Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Uncertainty, Risk, Fallibilism, Tolerance, Diversify, Hedge, Discovery, Innovation, Progress

This is the companion page for my next blog entry...Progress as a Function of Freedom.  This entry consists of a collection of quotes and passages that are relevant to the topic of progress.

**************************************************

By dividing the whole circulation into a greater number of parts, the failure of any one company, an accident which, in the course of things, must sometimes happen, becomes of less consequence to the public. This free competition, too, obliges all bankers to be more liberal in their dealings with their customers, lest their rivals should carry them away. In general, if any branch of trade, or any division of labour, be advantageous to the public, the freer and more general the competition, it will always be the more so. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Among men, on the contrary, the most dissimilar geniuses are of use to one another; the different produces of their respective talents, by the general disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, being brought, as it were, into a common stock, where every man may purchase whatever part of the produce of other men's talents he has occasion for. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Slaves, however, are very seldom inventive; and all the most important improvements, either in machinery, or in the arrangement and distribution of work which facilitate and abridge labour, have been the discoveries of freemen. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

It is of importance that the landlord should be encouraged to cultivate a part of his own land. His capital is generally greater than that of the tenant, and with less skill he can frequently raise a greater produce. The landlord can afford to try experiments, and is generally disposed to do so. His unsuccessful experiments occasion only a moderate loss to himself. His successful ones contribute to the improvement and better cultivation of the whole country. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

When a great company, or even a great merchant, has twenty or thirty ships at sea, they may, as it were, insure one another. The premium saved upon them all, may more than compensate such losses as they are likely to meet with in the common course of chances. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

More heads are occupied in inventing the most proper machinery for executing the work of each, and it is, therefore, more likely to be invented. There are many commodities, therefore, which, in consequence of these improvements, come to be produced by so much less labour than before, that the increase of its price is more than compensated by the diminution of its quantity. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations


A useful, but unreal, example in which individuals act without any foresight indicates the type of analysis available to the economist and also the ability of the system to "direct" resources despite individual ignorance. Assume that thousands of travelers set out from Chicago, selecting their roads completely at random and without foresight. Only our "economist" knows that on but one road are there any gasoline stations. He can state categorically that travelers will continue to travel only on that road; those on other roads will soon run out of gas. Even though each one selected his route at random, we might have called those travelers who were so fortunate as to have picked the right road wise, efficient, foresighted, etc. Of course, we would consider them the lucky ones. - Armen Alchian, Uncertainty, Evolution, and Economic Theory

Those who are different and successful "become" innovators, while those who fail "become" reckless violators of tried-and-true rules. - Armen Alchian, Uncertainty, Evolution, and Economic Theory

Farming is inherently risky. Weather, insects and disease, over which you have limited control or none at all, can wipe you out. One of the ways farmers manage risk is to plant variety. Okay, powdery mildew got your strawberries, but the broccoli’s going gangbusters. For farmers, crops that are given guaranteed protection from both losses and price drops are lower-risk propositions. - Brian Stauffer, Farm bill: Why don’t taxpayers subsidize the foods that are better for us?

One would think that man could find enough variation in the orchid family, as it occurs in nature, to more than satiate his taste for variety. Yet man's appetite for variety is never appeased. He has produced over two times as many hybrids, in the past 100 years that he has been engaged in orchid breeding, as nature has created species in her eons of evolutionary effort. - Calaway H. Dodson, Robert J. Gillespie, The Botany of Orchids

Similarly, Niskanen attacked the monopoly power of public bureaucracies, school districts among them. More recently, Coons and Sugarman have championed the case for parental freedom of choice, indicating that we should "substitute mutual respect as a ground of a social accord" and use freedom of choice to reduce the perils of uniformity. - Daniel J. Brown, The Case For Tax-Target Plans

But calls to “let the market handle it” are in fact calls to rely upon a deep and vast and iterative process for diagnosing and experimenting in many ways with steps to improve matters. - Donald J. Boudreaux, A Simple Phrase for Unleashing Complex, Beneficial Processes

Solutions to complex social problems require as many creative minds as possible — and this is precisely what the market delivers. - Donald J. Boudreaux, A Simple Rule for a Complex World

To recommend the market, in fact, is to recommend letting millions of creative people, each with different perspectives and different bits of knowledge and insights, each voluntarily contribute his own ideas and efforts toward dealing with the problem. It is to recommend not a single solution but, instead, a decentralized process that calls forth many competing experiments and, then, discovers the solutions that work best under the circumstances. - Donald J. Boudreaux, A Simple Rule for a Complex World

We need to read, again, Armen Alchian (1950) to understand this. In a world of uncertainty, no one knows the correct answer to the problems we confront and no one therefore can, in effect, maximize profits. The society that permits the maximum generation of trials will be the most likely to solve problems through time (a familiar argument of Hayek, 1960). Adaptive efficiency, therefore, provides the incentives to encourage the development of decentralized decision-making processes that will allow societies to maximize the efforts required to explore alternative ways of solving problems. - Douglass North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance

Austrians believe that we get more solutions – and better, more creative solutions – if the energy, imagination, alertness and specialist knowledge of many individuals are engaged on the task. In economics, this is achieved through the process of competition, which gives diverse entrepreneurs the incentive to seek out new and better ways of enhancing value to consumers. By the same reasoning, our social and political problems may also be best solved if we give individuals the widest possible freedom to come up with a variety of creative responses, rather than hoping that a single collective approach will suffice. - Eamonn Butler, Austrian Economics

Enterprise is creative: people striving to produce better goods and services hit on new products, processes and technologies that improve the lives of everyone. By stifling that enterprise and creativity, egalitarianism closes off the prospect of continual improvement in the material lives of the whole world. - Eamonn Butler, Foundations of a Free Society

More users find more bugs because adding more users adds more different ways of stressing the program. This effect is amplified when the users are co-developers. Each one approaches the task of bug characterization with a slightly different perceptual set and analytical toolkit, a different angle on the problem. The ``Delphi effect'' seems to work precisely because of this variation. In the specific context of debugging, the variation also tends to reduce duplication of effort. - Eric Steven Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar

My original formulation was that every problem ``will be transparent to somebody''. Linus demurred that the person who understands and fixes the problem is not necessarily or even usually the person who first characterizes it. ``Somebody finds the problem,'' he says, ``and somebody else understands it. And I'll go on record as saying that finding it is the bigger challenge.'' That correction is important; we'll see how in the next section, when we examine the practice of debugging in more detail. But the key point is that both parts of the process (finding and fixing) tend to happen rapidly. - Eric Steven Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Perhaps in the end the open-source culture will triumph not because cooperation is morally right or software ``hoarding'' is morally wrong (assuming you believe the latter, which neither Linus nor I do), but simply because the closed-source world cannot win an evolutionary arms race with open-source communities that can put orders of magnitude more skilled time into a problem. - Eric Steven Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Provided the development coordinator has a communications medium at least as good as the Internet, and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are inevitably better than one. - Eric Steven Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar

The history of Unix should have prepared us for what we're learning from Linux (and what I've verified experimentally on a smaller scale by deliberately copying Linus's methods [EGCS]). That is, while coding remains an essentially solitary activity, the really great hacks come from harnessing the attention and brainpower of entire communities. The developer who uses only his or her own brain in a closed project is going to fall behind the developer who knows how to create an open, evolutionary context in which feedback exploring the design space, code contributions, bug-spotting, and other improvements come from from hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people. - Eric Steven Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Of course, the benefits we derive from the freedom of others become greater as the number of those who can exercise freedom increases. The argument for the freedom of some therefore applies to the freedom of all. - Friedrich A. Hayek, The Case for Freedom

All we can do is to increase the chance that some special constellation of individual endowment and circumstance will result in the shaping of some new tool or the improvement of an old one, and to improve the prospect that such innovations will become rapidly known to those who can take advantage of them. - Friedrich A. Hayek, The Case for Freedom

It is through the mutually adjusted efforts of many people that more knowledge is utilized than any one individual possesses or than it is possible to synthesize intellectually; and it is through such utilization of dispersed knowledge that achievements are made possible, greater than any single mind can foresee. It is because freedom means the renunciation of direct control of individual efforts that a free society can make use of so much more knowledge than the mind of the wisest ruler could comprehend. - Friedrich A. Hayek, The Case for Freedom

If we knew how freedom would be used, the case for it would largely disappear. We shall never get the benefits of freedom, never obtain those unforeseeable new developments for which it provides the opportunity, if it is not also granted where the uses made of it by some do not seem desirable. - Friedrich A. Hayek, The Case for Freedom

The benefits I derive from freedom are thus largely the result of the uses of freedom by others, and mostly of those uses of freedom that I could never avail myself of. - Friedrich A. Hayek, The Case for Freedom

The case for individual freedom rests chiefly on the recognition of the inevitable ignorance of all of us concerning a great many of the factors on which the achievement of our ends and welfare depends. - Friedrich Hayek, The Case for Freedom

The real problem in all this is not whether we will get given commodities or services at given marginal costs but mainly by what commodities and services the needs of the people can be most cheaply satisfied. The solution of the economic problem of society is in this respect always a voyage of exploration into the unknown, an attempt to discover new ways of doing things better than they have been done before. This must always remain so as long as there are any economic problems to be solved at all, because all economic problems are created by unforeseen changes which require adaptation. - Friedrich Hayek, The Meaning of Competition

The problem is thus in no way solved if we can show that all the facts, if they were known to a single mind (as we hypothetically assume them to be given to the observing economist), would uniquely determine the solution; instead we must show how a solution is produced by the interactions of people each of whom possesses only partial knowledge. To assume all the knowledge to be given to a single mind in the same manner in which we assume it to be given to us as the explaining economists is to assume the problem away and to disregard everything that is important and significant in the real world. - Friedrich A. Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society

... an increase in the power of the State ... does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the heart of all progress… - Gandhi

A second point of broad consensus among critics stresses that publicness in consumption must not necessarily mean that all persons value a good’s utility equally, Mendez (1999), for example, illustrates this point by examining peace as a PG. Some policy-makers might opt for increased defense spending in order to safeguard peace. However, this decision could siphon off scarce resources from programmes in the areas of health and education. Other policy-makers might object to such a consequence and prefer to foster peace through just the opposite measure -- improved health and education for all. Especially under conditions of extreme disparity and inequity, the first strategy could indeed provoke even more conflict and unrest, securing national borders by unsettling people’s lives. - Inge Kaul, Public Goods: Taking the Concept to the 21st Century

Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment, which is always allowed to it in theory; for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion, of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable. - J.S. Mill, On Liberty

It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation; and as the works partake the character of those who do them, by the same process human life also becomes rich, diversified, and animating, furnishing more abundant aliment to high thoughts and elevating feelings, and strengthening the tie which binds every individual to the race, by making the race infinitely better worth belonging to. In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others. There is a greater fulness of life about his own existence, and when there is more life in the units there is more in the mass which is composed of them. - J.S. Mill, On Liberty

Yet it is as evident in itself, as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals; every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present. - J.S. Mill, On Liberty

The public collectively is abundantly ready to impose, not only its generally narrow views of its interests, but its abstract opinions, and even its tastes, as laws binding upon individuals. And the present civilization tends so strongly to make the power of persons acting in masses the only substantial power in society, that there never was more necessity for surrounding individual independence of thought, speech, and conduct, with the most powerful defences, in order to maintain that originality of mind and individuality of character, which are the only source of any real progress, and of most of the qualities which make the human race much superior to any herd of animals. - J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy

The basic reason, in Priestley's judgement, for the maintenance of freedom and for toleration of a variety of opinions lies in the fact that human progress depends on freedom of human experiment. - Jack Sislian, Representative Sadleriana

Individuals differ, one from another, in important and meaningful respects. They differ in physical strength, in courage, in imagination, in artistic skills and appreciation, in basic intelligence, in preferences, in attitudes toward others, in personal life-styles, in ability to deal socially with others, in Weltanschauung, in power to control others, and in command over nonhuman resources. No one can deny the elementary validity of this statement, which is of course amply supported by empirical evidence. We live in a society of individuals, not a society of equals. We can make little or no progress in analyzing the former as if it were the latter. - James M. Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty

Markets, for instance, are usually prima facie diverse because they are made up of people with different attitudes toward risk, different time horizons, different investing styles, and different information. On teams or in organizations, by contrast, cognitive diversity needs to be actively selected, and it's important to do so because in small groups it's easy for a few biased individuals to exert undue influence and skew the group's collective decision. - James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

Clearly the regulators were predicting that steering banks’ leverage into highly rated MBS would be prudent. This prediction proved disastrously wrong, but the Recourse Rule heavily tilted the field toward banks that went along with the regulators’ prediction. Heterogeneous behavior among competing enterprises normally spreads society’s bets among the different predictions (about profit and loss) made by various capitalists. Thus, the herd mentality is a danger under capitalism, as under every other system. Yet regulation produces the equivalent of a herd mentality by force of law. The whole point of regulation is to homogenize capitalists’ behavior in a direction the regulators predict will be prudent or otherwise desirable. If the regulators are wrong, the result is a system-wide failure. “Systemic risk regulation” may be a contradiction in terms.

Neither capitalists nor regulators can use crystal balls to avoid making bad bets. That highly rated mortgage-backed securities would be prudent turned out to be a very bad bet. But we all suffered because this bet was imposed by financial regulators on the whole system. - Jeffrey Friedman, What Caused the Collapse?: An Exchange

One spring day about 1969 I visited the U.S. AID office on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., to discuss a project intended to lower fertility in less-developed countries. I arrived early for my appointment, so I strolled outside in the warm sunshine. Below the building's plaza I noticed a road sign that said "Iwo Jima Memorial." There came to me the memory of reading a eulogy delivered by a Jewish chaplain over the dead on the battlefield at Iwo Jima, saying something like, "How many who would have been a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein have we buried here?" And then I thought, Have I gone crazy? What business do I have trying to help arrange it that fewer human beings will be born, each one of whom might be a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein - or simply a joy to his or her family and community, and a person who will enjoy life. - Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2

The main fuel to speed our progress is our stock of knowledge, and the brake is our lack of imagination. The ultimate resource is people - skilled, spirited, and hopeful people who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefit, and inevitably they will benefit not only themselves but the rest of us as well. - Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2

What’s the solution? It can come from sources we have been touting for decades: people who are different. This is the “real” definition of diversity: people who have different mind sets and perspectives, different ideas and backgrounds. Whether or not people look alike is superficial diversity. We’re looking here for different world views and differing ways of problem solving. But here’s the challenge: we have to actually listen to each other and cultivate a deep sense of open-minded curiosity. That’s not typically what experts do, having been trained to have the answers. - Laree Kiely, Leadership Dilemmas: The Seduction of Correctly Solving the Wrong Problem

In a totalitarian State or in a field already made into a State monopoly, those dissatisfied with the institutions that they find can seek a remedy only by seeking to change the Government of the country. In a free society and a free field they have a different remedy; discontented individuals with new ideas can make a new institution to meet their needs. The field is open to experiment and success or failure; secession is the midwife of invention. - Lord Beveridge, Voluntary Action

Economic progress thus requires a continuously changing composition of the social capital. The new indivisibilities account for the increasing returns. - Ludwig M. Lachmann, Capital and Its Structure

Finally, the divergence of expectations, apart from being an obstacle to equilibrium, has an important positive function in a market economy. It is an anticipatory device. The more extended the range of expectations, the greater the likelihood that somebody will catch a glimpse of things to come and be “right.” Those who take their orientation from the future rather than the present, the “speculators,” permit the future to make its impact on the market process earlier than otherwise. They contrive to inject a glimpse of future knowledge into the emergent market pattern. Of course they may make mistakes for which they will pay. Without divergent expectations and incoherent plans, however, it would not happen at all. - Ludwig Lachmann, On the Central Concept of Austrian Economics: Market Process

There is a basic philosophical explanation, which begins with the fact that the number of possible theories of any given phenomenon is enormous, if not infinite. Of these, all but one are false. So given just the information that T is a theory, the probability that T is correct is approximately zero. However, naive thinkers have often failed to realize this, because the theories that a typical human being can think of to explain a given phenomenon (and that will seem plausible to that person) are typically very few in number. It is not that we consider the truth and reject it; in the overwhelming majority of cases, when we first start thinking about how to explain some phenomenon, the truth is not even among the options considered. The ancient Greeks, for example, did not reject quantum mechanics; they just did not and could not have considered it. - Michael Huemer, In Praise of Passivity

If we can't persuade the public that it's desirable to do these things, then we have no right to impose them even if we had the power to do it. - Milton Friedman, Milton Friedman on Libertarianism

On the one hand, I regard the basic human value that underlies my own beliefs as tolerance, based on humility. I have no right to coerce someone else because I cannot be sure that I am right and he is wrong. - Milton Friedman, Milton Friedman on Libertarianism and Humility

[T]he West’s achievement of autonomy stemmed from a relaxation or a weakening, of political and religious controls, giving other departments of social life the opportunity to experiment with change. Growth is, of course, a form of change, and growth is impossible when change is not permitted. And successful change requires a large measure of freedom to experiment. A grant of that kind of freedom costs a society’s rulers their feeling of control, as if they were conceding to others the power to determine the society’s future. The great majority of societies, past and present, have not allowed it. Nor have they escaped from poverty. - Nathan Rosenberg, L.E. Birdzell, How The West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation Of The Industrial World

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognizes infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly selfish to require of one's neighbor that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind from him. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses. - Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man and Prison Writings

What we should have learned from the Iraq debacle was that you should always be skeptical and that you should never rely on supposed authority. If you hear that “everyone” supports a policy, whether it’s a war of choice or fiscal austerity, you should ask whether “everyone” has been defined to exclude anyone expressing a different opinion. And policy arguments should be evaluated on the merits, not by who expresses them; remember when Colin Powell assured us about those Iraqi W.M.D.’s? - Paul Krugman, Marches of Folly

The effectiveness of this trial-and-error method is analogous to the theory of biological evolution by natural selection, where economic actors are guided by profit-loss signals and “survival” is determined through market selection. Entrepreneurs who satisfy consumers’ demands at the lowest cost and highest quality earn positive profits, which signal socially desirable actions that allocate resources to their highest-valued uses. Entrepreneurs who do not do so, on the other hand, suffer monetary losses and are eventually eliminated via market selection (Alchian 1950). - Peter J. Boettke and Kyle W. O’Donnell, The Failed Appropriation of F. A. Hayek by Formalist Economics

In other words, despite their fondness for diversity in all its forms, locavores are oblivious to the fact that their prescription mandates that a community put all of its agricultural eggs into one geographical basket while monoculture regions can rely on a broad range of distant suppliers in troubled times. As the historical record clearly shows, local polycultures have always been perilously unstable because they remained vulnerable to natural events…. - Pierre Desrochers, Hiroko Shimizu, The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet

Another way to see this is that a newborn individual is more than just another mouth to feed: he also brings his mind to help solve problems that a growing population can generate. The coming of age of a new individual means one more person with whom to exchange and, thus, the creation of new benefits from exchange. - Pierre Lemieux, Running Out of Everything

In the 1970s, Julian Simon was a little-known economist at the University of Illinois. He initially sided with Ehrlich in considering population growth an economic threat, but his research rapidly changed his mind. He challenged the environmental orthodoxy with a few articles, and then published an iconoclastic book that gained him considerable attention, The Ultimate Resource (1981). There was no resource limitation, Simon argued. Bumping against limits would increase the price of any resource in short supply, leading ingenious humans to find new supply sources or substitutes. Physical and human capital can partly substitute for natural resources. Man’s brain, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship are the ultimate resource; and this resource is infinite. - Pierre Lemieux, Running Out of Everything

This sort of question completely eluded Paul Ehrlich and his cohorts, as much as they liked to boast of their scientific knowledge. Physicist Gerald Barney, an advisor to Presidents Nixon and Carter, wanted to replace “personal interests and individualism” by the “interests of the whole society.” He was of course a spokesman for “the whole society.” - Pierre Lemieux, Running Out of Everything

It follows, then, that a less centralized society has the advantage of a greater diversification of its performance across a larger number of preceptors. This is because diversification here dilutes the impact of the ability, or the lack thereof, of each preceptor on the aggregate societal performance. - Raaj K. Sah, Fallibility in Human Organizations and Political Systems

We can never possess tomorrow’s knowledge today. We can never know what innovations, creative ideas, and useful improvements will be generated in the minds of free men in the years to come. That is why we must leave men and their minds free. The man of system, the social engineer, who sees only the apparent problems from these global changes, wants to plan America’s place in the new, emerging global economy. But to do so, he must confine and straitjacket all of us to what his mind sees as the possible, profitable, and desirable from his own narrow perspective with the knowledge he possesses in the present. - Richard M. Ebeling, Free Markets, the Rule of Law, and Classical Liberalism

Luckily, tens of thousands of pioneers wouldn't have to be housed all in one starship. Spreading people out among multiple ships also spreads out the risk. Modular ships could dock together for trade and social gatherings, but travel separately so that disaster for one wouldn't spell disaster for all, says Smith.

When 10,000 people are housed in one starship, there's a potential for a giant catastrophe to wipe out almost everyone onboard. But when 10,000 people are spread out over five ships of 2000 apiece, the damage is limited. - Sarah Fecht, How Many People Does It Take to Colonize Another Star System?

That said, some broad general claims do appear to hold across contexts. First, diversity often enhances the robustness of complex systems. By robustness, I mean the ability to maintain functionality (Jen 2005) rather than analytic stability. Systems that lack diversity can lose functionality. History has many examples of failure through lack of diversity, the potato famine being among the most notable. The potato must be counted among the most precious of gifts introduced into Europe during the age of exploration. Of the thousands of varieties of potato grown in Central and South America at their disposal, the Europeans imported primarily two. This lack of genetic variation presented a huge target for parasites. When the potato blight hit, it found field up field of genetically similar potatoes. Though nearly a million Irish perished, even more relocated to America. Diversity at the community level - America had a different mix of crops from Ireland - minimized the global impact of the blight. Had every country been subsisting on potatoes as Ireland had, the famine would have been an even worse calamity. - Scott E. Page, Diversity and Complexity

Second, diversity drives innovation and productivity. In biology, the forces of mutation and recombination are well known to be primary sources of innovation. In economies, variation and experimentation also lead to innovation, and, as Arthur (2009) convincingly shows, so does recombination. In fact, recombination may be the biggest driver of economic and scientific innovation. As for productivity, I've covered some of this terrain in an earlier book (Page 2007a), but it's worth repeaing. Whether one looks at ecosystems, empires, or cities, greater diversity for the most part correlates with greater productivity. Cities that are more diverse are more productive and more innovative. - Scott E. Page, Diversity and Complexity

When economists say, “We will never run out of resources,” what they often mean is that faced with increasing scarcity of one resource, we will always find new solutions to the problem that that resource originally solved. In an important sense, the actual economic resource was not copper but “the ability to convey voice and data.” And that resource has become “less scarce” by the substitution of sand. This illustrates Simon’s point that the “ultimate resource” is the human ingenuity that finds new and better ways of using physical resources. - Steven Horwitz, Economists and Scarcity

Mankind’s progress has stemmed from individual men and women thinking, creating, experimenting, and innovating. Advances comes from a man or a woman attempting something new. A hunter trying a new way to make an arrowhead, a gatherer noticing that animals liked a strange plant and tasting it, an artist creating a new way to portray perspective, a thinker imagining a new political process, theory, or concept are steps leading to improvement in the human condition. A single individual’s passion to paint, to write new music, a play, novel, or poem can produce progress. All of these requires the freedom or independence to innovate. The less liberty, the slower progress will be. Rigid dictatorial or tradition ridden societies are unlikely to produce much innovation or advancement. - Thomas Gale Moore, On Progress

Progress stems from the trial and error of many individuals. The more entities free to experiment, the more successful innovations will result. Beneficial experiments will lead to imitation and more innovations to improve on the original effort. Thus a free society, in which millions of people enjoy the right to attempt to improve their lot or the condition of their families, friends or society at large, will evince much more progress than a slave state. True, most individual’s experiments will fail, as will governments’, but since so
many more entities will be innovating, progress will be much quicker. - Thomas Gale Moore, On Progress

Our creed is that the science of government is an experimental science, and that, like all other experimental sciences, it is generally in a state of progression. No man is so obstinate an admirer of the old times as to deny that medicine, surgery, botany, chemistry, engineering, navigation, are better understood now than in any former age. We conceive that it is the same with political science. Like those physical sciences which we have mentioned, it has always been working itself clearer and clearer, and depositing impurity after impurity. There was a time when the most powerful of human intellects were deluded by the gibberish of the astrologer and the alchemist; and just so there was a time when the most enlightened and virtuous statesman thought it the first duty of a government to persecute heretics, to found monasteries, to make war on Saracens. But time advances; facts accumulate; doubts arise. Faint glimpses of truth begin to appear, and shine more and more unto the perfect day. The highest intellects, like the tops of mountains, are the first to catch and reflect the dawn. They are bright, while the level below is still in darkness. But soon the light, which at first illuminated only the loftiest eminences, descends on the plain and penetrates to the deepest valley. First come hints, then fragments of systems, then defective systems, then complete and harmonious systems. The sound opinion, held for a time by one bold speculator, becomes the opinion of a small minority, of a strong minority, of a majority of mankind. Thus the great progress goes on, till schoolboys laugh at the jargon which imposed on Bacon, till country rectors condemn the illiberality and intolerance of Sir Thomas More. - Thomas Macaulay - Thomas Macaulay, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays

The generation to which we belong is now learning from experience what happens when man retreats from freedom to a coercive organization of their affairs. Though they promise themselves a more abundant life, they must in practice renounce it; as the organizational direction increases, the variety of ends must give way to uniformity. That is the nemesis of the planned society and the authoritarian principle in human affairs. - Walter Lippmann, The Government of Posterity

Development happens thanks to problem-solving systems. To vastly oversimplify for illustrative purposes, the market is a decentralized (private) problem solving system with rich feedback and accountability. Democracy, civil liberties, free speech, protection of rights of dissidents and activists is a decentralized (public) problem solving system with (imperfect) feedback and accountability. Individual liberty in general fosters systems that allow many different individuals to use their particular local knowledge and expertise to attempt many different independent trials at solutions. When you have a large number of independent trials, the probability of solutions goes way up. - William Easterly, The Answer Is 42!

No comments:

Post a Comment