Bruce (kor27) wrote,

Some Thoughts...

Nothing much happened today that I haven't mentioned elsewhere. I'm still in my bathrobe, and probably smell somewhat spicy.

Whatever disease this is has so far been pretty mild, though that may just be from the application of large quantities of rest and elderberry stuff.

Or denial. Denial works pretty well, too.

We'll see. Tomorrow's always another day.

Meanwhile, I thought I'd rant a bit about capitalism and evolution.

Because I can, and because one of the wonderful things about blogging is not only the fact that it gives everyone (well, everyone connected) a soapbox, it also gives everyone else the chance to completely ignore what's being said.

I tend to think about both at the same time because, as far as I'm concerned, they're pretty much the same thing, only in different media. Both are a matter of survival of the fittest. Both can arrive at remarkably efficient usage of resources.

When people talk about the "delicate balance of nature," point and laugh. That delicate balance is merely the result of gradual evolution in a relatively stable environment.

They're even more closely comparable because one of the huge powers of capitalism is the fact that the problem of goods production and distribution is intractably complex. Most successful business owners will go on about their wisdom and knowledge of the field, but to a large extent, they were lucky. If you zig when the rest of the economy zigs, all is good. But if you zag...

The concept, of course, is that if you have multiple companies in the same field, each trying a slightly different approach to the problem of building and/or distributing goods, some number of them will do better than the others, with those companies - and, more importantly, the consumers - reaping the rewards.

Which is all very good, and exactly, as far as I can tell, where all Libertarian (and anti-regulatory) thinking stops.

Unfortunately, it's a little more complicated than that. Both strategies develop good medium-term solutions. Long-term, both are quite capable of running themselves straight into a brick wall. If a side effect of a process that makes a species more able to survive is a poison that will eventually kill off a large portion of that species' food supply, it will happily continue to drive SUVs do so until that food disappears. Then it will simply starve.

Which is just the way things happen, in societies and species. A society, say, develops irrigation, becomes dominant in the local area, and is able to support a large healthy population.

Until, after multiple generations, the resulting salt buildup in the soil causes the crops to fail drastically - and permanently.

Another one discovers petroleum-based fertilizers, allowing unheard-of agricultural production - but at the cost of the slow destruction of the topsoil, eventually, again, resulting in drastic crop failure when either the topsoil or the petroleum runs out.

Then there are the slight differences. Evolution keeps slogging on as long as there's anything out there that reproduces. There is no such thing as an evolutionary failure - merely evolutionary change. The death of a species isn't even all that huge an event - it's the death of each individual in the species that should be mourned, and in some cases, they don't even die all that badly. At least, compared to what they could have expected had the species flourished.

With capitalism, though, the point is different. It's frequently forgotten that the whole concept of an economy is the distribution of goods and labor. Granted, most individuals don't think of it that way. The basic concept is that everyone fends for themselves, and Adam Smith's invisible hand takes care of the society as a whole.

Which works within limits. What we're seeing in China today, somewhat here in the US, and definitely in the US of the late 19th and early 20th century shows where capitalism can go wrong.

First of all, there's the frequent result of competition within a particular field: A winner emerges, strong enough to demolish any small competitors. Monopolies still survive by providing their particular goods or services, but the incentive to do so efficiently simply disappears. The company is happy (at least its shareholders are), but the invisible hand has been slapped away. This is what gave rise to the antitrust laws - a need to maintain a certain level of competition in each marketplace.

Then there's the matter of making sure that competition stays within reasonable circumstances. As an extreme example, it's easy enough to beat the competition if you kill off its upper management on a regular basis.

The more likely thing is that you'll skimp on product safety in production. Like, say, not worrying about melamine contamination. Or, in a wonderful example from American history (which I had in class once, but can't find on the web), a brilliant turn-of-the-century company discovered that tuberculoid beef was particularly tender, and sold cans of it in mass quantity.

I could go on, except I'm tired. There's more - much more. The SEC exists to dampen the effects of wild oscillations, because speculators, as a group, are remarkably stupid. The idea is that yes, there's a drag on the good times, but there's also a reduction in the intensity of the bad times.

So for anyone who thinks that Reagan and the following decades of deregulation were a good thing, as opposed to laying the groundwork for the present shitstorm we're in: Grow the fuck up and pay attention. Over-regulation is, indeed, a problem. Deregulation is a worse one.

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