Abolishing the future; why how we do policy is wrong, all wrong

by Maria on March 26, 2019

Three things have made me think about why the way we do policy is wrong; the European Parliament passed the Copyright Directive, privileging IP over everyone else and locking in the current Big Tech players it affected to despise; climate breakdown rumbled on through a wave of public protests with no meaningful way to connect public concern to parliamentary processes and build in future harms to present decisions; and it emerged that more than one new housing development around where I live have ‘playground apartheid’, where kids living in the less expensive apartments aren’t allowed to play in the parks being created.

I was really, really, really not going to write about this as I finally have some energy and emotional wherewithal to crack into a shedload of deadlines, but then Chris Marsden – who you should follow if you’re interested in tech – tweeted this:

“Because @Europarl_EN is abolishing the future, I thought I’d time travel back to when we thought evidence based policy was worth a try”

And of course Chris is right. We are abolishing the future. Our policy processes are broken not just horizontally – they privilege lobbyists over citizens for reasons anyone who’s ever heard of a collective action problem will understand – but temporally.

There was public debate a few years back in Australia about intergenerational justice and, I think, the pension system? It’s quite a neat concept – how do you trade off one generation’s bounty versus another’s suffering. (Hint: the answer seems not to involve avocado toast and public shaming.) But I hadn’t heard the idea applied much since then, elsewhere in the anglosphere, at least until climate protest went mainstream and the kids began insisting that they are emphatically not alright. (Oh, maybe a bit with US gun control, perhaps related to the fact that more children in America’s schools have been killed with guns in the past year than active duty police or military.)

So here we are in 2019, unable to make sensible plans for the next couple of decades because in the UK and US at least, our institutions have proven trivially open to capture by people determined to re-create a mythical past.

But back to the future … I am writing long and loose with no plan or re-drafting because deadlines – apologies.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (please read it!) works through the real-world consequences for climate change mitigation of our accounting rules. It turns out that literally discounting the future is not a good basis for business decision-making that doesn’t wreck the earth. The novel shows how – alongside changes wrought by massive, structural political resistance – technocratic changes to stuff like the GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) could work future consequences into today’s decision-making. But we’re so not getting there, yet.

The Copyright Directive – and basically the nemesis arc of my whole tech policy career – is basically an exercise in wilfully ignorant politicians guffawing about their lack of tech and business model clue as they foreclose options for future technologies. I’ve long believed that my work, such as it is, with digital rights groups isn’t about winning. I’ve personally had the might of the copyright lobby brought down on my mid-level policy career once or twice so I know it’s David and Goliath stuff, except that David actually won. But I’ve never expected us to win, just hoped to drag things out long enough and get the message out to sufficient people that future generations might have just enough time and resource to build or re-build an open, competitive, interoperable and liberatory Internet.

(I show both my age and politico/technological leanings by still insisting on capitalising Internet.)

So as far as I’m concerned, all of liberatory tech policy is a Hail Mary pass to the future. And that’s just fine. I find it healthy for a variety of reasons to not automatically centre myself at the victorious end of the narrative arc.

What happened today with the Copyright Directive is horribly disappointing because it just foreclosed a fucktonne of future possibility. It will do what the telcos failed to; re-engineer the Internet as a technology for rent extraction, but – a tiny bit pleasingly – by telcos’ first big enemies, the IP lobby. And it does so in a way that locks in Big Tech, specifically Google (the only firm with big and fast enough upload filter capability which it will be only too happy to license to your mid-size start-up, for a very reasonable price), as the only companies that will semi-comfortably be able to comply. (And the ‘carve-out’ for SMEs is 3 years, so once they’re launched but pre-IPO, they’ll have to comply. The kill-zone just got deeper.)

People who would launch new companies and services, and the citizens who would use them and also use the Internet to rip, mix and burn, will all be cut off at the knees by this directive, but they’re not reflected in the political outcome. 5 million may have signed petitions, and a couple of hundred thousand marched – mostly in Germany – but their vision of the future did not find purchase. (The next time the European Parliament complains that no one pays attention to them, please tell them to get off your doorstep as you’ll be voting for the Pirate Party.)

It’s the temporal collective action problem; the larger numbers of people who will suffer harm will suffer it in the future, and the select few who gain the most will do so more or less immediately. It’s the same problem that’s abolishing our future via climate breakdown and also, I believe, with how we are failing to conceive of migration. It’s not that the democratic policy process is broken, just that it is now incapable of solving the longer-term, more complex ‘wicked problems’ we are increasingly asking of it.

In a smaller but really cutting way, I saw this in something else that popped up on my radar today; the Guardian’s story about how ‘poor doors’ – separate entrances to apartment buildings for social housing tenants to owners – have evolved into financially segregated playgrounds within the same housing developments. (Bring yourself up to speed on it here.)

I went to an open evening a couple of years ago for a different development in Lambeth, the Oval and Kennington Development Area (OAKDA). Looking closely at the plans the developers, Berkeley Homes were displaying, I had to check and double-check what I was seeing. Some of the social-housing (mandatory numbers of dwellings built by the developers to be managed by housing associations for people on lower incomes) appeared to be looking onto a square with a playground, but with no physical access to it. Long story short, I asked the official reps, and they confirmed that kids from poorer families would grow up looking right onto play areas they were forbidden from using. They said the housing association wanted it this way, because they’d be eligible for maintenance fees if any of the poorer children got to use the fun stuff.

(I mean for goodness sake, in Dickensian terms, at least the servants’ entrance was an entrance, but these kids are completely barred.)

To my discredit, I just filled in the feedback form asking incredulously if the developers really planned to do something so Dickensian, and left it at that. I know a couple of councillors but I didn’t bring it up with them. Nor did I write to Lambeth Council to query whether they were going to give a planning ok to the development. Today’s it’s in the news, with Lambeth Council robustly saying they never ok’ed playground apartheid for another development, but studiously ignoring my questions about the OAKDA one. For my part, it’s all too little and too late – if I’d prodded and complained, maybe that might have nudged things a little, and I did not.

In twitter chats today, someone else confirmed that the housing associations, the organisations responsible for the social housing, would not have wanted to be stung for maintenance fees for these playgrounds. So essentially everyone involved in the planning process – the council who want to get even a fraction of social housing built, and whose ability to do that via planning law has been savagely curtailed by the Conservative government – the developer who just want to maximise profit and minimise ongoing costs, and the housing association, who want to minimise future costs; all of them were basically fine with this. The people who were not part of the stakeholder process – the actual humans who will live there – were not involved. And, just as Victorian husbands were a lousy, self-dealing electoral proxy for the welfare of Victorian wives, no one present had the backs of the future residents.

(Dickens was of course among the shittiest of Victorian husbands, trying to have his inconvenient wife incarcerated in a mental institution, so perhaps calling this sort of thing Dickensian is more on the nose than we realise.)

On the one hand, of course, this self-dealing planning process is just how stuff works, and is merely a mildly dysfunctional horizontal power-game that happens to look really bad once its outcome is spit up on the pages of a newspaper. And also, stakeholder processes are highly contingent on who gets construed as a stakeholder and the power dynamics of how much anyone is prepared to listen. But the problem with planning processes isn’t just about who’s more powerful now, but that they are wholly captured by the current desires of the current disposition of players. Future residents aren’t part of the picture, and this goes further than the usual nimby-ism. Planning in this sense is not planning. It is merely the imposition of the wishes of present winners onto future subjects.

So what do we do?

Well, we need to massively raise our game on how to make decisions that don’t screw over people of the future. And look, I worked for ICANN for five years, including its somewhat infamous nominating committee. I know from processes that made sense to everyone involved and the minute the sun shone on them everyone else was all ‘You fking WHAT..?’ We all sometimes wish we had a time machine.

Though, we kind of do have a time machine – it’s the whole ‘how would this look on the front page of a newspaper tomorrow morning?’ trick every policymaker should constantly be asking themselves. Part of fixing this is just re-orienting our self-positioning – those of us lucky enough to be part of the process, that is.

And for the rest of us? Well, clearly, nineteenth century institutions are failing really really badly at dealing with technically and temporally complex issues. Does the vote of one set of people bind all future voters? You don’t have to watch Prime Ministers Questions to realise the way the UK is wrestling with that is toxic.

Citizens’ assemblies are one model that’s trying to do the work of figuring out multi-positional answers to temporally displaced wicked problems. They’ll likely do a lot better than the combative, reductive two-sided model that the increasingly deranged FPTP countries have locked themselves into. Ireland famously figured out abortion with one such assembly, but is finding it a lot harder to look at aging and social care with another. Horizontally contested issues are more amenable to deliberative democracy than temporal zero-sum games. But the deliberative approach is currently the best we’ve got.

Right now, we are abolishing the future because we don’t want to look squarely at it or figure out new ways to make decisions that work its losers into our calculus. Thing is, even if our political processes effectively abolish the future, we’re still going to have to live in it.

{ 47 comments }

1

Brian 03.26.19 at 7:37 pm

Just a note that the artists have been systematically left out of the whole “It’s my right to rip, burn, and torrent ALL THE THINGS!” I know some artists. They have been pretty well screwed, blued, and tattooed by the rise of this “MY RIGHT TO PIRACY” pseudo-idealism.

I find it quite ironic that in your article that laments keeping out the stakeholders, the primary point of the article leaves out the primary stakeholders.

The idea that people pirate music, video and film because they can’t afford it is absolute hogwash. Just look at the stats. https://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2012/09/the-top-20-countries-that-illegally-share-the-most-music.html
Sort of like the US military budget, the USA downloads more music than the next 3 countries on the list combined. And not one poor nation is on that list of the top 20.
The most reasonable conclusion is that digital art piracy is an entitlement phenomenon.

2

Gareth Wilson 03.26.19 at 8:06 pm

There’s a very old comic panel that explains why discounting the future is good policy: http://www.suprmchaos.com/jwellwmpy14_mam.gif.

3

Neville Morley 03.26.19 at 8:34 pm

Briefly: yes, totally, and if it’s a choice between futural amnesty and impotent rage, we have to go with the rage and try to find ways of making it productive.

Slightly less briefly: I wonder – because of course it takes this over into one of my areas of research – whether this is just a matter of failed and inadequate institutions (manifestly that’s part of the problem, at least), or whether there’s a deeper issue that we as a species are very bad at thinking about the future. We can do tomorrow (hence your comment about “what the headlines will look like”), but then fall into vague assumptions of continuity for the medium term and self-serving speculation about anything more distant (especially prevalent in “history will be my judge” or “how will future historians write the account of these events?” rhetoric). The sort of thinking we need about future possibilities and how to respond to them now doesn’t come easily, so needs to be worked at much harder *and* we need institutional structures to support and respond to it…

4

Maria 03.26.19 at 8:35 pm

Brian, just as Victorian husbands were ‘imperfect’ bearers of their wives’ rights, intellectual property rights holders’ interests are usually very far from coterminous with those of creators. It’s a really unfortunate elision that grounds the MPAA’s lobbying talking points in the interests of the artists they are very often screwing. I say this not just as a tech policy person but someone who writes for a living.

Anyway, feel free to take aim at a bunch of points I didn’t make, but elsewhere, please – no thread derails here. The OP is about the challenge of using our existing policy processes to justly and usefully include the interests of those in the future who will be affected by our decisions. Let’s stick to that.

5

Dipper 03.26.19 at 9:11 pm

1. If only there was some way of getting out of the clutches of this big-business top-down autocratic EU and instead being able to vote in a government that could introduce more liberal and free trade laws …

2. Climate change – The UK is leading the way, with emissions now 43% below 1990 levels. There is every reason to believe that we can continue to cut emissions, and should Michael Gove get to be PM then we would have the greenest PM ever.

3. Social housing and gardens. This is very much a London thing with private gardens in many historic London squares. Looking out onto your neighbours bigger garden is pretty much a universal experience. I guess if you pay for your own place then you don’t want to pay for your neighbours’ place too. Why should they have for free what you spent late nights and weekends working for?

There is every reason to feel optimistic about the future. Progress is being made, wealth and life expectancy are increasing and problems are getting solved all over the planet.

6

Jim Harrison 03.26.19 at 9:17 pm

We’ve survived on letting the future take care of itself because economic growth and technological advancement have covered our improvidence. The conservative response to climate change and economic stagnation remans an exercise in cosmic Micawberism; and, to be fair, something did turn up before in several cases. Marx famously underestimated the productive potential of industrial capitalism to fend off the immiseration of the working class, and the environmentalists of the 50’s and 60’s didn’t anticipate the green revolution. Fracking staved off peak oil. The faith that some shiny marvel will deliver us from the return of Malthus is getting to be a veritable caucasian cargo cult. Maybe fusion power, nanobots, or a benevolent version of Skynet will turn the Arctic ocean into orangeade after all. Or maybe we’re just the guy who fell off the Flatiron building and yelled, “I’m all right so far” as he plummeted past the fifth floor. Obviously, a middle case is quite likely; but the fact is, we don’t know. Discounting the future does seem to be tempting fate. It’s not only an objectionable form of selfishness. It’s a bad bet.

7

J-D 03.26.19 at 11:49 pm

Dipper
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that if these problems were caused by EU membership, people would notice how they don’t exist outside the EU?
Here, outside the EU, that’s not what I notice.

8

Peter T 03.27.19 at 1:00 am

There are institutional forms that have been reasonably good at the long term. Two I know are the English system of land tenure in entail – each “owner” is guardian for the net generation, supervised by a board of trustees, explicitly charged to protect the capital. Downside is it concentrated ownership, upside is it focused attention on the health of the land, Notable exceptions being Ireland and highland Scotland.

Another is oligarchic states like the Venetian Republic. Very good at maintaining the lagoon, waterways and upland forests, through interlocking committees. Downside is a small oligarchy, often rapacious abroad. Upside is intensive training for promotion through service in environmental management.

9

Omega Centauri 03.27.19 at 1:00 am

One of the issues is simple comprehension. Details of changes to copyright law, not many people can read them and have a decent understanding of the likely effects. Similarly for global issues, like climate change, you have to be able to write detailed computer models, -or at least trust in the people that do. And when you set up a debate between actual experts, and expert hacks, how many members of the public can correctly identify which group is which.

So in the US when political candidates debate policy positions, its one candidates anecdotal story about one hypothetical stakeholder, versus another from the opposing side. Statistics and an appreciation for numbers never enter the picture. The media is no better, this morning the “news” was all about the newer breast implants and cancer, but never once did anyone say anything about statistics, its only X had one, and something bad happened to her.

10

Bruce Baugh 03.27.19 at 5:15 am

Among the many reasons not to take objections like Dipper’s seriously is this: all over the world, it’s ethno-nationalists and other right-wingers who most vigorously push these future-consuming policies. Not that centrists, liberalists, or leftists are anything like completely free of complicity, but the biggest, densest congregations of fans of corporate desire as law and the suppression of all divergent voices are all on the right.

As Teresa Nielsen Hayden wisely says, “Just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they’re on yours.” But when, inevitably, people like Dipper find themselves and those they care about just as much on the outside and just as disposable as the rest of us…hey, he won’t have to hear us say “We did try to warn you and to protect your freedom just like ours.”

11

faustusnotes 03.27.19 at 7:46 am

I have to deal with discounting in health and it’s an absolute disaster. Technically, the choice of discount rate is the single biggest influence on cost-effectiveness estimates, and theoretically there doesn’t seem to be any broader justification for any particular choice of rate. I’m pretty sure that if you applied the discount rates primarily used in policy-making to people’s individual lives, you would very quickly prove that they shouldn’t save for their children’s future – even though everyone does. It’s madness.

In health, if we had used discounting, I’m very sure we would never have decided to try and eliminate smallpox. Why waste all that money and effort, when 99.9999% of all the future deaths due to the disease are discounted to 0, but all the money and effort is calculated in the present? Fortunately the WHO was not so stupid as to fall for that logic, but now it is beginning to become a commonplace of policy-making. It’s not good.

12

Maria 03.27.19 at 8:56 am

Dipper, you’ve had one go at a brexit comment and that’s the limit.

13

Dipper 03.27.19 at 9:23 am

Maria ??? How can you post about a decision the EU has taken, and then limit discussion on the nature of decision making in the EU and possible alternatives to that?

One of the main axes of political discussion right now is planning vs evolution. Technocrats and professionals love planning. It gives an illusion of control and provides them with a justification for accruing power and using that power. But all the evidence is that evolution is a much better way of delivering a brighter future than planning. The snag is that you cannot plan evolution, hence planners assume nothing comes of it so it gets discounted. Planners cannot conceive that a world they cannot imagine in detail could exist and bring benefits.

The process of creation and selection takes you in all sorts of unexpected directions. If planners had to predict the games that people would play on open platforms, they would never have predicted Sonic the Hedgehog or Candy Crush. If the EU had to plan the future of popular music, you know instantly you’d never want to listen to a single bar of it.

Strangely, possibly uniquely, Faustusnotes is correct. You have to have faith that people can create a better future even if you cannot personally know what that would be.

14

Matt 03.27.19 at 9:56 am

Technically, the choice of discount rate is the single biggest influence on cost-effectiveness estimates

The great (perhaps the greatest?) utilitarian, Henry Sidgwick, argued that only a 0 discount rate was reasonable. (He might have been the first to really think hard about this, though I don’t know for sure.) That’s an extreme enough position that it’s hard to be sure that it’s right, especially for the very distant future, but the position certainly has something to say for it.

15

Maria 03.27.19 at 10:56 am

Dipper, most of your comment there is about future decision-making. Great, I’ve let it through. But no, I have to live in the shit that brexit made and I am NOT spending my days sorting through comments about it, so no derails, no brexit, no meta-discussions, end of.

16

Zamfir 03.27.19 at 12:07 pm

Is it really fair to claim future generations for one side of the climate debate? There are people who believe that climate change is of minor importance, can claim those future generations just as well. Same goes for people who believe that easy solutions will show up in time.

Even “discounters” can claim some part of future generations on their side. People of the future might be unhappy with discounting in our time, but they will want to discount their own future as well, and would accept our discounting as a reasonable trade for their own discounting.

If we want to count future generations as stakeholders in the debate, we will have to agree on their position in the debate. Can that really be done, without mostly repeating the existing debate?

17

Z 03.27.19 at 12:18 pm

An interesting piece, as usual. Unfortunately, I find it way too optimistic, despite its bleak tone. Specifically, the paragraph starting with “And for the rest of us?” suggests that our current decision making processes are flawed and the post further explains that they are flawed in the sense of discounting the future. However, I perceive a certain tension in the following passage (my emphasis)

And also, stakeholder processes are highly contingent on who gets construed as a stakeholder and the power dynamics of how much anyone is prepared to listen. [Planning] is merely the imposition of the wishes of present winners onto future subjects. Right now, we are abolishing the future because we don’t want to look squarely at it or figure out new ways to make decisions that work its losers into our calculus.

which hints at an another explanation. I think most people do look squarely at the future, and at the present for that matter. And they see that the losers’s side is and will be hell. So we are not abolishing the future, some people (which might include we for some values of that pronoun) are deliberately playing whatever advantage they have to ensure that they and their children will not be on the loser side, and if that entails that other children are barred from playing in the playground (or that expectant mothers will have to drive an hour to give birth, or that the ecosystem will be wrecked, or that 150 millions Bangladeshi will lose their country), then so be it.

In other words, the fact that our dominant mode of planning and superficially collective mode of decision taking looks like “the imposition of the wishes of present winners onto future subjects” is not a bug, it is its decisive feature and the very reason for its perpetuation. No amount of technical sophistication in our dealings with “technically and temporally complex issues” or of philosophical reflexion upon the conceptual groundings of society can remedy this fact, and change will not come unless we face it.

18

Zamfir 03.27.19 at 12:44 pm

Dipper, there is a large scale question how much we should do against climate change in the near future. I don’t see how ‘evolution’ is an option on that question. We do not have multiple planets to try various answers to that question. We can only plan to do more, or plan to do less.

If we plan to do a significant amount, then there are ‘evolutionary’ approaches that encourage many different options, and see what works. But the large question is the sticking point.

19

Frank Wilhoit 03.27.19 at 1:08 pm

“…our institutions have proven trivially open to capture by…” it doesn’t matter whom. The openness to capture is the problem, and duelling attempts at capture by incumbents and/or insurgents are not going to lead to better outcomes. Hardening institutions against capture appears necessary; only experiment would show whether it might be sufficient.

20

Jonathan 03.27.19 at 1:53 pm

The EU directive has been supported by, amongst others, the Society of Authors, the Musicians Union, the Authors Licensing and Copyright Services, the International and European Federation of Journalists.
If legislation is opposed by tech behemoths and supported by collective groups of those who work in creative jobs it shouldn’t be too hard to work out which side to come down on. Nothing here or in any of the other responses suggests that any great harm will from these measures.

21

Maria 03.27.19 at 3:50 pm

Jonathan, if you’re interested in engaging with the substance of the issues with regard to creatives’ interests, you could start with the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression:

“Misplaced confidence in filtering technologies to make nuanced distinctions between copyright violations and legitimate uses of protected material would escalate the risk of error and censorship. Who would bear the brunt of this practice? Typically it would be creators and artists, who lack the resources to litigate such claims.”

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24298&LangID=E

I know we don’t all have time to get to grips with every issue, but this one has been rumbling on for several years and with astonishingly heavy-handed partiality from the Commission and the relevant EP committee. The IP lobby very effectively parlayed wide and real concerns that ‘something’ needs to be done about Big Tech into ‘here’s something, do this’, and succeeded in convincing many in the EP that those of us who have worked on these issues in good faith and as volunteers for decades were a paid mob.

All they’ve done is strengthen Google’s hand as the main future supplier of upload filter licensing. None of the fair weather anti-Big Tech voices will still be around when it comes to changing competition law to actually fix the problem, for example. And many of the MEPs most loudly championing the IP talking points that ‘Big Tech needs to be curtailed and here’s how to do it’ were themselves in lockstep with Google, Facebook et all the way through the GDPR negotiations.

Checking off which lobby group supports a measure can often be a useful shorthand, but not in this case, I believe.

22

Z 03.27.19 at 3:56 pm

Zamfir Is it really fair to claim future generations for one side of the climate debate? […] If we want to count future generations as stakeholders in the debate, we will have to agree on their position in the debate. Can that really be done, without mostly repeating the existing debate?

Yes, exactly. To give one concrete and actual example, many people (on a given side of the income distribution that won’t be hard to ascertain) absolutely agree that climate disruption is actual and serious but are also convinced that cooperating (for instance decarbonizing the economy) in a multisided game of prisoners in which everybody else is manifestly defecting (for instance continuing or even developing extractive industries) is suicidal and that we owe it precisely to the future generations to defect in order to preserve as much as possible our wealth and power for them to enjoy or at least use when the consequences of environmental destruction will have become catastrophic (I have once had a very clear exposé of this rationale by a group of highly ranked military officers, but I think it has become quite common now that climate disruption is obvious for everyone to see).

The debate is not between the future and the present. The debate is between today’s winners against today’s losers (and as we are largely here on the side of the winners, it starts with us).

23

Anarcissie 03.27.19 at 4:17 pm

‘The EU directive has been supported by, amongst others, the Society of Authors….‘ etc. etc.

On the other hand, there is (for instance) https://questioncopyright.org/ . On the other hand, there’s no money to be made by not locking stuff up, so they’re not very big.

I think it’s interesting that people, 99% or more of whose work is based on previously-existing culture, want to sequester and absolutely propertize parts of it now that they’ve got theirs. I concede this includes many of the actual workers as well as those who capture profits from their work. I suppose it’s that incarnation of the spirit of capitalism in which the weak try to imitate the strong. As for planning and stakeholders, it’s the present seizing the past and the future.

24

Otto 03.27.19 at 5:04 pm

I have realized that many (most?) things in life are counter-intuitive. From Galileo and the ideas about inertia to the “Tradegy” Of The Commons, life doesn’t actually work the way many of us intuit that it “should”.

First poster Brian is just wrong. Artists (e.g., Cory Doctorow) have been front in center in the discussion. “Piracy” is not screwing the artists, it’s the media companies, especially when you consider that “pirates” have been found to be some of the biggest spenders on media. People who don’t “pirate” just don’t really care and don’t spend money on media.

Congrats on “First Post”, but you’re still just wrong.

25

nastywoman 03.27.19 at 6:51 pm

@
”Checking off which lobby group supports a measure can often be a useful shorthand, but not in this case, I believe”.

”The Society of Authors, the Musicians Union, the Authors Licensing and Copyright Services, the International and European Federation of Journalists” – are not ”lobby groups” –
I believe? –
and like so many things – nowadays – the perspective about who is abolishing whose future seems to depend on what your – and your and your future depends on?

My future depends on getting payed for my work – while at the same time I really like my privacy – and who allowed some – thing like ”google” -(or any other Data-Collectors) to make money with my data on something called ”the Internet”? –
Not me –
and after currently talking to a lot of Americans whose future is completely ruined by the data – data collectors have collected -(mainly about their financial situation) and I just don’t understand why there haven’t be any demonstration in the US (yet) about getting back ”Privacy”.

And it would be… nice… if this comment would make on ”the Internet”.

26

Dipper 03.27.19 at 10:27 pm

on climate change, a green economy is emerging faster than people had forecast. Michael Liebreich at Bloomberg New Energy covers this well, eg reducing solar electricity prices, and how forecasts have under-predicted renewable energy growth

27

eg 03.27.19 at 10:40 pm

I’m afraid that I don’t have a very sophisticated grasp of the underlying mechanisms at work here. Am I correct that a perhaps similar dynamic is at play in a situation with which I’m more familiar (follows the question mark)?

Which is that the only people I see giving feedback on the local official plan are even older than I am (and I’m well past my half-life), and their responses are generally that they would prefer no changes at all, but if there must be even the slightest that they be smaller and further from them than currently proposed (ie. the least possible height and densification). I just gape at them — they won’t even be around to experience the results, yet demonstrate precisely zero consideration for the toddlers and unborn who will!

“The imposition of the wishes of present winners onto future subjects” indeed …

28

J-D 03.27.19 at 11:31 pm

Dipper

One of the main axes of political discussion right now is planning vs evolution.

I think I understand what is meant by a topic of discussion or a subject of discussion, but if ‘axis of discussion’ means something different from that, I don’t know what it means. However, it’s clear to me that ‘planning vs evolution’ is not a major topic of political discussion. I can imagine somebody saying that it should be, but that’s not the same thing.

Frank Wilhoit

The openness to capture is the problem, and duelling attempts at capture by incumbents and/or insurgents are not going to lead to better outcomes. Hardening institutions against capture appears necessary; only experiment would show whether it might be sufficient.

I can’t imagine what ‘hardening an institution against capture’ would mean in any specific case, so I’d appreciate some examples.

29

Faustusnotes 03.28.19 at 2:01 am

It’s cute that in the comment after I mention smallpox elimination dipper says evolution is superior to planning . We had smallpox vaccine for 100 years and couldn’t get rid of smallpox. But 30 years after the WHO made a plan it was gone. Hmmm…

30

Moz of Yarramulla 03.28.19 at 6:09 am

The side comment above sums it up for me “there’s no money in X”.

We live in a system where money is the measure, and if there’s no net profit in something it’s very unlikely to happen, especially not on a broad scale. This is everything from public domain vs copyright or authors vs publishers to climate change winners vs losers. One billionaire vs Bangladesh… I’d fly there and look around now if you ever intend to, because the billionaire has more money and influence more readily available to lobby against global warming mitigation than any number of poverty-stricken muslim foreigners* has to lobby *for* it.

Just on that note, an awful lot of Bangladeshis are leaving the country and have no intention of choosing a carbon-neutral lifestyle. By passing the selection process that lets them leave they are rich enough to be part of the problem.

In a way the problem is that our systems reproduce our attitudes. Just as most people won’t save for their retirement if given the choice, most don’t care what sort of world will exist after they die. It’s not as though they’re going to be there to experience it, after all. But then… they do exactly the same thing to “future me”, by getting fat, not getting vaccinated, voting for short-term idiocy over long-term anything…

* to put it politely.

31

John Garrett 03.28.19 at 3:48 pm

I wrote the first major study of IP rights in digital environments, back in the early ’90’s. We never imagined that author rights would be ignored, as they are now — take it or leave it from publishers. Academic scholarship is the worst example: authors pay to be published, and the only way to get a paper online without paying ridiculous Elsevier prices is to ask the poor author to send it to you. How does any of this make any sense?

32

Phillip 03.28.19 at 9:21 pm

From an economics standpoint, anything that is digital can be copied costlessly, so the only point at which value really can be extracted is at the point of creation. Or, to put it another way, Kickstarter and Patreon are the only funding models that really make sense going forward for artists and other creators. Payment upon delivery, because after delivery it becomes a non-rival good.

From a future-world discounting perspective, and the evolution vs planning thing: Evolution means there are a few freaks and everything else dies. Sure it ‘works’, in the sense that something survives and thrives after, but planning is in almost all cases superior. (And hey, evolution is the default fall-back if planning fails, right?)

There’s an interesting case study in the way that Western US water rights are very heavily planned and parsed, but the assumption that the volume of water would always be more or less the same has proven false and we are seeing reality drift further and further away from legality. It strikes me as similar to the discounting perspective, in that a discounting rate is useful for evaluating debts and investments that can be written off, it is not useful for evaluating changes to physical realities. IE, if you have a farm field that you can get 25% more out of today at the cost of a 1% loss of overall yield, a discounted approach will get you a fallow field in about 100 years, because it is always worth more in the moment to take the extra yield than to extend the productive lifespan. This is, of course, insane from a societal perspective.

33

nastywoman 03.29.19 at 12:17 am

@31
”How does any of this make any sense”?

It doesn’t –
as ”Teh Internet took care of it” – the way F…-book and the Mrs. Huffingtons built their ”Business-Models” –
(if you can call it like that?)

Everybody gets exploited and everything is FREE on TEH Intertubes – and everybody works for nada!
-(with the exception of the business-models inventors)

34

Zamfir 03.29.19 at 10:02 am

@ Philip, I think you’re field example is not so clear-cut. It’s break-even discount rate is about 4% (assuming this is net yield of course, accounting for other inputs into the process)

On the one hand, 4% is notably higher than a typical low-risk, inflation-adjusted rate of return. If the field was (somehow) a rock-solid guaranteed investment, financial markets would go for the careful approach, and dismiss the temporary 25% increase.

On the other hand, 4% is much lower than companies use internally for business decisions. A company would mostly go for the 25% increase, and accept the 1% deterioration each year.

The difference of course is uncertainty – fields are not really rock-solid predictable investments, and nothing physical is. In a century, the field might lose productivity for other reasons than this process, so the careful approach is wasted. Or some development might show up that restores the field, leaving the careful approach just as wasted. You might go bankrupt in that century, or otherwise lose the ability to work the field. The market for the crop might disappear. Or the field might be sold for housing, making the deteriorated field just as valuable as the cared-for field. Etc.

It’s not “insane” to discount for such reasons. If anything, it’s usually a bad idea to base decisions on predictions that go decades in the future – especially when it comes to physical realities. And yeah, I think this applies to climate change as well. The case for climate action today should be strong – strong enough that it can absorb some percents of discount rate.

35

Orange Watch 03.29.19 at 2:45 pm

Phillip@32:
From an economics standpoint, anything that is digital can be copied costlessly, so the only point at which value really can be extracted is at the point of creation.

Not precisely true. Distribution still has costs associated with it, and while it may in many cases be possible for users to fully bear those costs (P2P), that does not guarantee availability. If availability is guaranteed, access and bandwidth generate overhead – and allow room for rentseeking middlemen to insert themselves to extract further “costs”. For that matter, said rentseekers can also insert themselves into P2P models if they are properly positioned to do so.

36

DAT 03.29.19 at 4:01 pm

Evolution? Evolution? I like the sound of that. I’ll go with evolution. Anybody have a spare million year they can lend me?

37

Antonin 03.29.19 at 8:39 pm

Z @ 17 has it right. This isn’t flawed collective decision-making on “our” part, but systematically oligarchic decision-making by capital.

As usual on Crooked Timber, there seems to be an intent to theorize above and beyond the vulgar political reality of our historical disenfranchisement. To stretch basic realities of power distribution into conceptual conundrums, I guess for the sake of longer and more varied blogposts…

38

Dipper 03.30.19 at 6:49 am

@ DAT. Evolution of ideas to solve problems, not evolution of the human race. The notion that if you create the right circumstances then through trial and error, and through competition, you will get creative approaches and solutions currently unforeseen.

I don’t know how many times this has to be said, but humans are bad predictors of the future. Particularly those humans whose profession it is to predict it. It is an egotistical mistake to think that because you personally cannot see now what the answer is, that no answer will ever be found.

39

Zamfir 03.30.19 at 9:46 am

Dipper, that still depends on “creating the right circumstances”. Afaict, that is even more difficult politically, than more direct action.

A green-leaning government can get a lot of renewable energy online, and those will typically survive when they are out of power gain. On the other hand, they can institute something like a carbon price and wait for solutions triggered by the price pressure. Creating the circumstances, so to speak. That might be theoretically better. But in practice , the main result of a carbon price is a lot of lobbying to get it removed again, or to get exemptions. Evolution likes such short-cuts…

And even well-meaning carbon emitters know that the price will be lowered again by a future less-green government, and that their investments in lower emissions will then go down the drain.

That is where the current interest in direct action comes from. One or two decades ago, there was much more enthusiasm for evolutionary, let-the-market-solve-it approaches. But there is a strong political faction that does not want any climate action . Neither evolutionary or planned or bottom-up or faith-inspired or whatever brand of action. And “create the circumstances” approaches are easily scuttled by that faction.

40

DAT 03.30.19 at 11:09 am

Dipper @38. I concede the topic is not biologic. I brought biology in to stress the part of “evolution” that is so often ignored. That is, evolution supposes time, and lots of it. To illustrate the futility of planning, some say “a camel is a horse produced by a committee.” This is always good for a guffaw, but it elides the fact that a camel is a solution to a problem first posed 40 million years ago.
Dipper, when I read your last sentence, I hear an argument for planning. Is your position that we should not plan? certainly this is not either or?

41

Dipper 03.30.19 at 8:42 pm

@ DAT – “Dipper, when I read your last sentence, I hear an argument for planning. Is your position that we should not plan? certainly this is not either or?”

Well, if we look at tech start-ups as an example, producing stuff requires organisation and direction, so none of them will succeed with a plan. The plan is necessary for success but does not predict success. We don’t know which, if any, will succeed, and most of them will fail.

A chance to mention The mind of The Strategist by Kenichi Ohmae. It makes lots of good points about predicting outcomes and innovation versus analysis mindset, or that’s what my memory of reading it 20 years ago informs me.

42

J-D 03.31.19 at 2:21 am

Just as most people won’t save for their retirement if given the choice, most don’t care what sort of world will exist after they die. It’s not as though they’re going to be there to experience it, after all. But then… they do exactly the same thing to “future me”, by getting fat, not getting vaccinated, voting for short-term idiocy over long-term anything…

http://thepaincomics.com/weekly090218.htm

43

Sebastian H 03.31.19 at 3:16 pm

The problem shows up in housing policy at least in places with strong city level governments. The locals get to vote on housing policies that damage the interests of people outside the city, and even in very liberal cities do so on a regular basis.

44

Orange Watch 03.31.19 at 10:53 pm

Dipper@41:

Well, if we look at tech start-ups as an example, producing stuff requires organisation and direction, so none of them will succeed with a plan. The plan is necessary for success but does not predict success. We don’t know which, if any, will succeed, and most of them will fail.

Something like 90% of tech startups fail. That’s very inefficient and an awful lot of lost resources and risk. Planning mitigates risk. You seem to be calling for “evolution” as the ne plus ultra of efficiency, but you’re ignoring the real cost of failure, just as you’re ignoring that “planning” typically involves the hedging of bets rather than cutting corners. And despite framing everything good as evolution, you don’t even seem to understand the nuances within that concept; you seem to envisage all “evolution” as occurring according to r-strategy reproduction. Humans as a species, OTOH, are K-strategy. And when talking about collective resources and collective decision-making, it makes sense for us to look to K-strategy over r-strategy. We cannot run 1,000,000,000 different large-scale social experiments in parallel in hopes of finding the optimal outcome. Not least because we’re going to find 1000 (or 1,000,000) different solutions which may be radically different, which may be utterly incompatible, which may be optimized for radically different ideas of “optimal”, and (most importantly in terms of the post) which will have different scopes and thus are able to offset costs via different conceptions of externalities.

45

J-D 04.01.19 at 12:21 am

Just as most people won’t save for their retirement if given the choice, most don’t care what sort of world will exist after they die. It’s not as though they’re going to be there to experience it, after all. But then… they do exactly the same thing to “future me”, by getting fat, not getting vaccinated, voting for short-term idiocy over long-term anything…

http://thepaincomics.com/weekly090218.htm

On the other hand, for the sake of contrast, here’s somebody who consciously thinks of some of his actions as being taken for the benefit of a future self (who he hopes will be grateful) and is explicitly grateful to a past self for a similar course of action (not in the comic, in the notes below it):
http://www.irregularwebcomic.net/1635.html

46

reason 04.01.19 at 8:28 am

Sebastian H. @43 – sorry, I have trouble imagining what in a concrete sense you are talking about. Have you got some examples. On the other hand, there are many examples of decisions being made at the wrong level of government – in both directions (i.e. too locally and too globally). There is an important discussion to be had about that. I think perhaps Steve Waldmann’s take on the subject might be a good place to start. https://www.interfluidity.com/v2/3036.html Also this site is always challenging: https://www.fresheconomicthinking.com/

47

reason 04.01.19 at 8:35 am

Moz of Yaramulla
“there’s no money in X”

This is true is a completely different way than you mean it here. Money Illusion seems to be the major diseases of our time. After all – where does money come from. It comes from two sources – one the government “prints” it (meaning that it increases it’s debt to the central bank) or banks lend money to people or governments (i.e. private liabilities – including future tax liability – increases). So the availability of money for certain things is essentially decided by banks (or bank equivalents) and governments. There is no money in things because decisions are made that there will be no money for things.

And to the extend that things “pay for themselves” because people voluntarily pay for them, that decision is only made by people with money in the first place. If we gave everybody money (UBI for instance) then such decisions would be made by other people who may well decide differently.

Money is always a means, never an end.

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