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A Botulism Outbreak Gave Rise to America’s Food Safety System (smithsonianmag.com)
64 points by samclemens 3 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments





We always seem to live in a world where it takes front page news like this to put into effect genuine reform, reform that slams the door in the face of entrenched interests.

This seems to be just one of those things, but it reminds me of (most/all) companies I have worked at, where action across the company is really only determined by the next pressing crisis - actual plans are laughed at as everyone know how things really are.

But it does not have to be like this. I think the concept of technocracy is most relevant when it delivers things that should be done based on scientific analysis - even if those are not the latest crisis yet.

imagine an election where we voted in the order of the governments backlog - fix these things in this order.

wonder what it might look like


I've never understood how the concept of a "technocracy" was any different from "government, but more complicated and more reliant on cool heads and intelligent decisions." That just sounds like what republic democracy would be if we elected better people. With the same people, a "technocracy" would just be a more authoritarian version of the government we have now, with way more power to plan centrally but not much more capability to do a good job at anything.

Some things can't just be put to the vote, they need to be run by career civil servants. Pension plans need to be actuarially sound, you can't contribute more or less, depending on which party is in charge. You'd also like to see architects in charge of town planning. I'm sorry if that's too technocratic.

Well who is going to choose the domain experts to run the system? And what kind of checks are going to be on the domain expert executives?

I don't think the parent is saying the don't want domain experts to make policy decisions, but rather that we would already have (in effect) a technocracy if the people of our democracies valued domain expertise. If US voters (for example) trusted and valued the opinions of climate and environmental scientists, they would elect representatives that felt the same, and the EPA would be staffed with world class environmental scientists.

But if today's US voters were mixed with technocracy government structure, it would be horrible. The elected representatives wouldn't be choosing domain experts based on their expertise, but would be trying to pack the government bureaus with ideologues from their own party.

Nothing about our current government structure prevents the creation of a de facto technocracy. The issue is that a very large portion of the US population dislikes domain experts.

> You'd also like to see architects in charge of town planning.

And on this point I strongly disagree. This would be horrible. Centrally planned cities are invariably poor: Brasilia, Washington DC, Abu Dhabi, and so on. I would take an organic city like Paris, Milan, London, New York, or Tokyo any day over a planned city.

Of course I am sure architects, are like "no but we really got it this time! We learned that all that Le Corbusier stuff is garbage, we are going to make walkable human scale cities now, with less cars, and more scooters, blah blah blah." But I am incredibly skeptical anyone can do this stuff right. Acing a planned city is like getting a hole in one in golf. Much better to just let things grow organically, as I trust citizens and businesses to better understand the local needs of the city dwellers than I do a central planning committee with a grand vision. Of course mistakes get made, but they are on a small scale and can eventually be corrected. When central planning makes a mistake...the scale is usually massive.


> Centrally planned cities are invariably poor: Brasilia, Washington DC, Abu Dhabi, and so on. I would take an organic city like Paris, Milan, London, New York, or Tokyo any day over a planned city.

"Organic cities" tend to happen because there was a natural economic draw-- a good port, a big deposit of natural resources, a crossroads in transport networks, a safe climate. People were coming there unsolicited, before the city planners arrived.

Planned cities tend to have been shoehorned into existence in places with no economic appeal, often for political reasons like "let's develop a dead area" or "lets put our purpose built capital away from big influential existing cities." Brasilia and DC were in basically uninhabited territory. Who is that going to atteact? The government workers who have to follow the jobs, and people who figure they can exploit a relatively captive market with inferior, expensive services.

I'd love to see someone try to build a planned city in a proven area of economic appeal. It would probably have to either be 1) a country like China with the ability to suspend objections an private property rights enough to deliver the vision or 2) a post-war or natural disaster buildout.


Centrally planned cities are invariably poor

On this I disagree, people think they know what they want, but it's not necessarily what they need - consider the usual over-55 development, which is car-centric, doesn't have sidewalks or supermarkets and community centers within walking distance, and not nearly enough medical facilities nearby. Good if you are a healthy 55-year-old, but there'll be much pain in the future when the owner's health is failing 25 years later. The golf course doesn't make up for the fact that you can't get anywhere from your home!

The developer has a conflict of interest, their interest is to sell, the long-term viability of the development or the well-being of the owners is not on their radar. Something needs to provide a counterweight here.


You say you disagree, but what real world planned cities do you think came out well?

I think we probably generally agree on what might make a good city, but that's just theory, and my objection to planned cities has nothing to do with theory and everything to do with their empirical track record. I've heard no shortage of fascinating ideas for how cities could be planned and arranged, but whenever someone actually does plan out a city, like the examples I listed in my previous post or those in China or New Delphi, or wherever, it totally sucks.


In Lisbon Salazar's architects did a good job. See my comment from three weeks ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17588010

On the town planning idea I think that fits neatly with my "votable backlog" - there is a list of priorities that the (technocratic) town planners need to meet - perhaps "walkability" is top priority, (shops, GP, social centre within 5 min walk of new houses), off street parking etc etc. Perhaps guidelines on facades etc

then with that list the town planners use their expertise to meet the priorities set.




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