Monthly Archives: July 2016

No checkpoints for rabid democracy?


To abstain from calling it good and to use, instead, such predicates as ‘necessary’ or ‘progressive’ or ‘efficient’ would be a subterfuge. They could be forced by argument to answer the questions ‘necessary for what?’, ‘progressing towards what?’, ‘effecting what?’; in the last resort they would have to admit that some state of affairs was in their opinion good for its own sake.

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis chapter 2

gun to head silhouetteAnd was he not kidding about the subterfuge!? For all of the passionate rhetoric, condescended moralizing, talking points and bullying the political progressives ironically avoid paying themselves the highest compliment by declaring their agenda everything but “good”. Why? The closest they usually get is some twaddle about fairness. Carefully, they go little further lest they careen into a gorge of reason where they must account for their ideas against a standard of fairness.

And are not the media channels thus bloated with what necessary, efficient and progressive policy must be implemented yet scarcely is that which ought to be done considered?

For example:

  • Higher minimum wage – the progressive consensus is clear on this. The force of our federal government must be used to raise our minimum wage to some standard of fairness. A conservative usually argues that it is arbitrary and the progressive shouts down the opposition with something about a “living wage”, indexing to inflation etc. Both miss the point.
  • Student loan forgiveness – Bernie Sanders has worked his base into a lather with the flair of South American populist dictator demanding that students should not have to repay tuition debt presumably because, again, doing so will have transgressed his esoteric concept of “fairness”.

Whose “fairness” do we use?

Political progressives seem to see the world as some kind of battleground whereupon an infinite supply of adversity besets certain pet categories of people who are exploited by a class of people whose liberty is the cause of all the problems for the exploited. Apparently to the progressive this situation is permanent and requires their constant intervention hence the phrase:

“Progressives don’t accept progress.” -Andrew Wilkow.

For all the smug intellectual superiority of progressives there seems to be no accounting for the consequences of a progressive agenda. For example:

  1. minimum wage:  There seems to be no serious interest in accounting for it.  What happens when the cost of services and products which use this category of labor for their production goes up? Aren’t these minimum wage earners consuming these services? Why the assumption that the only people who pay for the higher cost of this labor are those earning more than the minimum wage? What happens to these jobs when the cost of technological automation becomes cheaper than the cost of paying the worker?
  2. student loans; free college etc.: What happens when the money that was loaned doesn’t get paid back? What happens when classroom seats become scarce due to enrollment spikes thanks to debt forgiveness? Do faculty take pay cuts?

Of course the hubris of progressivism demands that these issues be ignored. The title of this post is inspired by the lack of basic cost accounting that I know some progressives must be doing for a living. I may be naive but I am honestly surprised that at least a modicum internal debate among progressives never occurs over the means by which their agenda is accomplished. But fairness, the progressive kind of fairness, it seems has no price and is above criticism.

How did your cornucopia get so full?

200_sJoseph Whitworth did not invent the nut and bolt in 1841. He invented the useful nut and bolt. He realized that the industrialization of our world lay beneath layers of haste and improvisation. The benefit of the threaded fastener would not be unleashed until Mr. Whitworth advocated standard sizes of nuts to fit standard sizes of bolts. It was then that a nut made in Glasgow could be combined with a bolt made in England.

Standards breed collaborative leverage that transforms the world

It may be a myth that the width of US railroad gauge was inspired by the track width of a Roman chariot. But what is not myth is that like the nut and bolt making that was going on in Europe the standard amount of distance placed between the rails of what became the backbone of modern transportation in the United States made economic abundance possible. The original transcontinental or Pacific Railroad was built by three different companies at the same time. And because they were all building their separate systems with rails placed 56.5 inches apart, it was available for use by 1869 and the modern age could begin. Some suggest that the Confederacy lost the Civil War for having incompatible rail systems that severely hampered logistical support for their soldiers.

Standardization begets commercialization

Rockefeller made lighting safe with his Standard Oil. Tesla gave us our power grid through not just an alternating current but one at a common voltage and frequency. Our communications, agriculture, medicine have zero effect at a meaningful scale until standardization is achieved. But before standardization can be achieved its benefits must be desired. It may have been easy enough to share the vision of universal bounty offered by a shared infrastructure which could transport to Portland rice grown in Arkansas. But taking for granted what was so richly produced by the industrial standardization of the 19th and 20th centuries it may not be so obvious why it would be important to pursue this in they way we manage IT systems.

If you have an IT staff, even a good one who goes to conferences and certifies their knowledge, you may still drift into a bespoke world of one-offs and improvisation that will always result in a higher cost of technology support/management compared to the benefits you receive from it. Standardization is your solution rather than retaining talent or procuring a particular technology stack.