Archive for the ‘Resource Allocation Systems’ Category

resource allocation as a group

Friday, October 21st, 2016

TL;DR=Humans work as a group – entitlement programs are a reflection of that reality and most are in the best interests of all of us

So, on facebook, someone had stated “the only reason anyone would vote democrat is the expectation of a welfare check”. I had pointed out that there are many reasons, and it’s more complicated than that, and one of their responses was “if you want to help other people be my guest but keep your stealing fingers out of our wallets”. I indicated a interest in further discourse on the subject if they were open to it, and said I’d write a blog article with my opening thoughts on the matter.

(This makes it sound worse than it is – I truly believe, at least at this point, that this person is open to trading ideas on the subject. I am of the opinion that we’ll all get further if we at least consider the ideas of people who are politically opposed to us before rejecting them. I am sure he has valid reasons for believing what he does.)

So, first of all, I will be the first to admit that “entitlement programs” are a band-aid. The right solution would be to have a better way of doing resource allocation to begin with. But, here’s my big picture overview.

We as a species are in the business of creating resources and resource pools as a group. A single individual could almost certainly not build a working power generator, for example. (You think you can? I want to see you try. No buying premade *anything* – every raw material must come out of the ground. And if you’re even doing research to discover *how* to find copper, make it into wire, etc, you’re using the work of the group to help you. If you are using knowledge of what copper looks like, or that it conducts electricity, or that you can dope silicon with phosphorus and boron and get a semiconductor that will generate electricity when light shines on it, you’re likely using knowledge you aquired from the group)

Even acquiring and cooking food would be challenging without contributions from the group. (How’d you learn to make that bow and arrow? How did you know how to create fire, or that fire would make the food more palatable and also let you get more calories from it?). We work as a team, and communicate concepts through symbolic language. It’s part of why our species is so able to thrive in what is a somewhat difficult environment.

So, hopefully by seeing that you can accept that we work as a group. My guess is your objection to entitlement programs is that they appear to compensate nonproductive members. I have a number of responses to that.

First of all, it’s difficult to know how productive a member really is. As I’ve discussed elsewhere in this blog, money has a number of flaws as a vehicle for abstracting value, so if you’re just measuring by the money that they make, you’re likely missing a lot of their contributions. We never know where lightning, in terms of a brilliant idea, will strike – and sometimes, you do literally need the idiot asking stupid questions to help the genius have the next great idea. Not all contributions to a society are obvious.

Also, because our society has a number of, hem, weaknesses, some individuals get misprogrammed in ways that make it very difficult for them to succeed via conventional measurements, through no fault of their own. However, they may still make important contributions to the system as a whole – they are somebody’s friend, somebody’s family. Very few of us are completely disconnected from the social mesh that is all of us.

Second of all, you really don’t want to lose a member (or throw them under the bus) that’s just going through a rough patch. Imagine if you will someone like Tesla, who’s very bad at making personal relationships and business decisions, but very good at creating mind-bending technologies like the induction motor. Now, imagine tesla gets sick – and dies – because of a shortage of funding and a health care system that doesn’t want to help him. Humanity as a whole has now lost the value he contributes, because we were more concerned with the valueless money in our wallet than we were in sharing out resources in order to benefit the species as a whole. Because we all basically have the same 10^11 neurons, the only way to be really mindbendingly good at one thing – like Tesla was at invention – is to be weaker in something else. The human history is full of stories of geniuses that had trouble tying their shoes. Ultimately, the money those people “stole out of your wallet” made us all richer, including you, in real value, in knowledge.

I think it’s important to look at the really big picture when considering resource allocation. First of all, it’s important to recognize that fiat money has no real value other than the value we imagine it to have. (Apologies to those of you who have been reading this blog the whole time and have to listen to me reiterate things you’ve already read). Real value is things like food and shelter and clothing – nobody really wants money itself (unless they’re using it to keep score), they want the things it can buy. It may help you accept the loss of some of that worthless paper in your wallet if you recognize that it really is worthless.. it’s just a pointer to value, it’s not the value itself.

As far as value itself, we have as much as we have. The entitlement program dollars for things like welfare are mostly going to things like food and shelter, which we in fact *have a surplus of!*. In the case of food, it’s *extra* stupid to not give it away, because *it has a short shelf-life*. If we were short on food, I could see making a case for not giving it to the “less productive” members of the tribe, but we’re *not*. Food rots. We might as well give it to everyone, because we’ve got more than enough, and more food than you can eat potentially has a *negative* value because of the need to deal with getting rid of it.

Now, you made the point that there are other types of welfare that go to people who will not spend it on things we have a surplus of like food and shelter, and I think you may have a case there, but overall, the important thing to remember is that in fact, dollars don’t matter. What matters is concrete and steel, because what we can ‘afford’ is entirely driven by concrete and steel. It’s also important to remember that not all contributions are easy to measure. One analogy to consider is if you removed all the neurons from your mind which don’t fire regularly (by denying them blood sugar since they were “dead weight”), the results would be *very bad*. Another point to consider is that the “nonproductive” members do in fact contribute by being the friends of the “productive” members and adding to their quality of life.

Another problem is you never really know what skills, worthless now, will be very valuable in the future, and some skills take a lot of work to hone, which appears “nonproductive” insofar as money is concerned. For example, when the first pioneers began playing with computers, it was not at all obvious how much more value we would be able to generate for humanity with these machines. Many of them went broke trying to build computers before the transistor was invented – but they generated *huge* value in terms of figuring out what sorts of things you needed to think about and do in order to build a programmable computer. It’s potentially possible that my “nonproductive” studying of writing music may turn out to have huge value someday – maybe first contact will happen and my music, not commercially viable for Earthlings, will be *very* in desire as a trading material by ET. You really never know. But – assuming we *do* have enough food, water, and shelter – you want people to explore the unknown fringes and the potentially dry holes, because some of them will turn out ultimately to have water. If there is no social ‘safety net’ there is a lot of incentive *not* to take risks – and the risks are where the rewards are. And in any case, you really don’t want the people who have skills that are not valuable now but will be valuable in the future to starve to death, losing us access to those skills.

As a digression, the transistor itself is a good argument for my case. It was invented by a *government monopoly*, by some engineers who were also amatuar scientists playing around trying to build a better signal amplifier. Without the transistor, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion, and it’s unlikely the “free market” ever would have found it. The Internet is another great case of this.. ARPA designed a flexible network protocol to allow computers to talk to each other. Without the “entitlement” money going to the ARPA engineers, we wouldn’t have a Internet at all. (For better or for worse) – and when the Internet went up against the networks and protocols designed by the “free market” it *stomped all over them*. It was, quite simply, better and more flexible.

It’s also worth noting that that money “being stolen out of your wallet” in fact came from the group. You didn’t print it yourself, and you didn’t create the value yourself that it can be used to buy. (otherwise, you wouldn’t need to buy it, because you already would have it). Instead, the group gave it to you in exchange for the value you created for the group. It’s a pointer to the idea of group resources, and as such, it is reasonable for the group to decide what to do with it. I agree that the current system of give it to you, take it back, give it to you again or give it to someone else is very clumsy and at odds with the way humans emotionally react to things. Hopefully we’ll implement something better – although it is worth noting that what we’re currently doing has gotten us a long long way.

I apologize if I have misidentified your argument against things like welfare – if I have, please speak up so I can respond to what your real issue with it is.

Now that you’ve read this, perhaps you might be interested in some cautionary notes on Resource Allocation System Implementation

Something I was mulling over this morning

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

To what extent were the Jews in WWII the 1% of Germany? I kind of wonder if we’re seeing a repeat of some of the same patterns that led up to that war, and if maybe we shouldn’t back up and consider taking a different path. I mean, granted, you’ve got one set of people hating on the 1%, and another set of people hating on the immigrants, gays, etc, but you certainly have a bunch of people all saying that all our problems are caused by $SOME_OTHER_GROUP, when in fact almost none of them are.

Our problems aren’t caused by the 1%, because there’s as much food, steel, and concrete as there is. They’re caused by how we think about resources and resource allocation – beliefs that lead to food rotting in the field while people go hungry and people being homeless while houses sit empty. But that’s not the fault of the 1%, it’s the fault of the software we’re all running, the things we all believe about property and resources.

I could make similar points about the fatal flaws in the rule of law, in the criminal justice system, in our religions and morals, but what it all adds up to is that we’re running some truly crappy software, memetically distributed, and part of why that’s true is we’re afraid to write something better. And there’s no doubt that writing a new memetic operating system for humanity would involve a fair amount of risk, and would be something that would have to be done carefully and with some consideration, and that most of the people here apparently are not willing to open their eyes far enough to see that the current software we’re running is not that great. (Although, increasingly, there are people who are, and there’s always the hope that if and when we get a working neural network smarter than we are, it could help, or that the current generation, who see a situation where working full time won’t rent you a apartment because of our very stupid beliefs about inflation and the value of time – will rise up and come up with something better. Of course, it’s more likely a bunch of people will get shot and nothing will get better, but one can always hope)

And then, of course, this might all just be my conscious experience. I know there’s something wrong with my mind, and I know it has plenty of crunch, computing wise, so it may be painting me a picture that’s far darker than the real world for reasons of it’s own. If so, I wish it’d stop doing that.

Another currency

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

So, recently a discussion with the domain squatter who bought after I missed a email about it needing renewed (many years ago) contacted me wanting to sell it. It quickly became clear that we were not in the same ballpark – my top offer was $1k, they wanted $9.5 – and while I miss it, I don’t miss it *that* much – it did get me thinking about another type of currency.

Domain squatters who register domains as soon as they become available after failure to register by the original owners are a example of one of those things that reduces happiness in the world. Presumably the people doing this are okay with this – they don’t mind being evil as long as they’re making money – but it makes me wonder how many enterprises make money at the cost of happiness. I’m talking about sum total happiness here – and it may be that if the domain squatter does make his $9.5k his increased happiness will cancel out my reduced happiness, or even I suppose be more than my reduced happiness although I kind of doubt it somehow.

But it does make me think about happiness as currency. In specific, the way this world is extremely overcomplicated, with taxes, forms, laws, customs, and the like reduces happiness, and a lot of it can be traced to people needing to do something in order to get paid. I think we’d probably increase happiness a lot if we stopped requiring everyone to have a job, *both* in the fact that people wouldn’t be made miserable by doing their jobs that shouldn’t have existed in the first place, and in the fact that a lot of those ‘makework’ jobs end up making lives worse for other people – I’m especially looking at government here, but I could just as easily be looking at homeowners associations.

Now, I doubt this particular domain squatter is doing this hustle just because s/he couldn’t find something better to do with h* time – but it would be really interesting to know if h* would still be squatting on domains if h* didn’t have to in order to keep eating and living indoors – that is, does h* do it because h* gets some particular joy from it, or is it just a way to keep on keeping on? Which leads me to think, not for the first nor I’m sure the last time that our insistence on everyone having a job is hurting us, since many jobs, by their very existence, hurt the happiness level of the person doing the job, and some hurt the happiness level of many people. (Domain squatting would be a example of a job which hurts a lot of people a little bit.)

I titled this another currency, because I’m starting to think of misery and happiness as something to be tracked and optimized for. Imagine a capitalist society where happiness was a capital that was optimized for.. I think my friend Andy is already thinking along these lines.. and how much better of a experience for all involved it could be.

“keeping score” money and inflation

Friday, February 12th, 2016

So, one of the discussions I had recently centered around the insanity that we have inflation.

A common myth that floats around is that any time the government increases the money supply, we should have inflation. This bit of insanity is carefully ignoring that money is a pointer that points to resources, and we have more of those every year. We certainly have more man-hours to get things done as the population rises, and we develop more intellectual property (a major thing we spend money on) every year – and every time we learn to do things more efficiently, it’s as if we had more nonrenewable resources – for example switching large portions of our grid to wind, or even just building more efficient coal plants, makes us effectively have more resources.

So, the only way you should see inflation is if the amount of money printed is larger than the gain in resources for the year.

In addition, the only money that means anything is money that is actively in play or is going to be. “Keeping score” money – i.e. the money of people like Trump and the Koch brothers – money that isn’t going to be spent – does not get used for resources and therefore is out of service. A long time ago I wrote a article about why having a high net worth is a destructive thing to do, but the truth is, it shouldn’t be. Everyone should be free to live the way they want, and if it makes billionares happy to have a bunch of money, they should be able to do that – if we were running a bucketized currency system in parallel with our fiat currency system, people deciding to keep billions in the bank wouldn’t be so destructive. But at the moment, there’s less money in circulation than available value, and as a result we often destroy value (let food rot on store shelves, for example).

As a reminder, fiat currency is only making the world a better place and enabling us to have fun adventures when it is changing hands.

SSDI and commercial prisons

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

So, one of the problems that comes up a lot with capitalism is that the real, true interests of the human race, and individual humans, and the choices which will produce money in the short term are often not the same. Sometimes they are even at odds with each other.

I’ve got a couple of examples here. The first one is from my time with SSDI. Now, what the customers wanted was for their printers to work, but what SSDI wanted was to get as many calls as possible without getting caught not serving the customers. This led to things like the ‘bidirectional printer cable’ line. (feed ’em BS and get ’em off the phone, plus they’ll call back again and we can earn money for another call)

My second one is one of my major criticisms with commercial prisons. The very last thing these facilities want to do is turn people out who are healthy, well balanced, and unlikely to reoffend – because it’s only if there is recidivism that the prison makes a profit next year.

I can’t help but draw some comparisons between these two situations, and in both cases, what’s happening is not in the interest of the human race or (most) individual humans – a very few humans do well at the cost of all of us.

In general, I rather doubt if the current criminal justice system is in the interest of the race or individuals. It seems to be all about hurting people. The hope is, if people hurt people, and then you hurt the people who are hurting people, somehow there will be less hurt people in the world. Can we discuss the insanity of this, please?

Now, I understand the need to isolate those who would otherwise rape, murder, and pillage. I just think that it might be worth helping them to understand why we all lose when they do those things, and understand what some of the alternatives might look like if we all worked together, and why it might be worth doing so.

Money and value

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

So, one of my earlier jobs in my career was for a company called Support System Developers, Inc. They were engaged in a contract with Canon in which they got paid per phone call to answer Canon’s 800 number.

Now, we were given some incredibly bad advice to give to customers. First of all, we were to respond to the first phone call, pretty much invariably, with a suggestion that the customer’s printer cable was at fault – that they needed to find one that actually had the IEEE definition for a bidirectional printer cable printed on the label. Generally, this was not the problem. This might have actually applied to 1% of all print problems, if that – but it was a chance to get the customer off the phone and get more sheckels in SSDI’s coffers.

We were paid a bonus if we could get the customer off the phone quickly. Now, generally problems would break down into cases where the customer was being a complete dumbass – a large portion of the calls were for people who didn’t pull the orange tab off the print head before inserting the cart in their printer – and trickier problems such as the BJC-610 which needed a complicated alignment process run if certain events had occurred to the printer.

This would be a example of money destroying value. Many of these people would wait on hold for a hour, a hour and a half to talk to us, and we’d give them deliberately wrong answers (well, we weren’t TOLD to give them wrong answers, but the book clearly hadn’t been optimized for giving them right ones) so they’d call back several times, so this company could make more money.

I eventaully quit, citing ethical reasons. They didn’t like me much anyway, I tended to give answers not in the book (but that mysteriously worked), I often wore jeans with holes in the knees and other ‘inappropriate’ clothing – I have to imagine they were glad to see me go. But I’d point at this company as a sign of the problem – when you optimize for dollars at the cost of actual people getting stuff done value, you’re hurting us all. And I suspect a lot of companies.. advertisers perhaps most of all.. of doing this.

It is worth noting that my supervisor, before I quit, had told me “You are so much better than this place. You should look for a better job.”

Another problem with our current resource allocation system

Monday, January 4th, 2016

This isn’t something I have a good solution for yet, but nonetheless it remains one of my criticisms. The current system is kind of rigged so that once you start losing, you keep losing, and once you start winning, you keep winning. It’s also heavily rigged to favor the banks, who can get away with just about anything.

More reiterating

Monday, January 4th, 2016

This is a reiterating post, feel free to skip it.

So, one of the things that I’ve talked about before is how our current economic system is very poorly equipped to deal with people selling very cheaply distributed intellectual property. It’s even more poorly equipped to deal with large corporations doing so.

Here’s the issue. There’s a finite amount of money in play. Any time the government prints more, some very not-too-bright economists (Actually, they’re probably very smart, they just can’t see the forest for the trees) tell us that means the money is worth less. They, for whatever reason, can’t make the leap that there’s in fact more value (things that money can buy) available every day and that the money is a pointer to that value, not something with intrinsic worth of it’s own. However, because there’s a finite amount of money but you can make a infinite number of copies of intellectual property without diminishing it’s value (or at least N copies, where N is the number of potential users of said property), this leads to the money getting “bunched up” – landing in the hands of just a few individuals. Now, if those individuals were smart, they would give it away or spend it as fast as it came in, because that’s the choice that leads to the greatest wealth for all. However, they’ve been listening to economists for too long and think there is such a thing as a “money supply” and that money is a good all it’s own with it’s own value. (And, it’s true, you can live like that for a while, but sooner or later, with a finite resource chasing a infinite one, you’re going to find yourself short on money – and since money is just a *pointer* to value and not actual value, this is going to have deleterious effects on the operation of the system as a whole)

Is any of this starting to resonate or make sense to you, Steve? You might find reading reading the wikipedia article on pointers helpful.

Bucketized vs. all in one currency

Monday, January 4th, 2016

So, why would you want to go to all the work of tracking individual resources needed to achieve goals? I will be the first to admit that it would be a lot of work to figure out all the intricate details of how many hours of each skill, how many grams of each metal, how many watthours of energy, etc go into building things.

Well, the first thing that I think would be a improvement is that we could have meaningful discussions about what we could afford. With the current system, all information about what actual resources go into a product or goal get thrown away. So, for example, nationalized single-payer healthcare – all the dollars in the world won’t make us able to afford this if we don’t have enough man-hours to get it done. This is also true for a number of things – if we don’t have enough platinum to put a fuel cell in everyone’s car, we can’t do fuel-cell-powered cars, absent a breakthrough in technology, no matter how many dollars we have.

So, one thing I keep harping on, and I’m going to harp on it again because I still think you all don’t get it. Economists are none too bright. Dollars have no value at all (well, they have a tiny one related to their intrensic worth). They are a *pointer* to value. You C programmers out there already know what I’m talking about here, but let’s try to figure out how we can get this idea to the rest of the people. The value isn’t in the dollars, and when we run into problems with the “money supply being scarce”, for example, we are demonstrating just how impressively stupid humans with firmly held beliefs can be. Money isn’t value. It’s a metaphor that *represents* value. Did that help any? It has worth because we imagine it to have worth, because we imagine that it’s a IOU that says “give the bearer one apple”. Or whatever. Bucketized currency is based on the same ideas as conventional fiat currency, except that it’s a new spin on a old idea. The gold standard, except that instead of just having a bucket for gold and a bucket for silver, you have buckets for every thing of value we make or trade. And the idea with bucketized currency is that when you run out of, for example, gold tokens, you’re also out of gold. As you mine more gold, you put more gold tokens in the gold token bucket. As you train more doctors, and as they agree to work, you put more tokens in the doctor-hours bucket. Bucketized currency is not fiat at all, it is based either on current resources on hand or a reasonable estimation of what resources will become on hand. You also, of course, can convert one bucket to another – for example converting tons of coal to kwh of electricity.

The gold standard was fatally flawed because most of the things we want to do don’t require a lot of gold. Having buckets based on resources on hand, on the other paw, is not a flawed idea at all and is how most *individuals* do budgeting (as opposed to governments, banks, and corporations). Bucketized currency is something you can only do once you have fast, powerful computers – the number of man-hours it would take to implement such a system by hand would be prohibitive.

This isn’t a tool the end consumer needs, but when the government talks about whether we can or can not afford to do things, and whether it’s a good idea, it would be smart if they were counting with actual apples and not with a hypothetical number of apples or indeed sometimes no idea about the state of apples in the world at all, and just a idea about how many dollars we’ve got.

You also have to remember my end goal is different than most people’s. I want everything for everyone. I think it’s possible, with judicious use of automation, to have only those who want to work have jobs, and still have everyone get their Hiearchy of needs met. But in order to determine whether that’s really true or just what my intuition is telling me, we need some way to measure what resources we have on hand, or can have on hand, that goes beyond what we’ve currently done.

My hunch is that by using bucketized currency, and some other more advanced measuring techniques such as a index of happiness and index of misery, we can find out how many places we’re being stupid, and be smart instead. For example, in terms of actual resources in the global bucket pool, evicting a non-paying tenant is almost certainly a net loss for everybody. In capitolism, you kind of have to do this, because of the inherent flaws in it, but in terms of measuring what’s a winning answer for the human race, this probably isn’t a good thing.

We also may find it desirable to develop some new technologies, including the ability to create software that represents physical possessions in our minds, possibly the ability to directly link humans and computers, and there’s a whole passel of other things that might be neat. But before we run off and do that, let’s see where we’re at right now.

You see, the 1% aren’t that much richer than the rest of us. A billion dollars still won’t buy you a resource that doesn’t exist. (well, it will if you can convince a programming team to mine for it, but that’s another story) And if we were all spending our time creating new resources instead of doing makework (capitolism has left us with a whole lot of makework) we’d all be far wealthier than we are.

Bucketized currency in a nutshell

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Bucketized currency is a different way of thinking about money.

It’s not something you can do until you have good computers and good networks.

The idea is instead of tracking value via a price tag in fiat money, you track the individual resources that go into everything we buy, using buckets. This is probably not something the end consumer ever has to know about, but it is something that should be used at the corporate and government level to determine what we can afford and what offers the best ROI.

A example is health care. To determine if we can afford universal health care, asking about dollars tells you next to nothing. What you need to know is how many doctor-hours, nurse-hours, technician-hours, lab-hours, how much copper and aluminum and sand going into the machines we use for health care, etc we have.

You break up the cost of the product (say, a computer) into buckets of resources needed to build that product. Example, a computer probably needs a fair amount of copper and gold and silicon and boron and phosphorus, lesser amounts of some rare earth metals for the battery and the display, and a bunch of robot-hours to fab the chips and boards and a few man-hours for final assembly.

One of my criticisms of the current economic system is that the price tag and the value of the resource are only tangentially related. When people talk about what we as a society can afford, they are trying to use dollars to make these decisions, and dollars are hopeless at it because they discard significant amounts of information. Therefore, we make bad decisions because instead of us using the tool, the tool is using us.