can only pay our money and take our chances.  I know what I"m familiar with in a statist situation; I know that statist power must flow into the control of psychopaths as surely as I know that water must flow downhill; I know that the State makes me a party to all sorts of obscene practices and events regardless of my vote; and I know that the State itself, established to protect me from various dangers, is itself the blind mindless source of many and possibly most of them and I am not allowed to protect myself from it (not without enough money to co-opt the State -- which is, ummm, de-facto anarchy....).

I do know all that.

jamesd on December 17, 2010, 10:08:15 pm

The Gangsta Disciples provided security and contract enforcement to drug dealers at thirty dollars a month.  Policing really is not all that expensive.

I think those without such a contract would be bums and criminals - people with a past history of trouble would find such contracts expensive.

It's possible that "past history of trouble" would include "taking on somebody richer who had a bigger, stronger security force".

Possibly, but the richer you are, the more you need a good reputation - unlike police, who are apt to beat you up and confiscate your cell phone if you film them beating someone else up.

Suppose, for example, that in anarcho capitalist society, Walmart security frivolously and unreasonably accused an ordinary person of shoplifting and roughed him up, or in indeed did so in today's world.  Chances are that they would win, due to being bigger, having more guns, more lawyers, and more money - but if the word got around that they were being unreasonable, would cost them a lot more than it cost their customer.  If Walmart security were to show up looking bad on U tube, it would hurt them a lot more than when police show up looking bad on U tube - which is why Walmart security, which in today's world busts a lot more criminals than the police do, never shows up looking bad on U tube.

NeitherRuleNorBeRuled on December 17, 2010, 10:32:50 pm
The whole raison d'Ítre for the creation of Bell Labs was to do speculative research without the necessity of making a profit; only to come up with interesting result.

But then, the phone system was a government-regulated monopoly that had more money than they could figure out what to do with.

Things would be different in an AnCap society with free competition. I don't know what would happen, and neither do you.

Well, I spent a substantial portion of my career at Bell Labs, all of it in the post monopoly (more commonly referred to as "post-divestiture") period.  While there I saw a great deal of successful speculative research performed, and was involved in some of it myself (I was on two different teams which received Bell Labs Presidential Awards).  While some may point to the fact that much that was Bell Labs was downsized, I note that it was not because the research was somehow inferior or underfunded, but rather that upper management was unwilling to commit to sell products based on that research (one project I was involved with, in particular, had numerous outside companies begging Lucent Technologies to productize and license our work) -- large companies are quite similar to governments in the levels of bureaucracy and incompetence that they breed.

There are, however, other for-profit companies doing such research.  HP has recently had a breakthrough with a new funcamental electronic component -- the memristor -- which  is on a par with diodes, capacitors, and resistors.  This will likely change the fundamental design of electronics over the next decade or two. IBM hosts a large research arm involved in both software and hardware.  Companies such as Microsoft and Google have large research labs, which include speculative research.   Note that this is in the fields of electronics and computer science alone!

Do a bit of research on "Disruptive Innovation" and see how important such research is.   Companies that don't invest in innovation and try to sit back and rest on their laurels tend to fail over time.

Frankly, saying "I don't know what will happen, and neither do you." is something of a cop-out. While no one can, with certainty predict the outcome, reasonable approximations can be made with some degree of accuracy.  And freedom from regulation allows smaller groups to explore more areas quickly than larger organizations.  Why else do so many larger companies effectively move forward by buying small, innovative companies, rather than doing much of the research themselves?

As for what a small, cheap group -- or even individual -- can do, recall that a 17 year old teenager built a breeder reactor (admittedly very sloppily) in Michigan back in 1995:

http://harpers.org/archive/1998/11/0059750/


J Thomas on December 18, 2010, 12:01:22 am
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I don't know what would happen, and neither do you.

Neither about anarchy, nor about climate, but you're willing to consider possible climatic outcomes and propose weirdities like, "Maybe humans wouldn't be competitive in Earth-normal conditions" as reason to try to keep things familiar.

We don't know what would happen, we can only pay our money and take our chances. <skip list of statism evils>
I do know all that.

Yes.

I want to work toward cheap energy. That's good for a variety of things, and I think that reducing our quick addition of carbon to the ecosystem is one of them. I see no reason to think that this is a change which would be good for us, and some reasons to think it would be bad.

On the other hand, I'd like to try out an AnCap society. I don't know what would happen but it might be good. If it co-existed with statist societies then people would have an opportunity to "vote with their feet". If there are unforeseen problems that look hard to fix, people can tear it down and try again from scratch. Individuals mostly wouldn't be forced to participate, if they wanted out and they could find a government that would take them, they could leave.

It looks a whole lot better than, say, communism. No army. No border guards. No secret police. If it evolves into something with armies and border guards and secret police then it's failed as an AnCap society -- time to try again better somewhere else using what we learned from this failure.

Of all the utopian government experiments I've imagined, this looks like the *least* likely to turn into a giant expanding catastrophe. Its fundamental design is self-limiting, unless a lot of people like it. If they individually like it enough to maintain it, then it gets maintained. If enough new people like it enough to maintain it, then it expands. I like that!

Adding carbon to the world ecosystem is an experiment on the whole world and there's no obvious way to undo it if we don't like the result. Not good. A dozen AnCap societies or fifty AnCap societies are local experiments that we can learn from; if they fail we try again. Good.

If it turns out that some places with statism make more fundamental scientific discoveries that AnCap societies are better at exploiting, I'd find that acceptable. If the AnCaps figure out why it works that way and choose to change things around in ways that are still AnCap but that do science better than before, I'll like that too.

You don't have to figure it all out ahead of time. You don't even have to get it all perfect the first try.

J Thomas on December 18, 2010, 04:17:15 am
The whole raison d'Ítre for the creation of Bell Labs was to do speculative research without the necessity of making a profit; only to come up with interesting result.

But then, the phone system was a government-regulated monopoly that had more money than they could figure out what to do with.

Things would be different in an AnCap society with free competition. I don't know what would happen, and neither do you.
.... I note that it was not because the research was somehow inferior or underfunded, but rather that upper management was unwilling to commit to sell products based on that research (one project I was involved with, in particular, had numerous outside companies begging Lucent Technologies to productize and license our work) -- large companies are quite similar to governments in the levels of bureaucracy and incompetence that they breed.

....

Do a bit of research on "Disruptive Innovation" and see how important such research is.   Companies that don't invest in innovation and try to sit back and rest on their laurels tend to fail over time.

That's a good point. If it's harder for companies to delay disruptive technology, then the economy is likely to grow faster. I think. It makes sense, anyway, without actually seeing the whole picture.

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Frankly, saying "I don't know what will happen, and neither do you." is something of a cop-out.

Agreed. I think it's true that I don't know and you don't know either, but that neither proves my point nor disproves yours. It only stifles the conversation. I guess it's worth remembering that neither of us knows, and then go ahead and speculate.

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While no one can, with certainty predict the outcome, reasonable approximations can be made with some degree of accuracy.

Maybe. But I want to point out that I have no basis to predict the degree of accuracy and you don't either.  ;)

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And freedom from regulation allows smaller groups to explore more areas quickly than larger organizations.  Why else do so many larger companies effectively move forward by buying small, innovative companies, rather than doing much of the research themselves?

That's a very good point. So when somebody claims that government research is essential, the obvious counter is that big companies can do great big research projects too -- even though AnCap enthusiasts have claimed in other contexts that great big super-profitable companies would not exist in AnCap societies because it takes government to sustain them.

But you point out that small companies and even individuals do great research without the overhead of multiple layers of management. And we *know* small agile companies could exist in AnCap societies. A much better argument.

Can small companies carry the whole load of innovation? I don't know. But consider this -- once we have states and AnCap societies at the same time, whatever useful innovations that are discovered in states will filter out to the AnCap societies which will adapt them quickly. So if for some unknown reason states do have an advantage for innovation, that won't be a big advantage for states.

And then if the states all fall apart and get replaced by AnCap societies, there will be no states left to compare innovation rates with. Science fiction fans talk like innovation is necessarily a good thing in itself and that innovating at maximum rate is a good thing. But is it really? If it were to turn out that everybody prefers living in AnCap and also that AnCap produces innovations at a decent rate but not the fastest, would that be OK? It would be fine with me.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2010, 04:24:24 am by J Thomas »

terry_freeman on December 18, 2010, 07:27:56 am
Great innovation has been carried out by small enterprises; this was the norm before government got so heavily involved. It is easy to imagine that the practice of the last fifty years or so was "the only way to do it", but historically, government in America was not the driver for innovation. When it tried to drive innovation, it often flopped.

Who does not know about the Wright brothers, a pair of bicycle builders who managed to create a flying machine? During the same time, the government of the US of A attempted to develop a flying machine, a colossal and expensive failure which crashed into the Potomac.

NASA is a hugely expensive endeavor; its computer equipment often lags by decades. It was reported that shuttle commanders were using their own PDAs for navigation instead of the shuttle's onboard computers, since their personal handheld devices were far more powerful. I focus on computers because I know computers; others could probably critique the engines or aerodynamics.

Thomas Edison established a private research lab. The light bulb is not the only thing developed by Edison; nor was he the only privately-financed innovator in his day.

Ford's assembly line was, in its day, a revolutionary concept; Ford drove down the cost of automobiles to a few hundred dollars, converting them from luxury goods to something which people of average means could enjoy. Ford did not require government "aid" to accomplish this.



SandySandfort on December 18, 2010, 08:02:19 am
But then, the phone system was a government-regulated monopoly that had more money than they could figure out what to do with.

Well, there you go, being silly again. Nobody ever has more money than they can figure out what to do with. First, the main thing that was regulated was the prices Bell could could charge customers. Secondly, when a company "makes too much money," it gets distributed as dividends to shareholders. Third, the choice of spending money on basic research instead of lavish offices, company owned resorts, etc., would seem like an unlikely choice, given your basic thesis.

Things would be different in an AnCap society with free competition. I don't know what would happen, and neither do you.

Well, you're half right.   ::)

SandySandfort on December 18, 2010, 08:12:13 am
Well, I spent a substantial portion of my career at Bell Labs, all of it in the post monopoly (more commonly referred to as "post-divestiture") period.  While there I saw a great deal of successful speculative research performed, and was involved in some of it...

Thanks for the "horse's mouth" perspective! It's really helpful to see posts from people who actually know what they are talking about.

BTW, did you know my old high school buddy, Jim "Hot Dog" Gill?

SandySandfort on December 18, 2010, 10:08:34 am
My goodness, I am being chatty today. What's the story on the government attempt to fly that ended up in the Potomac? That's a new one to me.

NASA is a hugely expensive endeavor; its computer equipment often lags by decades. It was reported that shuttle commanders were using their own PDAs for navigation instead of the shuttle's onboard computers, since their personal handheld devices were far more powerful.

Just an interesting factoid, but the Apollo missions carried backup to the max. On each lunar mission there were three onboard computers, which normally functioned together, but any one of them could have flown the mission. They were set up so that if the results they computed did not agree, they went by a majority rule.

If all three computers were to fail and contact with computers on earth was lost, each of the three astronauts had his own HP, reverse Polish notation, hand-held calculator. Each of which could have, with some work, have flown the mission.

But I hear you saying, "Yeah, but what if all contact with earth was lost, the three onboard computers failed and so did the HPs? What would they have done then, huh?"

Slide rules. Each of the astronauts had his own 6-inch, picket slide rule. I have one like it in my collection. Here's what they looked like.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_2BRfQywIX_w/THwOVIN39VI/AAAAAAAABbE/wkC7NN_SXfA/s1600/Acu-Math+1240.JPG
« Last Edit: December 18, 2010, 10:13:52 am by SandySandfort »

J Thomas on December 18, 2010, 11:09:51 am

NASA is a hugely expensive endeavor; its computer equipment often lags by decades. It was reported that shuttle commanders were using their own PDAs for navigation instead of the shuttle's onboard computers, since their personal handheld devices were far more powerful. I focus on computers because I know computers; others could probably critique the engines or aerodynamics.

Their rationale does sound rational, when you inspect it. Assuming an unlimited budget....

They put a tremendous amount of money into making sure their software was correct. There are various problems possible for example from round-off error. Subtract two numbers that are too similar and you get a tiny number with low precision. Divide by that number and you get an answer that's anywhere on the map. So many calculations that have a subtraction need two different methods, one for when the subtraction comes out much smaller than the two inputs, and another when it does not. They started out doing those calculations in assembly, and it was cheaper to use obsolete hardware than do the programming all over again and test it.

But once they repeated it in a HLL, all they needed was to prove the correctness of every compiler they wanted to use, and they were set....

Then there's the hardware. Cosmic rays can sometimes scramble computer code and data. Say it's a single bit flip. Maybe a sign bit. Or something in a floating point exponent.... So it's expensive to make rad-hard computer chips, and expensive to test them. But once a chip is certified, NASA will pay for more of them for maybe decades. If somebody can figure out how to keep making them, for a handsome price.

I knew a guy who was dealing with that. His satellite was supposed to continuously collect gobs of data which would be beamed down at regular intervals. But occasionally the software would go bad and mess things up. He designed complicated error-correcting software which would continually scan the code and detect errors and fix them. Of course, if the error-correcting code went bad.... Eventually he threw it all out and just had all the software replaced from super-rad-hard ROM every 20 minutes. So the most data they could lose was 20 minutes worth. Of course they'd have random bits flipped in the data, but it was only photographs. Not like a few bits flipped would start Launch On Warning.

It all sounds reasonable. But the fact is, the errors they were concerned about are just not that common. It's particularly an issue for equipment which will stay up for years. So it isn't insane for astronauts to bet their lives and the mission on non-rad-hard PDAs running untested software. It usually gets a good answer anyway.

NASA may have had a side purpose. They may have needed navigation etc computer systems for military equipment which might face much more radiation than they would ever get among the peaceful cosmic rays.

J Thomas on December 18, 2010, 12:43:30 pm

Things would be different in an AnCap society with free competition. I don't know what would happen, and neither do you.

Well, you're half right.   ::)

Normally I would just laugh and let this pass, but I have found a saving throw for you.

When we get an AnCap society and it does not behave as you expect, you can say "No True AnCap Society Would Do Such A Thing" and maintain that you are right and the so-called AnCap society is wrong.

SandySandfort on December 18, 2010, 04:05:27 pm
When we get an AnCap society and it does not behave as you expect, you can say "No True AnCap Society Would Do Such A Thing" and maintain that you are right and the so-called AnCap society is wrong.

Again, you are sort of half right. First, I see no reason to believe--at least on your say-so--that an AnCap society will do anything I don't expect. And of course, if it does not implement market anarchy solutions it is, by definition, not an AnCap society. Will it be perfect? No. Will there be breaches of the ZAP? Sure. Bad things happen. Well, welcome to the universe. The point is, I think it is clear than an AnCap society is light-years better than the statist alternative.

I think I had better take the pledge and stop arguing about silly, "what-if" scenarios about market anarchy. What I am willing to discuss is comparisons between statism and radical individualism (market anarchy). So if the supposition is, "statism is better than market anarchy, because..." then I'm there. Make up silly scenarios that only look at the supposed flaws of market anarchy, without comparing it to collectivist solutions and you will be ignored. I may take the time to point out that you haven't made the collectivist comparisons, but I see no value of arguing the merits of market anarchy in a vacuum. (Pun not intended.)

J Thomas on December 18, 2010, 09:16:29 pm

First, I see no reason to believe--at least on your say-so--that an AnCap society will do anything I don't expect.

I will just tiptoe away from that one. No need to shoot fish in barrels.

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And of course, if it does not implement market anarchy solutions it is, by definition, not an AnCap society. Will it be perfect? No. Will there be breaches of the ZAP? Sure. Bad things happen. Well, welcome to the universe. The point is, I think it is clear than an AnCap society is light-years better than the statist alternative.

I agree with you in principle. And I expect that if there is ever an AnCap society, there will be lots and lots of examples that fit your theory,and will be way better than most statist alternatives. And of course there will be some failures. What I find interesting is the possibility that there will be some failures -- or some things that fit the philosophy -- which have startling consequences, which are far more than just blips. My natural suspicion is that the devil is in the details. Some AnCap societies will be better than others. Some could fail generally, because of things which will not be predicted but which may look obvious in hindsight.

And the result of each failure should be that the next AnCap society will have improvements which make it better. If a particular example has problems that does not mean there are unsolvable problems with AnCap.

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What I am willing to discuss is comparisons between statism and radical individualism (market anarchy).

There is tremendous variation among statist societies, although they all have some things in common. There are statist societies which have already failed like Nazi Germany and the USSR etc, and there's a big variety which have not failed yet. Some of them are better than others. Some of them are better at palliating their fundamental problems.

Do you want to compare a real statist society against a theoretical ideal AnCap? The hypothetical perfect AnCap society will have to win every time. Do you want to compare your theoretical perfect AnCap society against a theoretical awful statist society? Again the AnCap theory will have to win.

Do you want to compare an ideal AnCap society against somebody else's ideal statist society? Won't you tell them that their statist ideals can never exist in reality? Like, they will assume an altruistic government which acts in the long-term best interest of the public. That can never happen. However, when every individual makes contracts with specific others and those contracts are designed to benefit the pair of individuals who sign the contract, that is guaranteed to work ideally for the long-term benefit of the society due to the iron laws of economics....

I've had these sorts of arguments with creationists and zionists and communists and so on. Nobody is ever convinced unless they agreed already.

I tend to agree with you anyway. AnCap looks like a great foundation to build a society.

Where I disagree (damn, I was going to tiptoe away) is that when I hear a programmer say "This code is perfect. I desk-checked the parts that could have gone wrong and it's completely right. It will run perfectly without needing to be tested and it certainly doesn't need any unit tests" then I know to get out of the way. I've seen it before. When they say it about social engineering....

NeitherRuleNorBeRuled on December 18, 2010, 09:53:27 pm
BTW, did you know my old high school buddy, Jim "Hot Dog" Gill?

The name rings a bell (no pun intended) but nothing connected to the Labs.  Do you know where he was located and/or what he worked on?  Murry Hill, the main complex, had something like 12 buildings, and there were 7-10 other locations in the US that had Bell Labs folks.