Thinking About Technocracy

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Nobel Prize 2016 Part I: Bengt Holmstrom

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A Fine Theorem

The Nobel Prize in Economics has been announced, and what a deserving prize it is: Bengt Holmstrom and Oliver Hart have won for the theory of contracts. The name of this research weblog is “A Fine Theorem”, and it would be hard to find two economists whose work is more likely to elicit such a description! Both are incredibly deserving; more than five years ago on this site, I discussed how crazy it was that Holmstrom had yet to win!. The only shock is the combination: a more natural prize would have been Holmstrom with Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson for modern applied mechanism design, and Oliver Hart with John Moore and Sandy Grossman for the theory of the firm. The contributions of Holmstrom and Hart are so vast that I’m splitting this post into two, so as to properly cover the incredible intellectual accomplishments of these two economists.

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Written by ryanlanham

October 10, 2016 at 7:56 pm

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Seed Magazine on 2009 as a year of panic

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Excellent article by Bruce Sterling here on the year of panic ahead.  Can’t really disagree with any of it.

I found it through Peak Energy, here.

Written by ryanlanham

February 15, 2009 at 5:44 pm

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A general sense of ignorance

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There should be some sort of evidential rules we start to apply universally at a fairly early age.  We argue about evolution–which is all but definitive…no, it is definitive knowledge. Some know some things, while others dispute those same things with little knowledge.  We choose not to argue about justice very much.  Sometimes values trump knowledge; other times, what seems an obvious value parameter is essentially ignored by most of us.

On the other hand, there are fields like economics which are not, to my way of seeing things, scientific, nor are they false and predicated on nonsense.  They are heuristic planning tools really.  There are rules of thumb that can be formalized to varying degrees, but as a logical system, they are unsatisfactory as foundations on which to base large numbers of policy decisions.   For example, we start economic assertions with restrictions like ceteris paribus… Regrettably, all things aren’t otherwise equal.  And the devil is in the details.

We are in fact ignorant of our own wishes both as individuals and collectively.  Economics is largely a theory about how wishes and plans might be put into effect in a reasonable framework driven by the reallocation of capacities to be rewarded financially for something…birth, work, prior inventions, etc.

Democracy is similar in scope…it is a heuristic model for reasonable decisions.  Neither of these topics (democracy or economics) allow for much specificity the way a science should.  That’s because they are less schemes of knowledge than they are projects for decision making.

What is hopeful about the present networked and collaborative age is that we seem to be driving toward a capacity to express ourselves more clearly than ever before in broader numbers.  People can “digg” something.  But are they informed enough to have a reasonable opinion?  I doubt it.  I think we have a need for specialization tied to speed and a system that rewards thouroughness and generality in leaders.  Somehow reconciling that paradox is at the heart of any future political systems.  We need a way to evaluate and accept fixed knowledge.  We also must allow doubt and heterodoxy as insurance policies for systematic error.  A very difficult problem.

Written by ryanlanham

February 15, 2009 at 5:22 pm

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Open Government

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See the ACM information here.

Written by ryanlanham

February 12, 2009 at 11:35 pm

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The US debt load bomb

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US Debt as a Percentage of GDP

US Debt as a Percentage of GDP

Written by ryanlanham

January 20, 2009 at 3:12 pm

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Three possible outcomes and the rise of technocracy

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Three possible groupings of outcomes emerge from the general circumstances I wrote on in the last post

  1. The means to handle the complexity and the associated breakdowns are found within the existing governance paradigms and the system continues to expand.  My shorthand for this outcome is “conventional wisdom rules.” 
  2. The system collapses and systematic debilities result.  Shorthand: doomsday.
  3. Arrangements of global governance with clearly established criteria for boundary conditions are established in those areas where threats are high.  Shorthand: technocracy.

Written by ryanlanham

January 19, 2009 at 9:06 pm

The Long Now Foundation

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In addition to my technocracy pantheon, I’m going to start a list of organizations that appear to do worthwhile work in the field of applying technocratic ideals.  My first inductee, The Long Now Foundation.

Please add/nominate others in the comments.

Written by ryanlanham

January 11, 2009 at 2:19 pm