Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How a statist thinks 

Statists betray themselves. For example, your Vice President, Joe Biden:

“Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive,” he said.

Really? What constitutes a "great idea"? Unless Biden is proposing a tautology -- that only stuff that government "vision" inspires or government provides an "incentive" to do can be great -- then the very idea is ridiculous. How about the lightbulb? Thomas Edison might disagree. The telephone? Mr. Bell is rolling in his grave. The assembly line? Henry Ford had that better idea. The steam engine? The cotton gin? Antibiotics? The implantable cardiac defibrillator? Artificial joints? Organ transplantation? Most great ideas had nothing to do with government "vision" or subsidy, unless one's definition of "subsidy" is, say, the work of the Patent and Trademark Office.

It's a fair bet that even Christine O'Donnell never said anything quite so asinine, yet I have detected no widespread declaration by the media that Joe Biden is dumber than a box of rocks. Perhaps because that would not be news.


By Blogger pam, at Tue Oct 26, 10:06:00 PM:

I love this... How he gets away with these pronouncements... entertaining in a way I could live without.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Oct 26, 10:55:00 PM:

I think that when Joe says "required government vision and government incentive" he means "was taxed to the bejesus belt." That would make it a true statement.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Oct 26, 10:57:00 PM:

Or fair to the rocks.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Oct 26, 11:01:00 PM:

No more defending Christine O'Donnell. She's an embarrassment to our party. Crap on the media all you want for not going after Biden's commments, and that is righteous I agree, but saying that "O'Donnell has never said anything so asinine" shows that you need to take a quick trip to the magical world of Youtube. She makes Biden look like Sir Isaac Newton, and this is not good.  

By Blogger DM, at Wed Oct 27, 12:37:00 AM:

'Or fair to the rocks' - lol...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 27, 01:29:00 AM:

Anon attorney here. I'm a patent lawyer.

>> Most great ideas had nothing to do with government "vision" or subsidy, unless one's definition of "subsidy" is, say, the work of the Patent and Trademark Office.

Shame on you, TH. The PTO is a profit source for the Feds. Every year the feds "redirect" funds from the PTO to the general fund. Just another way for the tick to suck blood from the host.  

By Anonymous Steve Skubinna, at Wed Oct 27, 04:33:00 AM:

Well, maybe Edison invented the incandescent bulb, but it takes a government to ban them.  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Wed Oct 27, 04:53:00 AM:

I wonder what Biden's list of great ideas looks like.

None of the great ideas in art, music, literature or movies came from the government. The invention of movies, TV and multimedia are all the results of private industry. So is information theory.

However, there are _some_ big advances from government work, either in WWII (radar, missiles) or NASA (bigger missiles, space exploration).

The vast majority of great ideas have nothing to do with any government, but a few do.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 27, 10:19:00 AM:

Right on! Just a nit; the US Patent Office pays for itself via the user fees charged. If fact, they remit their annual cash surplus back to the US Treasury.

I practiced Patent law and my clients always complained about the fees.

Otherwise, your response is a harpoon burning off the fogspeak of VP Biden.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 27, 10:44:00 AM:

How about the lightbulb? Thomas Edison might disagree.
Adoption of household electricity happened after local governments either built utilities, or granted them monopolies. Investors were reluctant to invest on such a large scale without government incentive.

The telephone? Mr. Bell is rolling in his grave.
Same story as electrical utilities.

The assembly line? Henry Ford had that better idea.
Governments built and paved the streets and roads that made automobiles assembly lines necessary. Roads are a huge subsidy to the auto industry.

The steam engine?
Railroads protected by government monopolies. Steamships purchased by War Department helped.

etc. etc.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Wed Oct 27, 11:11:00 AM:

Part of Hugh's comments illustrate how demand pull can get a responsive government to act, which is a good thing. (I don't think that the roads or the cars behind the Iron Curtain were particularly noteworthy, by the way.) Biden's comment didn't reference "widespread implementation," just the idea.

But weren't the early cases of urban electrification prior to any kind of federal anti-trust legislation? Monopolies just grew and existed, so I am not sure how local governments "granted" them, except in the sense of issuing a permit for the work to be done.

Also, gasoline is taxed at a rate that funds much of the road work at various levels of government. I am not sure how much of a pure subsidy, say, NY State has for roads as compared to trains.  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Wed Oct 27, 01:24:00 PM:

Certainly in Britain the electrical power supply was entirely developed by local private companies. The state was not involved until the need for a national grid emerged after WW I.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 27, 04:07:00 PM:

Certainly Hugh may have knowledge of the subject greater than my own, by I would like to read the history of utility expansion in this country he is citing. My grandfather ran a midwest utility for 40 odd years, and my memories of his stories of interactions with government never included a "grant of monopoly" as Hugh claims. Indeed, being a history major in college and having just finished "The Forgotten Man" (in other words, what I know is a mile wide and centimeters deep on the subject), I would have thought the story of U.S. government involvement with the utility industry began with trust busting, extended to nationalization and only then did it extend to cooperative relations with the remaining private utilities. What started as capitalism in utility industry activities morphed into the present day fascism we see around us, I would have thought from the little I have read on the subject. Has Hugh some references he can cite, so that I can become better educated than I am on the subject?  

By Anonymous Ignormaus, at Wed Oct 27, 05:32:00 PM:

Many of the rebuttals are about government grants of easements (rights of way) and licensing, This applied to cable TV too. Hardly the "vision" behuind the advance.

Even the NYC subway was built by competing private companies (Whence BMT, IRT and IND).  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Wed Oct 27, 05:51:00 PM:

"I invented the internet."

Biden's statement is profoundly stupid.

I learned on this site that our landing on the moon wasn't the proverbial moonshot. Instead, Grumman had it all figured out before they got the necessary funding from JFK to build. I'd bet the same was true for Tang too.

I'm a fan of the possibilities in thorium reactors. I'm convinced we got stuck on a uranium/plutonium track for military reasons -- post Jimmy Carter we couldn't get off it. Today we're not pursuing thorium because there's no form at the DMV bureaucracy to register such a reactor. Am I wrong?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 27, 05:59:00 PM:

About the only current "big thing" that I can think of that was nurtured by the government is the internet. Originally funded by DARPA as a military communications system which would be robust in the face of injury. For example: "Mr. President, we've lost St. Louis."

In fact, I can't think of anything that the government has had its fingers in that worked out well except war stuff and space stuff that also had civilian applications.

Well, at least we have Tang.


By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Wed Oct 27, 06:23:00 PM:

Here's a repost from back in July 2010, slightly edited:

The first article on your best ever article list -- As We May Think (1946) -- may seem dated but it's actually quite prescient.

Vannevar Bush was nearly a household name during WWII but has faded from our collective memory. He had as much to do with our winning WWII as George Marshall, I submit. He was our chief scientist during WWII and more than anyone was responsible for our commitment to building the Bomb, and for creating our military-university-industrial complex. He had a blind spot on rocketry, which is why we lost a step to the Germans despite the early lead Goddard had spotted us. Like many involved in building the Bomb, he had later regrets. He was unrelated to the Bushes of Greenwich, Kennebunkport and Midland TX.

In this July 1945 article Bush puts forth the idea of the memex, which anticipates in many respects the internet-connected personal computer and World Wide Web that we're now all using. He saw the memex as a tool to improve the way we think, so it also anticipates ideas like the semantic web that are still being put forth.

Bush called science the Endless Frontier. Were he still around, he'd be a Trekkie hanging at Comic-Con.


Another from April 2009 re Energy:

This is an example of why concentrating power in DC, and having Congress write top-down specific edicts for Energy development is sub-optimal. Would we really commit to ethanol for cars if we had to do it over again? ... but try getting rid of ethanol now that the Iowa farmers have become a lobby.

Here are some other examples of this:

Phone companies like AT&T had a lot invested in big switched networks -- as an organization they had difficulty seeing that TCP/IP could improve to the point where it would undermine the need for switched networks -- even though AT&T itself had helped develop this technology -- even if individuals at AT&T could foresee this. If AT&T had continued as a monopoly we never would have seen the many radical improvements we've seen in telco service over the last 25 years. Our daughters would think a Princess phone extension of their own was the height of cool.

IBM gave away the PC market to Microsoft and Intel, famously. They couldn't or wouldn't extrapolate Moore's law. IBM gave away other markets as well to the like of Oracle and EMC. If it wasn't for start-ups, we'd still be in an IBM mainframe world.

... so if big bottom-lined driven organizations with the smartest specialists can't seize unexpected opportunities, how do we expect huge unaccountable government bureaucracies to do better.

Worse still Obama & Co are insistent on our making big commitments on things we know won't scale (solar and wind).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 27, 06:29:00 PM:

Not even Tang:

"Named after the tangerine the original orange-flavored Tang was formulated by William A. Mitchell for General Foods Corporation in 1957 and first marketed in powdered form in 1959. It was initially intended as a breakfast drink, but sales were poor until NASA used it on Gemini flights in 1965. Since then it was closely associated with the U.S. manned spaceflight program, leading to the misconception that Tang was invented for the space program."  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Oct 27, 06:38:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Oct 27, 06:45:00 PM:

"Adoption of household electricity happened after local governments either built utilities, or granted them monopolies. Investors were reluctant to invest on such a large scale without government incentive."

Untrue. "In 1929, Willkie became a legal counsel for the New York-based Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, the nation's largest electric utility holding company. Commonwealth & Southern provided electrical power to customers in eleven states."


One of the primary political-economic issues of the day was whether or not government would seize control of the utilities industry. Because they hadn't.

Pretty neat trick, spreading one's services to 11 states when no one wants to invest in your business, (because the government isn't involved) isn't it? Must be why no one invested in IBM or Google...

"The telephone... Same story as electrical utilities."



"Governments built and paved the streets and roads that made automobiles assembly lines necessary. Roads are a huge subsidy to the auto industry."

This is like saying that sidewalks are a huge subsidy to the sneaker industry. Paved roads existed for literally millennia before the invention of the automobile. To predicate that invention's initial success on government support exemplified by paved roadways (which has been a function of government at least since the days of the Roman Republic) is ridiculous. They took advantage of pre-existing (brick and dirt) roads and became an incentive for, eventually, the modern highway system. Which wasn't established until the 1950s under the Eisenhower administration; two generations (and world wars) *after* Ford's assembly line.

"Railroads protected by government monopolies."

Now you're just making shit up. A whole string of legislation was passed from the 1870s (in states) to the early 20th century (at the federal level) *specifically* to control or break up railroad (and other) monopolies and make their business practices illegal. See: Interstate Commerce Commission. At times, it took on the color of a witch hunt. Histories today are still tainted by the lingering idea that the railroad monopolies were the embodiment of all evil. And they sure as hell were not special, government-protected monopolies.  

By Blogger niall, at Thu Oct 28, 07:46:00 PM:

"Railroads protected by government monopolies."

Why does that remind me of a popular book and a woman named Dagny?  

By Blogger pst314, at Fri Oct 29, 09:52:00 PM:

Biden is so stupid and ignorant, he would have to study another lifetime to get as far as "don't know".  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sat Oct 30, 11:00:00 PM:

When a society moves to put an idea in place on a grand scale, they'll involve the government eventually. Or if you prefer, the government will get involved. Biden has the cart and horse mixed up.  

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