Saturday, July 27, 2013

Research funding, spinoffs, and "getting yours"

Spin offs. Among the people who have paid attention to our space program, "spin offs" is fairly large talking point. But I don't generally feel like the population as a whole knows much about them.

A Spin off is a technology, product set, or applicable knowledge that came out of the space program either as a side effect, or as a direct technological advancement. If you start looking into this- from radial tires and highway grooving to medical knowedge, telemetry, and treatement- from prosthetics to household appliances- almost no area of "middle class" life is untouched by the benefits of spin offs.

Few people realize the level of impact that the mass of spin offs have had on the United States. But many people are aware of the funding.

A common, almost "default" argument of many fiscal conservatives and libertarians is that government funded private research is bad- if the company gets intellectual property or an ability to make a profit off of the research. This is generally couched in terms that can be boiled down to "it's my tax money and I didn't get nothin, someone else made a profit!"

I'm going to argue that "didn't get nothin" is completely inaccurate.

This topic came up in a discussion of "global warming" and pollution. I am of the opinion that the latter is a much more important human issue than the variable maybes of the former.

I was presented with a set of options to reduce pollution based on getting rid of the internal combustion engine. What I was presented with was:

1: Supporting stronger aircare regulations.

2: reducing the number of freeways

3: Higher taxes on automobile and related transportation.

4: increased mileage requirements.

Note, specifically, that my goal is to GET RID of the IC engine. None of these solutions actually address that. All of the presented universe of "possible" solutions rely on government restriction or money gathering as a restrictive tax on use.

I have another answer, which I presented. Research.

The response was to suggest "bounty prizes" for specific targeted goals. I don't really think that's an option.  I like the bounties and prize money, but it doesn't have the same impact as the type of funding and results of the 40s through the 60s.

In a bounty system, you have a direct target and less opportunity to make use of spin offs. You also have to fund the research in the hopes of winning the bounty (which isn't really that high in any of the cases I've seen)

What we had at one point- what people complain about as in the opening lines of this essay- was essentially "free money if you have an idea or a lab."

Yeah, there were some paperwork requirements and tracking issues, pork barrels and corporate pushiness. But, it boiled down to "free money if you have an idea or lab- and the oomph to do some paperwork and make a case"

What's the difference? ZERO RISK RESEARCH. You didn't have to justify- to your board, your wife, or your kids' dinners- spending 75% of your annual profits on a research project. You didn't have to shut down a pension plan to do research funding. You didn't have to (and in many cases were not PERMITTED to) outsource a lab to cut costs.

Zero. Risk. Research. With functionally unlimited amounts of money available.

What did we get out of it? Contrary to the common argument that companies made profit off the government and we got nothing- we got spin offs. And jobs, pensions, growth in income, technology, overall standard of living, and national wealth like nothing history has ever seen.

We went through an era of almost complete technological dominance and increasing wealth.

Yeah, private individuals got patents, corporate "entities" got patents, people and companies made money off of the research. And we got...


(yes, we had some downsides, but they are identifiable and manageable.)

My answer to the pollution problem? Make the internal combustion engine economically stupid.

How? I don't know. I suggest we throw TRUCKLOADS of money into research and see what happens. Let's do a bailout on our technological dominance instead of banks.

Will you "get yours"? probably. The economic spin off effects are pretty amazing.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fair playing fields.

In a recent discussion on- what else- the economy, I offered the opinion that we aren't really practicing socialism as such, nor "capitalism" (by any real defintion). A lot of our core issues on an individual level stem from a corporate-benefit state in partnership with a progressivist governmental system that seeks to control all non-business economic activity.

We, quite simply, don't have a fair playing field. Of course, I was asked what I consider to be a fair playing field.

Wow. Now, that's huge. I can't answer without also answering something about the direction we'd need to go to get a fair playing field.

But first- capitalism. In speaking of capitalism, at least one of the individuals involved defines capitalism in the Randian terms used by - 

  "Capitalism is a social system based on the principle of individual rights. Politically, it is the system of laissez-faire (freedom). Legally it is a system of objective laws (rule of law as opposed to rule of man). Economically, when such freedom is applied to the sphere of production its’ result is the free-market."

I don't use the word capitalism that way in most of my writing. Capitalism is an economic system. It's based on individual ownership and control of wealth generation, production, profit, and means.

(this is sometimes defined as private, especially by corporate "personhood" advocates and government program progressivists. My use of the word "individual" by no means eliminates groups of individuals, but avoids the false "private/government" issue.)

When our nation was founded, we put a fair amount of effort into the protection of individual rights- through the Constitution, Bill of Rights, the idea of representative democracy instead of direct democracy (mob rule), and restrictions on corporations. Yep- originally a corporate charter had to be approved by the community  was relatively local in scope, had a time limit, and other restrictions. Notably, people involved in the corporation were not absolved of personal responsibility, corporations could not own corporations, and could engage only in their chartered activities.

Some of the goals of these restrictions were to prevent undue accumulation of power into oligarchical groups, prevent anti-competitive activities against individuals, and ensure that corporations served the accepted goals of the local social compacts.

Oh, yeah, social compacts. One area where we often go wrong discussing capitalism and its variants such as our current LAWCAP system is that we tend to ignore that our nation was founded with an idea that we did, in fact, have social compacts. That locales and communities had duties, responsibilities to each other, and that this also applied to economic activities.

Currently, due to manipulation of the debates, the idea of social responsibilities and community interaction - and social compacts- is seen as "anti-capitalist" in many circles. 

This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, Adam Smith, one of the great formulators of capitalism, was very cognizant of the needs of communities and the benefits to communities and nations of a well regulated system of capitalist economics.

Adam Smith also had a lot of distrust for unregulated markets and businesses. "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

"Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality."

Smith also suggested that people should support the government in accordance with their means AND that the general population should not pay into the government for things that are of benefit only to a few. (apply THAT to the budget debates!)

Now, given the specifics of our Constitution these social compacts and communities can do many things, but aren't permitted to take things away. (there has been a change over time from the original interpetations of various states that "states can do anything" to "these are individuals liberties" in our thought and interpretation.)


Our current system, in allowing the growth of corporations and regulations that favor corporations over the individual, have twisted our "fair playing field"

We have also engaged, due to the early Progressive Movement of a bit over a hundred years ago, in manipulation of our citizenry to not accept responsibility for their lives. 

Responsibility, at the highest level, is a creative thing. It is a POWER, not a punishment. We have, systematically, through the movement of schooling into government hands, through the governmentalization (and privatization, which are related) of support systems and charity, through regulation of the individual, removed the positive aspects of responsibility from our populace and thoughts.


The idea of the social compact applying to our communities, our free associative groups (clubs, churches, fraternal orders, etc) *and* our *economic activities* has fallen out of favor. With full involvement and sovereign franchise of the individual, the social compact applies to both government and "private" activities and there is, beyond the guaranties of our liberties, no real distinction between "government" and "private" in the sense used by most modern people to discuss economics.


How does this lead us to thinking about a fair playing field?

Note that I'm not using the term "level playing field" - as humans are not lightbulbs to be interchanged anonymously and identically in any given area, the playing field can never be said to be level. It just isn't so.  The best you can do to level things is to have the community, the society at a fairly LOCAL level, engage in performing its duties to provide a better society than existed before. 

Fair as an adjective means - Having or exhibiting a disposition that is free of favoritism or bias, just to all parties,, equitable, being in accordance with relative merit, consistent with rules and ethics.

A fair playing field, then, is one in which no one is *deprived* through interference (I include coercive schooling and invasive programs that seek to control behavior or development in this), special interest lobbying, inequitable application of rules, rules designed to advantage a particular group, or other means- of their essential liberties and the concomitant opportunities that arise therefrom.

A fair playing field is one in which protections designed to enhance those opportunities, without special privileges*, and specially contrived to advantage the individual and family over the business group, are in place and enforced. 

A fair playing field is one in which there are no punishments, fines, special taxes, or other forms of redistribution levied against the individual and family for their activities.

A fair playing field is one which also recognizes, protects, and improves the social compact to greater secure the guarantees of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Still working on HOW we do that :)