The correct axis

Updated on September 1, 2021 in General Stuff
6 on August 21, 2021

Wanted to bookmark this thought.

Lots of political axes out there. Libertarian v Statist, Blur v Red, Economic freedom v Personal freedom, etc, etc, etc.

I propose the “Novelty Axis”.

Is a problem for which a government solution has been proposed a new, novel thing?

If so, government is metaphysically incapable of dealing with it.

To the extent government is good at doing anything, it is the administration of boring, methodical, time-tested solutions to long standing problems

Delivering the mail.

Clearing the snow.

Stuff like that.

If some new problem emerges (you know what I’m talking about), government can’t help.

It’s a simple information problem.

In the face of a novel problem, no one knows the best response. Government involvement in such cases involves throwing a dart at the board, selecting a policy, and enforcing it harshly.

But the information problem means that the policy selected will almost certainly be wrong.

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0 on August 21, 2021

I dunno. Gov’t can help, in some instances, if it’s at the behest of the people as intended. I would use the Trump/Pence admin’s use of the military to mobilize a nationwide ventilator loan program to mitigate the vent shortage in the early days of the pandemic. People: “we are running out of vents!” Trump/Pence: “.mil, fix this”.  .Mil: *mobilizes and moves mountains to get it done*

Same with massive Nat’l guard-staffed vaccination site roll outs.


That sort of thing.

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0 on August 22, 2021

If it’s policy, I agree: it can’t be good.

Tactical responses to emergencies I support.   In theory, at least.  

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0 on August 23, 2021

I’ve been thinking about this over the weekend and it’s puzzled me. On the one hand, yeah. But really, what exactly is novel about what’s being done these days?

I first thought about highways (Eisenhower’s Interstate System). Is that novel? No, not really. Overall, the government has always been good at building stuff- particularly if it crosses a lot of boundaries with no corresponding all encompassing private sector mandate. So the current infrastructure bill, other than bankrupting the country, is a reasonable and fair idea.

Then I turned to delivering the mail. Again, other than the ridiculous political funding shit going on, who else is equipped to deliver the mail to every obscure address along the length and breadth of this massive country? No one.

And then I thought about clearing snow. Living a quarter mile away from where the snow ain’t cleared, that fell by the wayside.

And, although I haven’t really mentioned it anywhere for contractual reasons, I lost another job in July. For me, this is the cost of living the life I’ve chosen to live so I remain steadfast in that this will likely be only temporary. So don’t cry for me Argentina. John’s battle with unemployment still infuriates me because he didn’t sign up for this shit and it’s absolutely heart rending that he’s been screwed this way.

But anyway, I’m now facing the very real possibility of having to explain possibly the coolest and most relevant to new opportunity job I’ve ever had that I’ve been effectively fired from. Thoughts then turn to crafting the narrative. Yeah, I was brought into DOT to reconcile a Congressionally mandated expansion of CAFE rules into heavy duty vehicle classes with EPA’s Supreme Court mandate to bring CO2 regulation into virtually everything made.

The sticking point ended up being that light duty vehicles are measuring fuel economy. Fuel economy is easy, just lighten and cheapen everything and encourage alternative fuels and electric giving them ridiculous advantages that offset the impossibility of making an internal combustion engine without producing CO2. All other classes of vehicles have a standards based solely on the engine- grams per horsepower. The simple fact here is that the correlation between CO2 output is exactly tied to how much power you get out of the engine. A gallon of gasoline, for instance produces 19.6 pounds of CO2. All day, every day, for eternity. And there is simply no better fuel than fossil fuels (other than nuclear which carries with it it’s own inherent scare tactics). Until (and if) something new seems to climb out of the pits somewhere, you’re stuck.

So, in the long run, EPA had in place the broader regulatory scheme and regardless of whether it can be done or not, that’s the only hope for ever making it happen. So we were forced to accept that EPA would make the rules and we’d copy them and invert the standards. That effectively rendered the DOT organization null and void except for one poor sole who can cut and paste and invert numbers. Since I technically hadn’t been there a full year (half a day short) they forced me to bid adieu.

But getting back to the original question it suddenly dawned on me- it’s not a “novelty axis”, it’s a “create novelty axis”. The goal of the government in pursuit of ever expanding authority and budgets is to create new definitions of everything to allow them to proceed apace.

Just read this morning about the ATF classifying a Florida company’s product, the Rare Breed Trigger, as a machine gun to try to shut them down. The classic play. Triggers aren’t regulated, machine guns are. So the trigger itself becomes the machine gun in a nifty bit of language silliness.

January 6 becomes an “insurrection” despite being a bit of a glorified bar fight that had no intention ever of overthrowing the government, merely trying to get votes counted properly.

And the withdrawal from Afghanistan becomes the only option available despite the fact that a 5 year old knows you pull the badass guys with guns out last, not first.

And, of course, CO2 is declared a pollutant contrary to science and everything rational.

That’s the problem I see.

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0 on August 31, 2021

Thought of an analogy.

Think of government as a chimpanzee with a hammer.

If you’re lucky, with enough effort, skill, patience, and luck, you can train the chimpanzee to use the hammer to hit the one nail that needs hitting. Even that is a little iffy, because chimpanzees really aren’t that good at that sort of thing. But ultimately, your chimpanzee might just manage to hit the nail more often than not.

But put the chimpanzee, with his hammer, into a new room he’s never seen before, what do you think is going to happen?

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0 on September 1, 2021

Reminds me of the old chestnut, “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

Which, strangely enough, is quite appropriate.

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0 on September 1, 2021

That’s very similar to what I’m getting at with this.

My notion is that there is a set of things that you can probably count on your chimpanzee with a hammer to take care of. The elements of that set have a few things in common:

  • They are old, well understood problems with old, well understood solutions.
  • Neither the problems nor the solutions are particularly complicated or sophisticated.
  • Each specific instance of those problems is relatively unimportant…which is to say, if your chimpanzee misses the nail, or bends it sideways, the damage caused as a result is inherently contained to that one instance.

Some examples:

Nothing is more important to a functioning society than access to neutral, unbiased courts for conflict resolution. This is something the US has always done reasonably well (as is the case with pretty much every country that inherited the English common law tradition).

The vast majority of the time, the work of civil courts is blindingly boring. By their very nature, the cases before them are extremely important to the litigants, but of essentially no consequence to anyone else. That’s key, because we know that the courts will reach some number of unjust conclusions, but even in the worst of those, the damage done is limited to a small number of people. As long as they achieve the correct result with sufficient frequency such that the public has general reason to trust them, that’s enough.

So the courts are filled with (literal) paper pushers: Disinterested functionaries doing their part as cogs in a machine. None of them need be particularly clever. In fact, the last things we want are clever courts. We want dull courts. We want the chimpanzee to sit there and mindlessly hit the nail.

And roads. Civil Engineers will object, but there is nothing particularly tricky about building roads. The only thing that is even remotely difficult is building roads and bridges in an environment of cost constraint.

Again, all that is a well understood problem. Paving roads and building bridges are things we’ve been doing for thousands of years. Generally the hardest thing about them is getting past all the legal hurdles involved, which gets us back to the courts.

And like the courts, we know that things will get screwed up from time to time. A road will get paved on top of shoddy underlayment, or a bridge designer screws up and it falls down. It happens. But because these are highly diffuse systems, a failure here or there doesn’t invalidate every road and bridge in the country. A handful of people might be killed when the bridge falls, and a handful might be inconvenienced when a road surface goes to hell prematurely, but again, the damage is contained. And just like the courts, the key is to do it well enough and reliably enough that the general public has reason to expect that the system will work for them.


More to come, maybe, later. But got stuff to do and there’s no “save draft” feature, so that’s it for the moment…


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