Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

42 Astoundingly Useful Scripts and Automations for the Macintosh

Work faster and more reliably. Add actions to the services menu and the menu bar, create drag-and-drop apps to make your Macintosh play music, roll dice, and talk. Create ASCII art from photos. There’s a script for that in 42 Astounding Scripts for the Macintosh.

COVID Lessons: Government Monopolies are Still Monopolies

Jerry Stratton, September 9, 2020

No price for being wrong

Our health care response to COVID-19 destroyed our ability to manage the co-morbidities that made it dangerous, killing the people we should have been focusing our response on. Further, it destroyed our ability to handle any other crises that might come up, individual or mass.

Our stay-at-home orders destroyed our ability to come up with innovative solutions to social distancing.

Our ability to provide critical supplies where they were needed most? We shut that down, too.

We need to be more comfortable with, and encouraging of, paying employees more to show up for work in emergencies. We need to be open to paying employees and businesses more for delivering to areas where supplies are short, and for taking other extra steps to ensure that needs are met in an emergency. Instead, we lumped rerouting supply routes together with hoarding and price gouging. With the result that on the one hand grocery stores limited how much of items like milk we could buy, and on the other, restaurant suppliers dumped their excess.

We would not have had all of the shortages we had if businesses had been allowed to charge enough so that their employees could meet those demands quickly.

We called every price increase gouging, which meant that we couldn’t get supplies where they needed to be. It costs money to run overtime to make more toilet paper, more flour and yeast. It costs money to repackage restaurant milk for consumer use. It costs money to hire more transportation workers on short notice to get those supplies to where they’re needed. It costs money to hire more front-line workers to handle higher demand. All of that means higher prices until the new supply routes become regular routes. When we forbid paying employees more during an emergency or hiring more employees to meet new, emergency needs, we’re ensuring that those needs are not met.

Food got dumped at one location that stores were out of at another. Stores saw a huge demand for home delivery, and instead of quickly adding new employees—which would mean raised prices to cover the increased demand for employment—they delayed delivery times to the point that all available slots fell off the end of the calendar. The people who needed delivery, who had already grown to rely on it… could no longer use it. Because government officials—and the people who voted for them—were talking about criminalizing “price gouging”. But their definition of “price gouging” was “quickly meeting new demand for services”. Prices would have dropped back down. Home delivery prices would, by now, have dropped down to less than they were before the crisis if grocers had been allowed to cover the costs of increased demand in the short term.

If COVID-19 had been as bad as we were initially told, shutting down our ability to route around shortages and to meet new demand would have killed people. It probably did kill people.

When we first started running out of hand sanitizer, several alcohol manufacturers converted from making drinks to making sanitizer. That’s the kind of turn-on-a-dime innovation that a good free market encourages. There was temporarily more money to be made by making a different product, so businesses started making more of that product.

There was probably a lot more of that that could have happened, if we hadn’t indiscriminately shut everything down. Once you’re shut down, you’re a lot less innovative. Instead of your staff asking you, hey, can we make this instead, your staff is spending their time trying to get by in a world of shortages. They’re standing in line at six in the morning**. They’re driving from grocery to grocery looking for that last bag of flour and that last roll of toilet paper.

They’re trying to figure out how to get food delivered when all available slots are full.

Government bureaucrats aren’t good at guessing what we’re going to need. If they were we would have had enough masks. The CDC and other government bureaucracies are not prepared for shipping working products. If they were, their tests would have worked.

Nor are politicians and government bureaucrats good at guessing what businesses need to do in a crisis. Putting them in charge of what businesses can charge to meet new demand is why grocery delivery services failed.

It isn’t their job during normal times, and as a monopoly they aren’t good at being nimble. They probably never will be. It’s the nature of monopolies.

But being nimble is the job of our small businesses. Shutting down small businesses is the same as keeping our parachute closed for the duration of the jump. It kills us in a million ways that we can’t even see. The jump looks like everything’s working, until we make landfall with a closed parachute.

Our parachute is our economy

Monopolistic bureaucracies are very good at faking paperwork. We saw it during the Veterans Administration scandal several years ago, and we saw it again with the CDC’s faking its testing capabilities. Faked paper work means that such incompetence isn’t immediately obvious. It took weeks to find out that the CDC’s tests were bad, and by then we’d sent home the people who could have quickly picked up where the CDC failed.

Government monopolies pretended they had enough masks. They pretended their tests worked. Even now they’re pretending that effective medicine against previous coronaviruses don’t work against this one. They’re killing people, with neither remorse nor repercussion.

Some states literally shut down small businesses while exempting larger ones. It’s a natural reaction: politicians prefer big monopolies.

The FDA, for example, was and remains a huge impediment to our crisis response. It took strong pressure from the president merely to approve a basic, safe medicine already found effective against coronaviruses. But as a government program, the FDA doesn’t win by letting people get to work. They lose by letting people bypass them. That has to change. And since we can’t change the nature of bureaucracies, we have to reduce our reliance on them wherever they occur, from local schools to giant federal agencies.

In an epidemic, our worst monopoly is our government-run school system. It means a single point of disease spread for entire communities—through our children. School needs to be decentralized. That we are still warehousing kids all in the same place in every community five days a week is nuts from every possible safety perspective. The fact that we have a single point of infection in every community and that it is our children is crazy. Mass Schools aren’t just a dangerous attraction for mass murderers. They are ground zero for an epidemic as well. One family gets sick, their kid brings it to school, and the whole community is infected. Our giant, sprawling education factory is a relic of our industrial past. It never made sense, but now it’s dangerous.

This does not mean that we have to go to vouchers or allow middle-class parents to shift their kids to private schools.1 But schools on the factory design need to end.

The problems we had shifting education to remote learning always existed. They just existed for a smaller proportion of the population. There are always people who need to take their children out of school for short or extended periods, and the methods for doing this are practically non-existent. At the very least, parents should be able at any point to take their kids out of school and switch to teaching them from home, and then move them back to school, without losing access to school materials. This will help parents who need to do this anyway, and in an impending crisis it will allow more parents to do so. So that parents can, if their child might be sick, switch immediately to home school mode and then back again, protecting not just their own children, but the rest of the community.

Parents will then be familiar with the system, and the system will be tested regularly. And at the first hint of an epidemic, parents can decide if it makes sense for their children to switch to distance learning temporarily until the danger passes over. They know their children, after all. All the options for distance learning need to be kept in place after this crisis ends, and made available to all parents in the community when they want to use it, for any reason.

Shutting down schools isn’t even a solution when we have local monopolies on education. If a disease is spread by children, it will already have spread by the time we shut down the schools.

Private or public, we need to reverse our increasing reliance on these giant, bumbling, monopolies. The nimble competitors to monopolies should not be shut down during a crisis; when government schools shut down, for example, parents should be able to take their share of school taxes to schools that will open. Taxes should follow the student, so that if schools don’t open or handle epidemic response poorly, parents can choose not just to move their child, but their child’s share of funds.

When any government monopoly refuses to provide service, people should be allowed to choose other services, and the monopoly should lose to those services.

Monopolies by their nature do not respond quickly. They don’t have to when there isn’t a crisis, which means that they’re out of practice when there is a crisis.

In response to COVID Lessons: The Health Care Shutdown: It’s fortunate that COVID-19 was not as bad as the experts said, because our response was almost entirely to make the problem worse. We shut down everything that could help, including health care for co-morbidities. We locked the healthy and the sick together, and cut people off from routine care. Most of the deaths “from” COVID-19 were probably due more to our response than to the virus itself.

  1. Though vouchers are certainly one way of implementing this goal.

  1. <- Innovation shutdown
  2. COVID Socialism ->