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John Carmack on government (armadilloaerospace.com)
192 points by hunterjrj on Oct 28, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 303 comments



I have a number of problems with this essay, but I want to focus on this idea that people work and earn money, and that money is theirs, and them the government tax man comes around and takes their money. This has to be one of the biggest fallacies of the modern era. I hear it echoed in various forms by people of all different stripes. The notion that there is an independent, absolute concept of wealth or money or cash apart from the laws and government we put in place is so injurious to a healthy understanding of self-governance that I often can't take people seriously after I see them start to go down that road of argument. Implicit in that dollar you have in your pocket, in your paycheck, is a whole set of social and political conditions that allowed you to work, safely, without discrimination or abuse, or threat to your health, to get that dollar in the first place.

This idea of "my money" is willfully ignorant of the tax payer-funded or -secured bounty that allows these same people to have such a high standard of living and a platform upon which to spout their anti-government, every-man-for-themselves arguments. The sheer scale of the background conditions that these people take for granted -- roads, sewers, police & emergency responders, airwaves, parks, clean water, the military, etc., etc., etc., -- is so enormous, encompassing, and enabling that, for people like Carmack decry the very system that made them so wealthy, the disingenuousness and hypocrisy is staggering.

It's time -- lord, long past time -- for smart hacker types to leave behind the immature, naïve libertarianism that pervades their industry and engage with a real, honest politics that, at least implicitly, acknowledges and owns-up to the great wealth and resources already afforded them. /You didn't get here on your own, and you never would have otherwise./


(Waring: US-centric answer)

I agree that capitalism relies on government-supported stability and infrastructure, but I don't think Carmack was arguing the opposite point: >>This is not to say that it doesn’t provide many valuable and even critical services ...

The argument concerns dollars spent at the margin. Should the amount of government we have increase, or should it decrease? At the margin, I agree with Carmack that there are many places where we would be better served with less interference, and that we should be cautious about adding new government programs. Clearly there is some fuzzy line between "the justice system" and "corn subsidies". I wouldn't argue that the government has all the program it needs, but neither would I argue that the government needs all the programs it has.

At the risk of flame baiting: I wish I could vote for fiscal conservatism without also voting for hateful and intrusive social conservatism. I also have low confidence in either major party reducing the government in the areas of real excess (see farming), as opposed to e.g. creating new pork-flavored subsidies in the guise of tax relief. Suggestions for concrete ways to battle Parkinson's Law are welcome.


I'm very sympathetic to your overall stance on this and greatly appreciate that you named a specific type of spending to cut: corn subsidies.

That said, I'd be grateful for backup/citations that corn subsidies are bad for the U.S. in economic terms. Two common complaints about corn subsidies -- that the U.S. is cheating on NAFTA, or that overconsumption of corn products lead to health problems -- seem legitimate, but they don't seem to have inflicted any economic damage to the U.S. Further, although there's both redistribution and waste associated with the tax revenues that pay for the subsidies, corn is an infrastructural element of U.S. food production, and presumably corn's cheapness and relative consistency of supply lead to many multiples of downstream ROI.

I do, by the way, think economic harm is the right standard here, as it seems to be the main consideration in Carmack's essay. (Carmack and many commenters here do make reference to more abstract ideas of fairness and legitimacy, but that analysis seems irretrievably subjective and unproductive.)


It's time -- lord, long past time -- for smart hacker types to leave behind the immature, naïve libertarianism that pervades their industry and engage with a real, honest politics that, at least implicitly, acknowledges and owns-up to the great wealth and resources already afforded them. /You didn't get here on your own, and you never would have otherwise./

This argument is highly misleading. Libertarians complain about the quality of the public services all the time. They complained about congestion on roads, the high expenses of hospitals due to emergencies law, and police that spend way too much time chasing drug dealers rather than providing actual security.

They are taking money by force. You pay your taxes, or you go to jail. You don't have any option of not driving on roads, not getting emergencies care services, and so on.

It is by laws that emergency services will be provided for you, regardless of your ability to pay. It is by government mandates that create all these roads that we drive on. Your security is not provided by a local milita but by a professional army.

That is the cost of giving up your freedom. It's freedom that I wouldn't want to give up. Because a large enough government to give everything you want is large enough to take it away.

The French revolution history lecture by my history professor is enough to change my very reason of being a libertarian from idealism to never again resolve.


It's not misleading. The political economic function of the government is to ensure that markets function under controlled conditions. An elaborate government apparatus provides services without which capitalism as we know it today would be inconceivable. Those services are worth something. If you disagree, let the government cease the enforcement of limited liability.


It's not misleading. The political economic function of the government is to ensure that markets function under controlled conditions. An elaborate government apparatus provides services without which capitalism as we know it today would be inconceivable. Those services are worth something. If you disagree, let the government cease the enforcement of limited liability.

Libertarians has proposed a number of ways by which to regulate the market economy that doesn't involved coercion. Whether or not that is feasible is another matter entirely.

That being said, I prefer the alternative of being a member of the unorganized milita rather than a police state that handle every security services for me. I believed that a professional, well trained army are of some use but they should be limited to a size that doesn't allow them to invade nations and conquer the locals.

Wars is the death of empires, nations, and government.


A false dichotomy. The choice isn't between living in a police state and running amok with your slingshot.

Enforcing trademarks another example of a social program for business that I guess you could live without. We could disagree about the need for patents and how the US Patent and Trademark office is configured, but most people here, among them entrepreneurs, would agree that trademarks are a good thing, and that they should be enforced.

But let's see what happens if we were to hijack each other's brands. Maybe we should take over the YCombinator trademark. After all, enforcing trademarks isn't directly concerned with national defense. In the name of limited government, it's OK to suggest affiliations with corporations by using their trademarks without their approval. Especially since we dyed-in-the-wool libertarians don't believe in negative externalities, and that businesses have the right to do whatever they want. Those other companies with their putative concerns about reputation and perception about their brands, trademarks and logos are third parties to the exercise of our God-given libertarian rights. I only hope my militia is stronger than their militia.


A false dichotomy. The choice isn't between living in a police state and running amok with your slingshot.

I see no dichotomy between keeping a properly sized professional army, a militia, and an unorganized militia. The problem is that temptation of giving up responsibility entails giving up freedom and the issue of incentives.

I certainly do not like to see another Napoleon and Ceasar arising from the improper organization of military defense. Men like George Washington are rare in the history of the world.

But let's see what happens if we were to hijack each other's brands. Maybe we should take over the YCombinator trademark. After all, enforcing trademarks isn't directly concerned with national defense. In the name of limited government, it's OK to suggest affiliations with corporations by using their trademarks without their approval. Especially since we dyed-in-the-wool libertarians don't believe in negative externalities, and that businesses have the right to do whatever they want. Those other companies with their putative concerns about reputation and perception about their brands, trademarks and logos are third parties to the exercise of our God-given libertarian rights. I only hope my militia is stronger than their militia.

Much problem are there with the silliness of trademarks. However, I have little to say on this issue either way. I did studied patents and copyrights system and concluded to the best of my knowledge that they are not good public policy.

As I noted, libertarians hated the congestion on public roads. We certainly do believe in negative externalities. Does it not goes further to say that libertarians thought certain kind of regulations hurt the regular people and benefit corporations? There is such term called crony-capitalism, you see.

If a militia decided to invade a country for the sake of ransacking it, than the milita lost sight of its purpose.


If the need to enforce trademarks was actually great enough, then a private company or a standards body would obviously arise to fill the need.


LOL!


<i>Whether that is feasible is another matter entirely.</i>

No, it's not. I could suggest that we can power cold fusion with green cheese but that doesn't mean it will heat your house this winter.


"Money" only exists because of the organization of government. If we didn't have any, I could just come on to your land, shoot you, and take all your land and possessions.


Unless I have a gun too, which I would in hypothetical anarchyland, in which case we've got a gunfight.

Hypothetical anarchyland isn't a very nice place to live, though. Most libertarians are not anarcho-capitalists (let us ignore the subset who are because they're crazy), and are quite happy to pay the portion of taxes which go towards sensible things like the police force and the enforcement of contracts. The problem is that governments get to set whatever tax rates they like, inevitably wind up with a desire to go beyond this and to begin using tax dollars to feather the nests of whoever gets to make the government's decisions, whether it's a solid gold tomb for the King or free welfare checks for the bottom 51% of the population. And, y'know, we can deal with some of that happening, because it's inevitable, but we do need people to be standing up all the time and saying "Hey look Mr President, how about we get to keep a bit more of our money and you get to fly around in a private 777 instead of a private 747?"

I'm not sure how you make the leap from "the government is necessary to protect your private property" to "it's not really your property, it's the government's". The bank is also necessary for me to get paid, and so is the electric company and the telephone company and the nice lady down in HR, but it's still my money. I don't mind paying for the services they provide either, but I'll still complain if they take more than they're entitled to.


I don't really think that anarcho-capitalists are _that_ crazy. I'd be quite happy if some of them were to try getting together and building their utopia somewhere, because I'm honestly curious as to how it would end up playing out. I mean, I strongly suspect it would be worse than the government we have now - but would it be that much worse? People even managed to make communism work for a little while and this seems a bit less crazy a priori.


I already have some experience in an quasi anarcho-capitalist economy. Here are what I learned:

1. Cheaters are most problematics to deal with, especially with drive-by fraudsters. They make everything worse for everybody else, not just the direct recipient of the fraud. 80% of drive-by cheaters can be prevented with simple measures. However, the rest are long term scammers who build up reputation and than cheat over us. This is extremely difficult to prevent. Thus everyone factor in the risk of being cheated out of their money.

2. Reputation is VERY IMPORTANT in an economy with no court and police.

3. Paypal dollars and anything that is chargebackable is BAD MONEY. It is the DOMAIN of scammers and fraudsters. They also cause bank runs as people transfer their worthless money into something more valuable.

Is the economy a utopia? No. There are some scumbags who cheat and sometime got away with it. In one situation, their fraudulently brought merchandise got confiscated by an exchange mediator but not before it cause damage to the system. However, others were not so lucky. A guy got 2000 dollars in chargeback and had to shut down. What people will do, is learn how to handle cheaters, and find better methods to avoid cheaters. Since it is the internet, you can't just do "violence" or coerce individuals. It's impossible. Contracts are entirely based on reputation and trust. Nobody want to go to a state court and waste lot of money on lawyer.


Which country is that supposed to be?

"However, the rest are long term scammers who build up reputation and than cheat over us."

Well you have that in the rest of the world too -- only they go by nobler-sounding titles of government agents, bureaucrats, commissioners...

"Reputation is VERY IMPORTANT in an economy with no court and police."

What's the problem here -- reputation can be earned, through quality, and should. The stronger it is, the less it can be shattered by drive-by morons who haven't built it for themselves yet (and if they had, they wouldn't need to).

"They also cause bank runs as people transfer their worthless money into something more valuable."

The corrective invisible hand at work, it sounds to me. Again, what's the issue?

"Contracts are entirely based on reputation and trust. Nobody want to go to a state court and waste lot of money on lawyer."

I think the western world will be moving to that direction as public services keep increasing prices and decreasing quality, as every coercive monopoly must, especially a high-deficit one.

Contracts in the end are always primarily based on reputation and trust, aren't they? And shouldn't they?


Which country is that supposed to be?

There is no country in the world that is at the very least quasi-anarcho-capitalist. This economy deal entirely on the internet and with bitcoins as its currency.

I think the western world will be moving to that direction as public services keep increasing prices and decreasing quality, as every coercive monopoly must, especially a high-deficit one. Contracts in the end are always primarily based on reputation and trust, aren't they? And shouldn't they?

Keep in mind, these are lessons, not a critique. I am not criticizing the reputation based nature of a cryptoeconomy. Rather it is lessons in how the cryptoeconomy really works.


This is pretty interesting. Do they ever convert BitCoins back to fiat money or precious metals at some point? Well I guess I can research this myself, I did come across BitCoins before. Fancy idea of backing currency by CPU power rather than a tangible, durable, universally accepted store-of-value but it's a step forward from fiat currency that is backed by the decree of Heli Ben and the gunned power of a state to tax future production...

I did not mean to imply you were criticizing. Your lessons are valid examples of a quasi-anarchic situation. People policing themselves, organizing networks of trust and reputation and self-protection.

Sounds like there is a market in there for mutually-trusted middlemen acting as, well, "trustees" or escrow services? Or is that built into BitCoin already. Of course if the scam only materializes after the transaction was already completed to mutual consent, that's a different matter. But what kinds of fraud are happening there?


This is pretty interesting. Do they ever convert BitCoins back to fiat money or precious metals at some point? Well I guess I can research this myself, I did come across BitCoins before. Fancy idea of backing currency by CPU power rather than a tangible, durable, universally accepted store-of-value but it's a step forward from fiat currency that is backed by the decree of Heli Ben and the gunned power of a state to tax future production...

The notion of bitcoin being backed by CPU mining or even GPU mining is a fallacious notion. CPU and GPU are used to mine bitcoins and create bitcoin blocks, nothing more.

Every currency will probably have an exchange market. Bitcoin is no different. People have brought pecious metals with bitcoins, as well USD. However, USD are usually prefixed with a service such as Paypal USD and MtGox USD, and so on because of additional monetary property that the service provider imbues to it. Thus, Paypal accounts are considered risky because of chargeback.

Sounds like there is a market in there for mutually-trusted middlemen acting as, well, "trustees" or escrow services? Or is that built into BitCoin already. Of course if the scam only materializes after the transaction was already completed to mutual consent, that's a different matter. But what kinds of fraud are happening there?

The trust network is mostly around the bitcoin forum. There has been talk of creating reputation systems of some kind but nothing of substance come out yet. Most frauds are usually the drive-by scams type of frauds. However, the other concerns is when escrow failed to do their job or simply disappear. There may be no intent of fraud involved, but people lose their money all the same.


Apriori (that is, without knowledge of the results) communism was way less crazy-sounding that some here tend to think, because look how many smart people it attracted! Look at 60's US or at Russia circa 1900, where communism was the belief system for smart young people to "graduate" to. It had the same hipster vibe as the belief in a benevolent singularity today, only more so.


I wouldn't say that this means that it's a priori crazy, merely that humans have an outstanding ability to believe crazy things.

The flaws should have been apparent to anyone who understood human nature and was willing to sit down and ask the obvious questions like "What happens when X" and "But won't people Y?" They were less apparent to people who didn't want to sit down and ask these sorts of questions.

This is pretty much exactly the same level of crazy you get from anarcho-capitalists.


The flaws should have been apparent to anyone who understood human nature and was willing to sit down and ask the obvious questions like "What happens when X" and "But won't people Y?" They were less apparent to people who didn't want to sit down and ask these sorts of questions.

This brings to mind my favorite communism story. 15 or so years ago my local newspaper ran a story about a young lady who was moving away to go work for the American Communist Party, because she had taken a trip to Cuba and seen Communism in action; it was clear to her that this was the ideal form of government for the people. That same day, the news was full of stories of people risking their lives to leave Cuba in homemade boats. It always amazed me how this girl could completely miss this.


> The bank is also necessary for me to get paid, and so is the electric company and the telephone company and the nice lady down in HR, but it's still my money. I don't mind paying for the services they provide either, but I'll still complain if they take more than they're entitled to.

When everyone gets to decide how much they want to pay for private goods, ceteris paribus we get better, cheaper private goods. When everyone gets to decide how much they want to pay for public goods, ceteris paribus we get worse and fewer public goods.


Yes, but being an anarcho-capitalists is a very interesting rabbit hole.

For once, a subset of ancap are able to engage in dealing with a Neal Stephenson plot device.

I often feel like I am in a cyberpunk novel. ;)


Untrue, the concept of money was developed long before government. Hammurabi's code only formalized a number of systems that were already in place. It took government to make money unsound.


Yeah, it took a government to transform "money == gold / gold in a bank" to "money == debt".


partially true, you are talking about Fiat money, and it is true that it is a fairly modern invention. Taxation was more abusive system prior to Fiat money, your local lord, or city state with its self issued currency, it was not a rosy experience always.


Depends on historians interpretations mostly -- as in any case there are instances that support your point and those that refute it, and there are historians who come to your conclusions and those that come to the opposite ones.

By necessity, local landlords and smaller communities were in a much stronger "competition of sorts" with their neighboring "jurisdictions", more effective than our grand nation states with their inter-national tax agreements. Some of them were nasty bastards, but the next one presumably less so. They seriously couldn't indebt themselves and keep raising taxes quite as abusively as today's nation governments do, the world over, and didn't. You do realize than sub-10% taxes were the default scenario in these times long past, and in many European provinces they were in fact paid voluntarily, for real armed protection services that could be denied if you chose not to pay them, but weren't forced to.

References / citations? Read Hans Hermann Hoppe's Democracy book, it's full of them.


thanks for the reference, in turn i offer Nial Ferguson excellent - the ascent of money. fantastic overview, if only for the analysis of the dramatic effect of fibonacci, and the ascent of the Medici family.


At the risk of being shot by the land owner or whomever else has a stake in you not doing that.


As all of the "they are taking my hard-earned money and giving to those unproductive masses" like to point out, there are far more of them then there are of you. Eventually you would run out of bullets and end up decorating your precious property as a wall-hanging or drinking mug.


Yes, the existence of money is what stops me from shooting you


I assume he means "the existence of government stops you" not "the existence of money stops you".


equally absurd


And your post is willfully ignorant of the fact that most of your taxes don't pay for the public goods you've listed. Roads, sewers, police and clean water are a ridiculously tiny fraction of what you pay in taxes. If you exclude waste in the military (and the other small ticket items you mention), it is even smaller.

Most of your taxes are simply taken and given to people less productive than yourself.


Fine, then. If you want to be all against those programs, then explicitly say "What I want is for social security and medicare to be abolished". SS and Medicare run entirely separate from the rest of the federal gov't, raised on their own taxes, run by their own agencies -- they're entirely separate. You're not "anti government" and don't have a point about "government", you have a point about federally mandated social insurance programs that are incredibly popular with everyone else.

A bunch of whining about "government" just betrays either ignorance or willful omission by people who talk about "smaller government" in between assuring seniors that their medicare is safe.


I was only pointing out a logical flaw in paulsmith's argument. I wasn't taking a position one way or the other.

But I'll be explicit in my position since you want to imply I'm being deceptive about it: the government should not pay for private goods.

I'm not going to debate the matter here, however, beyond pointing out that in a population of 2 wolves and 1 sheep, lamb chops are an incredibly popular dinner choice.


"the government should not pay for private goods" -- this is the kind of evasive, hand-wavey crap that I'm talking about. Sorry about the tone, I don't mean to be insulting and think you're an alright guy from our interactions, but it is hand wavey crap. I constantly see conservatives talking about "smaller government and lower taxes" and I never hear one idea from them about what they'd cut, let alone an acknowledgement of the fact that we had a budget surplus in 2000 and very much not in 2008.

What does that sentence mean? Who defines "private good"? Are interstate highways a public good? Are positive externalities from a social safety net a public good?


> "this is the kind of evasive, hand-wavey crap that I'm talking about."

It's evasive and hand-wavey because you don't know what an economics term means and didn't take 30 seconds to look it up on google or wikipedia? I expect better from everyone on HN.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_goods

Something is a private good if:

- it can be distributed individually (that is, you can allow only those who've paid for it or registered for it to use it)

- its use/consumption by one party precludes its use by another party

Roadways can probably be categorized as a "club good" -- they can be used by multiple people, but it's possible to make them available only to "paying customers". Toll roads are a club good for those who pay the toll, while other roads are a club good for all registered/licensed motorists.

To be a truly "public good" it needs to be impossible to exclude non-payers; things like clean air or military protection are public goods.

Externalities are not goods; they are costs or benefits associated with goods but incurred by outside parties.


Of course I know what the term means. The point is that the term is mushy enough to be meaningless in all but the most trivial of applications. Nobody thinks the government should be competing with Sam's club in the retail breakfast cereal market. If something's being debated, it's almost by definition in the gray area.

"I don't think the government should produce private goods" means effectively nothing.


Dude, just apply the definition. No honest person is debating that SS/medicare are private goods, they are only debating whether the government should pay for them anyway. Just to avoid being accused of handwaving, I'll write out the obvious reasoning explicitly.

Medicare: Rivalrous (the same dollar can't reimburse the doctor for your benefits and mine) and excludible (if you don't pay, they don't reimburse the doctor). Private good.

SS: Rivalrous (you and I can't both spend an SS check) and excludible (if you don't pay in while young, they don't send you a check when you are old). Private good.

Should I do the same thing for cheese fries or can you figure out for yourself that cheese fries are also a private good?


I agree with you, but I'm gonna argue the other side right now since I see an objection to that particular line of argument.

Suppose I now say that welfare is a public good since without it we'd have poor folks either rioting or dying in the streets. I benefit from that and so do you.

Another line-blurring example: food in prison is a private good in that only one prisoner can eat it; however I don't have a problem with the government paying for that.


One could argue that welfare benefits the public, but that is not the same as saying welfare checks are public goods. It's a technical term that doesn't say anything about the external benefits to the public.

Welfare checks are private goods, because if the funds go into one person's check the same funds can't also go into another person's check (rivalrous) and the checks can be sent to some people but not others (excludable).

Food and clothing for prisoners or for military personnel are also private goods, though they're better categorized as components of the public goods of "functional criminal justice system" and "military protection".


So we appear to be in blurry-definitionland. Meals for prisoners are private goods which are part of the public good "functional criminal justice system". Welfare checks for unemployed bums are private goods which are part of the public good "no dead hobos on lawns".


"no dead hobos on lawns" is not a good, it's a service. Various goods might contribute to that service, such as "homeless shelters" and "welfare checks".

I suppose "functional criminal justice system" is actually a service, as well, while "prison" is a good.


I would absolutely be in favor of prisoners (sentenced via due process) earning their own board. E.g., washing government vehicles, cleaning highways, hauling landscaping materials for erosion control projects at state parks, etc. etc.


"Apply the definition"? It's a qualitative term in a qualitative field. Everything in economics is about quantifying your qualitative assumptions of things. Which is probably the best way to study the matter.

But don't miss the forest for the trees here. Your problem is with entitlements, not some grander definition of public/private goods. I mean, if I could convince you SS was a public good, it wouldn't change your opinion, right?


> I mean, if I could convince you SS was a public good, it wouldn't change your opinion, right?

Yeah, it would, though I strongly doubt you can do that given the definition of ``public good.''


"- its use/consumption by one party precludes its use by another party"

I'm glad you don't view intellectual property as legitimate property.


I don't view intellectual property as private goods; it doesn't meet the definition. I said nothing about its legitimacy as property, nor do I intend to, as that's not the topic at hand.

Please do not drag the discussion off topic by twisting the definition given into something it's not.


Lotharbot pointed you to wikipedia which explains it pretty well.

Interstate highways are a public good, at least for as long as technology is not advanced enough to make metering them/excluding freeloaders feasible.

As for what I'd cut, social security, medicare and welfare are at the top of my list. Quite a few conservatives (the limited government kind, not the "Dem + Christian nationalism" kind) have explicitly stated this, for example Paul Ryan. See our conversation from a month ago, the last time I pointed this fact out to you: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1745714 (I believe Ron Paul also pushes cutting SS/medicare.)


Tollbooths?

And what about the military? Military protection is commonly cited as a public good, but sustaining the military requires massive government expenditures on private goods. How does that square with the idea that the government shouldn't pay for private goods?

I think you're being overly harsh on the idea that the public/private goods distinction isn't always black-and-white. There are many obvious gray areas.


When tollbooths are feasible, roads are indeed a private good. You are indeed correct that many of the intermediate goods in providing a public good are private goods when they are sold.

I'm not sure what this has to do with anything, unless you are discussing something silly like the government buying tanks and giving them to private individuals. There are gray areas, but I think the biggies in the federal budget are pretty clear.


The point is, where do you draw the line? If you're comfortable with government spending money on private goods that are intermediate goods for military protection, then why not with government spending money on social programs that can be seen as intermediate goods for other kinds of public goods?


What I want is for social security and medicare to be abolished.


Excellent post, reminds me of http://log.ometer.com/2009-09.html .


Most of your taxes are simply taken and given to people less productive than yourself.

Citations please.


Already provided if you scrolled down. Here it is again:

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year2008_US.html


None of those except perhaps welfare implies that the money is going to people less productive than yourself. Also, I'm sure many people on welfare would love to have a good job and be productive.


People who have retired from productive labor are, by definition, not productive.

As for people on welfare wanting to work, that's unclear. Most (about 80%) poor people don't want to work [1] and I expect the ones who do work are less likely to be on welfare (though I don't have stats granular enough to prove this). Do you have a better estimate?

[1] http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswp2008.pdf


Sorry, did you get that "80% of poor people don't want to work" figure by dividing the number of working poor by the total number of poor people from that report you linked to?[1] I didn't see any information in that study pertaining to motivation or desire. Just because 75% of people below the poverty line were not employed for half the year does not mean that they did not want to be.

[1] http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswp2008.pdf


Just because 75% of people below the poverty line were not employed for half the year...

Go read the first 3 sentences of the report. That includes clauses inside parenthesis.


Quite right you are. I still take some issue with the idea that 75% of the poor don't want to work. The report is not entirely clear on what it means to be "looking for work", and it's hard to know what different motivations are driving that 10% of the american population. But, absent data, I will concede the point.


"Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work."

More details: http://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_htgm.htm

By the way, didn't mean to sound hostile in my last post. I think I came across a little stronger than I meant.


Also, I'm sure many people on welfare would love to have a good job and be productive.

It probably depends on how you define "many", but I don't think history sides with you on this one. Welfare programs in the US have tended to produce more people on welfare, rather than getting them off.


he didn't talk only about taxes HE paid. There were 10+ generations that paid taxes to the United States of America for the last 200+ years to become what it is now.

even if I agreed with your assumption (which I don't), I would certainly not be able to agree that US taxpayers subsidized "less productive" for past 200+ years and US still became what it is now.


even if I agreed with your assumption (which I don't)

The facts are easy to check:

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year2008_US.html

Of the top 5 biggest expenditures in the US as of 2008 (the last year for which full data is available), only the #4 expenditure (the military) was a public good. The #1,2,3 and 5 items together account for 58% of government spending in the US.

The basics mentioned by the original poster are actually pretty cheap. Water and sewers are about 2% of government spending. Police, fire, prison and courts were only 6%. Roads are another 5%. The military (the biggest public good expense) is only 14%.


I'd argue that education is a public good. Even if you don't have kids, it seems like it would be in your interest to ensure that the people who will be running things in the future are informed and competent.


By this logic, any investment is a public good.

Of course, education isn't a public good. It's rivalrous (you and I can't simultaneously enjoy the same seat in a classroom) and excludible (if you don't pay, they don't let you in). That makes it a private good.


You're correct on "not a public good", sorry. Complete economics brainfart; I was thinking public good = for the common good. I'm not sure who downvoted you or why, but I modded you back to +1.

I do still think that education should be a function of the government, however.

Edit to expand on my position: I had confused the terms public good and common good. I believe that a solid, (to some extent, but not as far as we are now) standardized education system is in the best interest of our nation. I don't think this could be provided privately.


please look up the terms 'public good' and 'private good'


You seem to be missing a word on that last sentence, so my apologies if I'm misreading you. John Carmack talked about what he saw as the problem getting worse, and I think he would say that most of what we spent money on 200 years ago was money well spent. In fact, I would be very surprised if there were many things that the government did 200 years ago which he would be against the government continuing to do.


I would be very surprised if people 200, 150, 100, 50 years ago didn't think that things are getting worse and worse with government spending. And yet somehow America grew to become the World Power, long-lasting businesses were created, government-funded research led to many advances etc. And very often all that happened while tax rates were much MUCH higher and government was very much involved. So I call out BS.


You make it sound like John Carmack is advocating for lower taxes so he can afford a new Bugatti or somesuch. The truth is he advocates for this because the current system appears irrational to him.

I'm sure John Carmack would be successful, to some degree, in almost any system of government- He is unusually gifted. Saying he's a counterargument to his own political position and that he is "a product of the current government system" is both unfair and untrue.

Since he is a person of such unusual competence I think his opinion should carry a lot of weight- It does for me. Your (pretty irrational) argument appears to be that because he is competent and successful his opinion should carry LESS weight.


I think you should weight his argument by the quality of the argument itself. While I respect John Carmack as a computer programmer, I also know that computer programming is very different from macroeconomics.

I personally don't think his reasoning is very good. He's saying that you shouldn't be forced to pay for something that's inefficient, but also that government can never be efficient enough. So the argument of an inefficient government merely becomes a justification for his ideological viewpoint that you shouldn't be forced to do something, in this case pay taxes. But as he indicated that his viewpoint was formed by experience, and not some sort of political commitment, it all seems very biased to me.


What is so abstract about the non-aggression axiom? I wouldn't be so quick to trust the macroeconomist over a computer scientist. I mean, does anyone really understand macroeconomics? Greenspan thought he did, ha.


As libertarian, I couldn't disagree more. The fundamental difference between us is that you would gladly have your opinions and preferences imposed upon your neighbours with the threat of force, and I believe that all human interaction ought to be voluntary. I want discussion, reason, and persuasion to be used to solve society's ills; you want the gun. Yours is the mature position?


Well, you've done the Ayn Randian thing here, and distilled a very complex issue into two different polarizing viewpoints.

Saying that I, or the previous commenter whom I mostly agree with, "would gladly have [our] opinions and preferences imposed [our] neighbours with the threat of force" is wrong, and not very conducive to debate. To say that we "want the gun to solve society's ills" is even more so.

Democracy is supposed to be a grand discussion. I can't have my opinions forced on others, we all have to talk and come to an agreement on how things should be done. So, thinks like jury duty and social security were put into place to attempt to solve problems like "how can we best determine if someone is guilty of a crime?" and "what can we do about old people who have worked their whole lives but are reduced to eating cat food because they have no money and no real ability to make more?"

Now, ideally, these decisions could be made by consensus. Every single person in the country could agree on the right way to do things. But, having participated in a consensus based community for a number of years, I can tell you that it does not scale. So instead, majority rules (with checks and balances, in the US). My understanding is that your viewpoint would be that, while we can all discuss possible solutions to these problems and work on making our country a better place together, no individual should be coerced into supporting the solutions. I certainly see a lot of merit in this view. It seems fundamentally fair and respectful of personal freedoms in a way that our current democracy perhaps doesn't. However, I see it as less fair than our current system in other, important, ways.

Mainly, it is difficult to separate out the ways in which governmental programs benefit you in a useful way that would allow people to not receive some of those benefits. We are all benefited by not having poor people, young and old, dying in our streets. It seems fair to me to say "if you want to be a part of our community, you have to play by our rules" What should be great about democracy as compared to many other forms of government, is that by becoming a part of a community, you are given a path to be a part of shaping those rules.

This is long, so I will stop. I'm still very much in the process of working out what I think about all of this, in fact, writing it here was helpful for me. I'd love to hear what you think.


We are all benefited by not having poor people, young and old, dying in our streets.

I don't want to see people dying on the streets, you don't, presumably, and almost everyone I have had this discussion with has the same concern. Isn't it reasonable to assume that the more educated and productive members of society would be willing to bear this burden without having it squeezed out of them by threat of jail? You hear "I want to make the world a better place" so often it has become cliché.

I donate to charities under our current system; I would be more inclined to do so if I weren't deprived of 40 or 50% of my income by the state. Moreover, private charity would be far more accountable than welfare programs since "customers" could take their money elsewhere. Clearly there is a demand for efficient charity services, and it could be readily met on the free market by entrepreneurs. We've seen remarkable generosity this past week on HN. I think it tends to come to the surface when people are interacting in free and voluntary circumstances.

A completely free society is not something I expect to see in my life time, but that doesn't mean it is unattainable by future generations. Many Western values we take for granted today would have seemed Utopian just a century or two ago -- the abolition of slavery, women and children's rights, the general decline of racism, and so on.

You accuse me of over simplifying, but it's unlikely the abolitionists would have made the progress they did without an unequivocal denunciation of slavery. In response they heard something along the lines of "[you have] distilled a very complex issue into two different polarizing viewpoints".


  > I want discussion, reason, and persuasion to be used to
  > solve society's ills; you want the gun.
What do you do with criminals in your utopia? Discuss their crimes with them and persuade them to pay restitution?


Retaliate by the same natural right to your own person that forbids you to initiate force against others.


So, kill them?

How do you decide if that is justified? If you have evidence that a man robbed you, are you allowed to seek him out and steal back what was taken from you? What if he ate it? To kill him? How does the society know that you found the right man? What if you got it wrong?

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.


So many books have been written about this. If you are genuinely curious, read The Production of Security (and justice is covered too) and other Rothbard or Hoppe writings.

Joe Civilian will likely seek out producers of police services and insurance services (rather than rely on his own daily gang fights), both of which will out of self-interest police each other against abusive behavior, and private courts of law have often worked exceedingly well in the short spans of history where they were permitted by oversight or accident.


    > Discuss their crimes with them and persuade them
    > to pay restitution?
Why restitution? In some cases - violent crimes - any amount of money would not be enough. Punishment has no positive effect for society.

Discussing and admitting the crimes would help the victim and be cheaper. In our current law system the victim, who is the one we should pay most attention to, is mostly ignored.

For more on this controversial standpoint read up on how Tutsi & Hutu learnt to live together after the genocide.

or:

When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/0691148643


It's the realistic position.


So was slavery at one point.


Your comment reads like breathless Ayn Rand fan fiction.


Yes she made the same points. What's yours?


I, for one, appreciate that you've logically outlined some counterargument.

There are certainly immature, naive libertarians out there (probably down-voting your comment right now,) but the places where you have been immature and naive here are in thinking that anti-gov't/every-man-for-himself is the cornerstone of the opposing argument.

When I read Carmack's post I think of anti-inefficient-gov't not anti-gov't. You may attempt to say those are the same, but I disagree.

The "imagine a privatized [gov't agency]" argument is a thought-experiment to show the idealism behind the anti-efficient-gov't movement. It should not be taken literally.

By the way, work earned that dollar; it did even when there was unsafe work, discrimination, and abuse.


I think the color of Carmack's statements are much more anti-gov't than anti-ineffcient-gov't. The way I read it, he's saying lets make government more efficient by cutting out services, not by making all services operate more efficiently. To me, that is only anti-inefficient-gov't by way of anti-gov't. He effectively states that gov't can't be efficient :

"Sure, there is room for improvement everywhere, but there are important fundamental limits."

"So, the federal government is essentially doomed to inefficiency, no matter who is in charge or what policies they want it to implement."

"I would ask that it stop doing the majority of the things that it is currently doing"

Note that he is also glad that the government is doomed to inefficiency : "Even if you could snap your fingers and get it, do you really want a razor sharp federal apparatus ready to efficiently carry out the mandates of whoever is the supreme central planner at the moment? The US government was explicitly designed to make that difficult, and I think that was wise."


An efficient government would be dangerous, and an inefficient government is draining. If relying on government is a compromise between those two, then why not go with the better option (free markets)? Markets are fast and efficient, a concept foreign to governments everywhere.


It read to me as "government performs most tasks inefficiently, and that's ok; but let's have it perform fewer tasks inefficiently so we can perform them more efficiently ourselves and have a little less fiscal drag on our lives.


In general, I think government waste is a red herring. It's such a vanishingly small percentage of the overall budget that it often is a stalking horse for a desire to have the government deregulate industries, for example.

Now let's talk about waste in military spending. I would also count the off-the-books (as in, not part of the official budget) spending as wasteful military spending, almost by definition. So now we're talking a very large fraction of the federal budget. Note, however, that arguments to "get the government out" of various affairs rarely include the military.

People who complain about "pork" in government spending: if you were really serious about cutting spending, you'd include the military (like the UK government recently did). But they never do.


That's just it, though: why advocate an anti-inefficient-government position? Who, precisely, advocates a pro-inefficient-government position? Right, nobody. So, instead of advocating anti-inefficient-government, it makes a lot more sense to advocate specific measures that will improve efficiency. That might be cutting programs, but advocate cutting of specific programs, because of that program's inefficiency. Give a concrete reason for it, such as number of dollars spent by the average taxpayer, or an alternative use for that money. Pick a specific measure, not something general like "social security" or "TARP".

I sympathize with many libertarian goals, but this generic "anti-inefficient-government" rhetoric doesn't help any of them. Rhetoric is a luxury of mainstream parties. Ross Perot got a significant portion of the votes in many states by hammering on a single issue: the budget deficit. After that, the Clinton administration mysteriously decided that shrinking the deficit was a priority. Which of course didn't exactly last long, but imagine if someone continued to hammer on that with the same fervor throughout Bush's presidency, and into the current administration?


Since I've NEVER seen the government do anything efficiently, anyone who argues for more government is by my definition arguing for inefficiency.


In this case (when they're arguing for more government), however, you could oppose it by arguing anti-government. That sort of puts us back where we started.

Oddly enough, though, nobody seems to argue for just "More government" in general either. People instead argue for specific programs they want.


It's true that we each find ourselves in a context of public and private institutions and that (in addition to our own efforts) we owe our wealth to the existence of those institutions. It does not logically follow that our obligation to support government projects with taxes is unlimited. For example- Should people pay taxes to support the Judiciary? Should people pay taxes to subsidize corn farmers? We must be critical of public projects invented by government and parsimonious with our tax dollars. If we aren't then we will fall victim to every political group that says "we have a problem - and there ought to be a law to fix it."


paulsmith, the acid test is probably mobility. Do you think Carmack would still be a millionaire with a similar quality of life in a lower tax jurisdiction like Singapore? Probably he would. An even lower tax jurisdiction like Somalia? Probably not. Seasteading (www.seasteading.org) is an interesting experiment which can help us empirically find exactly where that "minimum necessary government" point is. Judging by the migration choices of many Chinese and Indian expats, for many people that promised land is no longer today's USA.


Arguably, Singapore/Ireland/other small, developed, low tax nations can only exist given the presence of high tax countries like the US, UK, etc.


I don't necessarily disagree, but would you mind explaining your reasoning behind that?


"The notion that there is an independent, absolute concept of wealth or money or cash apart from the laws and government"

I'd be willing to bet humans had the concept of wealth long before the concept of government.


While your argument can be applied in a sense to federal reserve notes, it in no way applies to actual _wealth_. Imagine two people on a deserted island. One finds a gold nugget. Both occupants value gold. The one with the gold possesses wealth. This idea of wealth is about as close to an independent, absolute concept as anything I can imagine. Can anyone point out to a single culture or people group where this was not the case? Could the discoverer of gold in any way owe his discovery to the existence of "government"? The ideas of property and wealth are ingrained in us from birth. The idea that anyone, whether government or individual, can take away property by force is morally questionable at best.


Well, you've kinda missed the point. The point is that this isn't a deserted island. It's a carefully structured system, one purpose of which is to give individuals the foundation to be as successful and innovative as Carmack has.


The parents implies there is not even an absolute concept of wealth.


On systems of government like the US republic or the various democracies around the European continent, there is an absolute concept of a citizen's contribution to the infrastructure that the state..

It's called taxation.

And it is not the only one. Citizens have various duties in every state; they don't have to be enumerated.

For people that make their fortunes by not paying their taxes, lying to the government, etc. your argument might have some value. For people that are working in the public sector exclusively, your argument might have some value. For an absolutist government, your argument would make a lot of sense.

But not for the rest.

(edited: my grammar sucks. i should get some sleep :/)


This is sort of the elephant in the room. The only reason that you are given compensation for your work at all is because it theoretically motivates you to do more of it. The "rewarding hard work as an ethical value proposition" thing really only crept up in the past century. While I think it is a good theory, treating it as essentially the only parameter to an ethical decision is extremely simplistic.

You can argue for smaller government in ways that don't consist of counting dollars taken away from people at gunpoint. I find those sorts of argument much more compelling.


Dear sir,

Please send me your bank account deetz so I can spend some of our money.

kthx!


> "If everyone was required to pay taxes like they pay their utilities, attitudes would probably change."

I wonder how people would react to a $500/year Antiterrorism bill.

[Ballpark for 08-10? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_cost_of_the_Iraq_War#...)


The Iraq war was not about anti-terrorism, although that's partially how it was sold by politicians. The Iraqi government has never launched a single terrorist attack against the United States (please correct me if I'm wrong as I've never heard of one instance).


Iraq trained them and offered rewards to families whom had a son or father carry out jihad against the United States.


Cite please


I recalled it from having lived through the last couple of decades but since you insist, I googled for "Iraq Trained Terrorists" and found 2.2million links.

Heres one. http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/00...

Heres another. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/03/25/1017004766310.html

One more. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/14...

I don't know how partisan these articles or newspapers/publishers are, but you asked for citing.

Oh, here's another one, PBS this time. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/gunning/interv...

Feel free to upvote my prior post, thanks.


It's interesting to read the Editor's Note in the right sidebar of that PBS piece which basically says that the interviewee is a liar.


We've all (most?) lived the last couple of decades, but it seems that not all of us took our blinkers off.


> One more. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/14....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Con_Coughlin#Habbush_letter

> Heres one. http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/00....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_F._Hayes#Writings_and_p...

> http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/03/25/1017004766310.html

This is well known. Saddam provided/ claimed to provide compensation for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. There is no connection with the Al-Qaeda here.

> Oh, here's another one, PBS this time. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/gunning/interv....

You did not read he editor's note

[Editor's Note, November 2005: More than two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there has been no verification of Khodada's account of the activities at Salman Pak. In fact, U.S. officials have now concluded that Salman Pak was most likely used to train Iraqi counter-terrorism units in anti-hijacking techniques. It should also be noted that he and other defectors interviewed for this report were brought to FRONTLINE's attention by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a dissident organization that was working to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Since the original broadcast, Khodada has not publicly addressed questions that have been raised about his account of activities at Salman Pak.]

If you want an overview of the planning/preparation of Sep 11 attacks it is easily available here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planning_of_the_September_11_at...


After Iraq, we should probably go ahead and invade Google, because your methodology shows that they trained about 1,080,000 terrorists.


Most of the income taxes in America are paid by a small minority. Most people probably wouldn't have a problem with a $500/year Antiterrorism bill, as long as someone else has to pay it.


True, though most of the wealth in America is held by a small minority too, which kind of creates the weird taxing/spending incentives. (http://www.good.is/post/americans-are-horribly-misinformed-a...)


That chart needs to be distributed way more widely.

Spoiler alert: the difference between what Republicans and Democrats think the median wealth should be is less than a quarter of the difference between the lower of those numbers and what it actually is.

We're arguing over a fiction.


I wonder how they calculate wealth and if they've ever tried to track which direction most people move on the wealth scale.


why is it divided equally?


It's a thought experiment, cut me some slack...

I know there aren't 300m taxpayers, and it shouldn't be divided equally, and countless other things. If anyone has a more accurate figure I'd be interested to see it.


Fair enough, but just remember that ~35%-40% of people will not pay a dime...

http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Doc...


Conversely, the top 74 earners in 2009 made as much as the bottom 19 million.

Updating to include citation: http://www.tax.com/taxcom/taxblog.nsf/Permalink/UBEN-8AGMUZ?...


aside: how does the above comment receive so many downvotes? it's fact, backed up with data, with no spin, and on-topic.


I didn't (in fact, have an upvote), but although many are not liable for income tax most people pay some kind of tax - sales tax, or payroll tax, or state tax.

You are right to point out that a good chunk of the population will make a net gain, but many of them will only do so because they're very poor. Some poor people are lazy, but it doesn't follow that all poor people are freeloaders. Unfortunately, less honest people than you have made a lot of spin out of those statistics, for a variety of political ends.


He is definitely on the right track. I'm pleased to see that I share an opinion on this with one of the sharpest programmers on the planet.

The reality is that I have almost zero influence on how a very large portion of my paycheck gets spent from Capitol Hill. Ideally the U.S. would return to the concept of using states as "laboratories of democracy". When you have states with economies that are larger than most countries, there is no reason to be bumping so many responsibilities up to the federal level.


I am in favor of a huge cut in government spending. Unfortunately I know of no politician that thinks that way and has a chance in hell of getting elected.

Republicans like to talk about cutting government spending yet they never actually do so and in my lifetime they have dramatically expanded the federal government.

Democrats are more than willing to cut expensive programs but they want to replace them with other expensive programs.

Over the last few years both party's increased government spending on healthcare, yet somehow the Republican's approach (prescription drug plan) ended up costing more for a smaller benefit? Who exactly should I vote for again?


I'm pretty sure your reasoning is the entire basis of the Tea Party movement. It is people fed up with both the Democratic and Republican parties' outrageous spending, and want a new group of Politicians to be voted in. It is why many of the Tea Partiers running for office have little or no experience and it is what propelled people like Governor Chris Christie to a win last year.


Call me cynical but the libertarian party (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Party_(United_State...) was created by people that believe in small government. And I assume most reasonably well informed people have heard of it because it is afterall the third largest party in the USA.

Like many people I view the Tea Party movement as a Republican sock puppet designed to convince voters that this time they really mean it when they say they want small government.

PS: I base this on the wiliness of Tea Party members to run in republican primaries.


> I base this on the wiliness of Tea Party members to run in republican primaries.

What primaries should they have run in?

It's much easier to take over a political party than to start one AND knock out one of the big two. Libertarians and greens have proved that.

It would have been absurd to run in democrat primaries.

Sharing some libertarian beliefs doesn't imply an obligation to join the LP, especially since the LP has repeatedly demonstrated that it's more interested in making a statement than actually getting elected and changing things.


You're missing the main reason the Libertarian party was created - to preserve personal freedoms. For example, they also advocate the legalization of drugs.


I wouldn't bet any money that the Tea Party-endorsed candidates will vote any differently than Republicans have, once elected.

It takes a lot of money to get elected in the US. And you don't get re-elected if you then vote against the interests of your donors. And they certainly aren't donating money so that you'll cut off government spending.


The underlying problem here is that not enough people care about cutting government spending. Prospective voters put more attention to the issues like gay marriage, war on terror, universal health care, and medical marijuana use. Most voters simply do not pay enough attention on cutting government spending, so politicians can get away with milking people more and more every year.


No, the underlying problem is that not enough people all care about cutting the same government spending. If I want to cut my personal spending by 20% next year I can't just wake up on January 1 and do it in one step. I need to figure out what exactly it is I'm going to not buy or pay less for next year.

Likewise, Congress can't just pass a law to spend 20% less without identifying exactly what it is going to spend less on and how. Getting people to agree on those particulars is the problem.

What makes it worse is that the things you might get wide agreement on cutting generally are things that would save negligible amounts of money. Also, even people who care a lot about the government (one way or the other) generally aren't willing spend time learning all the details of what the government is spending money on. Its really complicated and boring and I think people (especially us hn readers) would rather think of the problem at a higher level of abstraction (and in greatly simplified terms). Unfortunatley that just isn't helpful at this point


On the contrary, I think people do care about cutting government spending. They just want it cut from very specific places, and there's no widespread agreement on where these places are. Do you want cuts in defense? In social security/medicare? The interstate highway system? Government worker benefits? Unemployment benefits? Veterans' benefits? It's all well and good to cut spending (at pretty much every level), and it's going to have to be done, but every time a serious effort comes along to actually do it, it gets drowned in details.


If you really want to cut spending, then you would want to cut spending in almost all areas.

If majority of voters want to cut government spending in more than 50% of areas, then spending would be cut.

In the list you provided I'd say everything should be cut. Say, 10%/year cut until spending is at least 50% lower.

My personal preference would be not to cut interstate highway system too much, but everything else deserves at least 50% cut in the next 10 years.


Having just dealt with the London Congestion Charge rapists^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hsystem, I can definitely relate.

In terms of abject inefficiency combined with application of plain and simple force, consider the London Congestion Charge system. They built a system whereby you are charged a fixed fee (supposed to be £8) if you drive into the congestion charge zone at all during the hours of 7am and 6pm. It's £8 if you pay it on the same day. It's £10 if you pay it on the next day.

After that period, you are now officially a war criminal of the road, and penalised with a whopping £120 fine (reduce to £60 if you pay promptly). Later, it turns into £180, and then more...

No problem, you say, I'll just make sure I pay all my charges on the day. Ah, ok, but how do you know you've got to pay a congestion charge today? Turns out there's no way of checking. The Congestion Charge systems won't tell you whether you should pay or not. The only time when they'll tell you you need to pay is when they send you a penalty notice. I asked one of their agents about this, he suggested it was best to pay if you were in any doubt, "because the penalty is so much more expensive".

This is somewhat akin to going to the supermarket, filling up your trolley, going to the checkout, and being asked to guess how much you should pay. "If you guess too little, we'll penalise you by charging you 1200% of the price of what you bought, so make sure you don't guess too low."

I find such a system morally reprehensible. It is a vile abuse of power and the people who voted in, designed and built such a system are soulless scumbags. But because it is a government system, rather than a business, there is nothing I can do to take my business elsewhere (other than move to another country of course, but that will have its own sets of tradeoffs).

The greek have a saying that "if you're not stealing from the government, you're stealing from your family". Like John Carmack, I don't go that far. But I don't support any expansion of government powers or responsibilities whatsoever. The less the government does, the better (within reason of course).

Yet, despite this, I still think it's a good idea for the government to intervene when it comes to fundamental things like road maintenance, the fire service, healthcare, or a criminal justice system. The government should do no more than handle the fundamentals, but a government which fails to handle the fundamentals is even more of a disaster than one which handles too much.


> rapists^H^H^H^H^H^H^H

You can ^W instead of ^H to delete a whole word instead of just a character. ;)

(Though I have always had a soft spot for the people that take the time to get the number of ^Hs correct.)


I, for one, appreciate your effort to help improve the efficiency of joke delivery.

Makes me want to post to rec.humor.funny from vim, just for the thrill of it.


(Though I have always had a soft spot for the people that take the time to get the number of ^Hs correct.)

I'm a pedant. Is it that obvious? :-)


I don't understand why you can't tell whether or not you need to pay. There are signs to identify where the congestion charge zone is, so if you drive past one between 7a-6p then you owe for that day. You can register to pay online and have it auto-deducted.

I think it's very expensive and maybe not good value, but back when I lived in London I don't recall any difficulty in knowing whether or not I had driven into the downtown area where I was required to pay the traffic fee. Have they removed all the signs or something since then?


I'm often driving in and out of London around 7am (I drive my girlfriend to the station so she can go to breakfast networking meetings around town).

There are also some confusing bits - a friend told me he got charged for doing a U-turn that took him partly into a congestion zone. He was trying to avoid being in the congestion zone, and wasn't sure whether he did manage to avoid it, but had no way to check (and so ended up penalised).

The auto-deducting thing is due to come in in January - until then you have to manually go and pay the charge if you think you should, without any way of knowing whether you should.

Considering the bad faith of the system as it is, although I probably will sign up for the auto-deducting system, I am concerned about giving direct access to my bank account to such people.


It's bad that they don't already have that (auto-debit) in place, but they use the same sort of thing on toll bridges and so in California. Look on the bright side; UK governments (central and local) are on a big money-saving kick right now, so there's a lot of opportunity to disrupt the status quo with a more efficient solution, and as you can see they're rather behind the times.


penalised with a whopping £120 fine (reduce to £60 if you pay promptly)

A more straightforward way to say this is that there's a £60 fine, which increases to £120 if you don't pay promptly.


Their wording, not mine:

"The Penalty Charge of £120.00 must be paid no later than the last day of the period of 28 days beginning with the date of service of this Notice. If the Penalty Charge is paid no later than the last day of the period of 21 days beginning with the date of service of this Notice it will be reduced by 50% to £60.00."

Based on the general meanness of the service, I think it's reasonable to presume that they phrased it this way so some people would not read to the end and overpay £120 instead of £60. Given such bad faith, I don't see why I should make the effort to rephrase their own statements to look more favourable towards them.


You used an expensive resource, and the citizens of London freely voted (twice) that this should cost you £8 to use. Pay it, or don't drive in London.

The Congestion Charge systems won't tell you whether you should pay or not

Of course not, because the cameras don't record every number plate reliably.


I'm happy to pay for the congestion charge. What I'm unhappy with is the grossly unfair implementation of it.

As I said in my original post, any system that asks you to speculatively pay for something which you don't know whether you've actually used, in order to avoid a hefty government-enforced fine, is a morally reprehensible. I cannot condone any such system existing. It is, quite simply, extortion, and I cannot support its existence. They might as well have said "pay us, or we might come and break your legs".


There are enormous signs, on both the surface of the road, and next to the road, saying you are going into the congestion charge zone.

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/London_conges...

If you're so disorganized that you are oblivious to these signs and don't know the day of the week, really you shouldn't be driving a car at all.


I often drive around 7am. How do I know that they're using the same clock as me?


They use an "Atomic Clock", by which I assume the MSF radio time signal, so set your clock by the same signal, or buy such a clock for your car.

http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/helping-you-with-your...


Of course not, because the cameras don't record every number plate reliably.

So politely ask the person to pay the original fee, and fine them if they don't pay promptly. The problem is that the system assumes bad faith.


I think the main driver in the recent massive expansion in the US government is that we've abandoned raising taxes and switched to just borrowing from a seemingly endless supply of money. Without that check in place there is no limit on the growth of the government, and as John says there is always _something_ that _someone_ truly believes needs more money (like space flight?).

I've always thought it would be interesting to put the following process in place: the congresspeople who vote for an appropriations bill need to meet and then physically count out money using $10,000 bills, one bill at a time. Then, maybe an extra 700 million dollars attached to a bill would have some real meaning.

(You couldn't use real money of course, you can't trust a politician with that many unmarked bills).


Count money? I'd be happy if they just read the bill and showed up for the vote!


The problem with his thesis is most rational disagreements in government revolve around things that are either impossible or can only be done by the government. So inefficiency isn’t really the issue.

Take health care as a perfect example. Having studied the issue I personally think it’s impossible to have quality universal health care. Others disagree. But what we can both agree on is that only Government could do it if it is possible.

So the question isn’t inefficiency because both sides concede government is inefficient. But if government is the only power that can do it than inefficiency isn’t the issue. The conflict lies in what can be accomplished not in whether government could do it efficiently.

(People like me would argue the question is whether the private sector could provide better quality health care to more people but as long as the other side believes universal health care is possible the point is moot to them)


> But what we can both agree on is that only Government could do it if it is possible.

How so? The government could mandate health insurance, and provide a health care option for those who choose not to get it from somewhere else. If enforced, this would make health care (of some sort) universal to everyone.

> So the question isn’t inefficiency because both sides concede government is inefficient

I agree with you that this is a central weakness in John C's argument: Libertarians (like myself) spend a lot of time trying to convince others that the government is inefficient, when the argument can only be resolved by quantifying exactly _how_ inefficient it is, whether the costs override the benefits. This is a much harder proposition to prove, though I suspect that John C is right that the costs almost always are greater than the benefits.


Re : costs almost always are greater than the benefits

Perhaps you can argue this on a case by case basis, but do you think this is still true if you have to take or leave all service at once?

As evidence that the costs are worth the benefits I submit the fact that you (perhaps not you in particular but any citizen of a country who makes this claim) haven't renounced your citizenship for that of another, better cost-benefit ratio, country.

Incidentally, I think that if many government functions were privatized you would be paying a (much) higher rate than you are now since you've already shown the willingness to pay the current rate. That combined with the fact that there rarely if ever is competition in large scale services like those the government provides. As evidence, take a look at any large scale private contractor industry like construction or defense/aerospace.


> As evidence that the costs are worth the benefits I submit the fact that you haven't renounced your citizenship...

That's actually a good argument. Though of course I'd incur huge expenses moving to another country than the one I was born in (new language, no contacts, maybe fewer legal rights, etc) so it only works up to a degree.

> I think that if many government functions were privatized you would be paying a (much) higher rate than you are now since you've already shown the willingness to pay the current rate.

That makes no sense... Are you saying I wouldn't buy an umbrella for $2.99 at Walmart because I bought an umbrella for $12.99 at a mom-and-pop store before Walmart came to town?


The huge expenses you incur for moving are part of what the private companies would extract from you. While the company may be able to "efficiently" provide you a service for for 1/10th the equivalent government price, they will charge you something like 95% of the "total cost" of you switching, whatever that may be.

The issue is that you won't have 10 or 20 providers for roads, water, electricity, landlines. Anything where infrastructure costs are high or where its nearly impossible for two providers to have identical, commoditized services as with roads will not be competitive.

For things like getting a passport, driver's license, etc you will have some competition, but there are plenty of private companies that provide crappy service as well. How many people who buy cheaper merchandise later think "what a piece of crap"?


There's something offensive to me about the idea of renouncing citizenship to protect your own property. It's like abandoning your house and moving away to avoid burglaries. I have a right to my own labor and property. The thieves and robbers should be the ones to leave.


Does that mean you never have a similar experience doing business with private companies? I think booking a hotel room or flight can be a comparable experience if it goes poorly.


As evidence that the costs are worth the benefits I submit the fact that you (perhaps not you in particular but any citizen of a country who makes this claim) haven't renounced your citizenship for that of another, better cost-benefit ratio, country.

A country and its government are not the same thing. The cost-benefit balance can be made positive by benefits that are independent of government, such as cultural attitudes or proximity to specific private institutions.


Incidentally, I think that if many government functions were privatized you would be paying a (much) higher rate than you are now since you've already shown the willingness to pay the current rate.

If you don't pay your taxes, you'll get put in a cage or shot. That's not a "willing" payment.


But what we can both agree on is that only Government could do it if it is possible.

Hell no. A combination of private charity and vigorous markets have provided quality universal food and entertainment. Government is presently attempting quality universal housing and education -- and its failing miserably on the "quality" point, and ain't doing that great on the "universal".

If quality universal health care comes from anywhere, it will be from Silicon Valley & Red Cross. The most government will ever do is mandate it, try to implement it, fail, and claim it's doing its best and just needs a little more money.


A combination of private charity and vigorous markets have provided quality universal food and entertainment.

I can't think of a single country where there is no government food assistance and no one starving to death. Where are you thinking of?


I was thinking of the US. I'm aware that the government helps on the food front, but I don't think that's why food is abundantly available and cheap. Folks who have nothing go to soup kitchens before they apply for EBT, and they eat pretty well.

Some might disagree that EBT is not a major contributor, though. Point retracted. I guess I just have 'entertainment'.


I think you're just misinformed about this issue.

http://feedingamerica.org/faces-of-hunger/hunger-in-america-...


About universal health care, go to France sometimes.


people below the poverty line in the US consume extremely low quality food. And most wouldn't even have that if it weren't for government food stamps.


> "people below the poverty line in the US consume extremely low quality food."

Is that because they can't afford medium-quality food, or because they're choosing to buy substandard food anyway?

I've gone shopping with people way below the poverty line; in every instance, they spent as much as I did for a similar time period, at the same quality of store, and yet came out with far crappier food. I don't know if my experience is typical, but I find it hard to believe, given the prices on various types of healthy and unhealthy foods, that "eating low quality food" is a result of lack of money.


> Take health care as a perfect example. Having studied the issue I personally think it’s impossible to have quality universal health care.

Just out of curiousity: Do you mean impossible in the US, or in general?


In general. At least in the terms most people define Universal Healthcare. The problem with Universal Healthcare is you're taking a limited resource (doctors, medicines, equipment, etc...) and trying to treat it like an unlimited resource. I mean, In the U.S. there isn't a big problem with doctors being unemployed or an overflow of surplus meds right now yet universal healthcare is unquestionably going to add a lot of new customers to the existing health system.

If that's the case in the U.S. imagine countries like China or poor African countries with even fewer resources.

I'm not happy with that reality from a humanitarian perspective but I don't see how it isn't the case. Being a doctor is hard and there are only so many raw materials out there so I don't see a way around it.

(But the important point here is that it is debatable and that's where the problem comes in)


> "The problem with Universal Healthcare is you're taking a limited resource (doctors, medicines, equipment, etc...) and trying to treat it like an unlimited resource"

No, that is a lie. What Universal Healthcare is about is about a better distribution mechanism.

The market is a mechanism for efficiently distributing a limited resource based on people's ability to pay.

Universal healthcare aims to distribute a limited resource based on need not ability to pay. Proponents like this because it is fairer and doesn't leave people suffering. Capiche?


I'm sorry but your argument boils down to you not wanting to see the other side of the debate.

What you're saying doesn't change the fact that the resource is limited. The question is can the limited resource be stretched to accommodated everyone and if so can government create a more efficient distribution method to harness that resource. Because if either of those things aren't true than your "need-based" distribution is going to leave as many if not more people without treatment (it will just be richer people)

That's the debate: Is it possible to give high quality health care to everyone?

You stating that there are enough resources as a certainty is just arrogance on your part.


I don't see anywhere in his comment where he claims that there are enough resources to give high quality health care to everyone. He states that the distribution should shift from a "who can pay" based mechanism to a "who needs it the most" based mechanism.

Yes, as you mentioned, you would certainly see more wealthier individuals that would be denied care. You would also see more poor people getting care they desperately need.

>That's the debate: Is it possible to give high quality health care to everyone?

I don't think this is really the debate. I think the debate is whether or not health care should be portioned out based on how much money someone is willing to/able to spend or based on how badly somebody needs the treatment. Personally, I think that's the only moral way it can be done.


But who determines need? There's the rub. I would much rather write a check to a charity like the Red Cross than the massive bureaucracy that is DHHS, because (a) there is just a lot less overhead and because (b) the Red Cross' definition of "need" is a lot less likely to shift in the political winds. For example, in a couple of years DHHS may be back to persecuting stem cell researchers.


Red Cross is a high overhead orginisation:

An American Red Cross statement was issued saying that 91 cents of every dollar donated specifically for the Hurricane Katrina disaster will go directly to disaster relief. This overhead of only <B>9%</B> is quite low for such a large organization. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Red_Cross

Social Security is impressive because "the dministrative costs of the U.S. Social Security system are very low--<B>less than one percent of revenues.</B>" She claims this compares favorably with the overhead costs of the partly privatized Chilean system, which she says are "in the neighborhood of 15 percent of revenues." http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-19085869.html


:)

1. DHHS != Social Security 2. The core point is choice. I prefer donating to a neighborhood charity that I can confirm is spending money responsibly. If you believe the government generally provides healthcare with lower overhead and more efficiency than a private nonprofit, one might politely point out that same government has spent several hundreds of billions has been spent blowing people up in Iraq. I don't think even the Red Cross spends its 9% on that...


Well, in most cases where there is socialized medicine, doctors decide on need, and groups of doctors decide on standards.

politicians play no role.


Universal healthcare aims to distribute a limited resource based on need not ability to pay. Proponents like this because it is fairer and doesn't leave people suffering.

And opponents dislike this because it's impossible. If such a magical distribution method existed then we should obviously be using it for everything, not just healthcare, and that's called socialism.


Works pretty darn well here in the UK. Impossible my arse.


I'm not saying the UK's system is impossible. I'm saying it is staggeringly, almost criminally inefficient. I'm also not saying the current US system is better; we have our own set of regulations that have made our healthcare system as inefficient as any in the world.


Coming from a country with a "socialist" healthcare I was very surprised by how much money I'm paying in the US for health insurance, it's more than what I was paying in taxes and when I actually want to use my health insurance I still have to pay considerable additional money to actually get the serivice. And it's also extremely inefficient, there is no reason to measure my weight, temperature, blood pressure and breathing if what I have is clearly tendonitis.

Long story short: I think your health care market got you the worst possible solution to health care in the world.


Actually, my main problem with the UK system would be that they're too focused on efficiency at the expense of quality. That is, anywhere other than in their provisioning of IT systems, where they're focused on neither.

I consider efficiency to be secondary to the saving of human lives or the general improvement of people's living conditions by curing them of curable ailments.


I never understand this generality, when the US stands as the only 'developed' nation without universal health care?

In Canada we have universal health care, and it works reasonably well. Some would argue waiting lines and all that, I've never experienced them to be that bad, I live in a large urban center (Vancouver) and have found the services to be exemplary.


Again this is getting into the actual debate which I think is more complicated than people make it out to be but I think it is possible to provide baseline care and I think the U.S. should do that. Where you see a constraint on resources is in specialty areas and you hear stories all the time of people with specialized ailments coming to the U.S. and spending money for treatment.


All I know is a friend of the family under only Canadian health care was covered for a quadruple bypass surgery something I am told in the US would effectively bankrupt any normal non-insured citizen, and has made a full recovery to the point that he can now go Skiing with us again.

There may be some short comings to our system, and inefficiencies but I will say I am pretty damn happy that I live in a country that provides that level of coverage to any citizen.


> and you hear stories all the time of people with specialized ailments coming to the U.S. and spending money for treatment

I'd rather hear stories like that then stories about people denied treatment because they got denied by some corporate bean counter.

And your stories aren't indicative of any failing of the Canadian system. Let's not forget the American's that rely on Canada for their health needs.


There's a flawed assumption in your statement that Canadians aren't denied access to coverage due to government bean counters.

I have a relative who is an Oncology nurse in a major US city. She sees a lot of patients from Canada who come to her hospital because they can't get the treatments they need in Canada. Of course, it's only the wealthy ones, because they're the only ones who can afford it.

Similar problems exist with the US government healthcare (through the VA). My father was denied a lifesaving transplant because he didn't meet the government board's criteria for a transplant. Mayo Clinic came through with the transplant and saved his life.


> There's a flawed assumption in your statement that Canadians aren't denied access to coverage due to government bean counters.

On a much lower scale then in the US. I see first hand the realities of the differences between the two systems. In Canada, their is much less worry about health care than in the US. Their are still issues, but not the same fundamental ones that the US has.

This also ignores the fact that Canadian patients often go to the US for reasons other than the one you describe. Often times, they go to a hospital known for being the best in certain types of care. Other times, it's also a timing issue: they want it resolve sooner than what Canada will do for them.

Finally, the same problem exists on the private side as well. Health insurance companies deny lifesaving operations all the time.

Edit: Another problem with your argument is the assumption that Canada doesn't have private insurance on top of public. It does. It sits on top of the public insurance. And while it's great your father got help from a non-profit, I wonder how much help he would have gotten from a non-socialised health care plan?


Other times, it's also a timing issue: they want it resolve sooner than what Canada will do for them.

Isn't that a huge problem though? For cancer and other progressive illnesses, each day's delay can mean the difference between surviving or not.


It depends on the illness and the severity. My wife's parents and family have never been turned away or made to wait for urgent things, including cancer. The decisions regarding this are made by the doctors. They can expedite things if they think it merits expediting. However, just because something isn't as serious doesn't mean someone wants to live it with, so they can pay extra to get it resolved quicker.


As an American with a chronic condition living in Sweden I can agree with you. However the Swedish system does a lot to eliminate and streamline the system. Calling to get an appointment gets you on the phone with a nurse to triage you, so urgent things are seen urgently and non-urgent things get scheduled in. I know doctors and go to doctors in Sweden and they see drug company reps significantly less than American doctors do. They aren't allowed to meet with drug reps like happens in America. I went to a hematology/oncology clinic in the US and there was always drug reps coming and going, if they had cut that down they'd be able to see more patients, and keep their appointment times with their patients. However these doctors it turned out whored themselves out not so much for the free meals and such, but to collect as many free samples as they could so their poor patients could be given at least a partial supply of drugs they would otherwise not get.

For my particular condition a subcutaneous treatment was developed in Scandinavia and the UK. It costs half as much to treat a patient and requires no care from a nurse to administer the alternative IV. I can give myself my drugs on my own time instead of taking time off work to go into a clinic. The drug is finally making its way over the pond now, but uptake is slow. Not every person with my condition can go on the subcutaneous, but back of the envelope math says at the very least $100 million a year would be saved if all patients who could go on went on it. In addition 150,000 nurse hours would be freed up as well each year.

Let's not forget the personal savings of time being on the phone with the insurance company. In the year before I moved to Sweden I lost roughly a week of work to being on the phone with the insurance company cause things weren't billed right or they just decided that I didn't need my IV anymore or getting them to pay for things they pre-authorized, but decided to deny when the bill showed up. I have spent absolutely no time discussing those sort of things in the last 3.5 years I've lived in Sweden. That's time I spend earning money and paying taxes, which seems to be win-win.


I've proposed a solution elsewhere but I'll quote it here:

We already have a pretty good K-12 public education system. At least it's pretty good for its original purpose which is to make better workers. I say we overhaul the K-12 system so that by the time each person graduates they'll have the equivalent of 3-5 years of medical school. Then, in addition to college + traditional medschool (or just votech), give people the option of attending a publicly funded quasi-votech-medschool, the graduates of which will be licensed to practice medicine (and these people will have about 7-9 years of training at that point).

So, we would have simultaneously increased the number of doctors and nurses, decreased the need for them (since medical knowledge will be more or less ubiquitous), created some parity in knowledge between health care providers and consumers (the disparity is one of the big reasons a free market can't work). Most importantly, since medical knowledge/skill will be so pervasive we would see a lot more innovation and entrepreneurial activity in that space. Instead of people working on the next Facebook in their garage/dorm room we might have them working on new kinds of equipment, treatment, or even medicine (like that doctor that built a dialysis machine in his garage: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1180628/D-I-Y-dial...). Or perhaps more stuff like this: http://www.wakemate.com/

Simply make everyone a doctor of sorts.


That's a little ambitious. 3 years of medical school before they graduate high school? How about we catch up to the rest of the world first. The US K-12 education system is actually not that good. http://www.ecs.org/html/offsite.asp?document=http://nces.ed....


I guess it comes down to what you mean by "quality", but Canada has pretty good health care provided by the government (we call it "universal" here, but I suppose we should precise our definitions).


For the record it isn't like the Canadian health care system is all smooth sailing: http://www.economist.com/node/16542808?story_id=16542808&...

I certainly think the U.S. should try to learn from some of the things Canada has done but at the same time Canadians need to acknowledge they have some kinks to work out as well.


Canadian health care has problems. Nothing is perfect. But don't confuse having problems with not being vastly superior to the US system.

My wife has her issues with the HCS here, but she's scared to death of the US system should we ever move there (being American myself). Their is a reason the guy behind Canada's health care system was made a national hero.


Canadians are very critical of their health system, but this discussion takes place in the context of the existing Canadian system. It's only on comparison to the American system that the Canadian one starts to look good, or even excellent.


Carmack must be angry about the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

Too bad he forgot:

1. The Internet was created by DARPA (government)

2. Armadillo Aerospace would not be possible without NASA (government)

3. OpenGL would not have been happened without research grants from the government

4. Google is a product of "big government". It began at Stanford as a research project funded by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.

A huge amount of technical innovation comes out of government funded research grants/projects. Those innovations are then turned into commercial products by private industry. As taxpayers, maybe we should be demanding more taxes from the corporations that benefit from publicly funded research?

I lost a lost of respect for him today - he comes off as a greedy jerk in this essay.


It's far from clear that the things you list couldn't have been developed without government intervention.

Unfortunately, without an alternate fork of reality to try the experiment, we'll never know. But the idea that because something was developed using government funds, it could never have been developed without them, is a logical fallacy.


Many of the things mentioned above were in fact produced without government intervention by private enterprise before the widespread adoption of the government funded projects. They were not, however widely adopted, nor resulted in the technologies you are using on your computer sitting in front of you.

There is a reason why people joke about selling bridges yet simultaneously rely on bridges for their commutes in and out of work: some things, if you try to make them profitable from the get-go will never achieve the scale necessary for them to provide utility. One of the many functions of Government is to provide a mechanism for the economy to move beyond a suboptimal economic maxima. Spending money on infrastructure, like bridges, does exactly this. No private firms will build a bridge because they can't make money off of it, but all private firms benefit from the increased availability and mobility of labor. The pre-bridge state of affairs is a suboptimal maxima. (Protip: WWII military spending enabled the US to escape the suboptimal maxima of the Great Depression. That is, government spending, of which, military spending is among the least effective at creating jobs and improving the economy.)


All that was not funded with money that appeared out of nothing. It was paid with money taken from people, and which would have been spent in even more productive things from their owner's judgement.


All I have to do to shoot down every one of your points is ask why none of those things happened in the Soviet Union.


He is not arguing that everything is done/organized by the government. Which is what was tried in the Soviet Union. So I don't see how you had shoot down every one of his points, nor why you wanted to try that in the first place...


"My vote is going to the candidates that at least vector in that direction."

This implies he is going to vote Republican. The problem is that not even the Republicans live up to that standard anymore, they just pay lip service to it until they get elected, then deficit spend the nation into oblivion anyway. This should have been made completely clear during the Bush administration.

From $5T in debt to $10T between 2000-2006, then to $12T by the time Bush left office, it's clear the GOP is just as unable to control their tendancy to spend as they accuse the Democrats of. The main difference is that the Democrats at least tend to raise taxes to fund that spending, so the citizenry is more likely to feel the cost immediately (instead of punting it down the road with deficit spending and additional interest payments).

Ironically that's one thing Carmack is arguing for - the benefit of taxing people in such a way that they feel it, rather than having it hidden in the income tax system.

When even staunch conservatives like Chris Buckley, son of the founder of modern conservatism William F. Buckly, abandon the GOP over this hypocrisy, people like Carmack should take notice and realize that voting for the GOP is in no way a vote in support lower taxes, more efficient government, or any of the other related outcomes they want:

"Eight years of 'conservative' government has brought us a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance. As a sideshow, it brought us a truly obscene attempt at federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case. So, to paraphrase a real conservative, Ronald Reagan: I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me." - Chris Buckley, 2008

I do not think the modern GOP is who Carmack thinks it is.


Maybe it's time for the country's smartest engineers and scientists to bind together and form a Technocracy party.


I personally think engineers' inability to understand the limitations of their own abilities and the complexity of the problems we face, as evidenced by, say, the thought that if they were in charge they could fix everything, to be a strong recommendation against such a technocracy.

Personally, I think the quality the world needs more of in its leaders today is humility. Our theories are probably wrong (an argument for conservatism in a classical sense) and we, as a group, are likely just as corruptible as any other group.


Smart engineers and scientists have a tendency to think they can fix things. This is exactly what he was talking about.


No he said politicians have a tendency to think they can fix things. So he advocates voting for politicians who do the least.


Technology is a great lever to circumvent government regulation. Technology brought us the foreclosure crisis++, but it also brought us Wikileaks. I think technologically-minded people will continue to circumvent the government using their tools, but I don't think we can be herded into a party :)

(++) Those credit-default swaps, etc need lots of technology to manage the accounting.


A much better example would be technology brought us companies like LTCM and other quantitative investments that allowed people to borrow 30-70% of assets for leveraged investment (which when the funds had to de-leverage and were unwinding we saw some big stock market volatility).


Maybe they they can create a "scientific" socialism. That would fix everything.


You mean like on Star Trek, where they abolished hunger, poverty, disease, and began exploring the galaxy?


It's a reference to "empirical" Marxism and the deluded theoreticians who thought it would work. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_socialism

Executive summary: It didn't work.


Now, that would be interesting.

I would actually vote for that kind of candidate. If Facebook and Google got behind it, and they used their marketing might, then it might just work.


That would work, 'cept they would never get elected because Joe Retardo would cry "elitist" and the rest would agree with him.

The only way to get elected in this climate is to pander endlessly to the masses and never discuss real issues at all, which is not a game that the engineers or scientists are ever going to win.


None of us is an island. Taxes are the money that we pay to make our society civilised, and to provide the services necessary to allow those of talent to rise up above the crowd, instead of those that inherited wealth accreting ever more power. There are exactly zero examples of meritocracies without taxes in history, but plenty of examples of countries with taxes where someone with talent can rise to the top. I know which I prefer.

I wonder if John realises that a reduction in taxes could very well destroy the future of the next Carmack coming up through grade school in a modest neighbourhood right now.


The gist of Carmack's statement is that government delivers poor ROI, expands into inappropriate roles and obfuscates how much consumers spend on it. I didn't read "without taxes" or "reduction in taxes" anywhere; I read that Carmack thinks things are trending in the wrong direction.

I wonder if demallien realizes that not reducing the number of carrier strike groups (currently _eleven_) could very well destroy the future of the next demallien coming up through grade school in a modest neighborhood right now?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrier_battle_group#The_U.S._N...


Poor ROI might be better expressed by examining the defense budget itself, particularly when one remembers that the US defense budget is 46% of the military expenditures of the ENTIRE WORLD. http://static.globalissues.org/i/military/10/country-distrib...

Also consider that defense spending is 51% of discretionary spending and almost $500 billion more than any other discretionary spending category.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_United_States_federal_budg...

Imagine if the company you worked for (or started) decided it was going to spend 51% of it's discretionary operational expenditures on a security system and security guards, yet there were furious debates about whether or not to provide health insurance to all employees? Also remember that the likelihood of being a victim of terrorism is less than that of winning the lottery.


But the government that delivers this poor ROI has produced John Carmack. Who is to say that some of the "inefficiencies" in the system did not lead to John becoming the person he is today?

The results depends on what is being measured. If you're measuring dollars in vs. dollars out, then that is one thing. But if your measuring the "number of John Carmack's produced" then the government is 100% efficient.

It's not unlike someone climbing Mount Everest and then looking back and saying "Mount Everest is easy to climb". From the perspective of the person who has successfully made the climb, it is easy. But you can't apply that perspective to the vast majority who have not made the climb.


"But the government that delivers this poor ROI has produced John Carmack"

I don't think the man did anything to deserve such an insulting blow.

"Who is to say that some of the "inefficiencies" in the system did not lead to John becoming the person he is today?"

If you are going to argue that it's government efficiencies that "produce" creative, productive men, rather than their parents and their own effort -- I think the burden of proof is on you. Good luck.

"But if your measuring the "number of John Carmack's produced" then the government is 100% efficient."

You are arguing that "as long as there is just one talented, capable person growing up in North Korea, its government is doing a splendid job and deserves all its powers. So much so they would be granted to it voluntarily by the people, even if they hadn't outgunned them in the first place.

"But you can't apply that perspective to the vast majority who have not made the climb."

What's your point here relating to this discussion?


But the government that delivers this poor ROI _today_ has produced John Carmack _many_years_ago._ My reading of the linked article is that ROI is trending in the wrong direction.

Systemic inefficiencies or the flying spaghetti monster may have lead to the personage of John Carmack. To me, the article didn't sound like he wants to remove the ladder now that he is up; it sounded like he thinks that ladder is becoming less stable for everyone.


> Taxes are the money that we pay to make our society civilised.

I would say that trade and enforcement of contracts are what make our society civilized. I think it makes sense to have the government help in the enforcement of contracts to some degree, through modest fees and/or taxes.

> provide the services necessary to allow those of talent to rise up above the crowd

I'm sure John C wouldn't advocate throwing orphans and disadvantaged children into a "dog eat dog" world. In a longer essay he would agree with you that children need to be cared for by society and that this requires tax money to some degree. His argument is focused towards how competent adults should be treated. Once a person reaches a certain level of adulthood, giving him/her additional resources through government programs (in the millions of different ways the government distributes money, directly or indirectly) is a very inefficient proposition.

> There are exactly zero examples of meritocracies without taxes in history

At one point there was no state in history in which women could vote. At one point there was no state in history in which slavery was abolished. Sometime you need to buck history to progress.

That said, I don't think it's clear who to cast a vote for to accomplish John C's goals- It's hard to know who the candidates are who "vector in that direction." Even though I agree with the thesis that "less government is usually better" I still end up voting mostly for Democrats, since the Republicans in recent history seem anti-rationalist to me. Rationality is a necessary ingredient.

Just because the Tea Party folks say "let's decrease government programs" doesn't mean casting a vote for them is actually a step towards accomplishing that goal. I'm sure if they got power they would think _their_ government programs would be a fine way to spend money.


>I would say that trade and enforcement of contracts are what make our society civilized.

That's a businessman's perspective; there are a lot of other players and concerns in society. What about caring for the environment, enforcing better safety regulations, enforcing better work conditions, etc?


> What about caring for the environment...

I'm familiar with the "tragedy of the commons" issue but there just isn't any clear evidence that:

    More government spending -> better environment
    
What do you think all this government money is going towards? A lot of it is used to run cars and do other things that hurt the environment. Do you think this whole "government stimulus" stuff made the environment better off?

> ...enforcing better safety regulations...

I won't argue with you that the government does a fantastic job creating more regulations of all kinds :)

> ...enforcing better work conditions, etc?

Again, the benefit of government here is tenuous. Sure, some things they do might help, but these benefits need to be weighed against the "opportunity costs" of what else could have been done with that tax money.


The environment is taken care of when it's privately owned. People take care of their own properties. Safety regulations and working conditions are improved via the free market and productivity increases and, to a much lesser extent, by the tort system which punishes unreasonable behavior.


Someone modded you down and ran off, but I wish they'd stuck around to talk about whether the worst safety/environmental hazards have been traditionally associated with governments or corporations.


Those who'd argue "corporations", usually mean big businesses operating in corrupt countries. They are right with their examples, say Shell in Nigeria or where was it -- but Government is usually involved too in these cases.

From a pure capitalist point of view, there will always be isolated instances of short-term enterprises destroying the source of their wealth --- their river, land, fishing or hunting grounds --- but the ones that will logically prevail are those that protect and future-proof their resources for long-term wealth gains, especially when the investment is very high (talk about oil, mining etc.) so that the return on investment will need to be earned over decades. It is not in the interest of the farmer to devalue his land. It is not in the interest of the fisher to exterminate all fish.

It may well be in the interest of global corporations to drain the natural resources of poor countries where the land is granted by the government rather than privately owned and only the short-term monetary gain matters to both parties. But libertarians also make a credible case that Big Corporations would have a much tougher time, and would be a lot smaller, in government-free or minimal-government environments.


> At one point there was no state in history in which women could vote. At one point there was no state in history in which slavery was abolished. Sometime you need to buck history to progress.

There however were places without central government or tax collectors. Like Somalia, or Afghanistan.


...in which you can't trade (because of theft) and no one enforces contracts.


... and there is no enforcement of contracts, and lots of theft, because... no-one paid taxes for the police, judicary, and prison system See the problem?


> In a longer essay he would agree with you that children need to be cared for by society and that this requires tax money to some degree.

Yes. Actually children could probably be provided for to a large extent with charity. Though I imagine less sexy causes are more in need of public money.


> Actually children could probably be provided for to a large extent with charity.

I wish I wasn't a cynic and could believe that.


Money is not a problem in education. Second, his critique was mainly aimed at the federal government.


Pretty much all empires that I ever read about fall prey to wars, wars debt, or inflation.

There's something about war debt that cause revolution and collapse of empires.


From a gov services standpoint, the ROI in general has been low. Focusing just on the investments; defense, social security and medicare are the biggest resource hogs and hence where the spotlight should focus. Unfortunately, these three areas are political hot potatoes with massive entrenched interests. Republicans are always fighting defense cuts and dems are always fighting soc sec cuts.

So I dont buy into the "small gov" argument unless someone starts addressing the big resource hogs.


Government would be far more efficient if you had a choice about whether you participated in its schemes.

Mutual self-defense is the purpose of government and is very cheap compared to the total cost of the US government. I doubt anyone would opt out of that arrangement, especially if they then had to pay an additional tax whenever they wish to trade with the US.

And all of the rest, the insurance schemes, forced charity, regulation can surely been done and are done better by voluntary arrangement. Even local government would be better if you could leave any municipality that failed to deliver.

So the problem is lack of choice, lack of competition. In other words, they can compel you, so they don't have to pay attention to all of the concerns that entities always must pay attention to when you have a choice.

If state and city governments knew that territory and the taxes it pays could "walk away", they would be much more responsive. Or they would start shrinking, as people left for better arrangements.

In more primitive tribal arrangements, that's exactly what people did when someone became a tyrant. We have lost that and we need to get it back.


I liked the fact that Carmack tried to go meta with the discussion. I'd much rather talk general principles instead of personalities and policies (which change year to year)

I'll try to go even more meta: any form of government, over time, will break. This is because people actively seek to control government for personal reasons (good or bad). If this is done blatantly, people would rebel. So our politicians have learned that creating more complex systems allows them the control they need, without the obvious example of people pulling the strings.

As the system becomes more and more complex -- I doubt anybody alive on the planet knows exactly how to file income taxes with all the edge cases -- it actually makes governments more tyrannical. If there a billion rules, it's much easier to have your way than if there were just one or two rules.

The sad part of this is that there is no "evil" required: people can make great decisions that are the best available choice -- and still the system is doomed to burdensome complexity and tyranny over time.

In the U.S., the founders tried to fix this by separating powers among the local, state, and federal governments. They created three branches of government for each of those levels. What's happened is that the federal government is becoming the de facto universal government: responsible for bailing states out, determining certain kinds of licensing standards -- even controlling what people can do with their land.

As the number of people responsible for government decreases -- we probably have about a thousand people of all parties who control the national government and the national government is taking control of everything -- and the laws become more and more complex, the system becomes unable to accomplish anything.

As far as I know, these are architectural issues, and not related to any one party or election.


I probably have a different perspective on this than a lot of the Americans having lived my whole life in the UK until a couple of years ago when I moved out to San Francisco.

I think my issue with this essay, and a lot of the politics I hear in America, is that two separate issues are conflated. Those issues are whether government should regulate an industry/practice/area of life (regulation) vs. if government should provide services in that industry/practice/area of life (services).

There are many places where the government in the US provides both these roles, for example the financial space. For example, the Fed provides a government run service in the finance space which to provides services which are both used by private enterprise but also competes with them. In the same space the government also provide regulations and guidelines which (supposedly) protect the public interest to temper the raw self-interest of the market.

When people talk about government inefficiency they generally mean that government is doing a poor job of running their services. However there also many examples of extremely popular government services, such as Medicare.

The question in my mind is less about discouraging government from being in a space, but what the balance of government regulation vs. services is. A good example of this is health care. As the US moves towards providing universal healthcare there are a couple of different models can be looked at from various countries. From the UK we have a huge government run service, the NHS, which provides our healthcare. In Germany they have a strong regulatory solution in which the government mandates the criteria in which private healthy insurance companies must operate, as well as mandating insurance.

I don't think many people would argue against the need for some centralised government (either at the state or federal level) that protects the commons, and the rights of man. What I would like to see more of is arguments about how we implements those rights.

A good example of a debate we should have is this part of the healthcare one. The highly distributed healthcare in the US (for those with insurance) means that electronic mostly medical records don't exist or aren't shared amongst providers. In a centralised government run bureaucracy (or a private bureaucracy like Kaiser) electronic records are much more possible. Kaiser in-fact, demonstrated massive efficiency gains through their electronic records system. It doesn't mean that electronic medical records couldn't be provided through a regulatory mandate, but in order to have that discussion we have to get past the "big government" vs. "little government" and decide what we want our government to do for us and if it should do that by services or by regulation.


> "Due to Armadillo Aerospace, in the last decade I have observed and interacted with a lot of different agencies, civil servants, and congressmen, and I have collected enough data points to form some opinions."

I think this is very important part of his argument. A person who has just graduated from high school has very little first hand knowledge about how things work and can only parrot stuff learned mostly from media sometimes from books. You can dismiss Carmack's arguments only if you think that Carmack:

a) has a political agenda and is lying about his experience with government

b) has a low IQ and is incapable of seeing how things "really work"

c) has significantly less experience than you and your experience with government has been very much different.

If you just graduated high school a year ago and everything you needed to know about politics you learned from the Daily Show, at least give Carmack the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's on to something.


I guess the problem is this: from an engineer's point of view if one were to design an efficient (but as John says, not ruthlessly efficient) system that tends to the needs of society from scratch and design into that system a means for funding it would we end up with a system that looks like todays modern democracies, ignoring which side of the Atlantic we're talking about for the moment.

I think this simple maxim says a lot; all things being equal a smaller government is better than a larger one. This is a perplexing thing for me because as far as I can tell the parties that talk like this are on the right of the spectrum and I've viewed myself as left-leaning but I'm beginning to think that each new label is just another excuse to see somebody as an Other and causes conflict.

John wonders who to vote for. Even with my limited acquaintance with US politics it seems like Ron Paul is thumping the tubs that John is, maybe he should look towards the radical libertarian corner? I dunno, I don't either of the guys personally. :)

The vast entirety of geopolitical arc of history has given us the systems we live under today. John talks about inertia, it's like trying to even find the right lever in the dark in a storm to try and turn the biggest supertanker a fraction of a radian.

I know that a lot people on HackerNews think that governments take our money from us buy force if necessary but I ask you, how on earth do you get people to put aside their innate greed and and honestly and proportionately bear their burden? You could say that royalty and aristocracy created the mess that we're grappling with now but none of the issues John raises have any simple fixes.

If I were to go out on a limb and be a hippy idealist for a moment: I'd say strangling the war on drugs or at least radically altering it and demilitarizing the planet would be the first obvious branches of government to target for judicious pruning.

Not exactly HackerNews fodder but one feels a certain tension in the air these days that needs to be vented.


Yes, but here is the rub. Once upon a time only the aristocrats could afford to be educated. Then it was deemed by democratic government that education should be afforded to all. The people voted for that, knowing full well that it would cost everyone some of their hard-earned money (taxes).

Generations have gone by and many people take the things that are "common goods" for granted. Unless John Carmack's family is from an aristocratic lineage and his family is wealthy enough to have given him privately funded everything, then he is also "standing on the shoulders of giants" who have paved his way. For him to now become essentially an aristocrat and now say that each people should fend for themselves is difficult to comprehend. At least Newton was humble enough to realize how he got to where he got.


I am in complete agreement with you. The lucky majority have hot water on tap, we have access to thousands of songs instantaneously (people forget how miraculous this is), we have many creature comforts that would put us out of reach of most royalty going back not even two hundred years. One of the most uplifting Ted Talks* I ever watched was this economist who argued that in one hundred years time poor Africa would still be poor but that their standard of living would surpass anybody alive today. (I find it hard to imagine it now but he had lots of statistics and graphs I tell ya!)

* http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/hans_rosling_asia_s_rise_h...


If you agree with John Carmack (at least somewhat), then you should read "For a new liberty" by Murray Rothbard: http://mises.org/rothbard/newlibertywhole.asp

Where he explains how society can live without taxes extracted by the threat of force.


This is neither original nor insightful. The political economic function of government is to ensure that markets function under controlled conditions. An elaborate government apparatus exists to manage vast social programs for business. The US Patent Office is one small example, but there are many others that would be apparent, were it not for pervasive anti-government rhetoric. Another example is limited liability. Without the enforcement of limited liability, elementary transactions we take for granted--mutual funds, for example--would be inconceivable.

Misunderstanding about the relation between business and government is encouraged and systematically exploited. For example, Wall Street likes to create the misleading impression that it wants government out of its business. According to regulators in Washington, Wall Street wants government to give it business. And Wall Street is getting it, off the backs of the working and middle classes. While I agree that the system is dysfunctional, I disagree about the political economic function of government.

Anti-government rhetoric is the diametric opposite of the truth, which is that the political economic function of the government is to ensure that markets function under controlled conditions. Instead, you hear that the government is not (or should not be) the insurer of last resort and that negative externalities and risk pools do not exist. Not a single one of the anti-government rhetoricians have provided a useful measure of efficiency, incidentally. They conveniently tend to forget that big corporations are bureaucracies as well.


By the way, here is the Wikipedia article for the man in jail for failure to pay taxes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Anderson_%28tax_evader%2...

[Edited: had said "friend" which was incorrect]

tl;dr

He admitted to reporting only $67,939 in a year he made $126 million. He further admitted to hiding a total of $365 million.

[Edited: hadn't included the $126 million detail for the year he under-reported]


so now you're joining in the slander?

-he didn't use the word "friend"

-you didn't read the article

-According to Wikipedia, he reported just over $67,000 for just one year (not for his 370MM lifetime.)

Sorry to be nit-picky, maybe he is a bad guy, but what's the point of presenting facts when you're going to attempt to exaggerate and not put in due diligence?


Original comment corrected.


Considering he is posting this under his aerospace company, does anyone else wonder where aerospace would be today without government funding? Sure, you could argue that it has been inefficient in terms of pure dollars. But there is more to advancement than simply the money spent.


Yes, just look at Boeing vs Airbus and the WTO.

http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/manufacturing/2010-...


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