From the “Washingtonian article”: on the battle for control over Cato.

bq. Meanwhile, in the 1990s, the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies, in Arlington—which offers seminars and scholarships for students interested in libertarianism—underwent a change in direction that one former employee described as “the Shadow falling on Rivendell.” “[Charles] Koch, evidently beginning to despair at the prospects of achieving political goals in his lifetime, became obsessed with a quick fix and decided that IHS needed to have ‘quantifiable results,’ ” onetime IHS professor Roderick T. Long wrote on his personal blog in 2008.

bq. Long said IHS officials began feeding students’ application essays into a computer program that counted how many times the applicants mentioned libertarian heroes such as Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman—regardless of what they actually wrote. “Then the management began to do things like increasing the size of student seminars, packing them in, and giving the students a political questionnaire at the beginning of the week and another one at the end, to measure how much their political beliefs had shifted,” Long said.

In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You

by Cosma Shalizi on May 30, 2012

Attention conservation notice: Over 7800 words about optimal planning for a socialist economy and its intersection with computational complexity theory. This is about as relevant to the world around us as debating whether a devotee of the Olympian gods should approve of transgenic organisms. (Or: centaurs, yes or no?) Contains mathematical symbols (uglified and rendered slightly inexact by HTML) but no actual math, and uses Red Plenty mostly as a launching point for a tangent.

There’s lots to say about Red Plenty as a work of literature; I won’t do so. It’s basically a work of speculative fiction, where one of the primary pleasures is having a strange world unfold in the reader’s mind. More than that, it’s a work of science fiction, where the strangeness of the world comes from its being reshaped by technology and scientific ideas — here, mathematical and economic ideas.

Red Plenty is also (what is a rather different thing) a work of scientist fiction, about the creative travails of scientists. The early chapter, where linear programming breaks in upon the Kantorovich character, is one of the most true-to-life depictions I’ve encountered of the experiences of mathematical inspiration and mathematical work. (Nothing I will ever do will be remotely as important or beautiful as what the real Kantorovich did, of course.) An essential part of that chapter, though, is the way the thoughts of the Kantorovich character split between his profound idea, his idealistic political musings, and his scheming about how to cadge some shoes, all blind to the incongruities and ironies.

It should be clear by this point that I loved Red Plenty as a book, but I am so much in its target demographic1 that it’s not even funny. My enthusing about it further would not therefore help others, so I will, to make better use of our limited time, talk instead about the central idea, the dream of the optimal planned economy.

That dream did not come true, but it never even came close to being implemented; strong forces blocked that, forces which Red Plenty describes vividly. But could it even have been tried? Should it have been?

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