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It’s Time to Build (a16z.com)
1820 points by jger15 42 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 1007 comments



I'm in the process of reading _Why Nation Fails_. The central thesis is that the rich and poor countries are separated by inclusive vs extractive institutions. The extractive institutions are characterised by elites that attempt to defend their own wealth and status by maintaining the status quo and resisting the creative destruction that may threaten that position.

It seems to resonate a bit here, when Marc speaks of things like regulatory capture. I heard a few years back that a US health insurance startup had to provide on the order of 6000 pages of documentation to be approved. No wonder that there hadn't been another provider for twenty years or so. It seems like some things are hard to build mostly because some people want it that way.

I can't help but think that there's a fundamental flaw in the American regulatory approach. From the European perspective, the US is sometimes viewed as some time of free market haven, but in practice it often turns out that the regulatory burden is much higher. The framework imposed on financial markets by the SEC and related authorities is on a whole different level in the US, and with higher complexity you a also get a larger surface area for special interests to make their mark.

Point being, why not write simpler laws and regulations and leave it to the courts to interpret what adheres to the spirit of it? With the barriers of entry gone, I think we'd see a renewed vitality to many ossified sectors.


Thanks, agree, great book. I think of it as "Why Nations Succeed" instead. Inclusive institutions = economic generativity = non-zero sum. A more philosophical version is https://www.amazon.com/Finite-Infinite-Games-James-Carse-ebo...


> It seems to resonate a bit here, when Marc speaks of things like regulatory capture. I heard a few years back that a US health insurance startup had to provide on the order of 6000 pages of documentation to be approved. No wonder that there hadn't been another provider for twenty years or so. It seems like some things are hard to build mostly because some people want it that way.

Sure, but is this actually a high order blocker? I'd argue that it's not even a first order effect. The problem here is not that we don't have enough insurance capacity; the problem is that we don't have enough ventilators. And it turns out, actually building those things to spec is hard. Intellectual property and regulatory capture are bad things to be reduced, IMO, but they're only part of our current equation.

The moneyed classes of America don't like redundancy and they don't like long term investments. Since they hold such a huge chunk of wealth compared to the rest of America, their preferences (which I might note, Marc represents professionally) make these decisions long before patent troll lawsuits or building inspectors can rain on any parade.

> Point being, why not write simpler laws and regulations and leave it to the courts to interpret what adheres to the spirit of it? With the barriers of entry gone, I think we'd see a renewed vitality to many ossified sectors.

Litigation is the most costly way to settle these things. Your idea would require even more startup capital per small business to overcome the legal obstacles you seemed eager to abolish.


We’re not necessarily talking about litigation here. Like another commenter pointed out, other legal system allows you to ask the courts for decisions without an opposing party.


We're actually not running out of ventilators anywhere. Existing installed base is sufficient and moreover, it turned out the federal government had a large stockpile anyway, which rather invalidates the central thesis of the article re: lack of preparedness.

The claim about ventilators was one of the first dodgy claims I noticed but really the entire first part of the article is a pack of lies. Andreessen says:

"We see this today with the things we urgently need but don’t have. We don’t have enough coronavirus tests, or test materials — including, amazingly, cotton swabs and common reagents"

This isn't amazing. The amount of testing being performed has scaled exponentially over the space of just a few months, from a standing start. In fact there's a lot of evidence that the supposedly exponential growth of the virus was really due to an exponential growth in testing, when positives are viewed as a proportion of overall tests done. It's not an indictment of "the West" that materials run out after such a vast acceleration - if anything I'm amazed it didn't happen earlier!

"We don’t have enough ventilators, negative pressure rooms, and ICU beds"

All three are in plentiful supply. Even in localised hotspots like New York problems are limited to a handful of hospitals.

I've been reading about the near deserted state of most hospitals for over a week now. I don't understand where Marc is getting his information from if he isn't aware of this.

"We also don’t have therapies or a vaccine — despite, again, years of advance warning about bat-borne coronaviruses"

Vaccines can't be created for a virus that doesn't exist yet regardless of how many vague warnings there are, so this isn't remarkable: it's inevitable. As for therapies, that's what ventilators and CPAP are.

"then we may not have the manufacturing factories required to scale their production"

Given the data appearing in a flood of new papers, showing that the virus is not dangerous enough to warrant current policy, no unusual rates of manufacturing scale-up will be required.

"it took scientists 5 years to get regulatory testing approval for the new Ebola vaccine after that scourge’s 2014 outbreak, at the cost of many lives"

I'm actually on Marc's side on this one, in that I suspect current FDA approval processes are overkill. But this claim is also nonsense. FDA allows fast-track approval bypass for cases where someone is going to die without treatment anyway, and Ebola disappeared after 2014 - according to CDC the next time it was spotted was Zaire in 2018 with a grand total of 8 cases. That's not even close to "many lives".

"A government that collects money from all its citizens and businesses each year has never built a system to distribute money to us when it’s needed most."

Tax credits, quantitative easing, loan subsidies. The government has many ways to distribute money to people.

"At least therapies and vaccines are hard! Making masks and transferring money are not hard"

In fact making medical masks is hard. It requires special materials and machines, the supply of which can't be rapidly scaled up.

https://www.businessinsider.com/why-factories-cant-keep-up-d...

Headline is literally "Factories are scrambling to make 20 times more face masks a day to keep up with demand amid coronavirus outbreak, but the masks are surprisingly difficult and expensive to make"

As for money, transferring money is easy. Figuring out the right amounts and the right people to send it to, without creating an explosion of fraud and waste - that's not so easy.


The number of tests done so far is about 4 million. Aren't you surprised to find we didn't have 4 million cotton swabs? Barely 1 swab per 100 people?

For reference, Q-tips come in packages of 500 for about $5 at your local pharmacy. They sell around 20 billion per year. Test swabs are somewhat more special and individually wrapped, but 4 million shouldn't cost a lot.


I want to make sure you know that this post is full of bizarre falsehoods. New York and Seattle definitely have ventilator shortages. California had a shortage and that federal reserve of ventilators netted us a small number of broken devices that had to be repaired. Lucky us, the State had a corporate partner that could do it.

I especially want to take issue with this falsehood:

> All three are in plentiful supply. Even in localised hotspots like New York problems are limited to a handful of hospitals.

ICU beds are definitely in short supply. It doesn't matter if a bed exists in another state, folks who need ICU beds aren't usually fit to travel. That's part of why their care is intensive.

But also, only large hospitals have significant ICU capacity. So saying it's only limited to hospitals that have ICU capacity seems very disingenuous to me. It's like saying, "There is no shortage of ICU beds at local clinics." That's true, because no one expects substantial ICU capacity at local clinics. If they had it, it'd be welcome right now.

> I've been reading about the near deserted state of most hospitals for over a week now. I don't understand where Marc is getting his information from if he isn't aware of this.

Where are you reading this? I have relatives in healthcare in NY. They do not relate your story to me.

> Vaccines can't be created for a virus that doesn't exist yet regardless of how many vague warnings there are, so this isn't remarkable: it's inevitable. As for therapies, that's what ventilators and CPAP are.

Who would CPAP machines be for? Why bring them up?

> Given the data appearing in a flood of new papers, showing that the virus is not dangerous enough to warrant current policy, no unusual rates of manufacturing scale-up will be required.

The medical literature is in fact saying the opposite. But now I'm morbidly fascinated what the "reopen the economy" and "it's just the flu" crowd are circulating as "scientific literature."

> Tax credits, quantitative easing, loan subsidies. The government has many ways to distribute money to people.

None of which are actually effective in the face of historic unemployment.

> In fact making medical masks is hard. It requires special materials and machines, the supply of which can't be rapidly scaled up.

Making masks which reduce individual aerosol dispersal is easy. N95 masks are harder. We definitely could scale them up rapidly if we wanted to. This is the territory where things like IP law do matter and do cost lives.


Where are you getting your information?

Re: Ventilators in New York.

New York doesn't have a ventilator shortage and never did. It had a predicted shortage based on bad simulations, but never a real one. In fact it's now sending ventilators elsewhere:

https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/04/coronavirus-crisis-ve...

"On April 2, Cuomo predicted the state would run out of ventilators in six days “at the current burn rate.” But on April 6, Cuomo noted, “We’re ok, and we have some in reserve.” Now New York appears to have passed the apex. Deaths, a lagging indicator, crested at 799 on April 9 and hit 606 on April 16, the lowest figure since April 6. Hospitalizations are also declining, and on April 16 also hit their lowest level since April 6. Cuomo today has so many ventilators he is giving them away: On April 15, he said he was sending 100 of them to Michigan and 50 to Maryland. On April 16, he announced he was sending 100 to New Jersey."

I'm morbidly fascinated by what you're reading that has led you to this belief.

Re: ICU beds: I was talking about the world generally rather than New York specifically. For example in New Jersey on April 8th only 3 hospitals were load balancing to others:

https://twitter.com/alexberenson/status/1247920918640410624?...

In New York city (vs state) the field hospitals that were built have hardly been being used.

https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/04/16/coronav...

"the field hospital constructed inside the massive Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Hudson Yards, had 340 patients as of Tuesday afternoon ... The facility has a maximum capacity of 2,500 hospital beds. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Javits Center hospital had treated about 700 patients"

Even on April 1st, the New York Post visited an ICU and found it was only handling double the normal case load, well within capacity (13 patients normally, 26 then):

https://nypost.com/2020/04/01/a-look-inside-an-nyc-hospital-...

Certainly there are cases where single hospitals ran out of space and started load balancing onto nearby hospitals. But, that happens during normal times too.

Where are you reading this? [empty hospitals]

The essay isn't only about New York, it's trying to generalise not only to America but the whole western world. And across the world hospitals are laying off staff due to underload:

https://news.google.com/search?q=hospital%20furlough&hl=en-U...

Who would CPAP machines be for? Why bring them up?

CPAP - the pressure type, not the sleep machines - is now a common therapy for treating COVID-19. For example the British Prime Minister wasn't put on a ventilator but rather given only CPAP (basically, a mask connected to the hospital oxygen supply). This is because there's a growing belief in the medical world that ventilators can cause more harm than good for COVID patients.

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/928156

None of which are actually effective in the face of historic unemployment.

That's not a rebuttal. Systems to distribute money exist. The idea they've never been built, as the essay argues, isn't right.

If you want to argue they aren't designed for sustaining a world under house arrest, by all means do so, but no country on earth has created schemes specifically for that.

Making masks which reduce individual aerosol dispersal is easy. N95 masks are harder

Andreessen was talking about medical-grade masks designed to protect doctors from patients, not ad-hoc home made things. And for those masks the point stands: it's hard to make them but he says it's easy.

As for medical literature, go read the links to papers and studies here:

https://swprs.org/a-swiss-doctor-on-covid-19/

There are many links to papers, comments and articles by doctors and other specialists who are arguing that the virus is clearly not as deadly as feared. For example, the serology survey that's in the first link under the April 18th update was discussed here on HN just recently.

That's good news, by the way! Don't you hope they're right? My experience is that some people posting on HN don't actually want to study what people bringing good news are saying.


Sorry, I already have decided in another post your "Swiss Doctor's" summary isnt't very credible and that National Review article seems to have an awful lot of hedging in it.

Thank you for the effort, but I don't believe there is much more to say on the subject.


> Thank you for the effort, but I don't believe there is much more to say on the subject.

You were wrong about what you claimed. That certainly needed to be acknowledged given your responses here.

The parent answered your false claim, with what Cuomo said and what is actual fact: NY does not have ventilator shortages.

Politico: "New York sending 100 ventilators to New Jersey"

https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2020/0...

ABC Grand Rapids: "New York, California send Michigan ventilators for coronavirus relief"

https://www.wzzm13.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/new-y...

ABC Baltimore: "New York sending 50 ventilators to Maryland"

> "In our hour of need, other states stepped up to help us. We promised we would do the same," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Twitter Wednesday.

https://www.wmar2news.com/news/state/new-york-sending-50-ven...


I'm sorry, you're right. There was a narrow window where there were concerns, but that passed. New York DOEs face ICU bed shortages.

My response here was mostly dismissive because the poster above is clearly trying to downplay the crisis for reasons I can only speculate on. After taking a lot of time to read through the poster's previous links, I'm quite frustrated with how much time I wasted on disingenuous garbage links.

But yes, I lumped Seattle (which briefly did have a ventilator shortage) in with New York on ventilators. This is pretty much the only thing I was wrong about and I'll take this opportunity to own up. But I won't engage earnestly with the previous poster any further.


You're failing to take into account the triage onto palliative care pathways of many older people.


Please could you link some of the papers you mention on the scale of the coronavirus problem? I'm not doubting they exist, I'd just be interested to have a read.


This page has many links to such papers:

https://swprs.org/a-swiss-doctor-on-covid-19/


"A swiss doctor on COVID-19," huh? Well since it's written by a doctor we should give it the benefit of the doubt and read the page and the links. But I confess, upon doing so I find that this is a page full of good (and in some cases, familiar) resources presented in a way that reminds me of a well-produced climate science denial websites.

That's an incendiary claim, so please let me provide an example. Here's point 4 on the overview:

> The age and risk profile of deaths thus essentially corresponds to normal mortality. Up to 60% of all Covid19-related deaths have occurred in particularly vulnerable nursing homes.

"Nursing homes" is highlighted and links to an article talking about mortality in nursing homes and long term care facilities. It is both cautious about its claims (pointing out data is not very good yet) an doesn't make the point that nursing homes are in fact the fatality concentration point. It's not clear how we'd draw a larger conclusion from this.

Another example, next point:

> Many media reports of young and healthy people dying from Covid19 have proven to be false upon closer inspection. Many of these people either (did not)[1] die from Covid19 or they in fact had (serious preconditions)[2] (such as undiagnosed leukaemia).

Firstly, I'm not sure anyone has disputed that young people are much less likely to die of the virus. But there are two links in this point, one to a Daily Mail article about how a coroner is waiting for a toxicology report before ruling the cause of death is COVID-19. This is probably the right call, but an infant testing positive for COVID-19 appears to have died over respiratory distress. It's difficult to just shrug and go, "Oh well that's SIDS not the virus even though the nature of the death is identical."

Really, these points read like someone with an agenda trying to make a lot of cites for legitimacy. But there isn't a lot of evidence of a larger pattern here, just a lot of data which is then presented in a leading way to facilitate a narrative.

Another example of this:

> The often shown exponential curves of “corona cases” are (misleading)[3], since the number of tests also increases exponentially. In most countries, the ratio of positive tests to total tests either remains constant between (5% to 25%)[4] or increases rather slowly.

This is another really misleading bullet point. Looking at [4], we see indeed that the over-time ratio of tests has remained at an average of 25% positive by country (this is of course averaged, hotspots see totally different numbers). But the author has previously pointed out that testing administration has risen exponentially, so this is a constant proportion of an exponential population. If we decline to extrapolate from this, the author cannot make their point. But if we do, we see an exponential growth in COVID-19 cases.

I see more examples but I won't further belabor the point. This resource is written by someone with an agenda they want to execute on. It doesn't appear to be someone honestly engaging in inquiry and arriving at a data-driven conclusion.

[0]: https://ltccovid.org/2020/04/12/mortality-associated-with-co...

[1]: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8193487/Coroner-ref...

[2]: https://sports.yahoo.com/spanish-football-coach-francisco-ga...

[3]: https://multipolar-magazin.de/artikel/coronavirus-irrefuhrun...

[4]: https://web.archive.org/web/20200415203945/https://mobile.tw...


.


> I really can't help but appreciate the irony of alleging agenda in the above poster's sources, while simultaneously citing the Daily Mail, Yahoo Sports, and Twitter.

The post you're replying to did not use those as sources. They were criticizing the website for using those sources (and including them here for reference). Look at the locations of [1] thru [4] in their comment: they're all in the body of quotes.


Thanks for pointing this out, I'll remove the above comment.


> I'm actually on Marc's side on this one, in that I suspect current FDA approval processes are overkill.

As I understand it FDA didn't approve Pandemrix, while EU regulators did give it fast track appeal.

Pandemrix causes narcolepsy in 1 in 60,000 people who take it. (so, for the entire US that's about 5000 with a life long debilitating illness that requires constant care.) The risk is very low, but it's there and we need to be careful about exposing a population of hundreds of millions to these risks just because we have an ideological opposition to any form of government regulation.


It's hard to form an opinion on that case without knowing more about Pandremix. How many people did it help? Is the illness it treats worse than narcolepsy? How many people are wrongly prescribed it?

I also wonder what kind of study found such a tiny effect size. 1 in 60,000 would require a staggeringly powerful study to successfully link it to Pandremix.

Not saying you're wrong about any of that, and I suppose I could go research these questions myself. But based solely on what you wrote I don't think there's any way to tell if that decision was good or bad.


> The moneyed classes of America don't like redundancy and they don't like long term investments.

This class denigrating language does nothing to elevate the discussion and it is absolutely false (in the sense that it is only a "truth" within your worldview and the worldview of others who share it), and it is false in the sense that it doesn't accurately describe the behaviors of individuals in the "moneyed class".

The "moneyed classes" as you call it if anything have more redundancy and longer term investments that most other classes. It is incredibly rare for anyone in the "moneyed classes" to not have a balanced portfolio of investments that add in fiscal redundancy in case one investment goes bad. The portfolios are also balanced insofar as balancing short term and long term growth depending on their investment horizon.

The problems you've identified have far more to do with a coordination problem than the vices of individuals.

The "moneyed class" is not one coordinated hive mind mass that all conspire with one another to avoid redundancy and eschew long term investments.

The "moneyed class" like the "unmoneyed class" are all individual actors each acting in their own self interest and trying to figure out an optimal solution given limited imperfect information and handicapped by many cognitive biases.

Any system that is going to solve the issue of redundancy and long term investments needs to acknowledge the reality of limited imperfective information and cognitive biases and the impact these have on human reasoning and the subsequent actions of individuals.


Getting an answer from a court (is X legal?) takes a long time: at least a few years and several hundred thousand dollars. Far too long to wait before building a business around X. Asking people to build the business first and then find out if it's legal isn't how a society of laws is supposed to work.

Fast courts would be a huge benefit to society.


Yes! Law = code. Law should be turned into code, and made available to everyone. A great current attempt is https://donotpay.com/


No, law is not code and it’s very important that it’s not code. Law is subject to interpretation, and that’s great. When bugs are discovered in law, they can be retroactively corrected.


Are bugs discovered and corrected faster today in law or in code?


The key part is that the court system can correct for a bug before the law itself is changed; it's a way to fix things as the code is being executed for a particular case, before the developers have even identified how/if the bug applies for other cases and figured out a general fix, much less implemented one.


Sure, but is immutability more important in law or in code? Updating a smart contract seems to be as tedious as changing a law.


In each case it may depend upon the 'application'.

For easily-understood fields undergoing well-scrutinized legal code changes it's (presumably) likely that legal drafting issues can be caught and fixed early.

Conversely, in software projects (even open source ones) where the users and authors are few and/or fail to pay attention to mistakes and errors, it could take years to report and fix issues.

All that said, in the presence of a mindful, careful and effective engineering team with responsive users, it does seem that software - or at least software processes like source control, code review and the democratized ability to contribute code changes - has an evolutionary advantage.


Things are happening at the bleeding edge of computational law that move this debate into new territory.

(TL;DR: yes, "law is code". And $10M of fresh funding says law should be open-source code, to be precise. Hackers wanted.)

Background: the "Rules as Code" movement is bringing software engineering practices to the drafting of law. https://govinsider.asia/inclusive-gov/four-things-you-should...

The premise: the judiciary is one source of authority; the legislature is another. If we treat contracts and laws as executable programs and specifications, we want to find bugs at compile time, because handling exceptions at run-time is called "going to court".

How do we find bugs at compile time? Static analysis. Formal methods. Formal verification methodologies (Lamport's TLA+, MIT's Alloy) applied to contracts and laws make it possible to SAT-solve for loopholes ("sploits") that violate LTL/CTL specifications. Once law is code you can go full white-hat/black-hat. Automate the fuzzing. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/09/savin...

Maybe we don't always want "law as code" ... for, say, criminal law. Judicial discretion is important. Human judgement matters. Though if an overworked public defender can only spare two hours out of the hundred you deserve, the robolawyer starts to sound more attractive. What if we send Watson to law school? If you're hunting for a way to stay out of jail, wouldn't you want Deep Blue and AlphaGo to help you find it? https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/31/us/public-def...

There are plenty of black-and-white areas where the rules don't invite human interpretation: mostly things to do with finances -- like how DoNotPay.com can help apply for unemployment. Even in those domains, there are deep, deep pockets lobbying against the kinds of freedom (as in speech, and as in beer) that "law as code" promises. https://www.propublica.org/article/inside-turbotax-20-year-f...

But, you ask, what about the knowledge acquisition bottleneck? Ah, yes, the AI Winter. Ontologies (SUMO, OWL, UFO-L), visual modeling notations (BPMN, DMN), and a new generation of tools (Flora-2, Protégé) take a new whack at that problem without going anywhere near machine learning and neural nets, which typically lack the nuance you need when every comma counts. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180723-the-commas-tha...

Spring is coming. The vision for computable law, as laid out by Michael Genesereth at Stanford's CodeX Center, is for software that does for legal reasoning what the spreadsheet does for quantitative reasoning. (Who's Michael Genesereth? You've heard of Russell & Norvig's textbook on AI. He was Stuart Russell's Ph.D advisor.) https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/1165485.1165517

Is there any money in this? Hell, yes. In the US, DoNotPay is running a pitch-perfect Christensen disruption playbook. Outside the US, the EU has issued a half-million-euro tender for exactly the Rules As Code thing mentioned above: machine-readable-and-executable regulations. See section 1.4.2 of the PDF at https://etendering.ted.europa.eu/document/document-old-versi...

Oh, and as of last month, Singapore has just thrown $10M behind a project to turn the "law as code" vision into open source software that you can clone off Github.

I've been researching computational law since 2015, and a picture of the future legal tech stack is coming together in my head: open-source, open-standards, laws and contracts drafted in a domain-specific language from the start; libraries of clauses, linters and interpreters and unit testers and theorem provers built into the IDE, that find bugs in contracts in real time as you edit; compilers to English and other languages; model-driven architectures that flow from the specification to the app.

Once that legal stack is downloadable and accessible to the geeks of the world, then, as Joshua Browder would say, DoNotPay a law firm thousands of dollars just to copy and paste a Word doc out of their library. The law firm is not the customer -- as Atrium proved, expensively.

To help move this stack out of my head and into Github, the SG government is funding the development of open-source software targeted to real-world use cases, for drafting rules and contracts in a DSL. They've approved a grant for my small team (hi, Alexis! <3) to hire people to make it happen. https://www.thetechnolawgist.com/2020/03/31/legalese-singapo...

(Why Singapore? Fun fact: it's the only country in the world whose prime minister has degrees in mathematics and computer science.) https://twitter.com/leehsienloong/status/595166789660647426?...

If you're in a position to move to Singapore (whenever air travel reboots) ... and have skills in obscure but powerful technologies (or want to gain those skills) ... and want to help design a language that could be the basis for the next iteration of the legal industry ... we're hiring: https://computational.law/hiring


I can see the attraction in making rules/regulation as code. But there is a downside we should be cautious of. Making law into code doesn't necessarily make it more readable/understandable or clearer for humans. In fact, making it into code will make it scalable to add lots of rules (very prescriptive, not derivable from a set of core principles) making them hard to comprehend for anyone but a rules evaluation engine. Anyone who has implemented a business rules engine and operated it in a complex workflow domain (like say e-commerce or banking) knows what I'm talking about. Then, when the machine renders judgement, we will need technical engineers to debug/explain/interpret why the machine evaluated all the rules to this particular judgement. There will also be potential for modeling the legal context of a particular case incorrectly while feeding it to the machine which can make the machine render incorrect judgment. Now, how will you appeal this decision?


You're quite right. Garbage in, garbage out. And if the cost of generating garbage goes down, we're going to get a lot more of it! There are definite risks in misinterpretation and complexity and cruft. As Genesereth quoted:

The Lord's Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence, but government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911 words.

So, we will have be on our guard. The hope is that if the rules are open and machine-readable, we will be able to counter with software that sides with the user and helps to mount the sort of response that in the past was only available to corporations with very deep pockets.

One intriguing approach is to submit test cases: concrete scenarios, or traces of events, that should result in certain desired outcomes. A diverse range of people in different circumstances could be collected in a comprehensive test suite. If the contract/law passes the test suite, you're good! You can imagine two legislators from different parties with different constituents and concerns, each bringing their set of test cases; and when the negotiated compromise passes enough tests, they proceed, without ever actually reading the text of the bill, lol.


> If the contract/law passes the test suite, you're good!

Not necessarily, you risk the same sort of problems suffered by naïve statisticians who over-fit their data with ever more complicated models. This leads to erratic behaviour in real life and severe lack of predictability outside the range already covered by the data.

You need to run some kind of sensitivity analysis as well because the components used in the implementation (policemen, lawyers, auditors, traffic wardens, etc.) are not all of perfect quality. Think of an audio amplifier design, it looks wonderful on paper and works perfectly in the simulator. But fails spectacularly when built of real world components because each component is not quite exactly as specified. A sensitivity analysis can discover this by, for example, running the simulation multiple times with each component varied according to its expected quality (say +/- 10% for resistors, +/- 30 percent for transistor gain, etc.)


>government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911 words

The only solution is mostly forbid government regulation except for critical things, of which "sale of cabbage" and ten of thousands others now currently regulated are not.

In order to do that within a Democracy, you have to dispel the unconscious notion (that a lot of modern voters have), that the government is a father/mother figure that has unlimited resources, can't make mistakes, and its operated by saints with the "common good" in mind 24/7.


Maybe force the lawmakers to include a text explaining the "spirit" of the law, also including indicators to the law effectiveness. For example, a law is implemented to bring down then "car accidents per million" indicator. If one year later car accidents are the same or more then the law is scrapped.

What you propose of robo-lawyers and law as code sounds as the script for a futuristic Kafka's "The Process" as an episode of Black Mirror.


This made my day! Wish you all the best and hope that this will materialize. Who needs skyscrapers and stuff (Marc is writing about) if you can have computational law?! In the meantime I will try to escape the country that will adopt such techniques the last: ol Germany


Yes


“Law is subject to interpretation, and that’s great.”

I’m not sure it is always great.

Studies show racism[1] and hunger[2] and can impact sentencing judgments.

> When bugs are discovered in law, they can be retroactively corrected.

How is that different than software?

1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/16/black...

2. https://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/apr/11/judges-lenient-b...



Law should be objectively decidable. Thousands upon thousands of pages of enigmatic legalistic nonsense make it impossible to predict a legal decision. When there is this much law, it becomes a paradox where the result is actually lawless - it becomes the whim of a judge's interpretation.


I’m a big fan of anything that will bring effective legal access to everyone. Technology will definitely play a role, but so will legal deregulation. Lots of jurisdictions are experimenting with opening up certain areas of legal practice to people who aren’t lawyers. And they’re rebuilding systems (alongside technology) to make them easier to access without attorneys.

The troubling part is that at some point, we need to tackle electoral reform. Even if we tackle the legal system and provide effective legal access to everyone, we’ll still be a long ways from tackling mass disillusionment. Hell, in lots of cases, disillusionment and/or disenfranchisement are logical results of history!

Anyways, good comment!


A piece of this is to eliminate the friction of legal text by open sourcing legal templates, in a graph, on GitHub. The key word here is "source." Legal documents currently are blobs, not source. See github.com/CommonAccord/ Lots of exampless, including the YC SAFES, Series Seed, GA4GH data sharing, etc. It's not full algorithmic, but compatible with algorithmic approaches, like Mike Genesereth's and Meng's.


It seems donotpay can get you into a legal engagement easily, but the other party can tie you up in more legal battles that donotpay doesn't yet handle and then you are screwed if you can't hire and pay expensive lawyers.


This is also a failure to build. We just accept it as a given that courts take too long, judges are too lazy to get their opinions out in a timely manner and the legal profession too often gets fat fees for slow-walking legal proceedings when technology exists to make expeditious dispute resolution much faster. For example, I can think of no reason why we can't mandate that discovery must use electronic format unless the information was never before recorded in an online electronic system. Given that I have never seen a functioning typewriter in a corporate office, I imagine that would smooth things a bit.

Also, just as a matter of how the US legal system works, the presumption is that someone is innocent until challenged, whether by the state or by a private party. A prospective business could not file a petition with a court asking if their conduct was legal or not, since it's not really a controversy. But businesses will always do loads of due diligence with lawyers beforehand, who should help identify areas of legal risk.


Read "Why Courts Don't Work" by Richard Neeley, who used to be chief justice of the West Virginia supreme court. Courts don't work because a lot of people don't want them to work. If you could get a judgement in a week in a minor labor case, employers would have to obey labor law, for example.



> We just accept it as a given that courts take too long, judges are too lazy to get their opinions out in a timely manner

Is it being lazy or rather having tons of work that needs to be done too?


This is exactly how two of the biggest startups of the past 15 years - Airbnb and Uber - were built.

Airbnb and Uber built products that were in a legal gray area. Lawmakers are still catching up to them.


Key to their strategy was having deep enough pockets to fight many simultaneous legal and PR battles.


Which is enabled by VC funding, which IMO makes them complicit on a systemic level. It's arguable whether you can blame a particular investor for Uber's thoroughly rotten and antisocial business model - but once you see more of such startups getting funded left and right, it's fair to ask the question, "why such business model is even a possible option".


I don't agree that Uber's business model is fundamentally "rotten and antisocial". Short range point to point transport (cabs) was awful before Uber and Lyft. The rides are easier to get, the drivers are less likely to screw you over, and you know in advance just how much things will cost.

I'm glad they took on a legal gray area because cabs had completely used regulatory capture to get away with being a terrible service to the public.


I'm talking about the "it's better to force forgiveness than ask for permission" part, and they weren't in grey area - in a lot of places, they were doing plainly illegal business. I'm talking about their business model of "let's do illegal business and use deep pockets to keep regulators at bay, until we get enough public support to make ourselves invulnerable". Also known as totally unfair competition. I'm also talking about insurance and worker rights shenanigans, and a host of other sociopathic behaviors their management exhibited (all reported on in detail over the past years).

On top of that, cabs were awful in some cities in some places around the world. They worked well enough in others. Over here (Kraków area, Poland), we had private point-to-point transport companies that managed to change the law through a proper court process, like civilized people do.


>rotten and antisocial business model

What's rotten and antisocial about providing cheap, reliable transportation ?


It's about how it's being provided. The history of Uber's sociopathic and often outright illegal behavior is long and well-documented.


Key to their strategy was actually providing the public with something most people actually wanted, regardless of legality. Very few lawmakers want to aggressively go against public sentiment just because the law says they should.


> Key to their strategy was actually providing the public with something most people actually wanted

The people who want the service are not necessarily the same as the people who are affected by the externalities of the service.

Everyone loves having AirBnb available to expand selection in NYC when they visit, but how many New Yorkers who aren’t AirBnb hosts love having tons of short term rentals in their building?


I agree that people didn't really understand what they were getting into fully when they initially agitated for it, but it's definitely the case that there was broad initial public support which is what allowed the companies to get a foothold.


Seems like a good approach to me. Imagine if they waited and we were still stuck with taxis.


Technology innovation: "Can it be done?"

Market innovation: "Should it be done?"

Regulatory innovation: "May it be done?"


I also don't think you can just ask a court to answer a hypothetical in a binding way. You basically need to get into the legal problem first.


This is an American doctrine, that there must be an "actual case or controversy" - Canadian courts can and do issue advisory opinions to interpret regulation.


Which are still usually advisory and not legally binding advice.


I would hope they go a long way towards reducing your responsibility if you follow one and then run into a legal problem because of it.


Pre-enforcement lawsuits do exist to answer questions for parties prior to taking actions that would result in liability. One was just recently decided in favor of the ACLU.

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20200402/13055544225/dc-co...


Not a court, but government agencies can and do issue "guidance" documents after receiving feedback. For example, the EPA guidance on Class VI (CO2) injection wells [1] and IRS guidance on 45Q CO2 capture and storage credits [2]

[1] https://www.epa.gov/uic/class-vi-guidance-documents

[2] https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-provides-answers-and-a-safe....


is that what suing for "declaratory relief" is, or is that only for civil law?


Problem is, the faster courts are, the more likely people are to actually wait for them, which ends up a net slowdown. Really the only path to success is, take a risk to try to beat the competition and hope the courts side with you in the end. And if you're successful, they probably will.


Build more courts until they can deal with the volume, or fix so your laws so that less people need to go to court


IMO this is a classic case of loss aversion. Enforcers of law are put in a position to make subjective decisions that impact them personally. They don’t want to make a decision. They want someone else to make a decision. Decision stew until they can be disassociated with any person or group. This takes time. Usually the decision is tempered to absolve all parties and thus be convoluted and misinterpreted. Rinse and repeat.


I don't get why everybody is raving about "Why Nations Fail". Their definitions of inclusive/extractive institutions seem hopelessly muddled. It is almost as if they've collected all the stuff they liked in prosperous countries and called it "inclusive" and then did the same with all the stuff they disliked in impoverished dictatorships and called it "extractive". If you try to distill a succinct definition of these concepts and then apply it, you run into contradictions such as (borrowing an example from Fukuyama): "The Indian political system is so inclusive that it can’t begin major infrastructure projects because of all the lawsuits and democratic protest, especially when compared to the extractive Chinese one."

If the thesis is "institutions are important for prosperity", it is kind of obvious. But the book does little to explain exactly what kind of institutions.


thank you, _Why Nations Fail_ is partisan hackery.


> I heard a few years back that a US health insurance startup had to provide on the order of 6000 pages of documentation to be approved. No wonder that there hadn't been another provider for twenty years or so. It seems like some things are hard to build mostly because some people want it that way.

Very often regulation starts lean, then inevitably some assholes take advantage of it to their profit, so the regulation becomes more and more specific and complex. Rinse and repeat.

It starts at individual level. In France, health insurance providers started reimbursing eyewear, with a rule "one pair of glasses each 2 years". Now everyone buys new glasses every 2 years, sharp, because "I'm paying for it", even if they don't really need new glasses. Stuff like this make insurance price go up for everyone as a result, which incentivizes you even more to be an abuser. The rules are now more strict about the how much is reimbursed, because people obviously go for most expensive Gucci frames allowed.


Insurance is not meant to cover routine purchases, it's meant to cover purchases that are unexpected and too large to cover.

We have a publicly paid health system in Norway, but we still have: * Copays until you reach €200 * No dental coverage for routine operations (only major surgeries) * No eyewear coverage (I assume if you have some eye illness requiring surgery or similar it will be covered)

Seems to work fine, and that France should change what insurance does cover


I think the single biggest roadblock to building new things is regulation. How do we eliminate most regulations, and simplify the rest to fight off regulatory capture?

What if we had a github for laws and required that anybody who worked on a law use their real name and if they were paid by a company they had to list how much?


Regulation is all about stopping people from getting taken advantage of, or hurt, usually by their own decisions.

Financial regulation is mostly about stopping people from selling dodgy investment schemes that are some variant of Ponzi.

Health and Safety regulation is mostly about stopping people from doing stupid things that might kill them.

FDA is about stopping Snake Oil salesmen. And y'know, making sure the drugs we're sold don't make us worse.

You can see it coming in the Cryptocurrency world - people lose money on stupid bets and then feel that someone else should have done something to stop this. Someone being the regulatory agencies.

So what would a solid set of regulations for crypto look like? What process would you devise that would result in a set of rules that prevented most of the crooks from profiting from their crookedness, while allowing honest folks to make some money investing in crypto?


"Use GitHub for lawmaking" is something I've had in mind for a long time. However, not sure how this could work in practice.

I've heard from a friend of mine who used to work for Deloitte (or similar kind of company) that on practical level, lawmaking often happens in those private consulting/lawyer's offices - it's not like a MPs sits down and write stuff down themselves. So the git commit would say "John Smith the lawyer" which tells you nothing.

There's probably also so many patches and reverts and rewrites going on that history would be really bloated. Or if you want nice history, you lose all those important nuances you wanted in first place ("who exactly put this comma here which changes the whole meaning?").

It would also probably horrendously slow down the law making process. (which might actually be a good thing in many scenarios!)


so when (extra) cost goes to zero, the demand goes to infinity?


Point being, why not write simpler laws and regulations and leave it to the courts to interpret what adheres to the spirit of it? With the barriers of entry gone, I think we'd see a renewed vitality to many ossified sectors.

I agree with your overall point, but you have the regulatory differences between the US and Europe exactly backwards. Europe (excluding England somewhat) has a statutory legal system. Things are either legal or illegal according to laws that have largely been written down ahead of time that anyone can go read and figure out.

In the US we have a common law system where much of our law is written by the courts in response to specific cases where judges interpret the general principles described in the "simpler laws" you speak of.

In practice this means that, under many circumstances, things move a lot slower in the US because of the time and expense of litigation (and even the threat of litigation). This is one of the reasons that it's harder to build things in the US. Our public transportation systems (trains, subways, etc) cost on the order of 5-10x more than similar ones in Europe. Our different legal systems is one of the big reasons why.


I may not have expressed that point very well, but it seems like the common law system would encourage less explicit regulation rather than more, so that seems like a bit of a contradiction. Does the need for more litigation drive a desire to be more explicit in how statues are written?


As the parent notes. The issue is if you have a simple law say "Do not dump harmful chemicals into waterways used for drinking, shipping, etc." this leads to a lot of litigation regarding what is a "harmful chemical". If instead you have it all spelled out "harmful chemicals being one of coal ash, hydrochloric acid, asbestos, ..." (don't quote me on these). Business's know what the variables/costs effecting operations are up front. Only reacting and being liable if the list changes through the political process.

The parent was saying the US approach instead define what a harmful chemical is after the fact. Leaving companies to need "insurance"/a cost benefit wager before something is built. Otherwise they could be screwed later after litigation.

IMO, I can see both sides but preferably I would want simpler laws from political processes which are then refined into explicit interpretations by subject matter expert strong government institutions. But we have lobbying/revolving door government employees and trashy textualists in the US so it doesn't work out that way...

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


I think the modern US version is different:

A federal 3 letter agency unilaterally writes detailed regulations, that are for practical purposes law.

One problem is that the regulatory agency gets captured by the industry, which means the regulation ends up being a way for the established industries and companies to make competition unfeasible.


The regulatory capture conversation from the likes of pmarca is always about advocating reduction of regulation because otherwise the regulator starts working in favor of the big guys against the little guys. But to me that is the wrong way to look at regulatory capture. The antiregulation politicians are the ones that tend to put big business lobbyists in charge of regulation. We need good regulation, not less. Good regulation that evens the competitive playing field and protects exploitation of externalities. without regulation the bug guys lock in the rents with no space for competition. We need good regulation. But you don't vote for the antiregulation guy to get good regulation, he's trying to destroy regulation not improve it. Less government is a red herring, we need better government.


Thing is, good regulation is extremely tough. A good regulator needs to deeply, deeply understand the industry, where it has been, where it is going, and what the problems are; they need to deeply understand the spirit of existing laws rather than the letter of the law and be ready to thoughtfully and creatively deal with edge cases; they need to have some risk tolerance to allow for growth while still protecting people; they need to be able to balance the interests of competing groups; they need to be able to be proactive / innovate rapidly in the face of changing conditions meaning they need to understand the bleeding edge and be consulting with the groups at it; they need to see big problems like pandemics coming and push people in the right direction; they need to resist the calls for deregulation for deregulation's sake from industry as well as resist the calls for regulation for regulation's sake from politicians who want to appear like they're doing something about a problem; they need to deeply care about the users they are charged with protecting; Finally, they have to have brass balls. They have to be unafraid of standing up to politicians / the public / industry and saying you are wrong or sorry, we were wrong.

It's really tough to find lots of people who can do all that for not much money / acclaim potential.


I believe what you call pmarca's view is also the view of researchers in the field. The term "regulatory capture" comes out of the Public Choice branch of Economics.

> We need good regulation, not less

The result of the research is that that is, in general impossible. Sure, some regulators do good work for some period. But the general forces and incentives in play push quite strongly towards the regulator being captured.

The better working alternatives are laws, where disputes or guilt are decided by courts. Since there is no regulator to capture in this scenario, things work pretty well. Of course, lawmakers can also be captured, but that's harder.

One fascinating* thing with the field of economics is that so m any thinks their opinion is worth as much as the expertise of professional in the field.

You routinely hear people confidently claim the economics field is wrong about things they've studied for decades or centuries, because of simple arguments that are all thoroughly accounted for in the beginner literature.

* or "infuriating", if you are an economist :)


Sorry but an argument from authority in the field of economics is not even a little bit convincing to me. Not only is economics a "social science", which are notorious for lack of rigour, but economics itself is purposefully bifurcated into biased partisan "schools". There are many economists which study solutions to regulatory capture who do not suggest that regulators should be cut, if you're only aware of one school of thought in this area then you've been looking in a limited bubble.


We'll see how long that continues to be the case. Chevron deference is under fire from our whackjob supreme court.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevron_U.S.A.,_Inc._v._Natura....


Not sure that is how the cookie crumbles, rather: it will be decided that chemical X is harmful at a certain dose, which leads to some permissible concentration Y of X, and that Y can then be used for regulation of disposing X.

A place that needs to dispose a certain volume of X with concentration >Y then pays a sort of a mixologist to dilute X to a concentration <=Y before dumping it all anyway (unless it would be less expensive and more practical to react X away).


This is a great description. And, to be clear, I"m not really advocating for either system being better. Just pointing out some of their differences.


It means power is captured by those who can afford lawyers, and lawyers are expensive. There's no way to plan your risks up front in an area with not a lot of case-law, because you don't know them - your business plan now gets to be "hopefully we win this case in our favor in the next 3 years, but if it goes all the way to the supreme court..."


Lawyers are expensive only if _you_ have to pay for them. In English law (UK/EU) loser pays most lawyer's fees. This also disincentivizes businesses to start unwinnable cases in order to ruin other businesses with legal fees.


Correct. Common law = less explicit legislature passed regulation. We have far less regulation of this kind in the US than in Europe BUT we have far more common law regulation.


Yeah, but when the practice of this is different with it often being up to regulators what actually is allowed and what isn't. The obvious recent example is that GDPR enforcement is (often intentionally) not strictly following the letter of the law.


Well, GDPR is not actually a law, but a framework that must be used by EU member states to implement their own laws. That may be one cause of local enforcement being not fully aligned with GDPR.

But yes, the local GDPR laws do seem to be intentionally underspecified, like you said.


Because a law is a machine to compact thousands of hours of ethical thought into an actionable doctrine. It's designed specifically to take the subjectivity and bias out of executing policy, which is introduced by a single (or small group of) human brain(s) working on a problem for a few weeks, at most. Courts are a last-ditch effort to jury-rig a conclusive plan of action to rectify whatever dilemma come before them; as with similar tasks, they're more expensive and time-consuming at-scale than just planning correctly at the outset.


> why not write simpler laws and regulations and leave it to the courts

What incentives do lawmakers have to make laws simpler?


This is why judges cannot be the highest power - the people still need to be able to hold them accountable to ensure that the legal institutions don't become inaccessible to the common man.

(Not that they are accessible now... but it could be worse.)


That was Scalia's point in his dissent of the gay marriage decision:

Scalia argues in his opinion that the court is increasingly creating policy rather than serving as a neutral arbiter.

“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court,” he writes.

“This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”

https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/246249-sca...

People in one part of the country go to the courts, and force their will/values on the rest of the country. Activists across the political spectrum do it.


It’s funny since that specific ruling is what stopped a minority of the US population from imposing their will/“values” on the rest of the country.

Clearly the electoral college and legislature is not setup properly to reflect the will of the people at this point in time, so we have a better chance of it happening from 9 Supreme Court judges.


Supreme Court judges are not reflecting popular will. They dont align with what the majority of population think.


How can we change incentives for lawmakers?


Campaign finance reform, same day primaries nationwide, vigorously prosecute bribes and conflicts of interest, make corporate lobbying illegal, prevent industry careerists from holding office, prevent outgoing politicians from working in the industry for some cool off period

These things aren't hard they're just blocked by years of propaganda by incumbents.

Edit: forgot ranked choice voting


Introduce a rule that any new law should be submitted in the handwriting of its actual authors. And not the handwriting of interns, or staffers of the official authors, the author themselves.


Congress has a 20% approval rating, polled weekly for over the past decade. Yet we vote every two years for the same folks who give us the same results. The problem isn’t them. It’s us.


Why does US Congress approval rating matter? If I considered my congressperson 100/100 and everyone else 0/100, the House would get an overall rating of around zero.

Obviously since I can't elect members of the House of Representatives from other districts, I could totally approve of my congressperson and senator and it still not be my fault for the other guys in power.


I'd say the problem is one of competition. "We" cannot choose better legislators unless better legislators come forward for selection, but the incumbents - and by that I mean parties elected or not - have so much money and machinery behind them that to turf them out would be nigh on impossible.


The problem is that each “we” is pulling to benefit themselves at all costs.

Hence giant military fighter jet contracts that span multiple congressmen’s districts around the country, and while being terrible for the future of the country, is untouchable politically as not a single person will vote against their economic interests.


Exactly. It's hard to have collective reform without there being a collective.


I was going to say the same. Lawmakers are elected officials. They're incentivized to do what gets them votes. And voters are concerned with the complexity of laws. Perhaps what we need is better education to create more informed voters. But if lawmakers are in charge of that, too, I'm not super hopeful.


voters say they want that, but do they ever monitor the complexity of any particular bill and vote differently next time strictly because of it?


Doing this is very difficult and exhausting.

Several years ago I signed up to follow 3 politicians I cared about using this site https://www.govtrack.us/. Give it a try, and I think you'll see the deluge of laws, bills, and opinions is too much for a mere mortal mind with a 9-5.

I think this is why we talk about congresspersons' army of staffers and interns. You would not want a single person trying to deal with the complexity of all this information they need to have an informed opinion on in order to vote for/against.


I misspoke. It's more likely that the vast majority of voters don't care about this issue, and in fact aren't even aware of it.


For any new law submitted, two others have to be removed


This just leads to longer laws, you need to restrict number (and range, eg only stuff in the dictionary) of words.


Lawmaking word golf must be fun.


I said it was necessary; I never said it was sufficient.


I thought the "remove two regulations to add one regulation" was an interesting hack.

Don't know if it's political rhetoric or even viable.


The inclusive vs extractive institutions mentality makes sense but I think in the exact reverse way then you suggest.

It's precisely because of the Wests (and like Marc says it really is the West) failure to respond to this crisis. It's the excess of inclusivity that leads to short term, ballot box decision making in response to crises, and it is the short term, market logic that leads to loss of autonomy and neglect of long term goals that Marc talks about in the piece.

It's the politication of a healhcare / virological crisis that renders responses ineffective. When the American president gins up armed protesters during a pandemic that is the direct result of the inclusivity praised in the book. It's crisis response turned into a media spectacle and an election campaign.

Efffective resopnse to the crisis was visible in East Asian countries in which 'elites' can govern without constant interference, and that's not a glorification of China, but also of democratic countries like Taiwan, or so-so democratic countries like Singapore. What they all have in common is that decisions are made by leadership which can act with the necessary degree of autonomy.


> What they all have in common is that decisions are made by leadership which can act with the necessary degree of autonomy.

No, what they have in common is that they've been through this experience before with SARS, learned from it and setup procedures so they could act faster next time.


All the recent outbreaks of viruses like this have originated from East Asia.

I really wouldnt give much praise to the great governing elite that failed to prevent this in the first place, despite scientists telling them about it a long time ago.


Not only is that factually incorrect as the other user pointed out, but you may be surprised that more than half of the worlds population lives in this circle (https://i.imgur.com/CK6aONG.jpg), so the fact that a lot of diseases originate there isn't as surprising as you might think.

Not to mention that diseases can break out everywhere, making the response to a pandemic significantly more important than trying to shift blame for what is essentially a game of chance.


It's still pretty surprising, and probably has more to do with cultural practices of eating all kinds of wild animals, than with population density.

How many diseases originated in India?


>factually incorrect

It's not. SARS is from China.

>not to mention that diseases can break out everywhere

>essentially a game of chance

It's 100% preventable. Just cut contact with wildlife that spreads these viruses.

I'm only correcting the fallacy of praising any goverment that fails to address the root causes of these problems.


>All the recent outbreaks of viruses like this have originated from East Asia.

That's not true. Swine flu came from Mexico and MERS, as the name implies, started in the Middle East


I do mean SARS which first surfaced in the 2000s in China.

Swine flu has been around for much longer, at least for 100 years.


Having one example and phrasing it to sound like multiple is misleading, imo.


Sorry about that. It wasn't the point, as SARS is caused by many different strains of the same type of virus.

The first outbreak of SARS-CoV was identified in Foshan, Guangdong, China, in November 2002.

Thats almost 20 years ago.

Also Swine Infulenza does not originate from Mexico.


The flu colloquially known as swine flu from 2009 did start in Mexico.


You are confusing regulation that protects the oligarchy, throwing spanners in the wheels of potential independent competitors, with regulation that effectively protects the health and safety of the people.

The US might have the former, but when Europeans refer to a lack of regulation in the US they mean the latter.


"Why Nation Fails" is a phenomenal book. I'm sorry, but I have a hard time to think of US institutions as reasonable examples of how the author portraits creative destruction and extractive institutions.

I understand there might be some broken things in your nation's systems. Still, the fact you're able to discuss them here or work towards changing them through legal methods, shows the US is far off on the right track of constitutional rule and pluralism.


Yeah, I generally agree. The book does highlight how much of it is hinged on contingency, though. The US has strong institutions, but the dynamic of having elites opposing change is still present, obviously. High barriers of entry is a prime example of how it can be done when other options are unavailable.


Any recent example of a societal issue affecting American lives got fixed in American system?


Medicare Part D coverage of prescription drugs. Seniors now have subsidized coverage for not a lot of money and the program costs less than the forecast.


A bunch are changing in real time right now. For example, telemedicine being full legalized and paid by government insurance, same as in person doctor visits.


I can think of 1

It used to be very expensive to travel between US cities because a govt agency (forget the name, maybe the board of air travel?) set the who what how could fly planes from a to b, and at what price. Think mad men times, panAm, etc.

That agency was eliminated circa 1980 by some stroke of luck and perfect alingment of planets. Ticket prices plummeted and this opened flying to the poor.

That was also the last time a US regulatory agency was disbanded.


This wasn't because of regulatory overhead, it was because they had created regional monopolies for the airlines. It's exactly like insurance (or prescription drugs, if you're thinking internationally) is now, and that industry wages a life and death fight every time that"deregulation" comes up. It's corporate welfare created by federal corruption.


Right, the way the government regulated airlines is by creating monopolies.


Is it possible that extremely high costs to enter the business, as well as extremely high operating costs mean that only the biggest airlines, with the most network benefits survive?


Sure. It's not an either/or. An airline company is hard to start regardless of what the gov't does. However, parsing out routes and giving airlines monopolies on them adds a significant number of bricks to the wall.


We might soon have another federal regulatory agency disbanded but considering which one it is I’m not sure if that will be a good thing for anyone but banks.

https://www.scotusblog.com/2019/10/justices-to-review-consti...

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/03/us/supreme-court-consumer...


If that agency is disbanded, it will also be good for payday lenders.


I have no doubt that money drives burdensome regulations, but most regulations are put into place because someone screwed up and hurt people.

Yeah, there are a ton of regulations If you want to bring a new drug to market. That makes it super expensive to do.

But in exchange we get pharmaceuticals that work, are reasonable safe, and are based solid data.


Totally, spot on. I think a great next step would be democratize the system that performs those tests and works with the regulatory institutions so new pharma companies can focus on innovation. A reasonable analog are the fintech startups that provide APIs and say essentially "were regulated so you don't have to be". That stuff is important and we should DRY it up so we don't have to copy/paste it every time we start a company.


> I heard a few years back that a US health insurance startup had to provide on the order of 6000 pages of documentation to be approved. No wonder that there hadn't been another provider for twenty years or so.

I think the difficulty involved in spinning up an insurance company probably has literally nothing to do with those 6000 pages of documentation, but if I suspected otherwise, it would seem like what is actually on those pages is a lot more relevant than how many of them there are.


And what would it solve? If you can enter the market but later on you are judged in the court for doing something wrong - you are better to be forced to think about it before you even start it.

The problem here is growing complexity, which governments doesn't recognize as a problem for some reason. There should be some institution in the government body, which primary goal would be to reduce complexity of governance.


Funny enough, adding such role/institution adds complexity in itself


If it was just health insurance and similarly "risky" industries that required the 6000 pages, it wouldn't be so bad.

Earlier this year Lambda School (an online school where you watch videos and learn things) got fined $75k by a California regulator for the crime of teaching without a license. One single state license application required "2177 pages and weighed 25 pounds," and they're having to do this for many states.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20555351 [2] https://twitter.com/Austen/status/1153450365712388096


I respectfully disagree about what it takes to be approved as a health insurance COMPANY (as opposed to a broker). In fact I am quite happy that regulators require you to show that 1) you know what you are doing 2) you have a massive balance sheet to protect your customers if they need it. The point 2 is super important in the context of VC-backed companies. There is simply no way to build a massive insurance company that way, the return on equity is too low. Unlike airbnb you just don’t go out and raised $2B in debt because you are running out of money and you can’t pay claims. Regulators would step in way before, and they have done that multiple times.

Witness what is happening today: I have not heard from any health insurance company requesting a bailout (unlike most companies). State regulators are a pain in the neck, are conservative but - in your interest - they control how the insurance company uses their capital (you grow too fast = you must add more equity, a bit like working capital), and how you invest your money (they restrict the amount of equity you invest in). All in the interest of the consumers.

Think for a second: if the balance sheet of your health insurance company looked like the balance sheet of Softbank’s vision fund? Would you like to hear “we are sorry, we’ll have to stop your cancer treatment, we are out of money”.

Health insurance companies are regulated at both the State and Federal level. The goal is to make sure that they are fair and will pay the claims when you need that down the road. Like everything in financial services (your savings, your retirement fund, your health for you and your family) this is not the place for fly by night startups. While it is visually appealing to see a better UI, you hear startups "disrupting this dinosaur industry" but very few of them succeeded. And maybe it would be nice, but smart investors (after say series B or C) realize that the returns are not that great and the company requires a massive amount of equity, in fact locked in low risk investments/stable bonds.

Sure, you can target a very young workforce and ignore the sick, the old, the crippled, those overweight or whatever else there is. And you can make money within the startup ecosystem, when everybody works out, eats well, and is super healthy.

But it is simply illegal and my advice for you is to buy insurance from an old, stodgy company. Maybe a mutual company? I don't care if wework is out of money, I can always find space somewhere else. When you have cancer, or when you child is disabled, you don’t want to deal with insurance regulators who have seized the assets of your shiny new health insurance company startup.

There is no room for mistakes when it comes to your health and your savings.

Disclaimer: I have Kaiser, I never use them, but I am sure they will be there when needed.


I wonder what you think about the necessity of the health insurance industry? Seeing as how apparently it began as a sort of subscription service to keep hospitals afloat when beds were empty... It is a lot to wrap my mind around, but I have the general feeling that insurance drives the prices of health care way up and we would be better if we could all pay out of pocket for most things, but be covered by a true 'risk mitigation' insurance solution that would kick in when indeed we got cancer, or got in a car accident or the like.


Insurance companies are kind of a costco, they buy stuff in bulk , sell it retail, and manage to get a 5% margin.

My humble opinion: the health care system in the US is totally screwed up and nobody wants to recognize that (except those paying maybe, and I am not even sure of that because they are conned into thinking "that we have the greatest healthcare system in the world").

Everybody is trying to pull the blanket their way. It is obscenely too expensive with little results (worse results than Europe and 4x the price). This is pathetic and a total failure.

Go medicare at scale, and for everybody? But the government does not know how to control the costs on medicare either.

Then religious beliefs get in the way: if 75-85% of the cost of insurance is wasted in the last year of your life, you understand why they keep you artificially alive so everybody can milk the system: never ending MRI's, super expensive drugs, etc...Hospitals, doctors, medical devices providers, everybody feeds on the system, and blame the lame insurance companies/costco of the healthcare world.

This is sad because so many people do not have the means to pay for that, few have access to the type of healthcare engineers have access though work.


I've never looked for data to back this up, but I had a teacher outline the following theory of healthcare costs.

Insurance companies have out-sized bargaining power and will only pay a fraction of the list-price for a procedure.

Doctor's know this, so prices inflate to the point where the negotiated price is in line with what they'll actually do it for.

Everyone who is not insured or not covered for that procedure ends up paying massively inflated costs.



I had not seen that one. Lots of truth indeed!

AND you have not looked into the arcane world of pharmacy bids company. Stick your nose into their billing, you are guaranteed a 20% discount (Oh, sorry we discovered several mistakes). But this is boring stuff for 2020 startups who "want to disrupt the industry".

Now you wonder why the Democrats are pushing TONIGHT last minute negotiations in DC to add another $250B in stimulus money. We'll sign ONLY if you carve out, say $50-100 Billions or additional money for...HOSPITALS!

You get it now?


Simple - politics is about control. Laws are a form of politics.

Why would anyone give up control once they had acquired it?


100% it’s politics, it’s self-interest. The reason why we don’t have Musk’s Alien Dreadnought factories throughout the US is related to the reason Elizabeth I rejected weaving machines; the people who have power will not gain enough from it and may even lose. Elizabeth I feared the consequences of creative disruption on her constituents, and the knock on effect that might have had to her tenuous grip on power. Today in the US we see silly policies that are pushed to make a few people rich at the expense of society as a whole. The more we are able to dismantle monopolies, and weaken the capability of incumbent industries to skew legislation in their own favor, the more society will move forward.


Who would gain? Politicians try really hard to pull in facilities. Look at the GLobalFoundries spending debacle in NY. Or the Panasonic/Tesla battery facility in NV at, what 2m in grants per employee. Or Foxxcon in WI.

These facilities aren't that economically beneficial. Capital investors aren't, as PMA implies, stupid: they don't build because there isn't much money in it.

Politicians bend over backwards all the time. Massive subsidies are the problem, not lack of interest.

The reason people go elsewhere is to play regulatory arbitrage. To avoid the inspections, the pollution rules, and the long term environmental costs. The Bay area is filled with Superfund sites. Same for the Puget Sound, Boston Harbor, and the Hudson. No one should eat too many fish...because worlrdwide Mercury levels are high.


I feel like all the replies comparing legal system differences between the US and the EU miss a crucial element - the difference in the characters of the people participating in each society.

I'm now going to make a couple of broad generalizations. Note, that I'm aware they do not apply to every person, or even state in the US, or member nation of the EU.

However having lived in both for a number of years, I do have some personal insight.

Europe and Europeans are a cohesive society where the ideal is a flat society without too many outliers. Standing out from the field is not promoted. And career aspirations are about attaining a work life balance and produce meaningful work. The overall societal system works, offers many opportunities for education and entrepreneurship, but within a well lit path. Europe is a fast moving train.

As a result, people look for ways to succeed within the system.

The US is a "land of opportunity" in all the best, and all the insidious ways that this implies. People are looking to separate themselves from the pack, to be "insanely great" in some way or another, and see society and laws as just impediments to that goal. The US is a rocket powered supercar.

As a result, people look for ways to succeed in spite of the system.

This is why both the US needs a common law system (because the population would never tolerate a restrictive "write everything down" statutory system because would consider it overly restrictive to their liberty), and also why it fails. Because people and corporations abuse the common law system to violate the spirit of the law as much as possible to succeed and thrive in the short term. So half the country is constantly tries to create more regulations and the other half is trying to tear down existing ones.

This is why in the US the most innovative companies and people can succeed on a 5-10 year timeline, and so the biggest public companies in the world are there, but why Europe is much better at building 20-50 year projects and so have better infrastructure. (I'm ignoring China completely here because China is better than both at everything now, but is also an authoritarian dictatorship, so it's even harder to compare that apple to the other oranges).

Ultimately my point is that the EU raises a certain type of person and attracts a certain type of immigrant, and the US another.

I'm Canadian, so I frankly think both extremes are distasteful. I find the US a post-apocalyptic every-man-for-himself dystopia. And I find the EU a restrictive stifling nanny-state. Canada is just right for me.

But I appreciate that the world has both extremes.


I think trying to put all of Europe into one EU in your argument is already where it breaks down.

Europeans don't live in a cohesive society. Italians, Germans, Swedes live in a cohesive society in their small california-sized countries.


I’d say Italians, Germans and Swedes have much more in common with each other than with the US. The way of life is slightly different, but the philosophy is the same.


Neither do Californians, Alaskans, Alabamans, Montanans, or West Virginians.

But they all have more in common with each other than Europeans, and vice versa.


As a Californian, I resent the accusation that we have anything in common with other Californians.


Well then, California is california-sized as well, so if that approach does not work for USA in its entirety then perhaps it can fix the healthcare system in California?


Yes, perhaps. That's what California is attempting. Unfortunately social security in US is national, so you can't operate a closed system.

E.g. only Danish people can get Danish social security


>Point being, why not write simpler laws and regulations and leave it to the courts to interpret what adheres to the spirit of it?

This will _never_ happen. The vast majority of people are too intellectually challenged to see the benefit of simplicity. The earlier someone understand this fundamental fact about the vast majority of people, the earlier they can probably channelize efforts in the right direction ( what ever that might be), rather than hopelessly toil to make laws simpler. Democracy=tyranny of the masses.


> Point being, why not write simpler laws and regulations and leave it to the courts to interpret what adheres to the spirit of it? With the barriers of entry gone, I think we'd see a renewed vitality to many ossified sectors.

Because regulation in the US is rarely the problem.

We have a US mask manufacturer sitting outside Dallas who never went 24/7 in production because NOBODY WOULD PAY HIM.

Billionaires shouting "Hey, we'll pay for preproduction on vaccines" because they know they won't have to deliver isn't helpful.

Handing a small business $10 million so he can go full tilt would be helpful. But then these billionaires would have to cough up actual CASH.


Answer is pretty easy. People are assholes.

Those rules and regulatory frameworks exist for a reason, and with something like health insurance you don’t see better outcomes in states with lower regulatory burden.

Same with the financial burdens that companies cry about. Enron, GlobalCrossing, etc all demonstrated that corporate governance required the federal stick to behave.

Anderseen’s article is pretty lame with respect to why we can’t do things. We can and we have. The difference is now that you have executive leadership that is batshit crazy people have taken over the government. That happened because of the absence of regulation that gives extremists like Alex Jones, who were relegated to public access cable and weird newsletters in the 1980s access to the public at large.

Taking off what rails remain isn’t a strategy for success.


The system is working great except there isn't enough censorship?


That reason being capturing the market by means of regulation.


"I'm in the process of reading the book _Why Nation Fails_. The central thesis is that rich and poor countries are separated by inclusive vs extractive institutions.

It seems to resonate a bit here, when Marc speaks of things like regulatory capture."

However if we actually look at the pages of that book from 2012, the authors never use the US, or any present day "Western" country, as an example of one that had or has extractive instutitions. Instead they cite examples such as Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Angola, Sudan, Chad, Cameroon, Liberia, Egypt, North Korea, Nepal, or Haiti.

According to the authors, the US currently has inclusive institutions and uses the example of the software industry as a success story to support this argument. This industry is in fact the blog post author's area of focus as a former programmer turned venture capitalist.

To quote from the book:

(Note the bit about fraud. The US had serious problems with fraud 100 years ago, and still does. Consider that is why the SEC exists. Many would argue it has very limited powers of enforcement to deal with modern-day fraud.)

"Bill Gates, like other legendary figures in the information technology industry (such as Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Jeff Bezos), had immense talent and ambition. But he ultimately responded to incentives. The schooling system in the United States enabled Gates and others like him to acquire a unique set of skills to complement their talents. The economic institutions in the United States enabled these men to start companies with ease, without facing insurmountable barriers. Those institutions also made the financing of their projects feasible. The U.S. labor markets enabled them to hire qualified personnel, and the relatively competitive market environment enabled them to expand their companies and market their products. These entrepreneurs were confident from the beginning that their dream projects could be implemented: they trusted the institutions and the rule of law that these generated and they did not worry about the security of their property rights. Finally, the political institutions ensured stability and continuity. For one thing, they made sure that there was no risk of a dictator taking power and changing the rules of the game, expropriating their wealth, imprisoning them, or threatening their lives and livelihoods. They also made sure that no particular interest in society could warp the government in an economically disastrous direction, because political power was both limited and distributed sufficiently broadly that a set of economic institutions that created the incentives for prosperity could emerge. Secure property rights, the law, public services, and the freedom to contract and exchange all rely on the state, the institution with the coercive capacity to impose order, prevent theft and fraud, and enforce contracts between private parties. To function well, society also needs other public services: roads and a transport network so that goods can be transported; a public infrastructure so that economic activity can flourish; and some type of basic regulation to prevent fraud and malfeasance.

Though many of these public services can be provided by markets and private citizens, the degree of coordination necessary to do so on a large scale often eludes all but a central authority. The state is thus inexorably intertwined with economic institutions, as the enforcer of law and order, private property, and contracts, and often as a key provider of public services. Inclusive economic institutions need and use the state."

The US approach to business does have its flaws. However the book "Why Nations Fail" does not address them. To the authors, the US is a nation that "succeeded", and continues to succeed, by having inclusive institutions, not one that "failed" or is failing today.

A book like "Why Nations Fail", and there are many others like it, arguably encourages readers to view the US, irrespective of its flaws, as the shining example of what a country could/should aspire to become. There are no present-day comparisons of the US with Western Europe in books of this type. Such books are arguably part of the reason for certain institutional problems that will forever remain unfixed in the US, e.g. regulatory capture and complexity, because books like these have themes that support the idea that America's "solutions" are not just different but better than all the others.

This book really has no relation to any criticism of US institutions. If anything, it supports the idea that the US has the best formula for creating a rich country, i.e., a country where "anyone can be rich". They compare how Bill Gates became wealthy versus how Carlos Slim became wealthy.

From a presentatation given by the authors:

Acemoglu Robinson (Harvard) Why Nations Fail June 6, 2011 8 / 36

Main Concepts Inclusive and Extractive Institutions

Towards a Theory of Institutions

Extractive economic institutions: Lack of law and order. Insecure property rights; entry barriers and regulations preventing functioning of markets and creating a nonlevel playing field.

Extractive political institutions -- in the limit of absolutism: Political institutions concentrating power in the hands of a few, without constraints, checks and balances or rule of law.

Inclusive economic institutions: Secure property rights, law and order, markets and state support (public services and regulation) for markets; open to relatively free entry of new businesses; uphold contracts; access to education and opportunity for the great majority of citizens.

Inclusive political institutions: Political institutions allowing broad participation pluralism and placing constraints and checks on politicians; rule of law (closely related to pluralism).

But also some degree of political centralization for the states to be able to selectively enforce law and order.

Acemoglu Robinson (Harvard) Why Nations Fail June 6, 2011 36 / 36

Why Nations have and Do Fail

Because they have extractive political and economic institutions.

These are difficult to change though they can be successfully challenged and altered during critical junctures.

The roots of modern world inequality lie in the emergence of inclusive institutions in Britain and the fruits of this - the industrial revolution - spread to those parts of the world that had similar institutions (settler colonies) or quickly developed them (Western Europe).

Other parts of the world languished with extractive institutions which have persisted over time and thus remain poor today.


I find this essay to be extremely frustrating, and a good example of the attitude I've personally witnessed Andreessen have in the few interactions I've had with him directly.

> Is the problem capitalism? I’m with Nicholas Stern when he says that capitalism is how we take care of people we don’t know — all of these fields are highly lucrative already and should be prime stomping grounds for capitalist investment, good both for the investor and the customers who are served.

He argues that this is true, but then tries to make a central thesis that undercuts this declaration:

> The problem is desire. We need to want these things. The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture. We need to want new companies to build these things, even if incumbents don’t like it, even if only to force the incumbents to build these things. And the problem is will. We need to build these things.

This overlooks the fact that Marc is in fact one of these folks who has a profoundly outsized role in deciding what he wants. Like it or not, America follows in the moneyed aristocratic morals of the subjective theory of value. In some sense it is the function of concentrations of capital to assign value to things in America. Therefore, folks in control of lots of capital (e.g., Andreessen Horowitz and other venture firms) and their investors have a huge input into what "we want" as a nation. And yet here he is arguing that he feels like there isn't a national desire for these things.

We don't have it because building these things requires long term investments and folks like Marc and his investors are not interested in long term investments. America's corporate leadership has pursued elastic labor forces with minimal training (and therefore minimal flexibiity), outsourced manufacturing (and therefore long lead times on domestic production) and minimal redundancy in infrastructure because these rich folks think, plan and act on a quarterly calendar. We don't build new homes because homeowners like the value of their goods protected by intense scarcity. We don't compete with China because capital sees value in redundancy only with the framework of internal corporate prognostication, not as an actual net good when considered in a system

While many Americans like to pretend "capitalism" is synonymous with free market mechanics, that's actually false. Capitalism is a dominant force in America's future and the folks with all the power to assign value have been clear: their value lies in quarterly profits. Capitalism means that market competition is reduced and capital concentrates under a small number of collaborating actors.

I agree with Marc's core tenant that "we have to want these things." But I want these things. Hell, we're building grassroots infrastructure in my radio group because our capitalist-driven infrastructure is so antiquated we can't even do a software update to existing hardware without it taking 3 years and taking an entire flood warning system offline.

Marc and his investors have to want these things. They clearly don't. These things would have "taken care of strangers," perhaps, but folks like the people who invest in Marc's funds genuinely don't seem to believe they're worthwhile values. If you'll forgive the tired metaphor, the top 0.5% doesn't see value in these things so we don't have them. We even have some in that 0.5% paying incredible sums of money to run media org's who's entire purpose is to convince people they don't actually want their lives to be better!


> This overlooks the fact that Marc is in fact one of these folks who has a profoundly outsized role in deciding what he wants.

He says what he wants, but then he expects someone else to build it. He's rich: if he wants these things, why doesn't he just pay to get them built? Sure, not all of them, but just pick one and pay to get it built.

But, as you point out, he's not interested in long term investments--and that is the root of the problem. The very people who are the most suited to making long term investments--people who have enough wealth that they don't have to answer to anyone else's expectations for earnings, profits, whatever--are incapable of making long term investments.


Exactly, him & his firm have been leading the bandwagon on crypto investments, social/mobile, ads, "scooters", and all the other sectors which are all hype & no build.


> He says what he wants, but then he expects someone else to build it. He's rich: if he wants these things, why doesn't he just pay to get them built? Sure, not all of them, but just pick one and pay to get it built.

There are a lot of things to criticize about Elon Musk, but he does understand this much.


I doubt Marc has anywhere near enough capital to get these things done (by himself). 2 trillion is on a completely different order of magnitude.

That said, maybe this post is a call for help and the billionaires will unite?


He could call Harvard and donate a bunch of developers for a year to build that system which could educate a million 18 year olds. Harvard will certainly take his call.

He couldn’t fund all the hyper efficient factories for the country, but he could build one.


Harvard could easily build that out of their own $40,000,000,000 endowment, if their first priority was actually education, rather than protecting their own prestige and the value of their credentials to the elites they mostly serve.


This is another impediment he didn't mention: a sort of regulatory capture working on the social level. Harvard's prestige begs the question of why people want to go there. None of the interested parties want to change that, because it's to their advantage. To provide a Harvard-level education to millions (not simply academically, but to open the lanes of opportunity in all ways Harvard provides) is to destroy Harvard. But then, one wonders what the utility of Harvard is to the average American.


I don't know if it would "destroy" Harvard, but it would definitely make prestige more "merit" based (merit being in quotes because its definition is highly contentious). If Harvard were catered to all students with capable ability and/or drive then we'd have a new class of highly paid professionals. The problem as I see it is with funding. Will the state by itself be able to uphold the funding that supports the infrastructure and academic resources researchers and students need to succeed? Those who were admitted to this merit-based system may contribute, but that leaves room for the incentive-based system that we have today


>If Harvard were catered to all students with capable ability and/or drive then we'd have a new class of highly paid professionals.

I doubt that.

https://web.archive.org/web/20140525060607/http://www.cepr.n...

Trends that hit the black community tend to follow in the working class and, later, middle class and wealthy white communities, perhaps under different circumstances but ultimately similar in nature. Compare the crack/cocaine epidemic with the opioid epidemic, for example. While I support the expansion of elite education, I think it's naive to expect it to be a panacea. Someone still has to see enough value in these grads to hire an order to two magnitude mire highly-paid professionals than there were before. Save some other concurrent intervention, what's more likely is that you'll have more highly-educated underemployed workers than ever.


Apart from their Law School, Harvard is not an incredible school. Good, yes, but not stellar.

The product Harvard offers is being able to rub noses with rich and influencial people and their kids. Access is no small thing.


*elbows

Though I don't doubt the possibility that nose-rubbing is a time-honored tradition of at least one final club. We'll never know.


If you ever watch the movie on the basis of sex. I feel is a clear example of why people want to go to harvard. Its a feeder to positions of power.


+1 isn't Harvard more about the name and the people you associate with than the education itself?


Harvard seems to have troubling relationships with both China and Saudi Arabia. We need to start treating such relationships as treasonous/harmful to the United States and our future:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/13/harvard-yale...


> I doubt Marc has anywhere near enough capital to get these things done (by himself).

He probably has enough to make a good start on one of them.

> maybe this post is a call for help and the billionaires will unite?

If enough people in his position each pick a problem and start on it, that in itself would be a big help.


If he did what he is proposing, he would be out of business quickly with no investor money to mess around. This entire post reads like a script for Gavin Belson to me.


> If he did what he is proposing, he would be out of business quickly with no investor money to mess around. This entire post reads like a script for Gavin Belson to me.

But this is sort of the central complaint, no? "These people have to want it" is a good rallying cry, but it should apply to Marc and his peers and funders. They have enormously more influence on the direction of industry and infrastructure in our countries than I do, and it'd take a revolution to change that dynamic.


Exactly, so to summarize: he doesn't want to put his money where his mouth is.


>I find this essay to be extremely frustrating, and a good example of the attitude I've personally witnessed Andreessen have in the few interactions I've had with him directly.

It's like it was written to be the perfect example of SV myopia for the rest of the world. Some examples:

>Even private universities like Harvard are lavished with public funding; why can’t 100,000 or 1 million students a year attend Harvard?

Because the main purpose of Harvard and other elite schools like it is to pick out the best ~18 year olds and set them on the course to be leaders in business, government, law, and other areas. Harvard isn't Harvard because they're better at education. Harvard is Harvard because they get the pick of the litter. Extending their enrollment to a million doesn't mean we get a million more elites.

The funny thing is that we basically do have the education system he asks for in some places. For example, half of medical students attend lectures rarely or never instead opting for online resources. But they still plunk down 100k for those two years because the knowledge is worthless without the credential. (And years 1/2 are the gate way to the clinical education in years 3/4 that must happen in person).

Go look at the a16z team. How many of them don't have a Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford/et al type pedigree? So to answer his own question, people like him are the reason why 1 million students a year can't attend those types of places. Otherwise, their graduates wouldn't be as attractive to people like him.

>Why aren’t we building Elon Musk’s “alien dreadnoughts” — giant, gleaming, state of the art factories producing every conceivable kind of product, at the highest possible quality and lowest possible cost — all throughout our country

Because there's no magic factory you can build to make every conceivable product cheaply. Obviously we don't do it because it's cheaper/more efficient to produce stuff in single purpose factories. Contrary to his argument, we wouldn't get richer by manufacturing more stuff. We'd get poorer.

>You see it in transportation. Where are the supersonic aircraft? Where are the millions of delivery drones? Where are the high speed trains, the soaring monorails, the hyperloops, and yes, the flying cars?

Because none of this stuff is economically or physically practical. He seems to want us to live in a science fiction fantasy world.


>>You see it in transportation. Where are the supersonic aircraft? Where are the millions of delivery drones? Where are the high speed trains, the soaring monorails, the hyperloops, and yes, the flying cars?

>Because none of this stuff is economically or physically practical. He seems to want us to live in a science fiction fantasy world.

I'm pretty sure most of that stuff is highly illegal. Make things illegal, and they don't happen. It's that simple. I mean, just look at uber: it's just a glorified taxi company that was able to circumvent the taxi monopoly medallion system (yet, another system that made competition illegal). And, it took a huge army of lobbyists just to make that legal. Such a small innovation requires so much lobbying, it doesn't give hope for any other kind of innovation.

There was a start up in the bay area: all they wanted to do was put a few more buses on the street. It was rejected very quickly and made illegal. Turns out people would rather get buses off the road with all the pollution and traffic that would have saved, rather than allow workers to get to work a little easier.


Supersonic flight is inefficient and noisy. Drones are noisy, a hazard, and significantly more limited due to lithium density than electric cars. High-speed rail is not illegal, but requires huge capital. Uber may not be economically viable, and there are serious concerns about middle-men marketplace corps socializing the liability, benefits, and wage instability costs the gig economy brings with it.


Cars are noisy, a hazard, and in some ways significantly more limited than horses.

I actually agree with all your points but also recognize there’s a strong prior bias toward what “I know” works or doesn’t today that can preclude the future possibilities.


And cars were not economically viable for the masses for most of their early development. It took decades of technological advancements to produce the distant ancestor of the modern mass-market auto-manufacturing machine.

As for drones and supersonic aircraft, we're going to need much better batteries for the former and far more efficient engines for the latter to them to be more viable than present alternatives. That's not a "what I know bias", it's in hard math and numbers.

It's like how most ships in popular sci-fi are these futuristic, oblong shapes with wondrous curves, when in fact a more realistic approach would be using rectangles for everything but a few niche applications. For anything that humans are going to walk around in/actively use rectangular structures are simply far more efficient. It was true 10,000 years ago, it'll be true 10,000 years from now assuming we're not living in Musk's simulation.


Cars would also be much less useful in the USA without the insane amount of taxpayer-funded road infrastructure and lack of alternate public transportation options. Can you imagine if the people selling cars also had to pay for the infrastructure for cars, you know, like a fair competitive market?


Much of road infrastructure is funded via fuel taxes. Roads or "roads" with track laid are also needed for public transportation.


Much of road infrastructure is funded out of general funds ([1] is one example that can be found with an Internet search).

[1] https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/regulation/gas-ta...


That example suggests a significant amount is funded out of fuel taxes and toll fees, and seems to be kind of a mouthpiece for the energy industry to try to get rid of taxes on fuel.


There are niche scenarios where a horse is more useful(e.g. rough terrain), but for 99.9% of the scenarios of modern life, a car/motor is more powerful and reliable. Horses are also noisy(clop clop clop) and have been known to trample people.

Supersonic flight was tried with the Concorde and its profitability was iffy due to large subsidies involved in its development, and the handling of BA privatization in the late 80s. There are aerodynamic constraints that make supersonic flight inefficient. Unless we magically change physics, supersonic flight is always going to be significantly less efficient than subsonic flight.

Also the quickest way to make something that is starting to become viable(electric cars), less viable, is to make it have to fly(flying drones). You now have to fight gravity 24/7.

This isn't about dismissing the future, it's about people trying to implement these ideas for the last 70 years, and some spunky "disruptor" startup isn't going to magically change the laws of physics once we "git rid of that dang regulations!"


> Make things illegal, and they don't happen.

Well, as you said yourself, Uber happened. Why? Because it's investors saw a chance to make a huge profit, and so they _wanted_ to invest in that army of lobbyists.

However those same investors do not seem so excited to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to employment security, healthcare, etc, otherwise they would have _wanted_ Uber to have its drivers be employees, w/all the legal responsibilities entailed.


Thks, could not agree more. More Uber = more pollution and unbearable traffic. Slap a 50% tax on Uber and use that money for free public transportation. In a recession maybe we'll see more people getting on an electric bus/subway. And our lungs will be feel better.


>I'm pretty sure most of that stuff is highly illegal.

We have or had in commercial use monorails, supersonic aircraft, and high speed trains. It's not the law holding them back.

Delivery drones and flying cars exist but arent economical viable and impractical. It's not the law holding them back.

The hyperloop is science fiction and the only laws holding it back are the laws of physics.


Which bus venture was it?

The devil is in the detail with these things, and I think the point is that, while regulatory capture is a huge problem, there are often legitimate and/or competing interests calling for these regulations to be put in place. Builders don't necessarily like every code they have to adhere to, but that keeps houses from collapsing.


> Because the main purpose of Harvard and other elite schools like it is to pick out the best ~18 year olds and set them on the course to be leaders in business, government, law, and other areas. Harvard isn't Harvard because they're better at education. Harvard is Harvard because they get the pick of the litter. Extending their enrollment to a million doesn't mean we get a million more elites.

It doesn't even do that. Harvard doesn't pick out the brightest 18 year olds to become future leaders. It picks out the most competitive kids who care about going to a place like Harvard.

If all you wanted to do was prove your intelligence, an IQ test is much cheaper and quicker.


> If all you wanted to do was prove your intelligence, an IQ test is much cheaper and quicker.

Also illegal to consider when hiring, hence why companies use educational attainment as a proxy and outsource IQ tests (SATs) to universities.


>> You see it in transportation. (...) Where are the high speed trains

> none of this stuff is economically or physically practical.

One of those things are not like the others.


Are you seriously suggesting the trains are not economically practical?

China, India, Europe and the UK all would like to have a word with you.


No, the opposite. Gp mentions fast trains in the same breath as flying cars and supersonic passenger planes.


All of those places are much smaller and/or densely populated than the US.


Yep.

Markets build in response to incentives. Most American production choices are determined by markets, including the choices of investors allocating capital.

Public institutions build and manage in response to electoral incentives.

If we're not prepared, it's because the incentives are wrong.

On the market front, once incentives and maybe even insights become opaque at the level of the abstraction of return on investment -- especially on a horizon within which a generation can live and die w/o experiencing a risk event like a pandemic -- then investors will be essentially blind to this.

On the public front, we have at least one political movement in the US that generally stands on the idea that government shouldn't do things like this for the common welfare. That movement is a minority, but knows how to use countermajoritarian features of the US political system to maintain control and is determined to do so (demonstrably well past limits of defensible public stewardship at this point).

That leaves philanthropy, which is helpful, but often scales poorly and is distributed first by proximity to various privileges on the social graph.

And maybe some degree of private capacity to re-think incentives and how long-term value could be structured into short-term incentives in private markets.

If anyone is in a position to do the last two, it's someone like Marc, so it's weird to read this as someone who's in a position nothing like his. Perhaps I'm not the audience. Perhaps others in his wealth class and investor circle are.


> Markets build in response to incentives. Most American production choices are determined by markets, including the choices of investors allocating capital.

This leaves out the most important problem though: regulatory capture and bureaucratic gridlock. Markets would love to build more housing. But they're prevented from doing so by the regulatory state. Markets would love to build nuclear power plants, but they're prevented from doing so by the regulatory state.

Which ultimately comes back to the democratic question of will. We need to elect people who will alter the regulatory state to make way for these things.


Sure, policy matters. It's important to have people in public leadership who understand it and can work on tuning it to avoid or eliminate unintended consequences.

But complaining about either regulation or bureaucracy at a general level is the policy equivalent of approaching software by making general complaints about how terrible existing code is: sure, some of it is probably sub-optimal and should be rewritten, but anyone who's worked in the field for a while knows that the sweep-it-away/ground-up-rewrite impulse is more often wrong than applying Chesterton's fence (make sure you understand why it's there), profiling, and examine potential alternatives against studied outcomes.

> Markets would love to build more housing.

Sure. And would love to chase the wealthiest end of demand and externalize costs of community displacement or ecological impact.

> Markets would love to build nuclear power plants

And would love to externalize the costs of risk and waste management.

Note that these are not arguments against building more housing or nuclear power. There are many metro areas that do need to build housing. Nuclear power has its merits as well as hazards.

They're arguments about specific incentives absent intentional oversight, supporting the general case that it is often irresponsible to believe or advocate that incentives tend towards optimal on their own, and that the primary problem is oversight itself.


> But complaining about either regulation or bureaucracy at a general level is the policy equivalent of approaching software by making general complaints about how terrible existing code is: sure, some of it is probably sub-optimal and should be rewritten, but anyone who's worked in the field for a while knows that the sweep-it-away/ground-up-rewrite impulse is more often wrong than applying Chesterton's fence (make sure you understand why it's there), profiling, and examine potential alternatives against studied outcomes.

This is sometimes true, but it certainly isn't always true. Housing policy, for instance, is largely driven by putting the interests of local property owners over those of new entrants and the broader economy.

> Sure. And would love to chase the wealthiest end of demand and externalize costs of community displacement or ecological impact.

Price the externalities. It's as simple as that. Nobody needs to externalize anything. Housing is plenty worth building to developers even if they fully internalize the ecological impact. And let's not neglect the ecological impact of long commutes when running this calculation.

> And would love to externalize the costs of risk and waste management.

Of course they'd like to do that. Everyone would like to externalize their costs and risks. The job of government is to let people do things, but force them to internalize the costs. You aren't making an argument against anything I said.

> They're arguments about specific incentives absent intentional oversight, supporting the general case that it is often irresponsible to believe or advocate that incentives tend towards optimal on their own, and that the primary problem is oversight itself.

Oversight is fine. Kafkaesque bureacracy and cost disease are not. The present state of our regulatory apparatus is abysmal. That isn't an argument for eliminating it, it's an argument for making it better.


Those kafkaesque bureaucracies come about when oligopolies ladder pull by writing their own regulating legislation. It's not bureaucratic overreach, it's corruption. Facebook recently tried the same thing.


Firstly, that's just not true. That is a thing that happens, but it is not the only thing that happens. Bureaucracies come about for all sorts of reasons, and in all sorts of ways. The one you describe is only one among many of those mechanisms.

And secondly, what's your point? The problem is still what it is. The regulations are the location in the stack that need to be corrected.


My point is that a lot of people have this Atlas Shrugged view of the world, where the noble entrepreneur is lashed to earth by envious, regulation loving, Democratic bureaucrats. But if take that view, then we'll get rid of regulations that are really useful and save lives. You're already seeing this with the rollback of environmental regs. The regulations that stifle innovation are written by "captains of industry" themselves, because manipulation of government via corruption is way easier and far more predictable than R&D/innovation.

So my point is you're missing the point. The symptom is regulation but many regulations are very important. We need anticorruption legislation, we need to break up monopolies, and we need a wealth tax so people can't just strike gold (or cheat people who strike gold), invest in existing ossified industries, rake in cap gains/rent while contributing absolutely nothing, and corrupt our political system with their wealth (and demand that the companies they've invested in also do so in the name of shareholder profits) in order to protect it.


> My point is that a lot of people have this Atlas Shrugged view of the world, where the noble entrepreneur is lashed to earth by envious, regulation loving, Democratic bureaucrats. But if take that view, then we'll get rid of regulations that are really useful and save lives. You're already seeing this with the rollback of environmental regs. The regulations that stifle innovation are written by "captains of industry" themselves, because manipulation of government via corruption is way easier and far more predictable than R&D/innovation.

The problem is bad regulation. We need to keep good regulations, and eliminate bad ones. At the end of the day, the problem is still regulation, as I said.

> So my point is you're missing the point. The symptom is regulation but many regulations are very important. We need anticorruption legislation, we need to break up monopolies, and we need a wealth tax so people can't just strike gold (or cheat people who strike gold), invest in existing ossified industries, rake in cap gains/rent while contributing absolutely nothing, and corrupt our political system with their wealth (and demand that the companies they've invested in also do so in the name of shareholder profits) in order to protect it.

Your policy prescriptions here are entirely orthogonal to the problem of moving society forward technologically. You may want a wealth tax because you don't like inequality, but it isn't going to do any good for the technological development of the world. To do that, you need to streamline the regulatory state.


> The problem is regulation

No, the problem is corruption resulting in, among other pretty bad things, ladder pulling regulation.

> You may want a wealth tax because you don't like inequality, but it isn't going to do any good for the technological development of the world.

Study after study has shown that income and wealth inequality stifles innovation (again among some other pretty bad things). This makes sense if you think about it: the next Archimedes can't innovate because she's preoccupied with how to pay for her sister's insulin.

In fact all my policy prescriptions are focused on innovation, because that's the topic of this thread. Antitrust laws are specifically set up to encourage innovation.

I know you really want to focus on regulation as the big bad, but it's just a symptom of a much larger bad: corruption.


> Study after study has shown that income and wealth inequality stifles innovation (again among some other pretty bad things).

You mean studies like this one? https://academic.oup.com/restud/article/86/1/1/5026613

> This makes sense if you think about it: the next Archimedes can't innovate because she's preoccupied with how to pay for her sister's insulin.

Your example is poverty, not inequality. This is a trick people play all the time. They say 'inequality', and then they describe poverty. Poverty certainly reduces innovation. Poverty causes all sorts of issues that reduce intellectual and social achievement. However, inequality and poverty are not the same thing.

Inequality is an inevitable consequence of innovation, in a capitalist society. But inequality does not have to mean poverty for the bottom decile. What we want is a society where those who are able to, work extremely hard to make the world better, and in return are rewarded with a luxurious high-status lifestyle. But those who are not so gifted, or those who choose not to work so hard, are still provided for adequately. IMO the focus on inequality per se is a red herring. It doesn't matter if Jeff Bezos has 100 trillion dollars, as long as his warehouse workers have a decent life.

I think you might respond by saying something about how large concentrations of wealth inevitably influence politics, and inevitably corrupt everything they touch. I can't speak to the latter, but to the former, I found this enlightening:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/09/18/too-much-dark-money-in...

> In fact all my policy prescriptions are focused on innovation, because that's the topic of this thread. Antitrust laws are specifically set up to encourage innovation.

> I know you really want to focus on regulation as the big bad, but it's just a symptom of a much larger bad: corruption.

'Corruption' is sufficiently non-specific to be meaningless. Saying the problem is 'corruption' prescribes nothing at all. Corruption literally just means "bad things happening to stuff", so of course, it is always to blame when things aren't going well.

The question at hand is: how do you fix it? Saying "fix corruption" certainly isn't the answer. My guess is you'll respond by saying "fix inequality", but you'll forget to add exactly how that would go on to fix "corruption".


> You mean studies like this one? https://academic.oup.com/restud/article/86/1/1/5026613

No that study explores innovation as a cause of inequality. Which is still bad but not what we're talking about here.

> Your example is poverty, not inequality. This is a trick people play all the time.

Oh so this is your point [1]. No I'm not talking about any inequality, that's a ridiculous strawman (and seemingly wrong, judging by other sources inequality and not poverty is still bad for growth). I'm talking about bonkers levels of inequality causing incomes to stagnate while capital gains skyrocket, leaving tons of money in the investment accounts of the rich and not in the savings accounts of the 99% of the rest of us. Wealthy people by and large don't invest in innovation (look at the share of SV VC money for example), they hoard it, which undermines pretty much all of right-wing economic theory. The only policy measure that will fix this is taxation.

I've done a little [2] token [3] googling [4] for [5] you. This one [6] is a pretty good high level survey if you just want an overview.

> It doesn't matter if Jeff Bezos has 100 trillion dollars, as long as his warehouse workers have a decent life.

Agree; I don't find wealth immoral or unethical on its own. I do find it immoral under capitalism, where by definition profit comes from exploitation (plundering the commons, upselling labor, etc.) And I don't see a better way to provide for Bezos' workers other than by taxing his immense wealth, which he got from their labor besides.

> Slate Star Codex stuff

There's so little money in politics because the wealthy and their corporations are already getting what they want. The false premise of this exposition is that these entities are in competition with each other. They're not, they're colluding. You'll see these numbers spike when big events happen, Deepwater Horizon, etc., and that's to keep the family whole during a troubled time--just like unions during a strike.

> 'Corruption' is sufficiently non-specific to be meaningless. Saying the problem is 'corruption' prescribes nothing at all.

No, when I say corruption I mean a very specific thing: bribing elected officials for special treatment. There's a whole index called the "Corruption Perception Index" to track the public's perception of corruption (which is damaging in and of itself), and there are studies [7] that measure it [8] more fully.

These issues are complex and have deep roots. That's why I've been so tenacious in disagreeing with you about regulations being the cause of our troubles. If we're gonna kill this weed, we've gotta pull it up entirely.

[1]: https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/exploring-...

[2]: https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2015/sdn1513.pdf

[3]: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/9789264246010-6-en.p...

[4]: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3806781?ln=en (Chapter 3 The Impact of Inequality)

[5]: https://voxeu.org/article/effects-income-inequality-economic...

[6]: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/02/06/how-r...

[7]: https://voxdev.org/topic/institutions-political-economy/elec...

[8]: https://academic.oup.com/ajae/article-abstract/73/1/11/15924...


> No that study explores innovation as a cause of inequality. Which is still bad but not what we're talking about here.

It shows that inequality and innovation are correlated across the globe. There is no way to disentangle causality there, and it almost certainly flows in both directions.

> Oh so this is your point [1]. No I'm not talking about any inequality, that's a ridiculous strawman (and seemingly wrong, judging by other sources inequality and not poverty is still bad for growth). I'm talking about bonkers levels of inequality causing incomes to stagnate while capital gains skyrocket, leaving tons of money in the investment accounts of the rich and not in the savings accounts of the 99% of the rest of us. Wealthy people by and large don't invest in innovation (look at the share of SV VC money for example), they hoard it, which undermines pretty much all of right-wing economic theory. The only policy measure that will fix this is taxation.

No, what it's clear you aren't talking about is inequality at all. If you look at the heading of the very first link you sent, it states my point, in the same words! You are talking about economic mobility.

> Agree; I don't find wealth immoral or unethical on its own. I do find it immoral under capitalism, where by definition profit comes from exploitation (plundering the commons, upselling labor, etc.) And I don't see a better way to provide for Bezos' workers other than by taxing his immense wealth, which he got from their labor besides.

So you think all labor relations are inherently exploitation? People are incapable of agreeing to exchange their labor for money?

> No, when I say corruption I mean a very specific thing: bribing elected officials for special treatment. There's a whole index called the "Corruption Perception Index" to track the public's perception of corruption (which is damaging in and of itself), and there are studies [7] that measure it [8] more fully.

Sure, but in what way is this corruption blocking the building that Andresen is talking about? I can point you to a myriad of ways in which regulation is doing so. But it's not obvious at all to me that corruption comes into play at all.


> If you look at the heading of the very first link you sent, it states my point, in the same words!

Yeah that was my point. The Cato Institute is a biased, partisan think tank and not a credible source. But let's dig into it.

> Poverty may fall as wealth inequality rises, such as when entrepreneurs build fortunes by generating economic growth. Or poverty may rise as wealth inequality rises, such as when crony capitalists gain preferences that distort the economy and reduce growth.

Entrepreneurs building vast fortunes (I'm not talking about a few million, but hundreds of millions or billions of dollars) is a bug, and in a country where many people choose between meds and food deeply immoral. We should redistribute that wealth.

The second point is actually my point, and while I'd like them to cite something (there are weird strategic cites throughout), I'll take it. But I'd like to reemphasize this real quick: "poverty may rise as wealth inequality rises, such as when crony capitalists gain preferences that distort the economy and reduce growth". That's the whole ballgame right there, crony capitalism increases wealth inequality and reduces growth.

> High poverty levels, which are clearly undesirable, are often caused by bad policies, such as a lack of open markets and equal treatment. Wealth inequality is different—it cannot be judged good or bad by itself because it may reflect either a growing economy that is lifting all boats or a shrinking economy caused by corruption.

The US has one of the most free markets in the world, and yet over 20% of our children live in poverty. A lack of open markets is not the cause of poverty. An unwillingness to redistribute income and wealth is.

> WhatsApp... created huge value for consumers by reducing communication costs

There is no cite for this. It's far more likely it was worth that money to Facebook to corner the messaging market, which provided no value whatsoever but did lead to less market choice.

> Jason Furman, the former chair of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, was right to praise the company as a “progressive success story” for its role in reducing prices.

Right-wing economists trot this out all the time, but he wrote that in 2005 and it's a weird appeal to authority besides. A more modern discussion is here [1]. Here's a quote:

> Vedder didn’t seem to hold Walmart responsible for the economic situation its workers faced. Rather, he argued that it’s just economic reality: “Not everybody is going to be in the middle class. Not everyone has the skill sets to do this ... Are there some people in poverty because of low wages? Yes. Will there always be? Yes. In every society, there’s going to be some people making more than others. It’s naive to say, ‘Let’s pay the low-income people more.’”

The consensus is that Wal-Mart being good or bad is irrelevant, whatever it is is a function of capitalism. That's pretty bleak. Wal-Mart's also a terrible example because of the labor and health care costs it farms off onto the federal government. When we defend their actions and their effect on the economy as capitalism working as intended, "entity that's demonstratively destructive to local businesses and wages, hugely burdensome to the welfare state, but uniquely enriching to its owners" says it all.

> Clearly, recent gains by the top 1 percent have not come at the expense of other Americans.

This is, and I'm gonna use this term specifically here, "super false" [2].

> [Gini coefficients] do not support the idea that wealth inequality is bad for [income, life expectancy, and education levels]

That's because using them in that way leads to a correlation/causation fallacy. If you want better information on this, look at life expectancy and education outcomes by income. You probably don't need to though, because you can guess they decline as income declines.

> A Credit Suisse study found that the share of global household wealth owned by the top 1 percent of households worldwide was roughly unchanged between 2000 and 2018.

This paper cherry-picks like crazy. Let me quote you something from the very first page of this study: "The bottom half of wealth holders collectively accounted for less than 1% of total global wealth in mid-2019, while the richest 10% own 82% of global wealth and the top 1% alone own 45%." So yeah, maybe it is unchanged. It's still insanely high.

> Yet commentators on the political left seem more concerned that some countries with broadly rising incomes have experienced increases in wealth inequality. This seems like “spiteful egalitarianism,” as Feldstein called it. That is, a knee‐ jerk dislike of the wealthy even when their wealth stems from productive activities that benefit the overall economy.

Besides being pretty clear ad-hominem, my actual position here is that it's impossible for Bezos to contribute ~.85% of US GDP [3] and it's a bug we should fix with taxes.

I could go on. But in short, this presentation isn't a good faith argument. It uses multiple fallacies and cherry-picks data to further its political agenda. It's not unique to that section, or that presentation. It's what The Cato Institute does.

~~~

> It shows that inequality and innovation are correlated across the globe. There is no way to disentangle causality there, and it almost certainly flows in both directions.

Agree that it's a vicious cycle and requires some kind of intervention to fix.

> So you think all labor relations are inherently exploitation? People are incapable of agreeing to exchange their labor for money?

I think that the labor market is fundamentally coercive and exploitative, yes. When one party needs shelter, food, and medicine and the other just needs a warm body to drive a truck, those parties are not on equal footing and the relationship is coercive. That's why businesses are against things like social welfare programs, Medicare for all, labor standards, and collective bargaining and for things like right to work, independent contracting, and arbitration. Even companies that hire highly skilled workers like SWEs collude to suppress wages (Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel). Look at the list of things businesses are against and for, which are the ones we have? I wonder why that is.

[1]: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/04/walmart...

[2]: https://voxeu.org/article/winners-and-losers-rising-american...

[3]: https://qz.com/work/1410621/jeff-bezos-makes-more-than-his-l...


> The second point is actually my point, and while I'd like them to cite something (there are weird strategic cites throughout), I'll take it. But I'd like to reemphasize this real quick: "poverty may rise as wealth inequality rises, such as when crony capitalists gain preferences that distort the economy and reduce growth". That's the whole ballgame right there, crony capitalism increases wealth inequality and reduces growth.

No. You are twisting the discussion here. Inequality is not the problem. It is a problem when crony capitalism is the source of inequality, on that you, I, and the cato institute agree. Inequality can be a symptom of a broken system, but it is not necessarily a symptom of a broken system. And so inequality is not the measure you should be looking at. What you should care about is the source of that inequality.

> The consensus is that Wal-Mart being good or bad is irrelevant, whatever it is is a function of capitalism. That's pretty bleak. Wal-Mart's also a terrible example because of the labor and health care costs it farms off onto the federal government. When we defend their actions and their effect on the economy as capitalism working as intended, "entity that's demonstratively destructive to local businesses and wages, hugely burdensome to the welfare state, but uniquely enriching to its owners" says it all.

Walmart doesn't farm labor and healthcare costs off to the government. Walmart is not responsible for the wellbeing of its employees, it is not their parents. Society has decided it wants to institute certain minimum standards of living for people, and we enact those standards through the proper channels: government. Walmart is then free to hire those people. That does not mean Walmart has accepted responsibility for their well-being.

> That's because using them in that way leads to a correlation/causation fallacy. If you want better information on this, look at life expectancy and education outcomes by income. You probably don't need to though, because you can guess they decline as income declines.

You're saying a lot of stuff here without really supporting it. You don't get to cherry pick which correlations you like and which you don't. If you want to say that inequality causes these things, prove it. But the fact of the matter is that inequality and innovation correlate strongly across countries, which pretty soundly refutes your original point: that inequality stifles innovation. Now, there may be more to that story, like reverse causality, or other confounding factors. We certainly haven't proven that inequality causes innovation. But we have established pretty well that causality does not flow in the other direction, which was was your original point.

> I could go on. But in short, this presentation isn't a good faith argument. It uses multiple fallacies and cherry-picks data to further its political agenda. It's not unique to that section, or that presentation. It's what The Cato Institute does.

I didn't provide the link, you did. I have no vested interest in that particular source. I'm just telling you what your own source says.

> I think that the labor market is fundamentally coercive and exploitative, yes. When one party needs shelter, food, and medicine and the other just needs a warm body to drive a truck, those parties are not on equal footing and the relationship is coercive. That's why businesses are against things like social welfare programs, Medicare for all, labor standards, and collective bargaining and for things like right to work, independent contracting, and arbitration. Even companies that hire highly skilled workers like SWEs collude to suppress wages (Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel). Look at the list of things businesses are against and for, which are the ones we have? I wonder why that is.

If you want to enjoy the fruits of society, it seems reasonable to ask you to contribute to it. If you want to go and live in a cave and forage for food in the forest, that seems fine too. But if you want to live in a home built by other humans, and eat food farmed and transported to you by other humans, you are placing demands on the labor of others. What entitles you to that labor if not the exchange of your own? Of course, that then raises the simple question: how much of the labor of others should you get in exchange for yours? Well, we've come up with a whole system for answering that question, one that works pretty well and has elegant answers to that question. I don't doubt that there are others, but it's probably a good idea to fully understand why the one we have works before trying to tear it down.


How can you still say that when the crisis show us that critical jobs are underpaid, sometimes practically slave labor. Your arguments get countered every single time in this thread, so I'm not surprised he or she didn't reply to you anymore


> How can you still say that when the crisis show us that critical jobs are underpaid, sometimes practically slave labor. Your arguments get countered every single time in this thread, so I'm not surprised he or she didn't reply to you anymore

Economists have studied the question of value basically since the founding of economics. Many ideas have been proposed and rejected. The one you are probably subscribing to is something like Marx's "Labor theory of value".

I could write an argument explaining why the labor theory of value is wrong, but you can just read the Criticisms section on Wikipedia, which will do a better job of it than I could:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_theory_of_value#Criticis...

If you want to assert that some job is "under paid", you have to have a reference valuation that the current compensation is "under" with respect to. The perspective of modern economists is that value comes from "marginal utility":

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

Here is a list of common value theories from the history of economics:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_value_(economics)



Yeah that's an interesting area of study. I do buy the criticisms though, and personally I think that propaganda plays a bigger role. The vast majority of Americans have no idea what their government is doing, and they rely either on inadequate or hyper-partisan, biased media to keep them informed. But those sources aren't there to inform them, they're there to polarize them so they get to the polls. It's pretty classic authoritarianism: blame some outside group, froth up the public to support you so you can implement your corrupt agenda.

I realize this sounds... super cynical and tin foil hat but, maybe that speaks to the seriousness of our situation. If there's tech out there that can fix it, I'm all ears.


> Firstly, that's just not true. That is a thing that happens, but it is not the only thing that happens. Bureaucracies come about for all sorts of reasons, and in all sorts of ways.

So it is true, it's just not complete?

> The regulations are the location in the stack that need to be corrected.

What if the best way to do this is to remove the capitalist incentives that motivate local communities to operate this way?


> So it is true, it's just not complete?

Yes, it is a thing that happens. But the original commenter described it as the only thing that happens, which is not true.

> What if the best way to do this is to remove the capitalist incentives that motivate local communities to operate this way?

I think that would be great. But how do you enact that? Do you eliminate property rights? What do you replace them with? If you want my view, the correct policy is a land value tax (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax).

A policy more likely to be implemented is to move zoning laws up the governmental stack to the state level, so that they're not so easily locally influenced.


> But the original commenter described it as the only thing that happens, which is not true.

Sorry if I came across that way; that's not what I meant. Of course there are some regulations that are overburdening. But this is like saying we should repeal TANF because it has a non-zero (very low) fraud rate: it focuses on the wrong thing. The comparative burden between the rare overzealous regulation and ladder pulling regulation is bonkers.


Blaming the "regulatory state" for the lack of housing misses the point. Andreeson lives in Atherton, CA, population 7000--not exactly Big Government. Is he pushing the city council to upzone Atherton and allow higher density housing? It would be profitable!


Property developers would be building apartments in Atherton if they were allowed to. It is regulation that prevents it. It is local property owners electing city council members that creates the regulation.


>Markets would love to build nuclear power plants Sadly, markets would love to build nuclear power plants without paying the external costs, but I pretty much doubt the markets would like to pay all the costs associated with nuclear production.

And BTW, I say this in full support for nuclear power, in fact, I think that carbon, gas and oil are so cheap because they markets avoid paying the external costs that nuclear might be the better alternative. But this is because the markets are not great on accounting for this costs that are passed to society as a whole.


> Markets would love to build more housing. But they're prevented from doing so by the regulatory state. Markets would love to build nuclear power plants, but they're prevented from doing so by the regulatory state.

I don’t like it when people anthropomorphize concepts like economic markets, but I _especially_ don’t like it when they do this to make it seem like the anthropomorphization should be a sympathetic character to the reader.

Like one of the GPs said, above: the market is something that responds to incentives.

Regulation and bureaucracy shape those incentives, sometimes in the ways that you’re describing, but the market is just as “happy” to capitalize on bad housing regulation as it is to capitalize on a lack of any housing regulation at all.

The problem of constructing just the right amount of regulatory apparatus is very difficult, though.


> I don’t like it when people anthropomorphize concepts like economic markets, but I _especially_ don’t like it when they do this to make it seem like the anthropomorphization should be a sympathetic character to the reader.

> Like one of the GPs said, above: the market is something that responds to incentives.

What's your point? The incentives are aligned to build more housing. That's what high prices do, they incentivize supply.

> Regulation and bureaucracy shape those incentives, sometimes in the ways that you’re describing, but the market is just as “happy” to capitalize on bad housing regulation as it is to capitalize on a lack of any housing regulation at all.

So?

A) The point your making is irrelevant to mine. The fact that markets will exploit poor regulation is really neither here nor there.

B) The solution to the problem you pose is, just like what I said, better regulation.


> Markets would love to build more housing. But they're prevented from doing so by the regulatory state.

I'm not certain this is a problem outside of the Bay area.


It's a problem in most major urban centers. I live in Los Angeles, and it's certainly a problem here.


My understanding is the cost of construction has risen dramatically in recent decades, in proportion to an explosion of construction regulation.


Are there specific building codes you disagree with?


Lot size minimums, frontage, restrictions on height, and on and on...


Most of the time those are determined locally, not at the state or national level. Usually by a city council and zoning board heavily informed by its wealthiest citizens.


What point are you trying to make? The end result is you can’t do what you want with your own land.


People like to make this argument as a blind for, "I am tired of building buildings with expensive seismic retrofitting and anti-fire measures, or to even consider they have modern electrical infrastructure." I don't like those arguments very much, as they place an unfair burden on buyers and often represent burdens on already wealthy people, who tent to project far more burdens than they shoulder.

But if we're talking about "the homeowners around us are using the government to enforce scarcity because they love being ghoulish landlords rather than productive members of society" they yeah, I'm on board with you.

Both of these fit through the keyhole of "building regulation" so I'm trying to draw lines to show you where I stand.


I am less opposed to requirements about what must be in a structure for safety of yourself and surroundings. I am very opposed to preventing building whatsoever, or artificial limits to density. People think when they buy a house they have the right to ensure everything around them changes as little as possible. I disagree - you have the right to your own land not changing, but you should not be able to stop your neighbor.


I have heard people complain that building a house is N times more difficult today than 20 years ago, and as someone who wishes to build a house in the future, these complaints worry me. Perhaps there is no need for worry over second hand mutterings, though. I will see what the situation is like when I actually start building.

It seems that usually the legal burden of compliance and regulation forms an efficient service sector that is able to meet it– but in a sort of roundabout way I question the very need for this compliance sector. Thank God for fire safety and non-toxic building materials, but some law is absurd, and represents a process for process' sake when you look at its effect.


It's a problem that strongly correlates to the cities richest in high-income knowledge-intensive jobs.


> Markets would love to build more housing... But they're prevented from doing so by the regulatory state

Interesting claim. Do you want to detail this more? Most of my experience is not with the State itself being an obstacle, but as a tool in the hands of landlords and capitalists to help enforce scarcity.


Yeah, there's really very little difference between "the State(TM)" at a city council level and the local property owners as a class, and a class that is overrepresented in electoral participation.


> Interesting claim. Do you want to detail this more? Most of my experience is not with the State itself being an obstacle, but as a tool in the hands of landlords and capitalists to help enforce scarcity.

I'm not even sure I really understand your question. Rents in San Francisco are extremely high. What that means is that if you build a new apartment building there you can charge a lot of money for your apartments. Therefore, any halfway intelligent capitalist understands it's a great idea to build apartment buildings in San Francisco. The only reason they are not doing this is that the local zoning laws prevent them from doing so.


> Therefore, any halfway intelligent capitalist understands it's a great idea to build apartment buildings in San Francisco

You don't mean "capitalist" here. You mean, "proponent of Free Markets."

An equally profitable "capitalist" play would be to find out what companies currently benefit from the shortages and to buy those companies, thus securing their revenue.

Capitalism is agnostic to free markets and in some cases even destructive to them.


> You don't mean "capitalist" here. You mean, "proponent of Free Markets."

I just mean any halfway intelligent person who has money and wants more. Their ideology doesn't matter.

> An equally profitable "capitalist" play would be to find out what companies currently benefit from the shortages and to buy those companies, thus securing their revenue.

No, it wouldn't. That's not how anything works. For one, those companies would be very expensive, precisely because they are making so much money. And more importantly, you keep treating this like it's a one player game. It's not. When thinking about how markets work you have to solve for the equilibrium of competing actors. If you go out and buy those companies, then the next guy is going to come along and build new apartments and all of a sudden you won't be able to charge exorbitant prices anymore.


I’m in Munich with skyrocketing prices. And you are wrong about your halfway intelligent capitalist. You see, doing nothing will end in more money earned anyway while doing nothing. So halfway intelligent capitalist can build couple hotels elsewhere. If this halfway intelligent capitalist builds apartment building, it will generate more rent from the new building, but less in total. That is not good for him and he will not build. And zoning laws is an argument to cover ugly truth.


That's not how anything works. You would be right if one person owned the entire city. But that isn't the case. The equilibrium of independent competing actors is for them to build. Yes, if they all colluded together and agreed not to build, they might be able to extract more money (actually they wouldn't in the medium and long term, maybe in the short term). But you'd have to be a complete fool to think that sort of collusion is possible at the scale that would be required.

What you do have are developers pressuring regulators to restrict competition. That is a real thing, and it's called regulatory capture. But that is exactly what I said needs to be fixed.


Maybe in a perfect world with equally distributed wealth it might be the case. But normally all cities have well connected wealthier groups inside.

About Munich’s case: since property tax is calculated based on value of the plot, regulators are not interested in new buildings. They do nothing and collect more and more taxes! What a great situation.


> Maybe in a perfect world with equally distributed wealth it might be the case. But normally all cities have well connected wealthier groups inside.

So, you are positing that the wealthy elite of Munich have come together and agreed not to build high density housing so that they can all make more money, even though if any one of them defects and builds an apartment building they personally would make more money than everyone else?


If there’s anyone in finance who’s less focused on quarterly numbers than VCs, I’d love to hear about them. One of the bigger criticisms of VCs is that they encourage a high risk, high burn, swing-for-the-fences strategy, even in businesses where it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So while I agree with your sentiments overall, I wouldn’t say that Andreesen is especially reflective of the attitudes that you’re rightly calling out.

Disclaimer: my company received funding from a16z. It’s worth mentioning that, if anything, they have been part of a board encouraging our CEO/founder to think about producing more grand, long-term value, and our CEO already has a strong bias toward long-term thinking.


My experience with fellow post-exit folks is that at around the 3 year mark everyone wants to offload you. People are citing 5 and 10 year ventures as "long-term" which really shows how incredibly eroded the concept of "long term" investments in the US are.

Revitalizing the US electrical and transit infrastructure is probably a century long project, with individual states taking anywhere from 40-75 year. But let's talk more about how Magic Leap secured a lot of debt financing, I guess?

My advice for you is that it makes absolutely 0 sense to bite the hand that feeds you right now.


Interesting that Andreesen mentions Milton 'Shock Doctrine' Friedman. I recently read 'don't be evil' by Rana Foroohar about big tech and 'Goliath' by Matt Stoller, the 100 year battle between monopoly power and democracy in the USA. I believe we are a dangerous point in history - look at how the Amazon/Bezos monopoly has become even more dominant in the last few weeks of soft martial law, with online orders permissible while countless small businesses are shuttered. Just in time supply chains and quarterly profits worship have hollowed out holding inventory, which is why there are no medical gowns. Meanwhile China is effectively what the USA used to be economically. Valley VCs invest heavily in businesses they believe will dominate a vertical and crush competition for maximum profit. This is monopoly power personified.


This is an odd time to attack Amazon?


> We don't have it because building these things requires long term investments and folks like Marc and his investors are not interested in long term investments.

I don't know where you get this from but as far as VC goes a16z are especially willing to take long-term bets. Case in point, when we pitched them, we explicitly said it's going to take us a decade to achieve our goals and they were okay with that.


Weird, they told me "it would take too long for that to work."


But you're right in that 99% of VCs and investors in general think short term. Very high time preference.


maybe that was a polite way of telling you they didn't think it was a good idea in the first place...


There is a problem. Ten years is not long term.

In the long term we are all dead. So we have to want to do these things for people who are not born yet and who will never pay us or pay us back or be able to even thank us. We have to do these things because these things are the right thing to do.

That will decrease our wealth.

Now please explain how capitalism can do that?


Having children will give you that incentive. People with no children will have higher time preference -- they prefer today's consumption over investment in the future.

That's why I find a lot of the antinatalism of modern western culture to be concerning.


This. Before I had kids I was always just living in the moment, looking for ways to entertain myself. Not concerned with the climate, retirement, and other long-term ideas at all. Now, with three kids, I’ve really started thinking about the environment and making the world a better place for them to grow up in. I buy sustainable house supplies. I save more in my 401k.

The net impact of having three kids has been a net positive for the environment and society, I believe.


> People with no children will have higher time preference -- they prefer today's consumption over investment in the future.

I don't think that's required, or requires blaming antinatalism. I don't have children, but I recognize that others will, so I'm motivated to address long term problems for the sake of future lives.

There's also some cognitive dissonance in recognizing that the future world faces existential risks like climate change, but then choosing to have children (who will have to live under those risks!).


And the primary reason for climate change is having so many people on this planet in the first place


No. That is false. Climate change is not a function of overpopulation and we could have easily headed it off 20 years ago if existing energy interests with outsized global influence didn't fight us tooth and nail to be exclusive energy providers.


Energy consumption is a function of how many people live and need energy. Sure we now have to fight to provide sustainable energy for 8 billion and soon 11 billion people.

At two or three billion it would not be an issue at all.


OK Thanos


It's true, though, all the overfishing, pollution, greenhouse gases, desertification of farmland, extinction of species is all due to the huge explosion in the number of humans on the planet. We're chopping down all the remaining forests and turning the planet into farms and monocultures. At this rate we'd better hope that an ecosystem of just cows and chickens is sustainable.

We don't have to do anything. As women (e.g. in sub Saharan African countries) get more education, the age at which they have their first child increases. As expectations of having your own place increase, and rent increases, the age of having the first child increases. If you want to go all the way, look at Japan, with its aging population and young people who don't want to have sex. Many of them are shut-ins, hikkomori.

Even without this virus, we have been moving towards a world where everyone lives on their own, orders in, gets amazon deliveries, etc. Both parents work for corporations, kids are put into a glorified daycare center run by the government, everyone is overmedicated, from kids (ADHD) to adults (opioids and antidepressants) to elderly (nursing homes) and this is called "a good economy".

If we lowered the workweek to 30 hours, and implemented a permanent UBI (as Spain may do now, and Alaska has done for a while), we could have people spend more time with their families. And if we moved towards increased collaboration rather than competition, we would have a lot more value for the world (think wikipedia vs Britannica, Linux vs Windows, the Web vs AOL etc, Netscape vs IE (thanks for open sourcing that one btw :)) you get the point. Science vs Alchemy.

Anyway, the world has adjusted since we greatly reduced child mortality, and some countries are just playing catch-up. Eventually, we will have a smaller, richer population, with robots and automation doing a lot of the work. That's the future. The only trouble is, shortly after that we'll all live in a zoo controlled by AI :-/


Are parents' incentives really that strong? We need all sorts of laws to prevent parents from exploiting or maltreating their children. It seems that parental instincts are not very reliable.


The negative extremes are, well, extreme. I am not a parent myself, yet, but I think you'd be surprised how great the incentive truly is. If we had a tidy causal analysis of what drives people the world over, I suspect parental instincts would make up a visible chunk of motivations.


To protect there kids from short term problems they understand yes. But issue like climate change are both hard to understand and long term.

Having kids doesn't make you wiser.


> Having kids doesn't make you wiser.

But it makes you more receptive to arguments about anything that could endanger their safety and future.

My wife has started to be much more environmentally conscious (vs. economically conscious) over the past year, and I think it all started due to one off-hand remark: I said that I hope our (then about-to-be-born) daughter will be able to experience snow. She brought up that particular phrase to me many times now; it seems it really stuck in her imagination.


> People with no children will have higher time preference -- they prefer today's consumption over investment in the future.

On the other hand, people with children have less resources to invest and are generally forced economically to prefer today's consumption (eg. feeding, clothing, transporting, schooling their kids today instead of buying solar panel stocks for tomorrow).


Yes and no? Plenty of parents in the U.S. with children don't seem to care about the environment.


The idea that having children is an anti-environmental stands is part of a platform called "eco-fascism."

I am not sure you want to involve yourself with those folks and this toxic ideology. It is not inevitable that every life liberated some huge sum of tons of carbon.


The average time horizon for anyone with young kids is 80+ years.


Put simply the reason why America doesn't have these things is because the money went elsewhere.

Why e.g. would you build a new skyscraper for people to live in, if you could instead just profit from the scarcity, spend no money and still get out much?

Those who are on top will spend a significant amount of resources to make sure they stay on top and that others don't take their place. Very much of what goes wrong these days is emergent behaviour of that.


This is a much better version of what I was going to respond with, which was, "I dunno, Marc, you're the one with all the goddamn money, you fix it." I think we're on the same page.


I'm confused why you think a VC who generally won't see returns on a good investment for a decade or so thinks that "value lies in quarterly profits."


Having been through the VC wringer I don't think you can be unprofitable for a decade.


Uber, Dropbox, AirBnB, Slack, Pinterest.

Long term un-profitable venture backed software companies are practically a cliche at this point.


Uber is special, but the rest of the companies you named there were at one point rather early in their lifecycle profitable, no?

AirBnB for sure. Pretty sure Dropbox and Slack were in the black for awhile. Please feel free to educate me about Pinterest, I have no idea.

But personally, I think the idea of companies designed to corner a market and then get acquired are just a different kind of medium term investment strategy. For every unicorn you see, there are hundreds of failures where the plug got pulled and information got fed forward to preferential incarnations of the venture.


They are not long term unprofitable for the VCs. Those companies have been through rounds and rounds of growth which has brought in other investors (i.e. who VCs can sell to if they desire).

What about the company that would need to labour for 5 years before they get the MVP out the door?


They are profitable to VCs exactly because system for long-term thinking works, it just consists of different levels of investors, with different risk/reward goals, handing over the same company, still long-term, still unprofitable, one to another. VCs are just one of the first levels of this system.


What about the company that would need to labour for 5 years before they get the MVP out the door?

Magic Leap.


Why is 5 years the cutoff?


You can. If your operation generates profit, but could grow faster by plunking the profit back into growth, the VC thing to do would be to demand you reinvest all profit towards growth. But if your business is losing money and not growing, or if its unit margins are negative à la moviepass, then it doesn't make sense to stick around for a decade.


If you don’t mind me asking, what radio group are you involved with? I’m been working on some tangentially related projects and would love to be involved.

Apologies for the new HN account, lost my password for my main one somehow.


Please see sfwem.org. It is not my project but I've pushed it heavily and recruited for it.


I think the URL is https://www.sfwem.net/ .

(Also, cool stuff!)


Thanks for the corrected link. I was walking my dog when posting and I miskeyed it. :)


Thanks for the corrected link. Glad to see projects like this!


that site links to nothing, you sure you got the URL right?


>We don't have it because building these things requires long term investments and folks like Marc and his investors are not interested in long term investments. America's corporate leadership has pursued elastic labor forces with minimal training (and therefore minimal flexibiity), outsourced manufacturing (and therefore long lead times on domestic production) and minimal redundancy in infrastructure because these rich folks think, plan and act on a quarterly calendar. We don't build new homes because homeowners like the value of their goods protected by intense scarcity. We don't compete with China because capital sees value in redundancy only with the framework of internal corporate prognostication, not as an actual net good when considered in a system

I would very much like the author of the essay to read "Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit":

>With results like these, what will the epitaph for neoliberalism look like? I think historians will conclude it was a form of capitalism that systematically prioritized political imperatives over economic ones. Given a choice between a course of action that would make capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and one that would transform capitalism into a viable, long-term economic system, neoliberalism chooses the former every time.

https://thebaffler.com/salvos/of-flying-cars-and-the-declini...


Maybe he's talking more to himself and his peers here.

By writing this down, he's committing himself publicly to a path, there's no reason to think he's not aware of that.


> I find this essay to be extremely frustrating

Thanks, I was worried I would find HN readers to be largely in agreement with it and I'm glad I was wrong about that.

I also find that "we need to want these things" is the key problem with the article. I agree with your conclusions, but I think you've understated the case a bit.

I believe that all of this has happened the way it happened because we live in a society -- and a system -- that has been steadily lowering the value we place on human life.

When I moved to United States in 2013, what shocked me the most was the incredible number of homeless people in Seattle. This is an immensely wealthy, developed country, arguably the most powerful in "the first world". And yet, two of the "five most homeless cities in the world"[1] are in this country.

One of the big problems with the lockdown measures in several parts of the US was "what about homeless kids who depend on their schools". Do you people understand what that sounds like?

So yes, the problem is capitalism. No, not "crony capitalism" or any other variation of No True Scotsman defense of capitalism[2]. This is what you get when you build your whole system around the optimization of one variable -- profit -- and put essentially religious faith into the unproven idea that the Invisible Hand of the Market will make everything work.

Marc ends his essay by saying "instead of attacking my ideas, conceive your own". He's essentially asking people to express their disagreement in a way that validates his ideology. Sadly, the answer to his question about what we should build isn't anything he or the rest of the elites would like to hear.

What we need to build is awareness. What we need to build are societal "firewalls" against the ubiquitous propaganda[3] that inundates our society. What we need to build is a movement.

EDIT: Fixed some formatting problems that I didn't notice initially.

---

[1]: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=e56c...

[2]: It's usually the same people who won't accept that "real socialism hasn't been implemented yet" as an answer that deflect critique of capitalism by saying "Oh, that is not capitalism, that's crony capitalism."

[3]: The US doesn't have state propaganda like North Korea or China, and that leads people to believe it's free of propaganda. It's not.


> This is what you get when you build your whole system around the optimization of one variable -- profit -- and put essentially religious faith into the unproven idea that the Invisible Hand of the Market will make everything work.

But this isn't what the whole US system is built around. That's (at least part of) the problem. As others have pointed out elsewhere in this discussion, many of the things Andreessen says he thinks we need to build are thinks that the free market would like to build, but can't because of legal and regulatory barriers.

That said, it is true that free markets are a tool, not an end in themselves. Free markets can help you to provide goods and services as efficiently as possible, but they can't tell you which goods and services should be provided and which should not. So free markets on their own are not enough to have a good society.

(Btw, notice that I said "free markets" and not "capitalism". They're not the same thing, although they are often conflated. "Free markets" means all transactions are voluntary--people cannot be forced into buying or selling anything, or prevented from buying and selling anything; it's up to them to decide. But "capitalism" means that capital is taken to be central to the economy, and accumulating capital is taken to be a positive thing. Historically, having a free market has often been the best way to accumulate capital, but not always: our present regulatory system might well be an example of the opposite, a society in which the best way to accumulate capital is to outlaw your competition through regulation.)


> But this isn't what the whole US system is built around. That's (at least part of) the problem. As others have pointed out elsewhere in this discussion, many of the things Andreessen says he thinks we need to build are thinks that the free market would like to build, but can't because of legal and regulatory barriers.

Really? Which thing? I haven't really been sold a narrative that "regulatory barriers" are in the way of securing domestic manufacturing capacity or building high speed rail. It's securing the initial and sustained capital to build the systems.

> That said, it is true that free markets are a tool, not an end in themselves. Free markets can help you to provide goods and services as efficiently as possible, but they can't tell you which goods and services should be provided and which should not. So free markets on their own are not enough to have a good society.

Folks misinterpret the literature around free markets all the time. They do not make guarantees of efficiency. Neither does centrally planned economies. The idea that either one is inherently more efficient is the legacy of various propaganda campaigns.

> So free markets on their own are not enough to have a good society.

All that said, I do agree strongly that this is true. To some extent, no system inherently promises this. It's just that some systems guarantee equity cannot be sustained (e.g., capitalism or despotism).

As long as American society implicitly believes in the Hayek-ian notion that freedom exists to empower the hypothetical Galt's that they dream exist and imagine that America's moneyed aristocracy serves an important function of assigning value simply by virtue of their spending, no among of free marketspace will fix our problem. Folks have been duped into buying into a scheme where they think they need aristocracy to survive.


> I haven't really been sold a narrative that "regulatory barriers" are in the way of securing domestic manufacturing capacity or building high speed rail.

You don't need to be "sold a narrative". You just need to go read the reams and reams of Federal and State regulations that any new manufacturing plant or high speed rail system (not to mention any other business) needs to satisfy.

> It's securing the initial and sustained capital to build the systems.

But in order for that capital to be used for a new venture, the people who have it need to see a reasonable prospect of a return. If you don't think regulatory barriers are the reason why people with lots of capital don't see a reasonable prospect of return in ventures that, on the face of it, would seem to have an obvious potential for good returns, what do you think is the reason?

> They do not make guarantees of efficiency.

More precisely, the conditions under which a free market is maximally efficient are very often not satisfied in the real world. But I did not claim that free markets were always maximally efficient. I said they are as efficient as possible; in other words, under whatever conditions you have, free markets are more efficient than any other alternatives. Under conditions where free markets are not maximally efficient, central planning is even worse.

> Folks have been duped into buying into a scheme where they think they need aristocracy to survive.

I think there is a sense in which this is true, but it's not the one you describe. The problem I see is that people think they need to be governed by experts--an intellectual "aristocracy", not a financial one. The manipulation of the financial system by the government printing money and skewing the incentives of financial institutions is certainly part of that, but not all of it.


Interesting distinction between "capitalism" and "free markets".


VCs are not thought leaders, they just like to pretend to be thought leaders so that they can attract good dealflow.

They are investors and money managers for LPs and not much different from the Wall St types.

So, we should not try to read too much into such blogs and articles.


How does this make any sense? You wrote this long, neatly articulated response, but your central premise is entirely flawed.

Marc Andreessen and Andreessen Horowitz and other venture capitalists don't have a monopoly over the future (or current) direction of our society). Hell, they don't even have a plurality of control.

The things that Marc speaks of in this article that are fundamentally broken in the US are housing, education, and healthcare. I see new startups funded in the US every single week that attempt to solve these problems. In the end, though, they are bound by the regulatory constraints that American government imposes on them, and in these three areas, there is a patchwork of laws that is impossible to navigate if you wish to build anything meaningfully transformative. It is simply impossible for Marc Andreessen to deploy capital in a way that can accelerate the pace of housing development in San Francisco, or accelerate the pace of drug development in the US, or make public American high schools have a lower student-faculty ratio. The amount of regulatory capture in these long-running, slow-moving institutions is simply too high.


This is exactly why we need innovation in politics. Imagine for a second, that you declare a region, say 1 square mile, somewhere as almost completely free of all regulations. Then, let all the companies that want to build there, go nuts and build whatever they want. This then serves as an innovation incubator, and an example for the rest of the nation as to what can be built, when we allow it to be built.

Imagine the speed of innovation when it's not regulated. Remember, in the early days of the internet, we had companies and application popping up all over the place. FB, had 100,000 apps in less than 1 year. What allowed such quick pace of innovation is the concept of permissionless innovation. We desperately need this to happen in the real world: maybe not the whole world, but at least some small region, perhaps a new city, or a square mile block.


> Imagine for a second, that you declare a region, say 1 square mile, somewhere as almost completely free of all regulations

Any kind of pollution would be acceptable in this 1 square mile? Any kind of price manipulation? There wouldn't be any consumer protections? No worker protections?

Not all regulation is bad. A lot of it exists for good reasons because the profit motive tends to lead to abuses.


>FB, had 100,000 apps in less than 1 year.

First of all, Facebook had to start "regulating" those apps in the early days, because they threatened to overrun the platform with spam.

Second, there's a long, long history of corporate malfeasance in un-or-under regulated spaces; you don't have to go back very far (2008 GFC).


> Imagine for a second, that you declare a region, say 1 square mile, somewhere as almost completely free of all regulations.

Can you murder your competitors in this 1 square mile? Can you steal their inventory? Can you hijack their equipment? Can you threaten their employees? Can you force your employees to work overtime till they drop? Can you dump all your industrial waste wherever you want in that 1 square mile? What about animal/human testing?

That was not much more than one second of thinking but that’s about what this idea deserves.


I'm talking about the regulation that prevents stuff from being built. obviously all the normal laws like no murder would still be in place.


Ah yes, that's not a subjective thing at all, all we have to do is query our database for all laws where the PREVENTS_STUFF_FROM_BEING_BUILT flag is set to TRUE, and we disable all of those. Easy.


> Hell, we're building grassroots infrastructure in my radio group because our capitalist-driven infrastructure is so antiquated we can't even do a software update to existing hardware without it taking 3 years and taking an entire flood warning system offline.

Can you talk about this a bit? 73 de W9NLS

edit: It's AREDN. Awesome!


Yeah, and other local areas that aren't geographically suited for connection to SF's net are starting to kick off their own nets. I expect we'll see a Half Moon Bay centric net in the next two years!


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