Thursday, May 13, 2010

Socialists are Backwards (I guess we already knew that)

Even the casual mention of the word 'socialism' sets off a flag immediately.  The word just has a negative sign next to it in my mind; and many more times than not the speaker doesn't really mean "socialism," or they're a little nutty.

Socialists have it all backwards.  Aside from the "why" in "why are we not a socialist society?", socialists imagine it is possible to strictly design society; have tried, and failed miserably.  The American economy certainly has aspects of socialism (social security, medicare, etc), but these were, at some point, last resort circumstances.

In Socialism's heyday (... I guess ...), information was very slow to travel.  From this perspective, a socialist government could have had no idea that it might someday be possible to distribute information to each and every one of it's citizens.  Even so, history probably wouldn't look too much different... corruption always seems to creep its way into command economies.  Greed gets us all - and drives our economy (put generally).

Now that we can deliver and receive near-instantaneous information almost anywhere in the world, governance and society would benefit from information systems that inform us on some of our basic activity as citizens.  The first thing that comes to mind is privacy issues - I just recently came across this infographic about Facebook's privacy policy - but that's for another blog.

Imagine if you could observe your own water consumption against that of other similar households.  Skipping the R&D, legislation, and infrastructure needed to make that happen, we can imagine that everyone knows this information and can act on it as they wish.  There would be all sorts of behavior as a result of this.

I think I would work to consume less water than the typical household of my type (1000 ft.^2; just me) - more times than not.  There will be people who don't pay attention to it at all.  On aggregate though, this information would do us more good than bad with regard to conservation and sustainability.

Of course, R&D, legislation, and infrastructure can be prohibitively expensive, but who's to say that those things won't become less expensive - whether it's monetary costs, time costs, or simply the time cost of the diffusion of knowledge (I made that one up).  I'm to say... those requirements will become less costly in time.  It might seem that at some point in the next 30 years (because I can predict the future), informing the public on whatever information the public demands will be an important part of democracy.  We are seeing the beginning of this with the attempts at transparency that the Obama administration has made public.

There's no way to know what those systems might look like, but a goal of informing the public allows markets to function on the collective will of its participants.  Nothing a government can build - on its own - will be as clean as that last sentence conveys.  It's probably more accurate to imagine the government incentivizing the market to build these systems.

We already do this to some extent, but there are some vey basic data - like water consumption - that could do a great deal of good for a market society.  The "ruling generation" can be afraid of the (sometimes irrational) vulnerabilities that this might generate and... the word, "socialism."  Even if it's not exactly concept that comes to mind, it's the idea that someone, somewhere is gonna screw you.

On the topic of getting screwed, our market economy did a wonderful job making me feel safe when I got my first employment agreement... a contract... in 'legalese'.  I didn't even have to read it - the words just screamed, "FUCK U!"  We're never gonna stray too far from legal language in our society... governed.. by.. law.  However, the biggest hurdle for a company and a potential employee is jointly determining if the labor match is a good one.

I have one thing to say: Data

1 comment:

  1. One reason information is posted so quickly and thoroughly to the internet is the decentralized manner in which it happens. If we put any one (government) in charge of organizing the uploading of this info, then you'd be back to Soviet Russia.

    As for invasion of privacy, who the F cares if you know how much water I consume? Maybe I water my yard. Maybe I have a no-flow urinal, don't flush my toilet, and take showers only outside when it rains. Why am I so sensitive about that? Especially if the info is aggregated and/or not individually identifiable.