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Almost always:
Thursday, March 20, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

It's like watching a gambler who's left the wife and kids at home and gone down to the casino with his paycheck in his pocket, and put it all down on one big, dangerous bet.

Normally you sort of hope he loses, because although it might be tough on his family in the short run, maybe it'll finally give him the message, and he'll quit, stop wasting his time and income in the lights and smoke of the betting floor.

But you can't hope he loses this time, because what he's gambling with is human life, and the future of the country you love, and your children's hope for prosperity. So you watch the wheel, and you cross your fingers, you hope he wins.

And you hope that, if he does, something will still stop him from coming back next week, with the next paycheck.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Let me put it another way: in support of our troops, I recently offered one of my angry correspondents on this issue a bet: I will try my damnedest to keep her son out of combat in the Gulf, and she will continue to support the president's war drive. Whoever keeps her son alive longest, wins.

So I was looking around the Web for a way to in fact support our troops in Iraq, send them encouraging messages, buy them books, or whatever.

I didn't find quite exactly what I was looking for. I would have expected a nice shiny one-stop site with a cool logo, and a place to enter your credit card number and your supportive message and check off the various useful items you'd like to have sent in your name (I'm very spoiled by the instant gratification of the Web).

Operation Uplink: Donate

I did find various lists of sites, mostly similar to this one. Of the things commonly listed, Operation Uplink (buying telephone time for the troops) seems to be the most wired; you can fill out the form and given them a credit card number and off you go. So I did that, and I'm glad I did, although telephone time wasn't the first thing that occurred to me.

Operation Dear Abby seems like a good idea in principle (you can send a text message to a random military person in an area of your choice), but I couldn't quite figure it out. Most of the places on the list are states of the U.S., and I couldn't tell which would be the appropriate choice to direct a message to, say, people about to be deployed off to Iraq.

The Defend America site also lets you send a message to the troops, but the only message you can send is "Thank you for defending our freedom". And that's not a message I can bring myself to send this evening.

Operation USO Care Package seems to be exactly the right idea, letting people donate money for sending very practical and cheerful stuff to the troops overseas. But the only way to send them money is in paper envelopes, through the mail! The war might (knock wood) be over by the time they get there.

So anyway I've bought some G.I. some telephone time, and that's a good feeling.

On the other hand, I'd love to take away some telephone time from our dear administration. Here are those notorious commie traitors at Business Week pointing out The High Price of Bad Diplomacy.

And here is a reader pointing us at a rather funny and pointed bit of anti-war propoganda, with the words: "If you haven't seen this..." It's pretty well put together, although not entirely pure in its rhetorical tactics (one of the replies to it is a decent statement of the views on the other side).

From Boing Boing, the very fascinating site of a photojournalist currently working right out at the front; the current entry is "photoblogging in Northern Iraq", and the pictures are very good.

Tearing ourselves away from that subject for awhile...

"There's no scarcity of spectrum any more than there's a scarcity of the color green. We could instantly hook up to the Internet everyone who can pick up a radio signal, and they could pump through as many bits as they could ever want. We'd go from an economy of digital scarcity to an economy of digital abundance."

An interesting article containing the memorable quote "Attempting to decide what is the best architecture before using it always fails. Always." Which sounds entirely right to me, and is a rather daunting thought considering that part of my job right now is designing an architecture for something that we aren't yet using. A reminder that, if we don't want to fail, we need to make sure that our architecting is grounded in every bit of real "using it" that we can find, build, or (if all else fails) imagine.

Café Press continues its march to world domination: now they do CDs (nice cheap CDs at that). And their latest missive contained the ominous teaser "Coming soon: CafePress Publishing!"; all in accord with prophecy.

Okay time for some reader comments on the utopias, the collectivist one in particular.

Is Iain M. Banks's Culture not a pretty good example of the perfect collectivist state? Of course, it does assume elimination of just about all scarcity. Even given that big assumption, do you think it would work?

I do consider the elimination of scarcity (and the presence of superhuman Minds that enjoy taking care of things for us) to be cheating. On the other hand, he tells very good stories; if we can tell halfway as good a story about our collective, we will have done a good job.

Would it work? I don't know. Might it work? I think so. But I'd like to talk about it.

I wonder what you intend to mean by "best possible" collectivist society. Without a definition of "best", I could suggest lots of random (but uninteresting) ways of making your motherly brain stem happy.

Well, the meaning of "best" (and "possible") is certainly one of the things we can have fun talking about. Take "best" to mean "has the happiest citizens" and "possible" to mean "without requiring major changes in human nature or implausible new technologies" as a first approximation, although other suggestions are most welcome.

The (obvious) problem with the anarcho-syndicalist commune that you outline is that pesky computer program. How does it decide on resource allocation? Trying to do preference elicitation from the citizenry is a Known Hard Problem (that's code for "it doesn't work"). Distribution "according to their needs" has the same problem. You could implement the policy that most collectivist states do: "Give most of the resources to the ruling elite, give subsistence resources to most everybody else, and kill off whomever the ruling elite doesn't like." Do other alternatives occur to you?

I may have overemphasized the computer program in my initial writeup. It doesn't make any allocation decisions, it just ("just") models the society well enough to give reasonably good assessments of what can feasibly be produced (and what will likely be consumed) under various assumptions; it lets the people (the Boards) see the shape of the space, but doesn't pick out particular points within it.

There are certainly problems with equitable collective distribution; it's tough to do. I'm not sure how hard anyone's actually tried, though; if someone can point me at the story of a collective society that was sincerely intended by its founders to be a successful collective society (rather than that being just a cover story for the establishment of a totalitarian state with the founders permanently at the helm), I'd like to read it.

Again to a first approximation, you give everyone a basic set of Stuff (clothes, housing, fuel, food), you provide in routine ways for routine extra needs (ordinary surgery and so on), and you have exception mechanisms (going before the Board, say) for exceptional extra needs. (That takes care of ("takes care of") the needs of consumers. I suspect the needs of producers are much harder to handle even just to a first approximation.)

Does the ruling elite always become oppressive? Not if you don't have one; the motherly icon in my head suggests that rotation of the entire population through the boards, proper education, and healthy collective culture can discourage the growth of an elite. Good methods for that are part of this homework assignment; we shouldn't give up right at the start.

To imagine that the economic life of a vast area comprising many different people can be directed or planned by democratic procedure betrays a complete lack of awareness of the problems such planning would raise.

That's not actually a reader, it's F. A. Hayek in "The Road to Serfdom"; I just thought I'd jot it down. We have to either confine our collectivist state to non-vast areas, or decide that he was wrong, or that things have changed since then. (And that's just for that one sentence; prospering despite the rest of his book will be even more work.)

Anyone have any objections to the ideal minarchist capitalist state? Or is "everything is just a contract between individuals" as obviously workable as "everything is owned in common by everyone" is obviously unworkable? *8)

(Isn't there a Heinlein story about a society on Mars or somewhere that's run strictly by contract? And of course there's Vinge's "The Ungoverned", which I should reread.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Our reader fails to be entirely irrational:

Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 13:02:17 -0500
From: "David Kraft" <dkraft@whatsinthere.com>
To: <log@davidchess.com>
Subject: RE: Hey Dumbass

No, I don't have that much faith in central government, and I have to commend your thinking there.
Did you ever hear of the Cuban Missle Crisis? it's a facinating story. I believe there was a Democrat in power. Which, forgive me I've assumed your affiliation there.

It's not the dissent that bothers me - dissent without information, dissent from information is what bothers me.
I have seen in this "public domain" video footage of Sadam's terroristic activities, crimes against humanity, and also his simple lies to the world - he simply agreed that since he was not acting within the boundaries of civilized nations, that he would "disarm" i.e. defocus his weapons development and acquisition, and allow public inspection of that act. It hasn't happened.

In fact there are hundreds of corrobrating reports like this http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/archive/13-3-19103-1-2-23.html SINCE he entered a peace agreement.

SADDAM is the one who has defiled the agreement.

If you have any recollection of past terrorists - Pol Pot(sp), Hitler, N.Koreans... You can clearly illustrate the history of "waiting too long".

I have to racant on a position however - "Shut the hell up" was uncalled for. I peacefully implore you to get off your "anti-war", "War-less at ANY COST" stance. It is a head in the sand attitude and clearly ignorance of enough facts to reach that conclusion at this time.

Now, I also think that I am fully justified in telling you to shut up, I did not attempt to control your speech, I simply opined that you are full of misinformation and I think you ought not to talk until you find the facts.


And I gracefully reply:

From: log@davidchess.com
To: dkraft@whatsinthere.com
Subject: Re: Hey Dumbass
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003 03:18:06 GMT

Thanks for the commendation! *8) No, I'm not a Democrat; the only party I'm a member of is the Libertarian Party, although I don't identify all that strongly with them. I admit that these days I vote for Democrats over Republicans when those are the only choices; I explain this by saying that, when forced to choose, I prefer socialism to theocracy.

It's certainly true that Saddam seems to have lied, and broken the Desert Storm peace agreement, and not to have obeyed U.N. resolutions. He's also engaged in terribly evil actions against his own people, as you point out:

> In fact there are hundreds of corrobrating reports like this
> http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/archive/13-3-19103-1-2-23.html
> SINCE he entered a peace agreement.

Actually the story you're pointing me to there is about events that happened in 1988, before the agreement that ended Desert Storm. But the story of the Anfal is indeed horrific; Saddam has used utterly inhuman methods against his own people repeatedly.

He's a bad guy, and he shouldn't be in charge of anything more than a manure cart. But is he a threat to the U.S.? Is he such an urgent threat to the U.S. that we ought to be weakening the United Nations, alienating our allies, and generally making asses of ourselves just so that we can send our boys and girls to die in the desert *now*, rather than in a month or two, or not at all if the inspectors are able to disarm him without our troops dying?

I'm not at all convinced of that. He's been a bad guy for a very long time (including a number of years when the U.S. was actively supporting him). I see no urgent need for this military action. And in the absence of urgent need, the action is not wise.

(Note that even many Kurds have their doubts that they will actually benefit from a new war, see for instance the story at "http://www.msnbc.com/news/834492.asp?cp1=1".)

> If you have any recollection of past terrorists - Pol Pot(sp),
> Hitler, N.Koreans... You can clearly illustrate the history of
> "waiting too long".

Saddam is similar to those in some ways, and different in others. Does "there was a time when it would have been good to take action against those people" necessarily imply "it is good to take action against Saddam right now"? I don't think so.

> I have to racant on a position however - "Shut the hell up" was
> uncalled for.

Accepted; thank you.

> I peacefully implore you to get off your "anti-war", "War-less at
> ANY COST" stance.

I'm not sure where you see me taking a "War-less at ANY COST" stance. I think that this war, in these circumstances, is a bad idea; that doesn't mean that I'm in principle against all wars in all circumstances. And in fact I think the great majority of people who are against this war in these circumstances are not against all wars in all circumstances. It would be a mistake to conclude that anyone who opposes this war must be an absolute pacifist.

(I do admit that I have some admiration for absolute pacifists. Although I doubt they're favored by evolution in the long run, it takes guts to completely renounce violence, even in self-defense.)

> It is a head in the sand attitude and clearly ignorance of enough
> facts to reach that conclusion at this time.

Well, from my point of view the "head in the sand" attitude is that since this administration is doing it, it must be right. I hope you would agree at least that the diplomacy has been incompetent, even if you support the military part of the war. Insulting our allies, throwing our weight around arrogantly, and generally not behaving well are *not* what one would expect of a mature world power.

If the administration had framed this war as necessary to save the Iraqi people from tyranny, and worked patiently to build a coalition, including Iraq's various Arab neighbors, I might even have supported a war. (Although I set a pretty high bar; wars are generally begun and conducted by powerful old men who send brainwashed young men to die just so the old men can become richer and more powerful. There have been exceptions, but not many IMHO.)

As I said in my letter to Bush, I think this war, at this time, is uncalled for, and that the administration's attitude toward the rest of the world has been unwise and dangerous. I am not an absolute pacifist, and I do not think that Saddam is a good person. But I also don't think he is an immediate threat to us, and we should not be spilling the blood of our young people over issues that are not immediate and urgent threats.

> you are full of misinformation and I think you ought not to talk
> until you find the facts.

Feel free to point me at more facts that you consider relevant. I can imagine convincing evidence for the claim that Saddam really is an urgent threat to us (although I haven't seen any). I have a hard time imagining evidence that insulting our allies and alienating the rest of the world constitutes acceptable diplomacy...

Thanks again for your reply,

Whew, I do go on, don't I? See also Robin Cook's resignation speech (resigning from the post of Leader of the House of Commons, which is some Brit thing, because he couldn't bring himself to vote for this war).

Turning from the ugly world of real-life politics to the cleaner and prettier world of imaginary ones (is "politics" plural in this context?), let's briefly consider an issue from our utopias. I've been thinking about the ideal collectivist state some, how it would work, how people would live, whether there'd be restaurants, who'd get to live near the beach, and so on, and I'm wondering: should we have money?

Assume of course that everyone is just Given the basic necessities of life (can hardly claim to be a collectivist society without that), and that everyone is required to turn over the results of their production to the Community (i.e. to put it into whatever warehouse, or feed it along to whatever next stage of production, the local Resource Board's schedule says they should).

So we give everyone the basic necessities, including taking care of their urgent needs (see the original example about surgery). Now what about the surplus?

Do we let people apply for what extra stuff they'd like to see the community produce (or acquire) and make available, and then give that extra stuff out equitably when it arrives? Does each citizen have to argue before that week's Resource Board that the marginal benefit to society of my getting that nice chocolate cake would be higher than the benefit of anyone else getting it? Probably not.

Do we figure out the amount of extra stuff the community is producing, put monetary (or pseudo-monetary) values on it, add it up, divide by the number of citizens, and then give out tokens (or add numbers to accounts in our computers) and allow the citizens to use them to acquire shares of that extra stuff? Without a competitive market in production and consumption there will be conflicts, of course. These can be resolved by lot and by rotation; you won't always be able to "buy" what you want, but then you can't in a market economy either.

On the other hand the subsystem of my brain assigned to be the (grey-haired, motherly) advocate of the collectivist state isn't really happy with the idea of money, or even pseudo-money. Too many bad connotations. Suggestions that would make her happier are most welcome!

(And remember that the issue at the moment isn't whether or not a collective society is a good or a bad idea; the issue is what the best possible collective society would be like. We can decide whether or not it's in fact any good later on, when we're done with this part.)

Monday, March 17, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Happy all the other days, for that matter (that whole story with the saints and stuff has never been one of my favorites).

Probably in response to my letter to the Pres, a driveby reader writes:

Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 00:08:55 -0500
From: "David Kraft" <dkraft@whatsinthere.com>
To: <log@davidchess.com>
Subject: Hey Dumbass

Of course you have a right to free speech, Of course you have an obligation to "do something" or express your opinion.
Where, Exactly did you garner your information regarding the threat to the U.S. by Sadam? What makes you an expert?
What makes you more qualified, or even REMOTELY qualified to pontificate, let alone attempt to guide public opinion or sway the powers that be than the president?
A simple href to your C.V. will do...

Did you get the morning's CIA threat briefing? Did you sit in on the security meetings and the satellite reports?

Shut the hell up and get back to your needle point pattern advice or some other harmless topic.

Google is dangerous.

To which I've replied with my usual snarky suavity:

From: log@davidchess.com
To: dkraft@whatsinthere.com
Subject: Re: Hey Dumbass
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 14:37:45 GMT

Pleased to meet you! *8) What exactly were you searching on that led you to me? Just trolling for peaceniks to scold?

> Where, Exactly did you garner your information regarding
> the threat to the U.S. by Sadam? What makes you an expert?

I don't think I claimed to be an expert, or to be more qualified than the president. I am a citizen with an opinion. The information available to me is the information available to any citizen with similar resources: media outlets, scuttlebutt, the government itself. Given that information and my own judgement, I have formed a certain opinion, and I'm expressing that opinion. In this particular case I'm particularly impressed by the fact that the administration itself, which has the strongest incentive to convince the public that its actions are correct, has presented such weak evidence of it. If that's the best they can do, then intervention in Iraq is certainly unjustified.

> Did you get the morning's CIA threat briefing? Did you sit
> in on the security meetings and the satellite reports?

It is not impossible that the administration has some secret information that it's unable to disclose, or even hint at the existence of, that does in fact justify a unilateral invasion of Iraq. I have no reason to believe that that's true, however. Should I simply assume that it is, and remain silent? Do you have that much faith in central government? I don't.

Even if there were such secret information, it would not justify the administration's recent arrogance in diplomacy and public relations. The possession of such secret information would be a great responsibility, and should inspire humility rather than hubris.

> Shut the hell up

Hm. Someone recently wrote me saying "Of course you have a right to free speech, Of course you have an obligation to 'do something' or express your opinion." In fact I think it was you.

> get back to your needle point pattern advice

I don't have the manual dexterity for needlepoint. *8)

> or some other harmless topic

Dissent bothers you?

I would be interested in hearing your reasons for thinking an invasion of Iraq this week would be justified, if indeed you believe that, and if you have some reason for that belief.


I'll let you know if I get an interesting reply.

Since this reader has kept my political nuclei stimulated, here's something else I've been thinking about. It's this whole it's about oil thing. At least twice recently, I've heard someone that I regard as sensible say that it can't really be about oil at all, and in neither case am I convinced.

Not that I think it definitely is about oil; I'm just not convinced by these two arguments that it's not.

A few weeks ago someone said (roughly) "taking the Iraqi oil fields from Saddam won't change anything about oil; Iraq will still just sell oil at the market price." And then the other evening someone else said "there's no way after the war they're just going to back the U.S. tankers up to Iraq and take the oil!".

Neither of these objections really make sense to me. The market is not a law of physics.

It seems entirely plausible to me that the New Democratic Government of Free Iraq might announce (or, at least as likely, not announce) that due to the Special Relationship that Exists Between the New Democratic Republic of Free Iraq and the Freedom Loving Citizens of the United States of America, there will until further notice be a Special Offering of Prime Iraqi Oil to any U.S. Owned or Designated International Oil Company at the Special Discount Price of, um, Whatever They Feel Like Paying This Week. Then they'd back up the U.S. tankers and take the oil.

(And of course several percent of the resulting savings would be passed along to the U.S. Consumer to help the Faltering U.S. Economy, with only the residue going to line the pockets of people from certain prominent Texas families.)

This can't happen? Why not, exactly? What, exectly, would stop them, given that nothing stopped them from invading Iraq in the first place? Should I just be trusting in their sanity and restraint?

Some interesting comments have come in on our dual utopias from the other day, but I'm not going to get to them right now. Figures: just as we start some interesting theoretical work, all this messy practical stuff gets in the way. Do keep the comments coming, though; I hope and expect to get back to it, and it should be fun and thought-provoking.

Sunday, March 16, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

I got back from the grocery at around six this evening, and the little daughter was in the shower. A friend of hers had called, and she was going out at six-thirty for some kind of peace vigil or something. Parents were invited, too, if they wanted.

The Amawalk Friends Meeting

So I spent forty-five minutes or so tonight standing outside the (extremely neat) Amawalk Friends Meeting House, holding a candle, listening to the cars going by, looking at the stars, warming my nose at the flame, being part of the Global Candlelight Vigil for Peace. We did one round of "Let There Be Peace on Earth", and one of "America the Beautiful", and a couple of people told small stories.

(I was very proud of the little daughter; she stood holding a candle in the cold for forty-five minutes without a squirm or a complaint. Her gramma would be proud.)

When I think about Big Questions like "Why is there war?" and "Why is there injustice?", there's a part of my brain (a rather brash and talkative part) that says "Duh! Just do the math."

Not that I, or anyone else on Earth at the moment, actually could do the math, or that the field of mathematics that's required to do the math has actually been, like, invented. But that piece of my brain is quite convinced that in any system similar in the important ways to human life on Earth, there will be features corresponding to war and hatred and injustice, and that this could (in principle) be proved in some quasi-mathematical way.

Which, even if I had some reason to think it was actually true, would be no reason not to try to reduce the amounts of those bad things in the world.

But I think I do suffer from (or "have", to use a more neutral word) the tendency of the pampered intellectual to think of the world as something to study, rather than something to take active part in. Think of Thomas Jefferson, I tell myself; he wasn't content just to think sharp deep thoughts about society, he went out there and fixed it where it was broken.

Friday, March 14, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

WNYC (the local PBS NPR outlet) has starting running Newshour, from the BBC World Service, at 9am. Most days I'm in the office and not listening to the radio at that time, but today I miraculously had no meetings before 10:30, so I worked at home early and drove in later, and I heard a large piece of it.

Not only does Newshour offer a refreshing view of the news from an overseas perspective, it also gives me, as an American citizen, the opportunity to listen to people talking in those wonderfully sexy British media accents.

Why are those voices so libido-tingling? Is it just early exposure to Miss Moneypenny in lots of bad James Bond films? Or some subtler characteristic of the human psyche?

Actually the librarians at Yorktown don't normally look this scary

Speaking of libidos, I wrote part of this entry sitting in the library at the Yorktown lab. It's a wonderful place, a slice of Heaven; quiet and clean, beautifully designed, with a sweeping curve of floor to ceiling windows looking out cross the campus, and a smiling librarian or two (just the kind, if I may say so without offense, that became permanently embedded in one's libido as a youth) sitting at keyboards efficiently massaging information.

It's also a sad place, because many of the elegant wooden bookshelves are empty. Maybe they're just empty because the library is in the middle of a rearrangement or something, but I suspect that they're empty because there aren't enough books to put on them. It must be horribly expensive to keep a reference section in particular up to date, and who uses real-live physical reference books anymore? I certainly don't. While I love the atmosphere of the library, I come here to sit and type, not to actually look anything up.

What is the world coming to?

Dear President Bush,

While I have little hope that this letter will have any influence over the actions of the government, I would not feel I was doing my duty as an American citizen if I did not speak up.

The foreign policy actions of the current Administration are unwise and unwarranted. Iraq poses no current threat to our nation or our national interests, at least no threat severe and urgent enough to justify a unilateral initiation of war.

There is no evidence that Iraq has ever been involved in any terrorist attack on the United States, and indeed secular Iraq and the Islamist terrorists in particular are natural enemies. If they cooperate in the future, it will be because the actions of this administration have driven them into each other's arms.

Iraq's defiance of the United Nations is a cause for concern, and the diplomatic pressure being applied on Saddam should continue. But the idea that the U.S. must defy the U.N. in order to punish Iraq for defying the U.N. is simply absurd.

The administration's current foreign policy has destroyed the international good will that was ours in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Our allies are frustrated at the administration's arrogance, and our hostile posture toward the Arab world only increases the probability of future terrorist attacks. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider your present strategy, and to put reason and patience ahead of arrogance and vengeance.

Thank you for your attention,
David M. Chess

And speaking again of politics, I'm still working my way through Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom". The first part is an interesting economic analysis of collectivism, and the second part is is interesting socioeconomic analysis of totalitarianism. Somewhere in the middle there is an argument that collectivism is necessarily totalitarian, and I'm not sure I buy that argument (yet?). As far as I can tell, he dismisses the thought of a democratic collectivism in a couple of rather shallow paragraphs. Once I've finished the book, I ought to go back and try to reconstruct his argument, and see if I can make sense out of it.

Since we're in the mood, let's start working on those collectivist and libertarian states I was talking about the other day. We'll start with "collectivist" meaning roughly the government-enforced holding in common of all property, and "libertarian" meaning roughly a government that does nothing but prevent the initiation of force or fraud in an environment of private property market capitalism.

For our first exploration of these states, we'll use a relatively mild issue that happened to go by on the radio this morning: a new Federal Law putting various caps on the amounts awarded to injured parties in malpractice lawsuits, in an attempt to hold down the cost of malpractice insurance; this seems like a rather knotty mixing of government control into a putatively free market economy. Let's see how similar issues would arise and be dealt with in our ideal states.

In the democratic collectivist state (an anarcho-syndicalist commune?), when someone is ill e goes to a doctor, and if the doctor decides that surgery might be a good idea, the doctor (with the assistance or at least the consent of the local resource board) consults the current computer model of the community (this is a very modern collectivist state). If it confirms that the community is sufficiently likely to have enough resources to provide the surgery to the expected number of people who will need it with this degree of urgency, the doctor then performs the surgery (or arranges to have a specialist surgeon do it, as appropriate). Lots of details to be worked out in there, but they're aren't directly relevant to our case today.

Sometimes, unfortunately, something goes horribly wrong during surgery, and the patient suffers injury.

The patient's new needs (for short-term amelioratory surgery, or longer-term care) are fed into the community model, and with the help of that model the local resource board makes sure that e gets the resources that e needs to maintain the standard quality of life.

The surgeon works with the local medical board to figure out what went wrong during the operation, and how the same error can be avoided in the future. If the board determines that the surgeon was sufficiently at fault in the mistake, they might ask em to consider not performing that operation, or some class of operations, in the future, or even to stop being a surgeon. If the surgeon and the board cannot agree on the proper course, the decision would be referred to a higher board. Eventually, of course, the decision of the boards would be final, and in some unfortunate cases the surgeon might have to be involuntarily forbidden from the future practice of medicine.

(If there was evidence that the injury was purposely inflicted, then of course the criminal apparatus comes into play, but we're not going to design that today.)

Now since no one involved in this "pays" anything to anyone in the collective system, there's no "high cost of malpractice insurance" to worry about. The best vague analog I can think of at the moment is that it might turn out that more resources are being spent on taking care of people injured in botched operations than the model predicts. If that happens, the relevant community boards will meet to consider the problem and determine the best solution. Possibilities include: putting more resource into training doctors, putting more resource into improving surgical procedures, updating the model to more accurately reflect the real risks of operations, or (most likely) some mix of those.

Now off to the Minarchist Libertarian state. Here when someone is sick they negotiate a contract with someone else (called "a doctor" here purely for convenience, since of course anyone at all is free to enter into such a contract), specifying what services the doctor will perform and what fees the sick person will pay in various cases. The doctor may, in the course of fulfulling this contract, recommend to the sick person that they have surgery. If the sick person decides to have surgery they will negotiate a contract with someone (a "surgeon") to perform the surgery.

If something goes horribly wrong and the person is injured, the result will depend on the terms of the contract under which the surgery was performed. Some (low-cost) contracts may provide for no particular remedies at all (although at least part of the surgeon's fee might be refunded out of like the doctor's marketing budget); others may provide for specific large monetary benefits or other consideration (such as a discount on future contracts). So everyone gets exactly what they signed up for in any case. If the surgeon has to pay out those benefits too often, he won't be able to afford to stay in the surgery business.

(And again if the injured party has reason to think that the injury was intentional, the criminal apparatus comes into play, and we're not going there right now.)

The analogy with "the high cost of malpractice insurance" is more direct here. It may be that many of the contracts that "patients" actually negotiate with "surgeons" specify that if the surgery results in certain kinds of injury to the patient (as determined, in at least many cases, by a specified third-party for-fee surgery evaluation service), a large monetary penalty will be paid to the injured patient.

Other people ("malpractice insurers") may offer to negotiate contracts with "surgeons", providing that in return for regular payments to the "insurer" the "insurer" will pay (some part of) the required payment (less a deductible) in the case that the "surgeon" is required to pay out such a penalty.

Over time, it might be that the sums of money that "malpractice insurers" require of "surgeons" during the negotiation of such contracts goes up. If a group of "surgeons" were to go to the government for help just on the basis of such a price rise, the government would say "sorry, you're on your own; if the insurers are charging too much, start your own insurance business charging less, and you'll get rich."

Well, that was easy!

Now let's think a bit about what sorts of problems would actually occur in our states, in the vicinity of the scenarios sketched above. (This is so much fun!)

In the democratic collective (we really need better names for these fictional countries), it is of course very important that the various boards that control the economy don't abuse their power and (for instance) always allocate lots of extra resources to themselves and their friends. (That's by no means the only concern, but it's the one I'm going to talk about right now.) So how do we choose the makeup of those boards?

They can be elected. That's rather dangerous, though; even in the U.S. where the government has much less control over the economy, there tends to develop a political class who have the specific connections and know-how to get elected. In the collective, there would be a real danger that that political class would allocate a disproportionate share of the resources to itself (Democratic Senators and Republican Senators have an easy time reaching a consensus about things that benefit Senators).

They can be rotated in some equitable way through the entire community. ("We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.") That requires very high standards of education among the populace, and even then there's the danger of a large unelected staff accumulating around the boards, necessary to keep the wheels turning smoothly, but another potentially elite class who would arrange to have lots of resources routed to themselves. These aren't necessarily fatal problems; are they worse than the similar problems that dog (for instance) U.S.ian democracy?

In the Minarchist state one danger is that (due to perfectly innocent economies of scale and suchlike) one group of "malpractice insurers" might become particularly successful, and be able to dominate the market through advertising, efficient organization, and/or concentration of skill.

If "the costs of malpractice insurance" (i.e. the amounts that the people described as "malpractice insurers" above insist be specified as their pay under contracts of the sort described above, before they are willing to enter into such contracts) rise above the fair value of the service (insert long discussion of "fair value" here), lower-cost providers should seize the opportunity and spring into the niche, bringing costs down again.

On the other hand, if there are wealthy dominant players in that industry, they may have the ability to undercut the prices of any new entrants long enough to drive those new entrants out of business. Would the latter practice be illegal; would even the Minarchist state forbid "predatory pricing practices"?

(Note that new entrants to a field aren't always poor; for instance a dominant malpractice insurer might find itself unable to undercut the prices offered by, say, a dominant fire insurer who's decided to get into the malpractice business.)

What if all the malpractice insurers simply band together and decide on a standard schedule of (high) prices? Eventually someone might decide there's more to be gained in undercutting them than in joining the cartel, but what it that doesn't happen for a decade? Does the Minarchist state have to ban some forms of price-fixing?

If the malpractice insurance cartel decides to make sure no one undercuts them by, say, leaving severed horses' heads in the beds of anyone who tries, this counts as force and/or fraud, and the government gets involved. It is therefore important that the government not be controlled by the cartel.

Since the minarchist government has less power in general than (say) the U.S. government, and certainly less power than the collectivist state, there will be less incentive to corrupt the government. But since one might be able to benefit significantly from the bit with the horse-heads even in the minarchist state, the inventive is non-zero, and it will be important to keep the government honest. Election seems more likely to work in this case (since it nearly works in the U.S., and the incentive to corrupt it is less in the minarchy).

Rotation is also a possibility, but it still brings the worry about a permanent corrupt non-rotating bureaucracy (perhaps in the form of individuals who enter into contract with the government to provide certain services and advice). Whichever way the minarchy structures its government, there will probably have to be a relatively complex set of laws about how it works, and how it avoids being corrupted.

(Or we could maybe just use robots.)

So what do you think? I'm All Ears for your ideas about other ways the states should be structured, what problems they would encounter, how those problems would be solved, and what the states should be named.

Spam Subject Line o' the Day:

two times and it has rendered me

This on an ad for a cable TV descrambler digital theft device. But I love the words; it'd make a great title for a book of poems, or a novel, or something.

[Later: Ah, I see; it's from the Stone Temple Pilot's "Purple". So there you go.]


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