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The inadmissible assumptions

Underlying all debate on the future of the internet are a constellation of unspoken assumptions. These include:

a) Advertising is socially neutral or good,

b) Internet content provision on the internet is therefore best funded by selling eyeballs to advertisers,

c) Most people just want to consume content the way they used to consume TV or movies, and it's socially acceptable to orient the internet around this model (call it the broadcasting fallacy),

d) We can be trusted; it's Big Government/Big Corporations/Foreign Governments/Weird Religious Nutters/Those crazy guys with the opposite politics to me who can't be trusted.

Reality check:

a) All advertising tends towards the state of spam (which is merely free-as-in-dirt-cheap-and-unregulated advertising),

b) Funding content via ad sales holds our public arts hostage to a boom/bust bubble economy. Furthermore, there is an incentive for web publishers to prioritize paid ads over editorial content, and to censor editorial content that threatens advertizing revenue,

c) The idea that "most people only want to consume" is profoundly offensive and serves the interests of abusive "producers" who tend towards rent-seeking (see the MPAA for a worked example—most notably in how they run the film classification system in the USA),

d) Nobody can be trusted. (See also when Google turned evil.)

264 Comments

1:

I'm not sure assumption (c) is as widely held as you think. Some of the biggest businesses on the Internet are built on the assumption that the public want to be creators (and consumers)- YouTube is the obvious example, but even social networks leverage this to a lesser extent (users create content to draw in more users, along the way, datamine profiles and target ads and voila, a revenue stream).

I am looking forward to seeing a much smarter businessman blow the advertising model out of the water. I don't even understand how ad-supported sites even stay afloat, but then again, I block ads entirely.

2:

The alternative being paywalls?

3:

And one of the pressures is that on the 'net, everyone wants everything for free.

(When it comes to commercial TV with 15 minutes per hour of ads, I'm starting to cost my time in there. Even at minimum wage, it's expensive. c.f the game Skyrim, from which I've got nearly 300 hours so far, for an outlay of £30, and not an ad in sight excepting the occasional passer-by attempting to persuade me into their shop.)

4:

There's the challenge: how do you provide free services and still make money, without delivering advertising? I don't know what the solution is, but it's a solvable problem.

5:

People don't show any signs of wanting to pay for content either... so, if advertising isn't the vehicle for content creators to get paid, what is?

6:

Or compulsory licensing. Or abolition of copyright and its global replacement by some other mechanism.

I am not trying to propose a better system here; I am merely trying to raise awareness of the flaws of the current one.

7:

The incentive problem (b) is already happening with mass media. So nothing will change on that front.

8:

Supplier lock-in is when a business accidentally commits to using a particular supplier. After they're committed, the supplier can raise prices and extract all the profit.

The problem with micropayments (one of the problems) is that content providers are locked-in to ISPs, and ISPs are extracting as much of the value of the internet as they can (given that they currently have limited traffic shaping capability).

In order to get a better internet, we might need something like mesh networking or some sort of cryptographic barrier enforcing net neutrality and serious competition for the last mile.

9:

The incentive problem (b) is already happening with mass media. So nothing will change on that front.

The fact that your cynical fatalism is shared by so many people is a big part of the problem.

10:

What makes you think "competition" is the solution?

The market doesn't solve everything.

The internet has an infrastructure layer that may well work best as a natural monopoly, like drinking water/sewage/gas mains. Attempts to marketize natural monopolies usually result in them costing more (there are more profit-seekers between your wallet and whatever utility you're paying for).

11:

(I am thinking that Capitalism is a big part of the problem here, not the solution.)

12:

Capitalism may be part of the problem, but all the current alternatives to it seem worse.

13:

A solution I've seen is to use free content to bring in eyeballs then run ads for your paid content (this blog is an example, though I somehow doubt our host will go bankrupt from shutting the blog down).

This has its own problems of course, it means art tends toward the merchandizable, and it sometimes encurages some truly crappy products, so it (hopefully) won't be the whole solution.

Though any solution other than paywall (which I don't think can work) likely means the dealth of a lot of companies and careers. Advertising on the net is worth crap compared to old media, and corporations in particular can't adapt (not because they're unwilling or uncreative, though they are, but because the economy is structured around a demand to not just turn a profit but a bigger profit).

14:

So the obvious answer is that we need better alternatives, isn't it?

I have a few tenets for economies:
1) Economies exist to move value from sources to sinks- providers of value may be factories, authors, programmers, etc., and sinks are anything that extracts that value- again factories (consuming the raw materials to produce finished goods), consumers, etc.
2) An economy is "energetic" if its sources are capable of producing enough to saturate its sinks.
3) An economy is "practically efficient" if its sinks are fully saturated.

Things like "ownership" and "property" and "wealth" are utterly irrelevant. Capitalism and communism and their various flavors try to address the systems flows I outlined above by dealing with irrelevancies.

I'd argue that western economies mostly are at the threshold of #2- they either are truly post-scarcity or are verging on it. Because of the losses in our economy, it's difficult to actually measure true productive capacity.

Also, "practically efficient" is not to be confused with "efficient"- an economy might have a high degree of systemic losses that reduce its efficiency, but if our productive capacity exceeds our consumptive capacity by an amount greater than those losses, our economy is efficient (or equitable) in practice.

15:

Perhaps the problem underlaying (a) is neatly stated by an old aphorism that my father used to quote frequently: We know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Everything in our (Western) lives is so monetized and driven by cost, that when we're offered something for "free" the majority of people simply won't look at the fine print or think beyond first-order consequences. I would be surprised that if you interviewed a hundred random people in any high street, that there would be more than a few that knew internet advertising can be and is targeted; and you'd probably have to expand your sample by a couple of orders of magnitude before you found someone who had considered the implications of that targeting (beyond the very obvious).

16:

The internet has an infrastructure layer that may well work best as a natural monopoly, like drinking water/sewage/gas mains. Attempts to marketize natural monopolies usually result in them costing more (there are more profit-seekers between your wallet and whatever utility you're paying for).

I seem to be much more of a free market kind of guy than most folks here but I long ago came to the conclusion that, at least in the US where I know how things are set up, the internet needs to be converted to something much closer to the power utilities than the current phone company or cable company that you hate or take a hike.

This would allow for speeds to rise based on demand, NOT based on does the local cable company want to fool with it rather than just hike rates until customers give up.

And in terms of power companies I'm talking about the well regulated areas, not the free market nonsense that some areas of the US experimented with starting about 15 years ago.

17:

I'm no economist or economic expert or anything of that ilk, but this feels a bit over simplified to me -- in that it's a fair description, but only from a very very abstract point of view.

18:

There's the challenge: how do you provide free services and still make money, without delivering advertising? I don't know what the solution is, but it's a solvable problem.

What part of free don't you understand. Someone is paying for it. Be it via taxes, direct cost allocation, charity, advertising, whatever.

Why is this a "solvable problem"? Because you really really wish it to be so?

19:

Maybe there should be an assumption (e) on Charlie's list: Free markets/capitalism/competition solves everything?

20:

Because there are products that a) generate profit and b) are given away entirely for free (Cory Doctorow's writing, various Linux distributions, etc). They all find revenue streams that are divorced from the actual product itself.

And really, isn't that what advertising is? A revenue stream that is distinct from the product itself. While advertising eventually ends up wagging the dog, turning the actual product into reader eyeballs, not content, few organizations actually set out to sell eyeballs. Usually, they want to distribute content and view advertising as a possible revenue stream to support that.

In any case, the question isn't whether or not non-advertising based revenue streams can be supported, the question is how can we scale them?

21:

OP.

a) Probably true, for values of "neutral or good" that assume that the advert does not waste the advertisee's time or cause offence.
b) Proof by assertion; nice one!
c) Compare how many views you get with how many unique commenters you get on a posting.
d) That is almost certainly true, with the note that if you actually are "Big Government" or "Big Business" it's everyone else who is envious of you and wants your position that can't be trusted.

#13 - I don't read author blogs by authors that I don't read.

22:

Surely assumption zero is that advertising works, or that it's cost is outweighed by it's benefits.

However if you consider advertising a virus, then people become immune - robust against the siren call. Either they block it, or explicitly ignore it, or count it against you, and your 'brand'.

Authenticity is *negatively* influenced by the PR arts, and that progressively becomes a truth in all things.

Once those with the purse strings realise that the RoI isn't there, the edifice falls. Have you heard marketing mathematics recently?

23:

Dirk Bruere @ 12:

Capitalism may be part of the problem, but all the current alternatives to it seem worse.

I have to ask - which alternatives are you thinking of, and why do they seem worse? Is this possibly because we've been at the receiving end of a century-long marketing campaign intended to dismiss any and all alternative economic models to unrestrained capitalism?

It seems to me that ever since the communist revolution in the former Russian empire (which happened a bit under a century ago), and particularly since the end of the second world war (about sixty years ago) there's been an irrational rejection of any system of economic thought other than unrestrained capitalism throughout the intellectual and political spheres of most Western-style representative democracies, and this has only got more extreme as the years have rolled by.

In the late 1940s, the 1950s and 1960s, there was an acceptance of some socialist economic measures. The dominant economic, social and political paradigms in most Western-style representative democracies accepted that the corporate sector did have to be governed by a certain amount of legal, economic and social constraints. It was an acceptance of compromise on the economic front. There was an accepted understanding that corporate entities worked for the good of their shareholders (who were a minority), and that governments worked in counterbalance for the interests of the wider population. It was understood that some services were better supplied by government organisations, simply to ensure continuity of service and equality of access.

However, since the 1980s in particular, there appears to have been a thoroughgoing rejection of this thesis. The predominant model of current economic and political thought is that making money is the only thing which matters (never mind things like providing people with homes, food, security etc - no, it's all about making money), and that the only way money can be made is via a complete lack of any sort of restraint on the corporate sector. Indeed, the currently popular permutation of this theory implies that any sort of restraint on the corporate sector whatsoever (be it through requiring minimum wages for staff; asking that pollution be minimised; expecting taxes to be paid on time; etc) is both totalitarian and criminal in intent, and definitely neither legal nor ethical in application. These days there is no acknowledged role for government in the economic sector.

I have some rather strongly-rooted philosophical and ethical objections to the whole "making money uber alles" trope in the first place (mostly, I suppose, because I've never made the sort of money where my paycheck stops being about survival and starts being about keeping score). Trying to articulate these in any sort of coldly rational way is difficult for me, but I'll give it a go:

1) "The love of money is the root of all evil" - or to use Pterry's phrasing from "Carpe Jugulum", evil begins when you start treating people as things. Monetarising everything turns people into things, and this is the beginning of evil, because we stop treating people as people (complex beings) and start treating them as something simple.

2) There has to be value outside money. I can't put a value on a sunset, or a price on a rainbow. I can't express my delight in singing or dancing in terms of dollars and cents. Some things lose all their value entirely when you put a price on them (childbearing, child rearing, sexual contact, physical contact).

3) "Nobody is an island" - we're all interconnected. Humans are social apes, but wide scale monetarisation of everything is an anti-social activity - it cuts those connections, and replaces them with price tags.

4) Competition shouldn't be cut-throat. This is another thing which is, in the long run, anti-social (in the sense that it breaks down the connections between people, and makes us less than we could be). Yes, I can want to be better at something than you are, but that shouldn't mean I want you to be terrible at it (what's wrong with us being at positions 2 and 3 on the ladder? Does it have to be all or nothing?).

5) Co-operation works better the more people are involved. But co-operation requires these social bonds that our cut-throat capitalist system, and the persistent monetarisation of everything that it spawns, destroy without thought. When it's considered to be "weak" or "silly" to help someone, who is going to be willing to help?

(It's hard for me to figure out the words to wrap around what I'm feeling and thinking here - the ones which spring most readily to mind are "it's just WRONG, damnit!", and I know that's hardly persuasive).

My point is: after at least a century of hearing from philosophers, from economists, from political theorists, from social theorists, from newspaper columnists, from television show hosts, from politicians, and from each other that only theory which "works" is Free Market Capitalism; are we really equipped to seriously critique and engage with alternative theories?

24:

are given away entirely for free

Given away for "free" and "free" in my mind are separate things.

Sidewalks are free by your definition as they are paid for very indirectly by property taxes or other tax revenues (in most areas) but no one is charged for their use. But I don't consider them free. Someone paid for them.

I don't think indirect payments for Internet "wiring" is a workable model. Especially if the goal is to make it "free" to end users. At least in the US with huge differences in demographics, population densities, and geography. I'm with Charlie on making it more like a public utility such as water or power. (Odd that Charlie and I agree on a government regulation system.)

25:

You're being needlessly pedantic. Nothing is truly "free", in the sense that everything is a product of raw materials and labor.

"Free", for practical purposes, means that the product is not its own revenue stream.

Ad-supported content is "free", by this definition, because the revenue stream is the ads. RedHat is free, because the revenue stream comes from support contracts.

Now, as an aside, there's a short story premise: a company that sells support contracts for narrative fiction. It plays like the credits-riffs for the MST3K treatment of "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank".

26:

You sound like you've been reading that dangerous communist anthropologist David Graeber!

27:

Oh, and I was not the one suggesting that Internet service itself should be free (although I would be in favor of certain nationalization programs). I was talking about content-generation and revenue streams.

28:

Unfortunately, I haven't. Yet... Must see whether the uni library has any of his stuff. (And whether I can fit in reading it around all the other reading I'm supposed to be doing for uni).

29:

My belief is that most advertising is evil: it is a deliberate and premeditated attempt at mind control, to change my beliefs and opinions to ones that are convenient to the advertiser. Therefore it's trying to turn me into a commodity, which is where evil starts.

I'm a long-standing Adblock user and it's made the internet a vastly more usable place. Every now and again when I have to use a web browser that doesn't have an ad blocker I am reminded just how appalling the web is without it --- the psychic noise everywhere as things in the corner of my eyes jiggle and scream for attention, deliberately trying to distract me from what I'm doing, is nigh unbearable.

(Isn't it fairly well known that psychological noise is a trigger for neuroses and sociopathic behaviour? Would the prevalence of internet advertising go any way towards explaining the way people behave on the internet?)

I don't watch commercial TV, either.

30:

Is this possibly because we've been at the receiving end of a century-long marketing campaign intended to dismiss any and all alternative economic models to unrestrained capitalism?

Unrestrained capitalism is not the only flavor of capitalism. And most people do not want it "unrestrained". Even if they think they do.

31:

"I have to ask - which alternatives are you thinking of, and why do they seem worse?"

Communism, Fascism, Theocracy.
And don't tell me about how XXX is better in theory, because it's the practice that matters. The world has not experienced a major system that is better than capitalism at delivering high standards of living for most people and also keeping the bodycount to a minimum.

32:

Unrestrained capitalism is not the only flavor of capitalism. And most people do not want it "unrestrained". Even if they think they do.

I agree. I also didn't say that unrestrained capitalism was the only variety of capitalism out there. What I did say was that it's the main one we're hearing about through our academic institutions, our economic systems, our political gurus, our media mavens, our social networks, and the generality of the world surrounding us. We don't hear as much about alternative theories of economic systems, we don't hear as much about alternative versions of capitalism. We certainly don't hear anywhere near as much praise for anything which isn't unrestrained, unregulated capitalism.

I wouldn't argue that alternatives to unrestrained capitalism don't exist. I would argue that in predominant WEIRD discourse, we're not as likely to hear about them or understand them without putting in a lot of additional individual effort (and let's face it, we're lazy apes).

33:

Dirk @ 31:

You mention Communism, Fascism and Theocracy as alternative theories to Capitalism.

I have a small problem here. As far as I'm concerned, Capitalism is (and always was) primarily an economic theory of organisation. Fascism and Theocracy are predominantly political theories of organisation. So in comparing the three of them, you're comparing an apple with two bananas.

Now, Capitalism as an economic theory at present appears to mainly be run alongside the "Representative Democracy" theory of political organisation (although Capitalist economics can cuddle up to Fascist and Theocratic politics quite comfortably as well). But it isn't a system of political thought - Capitalist economics treats politics as something completely outside its sphere of interest, and something which isn't worth worrying about (because the grand weapon of the big money capitalist is always bribery, which works with every political system known to humankind).

Communism is a weird bug. It's another economic theory of organisation, although it's mainly been tried on the large, exclusive scale in parallel with the Autocratic Authoritarian system of political organisation (aka Tyranny or Dictatorship). However, it also (under the label of Socialism) appears to run quite comfortably on the small scale in parallel with a Capitalist economic system, and also with Representative Democratic systems of government (as evidenced in a lot of European nations, particularly the Nordics). Possibly it's being used off-label there? I'd be interested in seeing what happened if it did get tried as an exclusive economic system alongside a Representative Democratic political system (since this hasn't been tried yet, we don't know what would result).

34:

Here's my take:

First, advertisers have a useful and important role to fulfill.

Second, too many of them cheat, instead.

The problem is one of connecting people that want to do things together. This is often a consumer relationship. I want a CPU so I need to find someone that makes the CPU that I like, because I do not have the talents to make CPUs. So, I am a consumer of CPUs.

Also, clearly, a 728x90 pixel leaderboard ad is not necessarily going to ever be the right vehicle for me to decide what CPU I want to get. But maybe I do not really want a CPU -- maybe instead I want a working computer. Or, maybe I do not want a computer, instead I want something that lets me play the latest bethesda game, or maybe I want a device that lets me share pictures with my closest friends, or maybe...

So, anyways, advertisers have a problem: they do not understand very well all the viewpoints that represent people that are willing to give them the stuff that they need to get their next meal. So, like anyone else with a problem they find something that works and keep trying that thing, as long as they get rewarded enough to keep doing it.

And that gives us stuff like the robo-ads that are treat advertising as a search space -- they put up ads, for really cheap, and invest further in the ones that get responses, without much care for how people might understand them. These can wind up being deceptive and annoying and whatever else.. awful stuff that has no business being on any site that respects its viewers.

So, anyways... there's a tremendous amount of ignorance about advertising (especially on the part of advertisers), which ruins it for everyone.

And I do not know the cure here. It would be nice if people stopped sending money to the people that put up those awful ads. But I suspect that we need better examples, so that everyone else can either (a) try copying the better examples, or (b) go out of business because the people doing the better examples are getting it all.

And, my idea of "better" seems to me to be something like a college (or maybe grammar school) presentation for information stuff, and an art house for aesthetics. Of course, what I am going to get is probably a televangelist's dedication to facts and the aesthetic sensibilities of prime time television. But what can you do?

35:

Er, you can have a Fascist or Theocratic society that is also capitalistic. No-one has ever tried true Communism with more than about 200 people.

36:

We appear to be broadly in agreement, except that in Para (4) you're discussing a mixture of (Totalitarianism and State Capitalism) and not Communism.

37:

There is something amiss if you have to posit the existence of a completely new theory of economics to explain how creators are going to make a living wage.

38:

2) There has to be value outside money. I can't put a value on a sunset, or a price on a rainbow. I can't express my delight in singing or dancing in terms of dollars and cents. Some things lose all their value entirely when you put a price on them (childbearing, child rearing, sexual contact, physical contact).

I agree that there is value outside of money.

But sadly, and I do not say this as a "the market will solve everything" enthusiast (because to describe my self as highly skeptical would be an understatement) but you can put a monetary value on all of the things you listed, bar, possibly, rainbows.

For example: views of sunsets count towards property values, hotel rooms and tourism; singing and dancing are entire industries in themselves. I've never paid for sex, but I've paid for massages, and though them well worth the price. The fact that it was a formal, commercial transaction did not cause them to lose their value (for me, personally, it enhanced it: it was perfectly civil and pleasant, and there was no awkwardness because we both knew up front what each of our roles where and what we were getting out of it). Child-rearing has been outsourced since well, probably before humans developed writing, and that it was done by someone was probably more important to those involved than that there was a financial trade off involved. And childbearing looks to me to likely become something more and more (perfectly healthy/fertile) women opt to pay other women to do either so they can enjoy uninterrupted careers or avoid the physical risks, but I doubt they'll value their children less than, say, the fathers of said children will.

As I said. I agree that there is value outside of money. And to similarly quote Mr. Prachett (this time from Making Money) "What's more valuable than gold?" "Practically everything. You, for example. Gold is heavy. Your weight in gold is not very much gold at all. Aren't you worth more than that?... The world is full of things worth more than gold... Good heavens, potatoes are worth more than gold!... If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what would you prefer, a bag of potatoes or a bag of gold?"

The problem, I think, isn't that most people don't understand that there is value outside of money; I don't personally know anyone who doesn't. The problem is that money is a convenient short hand for value, and it's hard to work around. It's easier -- far easier -- for me to trade N euros for a massage than to ascertain something that the masseuse both wants and that I have, or to pay N pounds for one of our esteemed host's books, or insert anything here, really.

Even that isn't the problem, in and of itself. (Probably) Nobody collects money because they want it; specifically, we all want it for what it can get us, and many of us have a wide toddler-esque streak whereby if we want something enough we can justify, with a little mental judo and some cognitive dissonance, all sorts of unethical behavior to get it. And that sort of unethical behavior isn't limited to money, either.

I don't know how we fix that problem. I'm not actually sure it isn't built-in. As you point out in 3) "Nobody is an island" - we're all interconnected. Humans are social apes, but wide scale monetarisation of everything is an anti-social activity - it cuts those connections, and replaces them with price tags: we're social apes. And studies of apes have shown that they, too, trade social interactions like sex, and that the price varies depending on circumstances and provider.

Which isn't to say that I don't think we should try to fix the problem, or that we could never succeed. But in order to fix it, I think we have to accurately identify it, and I don't think it's just our widespread acceptance of creeping commodification/monetisation.

(It's hard for me to figure out the words to wrap around what I'm feeling and thinking here - the ones which spring most readily to mind are "it's just WRONG, damnit!", and I know that's hardly persuasive).

I'm wholly sympathetic. My instinct is that there's a large educational component to this whole issue. We may be able to pick out when something feels wrong, but that doesn't give us a language to discuss it.

39:

"I'd argue that western economies mostly are at the threshold of #2- they either are truly post-scarcity or are verging on it. Because of the losses in our economy, it's difficult to actually measure true productive capacity."

This is a falicy IMHO. What appears as scarcity to western consumers, an abundence of food, energy, cheap clothes etc, has external costs not comfortably conceivable in the day to day. i.e. the suppression of wages and conditions of producers. The increased productivity brought about not least by technology, means many of those now redundant workers are also left out in the cold.

Course I'm not a luddite, how could I be as an SF fan. But politicians, economists, least those we're exposed to in mainstream media, seem to be pointidly ignoring this built in problem of late consumer capitalism.

40:

I can see a significant benefit to partial deregulation of the data networks akin to what was done in some places with the electricity companies. Then again I also see that happening in many parts of the world.
Separate out the primary connections from place to place - the lines companies as it were - from those selling the product.

If the lines company is state owned, and treated as a common good, like the road network, then that removes some of the natural trend towards overcharging a monopoly. Competition cannot be banned though - if costs get too high, it becomes viable again to lay your own cables. ISPs can then rent bandwidth at set rates, and I would be reluctant to discount the biggest users too heavily compared with the small ones, as that benefits the incumbents against newcomers and big business against small.

The main difference with conventional utilities is that the Internet doesn't have many single points of generation a-la power stations. It's probably closer to the roading network than anything else - too distributed for rail, no central generators like power/water.
Put a simple fee down to cover maintenance of the existing network. Double it to cover investment in new cabling. Add half again for overheads. There's your billing structure.

41:

"The problem is that money is a convenient short hand for value, and it's hard to work around"
I think this captures part of a larger problem that also appears here: we can't measure every aspect of a system, so we measure what we can and use those measurements as an approximation of the state of the system; the fact that the measurements are a heuristic to the state of the system soon gets forgotten, and the measurements are what gets cared about (see: GDP).
So the monetary value of [x] is one aspect of its true value, but it's the aspect that can be easily measured, and so that's what's cared about. And thus clear-felling ancient tropical forests, etc.

42:

At the risk of pissing off Charles with too many references (him not being my search engine bitch etc) a lot of the above consist of questions we are trying to tackle at Zero State: http://zerostate.net/projects.html
Moreover, we are trying to implement ideas rather than just talk about them.

43:

Charlie, one of the reasons I've always liked your blog is that it's NOT graphic-rich. I really liked the Internet of 1996, and HATE that it's been turned into something very like television, only more frivolous (if that's possible). If I WANTED television, I'd bloody well HAVE one! ;-)

More seriously, have all concerns over bandwidth gone out the window? I'm not talking about ISPs charging for it, but about the fact that it once wasn't reckoned to be limitless. Has something changed?

44:

I see a lot of people asking "How can it be free, then?" Why does it have to be? What's wrong with producing real value in the world, and accepting money in return for realizing that value? I don't know why internet "businesses" are so damn afraid of that, but I think I do know why the majority of them at any given time are going out of business...

I can think of only a handful of services that produce real value and are reasonably free (Google search, for example; suddenly making a search engine paid would have destroyed them given the precedent already set. But that fight is basically won at this point.) That being said, there are also quite a few sites that produce no real value, but make a lot of money off of advertising. I think of any shock-content site you can name, and most google land-grab sites with the goal of just stuffing the index with millions of pages.

45:

"The idea that "most people only want to consume" is profoundly offensive"

Offensive to creators like you and me, perhaps, but I see the consumption-oriented controlled-computing devices like iPhones, iPads, game consoles, and "smart TVs" flying off the shelves, the general public raves about and revels in all of it, meanwhile tech pundits are heralding the arrival of the "post-pc era."

I'd like to believe that assumption (C) is a fallacy, but Apple's balance sheet says otherwise. :(

46:

Hmm. Reality check (d) is true in a sense, but it's also the root of all the control madness that we get from large corporations and government crazies like DHS and TSA.

The subtlety is that both of these statements are true:

(1) Nobody can be trusted all of the time
(2) Most people are basically decent and can be trusted most of the time

The problems come when people only pick up on (1), and apply an "all people should be treated as evil" outlook.

There's a further perverse difficulty in the way people like to think about trust. The formulation that seems to come most naturally to people is "Do I trust this entity? Yes/No". The two statements above should make it clear why this is a bad question: both alternatives are very wrong.

47:

Re: 39. Should have been "post scarcity" of course.

48:

"The idea that "most people only want to consume" is profoundly offensive"

I think the profoundly offensive part is located in the word "only".

49:

the fact that the measurements are a heuristic to the state of the system soon gets forgotten, and the measurements are what gets cared about

An excellent point, yes. Maps are not the territory they represent.

50:

Competition cannot be banned though - if costs get too high, it becomes viable again to lay your own cables.

I agree in theory but the incumbents have a huge, very huge, advantage. In the US most areas have phones and cable. One of each. In nearly every situation both were given a monopoly at the beginnings of their service but now want to talk about how they took the risk to build the systems. There's not much risk when you have something people want and you're the only supplier in town. So now we have much of the US wired with phone lines and/or cables. And the wire isn't nearly as important as things like pole rights and such. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, etc... are all putting down fiber all over the place. And yes in theory someone else could also. But it would take them a decade or so to secure and pay for the rights to hand the cable on the power company poles or shove it under streets in new conduits or whatever. In many places there is no more space on the poles due to spacing requirements.

So what we have in the US is a duopoly. Pick either the phone company or the cable company. And both are offering very similar service at very similar prices. With what looks like a gentlemens agreement to limit data usage so as to not allow too many people to bypass the real money makers of premium TV.

So from what I can see it would take the typical bill of $50 per month for the typical home service to go to $150 to $300 before anyone could even consider laying new cable for service.

Now Google is working on another model by laying down fiber everywhere and subsidizing it via ads, similar to what they are doing with Android. But now we're back to the issues of "free" or low cost supported by ads.

BTW, during the dot com bubble a now non-existent company put fiber all over my neighborhood. Still there. Never been lit. Any one want to take it over and give me gigabit internet?

51:

Offensive to creators like you and me, perhaps...

I don't think the opposition of "creators" to "passive consumers" is very helpful. Where does participating in this thread fit on that scale, for example? "Creators" and "consumers" are two sides of the same coin - conversation and participation are the key features of the Internet. (Which is, in turn, why I think controlled-computing devices are a side issue. Programming is to computers as bicycle maintenance is to bicycles.)

52:

Yep, that is why I firmly believe the State needs to have control of at least a significant percentage of the underlying infrastructure. The state has a vested interest in ensuring that minimum levels of service are maintained across the estate, which gives you your commercial floor rate.

That being said, the US is not a good example - the split up of AT&T and the deregulation of the energy markets were both collossally screwed up. California is a synonym for broken energy markets.

New Zealand on the whole isn't a bad example for how to do deregulation, but falls flat on the internet side as the government won't justify the investment.
Korea is a good example of where a government did, with a good mixture of commercial and non-commercial internet providers.


Oh yes, if the now defunct company can be traced, you can probably buy up all the fibre infrastructure for a pittance and build a profitable small scale ISP on top of it - after all, it worked for Iridium where the billions of satellite investment was purchased for just 25mil.

53:

People don't show any signs of wanting to pay for content either... so, if advertising isn't the vehicle for content creators to get paid, what is?

People don't pay for content? Looks at the 1900+ DVDs on my shelf, the 1200+ books, the 400+ CDs, notes my girlfriend's NetFlix subscription, my friend's Roku... sure looks like paying, to me!

The problem isn't one of "pay for content"; the problem is one of perception. There's a perception that data on the 'net is worth less than the physical item. And, bluntly, it's true. The quality of downloads from Amazon and Netflix is terrible compared to physical media. It's "acceptable", but it's not good. And physical media doesn't suffer "buffering!" problems that you sometimes see on even the fastest 'net connection.

The industry has hyped formats such as DVD and BluRay for their picture quality; they've shot themselves in the foot 'cos the lower quality formats available online just don't have the perceived value.

In a similar way, print suffers. But we've had those discussions on this blog before, so I won't repeat them!

54:

For me higher resolution than DVD is mostly pointless. I watch most movies on my PC, in a small box maybe 600 pixels wide. I don't need hi-res, nor want it for the vast majority of crap. Only a very few movies are worth 1080p - a *very* few. Hollywood moved to BluRay just as kids moved to watch most stuff on smartphones. Apart from that, I would never but a BR disc because of the DRM crapware. The result being, if I want a hi-res movie on my computer I have to torrent a cracked version.

55:

We need to have FAIR capitalism.

In the US, we had a very brief period, perhaps 1950-1980, where capitalism came close enough to being fair for everyone to have good opportunities. The foundations of fairness had been laid down by Roosevelt and built upon by subsequent leaders.

However, capitalism, which was never perfect, has been getting less fair since the election of Reagan/Thatcher, and at this point the system is mired in an ethical sewer, worldwide. I don't look for help from capitalism without major systemic reforms.

56:
This is a falicy IMHO. What appears as scarcity to western consumers, an abundence of food, energy, cheap clothes etc, has external costs not comfortably conceivable in the day to day. i.e. the suppression of wages and conditions of producers.
Actually, for the workers now getting paid to produce the cheap clothes, gadgets, etc, it meant an increase in wages, not suppression. In terms of the wages and conditions, the people making those products are above the average in their society.

So some lost, but others (the poorer, in this case) won. It's not that clear if the result is good or bad.

http://web.mit.edu/krugman/www/smokey.html

57:

In the US, people who aren't connected to the utility grid (private well, septic system, propane tank) wield disproportionate political power in our system. Their phone and electric are provided at subsidized rates that they still complain are too high. The myth of self-sufficency permeates our whole process and identity. Subidized access to the information network will be construed as "deadbeats gittin' thar porn for free."

The social upheaval from a post- (or reduced) scarcity economy is going to necessitate changes in economic structure and civil identity. What can you do better than a robot or cheaper than your outsourced or undocumented competition? Most Americans are going to end up purely as consumers. Kress called them Livers, as compared to Donkeys.

58:

The question has been asked: how do you provide free services and still make money, without delivering advertising?

Example; which makes a small, but steady profit, which is ploughed back for "the good of the cause"
The London branches of CAMRA issue a bi-monthly glossy magazine, called "London Drinker". I've contributed several articles, & there shopuld be a jointly authored one in July on Foreign Beer in London ....
This mag. is paid for entirely by its' internal advertising of pubs, beer festivals, breweries etc.

Is this a model others could follow, or would it only apply to specialist niche markets?

59:

In the US, we had a very brief period, perhaps 1950-1980, where capitalism came close enough to being fair for everyone to have good opportunities. The foundations of fairness had been laid down by Roosevelt and built upon by subsequent leaders.

Sorry but there's a problem with this. From 1950 through about 1970 about 1/2 or more of our industrial output was exported. And over this time the people in most of those other countries decided they wanted to quit being our serfs (colonies to England in the 1700s) and demanded we invest in factories "over seas" or they'd find someone who would.

So now we're stuck trying to figure out how to make our economy work for mostly ourselves and a few exports and doing a lousy job at it.

60:

Hmmm. I'm suddenly envisaging a model (currently constructed of very flimsy straw) something like a cross between the BBC and a fee-supported library system. The end-consumer pays a flat fee (possibly through their ISP) to a central provider for access to a wide variety of (ad-free) content; the central provider contracts or pays royalties to the content creators.

It's not at all clear that we could get there from here, or even that it would be good thing if we could, but it might enable content creators to be paid without resorting to advertising or fiddling around with subscriptions to hundreds of different paywalls.

61:

I think David Graeber had a point when he noted that capitalism does best when it has a foe or a challenge, and worst when it's all by itself. At the turn of the 20th Century, anarchism sprang up in part due to the abuses of capitalism, and in part because there was no other system around.

First off, I think we can agree that the current model of capitalism, predicated on unlimited growth, is unsustainable. When we're affecting ocean and atmospheric chemistry through this model, it's a good sign that it's not going to last. That's the ecological limit part: we can't all look like the US, nor can we all look like China. There's not enough resources for either model.

Second issue is that Capitalism isn't 100 years old. It started with the British East India Company, and it has long been associated with big states, militarism, slavery (or slavery-like conditions), a trade in drugs (sugar, alcohol, tea at first, opium later, and now the whole mix of other products) and so on. The rise of a middle class who thinks that everyone should have a living wage--that's new.

Capitalism first ran into serious problems when it had finished conquering the world around 1900-1910. The rise of Russian-style communism gave it a foe to fight until the mid 1980s, and now we're running on the fumes of the war on terror. You can see the potential war on Iran (or with...eek!...China) as the same drumbeat of strengthening capitalism by giving it a war to fight, where the opponent is seen as worse than capitalism is.

The fascinating thing is that, if capitalism has no opponent, everybody who's not in the 1% starts getting repelled by its excesses and trying to figure out a better way to live. To me, this suggests that the way capitalism will collapse is when it runs out of enemies. In other words, if you want to bring the Great Satan down, kowtow to it. Don't fight it. Just have some quiet alternatives bubbling away inoffensively in, say, small towns in the English countryside (that's a shout-out to the Transition Movement, incidentally).

Interesting point that Graeber made, and I'm not sure if I believe it. He says (based on what evidence?) that standards of living improved from the late Roman Empire to the Medieval period. I assume he means that, when you look at the average life of a latifundia slave vs. the life of a medieval peasant, the peasant has it better in many ways. He may be right.

That leads me to wonder whether the ultimate irony would be that the fall of the American Empire would actually raise average living standards across the globe. That would suck hard for those of us who are middle class Americans, but given our fears of global apocalypse, it would be deeply ironic if the feared crash left most people across the world better off.

62:

I think there's an assumption that lies behind Charlie's top post, and I'd like to examine that assumption:

Privacy.

Let's face it, we all have things we need to keep private. (And I do mean "need" not "want.") Homosexuality, an enjoyment of "perverse" sexual pleasures, polyamory, religious ideas, our race or gender, political views, who we work for... I'd guess that 60-70 percent of the people reading this post are involved in something which a large, well-funded political party, possibly connected with their employment, would like to make illegal. Note that "making something illegal" really translates to "we would like to hire government-paid thugs to hurt you for engaging in these behaviors."

Why is privacy necessary? Privacy is necessary because of assholes. I'm not worried that Google will know everything about me. There are some real advantages to having Google know everything about me. My real worry is that some asshole will get ahold of information I don't want an asshole to have.

So is privacy the really important thing here? Is Google evil because they amass information about me, or because they sell my information to jerks? If every asshole died tomorrow, would I need privacy at all? Maybe I could let it all hang out and enjoy life when someone comes up to me at the mall and says, "Hi, I checked your Facebook page and I see you practice Santeria." *

If we had strong anti-asshole protection then the advantages of having Google know everything about me would so far outweigh the disadvantages that there wouldn't be any argument at all.

* I don't really practice Santeria. That's merely an example. And I don't use Facebook at all because I do value my privacy.

63:

It's odd to me that it's never mentioned, and therefore rarely remembered, that "the greatest generation", the ones that fought World War II and laid the foundation for America's dominance in the 20th century, were entirely raised in the Great Depression. This was a period of harsh economic circumstances, but it was also a time when communities and families materially supported each other. The bonds of trust were strong, and many of the survival mechanisms people used were essentially socialist. The New Deal may or may not have had a direct impact on the economy, but I believe (although I have no hard evidence to support it) that the New Deal's biggest influence was cultural, and people's reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

Those social bonds forged in childhood were only strengthened during the war, where literally everyone was involved, from rich to poor. More cynical works like Catch-22 notwithstanding, the war was a powerful force of social cohesion.

And here we have the internet, which is an even more powerful force for social cohesion, but people have this strange idea that the only possible mechanism for it's maintenance is capitalism. That inter-state highway system is a wasteful anachronism to them, and an inter-state information highway system is unthinkable.

In any event, I'm not worried. I have a great deal of faith in the power of people to a) be smart and b) trust each other. Things will work out - but they would have worked out better if we'd allowed a depression to happen in 2007.

64:

I agree with most of what you've said, but it isn't really germane to this discussion. From 1950-1980 the US had good banking regulation (Glass-Steagal) and good stock market regulation (we had a functional SEC.) There was large-scale union participation and the right-wing propaganda machine was still in it's infancy. Reagan had not yet gutted the regulatory agencies, and we were headed in the right direction where giving rights to minorities was concerned. None of this had to change because of the conditions which you've mentioned.

We did not have asset bubbles, there was adequate privacy protection, and the Supreme Court was fairly liberal and very inclined to protect actual human beings at the expense of corporations.

Was it perfect? Absolutely not, and I could give you chapter and verse about all the problems. But we were a much more rational, intelligent society at that point and we've really gone down hill since then.

65:

b) Internet content provision on the internet is therefore best funded by selling eyeballs to advertisers

Doesn't that assumption stem from the fact that advertising is currently the only workable micropayments scheme? If the USA's payments infrastructure ever caught up to the current century, alternative funding models might emerge.

66:

Capitalism is often a problem. The thing is, properly regulated, capitalism allows distributed provisioning. Most other systems that I've encountered fail miserably at this. OTOH, unregulated or improperly regulated capitalism also fails miserably. The amount of regulation needs to by dynamically matched to the amount of market share. Something with less that 1% of market share is probably safe to be almost unregulated. (Only regulations for safety of end-users, and not many of them.) As you approach 20% of the market share the amount of regulation needs to increase steeply. Anything over 66% of market share needs constant supervision by totally independent regulators who neither will nor have taken any funding from either the company or any significant investor in the company, or any close relation to them.

Please note that this would not only be expensive, it also doesn't happen. But it's not only monopoly capitalism that's a problem, it's capitalism that isn't properly regulated. In and of itself capitalism is a disaster in slow motion. Properly regulated it's quite difficult to beat. But it has an inherent tendency to capture the regulators...which puts it back into the disaster category. You touched on this when you had Manfred's automated nest of corporations assaulted by an automated nest of lawsuits. I don't think, however, that you can count on being rescued by an angel (the Italian government).

I could digress from here into the mess that is governmental regulations...

The problem is that I'm not aware of anything except (properly regulated) capitalism that doesn't end up with a monopolized locus of control. Capitalism, done properly, ensures that there is competition. Competition isn't all that nice, but it allows one to choose ones poison, as opposed to not having a choice.

A related problem is that decision makers are permitted to avoid the consequences of their decisions. This almost ensures that the decisions that will be made aren't the wisest ones, but rather the ones that are the (short term) most profitable. Proper regulation would need to address this. Also proper recompense to those damaged...which should be paid for as much as possible by those who decided on the acts which caused the damage, and by those who profited by allowing the decisions to be unchallenged. Including not only any legal expenses that are incurred, but also any time spent in dealing with the problems, and any opportunity costs. It's usually impossible to properly figure these, with both over and under evaluations being quite common. This is only partially the legal system's fault.

67:

"advertizing"? Are you the Scotish Charles Stross of, is it, Edinburgh?

68:

(It's hard for me to figure out the words to wrap around what I'm feeling and thinking here - the ones which spring most readily to mind are "it's just WRONG, damnit!", and I know that's hardly persuasive).

I've been learning a little about economics of commons such as the environment, and a basic proof that co-operation is better than competition in managing commons, comes from game theory. If you set up an iterated 'prisoner's dilemma'-style problem in which the choices are 'pollute' or 'don't pollute' for the two players, and the outcomes are a higher cost for not polluting (e.g. in paying for cleanup) but a dirtier environment for polluting, the results fall out thus:

A pollutes, B pollutes - both get ill - worst outcome
A pollutes, B doesn't - A gets a free ride until B gets discouraged and starts polluting
A doesn't pollute, B does - B gets a free ride until A starts polluting
A and B don't pollute - higher costs but cleaner environment, A and B have a higher quality of life.

It is obvious from the above that there are two stable positions, and that while co-operating has higher costs than not, the benefits are a better life provided the cost of co-operating doesn't outweigh the benefit and is seen to be equitable.

This result generalises into many situations, and to me as an atheist forms the pragmatic grounding for the observed result that acting ethically has greater long-term benefits than not.

In the case of socialist vs. market-driven economic structures, some of the benefits of the system don't immediately accrue to corporations or their shareholders, and so they are not willing to go to the expense of maintaining them - they 'pollute', or more properly avoid paying to support the system that supports them. The knock-on effect is that other members of the system, for example the individuals who make and buy their products, have less prosperity from lower wages, worse education and poorer health, and so have less ability to support the corporations and shareholders by buying their products and the whole system collapses in a heap, not immediately but in a generation or so.

69:

Free Markets + rapid transportation and large markets tends toward monopolies. Monopolies cannot be trusted in any area. The positions of control will tend to become occupied by those more interested in controlling than in doing the job that the positions were designed to accomplish.

OTOH, Free Markets work quite will in an area with a small population, and slow transportation. The prospective customers will know all of the providers, and have a reasonable idea of who they can trust.

N.B.: Corporations cannot be trusted. Today's trustworthy corporation may have a new management tomorrow. (For related reasons, you also shouldn't trust a government.)

This creates a problem, as there doesn't seem to be any organization that deserves trust. So you need to go for "relatively trustworthy" and try to figure an escape policy for when betrayal happens.

Consider that at one point ICANN was a trustworthy organization. Then it started becoming occupied by those more interested in personal power than in doing a good job. It hasn't been trustworthy for at least two decades now, but it's still mainly doing a reasonably adequate job. Only a few groups have been betrayed by it. Really. Mostly.

70:

I think you're confusing "capitalism" with "the market".

These are not the same things.

71:

Free Markets + rapid transportation and large markets tends toward monopolies.

A side-effect of the rising cost of resource extraction -- itself a side-effect of the monetization of, well, everything -- is that rapid transportation is going to become increasingly expensive in the not very long term. After all, if energy costs more ...

We haven't had our noses rubbed in this properly yet because we're still maturing our transport tech. For example, new-generation airliners, trains, and automobiles are all vastly more efficient than their 50-year-old predecessors (and incrementally more efficient than their previous-generation equivalents, enough to make the R&D worthwhile). But we're running into the law of diminishing returns and sooner or later efficiency improvements are likely to plateau while energy costs ... well, they're not going to go up indefinitely; but they're definitely not going to come down significantly from where they are now, in the long term.

Free markets: would be a good idea (in some areas) if they existed. Alas, regulatory capture militates against them. As it is, the USA currently has the best government that money can buy -- and it's only going to get more like that for a while to come. (The UK is on the same track.)

Large markets: well yes, but this omits the existence of small niche markets. Which in many cases exist because consumers have requirements that are incompatible with the mass market.

72:

Unspoken assumption a) "Advertising is socially neutral or good"

This assumption results in more second order problems than the proliferation of spam, which is certainly irritating and a drain on global resources, but isn't anywhere near as detrimental to society as some others. Of course advertising itself is a drain on resources which doesn't improve the producers' ability to provide goods and services or improve the consumers' ability to use them. At one time it purported to increase the ability of producers and consumers to find each other, but that purpose is made considerably less useful by the disintermediation of the intenet, allowing consumers to find producers (search) and producers to communicate directly with consumers (spam). However, it has never been proved, to my knowledge, that advertising was really cost-effective even in the peak times of mass communications.

The consequence of advertising that I think is the major problem for US society, one that is leaking out into the rest of the world, is that it reinforces the tendency of producers and distributers to see consumers as objects, and to look for more effective ways of locking them into product choice. This has led (and it may be that in similar circumstances it will inevitably lead) to the techniques of dependency-based products and marketing strategies. The producer concentrates on developing products which are physically addictive (tobacco, liquor, sugared treats and food), behaviorally addictive (anti-microbial soaps and deodorants) or psychologically habituative (increase in food portion sizes, high levels of visual and auditory stimulus in movies and TV shows), and the distributor concentrates on advertising that produces dependence in the consumer (use of fear of social disapproval, for instance).

Competition among producers who are all developing dependency-based products often result in arms-races where the dependency factors get jacked up more and more over time (examples: the introduction of increasingly addictive ingredients into cigarettes, or of sugar into processed foods). Aside from (what I would think would be) the obvious ethical and moral concerns over such a situation, there are long-term effects on public health, including life span, loss of productive work time, and the increased acceptability of the view of people as "users".

73:

Other reasons why there is a tendency to monopoly include:
Increasing barriers to entry due to improved technology and specialisation - a century ago you could start building cars in your garage with a couple of assistants. Now you need a few hundred million pounds. Same with computer chips, aeroplane engines etc.
Then there's the matter of regulation, which whilst in many cases is desirable, is often easier for a big company to deal with due to its many employees.
Then there's the cost of capital borrowing, whereby larger companies get it cheaper, so can swallow up smaller ones or outspend them and put them out of business.

74:

""advertizing"? Are you the Scotish Charles Stross of, is it, Edinburgh?"

Oxford spelling:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_spelling

75:

Also note: I sell primarily to US publishers. Need to be able to cope with US spelling and usage.

76:

I tend to use US spelling because it is more logical.

77:

OGH might want to check out project wonderful for an ethical ad network, it was created by the guy who makes dinosaur comics and it's pretty much filled with ads for more free creative work. In that respect I think it's failed because a real ad network should have some actual attempt to sell goods somewhere but if you like your ads to be 90% links to free content your readers might enjoy, it's the network for you. Compensation is proportionally small, of course, though some people with high traffic manage acceptable figures (by normal human standards, figures are no doubt risible for pro advertisers)

78:
Capitalism is often a problem. The thing is, properly regulated, capitalism allows distributed provisioning. Most other systems that I've encountered fail miserably at this.

I think CharlesH is right on the money here - Capitalism, like Democracy, is not a perfect, or maybe even good system, but it is the least bad option we have found that actually works with actual people in large enough groups that they don't know each other, like a nation-wide or planet-wide system.

I think any plans for the future of the Internet are best built on how best to harness capitalism to provide the Internet a bright future, as replacing capitalism successfully is a far deeper tar pit than building or maintaining the Internet.

There are plenty of alternative ways to fund content than by third party advertising.

The Internet makes the distribution of already produced content effectively free. (The marginal cost per copy distributed is very close to 0.) Since in an competitive market, the price of goods tends towards the marginal cost, the conclusion is obtaining a copy of already produced content must be free too.

What needs to be charged for is either scarce complementary goods that are made more valuable by the content (ex. tickets to a live concert, made more valuable by free distribution of the songs. Jonathan Coulton has done a good job of this.), or the content needs to be charged for prior to creation. (ex. Kickstarter)

79:

Sorry but I don't think a is held as an assumption by anyone, or hardly anyone. It might be used as propoganda/justifn - but as we all know that's somewhat different.

The fact is people have proved over and over again that they mostly don't want to start paying for digital content they have got used to having for free. Therefore, ads seem the easiest way of getting an income stream out of them. You have cart before horse.

Also most writers/bloggers/columnists are introverts who sit at home obsessing with screens and thus hate ads. Most people dont even notice ads - they dont even need AdAware. Ads are not in themselves pernicious enough to lead any majority lobby in the direction of paying enough to avoid them. As I've said before, Spotify have done best but only by slow leading horse to water then taking water away tactics that wont work for many industries eg books.

If you think paywalls work then fine. I dont think they do but time will tell. The points about how advertising drives editorial censorship are true but you have to find an economic way to get people to pay other than via ads before you can deal with that one.

80:

Our host has some interesting anti-requirements that can serve to help us illuminate some of our subconscious assumptions that keep us locked into the status quo. That being said, I think the important next steps are to specify a goal and a direction we can take now to move towards that goal.

What we want are qualitatively better ways to support people who create things. In the near- to medium-term we (most of us) live in Western-style representative governments with semi-regulated capitalist economies. That means that in the short term we need money to eat, but in the long term I think whether we have money as it exists today is somewhat negotiable and shouldn't be taken as a constant.

Today we *do* have several groups of people who provide things for free (free as in beer and free as in freedom) with no (or very few) strings attached and yet the people providing these things are not starving to death (as far as I know). I'll cherry-pick two examples that have slightly different models for supporting their contributors: Debian and the Linux kernel itself.

Debian is a non-profit which pays several core developers and maintainers to work on the project full-time and also provides hardware and bandwidth.

Meanwhile, the Linux kernel team itself is mostly a "political" entity. There isn't a single economic entity backing a majority of Linux developers. Instead individual developers are paid to work on different parts of the kernel by several for-profit and non-profit entities with either philanthropic leanings or a vested interest in Linux's success.

To me, both of those structures seem like a viable way to bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be with regards to supporting people who create things.

81:
obtaining a copy of already produced content must be free too.

Wonderful, so you spend 60 million dollars to produce a movie, then you get a single 20$ retail sale and that's all she wrote, your movie is now public domain! I don't think you thought that one through.

82:

An example of an alternative which still manages to survive: anarcho-syndicalism. It was pretty strong in Spain, and one of a whole family of alternatives to communism which, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik coup in Russia, came to be seen as part of the enemy.

In Spain the anarchists were a strong enough political force to be part of the Second Republic. I don't think either side comes out of the Spanish Civil War particularly well. The Soviet-backed Communists came to dominate the Republic, and saw the anarchists as as much an enemy as the rebels led by Franco.

Fast forward to the death of Franco, and the return of the king. The anarcho-syndicalist C.N.T. came back. It isn't a strong force in Spanish politics, but it survived. Some of the things they do are accepted elsewhere in Europe. German companies have workers' representatives on the company board.

I think there are some advocates of the free market who would point and scream if they were exposed to that idea. Is anyone saying the German economy doesn't work?

In America, the "anarchists" of the 1920s were the Al Qaeda of that era (and J. Edgar Hoover was more interested in catching them than in opposing the organised crime gangs which were developing). It is possible that the anti-Communism of the last century was more an unthinking defence of gilded-age capitalism than an opposition to anything specific.

Read The Communist Manifesto and the failings that are described can still be found in modern capitalism. Look up the Islamic concept of Zakāt, and ask yourself if it provokes that unthinking defence?

And all we need is for the free market to be a local maxima... Why do so many think that it must be the only answer?

83:

I am a creator, but I don't claim I am as good at is as Charlie is. I could put my stuff out through Amazon, and the process looks easy enough. But I would suddenly be entangled with taxation, and with dealing with the taxation systems of two countries.

It almost looks as though the system is designed to make it hard for creators to monetize their work. Though, looking at the quality of self-published material in general, I reckon that Amazon are trying to monetize their technology on the heaped foetid leakage of a public slushpile.

84:

But we were a much more rational, intelligent society at that point and we've really gone down hill since then.

You could post statement that on any right wing, fundamentalist Christian, young earth creationism, etc... head in the sand blog and get a cheer.

Government regulation was good in some ways. But not so good in others. And society had many many issues and in my mind was no way more rational or intelligent than today.

There was large-scale union participation

This was a part of the problem and related to the US manufacturing supplying the world. The unions acted as if this would continue forever and to some degree still do. (My wife works for American Airlines and the unions keep telling her they will get her more money than any other airline pays their employees whether or not AA makes any money or not.)

My basic premise is postwar till the 70s this world wide economic imbalance allowed the US to have a great run almost no matter how the government, unions, or large companies acted. When the rest of the world showed up everyone here started arguing about how to bring back the "good old days" which led to our current fights. Everyone seems to have a simple solution to the issues which ignore the core problems.

And yes I feel this does apply to the issues surrounding the Internet. Because there is so much myth about how the economics of the Internet work. Just like with our economy now and in the past.

85:

Lilian at #78 mentions the need for another funding method than adverts. I have read, perhaps on this blog, that the costs of doing small business online are too high, so that you can't just flip 5 pence into an electronic can without it costing another 10 pends or suchlike for processing fees.
There have been a number of sites, blogs etc where it would have been nice to pay 50 pence or suchlike after reading an article or two. Or whatever sort of price/ reading ratio yuo prefer. But we can't do that, it seems to be either advert funded or sign up for a year with your credit card.
So if some company could come up with an appropriate type of money or pseudo-money to use, that would be good.

86:

A microdonation scheme, perhaps?

87:
obtaining a copy of already produced content must be free too.

Wonderful, so you spend 60 million dollars to produce a movie, then you get a single 20$ retail sale and that's all she wrote, your movie is now public domain! I don't think you thought that one through.

No, you just failed to read the comment through. See:

or the content needs to be charged for prior to creation. (ex. Kickstarter)

I should probably actually say prior to release rather than creation, though in many cases it would be prior to both.

There are plenty of independent films on Kickstarter right now that were pre-funded, though not at the 60 million dollar level yet. Now obviously there is a transition period between where we are now to there.

However, assuming the average consumer became aware of it, I see no reason why Kickstarter-style funding couldn't give you the option to buy theater tickets or DVDs based on the trailer for a movie, and the movie would only be released when the pre-sold tickets and DVDs added up to the cost to produce the movie. (or a sufficient percentage of the cost that the producers would be confident to make back their costs, despite all the free versions we would currently call "pirate" copies.)

I'm not sure exactly how movie theaters would fit into this environment. Would theater ticket vouchers be one of the options at a certain pledge level? Would theaters themselves pledge at a higher level that gets them the digital equivalent of a film reel, based on their guess of how many tickets they could sell to see it?

88:

Calling the economic system used by the communist dictatorships state capitalism is extremely misleading, they were centralised command economies. Fascism was associated with another set of economic theories distinct from free market capitalism, namely corporatism and autarky. Corporatism favoured cartels and large monopolistic businesses while autarky favoured domestic production and consumption. Free market capitalism tends to favour free trade and competitive markets, with one of the functions of the state being to prevent cartels and monopolies from forming, or where a monopoly exists preventing it from abusing its position.

89:

I'm following trends on kickstarter with interest, but projects funded through it are still commercial in nature, when the project is made, the people who prepaid will get a copy with the various perks their funding level affords but everyone else won't get a free ride, nor will the Kim Dotcoms of the world get to monetize them without a fight.

Anyway, this is going off topic.

90:

Clearly we need a proper micropayment system. Clearly the banks don't want to give it to us, because they can charge various multiples of 10p per transaction as things stand. (Paypal manages to do something else.)

Some of this goes to stop fraud, and clearly governments are big on all sorts of anti-money-laundering lunacy which is expensive, and although in theory laudable, probably as crazy as much security theatre in practice. (E.g. did you know you effectively have to have a passport to own and live in a different house from the previous one because it's the easiest way for solicitors to comply with anti-money-laundering regs?)

In reality, of course, micropayments based economics would require many prerequisites including:

  • secure OS's which can be configured by the technically challenged majority.
  • proper locally based web of trust id for all participants, based on a real world ID say at the town hall, or Post Office or church or whoever wants to.
  • a clear understanding by governments that one can have multiples of these IDs, and that a warrent is necessary to force disclosure of who stands behind those IDs.
  • whole new suites of protocols for banking/agent management/shipping/identity management.
  • proper automation agents to handle this securely.
  • web browser micro petty cash cache management interfaces.
  • proper protocol suites to handle locale/import/export issues
  • proper automated government interfaces for sales taxes.

And probably lots of other things too.

But it could be done if lots of people were serious about it. I reckon that if the extraneous other things were stripped out the actual financial transaction itself should be doable for well under 0.1p - ideallly I'd like to see it at least an order of magnitude less.

If it doesn't happen, then things will probably be rather sticky when the banking system in the North Atlantic Countries finally grinds to a halt beyond any ability of the greedy fools in charge to prop it up. Of course they would argue that setting up a potenial alternative just makes its eventual demise more likely. But nobody takes their opinions very seriously any more.

Seeing as the London stasi have just brainwashed another set of home office ministers I can't see this ID thing flying easily either. Conclusion: we are unlikely to see a mainstream UK government which fails to pimp us to the oligarchs. We are the product. Plus ca change.

91:

Micropayments don't make much sense. What do you do that is only worth a few cents a month? Just the time to decide whether to contribute, and to register, is likely to be worth some dollars. Then there is the effort of tracking where you make regular payments, to avoid people siphoning off small amounts of cash.

Micropayments reflect the common fantasy that creative work is not worth much, and that its the physical representation which is precious (and now obsolete). That isn't true for most pretty or educational things.

92:

Just the time to decide whether to contribute, and to register, is likely to be worth some dollars.

Micropayments in one.

And the idea that knowing exactly where I spend my time/money is worthless to the micropayment provider is dubious. I can't see a provider being willing to do nothing with that information, but at the same time there's a limit to how many of those providers I'm willing to give my credit card details to. The cross-linkage from there to my browser doesn't bear thinking about. So when faced with flattr, I think "can I be bothered buying a Visa gift card and setting up a psuedonymous browser VM to try that? Hmm, no. Classic catch 22 - if most of the blogs I value were asking for it, I would be more likely to use it.

As it is, it's like the "my ebooks are available from 3 of the 20 main ebook sellers, with a crazy mix of privacy and regional requirements". So if I see it in a shop I use I will probably buy it, but unless you list one I recognise I'm probably not going to bother.

Likewise micropayments - unless paypal, Visa or eGold offer them, I'm unlikely to make the transition.

93:

I pay SKY £50 a month and I get to watch Game of Thrones in HD the day after the USA. And all those other shows and movies and whatnot. Seems fair to me.

94:
The problem, I think, isn't that most people don't understand that there is value outside of money; I don't personally know anyone who doesn't. The problem is that money is a convenient short hand for value, and it's hard to work around.


I suspect it's a little more fundamental than that - it's impossible to independently confirm the value of even quite commonly traded things. Not just labor ;-)

95:

I was thinking of advertising oriented towards specific communities, and made by members of those communities (geographical or thematic) themselves.

The only example I can think of is Project Wonderful.

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

The Wikipedia article doesn't tell you that the reason Project Wonderful advertising is popular among the Webcomic community has more to do with the mixed graphic and text savvy of webcomicers than anything else. They can create their own ads without going through middlemen. So, in the end they take the money from ads on their sites and invest it into advertising their site on other webcomic site.


96:
I agree in theory but the incumbents have a huge, very huge, advantage. In the US most areas have phones and cable. One of each. In nearly every situation both were given a monopoly at the beginnings of their service but now want to talk about how they took the risk to build the systems. There's not much risk when you have something people want and you're the only supplier in town.

There's that 21st century zeitgeist again: infrastructure. I don't know what is the best way to extend and update the actual hardware and switching elements, but I do know we'll be seeing lots bigger and more ramified wire networks over the next few decades. So we'll be able to make predictions and bets as to which way was actually best in terms of outcomes.

97:

Yeah, the power monopolies are great...

Down here in San Diego, SDG&E burnt down half the county in 2007. The insurance proceeds leave a gap of $462M. So in the fine traditions of American capitalism, they are going to shift the $462M from the (voluntary) shareholders to the (involuntary) consumers - never mind the fact that it was a commercial decision to cap the insurance cover at too low a level, and SDG&E's negligence that started the fire in the first place. There is a CPUC hearing, but that's just kabuki theatre as the the $462M recievable was included in the 2011 audited financials.

BTW, SDG&E made $430M last year, so they could easily pay for it.

Colour me unimpressed by the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk...

98:

And in terms of power companies I'm talking about the well regulated areas, not the free market nonsense that some areas of the US experimented with starting about 15 years ago.

What about my statement did you not understand?

99:

So you going to be at the meeting April 5th, or just commenting here?

100:

Oh good grief, which part of "regulatory capture" didn't register?

SDG&E is a well-regulated power company, which is why I'll be at the April 5th meeting protesting, rather than having to pay both for their insurance and to cover their insurance shortfall.

I'm not sure whether having the net as a public utility is a brilliant idea or dumber than a sack of hammers. Same goes for the internet. On one hand, the problem we've got with the power grid is that there's a lot of bureaucracy and decisions are glacially complex. On the other hand, I do get to yell and scream about their bad ideas. Personally, I figure that, when we start running into things like the end of Moore's Law and the end of cheap energy, regulating the net as a public utility will make more sense. Right now, things are still changing fast enough that the public utility model may be a bit slow to respond.

101:

SDG&E is a well-regulated power company

From where I sit they are regulated but not very well. Or the regulations, well, suck.

Maybe I'm living in a dream world but the local power companies here seem to be on a much tighter leash. They are allowed to make a very good rate of return, but not be jerks about how they do it.

102:

I'm going to question the assumption zero: That in the year 2012, the advertising-supported internet matters.

If you measure by bandwidth, the largest legal source of internet content is Netflix -- which is paid. Personally, Spotify is probably my largest bandwidth use -- and I pay for it.

If you measure by active reading time -- well, this blog isn't supported by advertising. Sure, this helps your book sales. But you don't write most of the content on this blog. And we do it for free.

When you start looking closely at the ads on ostensibly-ad-supported sites, you'll see that they're often scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ad quality. Stuff that wouldn't have passed muster on the back pages of Popular Mechanics in the old days. Seeing ads for Acai berries on the site my local newspaper tells me that advertising is a problem for the publication, not a threat to the readers. There's not enough online advertising to replace the world of print advertising, and I don't believe there ever will be, for several reasons. (And yes, this will cause hardships for people, like me, employed by dying print publications desperately hoping they will a new life on the internet.)

Before the internet came along, lots of high end culture and media was supported not by advertisers, but by philanthropists. The Nation is a non-profit. So is Mother Jones. There's probably room for a handful of high end web publications that can survive through high end web ads. Perhaps the New Yorker is among them. Perhaps not.

But imagine for a second that there was no longer ad revenue for New Scientist and its competitors in the realm of science popularization. Do you really believe it would be difficult to convince a philanthropist, if not the National Science Foundation, to invest a few million a year in the work these magazines do?

Those of us who are not seven-figure philanthropists nevertheless have an important role to play. When the battle is waged between the Pirate Bay anarchists and the corporate copyright cartel, our job is to proudly stake out a third way. We pay for our music, and our movies, and our novels, and our favorite magazines, not because we're suckers, and not because (as in the pre-internet era) there's no other way to possess the content, but because we're patrons of the arts. We're more than just consumers; we're partners with the creators and we've earned the right to be proud... and to encourage our friends to join the club.


103:

Part of the problem is defining what is "micro". How much do you pay for your daily newspaper, for instance? Here in the UK it's generally less than GBP 1.00, going down to GBP 0.20 That last is a somewhat lightweight (physically) newspaper named i, that might be aimed at the iPad generation, and comes from the same stable as The Independent.

It's not immediately obvious what the company is charged for processing a transaction. I've found one news story, from last year, which said the charge for a debit card payment was about GPB 0.20, and I think that definitely puts newspapers into micropayment territory. Paypal isn't micropayments, they charge slightly more.

Those newspaper are the creative work of many people, and the cost per copy to the reader is clearly insanely small. You are paying somebody a cent or two for their creative work, but those payments are aggregated into a cost which is still clearly too small for the current banking system to usefully handle as a cashless transaction.

Cash money isn't free to handle either, but it is a system which allows what we call micropayments. GBP 0.60 for a candy bar, and a GBP 0.20 bank charge for the transaction: you can see why the banks are pushing contactless debit cards for roller-coaster riding urban folk to pay for their sandwiches.

104:
It almost looks as though the system is designed to make it hard for creators to monetize their work.

I think it was designed for that purpose. Look at who the successful monetizers have been in the last century: the distributers. They're the ones who've created the rentier economy by monetizing the work of the creators and cheating them out of the majority of the profits. Granted that dinosaurs like the MPAA and the RIAA are killing themselves by not recognizing that the internet is a completely different environment from the centralized distribution systems they grew fat on, for a lot of people who want to make large sums of money the distributor model looks promising because it allowed the creation of fabulously rich corporations. And really, is Amazon really that different? Their business model is different, but their willingness to profit by squeezing the creators is quite Gilded Age in its contempt for the little people.

105:

The free market is a deficit setting. It works all the time, but not that well ever. All those wonderful better ways are so complicated they fall apart. But its nuts to let the rich do what they want. The free market must have real rules that keep the rich from becoming dukes and kings ruling all. They will always rule to much. The point is to hold them back.

106:

Ahem: when I talk about "public utilities" I mean "owned and run by the government", not by a regulated private-sector corporation.

(NB: "owned and run by the government" goes not preclude the government from hiring private sector operators to do the day-to-day work. What it does preclude is the government not being responsible for how it's run -- and for "the government", we're talking about specific ministers with responsibility for keeping it running who are accountable to the angry electorate at regular intervals. Whereas the boards of private corporations are accountable to the shareholders who may not map at 1:1 onto the people who use the service.)

I will consider making an exception for non-governmental ownership of utilities if the ownership is a non-profit co-op of some kind in which the customers are AUTOMATICALLY shareholders.

107:

Hmm, Charles thinks I'm so wrong he turned his reply to my comment into a new blog post.

That's not technically a good thing is it? :-)

A couple of other points, added to my previous reply.

a) Right now, small, new websites live or die on their marketing and SEO

I don't want to be unfair here, because this is a top quality blog, with great articles, and it's success is not unrelated to that. You are the kind of guy who may well also have experience of running a website before you became CHARLES STROSS, MIGHTY AUTHOR!!!. I also realize that becoming a celebrity may, in itself, require work.

But, I think it's unlikely that you would have as many people reading your great articles now if you weren't famous. Certain other celebrity blogs teach us that you could, if so inclined, probably rack up a substantial view count just by logging your bowel movement schedule.

Word of mouth will not save your new website if there are no living witness's.

And promoting a website is much harder than people who don't have websites think. Few people on the internet respond positively to "my blog, let me show it you".

So, you can choose between standing around watching a few people bouncing off your site like a trampoline, because one of your articles uses the word bullet, and apparently lots of people search for ammunition on Google.

Or you can bite the bullet and push your site at everyone who might listen, and bug clebrities on twitter, because after all, they could spend two seconds and give you more hits than you got from Google from the last three months (never mind that 16 people probably ask them that per minute), and Goddamit, you know that your website is the best thing ever, and if people would only look at it

Now the tragedy of it is, as we know, 99 of every hundred blog owners is in denial about the fact that their blog is shit. But the ones that aren't are important, and the brutal statistics of it mean that there are hundreds of great blogs started each day, that no bugger is ever going to look at.

The spam bot authors can go die in a fire, but some small percentage of those people clogging up your comments, and pushing their blogs at you, deserve at least some measure of... well... pity... maybe even repespect, at least if we don't want an inevitable trend towards an internet that lives or dies on celebrity roughage intake.

There are too many blogs already, but everyone on the internet should be made to start one anyway, for the same reason that they should be made to try waiting tables.

This goes double for small businesss, who are often the people that are buying the advertising.

And, yeah, sometimes they buy the wrong kind of advertising, because they don't understand this stuff, or because it turns out that there is something about the possibility of evaluating quotes on the basis of anything other than what it will cost you this month which is incompatible with basic human cognition.

b) The reason that it sometimes seems that all advertising is bad advertising, is that bad advertising is exponentially cheaper, much less effective (and so must be used in huge quantities), and much more annoying.

Good advertising might not even be perceived as advertising, or negatively, or even be happening in the same environemnt, and is much more effort intensive. So just because you see a lot more of the terrible spam, doesn't actually mean that it represents the output of the majority of advertisers.

108:

Sorry for the wall of text guys, I probably need to stop turning every reply here into an essay.

109:

I'd agree with the sentiments. I have a 32" widescreen 625 line Tv, and at my default viewing distance I can't see pixelation, so why pay a premium for higher res?

110:

For values of "Raygun" that include Billy Bob Clinton and Greedy Gordon Brown. ;-)

111:

b) is even worse than that. We basically live in economies that are increasingly information-centered and in which most information suppliers/transmitters are paid more for befuddling us than for enlightening us.
Some day, hopefully, we will look back in wonder at the level of information pollution we tolerated in this age.

112:

If anyone disputes that this is a valid model for utilities supply, I strongly commend "The Dam Builders" http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dam-Builders-Power-Glens/dp/1841582255/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333451089&sr=1-1 (I know Charlie; I picked the reference as being one that I could find quickly to illustrate the volume I meant).

113:

The use of advertising revenue is a very partial solution to a deep issue: how to appropriately compensate knowledge producers and at the same time let knowledge be knowledge, i.e. flow freely. No one _yet_ has a model that is scalable to a large society of how to do this.
In the days of Dickens, this was a minor irritant to society as a whole. Killed Dickens though.
Since around the 1960s, this has become a block to further economic and social development. So we have the attempting-to-emerge knowledge-centered economy trapped within the rules of the thing-centered economy. And mostly a highly monopolistic phase of capitalism at that. But since this blockage above all affects society's cognitive capacities, we don't even see it.
Solving this will be at least as big a transition as that from feudalism to industrial capitalism. Maybe as big as the neolithic revolution.
I know this provides no practical solutions for folks in the trenches right now, but we are unlikely to find a solution until we correctly identify the problem.

114:

So is privacy the really important thing here? Is Google evil because they amass information about me, or because they sell my information to jerks? If every asshole died tomorrow, would I need privacy at all? Maybe I could let it all hang out and enjoy life

Forgetting for a moment that the assholes will, sadly, be with us always, many (most?) of us would still want privacy even if it wasn't a matter of survival. Let's take the pet peeve of many a childless couple, the question of "So -- was it a choice?" where nobody's afraid the party's suddenly going to break down into fisticuffs, but rather of simply being judged.

I know that you can break that down into 'big privacy' concerns and 'little privacy' concerns (for lack of a better term), drawing the line on the continuum where physical violence is unlikely to occur, but that's forgetting that Note that "making something illegal" really translates to "we would like to hire government-paid thugs to hurt you for engaging in these behaviors" and that the guys putting you up against the wall when the revolution comes are the guys who get to decide where that line is drawn.

If we had strong anti-asshole protection then the advantages of having Google know everything about me would so far outweigh the disadvantages that there wouldn't be any argument at all.

I won't deny that anti-asshole protections could be stronger, but I would also point out that people still commit crimes for which they can get the death penalty. There are some assholes you can't deter.

I really can't see privacy ever not being a concern.

115:

Resignation over facebook snooping policy

This is, I think, fictional, but it raises some interesting points as to how the policy can backfire spectacularly.

116:

Mayhem wrote:

f the lines company is state owned, and treated as a common good, like the road network, then that removes some of the natural trend towards overcharging a monopoly.

The best things about monopolies, even state run, are the inefficiencies they find, build in, presume, and never challenge or innovate past...

117:

Guthrie writes:

Increasing barriers to entry due to improved technology and specialisation - a century ago you could start building cars in your garage with a couple of assistants. Now you need a few hundred million pounds. Same with computer chips, aeroplane engines etc.

Individuals can build cars and design chips (though not fab them, given billion dollar fab lines...). But your general point on design and fab efficiencies of scale is worth noting.

118:

jessica @ 113
That is possibly a very perceptive comment.
That the change to a true informatin-based society could/is going to be as big a change as that from agricultural to industrial (still ongoing in some parts of the world, but can be dated to the Newcomen steam pump, as its' initiation date), and possibly as great as that of the change to agriculture from hunter/gatherere.

A true singularity, in fact.

Is there now room for discussion on this, true, non-AI singularity?

Discuss.

119:

Well, yes you can build your own car, but putting them on sale to the general public has legal hurdles and of course can you make them at a price cheap enough to compete, or find the right niche.
Hence the lack of new car companies.

120:

With a new car company, at least in the US, you have to build a dozen or more that can be wreaked just to show they are built to meet required standards. Kind of makes the build them in your garage a hard way to go.

And I imagine the insurance costs are non trivial.

121:

Perhaps the best solution is a form of damped oscillation, swing and period to be defined (i.e. long enough to allow strategic thought, not so long as to totally ossify).

IMHO... It's complex. Anyone who says that they have a solution either doesn't understand the problem, or is lying. There isn't a single solution - there is only messy compromise, occasional stuff-ups, and lots of things to get angry about at the extremes. There are good people doing bad things, bad people doing good. The right things are done the wrong way, and wrong things are done the right way. We just have to live with it, and do the best we can while being the people we would like everyone to be.

I grind my teeth at private utility companies and their search for profit over effectiveness; but I can remember how pathetic the Post Office were at actually doing things (in the 1970s, you weren't allowed to add telephone extensions within your home. The actual phone belonged to the company; getting something done could take weeks). British Rail might have been safer back then, but it was an easy and commonplace target for comedians in terms of unreliability, poor customer service, and obsolete equipment.

I grind my teeth at indifference towards a workforce (I've been a workers' representative during redundancy negotiations); but I can remember the country being held to ransom by unelected ideologues. Remember the Miners' strike? Red Robbo and British Leyland? Do you think they helped British industry, or condemned it? Are the Firemen correct to strike over changes to their employment terms, or are they so hidebound as to need a damn good reorganisation (rather worryingly, it only took the Army a couple of weeks to start beating the existing Fire Service response times, in fifty-year-old tenders that couldn't top 30mph). When I hear Teachers' Union representatives claiming that they will fight any attempt to impose synthetic phonics as a teaching method for reading, I wonder what planet they live on. The Peter Sellers film "I'm All Right Jack" wasn't surrealism, it was biting satire.

Yes, it's easy to damn the politicians as self-serving or slaves to their "real" constituency - but that applies both ways. The union leaders of the 1970s (and occasional modern one) are the ones who ruined our chances of a more "Social Democrat" system, by being so damn extreme. Perhaps a decade or two will change that, as those who lived through the 1970s grow fewer.

122:

Who needs a fab? Programmable logic works fine until you really, really, need those economies of scale.

123:

Here in the UK you might or might not need similar testing; it would depend at least partly on your intended production volume.

124:

From what you wrote it looks like you don't actually remember the 1970s and early 1980s at all so much as remember the conventional packaged tabloid account of those times.

125:

The problem is getting people to pay for content.

And between government funded broadcast (thinking the BBC and ABC here in Australia) and whorish pseudo news it's very hard to convince the punters that premium content has something to offer them for the money.

So if it's not ad funded, where's it going to come from?

On the plus side, the internet enables us to bring our margins right down, so much less ad revenue is needed for a given quantum of content.

126:

Para (3) of Martin's #121 is pretty much true. I know literally one person who has (or had) pre-BT plug-in telephones.

Para (4) is at least partly true, based on my Godmother's (she's also my mother's cousin) first husband's accounts of being in management at Longbridge in period. Is "it's a sunny day and it's shining in the windows" actually a grievance justifying stike action?

127:

Which is why the very next line said "Competition cannot be banned though - if costs get too high, it becomes viable again to lay your own cables"

In other words, you have a state owned entity providing a basic level of service - to steal an analogy from above, Royal Mail.
You then have the ability for third parties to get into the game to provide additional services in and around that entity - couriers, for high speed delivery; removal trucks, for large volume work; man-and-a-van for small budget work etc etc.

Or in network terms, the SOE provides basic cabling services across the country, at an agreed minimum standard & cost. If the standards aren't good enough in an area, and demand is there, either the incumbent lifts the standards, or a competitor joins in and runs their own cables.
As happens in most of the bigger cities here, with BT & the other providers. Where it falls flat is the double whammy of BT being (semi-incompetently) run for profit and terrified of investment costs, and the last mile being ludicrously undercatered.
If BT was still fully state funded, the investment costs would be borne by the state, who should have a much better handle on long term payback benefits. (They don't but that's a different issue. Go back 40 years and they did.)

From what I understand, in South Korea the government of the 90s funded a multiple fibre connection to every major building and or block of houses. The bandwidth was far beyond any demand at the time, and most wasn't used. The building owners/housing associations would then run copper or fibre at their own expense to the various endpoints meaning that the last mile simply isn't the same issue. Nowadays there are a dozen major network providers, who have their own cable links everywhere, but that SOE circuit is still in place linking everywhere as a set cost alternative, and still being updated as necessary.

128:

I remember the 70s/80s all too well.
Not only were the unions a total PITA but the management at many big companies, esp those receiving govt subsidy, were appallingly amateurish. No more so than the car industry.
Thatcher's Big Crime was simply cutting off taxpayer money to them and letting them fail. And yes, BT was infinitely better at supplying telecoms to customers than the Post Office. They got even better when their monopoly was abolished.

129:

True. The world by default goes sh... on everything.

130:

Where am I relying on "conventional packaging"?

Power workers strikes in the 1970s? Rolling power-cuts across the country, because one particular group of people with their hands on the switches didn't care who got affected so long they got the payrise they wanted?

Refuse collection strikes in the 1970s, and soldiers eventually being sent to clear the rubbish from the streets? A miners strike in the 1980s that created sufficient anger to result in violence and even killings? Governments having to put plans in place to keep the lights on through the use of the Armed Forces in Military Aid to the Civil Authority (which occasionally gets misinterpreted by conspiracy theorists as "the Army wanted to hold a coup" - apparently, it was only "get the Royal Engineers to keep the water flowing, the REME to keep the lights on, the Royal Signals to keep the phone system working")

Perhaps union block votes at the Labour Party conference, closed shops, show-of-hands strike ballots, and flying pickets were figments of my imagination? What about Militant and Derek Hatton running Liverpool?

Remember the cries of the Print-Setters Union about the move to electronic printsetting of newspapers (or the laughable mechanisms that they had for pay negotiation, satirised by "Not the Nine O'Clock News" in their memorable sketch about the dead print worker?). Their skills were about to become obsolete, so their response was Luddite rather than progressive.

You might argue that one driver for splitting up the nationalised industries was to avoid exploitable single-point vulnerabilities within the economy.

131:

I doubt that anyone under 50 years of age has a clear memory of the political/economic climate of the UK during the 1970s. (Remember, the 1970s ended 32 years ago. And how many 18 year olds are fully politically conscious? Much less younger teens?)

132:

As far as I am concerned, the unions in the 70's losst sight of the bigger picture. In the face of economic turmoil they decided to look after their own more than push for a national economic strategy further away from older style capitalism. Or at least thats how it looks from now, having come of age politically in the 90's.

Plus if your job is being automated, ludditism isn't that bad an alternative action, that is if you exist in a capitalist system where there aren't any alternatives offered. So what alternatives were available in the 70's?

133:

Considering that's literally where Luddism first came from, it seems to be a pretty natural response. ",

134:

I'm 58
As an aside, the management in the car industry was appallingly bad. Take the Mini, one of the most successful cars Britain ever produced, with over a million made. The management was so crap that they were actually making a loss on every car sold. Part of that was due to the fact that initially they did not know how much it cost to produce one!

135:

Um, co-op utility companies may start working very much like publicly held corporations, where they get more interested in maximizing return on investment, and less in things like safety...except right after a major accident, at which point everyone goes into panic mode.

Right now, in the SDG&E service area, we've got a bunch of NIMBYs fighting to shut down our one nuke, stop building a local power plant, stop development of a local wind facility, and a (failed) attempt to stop construction of a new trunk power line coming into the County.

Oh, and we want to use more energy.

Now, I get sickened by the damage caused by construction of power plants, but unless we get major conservation, we need to build new plants, both renewable and more efficient non-renewables. We can't get there with no new construction in our back yards.

SDG&E is getting greedy, asking their rate-payers to act as subsidiary insurers, but the rate-payers are equally greedy about asking for cheap power and perfect safety without additional costs or new building. I happen to think that the insurance industry is a better backstop than rate-payers, which is why I'm protesting in this case. But I work case by case.

So, who's the best owner for utilities? Got me. I suspect that the ideologically-based blanket answer isn't the best one, and it may depend on conditions.

136:

Charlie, tried to sign in to comment but it's not working for me at the moment. Looks like you hit a nerve on this one.

We all know there's been a Resistance out there -- people like Lessing, Doctorow and so on.

Maybe this is the time to take it from the .1% to the 5%.

We need a catchy slogan.

Candidate?

137:

Plus the management in the print industry (and the auto industry and others as well) in the US and UK in the '70s had a view of automation that was basically, "replace people with machines so you'll have fewer people in the same organization structure." They saw automation as a way to get rid of blue collar workers (and unions), leaving managers and file clerks to do jobs that required "judgement" (I postpone my rant on just what kinds of tasks require judgement; suffice to say that it's nowhere near the same list those industry execs had).

In Sweden, on the other hand, they started experimenting with work cells, and with having workers be generalists rather than ultra-specialists. The idea being that instead of reducing the number of jobs, automation would increase the productivity of each worker, allowing them to have a living wage and a reasonable share of the income from their work, while the company remained profitable. Some of these techniques were picked up in Japan, and then later exported to the US.

And now the white collar and lower-middle management jobs are being automated and the process is going much faster (and in most cases just as unintelligently) than the blue collar automation in part because many of these jobs were never unionized. Making thousands of employees redundant during an economic slump is a recipe for more economic failure, but there's no organized opposition to the changes that would make the corporations stop and examine whether there are even short-term problems with the strategies they're following.

138:

Left out a sentence or two:

The experimentation with new techniques in Sweden was the result of a partnership between management and unions. They realized they both had something to lose if they didn't get automation right, and they decided to work together. I don't think that was possible in either the US or the UK because of the long-standing (and justified) hostility between the two groups.

139:

Wait until there is a copy of "Watson" on every formerly white collar PC

140:

> The problem is getting people to pay
> for content.

I'd be willing to pay for relevant, informative content, or amusing or entertaining content, depending on what I'm looking for.

The problem is, I'm not willing to pay for the possibility of getting that content, sight unseen. Since the vast majority of "content" is crap, I'd be just as well off to light banknotes on fire for their entertainment value.

That's quantity over quality. There's also the "quantity over quantity" problem. If there are forty thousand pages returned by a search string, they're all interchangeable as far as I can tell, other than their Google / Bing / Yahoo pagerank, which I'm beginning to find less and less useful.

141:

because it doesnt look like tv picture any more.
its a Window

142:

"The payrise they wanted" wasn't actually a payrise though, was it? It was simply an "increase" to keep their pay in line with the very high rate of inflation, i.e. to provide them with the less than the amount of money they already recieved relative to the rapidly increasing cost of living (because when the rate of inflation is hitting 15%, annual pay rises of less than 5% is a quite sizable pay cut, because of maths, and the Unions made clear they would accept a cap of less than inflation, just not one that was that low, and the government didn't budge on that).

So yes, if the government cuts actual wages to public sector workers, you're probably going to get strikes. And when the government does this to a somewhat politically aware public sector and tells them, in so many words, that the government is only cutting public sector wages in the hopes that this will enable business owners in the private sector to justify cutting wages to workers there too... you going to get pretty nasty strikes because the government is explicitly making the slippery slope argument that public sector cuts are the vanguard for private sector cuts (which means that the public sector strikes are going to receive additional support from private sector unions who aren't striking).
And then when the government handwaves about how this glorious scheme to cut wages will all somehow cut down the inflation that the government is trying to deal with because wage increases are rapidly becoming unsustainable... if you literally only remember power outages and rubbish piling up in the streets, then you're missing out on the wonderful government plan to solve a problem in the stupidest way possible that led to that, and could not reasonably have led to any other situation.

And more to the point; Unions that would have capitulated to the Labour government's provocations would have had its leadership replaced by far far more militant leaderships until you go into the 80s with national strikes left right and center once a Thatcher government, that feels the Unions are weaker than they actually are because of that previous capitulation, finally pushes those more militant leaders too far.

143:

So, who's the best owner for utilities? Got me. I suspect that the ideologically-based blanket answer isn't the best one, and it may depend on conditions.

Bingo. Charlie's anti private company utilities stand is interesting but in the US we have as many examples of fully publicly owned utilities messing up on a grand scale as we do private ones. Maybe more.

In the end publicly owned large organizations tend to become NOT beholden to the public but beholden to the organization itself. Unions, management, staff, they all seem to work to perpetuating the status quo instead of serving the public. So periodically you get these spasms of let's:
- privatize them.
- bust the unions
- reorg the management into new departments
- sue them (the government)
- bring in for profit contractors to "do it right"
- whatever

And on the private side when not well regulated you also get messes.

I don't think there is a great solution. Because there are too many people involved in running such beasts and the population they need to server easily grows to have too many conflicting constituencies.
- conserve at all costs
- no nukes
- nukes forever
- make it cheap
- make it totally reliable
- just make it work

TVA and rural co-ops were great ways to get power to rural US back in the day. But by the 70s many (most?) of them didn't have the management ability to cope with the changing world.

144:
I seem to be much more of a free market kind of guy than most folks here but I long ago came to the conclusion that, at least in the US where I know how things are set up, the internet needs to be converted to something much closer to the power utilities than the current phone company or cable company that you hate or take a hike.

Here in red-blooded capitalist France it seems to me that it's been pretty conclusively proved that regulated competition outperforms regulated monopoly.

Free (Illiad) kicked ass on price and performance, the former monopoly and the other players were forced to drop prices by 50-60% and replace ADSL by ADSL 2+ and FTTH.

They seem to be pulling the same trick with cellphones.

The problem in the US is that there has been no real competition in the ISP and phone business, because the regulators are crap.

145:

Thinking about it, that is what we see here in the UK - the regulated monopolys of water supply and railways tend to make extra unjustified profits, whereas the supply of gas and electricity is more regulated competition and there seems to be less ridiculous pricing.

146:

Signing in is broken (since the MT security upgrade a couple of weeks ago). Fixing it is relatively low on the priority list as everything else works OK.

Resistance is necessary. It's also probably futile in the short term, unfortunately. But I'm working on preliminary ideas here for the next propaganda novel (after "Halting State" and "Rule 34").

147:

Resistance is necessary. It's also probably futile in the short term, unfortunately.

... that is a stunningly elegant summation of a thought I've had for a while now.

History was a minor of mine while in college, for reasons that probably don't need elaboration at this point, but what I did study left me feeling a bit like an anthropologist, stranded not so much out of time as mind.

148:

Here's a nice summary of four potential futures, depending to some extent on technological improvements and what automation means for employment:
http://jacobinmag.com/winter-2012/four-futures/

Nothing there that readers of this blog won't be somewhat familiar with (especially if they have read all Charlie's books), but I find it a useful summary.
The worst one involves total automation and the owning class deciding they don't need dirty unemployed people around to cause trouble.

149:

I feel this discussion is going the wrong way.
The arguments over the madwoman from Gratham, and her equally-mad opposite from somewhere in S Yorkshire are erm IRRELEVANT.
Canwe agree that "unions leadership" and management competence" in this country, in the 1970's just did not exist? And leave it?
Let's go back to jessica's comment, & my inadequate response.

Singularities.
Irreversible changes in society.
Their start dates can sometime be noted, but the effects can take a LONG time to come through.
The industrial revolution singularity started with NEwcomen, accelerated with Boulron-&-Watt, and really took off between 1825 & 1830 - the name associated with it is : Stephenson.
The start date for the information society is the laying of the Atlantic cable by the Great Eastern in 1866 ... but it is only now really starting.

Singularities don't have to be instantaneous to be permanent or effective.

And how lomg before general society, or thepolitics actually wake up?

150:

About that...
Yes it's IBM, who aren't interested if your turnover isn't comparable to a GDP; but where IBM go, others follow lower down the chain.

151:

Guthrie writes:

Well, yes you can build your own car, but putting them on sale to the general public has legal hurdles and of course can you make them at a price cheap enough to compete, or find the right niche.
Hence the lack of new car companies.

David L follows up:

With a new car company, at least in the US, you have to build a dozen or more that can be wreaked just to show they are built to meet required standards. Kind of makes the build them in your garage a hard way to go. And I imagine the insurance costs are non trivial.

There are "new" car companies appearing all the time; in Europe (or the UK at least) they seem to have a less vicious road car certification regime, and makers like Caterham spring up all the time.

Making affordable mass-market cars is very different from sports cars, though.

FYI, it's not dozens destroyed in testing. It's usually a handful; for the US, full frontal impact, side impact, and rollover (roof crush) tests. A side impact pole test is going to be added ... any time now, it may be coming into effect now. That makes 4.

The Europeans add an offset - 64 kph 40% offset, like the IIHS offset test. See http://www.euroncap.com/testprocedures.aspx

So it looks like you can do the whole thing with 5 units likely destroyed. Some of the additional testing will probably mangle things a bit but leave them repairable and usable as test units.

152:

I wrote in my comments to CPUC, copied Feinstein, for all the good it will do me.

153:

What everybody wants to think is that they know wants best for them. How do they know? Others told them, with advertising. Most (if not all) of us are meat machinery whose buttons are pushed. We will never have enough of the truth to know whats good or bad. we think like the others we are with think and run with our own pack.
What nobody wants to think is that Net Lud was right. Everything he(they) were afraid of happened. But the rich got a lot richer, so on the average the country was better off. Never mind the huger and early death for the ones who lost.

154:

Pretty much. Too bad conservation doesn't turn on either conservatives or liberals. We'll get there soon enough.

That said, I realized what the problem was with turning something like SDG&E into a user-owned cooperative.

Let me put it this way: SDG&E starts a fire, totally accidentally of course, and that fire destroys your home. You sue to recover costs, and you win. Except that SDG&E bills you the cost of paying to rebuild your house.

That is what they want to do now, hence the screaming. I don't want to be forced into the underwriting SDG&E's insurance, especially if I have no way of negotiating how much I pay out.

Now, let's add in co-op politics: you're a shareholder on SDG&E, and you're in the (hopefully) minority who lost your home due to the company's accident. Good luck playing co-op politics to get reimbursed, and suing yourself (since as owner, you're liable) gets awkward.

155:

For any reasonably big chip you'd struggle to do the design in the garage - and the cost of the design software (and associated infrastructure) to do it properly is huge. If you want to make a chip as a hobby or for use in your own product it's probably doable, but to make a chip to sell you're looking at a few million dollars in start up cost (and that's fabless). In fact a 'few' is considered very good going! This is why much of the tech venture capital money is going to software startups - chip startups are getting too risky with too low a reward even for the big boys.

It will be very interesting to see what happens to this as (assuming it does) Moore's law, in it's strictest device density form, tails off. As the whole chip physical design/implementation/production industry stop chasing that goal and turns to maturing what we already have you'd expect almost ALL the costs to drop dramatically - especially if the direct write e beam stuff means you don't have to drop $2M on a mask set to go to production.

156:

Caterham = Bad example. They bought the rights to the Lotus 7 after lotus stopped production.

157:

If you don't like Caterham try Radical (http://www.radicalsportscars.com) or Ariel (http://www.arielmotor.co.uk/) - both of them have built businesses on the basis of original designs starting at a scale which, if not exactly "one bloke in a garage" certainly qualifies as "cottage industry". And yes, I know most of the stuff radical build looks more like a 5/8 scale model of an endurance race car, but you can buy street legal versions, honest :-)

158:

Someone up thread gave some quote about price tending towards zero because the marginal cost of production is zero. To me this is the fundamental problem, because it's both true and clearly unworkable. We attempt to use an economic system that is fundamentally based on adding value to 'stuff' to cover something where there is no 'stuff' in the first place.

And so a great slow motion train wreck ensues as one group of people take advantage of the broken system to get a free ride and another group try to fix the unfixable in an ever more draconian manner.

Personally the only reason I remain fairly positive about the whole thing is that I know that there is a massive consumer demand for non-stuff-based things to consume and that said demand means lots of people are working very hard to work out how to make it work profitably (and that has to mean paying the content creators).

Micro payments have been mentioned, i'm wondering how my spotify/lovefilm/sky subscriptions differ from micropayment made easy - with a long term tendency for said (and similar) organizations to profit simply from providing me the service of splitting up my subscription to the original creators. Give me a 'spotify for books' and i'll very rapidly make the switch to the ebook world. And i'll use all these services in the happy knowledge that I could get it all for free but i don't want to - and my spending on 'content' remains pretty much constant.

And thus my point. Obviously Economics is not an exact science, there are no unchangeable laws - just a set of conscious or unconscious rules that can be changed even by understanding them. The fact that the new systems of delivery can be subverted does not mean they are broken IF opinion can be moved across to the new way of working.

Us engineers have broken the way things worked as a side effect of making them better. (If that's frustrating remember that you can read books without having to pay a monk to make you a handwritten copy). Now it's time for the artists to communicate to the population the matching fix - Peter F. Hamilton had me sold with his 'authors who used to write books' characters years ago so it's clearly possible!

159:

1. Like any utility operation, co-ops need third-party liability insurance.

2. The lack of sanity prevalent among Americans when it comes to the idea that insurance is a collective undertaking is an entirely separate issue, probably best addressed by strong neuroleptic medication. (Or maybe electroshock.)

160:

Ok, I'll bite. Why do I want Windoze on my television? Or a Tv that's over-size for my living room if that's what you meant?

161:

I suggest you try comparing a Lotus 7 S3 (sans engine and gearbox) with a current Caterham 7 in same spec. There's very little (certainly not the big bracket that holds the engine, suspension and body panels together) that is directly interchangable. Note that I am not considering cut-outs for induction and exhaust systems as significant differences.

162:

As a first approximation, we entered a knowledge-driven economy (instead of labor, land, or capital driven) when knowledge became the key factor generating profits. I am not sure how far back this goes, but the real money now is made in design and branding (ie before and after the physical production) and in finance.
I would contend that the predominance of finance is not the fruit of a knowledge-driven economy but an opportunistic infection that shows that the economy is being held back by obsolete social rules.
We have bright minds that can not get the jobs they should have because those jobs do not exist. We have capital that can does not have the investment opportunities it needs because those would be in the non-existent industries that would be hiring the bright minds. So for lack of anything else to do, and with a helpful push from a monopolistic corporate structure, they proceed to blow up the world. It is the ban-lieu of Paris only with suits and far, far more destruction.
(Maybe part of the problem here is that at least at first, much of the investment in knowledge production will be in education and research, ie (high-level cognitive) labor-intensive activities and we have capital allocation structures designed to use the mass application of comparatively crude machinery to eliminate labor.)
"The 60s" may be an indicator of when this mismatch (between what really powered the economy and the social rules) started to become central. In "the 60s", the first generation of mass college students and graduates, in other words the work force trained for a knowledge-centered economy, took a look at the jobs available to them and said "No, thank you". OK, more like "fuck that".
The jobs that knowledge producers should have moved into mostly did not exist. They still don't. Not even in imagination. In other words, the most important economic developments of the past 4 decades or so have been those blocked so thoroughly that we don't even know them as untapped potential or missed opportunities. (Which is also why I can't tell you what they were/are. Although a blog like this might be able to come up with some good ideas.)
In addition to this mismatch between production and the social rules about control of that production, there is also an odd dance going on between the knowledge economy as it could be (and hopefully some day will be), and the actually existing knowledge economy.
The actually existing knowledge economy largely serves those who hold power through the old rules for a thing economy. Many knowledge producers produce artificial knowledge scarcity (aka befuddlement and outright ignorance). So knowledge producers serve those who keep them in thrall, those who block the emergence that the knowledge producers need in order to be themselves. This is a key factor in how advanced societies function right now.
As long as knowledge producers are dancing to tunes called by the old elite, they will function in a profoundly elitist manner. This for example is one reason why the onslaught against western working classes from the 1980s on went nearly unopposed by anyone outside those working classes. Whether knowledge producers will be just a new elite or truly democratizing is an issue that has not been settled. My best guess is that knowledge producers will try to become a new elite, but that it will prove impossible to fully unleash a knowledge-driven economy unless it is fully democratic for the entire society. That contradiction, between what the knowledge producers will want to do and what they will need to do for their own sake, may well drive human history for quite a while. If we can get beyond the current impasse.

163:

Correction inline; please note footnote.

2. The lack of sanity prevalent among Americans when it comes to the idea that insurance is a socialised* undertaking is an entirely separate issue, probably best addressed by strong neuroleptic medication. (Or maybe electroshock.)

*For values that reflect how USians use the word "socialism"; Meaning any activity where funds are collected from everyone to pay for the misfortunes of some of the body.

164:

Ok, okay, let me be more specific - to start a new business of mass production aimed at making competition for the already existing large corporations, would likely take hundreds of millions of pounds. The discussion here is on power, lack of properly functioning markets and a tendency to monopoly, nothing of which people's nitpicking about precisely how easy it is to start a car manufacturing company in a garage overturns.

165:

A miners strike in the 1980s that created sufficient anger to result in violence and even killings?

It wasn't the fucking unions who created sufficient anger, etc.

166:

My point is they didn't start from scratch, they took an existing design and have spent a LONG time tweaking it. So it's unsurprising to me that the current car is minimally like to original and Caterham is a bad example of 'starting from scratch in your garage'.

167:

So it looks like you can do the whole thing with 5 units likely destroyed. Some of the additional testing will probably mangle things a bit but leave them repairable and usable as test units.

And turn over a few to the EPA for mileage certification. And emissions testing. (I suspect they want more than one.)

And I bet there's a requirement that the airbags be shown to work properly. And those cost $700 each from salvage operations. If you build your own I wonder what the certification process is.

Then, at least in the US, there's that non trivial "product liability" insurance cost.

All of this is you want to sell cars.

Now in the US in many (most? all?) states you can build your own "experimental" car. Take it to a safety/emissions inspection station and get it pass then fill out some paperwork and get a license for it. But you have to be able to buy personal auto insurance before you can buy the license plates which means you're likely into the specialty market. But it can be done.

Now there are many companies that build mod kits where you replace a lot of parts with those in the kit. Skirts many of the issues above. But more and more with things like airbags in doors I can see this getting harder to do and keep the car insured. I have to think this market will be limited more and more to older cars which gets you into emissions hassles.

Anyway when our politician lament "where's the entrepreneurial spirit" these days I wonder if they are plain ignorant that they've legislated it out of existence or are just that stupid. Just look at the coming requirement for all cars to have backup cameras.

Cost is estimated at over $100 per car on average. So over $100 x 10 million cars = $1 billion / year to save under 200 lives per year. So lets call it $5 million per year per life. I have to feel we can save more lives cheaper in other ways. But that just me being cruel. Right?

168:

And mine is that, as long as the numbers are below the "mass production" threshold you can still be a new start-up doing something like a Locaterfield that is fundamentally a big bracket that holds a set of engine and suspension parts in a given relationship to each other.

The technically hard part is giving it good dynamic safety, and the expensive one is the passive survivability tests that you can avoid most of by not making enough cars to require to meet them.

169:

FYI, it's not dozens destroyed in testing. It's usually a handful; for the US, full frontal impact, side impact, and rollover (roof crush) tests. A side impact pole test is going to be added ... any time now, it may be coming into effect now. That makes 4.

That assumes two things.

1. You don't do any testing yourself before submitting them.
2. You don't fail any of the tests.

I suspect you'd need more like 20 cars if things go well but not perfect.

170:

Anyway when our politician lament "where's the entrepreneurial spirit" these days I wonder if they are plain ignorant that they've legislated it out of existence or are just that stupid

I suspect that the politicians are neither ignorant nor stupid, and that they use the phrase not because they personally lament anything of the sort, but simply because it's an emotive phrase that pushes the right buttons in the electorate.

171:

> > A miners strike in the 1980s that created sufficient
> > anger to result in violence and even killings?

> It wasn't the * unions who created sufficient anger

Errr... I'm thinking of people throwing breeze blocks at the cars of those who crossed picket lines (IIRC there was one death). You want to be careful about that line of reasoning - that way lies Red Army Faction / Baader-Meinhof / Action Directe / PIRA. "It wasn't our fault, it was Government policies that forced us into violence"

In Scotland, there was just as much anger at Government policies, but IIRC because of the sensible behaviour of local NUM officials and the police, the police never once put the riot gear on during the miners' strike.

Our factory site had a strike in the early 90s (that I sympathised with, and which eventually resulted in the desired effect); after a month, I finally had to cross a picket line - most of us non-Union members had avoided doing so until then. One of the younger and angrier union members made it quite clear that I had displeased him; he didn't know me, he didn't know why I had crossed his picket line, he didn't stop to find out - he just threatened. His angry behaviour wasn't because of Management - it was because he was an idiot.

172:

Graham@155 - I work for a firm that makes FPGAs.

The reasoning goes like this: way back when, it used to cost seven figures to create a custom ASIC mask, and then (comparatively) pennies to churn them out. If you sell them at a buck each, you only have to sell a million to break even. These days, it will cost you nearly a nine figure sum to create a custom ASIC; it takes a much larger production run, or a much higher price, to break even. This hopefully means that more and more small/medium production runs of electronic goods decide to use an FPGA (to keep the Bill of Materials down) rather than a custom ASIC. If so, whoopee :-)

We make FPGAs that you can program to hold whatever digital circuitry you want. Compared to a custom ASIC, they might be a bit hungrier for power (because you're still powering the FPGA fabric that you didn't use), and they might be a bit slower (because your path lengths are longer), but these days they're "good enough" for most things that aren't portable computing. They're built at the 28nm node, have shedloads of RAM, space for soft processors that run at hundreds of MHz, hard-wired CPUs that run even faster, and I/O that runs well into the GBits/s.

Our tools give the user access to a large library of IP blocks, tailored for our devices (everything from "an Ethernet MAC" to "a multiplier block"). The production of this IP, and the reference designs that use them, is seen as lowering the barriers to use - i.e. we'll invest in the IP and give it away / sell it cheap, so that designing for our parts doesn't require a massive initial expenditure in money and time; we make money when we sell you the physical parts for your manufacturing.

Part of this "lowering the barriers" involved releasing a full toolchain for our products (because a decade ago, the tool manufacturers' ability to cope with new devices were a gating factor on our time to market); it doesn't have to cost $30k a seat for design tools...

Someone actually implemented a Cray-1 using a rather small, cheap, university FPGA demo board - it runs at half-speed and has less memory than the original, but is otherwise bit-accurate.

http://www.eetimes.com/design/programmable-logic/4207359/Reproducing-a-Cray-1-supercomputer-in-a-single-FPGA

173:

And theres also the traditional problem whereby a small company has a great innovation, finalises a provable, repeatable design. And then gets bought out or licenced or simply has their patent reverse-engineered by a larger manufacturer. And either goes out of business or is merged and forgotten.

Look at General Motors as a good example of that practice in the US.

Production costs aren't usually the main impediment of starting a new company these days, uncompetitive practices from the incumbents are.

174:

David L. writes:

That assumes two things.
1. You don't do any testing yourself before submitting them.
2. You don't fail any of the tests.
I suspect you'd need more like 20 cars if things go well but not perfect.

You do prelim tests yes. If you are cheap, with weighted bare chassis (10% of cost of real car).

Fully road legal is not one guy in a garage. But it's been done for under a million. The hard part is affordable mass production engineering, not paperwork.

People who aren't in the new space industry tend to overthink the actual licensing and insurance problems. Many multiple existence proofs to the contrary including two VTVL rockets and many flights for under a million and 3ish years by two guys.

It's nontrivial. But not THAT hard.

175:

I presume you're unaware of the science of structural engineering, and of finite element analysis software?

176:

>And then gets bought out or licenced or simply has their patent reverse-engineered by a larger manufacturer.

And these things are bad for me why as a small company founder?

Option 1) I make money by selling the company
Option 2) I make money by selling the license
Option 3) I make money by selling the company to a competitor of the larger manufacturer, who happily sues them.

Meanwhile I, as the founder who now has a track record, will get easy access to cash for what I do next.

I'd say you're having an issue with assumption d) in the original post.

The problem for me as a small company is more often that i'm a) not very good at my job, b) i've chosen a market that is too small to justify my spend c) what i've done is too trivial and a bigger company can move into it 'organically' without needing to fork over the $M to buy me out or d) I'm infringing on someone else's patents and i haven't got the size of portfolio to back myself up.

177:

This American is quite amused by it, the poor bastards who grew up on Reaganism think government destroys everything, so it's okay if it's a quasi-socialist private endeavor. Kind of the same way the green puritans find man-made (!) chlorine and carbon dioxide extra nasty, rather than "Thou shalt not exceed the biosphere's recycling ability".

178:

Oh I completely agree.

I was more addressing the idea that creating a new company in an existing field is a *lot* harder than it seems as there are numerous easier ways to make money than to stick it out and establish your company as viable competition.

The only cases I've seen where it has worked is because the new company grew in a nice walled garden until they grew big enough to peek out onto the world stage. That's getting pretty hard now unless your company is in a protectionist environment like the French & Chinese or under trade sanctions and have no choice ...

179:

[Graeber] says (based on what evidence?) that standards of living improved from the late Roman Empire to the Medieval period. I assume he means that, when you look at the average life of a latifundia slave vs. the life of a medieval peasant, the peasant has it better in many ways. He may be right.

Well, yes, from what I've read, Graeber is right, given two large caveats.

One thing to clear up first. By the late Roman Empire, latifundias had mostly disappeared - basically, a latifundia was only economic in a situation where the owner could afford to work your slaves to death, and employ enough guards to stop them revolting meanwhile. It usually became more economic instead to put the slaves onto family-sized plots of land and, while maintaining their slave status (so they couldn't escape the "deal" they were now being offered), renting it out to them for roughly the same amount as they had been producing on the latifundia (and to any interested free local peasants, on marginally better terms).

Under the new conditions, the slaves had rather longer life expectancies, provided they could pay the rent and taxes - the late Roman Empire was very expensive to maintain. And, for as long as they could afford to feed them after rent and taxes, it was even worth having children for the extra labour they could provide. But life was still nasty (and getting more crowded as more children were born), and the living standards of free peasants tended to be dragged down towards those of the slaves.

The way in which the Roman Empire fell, and the timing differed from province to province - but, sometime between 250 and 650, it did. By 700, the Roman Empire was mostly no longer there to gather taxes (and, even where it still existed, less able to do so) and enforce land- (and slave-) owners' property rights. In most places, peasants would still have to be paying rents to landowners, but only so far as the landowners could enforce them.

Now the caveats. Firstly, almost everywhere in the former Roman Empire had experience some very bad periods between 300 and 700, often but not always as they dropped out of the Roman Empire (there are exceptions - for instance, in Italy, the worst period was during the reconquest by Justinian). These tended to amount to economic implosion, resulting (over perhaps a generation) in large population drops. The relatively good life for the peasants only really started as these ended.

Secondly, even then, this was a trade-off for peasants between being able to work less and to keep far more of what they produced than they previously had, but finding it far less easy to get anything else - basically, a variety of consumer goods had been produced, often in bulk, traded, sometimes over long distances, within the Roman Empire, and these either disappeared entirely or were only available in far smaller quantities and at higher prices. The most extreme case I know of is the virtual disappearance of pottery in the Celtic areas of former Roman Britain - for several centuries, any pottery there seems to have been either old or imported. The peasants suffered from this less than almost anyone else (they had never been able to afford much anyway) but some probably did listen enviously to stories of the (not really) "good old days".

180:

I presume you're unaware of the science of structural engineering, and of finite element analysis software?

Not at all. But at some point you need to actually test something. Or go the NASA route and spend a gazillion or so on engineering simulations and analysis.

The point of all of this was a guy or few in a decent garage building cars for sale.

Back in WWII Oppenheimer and his buddies told the government they would need about 100 engineers, scientists, and machinists to build the bomb. That was their first estimate. When all was said and done they were only off by two 00s or so.

People who've never tried to do production always seem to underestimate these things.

Upstream the comments talk about micro payments and why it should not be that hard to do it with a low transaction cost. And they are right. But to do it as a business you have to staff it with real people to handle things like contracts, support calls, fraud tracking, etc... And these people needs roofs, seats, heating, parking, phones, etc... These costs add up and until you get to really big scale can far outweigh the transaction costs. Like Charlie's comments at times about book publishing. Printing is almost free on large runs. It's getting to the point of printing that costs.

181:

Here in red-blooded capitalist France it seems to me that it's been pretty conclusively proved that regulated competition outperforms regulated monopoly.

Free (Illiad) kicked ass on price and performance, the former monopoly and the other players were forced to drop prices by 50-60% and replace ADSL by ADSL 2+ and FTTH.

Do these service share the last mile or is everyone providing a separate wire pair. I'm thinking the basic wire and signal to the end point needs to be handled like a public utility. With ISP providing the routing and value adds.

182:

Really? See that and raise http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TVR who with a maximum staff of 300 managed things like developing their own engines as well as chassis and bodies, and in one case (the Tasmin IIRC) managed to make the steering wheel move away from the driver in frontal impact tests.

183:

Thanks for fleshing this out. What you write sounds reasonable.
Why was the Justinian almost-but-for-epidemic Restoration worse? Renewed fighting or the epidemics themselves.

"some probably did listen enviously to stories of the (not really) "good old days""

In the days with so little literacy and books, I wonder how fast any real memory faded into something quite vague. I read somewhere that in ancient Greece and Rome, reasonably accurate sense of history went back 50 years at most. Anything older was myth. Short life span, little education, not many records (at least not many accessible to most people).

184:

If you really want zero transaction fee micropayments then something like Bitcoin is necessary. However, if you lose your bitcoin wallet, get robbed or hacked there is nobody to whine to about it, or any way to get a refund - you are screwed.

185:

you are screwed.

Not exactly an attribute that will attract the masses. Of course Paypal seems to operate on the same principle. :)

186:

#185...although you don't find that out until you have a disputed transaction (unless you know people who have them).

187:

Bigger issue with Bitcoin: see quant talking about how it takes currency trading back to the good old days of the start of the previous century here. He even lists the "predatory algos" that could be used as viable attacks!

188:

A few weeks back, during the oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-Rush-Limbaugh-said-something-misogynistic kerfuffle, someone in the Boingboing comments section said something to the effect of "Why should I have to pay for someone else's medication?"

I responded, "Because that's what insurance IS, you ninny. If people who don't need things aren't subsidizing people who do, then IT DOESN'T WORK."

Possibly just a comments troll, but yes there are quite a lot of people who don't grasp that simple and fundamental point about the basic nature of insurance.

189:

Yes, insurance = SOCIALISM!

190:

The obvious extrapolation from "nobody can be trusted" is that *everybody* must be observed.

The government cannot be trusted because they observe you, keep secrets, judge you in private based on their observations of you.

Judging is human nature and a *good thing* because it tends to lower the quantity of free-riders.

Judging, however, cannot be left in the hands of governments or men in smoke filled rooms, it has to be globalized.

I propose the abolishing of privacy for everyone including government members as well as members of the public. *Everyone* is observed 24/7/365 and it all be accessible on the internet to anybody.

Total transparency.

191:

"And theres also the traditional problem whereby a small company has a great innovation, finalises a provable, repeatable design. And then gets bought out or licenced or simply has their patent reverse-engineered by a larger manufacturer. And either goes out of business or is merged and forgotten."

Or simply crushed. A large company will always have the money and time to simply violate the law, and stall the consequences until the small firm goes out of business (or has to consent to a miserable settlement).

Or other variations - for example, jacking up the rent is a classic method of sucking all profits from a business.

192:

"Kind of the same way the green puritans find man-made (!) chlorine and carbon dioxide extra nasty, rather than "Thou shalt not exceed the biosphere's recycling ability"."

Strawman.

193:

"Option 1) I make money by selling the company"
Option 2) I make money by selling the license
Option 3) I make money by selling the company to a competitor of the larger manufacturer, who happily sues them."

You're really assuming that selling in such cases is not almost totally on the buyer's terms.

194:

Capitalism, Fascism and Communism are more easily understood through an economic lens than a political lens in my opinion.

Here's the way to do that:

In Capitalism much of the production is owned by the workers and there are varying levels of degree of concentration of ownership of private property.
In this system the politics tend to support private ownership.

Fascism, most of the production is owned by large corporations and the mega-rich and there is limited private property. In this system the politics supports big business being in bed with government and smaller entities and individuals are discriminated against in terms of how much private property they are allowed to keep.

In Communism, all of the means of production is owned by the government (i.e. the bosses) and the people themselves are also owned by the bosses. The government IS big business and owns everything. No individual is allowed to own anything but conversely the bosses own everything because they have legally mandated control over everthing.

In this model Capitalism is on the far left, fascism is the centre and Communism is the far right.

195:

In which case most of the developed world is well on its way to being Fascist. China has got there, and the USA is following close behind.

196:

Yes, I am. And this is yet another reason why monopolies are bad, because If the buyer was a monopoly I'd be wrong. When a marketpalace has competition if my small, nimble startup has got ahead of the big boys I'll probably do OK.

And no, I'm not anything like naive enough to think this process is pink fluffy clouds of $$ for everyone who goes through it. In my original comment I gave various reasons why It can be very bad for the little guys. It's simply that it's quite possible for the process to be good for all concerned, and the better the buyer is at it the better it will be. So back to my original point - the comment I replied to has assumption d written all over it.

197:

Fascism, most of the production is owned by large corporations and the mega-rich and there is limited private property.

Not necessarily, it depends somewhat on the particular flavour of fascism (lower f). Of which there are many, to be precise, it's more easy to say what fascism is against (liberal parliamentary democracy, "materialism", marxism etc.) than what it is in favour of. The gamut runs from rural commune to international social darwinism backed by mobilised massed and heavy industry.

In general, fascism stressed something like organic unity of employers and employees, while engaging in heavy rhetoric against modern capitalism etc.

Though the snarky critical leftist would say that most of these ideas wanted or want to abolish capitalism (to fall back to some earlier mode of production, which are noted for the sad mess that is the copntent of history books), not supersede it (e.g. implement novel, more egalitarian and cheaper modes of production, or migrate to Bank's Culture altogether). Failure to differentiate between the two is the former tragedy, current farce that are most New Social Movements.

198:

Your definition of communism seems strangely different from most definitions used for it and those promulgated by most people who thought it a good thing.
Perhaps you mean State capitalism is where the government owns everything? Or are you not thinking of a feudal monarchy?

199:

It was just the first analogous rationalization to come to mind, sorry about the toes.

200:

Possibly just a comments troll, but yes there are quite a lot of people who don't grasp that simple and fundamental point about the basic nature of insurance.

One reason for this is that basic health care has been folded into "insurance" over the years by many large companies as an inducement for employees. Many people use the terms interchangeably.

201:

probably best addressed by strong neuroleptic medication. (Or maybe electroshock.)

With the latter, are we talking behavioural therapy with aversive stimuli or electroconvulsive therapy here?

Though I'd willingly do the latter (everything beats heavy depression), I'm somewhat sceptical towards aversive stimuli. Cruel and unusual punishments and societal breakdown have a tendency to coincidence, which means

a) Castrating the wicked and showing them their lights is of limited use as a deterrant.

and/or

b) Public splatterfests make the natives restless. (Maybe they get creative)

But than, I for one welcome any former MBA forced to sing "The Old Gray Mare" with their pants down. Together with some crusties (the punks, not the clown).

203:

Thanks for expanding on that, Peter. Gives me something to look forward to, in this import dominated town I live in...

204:

Getting back to the insurance issue on co-ops, the insanity isn't with insurance, it's with the legal process of addressing grievances, and the people involved.

To illustrate the people involved: You have to realize, San Diego County is the only county in fire-prone southern California that doesn't have a County fire department to deal with wildfires. Instead, it has a patchwork of local fire agencies that respond as best they can, and scream for help from the rest of the state when that fails, as in the 2007 Witch fire that started this whole SDG&E kerfuffle.

When the rest of the state needs help, there aren't enough San Diego firefighters to send, so they don't reciprocate and help other counties when they are in need.

I haven't lived in San Diego that long, but I remember the deep disgust in other counties over San Diego's inability to take care of itself. There was talk of refusing aid during the next fire, unless San Diego started acting like a mature county.

The voters here are fascinating: they'll scream for better schools, and scream about any increase in taxes to fund said schools. Without hesitation, they'll vote to double the number of houses along a limited road, a decade before said road can be widened at a critical junction, yet they complain unceasingly about how bad the traffic is at that junction.

And these are the people you want to run a community-owned utility co-op? Right. I don't see a way that such an operation won't dissolve into a morass of suits and counter-suits as soon as something goes wrong.

I'd say San Diego's just on the extreme end of a pattern I see all through the US, possibly because we mix paleoconservative rednecks, shiny-happy surfers, and immigrants in approximately equal proportions. Here it's the self-interest and greed are so blatant it's comical (America's Finest City and all that), but the politics aren't much better in Sacramento or Washington DC.

205:

guthrie writes:

Ok, okay, let me be more specific - to start a new business of mass production aimed at making competition for the already existing large corporations, would likely take hundreds of millions of pounds. The discussion here is on power, lack of properly functioning markets and a tendency to monopoly, nothing of which people's nitpicking about precisely how easy it is to start a car manufacturing company in a garage overturns.

You're right, one cannot just cook up a major industrial project in ones garage and launch straight to huge product production lines.

For simple things, with foreign build-to-spec factories available, one can innovate in a garage, find customers, and outsource the production problem.

But for complex things (and cars count) all the things that make modern mass market cars consumer friendly take serious production engineering and tooling investments, or so much labor that it's not cost effective anymore. Knowing where a product concept is in the produceability index (a nebulous but obvious concept) is important. There are lot of technically possible but practically and economically unfeasible solution spaces.

There are point technologies revolutionizing some of those produceability issues. Maker technologies, such as 3D printing / fab, etc. That's somewhat relevant to Charlie's original post.

This conversation thread drifted a lot and away from Charlie's original post, which distracted from that point, and I apologize for participating in that. The issues of fundamental lack of economic *system* competition, monopoly / monosomy, centralization of power, use/abuse of privacy and information etc, these are hard problems.

206:

I think that most of you are missing the point of whats going on. The thing is that what's so hot on this board is not the real problem. Right wingers are in print, but not where ordinary voters can see it, saying that the Reagan tax cuts and the later ones was to make the evil, to big government to poor to do anything that the government did after 1930. What works best simply does not count. Remember the Post Office once worked great. Not now, its socialism now. The pricable of shrinking the government back to a golden past, that never was is the thing to do at all cost. And it keeps the government from telling the rich what to do or not do.

207:

As do various friends and acquaintances of mine. I, on the other hand, am a digital physical designer and therefore have one of the jobs for which fpga is a direct competitor.

If it really did cost nine figures to make a custom asic of the same complexity as a design that could fit on a few of your (very fancy i'll admit) chips i'd probably be unemployed. Fortunately the incremental cost v's an fpgs is in the medium 7's with reuse etc getting you down to low 7's or even 6's for a comparable design. And so FPGA and the other related stuff has never taken a big share of the overall market (counted in $, a very big share counted in designs of course).

Some years ago FPGA size design was a single person activity - it could be done by one person and fill the chip - now you have more of the system on the chip so it needs more designers. One of those friends i mentioned works in teams of people making IP cores for the FPGA companies customers to use in their designs. I guess there are single person projects where someone make a given core themseleves for use as part of the design though.

208:

I agree that not all Custom ASICs are near-nine-figures; I should have qualified that by saying "at the latest production node, for a complex design requiring all of the bells and whistles".

I work on a tool that delivers IP blocks; it lets you configure them for your target device, and handles licensing, etc. The IP developers on our site work much as you say - individual effort for small-to-medium blocks for DSP and networking - because the market seems to like its IP at that level of complexity. I also have a neighbour who works as a one (and for a while two) man band doing FPGA work as a contractor/consultant for small engineering setups; these are the specialist manufacturers whose production runs measure in the low thousands or fewer.

The other advantage of FPGAs is the response cost - if you find a bug after taping out your custom ASIC, you've got to pay all the money over again. With an FPGA, you just regenerate the device's program and "update the firmware"; also useful if your telecomms standard is a moving target, or incomplete, or...

PS 8-) Don't get me started on HDLs as a design language - it's like a trip back to the 1980s from a software engineering perspective. Imagine an environment where you're forced to program bare silicon in C with a heavy use of in-line assembler, with a 1980s level response time from your optimising compiler. Abstraction? Encapsulation? Nah, we'll just wire everything signal by signal and hack the 1s and 0s... Don't even start the Holy Wars around VHDL versus Verilog 8-)

209:

Martin committed;

PS 8-) Don't get me started on HDLs as a design language - it's like a trip back to the 1980s from a software engineering perspective. Imagine an environment where you're forced to program bare silicon in C with a heavy use of in-line assembler, with a 1980s level response time from your optimising compiler. Abstraction? Encapsulation? Nah, we'll just wire everything signal by signal and hack the 1s and 0s... Don't even start the Holy Wars around VHDL versus Verilog 8-)

Ahhhhhrrrrgggghh

Flashbacks to Lucent ASIC library and process node design guides of the 35 um node...


210:

IMO the basic statement is correct; however the definitions are under-detailed and/or just plain wrong.

True Communism (not to be confused with what the USSR and China had) is where the means of production are owned by the workers in common.

Capitalism splits into 2 substreams:-
1) State Capitalism where the state owns the means of production. This is what the former USSR had.
2) Oligarchic Capitalism, where most of the means of production are owned by the mega-rich. This is what the UK, USA et all have.

I'm not sure there's a single economic model that defines a Fascist society. Certainly there have been examples of Fascist governments that fit both of my models of Capitalist economies.

211:

>I agree that not all Custom ASICs are near-nine-figures; I should have qualified that by saying "at the latest production node, for a complex design requiring all of the bells and whistles".

Even the actual fpga's, which are usually one of the first chips on a new process node, don't cost that much per design. Xilinx have a total R+D budget of around 400 million a year - so around 800 million per process node. So for a nine figure sum you get a familiy of chips (28 for 28nm planned?), compilers, design tools and ip cores to use on them.

And now we've drifted so far off topic it's a bit silly! In my research to find out what xilinx were doing at 28nm i did notice there quoted use of the first product was LTE wireless base stations. Now that is interesting to a discussion of the internet. LTE has the potential to be a very aggressive competitor to wired broadband. I have one sensible choice today to get internet at home - it has to come through the useless twisted pair wire which is VERY bad where i live - true 4G mobile internet should be a genuine alternative and i'll have 4 or 5 different choices overall.

212:

This is the basic idea behind "sousveillance" - the effectiveness of which can be gauged by the number of camera memory cards confiscated...

213:

Ken McLeod has one of his characters make the point that most modern nations can easily "flip state" from pretend democracy to a real one, or vice versa - most have elections, most are surveillance states of one sort or another. It really wouldn't take much of a shove.

214:

Which is true in a political sense; see 1930s Germany and Italy for example. However, I was talking in an economics sense. Unless you hold an election that returns a government which decides to create a State Capitalist society by nationalising the means of production without paying compensation to the former owners (be they Communists or Oligarchs) I'm far from convinced it's so easy in an economics sense.

215:

Xilinx have a total R+D budget of around 400 million a year - so around 800 million per process node. So for a nine figure sum you get a family of chips

That would be "for a high-nine-figure sum you get a family of chips" which sounds about right if you're talking about somewhere north of $50M per mask.

Interestingly, Xilinx are now shipping FPGAs with a pair of hard-wired ARM Cortex-A9s inside, along with a bunch of peripherals, in addition to the normal FPGA fabric. As an embedded software engineer, that would have been my dream target environment... no more cries of "but we didn't think that you'd need more than two interrupt lines", "what do you mean, you want global memory", or even "the CPLD on the board isn't big enough to do that logic calculation". Not that I've ever been scarred by "How many Hardware Engineers does it take to change a lightbulb" *

* None. We'll fix it in software.

216:

Easy:-
package test_bulb is

function bulb_test return boolean ;

private

bulb_ok : constant boolean := true ;

function bulb_test is

begin

return bulb_ok ;

end bulb_test ;

end test_bulb ;

;-) As you can see, the bulb is always working in software.

217:

I'd be surprised if Xilinx spend much more than $50M on ALL of their 28nm mask sets together.

28nm mask sets ARE supposed to be approx double the cost for 40nm (double patterning so twice the mask count) but $50M fo masks is ALOT. Remember that only production chips have a unique mask set, prototypes share masks (a multi-project-wafer) and most simple errors can be fixed using metal only changes.

>"How many Hardware Engineers does it take to change a lightbulb" *
* None. We'll fix it in software.

Trust me that's "None. We'll fix it in software, If we can't get the phyiscal designers to fix it for us using spare gates a day after tape out before the mask shop get to making the metal masks"

218:

Martin, George William Herbert,

Get a clean room you two.

219:

No, I think Martin is correct. I remember the chaos quite well. It was that chaos that eventually resulted in the Thatcher government.

220:

Work cells improved worker conditions, but AFAIK it didn't improve productivity compared to old fashioned Taylorism.

221:

Not in any way that Taylor could measure maybe, but in any manufacturing process that involves intermittent flows or frequent reconfigurations of the process, having workers who can do more than one thing means you don't need to keep people around who aren't doing anything at the moment because the current configuration doesn't need them, or have to lay people off and hire others every time the process changes (which is very bad for employee morale, and seriously affects productivity, unless, of course, you think of your workers as machines and don't care).

222:

My turn to go AAARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!

After I moved to software from hardware one of my jobs was reviewing new chip target specifications to see how to support them in operating systems. Of course, I didn't get the specs until at least a year after the design process started, which means we usually had first prototype chips ready to come out of the pipe. So if I found a problem, and I did a couple of times, there was about zero chance of getting changes in the chip (it was usually a system problem, like screwing up the interrupt structure or not having enough bits of video). Very often the software solution was just to leave out a function that had been specifically requested from the chip designers.

223:

Reputation Trade, maybe? I think Charlie mentioned a similar online economy in Accelerando.

224:

I wish I could have better explain what I meant by micropayments being required as well as the insightful Jessica in her several comments above. I'm not even sure I have it all straight in my own head, but I'll give it another go.

By listing a whole set of requirements to make them happen, I was trying to point up that value exchange today rests on centuries of developments in wider society where we realise we need a whole pile of suppporting technologies to make a modern fiscal economy work. These are expensive, and no-one wants to pay for them, but the banks are into identity management becuase it reduces fraud, and the government is into it for the same reason. Large scale identity management is almost entirely for authoritarian purposes in our society. It makes sense in a debt driven society.

If we want to build a knowledge economy we have to accept that the supporting technologies will cost us, in exactly the same way we accept inefficiencies and pay for supporting technologies inherent in democracy (in some cases) because the wider benefits of living in a democratic society make it worthwhile to pay the tax for it. (Technologies like free speech journalism on the BBC, and mandated on all broadcasters.)

To have the benefits of a knowledge economy we need to have accounting for information in some manner. Building a micropayments system forces disaggregation of these technologies into discrete modular RFCable, semi-tractable chunks. If cash based, it might be non-threatening enough to the powers that are squatting on and profiteering from the nineteenth century knowledge infrastructure we have right now, and provide some way we can move forward non-catastrophically. The whole current paradigm is just dark age - who owns my storecard data? Am I prepared to license it? How?

We need legal boilerplate for agents to negotiate this and boil it down to sensible options. Really, how many people actually read legal documents that come with every transactional relationsip in modern society? You couldn't do it and have a life. We have specialists and consumer organisations and government legislation to provide sensible defaults. These have developed over a long time, in response to the technology in use. We need to start analysing these things and encoding them so that automated agents can negotiate for us. You can imagine going to your doctor and your phone exchanging keys at the surgery so that it can automate appointment booking from then on. We need to start building and using these technologies.

This is massive: it will change the whole nature of our society. Given how long it has taken to get HTML5 up and running it will take decades and decades. However, I believe it is necessary if we are to move forward. Otherwise we face stagnation and a new dark age where we are unable to handle the socially atomising nature of unmediated information transfer.

We must be able to hold to account those who lose our personal private information like some kind of copyright. We have to strengthen Digital Rights technologies to cover everything anything you create is automatically wrapped in your ownership as copyright law suggests. The internet of things isn't just about physical things. This is where I part company with Stallman and the Pirate Party radically and vehemently.
In a sense they are right that it is too expensive to reward copyright as it stands. But throwing it out is not a solution unless we wish our future to be full of ever more neuroscientifically researched advertising, based on ever more intrusive profiling.

I understand that people have said that it is too much hassle to do this for everything, which is why it has to be automated, and it has to be fine grained, and the transaction costs have to be negligable, most especially the non-automated parts.

Development of your public personas will be taught in school, and continue to be an important activity for your whole life.

I understand that this sounds like a lot of unnecessary work, but I really don't want to live in a society where I have to be totally profiled by semi-accountable entities whose sheer number of staff inevitably makes them of dubious discretion, so that creative people can eat. Which seems to be the alternative we're heading towards, and is one reason I don't identify myself publicly here, and pay cash when I can, etc.

225:

It looks like I've been confusing "mask cost" with "IC Design Costs" - mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. You live, you learn 8-)

http://semimd.com/blog/tag/cadence/

Chip scaling enables smaller devices at lower costs, but there are also some major ramifications: Fewer and fewer vendors can participate as the industry marches down to the smaller nodes. Only the players with deep pockets can afford to play at 20nm. It’s simply becoming too expensive for most to play at the bleeding-edge of IC design and manufacturing.

The foundries are seeing a clear trend at the leading-edge. “The number of tape outs is decreasing, but the volumes are much higher,” said GlobalFoundries’ Capodieci during his keynote at ISQED.

Citing International Business Strategies Inc. (IBS), a research firm, Cadence’s Beckley said at the 32/28nm nodes, a fab runs $3 billion, process R&D is $1.2 billion, IC design costs ranges from $50 million to $90 million, and mask costs are from $2 million to $3 million.

Citing the same research firm, he said at the 22/20nm nodes, a fab will cost $4 billion to $7 billion, process R&D runs from $2.1 billion to $3 billion, design costs run from between $120 million to $500 million, and mask costs are from $5 million to $8 million.

In an attempt to veer back to the original topic, no-one has mentioned the obvious UK comparison: funding for the arts.

On the one hand, we have commercially-driven lowest common denominator stuff churned out by the TV companies (funded by advertising); but we also see some truly awesome programming from the likes of HBO and the BBC (funded by subscription). We also have the reverse... advertising-funded TV programmes aren't _all_ bad.

You could argue that Hollywood goes for the subscription-based funding - if it's rubbish (John Carter?) they write off $200M. If it's good, they win. They use the profits from their one success to fund eight loss-makers.

Whenever there is a worthy attempt to fund "deserving but not mainstream" arts, there are accusations of elitism (opera, anyone?), cronyism (your Arts Council grant going to mates-of-X, friends-of-Y - because obviously you have to understand it in order to critique it) and right-on stuff (you don't have to wait long for the Daily Mail's next rant about disabled LGBT experimental theatre companies, or the contents of the Tate Modern).

I for one don't envy the Arts funding bodies in their attempts to identify where to spend limited funds against potentially unlimited demands - how do you decide between a theatre group in the Utter Hebrides with a tiny audience from a tiny population, or a cutting-edge experimental group in London with a tiny audience from a huge population?

There has to be a mix, and it's always going to cause disagreement...

226:

For those interested in this sub-thread and the end of Moore's Law I suggest that you check if your local technical library has a copy of Chips 2020 published by Springer. It discusses both the technical and the financial aspects in language that even a non-technical person can grasp the gist of. This book is a must read for anyone writing hard science fiction.

227:

Moore's Law in terms of cost per transistor (or whatever) will continue long after feature size is no longer shrinking.

228:

Those who have never seen Chuck Lorre's shows starting with Dharma and Greg may not understand all of this but tonight's episode of "The Big Bang Theory" had a vanity card which seem to apply to this thread as originally started.

http://www.chucklorre.com/index-bbt.php?p=383

I have no idea what made me stop and read this one as I haven't looked at one of them in a year or so.

I'd post the text but given the ties to monster big media I'm not sure Charlie want's to have a copyright issue or fight over this.

229:

Jim wrote:


Martin, George William Herbert,
Get a clean room you two.

I *had* a clean room. I had to turn it into my consulting company's training room...

230:

Phil writes:

Ken McLeod has one of his characters make the point that most modern nations can easily "flip state" from pretend democracy to a real one, or vice versa - most have elections, most are surveillance states of one sort or another. It really wouldn't take much of a shove.

It's harder than that. Real democracy requires and comes with respect for the mass will of the voter, even if individuals are abused. That doesn't easily flip off. It has - rarely - just flipped on.

231:

The economic organisation of the USSR and satellites did not fit any reasonable definition of capitalist. It was a centralised command economy with production and prices set centrally. For a system to be capitalist requires that there be a variety of competitive producers with prices and production determined by the interaction of demand and supply which balance at the marginal price. Fascist regimes tended to follow a corporatist economic policy combined with autarky favouring large businesses, domestic cartels and monopolies at times to the extent of outright banning small businesses and severely restricting imports, exports, foreign ownership and expatriation of the profits of existing foreign owned businesses. State capitalism has been used to mean several widely differing things and as such the term has been rendered largely meaningless.

232:

I was there too and the way I remember it both management and unions pretty much got the management and unions they deserved.

Or, to put it another way, if you start with an adversarial model of industrial relations it's no good looking all surprised and lookingto blame somebody else when if end up with bitter, bloody, destructive civil war being fought over the picket lines and the boardroom tables...

233:

[on the road, hence delay responding]

1) Your definitions are bullshit that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the labels you're attaching to them. Hint: Communism and Fascism aren't about economics. Economics is seen by their exponents as being subordinate to the ideology, not a defining characteristic.

2) You're derailing. Drop this side-discussion at once. Further attempts to define/squabble over Fascism/Communism may be deleted by moderators.

234:

I do sometimes wonder how much the assumptions of the internet are driven by American thinking. Else-net, I saw some population figures that suggested that USA internet users outnumbered those from the other English-speaking countries by nearly 3-to-1, but I think the figure missed a good many people outside the USA.

Still, it is evident that American assumptions, social and political, are not universal. Some are valid ideals, others are consequences of local politics, and some things, abhorrent to me, I hope are the product of a tiny but vocal minority.

Looking at the history, I sometimes find it hard to be hopeful about the USA. It's a couple of centuries since we Brits lynched anyone, and that was a monkey anyway. My father remembers reading reports of range wars and lynchings in the press. Within living memory, America seemed a savage and barbarous place.

Are the assumptions derived from that history poisoning the world?

235:

Yes

The USa has NOT had its' "time of troubles" yet.
Ours were the wars of the roases AND the aftermath of the two civil wars 1645-51.
Finally resolved in 1688.

Beware of the 2016 US Pres election!

236:

Hah! We've had our time of troubles at least 3 times so far in the last century and a half (American CIvil War and Reconstruction and the creation of the KKK, just after the turn of the 20th century with lynchings and race riots, and post WWI with the strikebreakers and anti-red goon squads). Granted a couple of those weren't as intense or as ubiquitous as either the British or American Civil Wars, but they involved a lot of deaths and injuries, and had political repercussions far beyond their immediate location.

But I agree that we're liable to see another one in the next decade or two, unless things start changing back to more of what they were a couple of generations ago, before the gains in equality of the post-WWII era started being rolled back.

237:

The British handled loss of empire rather well. No revolutions, no major wars, no collapse of civil society, no dictatorships. I doubt the USA will go as peacefully.

238:

At least not for the people in the UK. It did go fairly badly for those part of the empire that were freed. Still does in many places.

And it seemed to create a lot of poverty in the UK. Or at least a lowering of the standard of living. Which is what is happening in the US as the rest of the world stops buying our stuff and making it themselves.

I'm curious as to how politics will play out here in the US and around the world IF we in the US stop buying so much oil overseas. Of course all we have to do is agree on which path to take to get to that point. Yeah, right.

239:

What caused the drop in living standards was WW2 plus the cost of the empire itself. Once we had divested of most of it, by 1960, things began to pick up again rapidly.

240:

What exactly constitutes American Empire?

241:

After WW2 the English wanted their own A-bomb. After all they started it and it was only moved to America to use our greater resources. After it worked our congress passed a law that kept it here. The Labor government and the Uppers did not like America anyway. And according to a Brit who then a American and was one of the long term workers wrote. He was asked for secrets by a very bitter ex-coworker. The facts of the bomb was know to the Brit's, after all it was their baby. But the mechanics cost many man years.
It seems the hard times after the war was not in other countries. But the others were not making a A-bomb. They were making race cars and the like. And having a big party at a time when life in England was grim and the much of your future was wasted. Mostly for the rulers ego.

242:

FROM WHAT I READ OVER HERE?

243:

" It took the British ruling class years to accept that the Astor family, into which David Cameron has married, were true aristocrats. They were American immigrants, doubly damned because they had made their fortune in "trade". The Astors soothed suspicions by entertaining in style at Cliveden, their Italianate mansion on the edge of the Chilterns. In the 1930s, Waldorf Astor, the second viscount, and his wife, Nancy, increased their prestige by making their home the social centre for the pro-appeasement wing of the Conservative party."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/15/nick-cohen-astor-cameron-taxes

Basically its those parts of The Empire that the British ruling Class decided to pass on as an Inheritance ... Our Rulers are BIG on Inheritance.

Or put another WAY .. " Take Up The White Mans Burden " and stop Whimpering ...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUAVogHXgbY


" Have Done with childish days !"


'The White Man's Burden', first published in the popular magazine McClure's in the United States, is often used by critics of Rudyard Kipling to highlight his imperialist, if not racist attitudes.

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

"The nub is that the White Man has to bear a burden and responsibility for the non-White Man.

The decent White Man, European White Man that is, is under an obligation to rule them, these lesser races, to encourage them in their development, until they can take their rightful place in the world, always subordinate of course to their betters.

Rather in the way a decent employer treats the servants. "


http://www.heureka.clara.net/art/white-mans-burden.htm

But then there is always " The Servant Problem " ..depending on how you define " Servant "

244:

Yes. Sorry. The UK Empire stopped generating money before WWII. By then it was an ego thing.

245:

Perhaps the US empire is a tribute empire. Effectively, we tell the world, "you must buy our debt, to back those dollars you use as your most reliable international currency." That's the tribute you pay.

When the world no longer buys US debt, that's the end of the US empire as such.

246:

This is a little off topic, but the Hugo Nominations are out. Note the following:

Best Short Story (593 ballots)

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld April 2011)
“The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s April/May 2011)
“Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s March 2011)
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2011)
“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (Tor.com)

"Have we lived and fought against Night Dragons and Internet Puppies in vain?"

247:

The USA currently has roughly as many bases and troops stationed on other nations soil as the British Empire had at its peak. They serve much the same function -- to facilitate the ability of the US military to project force anywhere on Earth in pursuit of declared foreign policy objectives. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

(The only problem is, the USA's foundational myth is one of plucky colonials rebelling against an evil and unaccountable empire. Admitting that you've become that which you rebelled against is an ideological about-face that many people find difficult to swallow in any society; in the US, where the nation-building mythology is constantly and heavily re-indoctrinated in the population at large, it must be nearly impossible.)

248:

You missed one:

e) That the current situation with internet advertising remotely resembles a real market, and that what Google is charging is anything close to a real spot price.

If that ever changes, then some really interesting things could happen.

Imagine what would happen if the true price of advertising was 50% (or 25% or, god forbid, 10%) of what Google charges.

How many ad-supported websites would survive? What else would change as a knock-on effect?

249:

Thing is, we don't claim to own the countries within which where we're based. That's a subtle but critical difference between the US and the British Empire.

It's also worth realizing that the imperial powers of today can read history, just as we do. When a strategy like formal ownership tends to fail in a messy way, they move on to more palatable arrangements.

250:

EH! Don't claim to own ? Define 'Own ' and then explain to me the "The Monroe Doctrine " ...


"The Monroe Doctrine is a policy of the United States introduced on December 2, 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention.[1] The Doctrine noted that the United States would neither interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. The Doctrine was issued at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved independence from the Spanish Empire (except Peru and Bolivia, which became independent in 1823 and 1825 respectively, and Cuba and Puerto Rico). The United States, working in agreement with Britain, wanted to guarantee no European power would move in.[2]

President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to Congress. It became a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets, and would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and others. "


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

Note the presence of the Sainted President Kennedy of Sacred Memory in that list and reflect upon recent wars of Power - OIL - and Influence and the use of Mercenary Companies by The American Empire and reflect upon the growth of The British Empire by accident and its possession of commercial interests by the British Aristocracy which blended seamlessly into Political Interest. Blackwater ? " Academi[2]—previously known as Xe Services LLC, Blackwater USA and Blackwater Worldwide—is a private military company founded in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark.[3][4] Academi is currently the largest of the U.S. State Department's three private security contractors. Academi provided diplomatic security services in Iraq to the United States federal government on a contractual basis.[1] Academi also has a research and development wing that was responsible for developing the Grizzly APC along with other military technology. The company's headquarters is in Arlington County, Virginia.[5][6] "

Hum, by coincidence the CIA has a modest little establishment in Virginia doesn't it?

Try inputing " Black water jobs " into google search and see what you get. Lots of un-employed special forces soldiers hanging about the world at the moment being bored and looking for jobs.

Also try googling " Clive of India "

" Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, KB (29 September 1725 – 22 November 1774), also known as Clive of India, was a British officer who established the military and political supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal. He is credited with securing India, and the wealth that followed, for the British crown. Together with Warren Hastings he was one of the key early figures in the creation of British India."

Not the British State or its Empire ..which didn't exist at the time of Clive .. but The East India Company ..

" The East India Company was an English and later (from 1707) British joint-stock company[1] formed for pursuing trade with the East Indies but which ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent.

The Company was granted a Royal Charter in 1600,[2] making it the oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies. Shares of the company were owned by wealthy merchants and aristocrats. The government owned no shares and had only indirect control. The Company operated its own large army with which it controlled major portions of India.

The East India Company traded mainly in cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium. The Company also came to rule large areas of India, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions.[3] Company rule in India effectively began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey and lasted until 1858 when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of India in the new British Raj. The Company was dissolved in 1874 as a result of the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act. "


The British Empire in its fully formed Merger and Acquisition of the Companies - and their private Armies and Navies,in their private empires form - wasn't in existence for all that long before ..set aside World War the First and Second ..it became Obvious that Times had Changed and it was about time that The American Wing of the Commercial Empire had its turn ..albeit that that 'turn ' would take a slightly different form and not have a Queen Empress.

" That's a subtle but critical difference between the US and the British Empire. " ..

Er, nope, sorry ..thats a wish fulfillment fantasy.Its not all that 'critical'

Power speaks to Power. Methodology will change a bit and Mercenary Cos will be called something different but Rulers Will RULE and Empires of one sort or another are their tools.At the moment the US of American Empire is holding a rear guard, no holds barred, action against China ..who certainly aren't setting up a Colonial Empire in Africa, oh dearie me NO!

Not to worry, for British Banking and Commercial Interests are firmly established in both China and the American Empire and you wouldn't believe the sheer number of Chinese Students that we have in the UK at the moment ... " we " will see you all right whoever might happen to ' win '.

Financial Crisis? Wot Financial Crisis is that?

251:

EVIL AMERICA, RIGHT! From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Franco-Mexican War

The French intervention in Mexico (Spanish: Segunda Intervención Francesa en México), also known as The Maximilian Affair, War of the French Intervention, and The Franco-Mexican War, was an invasion of Mexico by an expeditionary force sent by the Second French Empire, supported in the beginning by the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Spain. It followed President Benito Juárez's suspension of interest payments to foreign countries on 17 July 1861, which angered Mexico's major creditors: Spain, France and Britain.
Napoleon III of France was the instigator, justifying military intervention by claiming a broad foreign policy of commitment to free trade. For him, a friendly government in Mexico would provide an opportunity to expand free trade by ensuring European access to important markets, and prevent monopoly by the United States. Napoleon also wanted the silver that could be mined in Mexico to finance his empire. Napoleon built a coalition with Spain and Britain while the U.S. was engaged in a full-scale civil war. The U.S. protested but could not intervene directly until its own house was in order, i.e., in 1865.[6]
The three powers signed the Treaty of London on October 31, to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On 8 December the Spanish fleet and troops from Spanish-controlled Cuba arrived at Mexico's main Gulf port, Veracruz. When the British and Spanish discovered that the French planned to invade Mexico, they withdrew.
The subsequent French invasion resulted in the Second Mexican Empire, which was supported by the Roman Catholic clergy, many conservative elements of the upper class, and some indigenous communities; the presidential terms of Benito Juárez (1858–71) were interrupted by the rule of the Habsburg monarchy in Mexico (1864–67). Conservatives, and many in the Mexican nobility, tried to revive the monarchical form of government (see: First Mexican Empire) when they helped to bring to Mexico an archduke from the Royal House of Austria, Maximilian Ferdinand, or Maximilian I of Mexico (who married Charlotte of Belgium, also known as Carlota of Mexico), with the military support of France. France had various interests in this Mexican affair, such as seeking reconciliation with Austria, which had been defeated during the Franco-Austrian War, counterbalancing the growing U.S. power by developing a powerful Catholic neighboring empire, and exploiting the rich mines in the north-west of the country.

252:

heteromeles @ 249
You may not "claim" to won the countries, but the fact is that you do!
Duck quacks again!

253:

One of the weirder things here in the states is the people with the most to gain from the de facto empire are the least interested in paying for it, manifest destiny somehow coexists with Washington's desire to avoid foreign entanglements.

254:

Um, do I have to explain the difference between the British Raj and, say, Japan and South Korea? Yes, the western hemisphere is supposed to be "our backyard," and well, it is, more or less (great place to acquire monkeys for our backs, as Robin Williams noted), but there's a bit of a difference between planting the Union Jack and marching in the Corporal Tommy, and the rather more subtle way the US goes about exerting hegemony, by trampling a place and then insisting it forms an American-style democracy using American-style contractors and buying American-style arms from American companies.

Note that I'm not saying the US isn't imperial. It's an empire of tribute, not an empire of conquest. As with China, we'd rather have clients than territories.

255:
Do these service share the last mile or is everyone providing a separate wire pair. I'm thinking the basic wire and signal to the end point needs to be handled like a public utility. With ISP providing the routing and value adds.

France Telecom (aka "the historical operator") is forced by the regulator to make the last mile available to other operators at non-discriminatory prices. Initially there some claims that FT were dragging their feet making lines available but the regulators slapped them upside the head.

For Fibre they haven't yet got it sorted but the intention is that a similar deal will be struck.

All of this only works because the regulators seem to be doing a good job - fighting pretty hard against the efforts of the industry minister show favoritism to some companies for example.

256:

During and after WW-2 FDR was working hard to end colonies. Churchill was frankly blocking him. The world after WW-2was made by England and the rest trying to keep there overseas lands. Not America taking over. we wanted to go back home and party. FDR and HST wanted to get along with the Soviet union their war time ally. Stalin did his best to scare the hell out of us so we would leave him alone and let him take over the world. He did and we armed for WW-3 with A-Bombs. Those of you who have been educated by Marxist history teachers want to think the US was and is evil, are still trying to account for facts that do not mach what you want to think.

257:

Thanks; this will be way easier than trying to freeze-frame the DVDs!

258:

Counter-examples:

The Philippines, circa 1910-1920.

Nicaragua mostly thanks to United Fruit, Inc. most of the 20th century, and more recently thanks to the CIA (see also Iran-Contra).

The invasion of Panama (really, a drug bust?)

Columbia and the war on some drugs.

Vietnam and the bombing of Cambodia

The invasion of Iraq

The overthrow of the elected government of Chile in 1973

Ares alone knows how many proxy wars fought in Asia and Africa.

259:

I will you the Philippines and Nicaragua everyone who could really was doing it and people like Mark Twain were fighting it. And not only in America. He had a lot to say about the colonists in general and in particular.
Most of the rest was from the mindset of anti-communism. And remember Stalin had showed himself to all. If they paid attention. The ones who were heartbroken after Khrushchev's "Secret Speech," denouncing Stalin lived in the same kind of world our American R/W does. And many of the it's the YANKS doing still do. the newspapers of the time showed we really did want to stay home. But grads of that Marxist University in Moscow were showing up all over the world. Using left over USSR WW-2 weapons to kill anybody who could some day oppose them. We should still have stayed home. Our progressive wanted to help save people, the Cons said it was none of our business And don't speed the tax money. Who cared about dead brown people, right. But we stayed out of WW-2 so long we did not want to repeat that error. Remember who was doing the killing before we showed up and kept it up we did.
Do you think things like the Cambodia killing fields was Americas doing.

260:

Are you still checking for "Reds under the bed" before you can go to sleep at night? ;-)

261:
Do you think things like the Cambodia killing fields was Americas doing.
No. Nor does that have anything to do with the subject under discussion.
262:

"still checking for "Reds under the bed" No and never did. I've hated the GOP for keeping the Nam war going to elecit Nixon. But the its a fact that the old Soviet Union was training and arming people to go all over the world to disrupt who ever was in power. And when the time was right they started killing people to show the government in power was to weak to stop them. That's a simple fact that can be checked by anybody who wants to. If you had a room full of the faddish posters of the time you were not likely to have checked. Then or now.
It was not the R/W going out and trying to stop this. They wanted to stay home until it was time to use the A-Bombs. The progressives used what happened before WW-2 as a reason to get into it when asked, before it was bomb time. If you look at what have come out of the paper work of the dead SU maybe they were right. But it sure ruined us. Just like the Right said it would. They were mad over it then and still are. I was there vas you? Not a popular, then or now.

263:

d brown: Those of you who have been educated by Marxist history teachers want to think the US was and is evil,

Dude, all empires are evil; it's one of the defining characteristics of the beast. You don't need to be so defensive -- you won't find me defending the British Empire here! (A bigger bunch of blood-drenched avaricious hypocrites would be hard to find. And if you want the evidence, just compare the famine frequency in India before, during and after the East India Company/British Empire period).

From an overseas perspective, the US government is frequently evil. It's a side-effect of having an aggressive foreign policy stance oriented around the needs of your own businesses. Countries that won't bend the neck must be cowed, and every so often the top dog needs to throw some punk country up against a wall and beat seven shades of shit out of it to terrify everyone else into willing compliance. (That, incidentally, was the public position of a State Department official back in the day, not so long ago. Not something I'm pulling out of my ass.)

But you don't need to worry. Right now, the USA with 3% of the world population is driving 25% of its resource consumption (per GDP figures). By the end of the century I expect that to be down to 3-10%, just like the UK today (0.1% of population, 3-4% of planetary GDP, down from 50% in the 1860s). At which point, foreigners will stop hating on the USA because the USA will have lost the ability to fuck them up.

264:

#256 et seq - Er, my education by "history teachers" (include college/university lecturers, readers et al) stopped with the Industrial Revolution.

Charlie, please take note that this is why my knowledge of the facts, never mind the underlying politics, of anything later is patchy!

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