Scott Adams: Smart, Then Stupid

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, starts a recent blog post very smartly:

One of the biggest problems with the world is that we're bound by so many legacy systems. For example, it's hard to deal with global warming because there are so many entrenched interests. It's problematic to get power from where it can best be generated to where people live. The tax system is a mess. Banking is a hodgepodge of regulations and products glued together. I could go on. The point is that anything that has been around for awhile is a complicated and inconvenient mess compared to what its ideal form could be.

Very true! Very perceptive! I'm in the middle of reading Mancur Olson's 1982 book The Rise and Decline of Nations (since it was recommended by Mitch Daniels), and it makes a similar point.

Even better, Adams continues with what might be an excellent idea:

My idea for today is that established nations could launch startup countries within their own borders, free of all the legacy restrictions in the parent country.

But unfortunately, in the very next sentence he goes and ruins things:

The startup country, let's say the size of modern day Israel, would be designed from the ground up for efficiency. …

Rats. Right off the rails. As we continue, it's apparent that he's not really talking about "from the ground up" design at all. Instead it's top-down—based on Adams' notions, whims, and overweening hubris—and relatively totalitarian. Sample:

The Fire Department would be tiny. You can design modern homes to be virtually fireproof. And let's say cigarettes are banned, because we can, to further reduce the fire risk.

In my book The Dilbert Future I imagined a world with cameras in every room, and on every street corner, recording all the time, but encrypted so that literally no one could view the video without a court order. You wouldn't need much of a police force in that scenario because every crime would be on video, along with the entire escape route, all the way to the criminal's bedroom. Maybe that's too Big Brother for you, but if you reflect on how much privacy you've already given up to technology, it's not that much of a stretch.

That's just a blurb; Adams' post contains many more constraints and stipulations that sacrifice liberty and privacy to the goal of imagined "efficiency." Unsurprisingly, a few of his commenters refer to The Prisoner. And not in a complimentary way.

Coincidentally, Thomas Sowell touched on this mentality in a recent column:

Many of the wonderful-sounding ideas that have been tried as government policies have failed disastrously. Because so few people bother to study history, often the same ideas and policies have been tried again, either in another country or in the same country at a later time -- and with the same disastrous results.

One of the ideas that has proved to be almost impervious to evidence is the idea that wise and far-sighted people need to take control, and plan economic and social policies so that there will be a rational and just order, rather than chaos resulting from things being allowed to take their own course. It sounds so logical and plausible that demanding hard evidence would seem almost like nit-picking.

Adams imagines himself to be one of those "wise and far-sighted" people to which Sowell refers, of course. Although Adams proposes that his "startup countries" would "test a lot of concepts for building, banking, economy, energy, and lifestyle", he doesn't seem to notice that his grand "design" would preclude much, if not all, of the "testing" by pre-deciding most of the concepts. Adams is oblivious to the dynamism that results when free people are "allowed to take their own course."

So, Scott: good idea, but the implementation is straight from the brain of a pointy-haired boss.

Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:58 AM EDT

I'm Shocked, Shocked

… to find that gambling is going on in here:

  • GM announced their electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt, will cost $41K. It will compete with the Nissan Leaf, which starts at a bit under $33K. The Washington Post story has this bit of euphemism:

    GM and Nissan are relying on a $7,500 federal tax credit for buyers of electric vehicles to offset some of the added cost [over similarly-sized conventional autos] …

    Translation: I, and probably you, will be involuntarily shouldering a significant fraction of the buyer's cost for these vehicles. And I bet that not one of the proud new owners will give us even a single ride to the airport in return. Jerks.

  • If you were depressed by the report we mentioned yesterday showing Kelly Ayotte's lead against Paul Hodes shrinking in the last few months, blaming Sarah Palin for the erosion, check out Indispensible Jim Geraghty for some cheering up.

  • Jen Rubin is cheered but chastened by the defeat-for-now of the "nefarious" free-speech-quelching DISCLOSE act. Chastened, because it was far closer than it should have been:

    This, I think, should alarm and not reassure us. The name of the game for far too many elected liberals is to game the system, tip the scales, and trample on the rights of their opponents. It is the same mentality we see when a Senate candidate tries to take down perfectly reasonable ads that raise unpleasant facts about his record. Rather than debate and employ more speech, it has become too common among liberals wary of the wrath of voters to tell everyone else to shut up. It is the same mentality that causes Democratic congressional leadership to vilify and sneer at fellow citizens and label them un-American for exercising basic rights of assembly and speech on the most hotly debated legislation (ObamaCare) of the moment. It is the same mentality that motivates the White House to ostracize a news organization critical of its performance.

  • Politico notes that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is succumbing to the obvious, adding both New Hampshire seats to the list it plans on spending to protect. Key quote to brighten my day:

    The committee is also adding several endangered Democratic incumbents to its list of ad reservations, including […] New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

    It's good news and bad news, of course: it means the race is probably not a slam-dunk for either side.

    Local broadcast TV is already near-unwatchable for all the stupid political ads, my wastebaskets are overflowing with daily political junkmail, I'm starting to get robo-phone calls, and (fearless prediction) it's going to get much, much worse over the next 97 days.

    Still, that's the First Amendment for ya. And I'm still a fan.

  • The "geez, I'm old" observation du jour: I went to the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Did you know that there's a World's Fair going on right now in Shanghai? Neither did I, but Virginia Postrel did, and she has more at her blog.

  • And I don't know how many readers are both (a) Isaac Asimov fans and (b) web server geeks, but if you're in the intersection of that particular Venn diagram, I can almost guarantee you'll get a chuckle from (Via BBspot.)

Last Modified 2012-10-03 8:57 AM EDT