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mike shupp

Life is short, so I'm not going to tackle every point raised here, but I'll summarize by saying things aren't so bad... there's usually reasons things happen as they do.

Let's consider the firemen. And the paramedics. Consider going this again from scratch. Firemen tend only to fires. You've got an idea for something like mobile medics who respond to health emergencies and accidents and get people to hospitals in a hurry. Sounds great. Now how do you do it? Convince the city council to increase taxes? Good luck! Ask the hospitals to set it up and fund it and coordinate things? You must be kidding! Aha! Persuade a couple of councilmen that there's money to be made in the ambulance trade if the ambulance owners can charge whatever the market will bear for their services -- and that, properly set up, no one will be able to tell who really owns all those ambulances. Now you're cooking!

Still think fireman-paramedics look bad?

Defense departments preparing to fight the last war. Not always. All the services have their visionaries, and those people do get read and respected by other officers. I think you'll find most of the conservatism that constrained the armed forces before WWII was actually rooted in Congress. Post-WWII, the forces shot themselves in the feet a few times --Viet Nam, most memorably -- but I'd argue they were making brand new mistakes in brand new environments rather than old mistakes. (I'm scanting the argument here. Sorry -- but this is a topic for thick dull books rather than a blog comment.)

As for urban planning "fixing the decaying cities" ... Surely you jest. You ever see photos of Detroit? Does it really look look like significant sums are being plowed into that cess? It'd take a couple of hundred billion bucks and coordinated action by aa dozen cabinet level agencies to get Detroit back on its feet. What's actually being spent probably doesn't pay for a few photo ops.

Oh well.

Dave Tufte

I don't think things are that bad either. :)

But, in macroeconomics, a lot of the last generation of research has ended up pointing to ossification of "old ways" as a major impediment to growth.

So, yes, I am still concerned about all of these as possible ways our society may be substituting "good enough" for "going to be better".

mike shupp

Other stuff is going on. Let me steal a quote from Charlie Stross (

"So the future isn't a boot stamping on a human face, forever. It's a person in a beige business outfit advocating beige policies that nobody wants (but nobody can quite articulate a coherent alternative to) with a false mandate obtained by performing rituals of representative democracy that offer as much actual choice as a Stalinist one-party state. And resistance is futile, because if you succeed in overthrowing the beige dictatorship, you will become that which you opposed."

Governments don't seem to be working very well these days, as both Tea Partiers and Occupy Wall Street groupies (and British equivalents and Egyptian and Russian and Chinese counterparts) would agree. I'll refrain from consideration of their opposing solutions...

My thought is being in a bad, prolonged recession has soured people's attitudes. Ten years of decent world-wide growth would probably improve peoples' tempers and give governments back some of the nerve and determination they had in earlier years.

Beyond that... we're headed towards a wave of genetic (or eugenic) modifications in the last half of the century, I suspect. We WILL "tamper" with the human genome -- in Europe and China, if not so quickly in the USA -- to breed healthier, longer-lived, more intelligent children, and those modified children will eventually make up the human race. Slowly, over centuries, we'll raise average IQs a couple of points per generation, we'll extend healthy life spans a year or so per decade. And many of the cultural/psychological/physiological ailments that trouble us today will be allievated. No doubt, we'll create new problems for ourselves! But our descendents should have the strengths to cope with them.

Dave Tufte

Your link doesn't work :( I got this to work (Mike Shupp's link). I hope it's right.

I think you've taken my examples of government policies that protect the past too seriously. I don't think the problem is government. Rather, I think government reflects our own interest in protecting the past at the expense of a better future. In short, we've met the Luddites, and they are us.

I also don't agree with your's or Antipope's position that government is somehow worse. I think it's as bad (or as good) as it's ever been ... and that the common viewpoint you two are buying into is just availability bias.

In fact, I think the biggest victim here may be the honest government officials. In their urge to protect past government mistakes (like social security that isn't tied to life expectancy) they've crippled their ability to do much that's new.

I do agree with you that it's a matter of time before this stuff sorts out. And I'd put it at less than 10 years. But, having said that, these things are cyclical ... so it'll come back around in the 20's, and we'll have this whole debate all over again.


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