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The fantasies of central planners never end.

The author neglects entirely the fact that these city-states arose without any central plan to create these economic zones. They are the result of the market and political processes we already had in place. Did some technocrat wizard in Washington say, "We should target the Northeast Corridor to produce 20% of our GDP"? No. That result was organic.

Here's an alternate proposal: decentralize power back to the states and have groups of states work out arrangements among themselves to enhance their shared cross-border economies. Reduce the federal take of taxes, leaving the money in the hands of the people who actually innovate, employ, and make economic decisions.

The primary fallacies in this central planner's thinking is that some new National Economic Planning Board will be a) completely altruistic in allocating a pile of cash to the places that will produce the most economic benefit, b) able to out-perform the decentralized economic decision-making mechanism of the market (prices), c) not be subject to the lobbying that so corrupts the Congress now.




Centralized planning worked for the Insterstate Highway System [1], which was considered successful.

If you parse responsibility down to the states, they're only going to build within their own self-interests, which is not very well aligned with inter-state travel. You'll get a hodgepodge of corridors, if the states even build at all.

For example, Kansas won't build a track from KC to Colorado's border. Instead, they'll route the track south through Wichita and other cities within their border. Or it will turn out like California's project [2]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System

http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2014/04/california-h...


inter-state travel is aligned with the self-interest of states that want to have robust economic interactions. Kansas won't built a line to Colorado's border on their own, but the two states might jointly connect KC, Wichita, and Denver, and Colorado Springs if they thought those connections would be mutually beneficial.

At the city/county level, Denver doesn't have its own mass transit system -- it cooperates with several surrounding counties to make up the "Regional Transportation District" which runs buses and light rail. This sort of regional organization doesn't somehow disappear when you make it multi-state instead of multi-city.


Right, but Kansas is a good example of how they will use their state-level control to route all inter-state travelers through each of their cities, increasing travel times and decreasing value.

The question isn't whether or not interstate travel is beneficial, it's how the states will use their self interest to diminish quality, effectively turning the project into a tragedy of the commons.


Kansas isn't a great example for this. Why was I-70 routed eight miles south of Manhattan? (You'll really wonder why if you need fuel somewhere in the 60 miles between Topeka and Junction City.)

Depending on my origin and destination on either side of this state (it has been less common for one of those to have been in Kansas), I have used several other highways to cross it, and I haven't found them to be slower than I-70.


Because the interstate system (I-70) was designed using central planning. Routing north through Manhattan would have made the highway longer, and thus less effective for interstate travel.


Are you really claiming the current route is a good thing? There is literally nothing in the 60 miles between Topeka and Fort Riley. The geography is a gently rolling plain, that favors no particular route over any other. Manhattan is the site of one of the two universities in Kansas of which anyone outside the state has ever heard. Passing through Manhattan would have added about five miles to the road, would have been an added convenience for tens of thousands of drivers every year, and would have saved the later cost of improvements to the various high-traffic roads linking Manhattan to the rest of the highway system. If this is the great work of "central planners", they can keep it.


I-80 does the same thing most of the way across Nebraska -- it goes through Omaha and Lincoln, and then it misses everything else by 3-5 miles. It creates this weird dichotomy in places like Lexington, where most of the town is far away, but there's a huge cluster of businesses being built next to the interstate. It's often not even a shorter route; compare I-80 to US-30 in that area.

There are a lot of things to love about the Interstate highway system, but it's not always the superior choice.


I haven't spent much time in Nebraska, but is it possible that Omaha and Lincoln were originally the same as the other places, and now they've just grown enough to fill in the gaps?

If all this hadn't happened so long ago, it would be interesting to see who owned land adjacent to the interstate exits when the interstates routes were decided.


that might be true of Lincoln. The interstate still barely touches the outskirts. But it runs right through Omaha (I-29 misses it to the east.)


In order for states to use their self-interest to diminish quality we have to ask "diminish relative to what"?

If your comparing the actual to some ideal then, of course, your always going to see a diminished quality. But that's just a tautology.

We have to ask ourselves does a particular plan work better or worse than some other realistic alternative.

Unfortunately, realistic alternatives almost always require trade offs with special interest groups. Sorry dude, that's just reality.

It's a simplistic analysis to compare something to an ideal optimum point and bemoan how far we've fallen from the ideal. But it's not terribly useful.


"We have to ask ourselves does a particular plan work better or worse than some other realistic alternative."

You're arguing about the highway system. Not only is it "a realistic alternative" to your state-run theory, it's actually real.

In fact, we've had this debate, in the real world, and your side lost: every state has an extensive network of state-funded highways, nearly all of which are slower and less efficient than the interstate system.


Limited access state highways are the same speed as interstate limited access highways ("freeways"). The feds dont give the states magic pixie dust when the states build and maintain the interstate freeways.

In CA, my understanding that the most used parts of interstate freeways are actually state limited access routes (highways) extended to major national cities. This is in addition to the other state routes (expressways, etc.) and other county routes that permeate pretty much everywhere. Together, this state highway system (the county being an administrative instrument of state government) is by far more efficient than e.g. taking an interstate to a major national city (skipping even large regional cities) and then off-roading everywhere else. "Efficiency" is pretty loose term in this respect, no?


> inter-state travel is aligned with the self-interest of states that want to have robust economic interactions

On the other hand, Chris Christie (https://www.propublica.org/article/chris-christies-tunnel-ta...).


RTD is more or less controlled by Denver and Denver based beuracrats in practice, however


You do know that roads crossed state borders before the interstate, right? In truth, for the traffic volume, they were pretty good.

That said the states would have evolved them to meet the needs, while the federal government took a more revolutionary approach. I tend to prefer the agility of incremental approaches. That said, when you are on the right side, revolutionary change is nice too. Despite how it seems today, I'm sure there are those that would argue the money could have been better spent. Ultimately, the question is where you put your faith; we the people or we the government?


If that were true, the avenue of the saints wouldn't exist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avenue_of_the_Saints

It's exactly that kind of cross-state cooperation you're talking about.


Not at all. This intermodal project and many of the other federally funded ISTEA projects [1] work well at the state level because they supplement the existing interstate highway network.

On the other hand, the high speed rail corridors in the act (which was a new network altogether) failed horribly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intermodal_Surface_Transportat...


> Centralized planning worked for the Insterstate Highway System [1], which was considered successful.

Well and it seems to be working as part of any sufficiently large company.



> Centralized planning worked for the Insterstate Highway System [1], which was considered successful.

Considered successful by some, perhaps, and probably not so much by others. Like people who don't like global warming or highway deaths, to give two examples.


Interstates are the safest roads in the country, with dramatically lower fatality rates per mile.

Sources: http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/pub... http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq.cfm#question16


All else being equal, adding new roads with a lower death rate per mile than existing roads is not exactly an improvement to road safety.


I wonder if the passenger and freight rail lines the interstates helped kill were safer still and building the highways might have increased fatalities by switching from rail to driving despite being safer than the older US highways.


It would be extremely difficult for me to imagine that not being the case.


yeah,it was wonderful as long as it wasn't your neighborhood that got bulldozered. There are not that many functions which require that level of government. The Federal Government should insure States cooperate with each other, not hold States hostage to cooperate with the Federal government.

For as many benefits of the Federal Government it sure incurs a cost and penalty in many other areas. Federal rules and regulations drove health care costs up because it prevented sales across state lines. The Feds help cause if not were the main cause of water crisis in California by selling water so cheap that it exaggerated growth of water intensive businesses. It forces companies to see alternatives to sugar to protect a few business interest in limited states. The list can go on and on. Oh, it also lends aid to and gives court backing to search and seizure.

I am quite sure we can afford to live with a much more limited government


Whether the state or federal level government controls planning won't change the problem of displacement. Opining your views on small government makes it seem like you personally just don't want the rail, for which switching the project to state-level control is non-sequitur.


Robert Moses wasn't working for the feds.


They gave him money, and he built highways with that money. Besides, NYC is far from the only place where this happened.

Look at St. Louis: rather than creating peripheral connections through then-undeveloped (not anymore!) land to the existing I-55 (which for miles runs along the Mississippi, completely avoiding the problems I cite), they routed not one, not two, but three different interstates (often less than a mile apart) through central neighborhoods (most often those of minorities), destroying the existing networks of travel, commerce, and community. For what? To save a longhaul trucker five minutes? Pull the other one; those truckers drive north or south of the city on 270 to avoid the mess of the Poplar St Bridge and East St Louis's mind-melting spaghetti junction, and they have for decades. The destruction of minority communities, and the poorer lives that minorities live in St. Louis today, was a feature, not a bug.


>> decentralize power back to the states

Why decentralize power back to the states? What is it about the states that make them the right level to delegate power to?

A large point of what I took from the article is that states are simultaneously too large (because they encompass metro areas and rural areas that often have little in common, both in terms of economic and social outlook) and too small (because they encourage race to the bottom competition between states who in many ways have common interests).

When you devolve power to a lower body, you are doing a form of central planning because you're determining what those lower bodies should be. So we should do it right. That might mean that states aren't the only body to consider.

>> They are the result of ... the political processes we already had in place

You can't assign this causality with certainty. They may have also arisen despite the political processes we have in place.


I agree that "decentralize back to states" is no solution. States have, for the most part, shown themselves to be poor stewards of power. Achieving the right balance of power at each level is the challenge.


No more than any other level of government left unchecked. The pendulum has now swung the other way, and there's probably an optimal Goldilocks zone somewhere in the middle. You're right that it's about balancing the authority of government at different levels against each other.


For one, the Constitution already has a legal framework for decentralization, and that is the states. Also, states already have governments etc, so from a pragmatic standpoint transferring power to them can potentially be done without setting up new centers of power that overlap existing structures. Unfortunately the Constitution prohibits breaking up states without their consent, so short of a Constitutional amendment it seems unlikely that these advantages could be obtained with entities smaller than the existing states.

I agree with your premise (I think); personally I prefer the ninth amendment to the tenth. Certainly however, I would favor d?evolving power to the states instead of pushing power up the totem pole through regionalism.


> When you devolve power to a lower body, you are doing a form of central planning because you're determining what those lower bodies should be. So wee should do it right. That might mean that states aren't the only body to consider.

In software development, we've moved power from a Big Design Up Front (aka waterfall) planned by a few to a series of teams, each with core specialties, areas of control, and many degrees of freedom but still have interfaces, agreements, and goals to tie them all together.

It's because we know that the waterfall process can't have all the information up front, can't see all the risks and opportunities, and can only be as good as the experience and foresight (sometimes guessing) of the few in charge who also happen to be the furthest from the problem.

Why is it bizarre to consider a similar approach to a much more complex system?


I don't think it is bizarre. What makes you think I do?

I agree that it's a great idea to delegate powers to lower bodies. But you have to decide what those lower bodies should be. I'm just arguing that the states (as currently formed and defined) might not be the best bodies.


And yet our most reliable systems are all effectively Big Design Up Front (aka waterfall).

And, in fact, the poster child for "agile" was the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation which was a gigantic FAILURE precisely because of all the complexity which "agile" never handled.

Complexity doesn't magically go away just because you break things into smaller pieces.


C3 was a failure for whom? All of the planners and senior engineers went on to spectacularly successful careers as Agile "thought leaders". Sounds like a rousing success to me. :D

I, too, find it funny that people whose main large-project experience is C3 use it as evidence that they should be trusted with anything.


It depends on what is being built. E.g.,

> It is perfect, as perfect as human beings have achieved. Consider these stats : the last three versions of the program — each 420,000 lines long-had just one error each. The last 11 versions of this software had a total of 17 errors. Commercial programs of equivalent complexity would have 5,000 errors.

> The product is only as good as the plan for the product.

> Take the upgrade of the software ... a change that involves just 1.5% of the program, or 6,366 lines of code. The specs for that one change run 2,500 pages, a volume thicker than a phone book. The specs for the current program fill 30 volumes and run 40,000 pages.

> Don't just fix the mistakes — fix whatever permitted the mistake in the first place.

> Ten years ago the ... group was considered world-class. Since then, it has cut its own error rate by 90%.

- All from http://www.fastcompany.com/28121/they-write-right-stuff

Not every piece of software needs such an obsessive approach - but, there are pieces of software that absolutely do need such an obsessive approach!

In other words, there isn't a single binary correct answer for every choice. There are some things that are best decided at the neighborhood level, there are some things that are best decided at the global level, and there are are many things that are best decided at levels in between.

It seems to me a national approach, with significant input from the states, seems like a very appropriate level for something like an interstate road system. Particularly given our already successful history with the National Highway System [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System].

Why is it bizarre to consider an approach that is logical and has already been demonstrated to be effective?


Without the end-user involved in the entire development process, with no BA, it is still waterfall aka 'fake agile'. Creating a division in software development creates a gap. Shouldn't even be sitting in a separate office / section of office / in that state of mind.

It is not "in software development." It is product development.


This is a good analogy, but I think your takeaway is wrong.

In software development, we change the team structure if we find that multiple teams do the same thing for the same customers. So, in this case, redraw the state boundaries.


Because it was/is a good balance. You can take your logic all the way down to a city or all the way up to a nation and delegate or not. Having vastly different states from one another gives a citizen of a nation the freedom to easily move to somewhere else where the prospects are better and or where it aligns with your way of life more.


Why is it a good balance?

All you've done is state that "my idea is good because my idea is good."

A better response would be to devolve power to CSA - combined statistical areas. These are geographic units defined by economic interactions (measured in part by commuting distances).

See, CSA's make sense because they have a rationale based in recent experience. State boundaries from over a century ago do not.


Sure. But why these states in particular? You don't think it's possible that there might be a better configuration of borders/regions? It seems improbable to me that by chance we landed on the optimal structure as these borders were defined in the years spanning from colonization to the early 20th century.


Which state borders would you re-draw?


Md, DC and Virginia come to mind. The DC suburbs and the rest of va and md might as well be different countries.


But does the state level apparatus provide the best balance today?


> What is it about the states that make them the right level to delegate power to?

Nothing in particular, but states are smaller than the federal government. For most things, more local government is better in my opinion.


Spot on with the too large / too small argument.

I think the key point you allude to here is that there is nothing sacred about 50 states or their boundaries.

The article suggests exactly the parent's argument: decentralize power back to the states (and redraw the boundaries so the states make sense).


You can't just 'redraw' state boundaries though. The core fallacy in this kind of thinking is that the existing political geography is all the result of some top-down design and thus subject to top-down revision. The 'United States' is more than just a name, it's a literal description. The US Federal Government is essentially a super-national body that is the product of a treaty process not too unlike that which we've more recently witnessed in the founding of the European Union. The vesting of partial sovereignty from the constituent states into the federal state does not negate the sovereignty that is retained by the constituent states. They are not mere administrative divisions subject to the redistricting whims of some legislative body.


The smaller the project/team, the easier it is to recognize mistakes and change direction. At the federal level, competing interests make that nearly impossible.


> They are the result of the market and political processes we already had in place.

Fixed that for you. The market is far more important in shaping the economy that the state.


I didn't quibble with that part. I omitted it for clarity because I only intended to address the other part. I don't think that's controversial practice when quoting.


Huh? Your comments are completely ahistorical. The US federal government played a massive role in creating the states.

Examples include the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, massive Federal armed deployments against natives, the Mexican-American War, the Homestead Act. My brain is starting to break trying to fathom how completely and utterly ahistorical your assertions are. The article even makes explicit statements that contradict your claims.

Setting aside the historical facts, there's other problems with the blithe claim that "markets and states know best."

The primary fallacies in your proposal are that decentralized states will be (a) completely altruistic in allocating a pile of cash to the places that will produce the most economic benefit, (b)able to out-perform centralized economic decision-making of planners, (c) not be subject to the lobbying that so corrupts state and local governments now.

See, that's the problem with your line of thinking - it rests entirely on the assumption that markets and smaller government units are always and everywhere better at decisions than centralized governments.

A more intelligent and balanced perspective would be that sometimes centralized decision-making makes sense and sometimes decentralized decision-making makes sense.

Can we please get past this puerile debate about centralized and decentralized decision-making? It's completely dependent on the context and requires deep thinking not comforting ideological platitudes.


This is like the opposite of central planning. It appears to be proposing that we should manage political/economic regions as they actually exist, along naturally occurring boundaries, rather than imposing arbitrary boundaries (like state borders) and managing that way.

> decentralize power back to the states and have groups of states work out arrangements among themselves to enhance their shared cross-border economies.

Wow, no thanks. There are already plenty of differences from one state to another. Having to deal with a radically different regulatory/trade environment from one state to the next is not helpful to business.


I think people neglect how much centralized regulations and processes can reduce cognitive load. Perhaps there's increase cost to the individual regulation, but the reduction in cognitive load and wasted time likely offsets that cost substantially in many cases.

For those regulations where it doesn't we should reexamine and figure out a better way if possible, but I think people should better appreciate what having good government allows you to stop thinking about and start focusing on the things that matter.


Also, those regulations provide freer markets - free from the distortions of corruption and abuse. They provide safer markets which attract more investors, because they feel they won't get cheated.


> Having to deal with a radically different regulatory/trade environment from one state to the next is not helpful to business.

Of all the websites on the internet to argue this... Are you forgetting that YC made(/makes?) their applicants move to San Francisco? Again, SF didn't randomly become a tech hub because of some will or want, they just so happened to have attractive culture and conducive laws for startups at the right time.

Are you sure that you want to claim that these differences are categorically not helpful for business?

(Aside: this is the very reason that federally mandated net neutrality is a bad idea. Alaska has less than 750k inhabitants, 300k of which live in Anchorage. Alaska is 16.13% of this country by land mass. Are you really comfortable with denying very poor and very remote communities their right to enter into a contract for ad-injected or domain-whitelisted internet at a lower price because you can't stand the thought of your Netflix being throttled?)


Reduce the federal take of taxes, leaving the money in the hands of the people who actually innovate, employ, and make economic decisions.

Well, okay, but you'll end up with most of the red states declaring bankruptcy while the blue states do significantly better. Take a look at which states are subsidizing the others... http://taxfoundation.org/tax-topics/federal-taxes-paid-vs-sp...


This is fair: consider who voted to increase the spending.

If you're going to vote for high spending, you certainly ought to be paying for it.


Maybe the richer states can buy up the bankrupt states and eventually we'll end up with the state of New York and the state of California, probably a few city-state holdouts.


Or, you get financially irresponsible rural areas sucking tax money from the urban areas. In the state in which I live, 80 cents of every state tax dollar that I pay goes to some rural area where they waste the money on unnecessary police cruisers and rarely-used fire trucks. The state government is one big welfare system for the rural elite.


> decentralize power back to the states and have groups of states work out arrangements among themselves to enhance their shared cross-border economies.

What does that even mean? The Constitution guarantees free flow of goods and services between all 50 states. We don't need trade agreements between groups of states for anything, it doesn't get any freer than it currently is.


There has been a notable trend away from state power towards federal centralization. It's not a centralized mandate but has been happening through numerous slivers and cuts over the last few decades. Additionally, there has been a significant growth in executive power over federal thanks to the Bush administration pioneering work, which Obama continued to expand.


It just means that a rail line to the state border is less interesting than a rail line between two cities. Agreeing to invest in the rail line (or just working to establish compatible easements) would be an arrangement that might enhance both economies.


This reminds me of the argument for free market capitalism. In theory it seems like a great idea, but in practice it is just abused to death. Proponents will just say "it wasn't implemented correctly", because short of founding your own country and creating all the rules from scratch it can't be implemented correctly.

In reality is far easier to take away rights and discriminate on the state or local level. In a perfect world, people would have high mobility and it would be feasible to move from a state that represents you poorly to one that represents you better. Over time, presumably, people would prefer states that took better care of their people and protected their rights more.

In reality, the people that need the often late and insufficient protections of the federal government are the exact people that have the least mobility in society. In these cases, the federal government can serve a useful purpose, however bloated and inefficient as it may be.

It reminds me of monolithic kernels vs microkernels. Microkernels may be more architecturally appealing and may have many benefits on paper but where the rubber meets the road, monolithic kernels have won out. You can create all kinds of hypothetical circumstances where a microkernel wins, (free market capitalism, libertarianism, etc), but without some nonexistant force to enforce some kind of level playing field, you end up with what we have: a big monolithic patchwork of one off fixes and workarounds.

Designing a society is hard, designing a huge software system is hard and there is a reason why so many corners have to get cut to make shit work. The system evolves all the time and giving lots of power to the states just helps the powerful in their divide-and-conquer campaign against the rest of us.

Now if you excuse me I have to attempt to figure out whether it is easier to move to another state or another country.


Also, state government is far less democratic. Very few people vote for their state legislators or know what they do, making it easier for a small, powerful group to control them. That's the main reason many political operators push for more power in state capitals, IMHO.


Isn't the reason I don't vote for my state legislators or know what they do that most of the power to influence my life has been taken by the federal government?

I pay no attention to my state legislature because their activities seem uninteresting and irrelevant. Most people spend their time instead focusing on the federal government because federal policies are the ones everyone thinks should solve the world's problems.

But I have no voice in the federal government. Congress is mostly crippled because it's politicians have to be all things to all of too many people in order to be elected and stay in office.

If more power rested in my state of 3 million people I would certainly feel a greater sense of empowerment. In an electorate of that size I would have some chance of helping to drive public discourse about how to design a better healthcare system or how to improve the economy in my little part of the world. I might even stand some chance of electing an independent or 3rd party candidate that actually agrees with me on more than one issue rather than having to pick from one of the two crappy candidates with funding from billionaires in far-off realms that I have available now.

I think many people feel the same as I do and suspect that, if there were a transfer of power to the states, then democracy at the state level would flourish, surpassing what we now have at the federal level, as people perceive their increased control over their government and increased investment in its activity.

Sadly, I have no hard data to back up this thesis, and have never been able to think of a good way of looking for data to either confirm or refute it.


You are so right about state power being the way to get influence. That is how groups like elec operate.


I whole-heartedly support this suggestion. Devolution of economic and political authority has been a model for success throughout history. Central planning, not so much. Not that it can't be, but we are replete with examples of it failing disastrously.

However, the author of the article does get at a very interesting and relevant point, which is that the political system in the U.S., at both the state and federal level, is now badly out of date and does not reflect the contemporary realities of where the population centers are and how their economies work. It does seem like our country would greatly benefit from a broad reorganization of political-economy amongst the states and at the federal level as well.


Central planning, not so much. Not that it can't be, but we are replete with examples of it failing disastrously.

Wasn't the Interstate Highway system a boon to the US economy? Wouldn't infrastrucure projects between the meta-urban regions fall into much the same pattern?


I don't think anyone is saying that the Federal government is without purpose. Interstate highways are exactly the type of project the Federal government should be taking on.

That's not the type of central planning described in the article, this is the Federal government correcting a legitimate failing of a confederation. What was in the best interest of each state was opposed to the interests of the country as a whole.

It's exactly analogous the position of a classical economist, except the states are the individual actors. Yes, markets sometimes fail, and it ought to be the duty of a central government to correct those failures when they happen but economic intervention should be rare and only when absolutely necessary.


fair point. I'll clarify my meaning a bit.

central planning has a role to play. for certain types of projects it is appropriate and sometimes even necessary. however, the idea that central planning should be the starting point for economic development is wrong-headed in my opinion. it should be considered the exception, used when needed and not otherwise, not the rule.

additionally, I challenge the notion that interstate infrastructure projects are actually examples of central planning. they are more like examples of networks of mutual development and collaboration between diverse partners. adoption of shared technical standards, agreement on shared funding models, and legal compacts to ensure shared responsibility for maintenance and upkeep are what drives projects like the interstate highway system.


Wow. The federal government was able to connect some dots.

I'm super impressed. What a great example of the power of centralized planning.


> Devolution of economic and political authority has been a model for success throughout history

I disagree. As examples, the U.S. didn't get going until the Articles of Confederation were replaced with the strong central government of the Constitution. Devolution of political power is what led to the Civil War, segregation, and now attempts to legally discriminate against gay citizens and deny votes to many more.

Devolution is generally advocated by people who don't like being democratically outvoted in the current arrangement.


there is a considerable difference between devolution (the _return_ of authority from a central position to the states) and a weak and insufficiently binding treaty such as the articles of confederation.

for devolution to occur there must have first been a strong central authority to devolve those powers in the first place. the lack of a strong central authority can be problematic, as the situation with the articles of confederation demonstrates. that is not the situation I'm discussing though.

the example of the institution of slavery and the noxious "states rights" argument made by southern slavers at the time is a historical outlier. its such an exceptional (and not in a good way) that I really hesitate to hold it up as typical of any situation at all. its very sui generis.

the current situation where southern states (the same ones that used to be slave states, it seems), are trying to pass laws to institutionalize anti-gay bigotry is an interesting discussion that I'm willing to have on this issue. you make a good point. there are definitely people in those states who are putting forward a pro-devolution argument in favor of their stance.

as a counterpoint though, I would say that the movement for gay marriage itself began using exactly the same strategy. gay marriage advocates (and I was one in New York) lobbied their state governments to pass laws that supported their position. they were willing to do this without the support of the federal government and in fact for many years the gay marriage movement was deeply hesitant to elevate the issue to the federal level for fear that a federal circuit court, or congress itself, would shut them down. it was only once critical mass of cultural change had occurred that the gay marriage movement was willing and able to successfully make their case at the federal level and win the supreme court decision.

my point is that devolution is just a methodology for governance. it is neutral with respect to policy. which policy the people want is determined by their culture. devolution of authority allows cultural movements to work with relatively less impediment from distant central authorities that might want to shut them down. we should still participate actively in our local cultures though, in order to transform society into what we want it to be. less bigotry. more love. those are my goals for cultural transformation.


Thanks for a thoughtful response - and about politics! It's positively un-American these days! A few points in response, hopefully equally thoughtful:

First, to expand on one point, note that the devolution also is or was used by segregationists, by pro-life advocates, and by Obamacare opponents, to name a few. But to the heart of it:

1) Consider these questions: Name your local state Representative, state Senator and their opponent(s) in this year's election. How about the leader(s) of your state house(s)? Maybe you know, but I think you'll agree that probably <10% or even <5% of voters can answer even the first question.

2) Is there a real chance those incumbents will lose? If like (most? many?) people these days there is not, then to whom are those representatives accountable?

3) If citizens have no awareness of and often no choice about their state representatives (or their activities), then state legislatures are not democratic, de facto. It makes them much easier targets for influence by the well-funded few and I know that some, such as the Koch organizations, have pushed devolution for that very reason, and conduct much/most of their activity at state and local levels.

Regardless of the principle or theory behind it, most advocates use it when it serves their purposes: When they are being outvoted in Washington and so they seek a different forum, and when a powerful few want more political control, as described above (including people left-of-center, as you point out, though my impression is that it's less common).

Personally I think it's a political tool, good for some things and bad for others, and I look at the outcomes: Which gets better results? My highest principle is people's health, liberty and welfare, not abstract theories of government.


Go find yourself one of those old rail corridors. You'll notice they don't always take what seems to be the straightest or even the most sensible route.

Find a historical society that knows about the rail and they'll be all too happy to tell you why. Typically the reroute was because some business interest bought off the company and they went miles out of their way to come to him. They'll also be able to tell you about the abandoned town that should have been on the route, but withered and died after the railroad went around them (not unlike the little towns along Route 66 a century later).

Occasionally it'll be because some landholder wouldn't let them cut across his homestead, but usually it was graft.


> c) not be subject to the lobbying that so corrupts the Congress now.

You seem to be operating under the belief this is harder than corrupting State and/or local governments.

Hint: It is easier, not harder.

> b) able to out-perform the decentralized economic decision-making mechanism of the market (prices),

Corruption is done via the marketplace at market prices within an ideological range the constituency will accept. I'm uncertain why you think that isn't market-based.

> a) completely altruistic in allocating a pile of cash to the places that will produce the most economic benefit

If they were paid the market price to perform this function then, yes, they could do so. Nothing prevents that.

> Here's an alternate proposal: decentralize power back to the states and have groups of states work out arrangements among themselves to enhance their shared cross-border economies. Reduce the federal take of taxes, leaving the money in the hands of the people who actually innovate, employ, and make economic decisions.

Corruption at the local level is pervasive, extensive, and frequently impossible to fight due to the fact the only people with the financial resources are the ones who bought the local government in the first place [or nonprofits who cover a greater area, such as the ACLU, and able to bring in out of area money to compete against the corruption].

If you think this is a recipe for reducing corruption, I suggest you get involved in local politics and try to support a minority candidate in a heavily white area. Hell, they'll do all sorts of legal [but shady] shit like hire a guy with the same name [different middle initial] and put them both on the ballot to split the vote. You only need to pull of a few percentage points of support this way to win in many situations.

> The fantasies of central planners never end.

The fantasies of people who think decentralization reduces corruption never end either.


Well if nothing else, your points about corruption are arguments against government in general :-) Decentralize power back to the people themselves. If I have no power over another, then my corruption affects only me.

However, corruption at the local level affects a limited number of people, and since local politics are easy to influence, they can be changed. Local politicians get into criminal trouble all the time, so they are not immune to the law.

Corruption at the national level affects all of us, and it's much harder to change the institutions. Even worse is the bureaucracy, which cannot be changed directly by the people, but meddles incessantly with our economy.

As for escaping corruption, you can leave your city easily, your state with moderate difficulty, but your country with great difficulty.


>your points about corruption are arguments against government in general

This is not the case. The first step of "divide and conquer" is "divide."

>If I have no power over another, then my corruption affects only me.

That's how how corruption works. It's not a property of individuals, it's a property of institutions.

>corruption at the local level affects a limited number of people

At first. Then two corrupt local levels team up, and there's nobody to stop them. Corrupt organizations don't require regulatory action to form alliances. Even if you decentralize everything on paper, they will be centralized in practice, because corruption causes some people to have disproportionate means to get what they want.


Agreed. It's easier for me to smell something fishy when my working class neighbor pulls up in the new Benz. Much more difficult when it's the massive amount of luxury homes going up along the Potomac.


Would be interested to how efficient local governments are compared to the federal government.

I think you could argue that people are less involved in local governments, so it is easier to control them or corrupt them.

John Oliver's piece on special districts was really interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3saU5racsGE


> Well if nothing else, your points about corruption are arguments against government in general :-) Decentralize power back to the people themselves. If I have no power over another, then my corruption affects only me.

Tragedy of the Commons is what occurs then as well as an inability to defend oneself against those who use force.

Go move to some country with essentially a nonexistent government and see how this works out for you if you genuinely believe I am wrong.

> However, corruption at the local level affects a limited number of people, and since local politics are easy to influence, they can be changed. Local politicians get into criminal trouble all the time, so they are not immune to the law.

So your argument is to make it cheaper, easier, and dismantle the checks and balances by defunding the enforcement mechanism at the federal level?

Seriously? Do you not understand that logically plays out until the local politicians are unable to be held accountable to a higher authority?


On the one hand, yes, the overbearing and excessively taxing nature of the Feds is a problem for local governments trying to do things, nowhere moreso than in the northeast, home of state such as New Jersey, which pays an enormous amount of federal taxes and receives something like $0.50 on the dollar back.

On the other hand, it's sensible to have the federal government make transfer payments between the states in an attempt to equalize development and keep the beneficial union together.


State governments are, if anything else, even more dysfunctional than the federal government. D.C. telling Chicago what to do is pretty inane, but Springfield doing so is even more inane. I like the idea of decentralization, but the states are the wrong vehicle for doing that. We should get rid of the states, and decentralize the federal government, with autonomy pushed down into the various major economic centers (New York, LA, Houston, etc).


I wonder what structural forces cause this to be the case.

Less attention from the people (and the press)? More restrictive state constitutions?

I don't have a lot of hypotheses.


In addition to the factors you mention, I think low voter turnout breeds monoculture and allows minority interests to dominate.


They also have much smaller constituencies, which makes their seats safer. Madigan's 22nd is 1/8th the size of Danny Davis's 7th Congressional.


I am assuming that you don't care much for Silicon Valley, which was a creation of the Federal Government.

https://steveblank.com/secret-history/


What a ridiculous statement. A tech hub would have happened with or without the ferderal government.

Just like it has happened for countless other industries without the need of the government to do anything.


Anything other than build infrastructure, educate children, coin money, provide public safety, deter foreign invaders, etc.


Though really we should be crediting the earth for creating the tech industry, for without the earth neither the government nor the tech industry could have formed.

Actually we should credit the sun. For without the sun we would have no earth.

Wait, wait a minute! This line of reasoning seems ridiculous!

Why? Its the same reason we don't credit the government for every accomplishment ever made. We focus on the key players. Could the government have been a key player here? Perhaps. But your line of reasoning is not the reason.


Silicon Valley's origins are deeply entwined with the military industrial complex and federal money. To argue otherwise is historical revisionism.

William Shockley is credited with making Silicon Valley what it is today. He was a federal researcher who hired eight other federal researchers. [1] They then created Fairchild Semiconductor which developed transistors for the aerospace industry.

Look up the history of Shockley, Noyce, Fairchild, Intel.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traitorous_eight


All you have proven is that it would be equally ridiculous to say "a tech hub would have happened with or without the sun" or "a tech hub would have happened with or without the earth."

Though one may not credit the federal government for the creation of an industry, it is ridiculous to say that such an industry would exist without the government's existence. Govennment is a necessary prerequisite even if it deserves no "credit".


What industries happened without the government?


Sex industry.

Though that question isn't really relevant to the question of how industry hubs form.


Great example. An industry that has historically preyed on the unfortunate.


I think it's hard to do argue that the federal government wasn't involved. Don't forget why they call them hookers, General Hooker was the source of the name during Civil War and it wasn't B.C. he used them himself.


That's not a true story [1], although you're not the first person I've heard it from. The sex industry was thriving well before the US government, or any other government around today, however. And it would be very hard to argue that the US government has ever been formally "involved" with the sex industry, except as a regulatory presence.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Hooker#Final_years_and_...


What about the Erie Canal and the B&O Railroad? Those were government funded projects in the Northeast that had massive, massive impact. You can definitely draw a line between that economic jump start and the current distribution.


It wasn't organic at all. The NE corridor has a powerful, although declining in many ways, economic engine as a result of nearly 400 years of access to the best transportation resources available: water, later canals, later railroads eventually interstate.

If you think the Congress is a cesspool of corruption, state governments are the scum at the bottom.

Examples:

- The legislative leaders of New York were just convicted of felony charges. About a half dozen of their colleagues have been convicted of various corruption crimes in the last few years.

- The NJ governor basically stole Federal aid intended to rebuild the overloaded and damaged Hudson River rail tunnels that connect NYC to NJ and the rest of the country by rail.

I agree that this regional vision is pretty dumb. But, I think the Federal government has a pretty good record on planning and funding transportation infrastructure.


For me to consider your proposal you will have to explain California's high speed rail system which has been grossly warped from the original vision and promise by purely local interests.


I'm not sure why you believe that states are any better. Central planners are everywhere, even down at the regional and local levels. I've lived in ten different towns / cities in five different states, and each had its share of central planning, for better or worse.


I've worked with several different county or city planning boards, and have found them to be reasonable and diligent. It is possible for local government to function, even if there are many examples of it not doing so.

On that topic, don't even get me started on the wastewater agencies. At both the state and local levels, they have repeatedly failed to accomplish anything fairly or effectively.


>>Reduce the federal take of taxes, leaving the money in the hands of the people who actually innovate, employ, and make economic decisions.

Are you suggesting that the federal government doesn't innovate or employ (which would be wrong), or that the states are better at those things than the federal government (which would require a citation)?


It sounds like perhaps the default mental map needs to be updated before it's possible to improve the physical map.


The federal government has proven more times than any other organization that they are inept and inefficient at almost every task they undertake.

And yet the people all but demand that they do more, more, more.

Please! Take more of my money and more of my individual liberty! And in return please send me more regulation, bureaucracy, inefficient waste, and general mismanagement! I can't get enough!


The government isn't the most efficient organization in the world, but for some problems it's the only kind of organization that can reasonably address the problem. If there isn't a plausible alternative organizational structure to solve a problem, then by definition and despite its problems government is the most efficient organization we have.

Take for example national infrastructure, it's hard to imagine a way for private corporations to be incentivized to create roads to even the smallest communities. The individual roads aren't going to be profitable enough on a reasonable timescale. However the value of the whole network of roads is greater than the sum of its parts.

Even if you had a private corporation that was willing, in infrastructure you have essentially natural monopolies. It's very valuable to build the first road from A to B. It's far less valuable to build the second. Look at how we've done internet infrastructure, and how little competition there is to a single one or two providers in most areas. Observe how it's hard to get high speed internet to rural locations. Tons of problems fit this structure, probably the best example is water infrastructure. Build once, use forever, structural challenges to competition.

Government is essentially the only solution to these kinds of natural monopolies that ensures that more than a tiny population benefits from their services at a reasonable price.

Other things government does that no private system is able to replicate at the same scale:

- Funding of basic (not obviously practical in any timeline) research

- National defense

- Enforcement of contracts

- Mitigating environmental externalities

Government sucks. But let's make it better. We need good government not minimal government, those two things aren't always the same thing.


I'll point out that the parent comment was specifically targeted at federal government and not government as a concept. Many of your arguments may still hold true but at least some can be reasonably painted as responsibilities for state governments, not Washington. That was presumably the desired (tired, 200-year-old) sentiment.


Possibly, but particularly for interstate issues it's hard to see how that works. And even where it does, it's usually slow and difficult to scale.

The first thing that comes to mind is environmental issues. These have national implications that it's hard to see how even coalitions of states can have the same kind of impact. And if they did, you'd end up with a patchwork of regulations that makes it harder for business to work.

I'm a proponent of relatively stronger central government, but I know that's not a universal belief. After all, the national government is a coalition of all the states :)


It's also worth pointing out that private corporations with sufficient scale to plan and build road networks are also fantastically inefficient organizations in many respects...


Very much agreed! I've rarely heard people working at big corporations say, "Wow everything we do is so free or red tape and full of efficiency!"


You're right, bureaucracy/red tape generally increases with size.

But the federal government is distinctly different in one major way: private corporations must make money. The federal government is immune to going out of business.


> it's the only kind of organization that can reasonably address the problem.

I agree with your broad point. Which is why we should let the gov do whats necessary, and get it out of everything else because of how wildly it is inefficient. We need to get it out of:

- health care

- education

- providing pensions

Its no coincidence that the areas were there is the biggest mix of gov and private are also some of the worst industries to deal with.


    - health care
I disagree with this one.

First, we effectively have government mandated healthcare now: hospitals aren't allowed to turn people away. Would you like to change that? Have people dying in the waiting room if they can't prove insurance? Or people not being picked up by an ambulance because they were out for a run and didn't have their insurance card on them (or worse, being profiled about whether they're likely to pay)?

I think most people, when it comes down to it, think some level of healthcare is a service everyone in the U.S. is entitled to, just because we can provide it and nobody wants to see people dying on the streets or in hospital waiting rooms.

If you disagree with that, then I guess we can just agree to disagree.

But assuming you agree that everyone should be guaranteed some level of care, then it's just a matter of efficiently providing it.

Here we get to where "insurance" is a fundamentally flawed system for delivering health care. With insurance, risk is spread out so everyone pays (cost of healthcare) * P(need of health care). The issue is everyone has dramatically different P's so it's impossible to pool the risk effectively. If you have a pre-existing condition, then your P is 100% and no insurer in their right mind is going to want to accept you.

If you get diagnosed with something, you won't be able to change insurance providers, you'll be desperately tied to your current provider, etc.

Now the government could step in as it has now with Obamacare in the U.S., and stop insurers from blocking pre-existing conditions, but then to make that economically viable you need to require citizens to pay for health insurance...

So all told, if you come from the perspective that we're a rich enough country to provide some level of health care to our citizens, then the best, most efficient way to do it, is to have the government involved.


Start a hospital and your obligation to accept all ECU patients will be the smallest of your worries - a law which I agree with.

Every. Little. Detail. about healthcare is regulated. From the years of doctors education, from where they must go to school, to who can do what procedures, to how many volts your power supply can ripple, to the brand of emergency generator your hospital is allowed to use, to they types of investments your hospital is allowed to make, to the types of antiquated file formats your hospital records must support. I am not even scratching the surface. It's not that the regulations are bad intentioned or even bad ideas, its that following them is huge, huge overhead that prevents innovation and competition. Heck, the state has essentially conspired with the AMA to limit the number of doctors. It's a classic barrier to entry exmaple that professions lobby for. And it's the reason a highly trained doctors still need to perform the majority of simple procedures. Because that how the doctors want it.

Depending on your state, there are between 800,000 and 1,500,000 pages of health regulations. The affordable care act is 20,000 pages alone, and that is just one regulation among hundreds.

Healthcare is the most over regulated industry in the United States. Bar none. And it has been a disaster.

AS for preexising conditions, my stance is that If the taxpayers want that, then the tax payers are more than welcome to foot the bill. It doesn't even make sense to have insurance companies, which insure against risk, to provide it.


I think I can see a case for getting out of providing pensions, but I would respectfully disagree about broadly getting out of healthcare and education. Certainly in certain subsections of those areas there is much to improve and perhaps less government involvement would be good, but I think overall it's not a great plan. My reasoning is as follows:

For healthcare it's hard to see how a system that is even more privatized than the one in the US would do well. Healthcare is an area where there are massive information asymmetries and where price discovery is hard to do. If I need a trauma surgeon or a broken leg fixed, then I'm not going to "shop around" for the best one. For less time sensitive problems you end up with issue 2:

It's a sector where it's not obvious how to measure quality. Is the doc with the fewest patients that die the best one? Maybe he's the guy who gets the sickest patients because he's actually the best at handling the complicated cases, so more of his patients die because they start out sicker!

Education faces some of the same problems. It's notoriously hard to measure great teaching, though I'm sure we've had great teachers and "we'd know it when we see it". It's also an area where the feedback between the service you buy and the result of the service is highly decoupled in time. It can take years after you've finished your education to figure out if it was a good deal or not.

Now I'm sure there are ways in which government should leave these sectors. I have heard interesting arguments (though personally I don't agree with them) about getting out of financing student loans, or doing it differently (those I'm usually more in agreement). It's harder for me to see how I would want less government in my healthcare, I think we have a far too private system as it stands, but maybe in terms of HIPAA. I think medical data should have strong privacy protections, but I've definitely seen how the protections currently enforced are counterproductive. I also think it makes it way too hard to get a hold of your own data for personal use.

Anyway, these are issues where plenty of people have different opinions. It's good to talk them out and debate :)


> I think we have a far too private system as it stands

Its a public private mix. Not nearly as private as say the restaurant industry, tech industry, or even airlines industry, etc. Definitely very high up there on the 'regulated' scale as well. It's funny you admit the government is inefficient, but want it to run all of healthcare? Why? What is fundamentally so hard about having a competitive healthcare economy?

You bring up a good point about information asymmetries. I think private audit and review companies would do very well in this information economy. Perhaps the government if anything could disseminate this information freely.

ECU perhaps needs to be handled different though the majority of healthcare spending is not ECU.


My argument is not that government is inefficient and so it shouldn't be used, my argument is that despite inefficiencies it's appropriate to use in certain cases because the alternatives are worse.

I think with regards to healthcare, the private insurance market has proven to be insanely inefficient. We have a patchwork of insurance laws across states, profit motivated insurance companies, and just overall opacity at every level of the system. All this and if you look at more centralized government managed systems, overall outcomes seem no worse and in some cases better. It's hard to measure quality in healthcare, as I mentioned above, but by many of those metrics the US system isn't doing radically better than, say, European systems which are largely single payer government organized or close to it. All that despite paying as much as 30% more.

There are lots of questions and issues in healthcare, it's a really complicated question. One thing that's pretty clear is that as much as 50% of your entire lifetime healthcare spend will be spent in your last 6 months of life. At that stage how can a private market work? "Hey, I'm dying let me shop around for the best ICU"?

All of the alternatives involve tradeoffs, usually in autonomy in deciding care (single payer can become a huge HMO) and difficulty in ensuring appropriate supply (waiting months for a CT scan you actually needed yesterday). I believe there are ways to solve those even with a centralized system, and I'm fairly convinced that our private market has done a poor job serving the majority of patients (unless you're fairly wealthy, and even then the structural inefficiencies of a fragmented system get in the way).

Re. private audit and review companies: It turns out a lot of docs are on Yelp and other similar services. I'll admit to looking at them when I look for a provider. But those systems have really perverse effects as well. People usually don't know what the is best thing for them to do medically, but they love it when the doc agrees with them. As a result a doc is pushed toward being more agreeable, prescribing what the patient wants instead of what they need.

Patient says, "I want antibiotics". Doc says, "but it's likely viral". Patient says, "I want antibiotics". The doc who caves gets better reviews.

Good medicine is hard to evaluate, and a patient is poorly equipped to evaluate relative quality, but he/she is also poorly informed as to what is a good price. You could say, "let's get rid of opacity." But one of the drivers for opacity is the private insurance system. No insurer wants what they're paying for X procedure to be known by their competitors, that complicates their negotiating position.

You could force regulation that would open all this up, but then aren't you just growing government involvement in healthcare regulation?

With so many asymmetries and so much opacity it's hard to see how a private system does better. That said, it's worthy of discussion and a complicated topic, so I really enjoy learning of other opinions.


I think you have a pretty naive and overly optimistic view of human organizations other than the US federal government.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

In general very large organizations can be problematic. Very large organizations with massive (universal) scope are at even greater risk.

Unfortunately, what's the alternative? We've tried devolving tasks back to private organizations and smaller governments. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.

I find it interesting how so many people on both side of the "big government/smaller government" debate apparently don't have the word "sometimes" in their vocabulary.


You could have saved a few bytes and just said: "Hey everybody, I'm a libertarian!"


Yeah, the private sector has been such a steward of my interests over the past century, why do we even need the government.

/s


To work for the private sector further against your interests? /s




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