Subject: Re: street performer protocol
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Tue, 9 May 2000 15:44:45 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Bill" == Bill White <bill.white@griggsinst.com> writes:

    Bill> Calling an idea social ludditism seems like an ad notionem
    Bill> argument (a made up latin phrase, from one who never studied
    Bill> latin.)  It seems progressive to me to say -- Here is a
    Bill> system which does not work, and we'll fix it -- nas opposed
    Bill> to your -- This is the system we have, and it is inevitable.

Where did I say that?

I did say I have no objection in principle to changing the rules of
liability, although it's not clear to me that they need change, and
even went so far as to suggest a very broad extension of liability.

But what Jonathan advocated, at least in the words he chose, was to
abandon the idea of limiting liability.  That's not just changing the
system as we know it[1]; it also requires changing human nature as we
know it as far as I can see.  People do not naturally seek unlimited
liability, rather the reverse.  The point of the "corporate person" is
to carefully delimit where liability lies, thus allowing people to do
what comes naturally while minimizing destructive conflict about
assigning liability.

As for "not working," in what sense is the most productive economy in
human history _systematically_ "not working"?  Software engineers can
aspire to "6-sigma" quality, but in social science arranging that 96
out of every 100 job seekers have jobs is like a bear out-dancing
Nijinsky.  Even the minor tweaks that the other OECD countries make on
the employment market leaves most of them with double the unemployment
level of the U.S., and that concentrated on those most vulnerable,
such as new entrants to the job market with low levels of skills and
long-term unemployed.

I don't say "don't touch it."  Just that you really need to have a
good reason before you do.  The "privacy" issue Jonathan mentioned is
a very good reason to seriously consider changes.  That Microsoft,
soon to be cut down to size, temporarily got too big for its breeches
is IMO not a good reason for systematic change.  The system worked!

    Bill> I just don't buy it myself.  It seems like it's a human,
    Bill> social construction.  We could construct it another way.

Why is it that people who are so quick to deny "scientific" status to
economists' conclusions are so willing to whimsically meddle with
social structures, with no basis other than "it seems"?  Is the status
quo that desperate that random experimentation---on _people_!---is
justified?  If the experimentation is not going to be random, to which
body of expertise do you plan to appeal for advice on the design?

    Bill> Indeed, the argument only exists to justify the social
    Bill> construction.

The _arguments_ exist as a branch of mathematics.  Even socialist
economists acknowledge them as important, useful theorems, applicable
to most of the economy.  (Granted, few socialists accept their
application to the "market for corporate governance," the case in
point.  But they hardly agree on any "best" alternative, nor do they
have any common body of theory with which to evaluate alternatives.
They also are reduced to arguing from "it seems to me...".)

It is simply not true that economists deny the possibility of social
improvement because it would hurt them personally.  Do you really
think that all economists would refuse the fame and popularity, not to
mention the huge consulting fees, that would come to the expert who
really does figure out how to "fix" things?  Surely somebody would
crack and publish (or patent) the scheme ... I know I would!


Footnotes: 
[1]  I think of it as Luddism because it is very similar in form to
advocating abandoning modularity in programming.  Wouldn't you
consider that Luddite?

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