Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pssst, kid! Wanna buy a senator?

"When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators." -P.J. O'Rourke
In various discussions on socioeconomic systems, I have often used the retort "Well, Bill Gates can't send men with guns to make me buy his software" as shorthand for why I generally prefer to take my chances with capitalism wherever possible, as opposed to letting the government do things.

This morning at Marko's place, I saw someone use pretty much the very same line, and I paused to think about it for a bit, and replied that it was true that he couldn't make me buy his software, at least not directly. But he can buy a government official, who will then ensure that the government buys his software, and with my money, to boot, so not only am I out the money, I don’t even get a lousy copy of Windows out of the deal.

So how do you fix it?

45 comments:

CGHill said...

"Lousy copy of Windows" contains at least one redundancy.

Bubblehead Les. said...

So how do you fix it? Didn't Lincoln ask that question about Military Logistics back in the 1860's?

og said...

Voting is not the answer, anymore.

Brandoch Daha said...

Duh, pass more verbose laws, silly!

Ed Rasimus said...

Nah, the government can't make you buy a product you don't want from a third party. That's way too much of a stretch, isn't it? The Commerce Clause would never allow that unless...oops, never mind.

TinCan Assassin said...

Open Season on Senators?

Tango Juliet said...

"Americans, both politicians and voters, may have become corrupted by big government beyond redemption. A virtuous government requires a virtuous people. A frugal government requires a self-reliant people. A free country requires a people who value liberty more than money." -- Charley Reese

The Jack said...

The problem still seems to lie in the ability of governmental coercion.

Being forced to do X because Uncle Moneybags bribed some congressmen (or bureaucrats or regulators or executives) is the same as being forced to do X because some bright-eyed party hack thought it would "save the children" or "heal the planet" or "get reelected".

In either case it's the government that holds the whip. As you said, unlike the State which can send men with guns to your house, Gates can't… unless, he rents 'em from the State. There's a commonality there.

It would seem that limiting the power of government to force people to follow its (or its proxies) edicts would be required. One could see some sort of… foundational document that expressly prohibits governmental action in certain areas.

Though enforcement is the hairy bit, especially for non compliance and violations of said limitations.

Robb Allen has some interesting thoughts on accountability on the part of Agents of the State. Florida's HB45 is an interesting example
http://blog.robballen.com/2011/08/31/p5061-again-accountability-is-the-key.post

http://blog.robballen.com/2011/10/24/p5190-when-there-is-no-consequences-for-your-actions.post

Also turns a bit more depressing.

http://blog.robballen.com/2011/10/31/p5209-youre-not-voting-your-way-out-of-this-people.post

BobG said...

"It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged."
— G.K. Chesterton

“Society is like a stew. If you don't stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.”
- Edward Abbey

Tam said...

The Jack,

It goes beyond that.

Look at the enormous, overly-complex, craptastic Space Shuttle you bought because every aerospace company from Mobile bay to Monterey beach has a pet congressman in their hip pocket.

Anonymous said...

Well, in the longer term, the solution is to starve the state to make it economically impossible to provide the means to accomplish such aims.

In the shorter term, on the advice of counsel, I'm pleading the fifth.

Panamared said...

The real answer is a history lesson, but to start with we need to put the jinn back in the bottle. We need to starve the government of the excess funds, and give the states back the powers enumerated in the constitution. The only way I see to start the process is to eliminate the income-tax, and too return the power or the Senate to the States.

Anonymous said...

Ummm, make the government less powerful?

The Jack said...

Tam

A'yup. Having a monopoly on force makes "captive customers" and the .gov can handily facilitate purchases. The whole of military procurement (I'm lumping in NASA with this as the shuttles were never for non gov sale) is a good example of what happens when you have an end user monopoly. Defense companies can only sell their products to the US (or to foreign countries /entities that the US approves of). Though its not a customer monopoly, as the US doesn't pay for those goodies.

The Gates example is bad, imagine if he could only sell his product to the gov. Suddenly, buying a few more pets is even more appealing.

It also goes the other way, as congressmen can have pet companies. Arlen Specter's little empire is a prime example (and gee-wilikers there was more than a few defense contractors in that constellation). Though the latest batch of green companies is another.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Bill Gates used to not want to get involved with the gummint. He just to sell his software and avoid the added cost of bribe money. Then his competitors, who DID pay bribe money, hauled him up before the man.

Monopoly don't ya know. How can you tell when a company is doing an anti-trust violation? Easy. If he's selling something less than his competitor, that's dumping. If it's sold for lots, that's monopolistic pricing. If it's exactly the same, that's collusion. All are verboten.

Anyhoo, MS learned when they got through to the other side. Now they spend the proper amount of bribe money in Washington DC as well as their bidness money in Washington state. When a govvie is powerful enough he demands, and gets, his Taste.

Tam said...

NJT,

"Monopoly don't ya know. How can you tell when a company is doing an anti-trust violation? Easy. If he's selling something less than his competitor, that's dumping. If it's sold for lots, that's monopolistic pricing. If it's exactly the same, that's collusion. All are verboten."

I've made the wisecrack before that, since he doesn't use public schools or the public health system or public transportation, about all Bill Gates gets out of his tax dollars is some indifferent pothole repair in his neighborhood and a bunch of government attorneys to take him to court.

Anonymous said...

My dear Tam:

You reboot the System, of course.

docjim505 said...

Ditto Panamared, but Tango Juliet's quote really gets to the heart of the problem: no law, amendment, policy, etc. will do the trick so long as we've got a people who are predominately inclined to being slothful mooches who want Uncle Sugar to do everything for them (or to somebody else).

Tam said...

Anon 11:25,

"You reboot the System, of course."

I'm beginning to think that it's a hardware-level problem.

Drang said...

If the .gov wasn't buying Windoze machines, they'd be ordering computers to run ADA, and software designed specifically to urn on it.

Early in the days when they were lying to us about how in a few years we'll be paperless, every time I PCS'd I'd have to learn a new word processor.

I know that sounds like I'm missing the point, but is it cheaper to buy a mass of (lowest-bidder) desktops w/MS Office installed, or to order s shit-ton of purpose-built machines with the software you designed and support? The points about the size of government are valid, but government has to do business, too...

Boat Guy said...

'Pears more and more likely that the system is gonna crash. Those of us working in .gov are used to that happening with our hardware/software which is usually supplied by ... some company.
Now though it seems that we won't HAVE to starve "the system" ,just be ready when it collapses.
Repealing Amendments XVI and XVII would be a good start in any case.

Tam said...

Drang,

Purpose-built or off-the-shelf, the point's the same. Someone who owns a politician can make you buy their product, either directly or indirectly. At least with GEICO, you actually get the product you're forced to buy, unlike with General Dynamics.

Keith said...

Universal sufferage has failed. We need another way...

Service Guarantees Citizenship!

Borepatch said...

There is no solution. Quite frankly, this is exactly why government services are lousy, and almost always worse than the same service provided by the private sector.

Essentially, the Congresscritters are the customers for the Space Shuttle, so it gets built for them. Elon Musk doesn't have that problem, so he's building his system for paying customers.

I think that there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the Congresscritters are at the end of their ability to suck off more surplus, because the economies of the word are cratering from all the surplus-sucking.

The bad news, of course, is that the economies of the world are cratering from all the surplus sucking. It looks like the balloon is going up in Europe, and when this sort of thing happens, it happens fast.

Jim said...

A hardware problem, Tam? Maybe. But I think it's more that someone keeps changing the software language.

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

bedlamite said...

clicky

Joe in PNG said...

Nothing new here- we've reached the "Decadaence" phase of our Cycle. Collapse is coming right up. Not much you can do about it, unless you're a Crazy Eddie or something...

Jayson said...

Basically, I just point out to people that congressmen don't get Secret Service protection.

Kevin Baker said...

Which is why Nancy Pelosi et al. are so concerned about the limousine-peircing capabilities of the .50BMG rifle.

Now we're going to get TJIC'd, aren't we?

(WV: iment - iment no harm, really!)

God, Gals, Guns, Grub said...

Consider this simple fix... 25 and out... spread the opportunity around... combined lifetime maximum of 25 years in public service and/or government employment in any combination... elected, state, federal, local, paid... applies to senators, fireman, police, military, mayors, postal workers, city council, dog warden, governors, etc...

25 years can give stability, yet enough turnover to avoid taking advantage of the situation or self-entrenchment...

I think public service is important and honorable in many instances, but it should not be a career, it should be just that - service...

Well, now I've stepped in it... what are your thoughts...

Dann in Ohio

Sigivald said...

Smaller state, that's how you fix it, to the extent it's fixable. (Which is "a lot".)

As long as we have a State - which we will no matter what - we'll have exaction under duress.

And any state these days will have computers, and software for them - and maybe that means they'll buy Windows.

Maybe it means they'll buy OSX?

Doesn't matter - point being that they'll be buying something.

But a smaller state isn't worth "buying off" with even pseudo-corrupt tactics to get a mandate for your OS.

If the US government was buying as many copies of Windows as a medium-large corporation, it'd get marketed to more like one, I reckon.

Kristopher said...

Legalize dueling in the legislature.

It might not fix the problem, but it will make CSPAN more entertaining.

Anonymous said...

OK, step one, make senators back to what they were: appointed cronies of the gov'nor of the state they come from.

That's what they were for.


Second cut the fed gov back to circa 1939 size, ok 1060 if you prefer <- this will involve the repeal of about a bazillion laws.

chances this happening: zero

Wilhelm Durand said...

Get a King, and don't buy cheap.

Tam said...

sigivald,

"And any state these days will have computers, and software for them - and maybe that means they'll buy Windows.

Maybe it means they'll buy OSX?
"

Forget Bill Gates. Forget Windows or OS X or Linux or whatever. This isn't some ghey-ass internet My-OS-Rules-Your-OS-Sucks thread.

Pretend I said "ADM" and "ethanol" or "GEICO" and "car insurance" or "Morton-Thiokol" and "O-Rings" instead of "Bill Gates" and Windows".

Wilhelm Durand said...

Question for the libertarians,

I hear a lot of suggestions to the order of "scale back the government to the size of year XXXX" or "return to the Constitution". My question is this: Via what mechanics currently in place do you seek to enact these changes? Do you think, by voting--whereby your opinion counts for about 1/30,000 (average size of a Congressional district) of the result in the process of electing someone who is liable to change their mind/be subjected to outside influences, a vote pitted against thousands of other voters, the vast majority of whom most likely do not share your opinions--there is any reasonable chance at all that your well thought out plan will become a reality?

And even supposing that it does become a reality, what makes you think that resetting the clock to 1936 or 1783 or whenever will at all help the problem, when the government that we currently have has long been entrenched in the corrupt irresponsibility spiral that you seek to solve? Will it not just revert right back to its old practices, siccing the hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats to writing whole new chaff legislation, whole new pandering laws with pork and waste and unenforceable regulations?

What, really, is your plan for accomplishing your goals?

the pawnbroker said...

Competition.

If it's pure capitalism we want, why should buying a senator be different than buying a toilet seat or anything else?

If you want the guy's loyalty, you've got to be the high bidder. And isn't that what the election process really amounts to?

Like communism, capitalism probably can't exist in pure form, so we have this twisted mess instead; still I'll take the latter in lieu of the former.

But don't blame Gates et al for doing whatever it takes to generate sales and profit; that's their job. Ours is to keep buyer and seller honest by wielding the vote like an axe.

Maybe one day we'll get it right.

perlhaqr said...

Kill them all, the Devil will know his own.

Bram said...

Term limits would be a good start. I've observed that it usually takes a couple of terms to really corrupt a new member of Congress.

Tam said...

Wilhelm Durand,

I don't think there's really any solving it, since the ballot box returns every election cycle seem to indicate that a majority of people don't think there's a problem to be solved.

A Critic said...

My 3 step plan:

1. Prepare

2. Wait for the collapse of government and society.

3. Build a new anarcho-capitalist/libertarian world.

Tam said...

4. ????

5. Profit!

Robert said...

We the people don't need new software...We need more hardware.

Anyone got a spare catapult on Mare Undarum?

Wilhelm Durand said...

A very good answer, Tam.

I ask, because in my time as a libertarian, it was a question I could not answer to my satisfaction.

Dave R. said...

It's worth mentioning in passing that Bill Gates ran Microsoft without any significant lobbying presence in Washington at first, and got nearly raped by anti-trust complaints for his trouble.

Of course, he did learn his lesson. But any solution needs to take that perverse incentive into account.