Thursday, July 28, 2011

Prediction is very difficult

Niels Bohr was a wise man. He once said: "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future." That is especially true when it comes to predictions about future innovations, or the impact thereof.

In an article in "Bild der Wissenschaft" (online, but in German, here) about the field of so-called future studies, writer Ralf Butscher looked at some predictions made by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) in 1998. The result is sobering: In most cases, their expert panel didn't even correctly predict the trends of already developed technologies over a time of merely a decade. They did for example predict the human genome would be sequenced by 2008. In reality, it was sequenced already in 2001. They did also predict that by 2007 a GPS-based toll-system for roads would be widely used (in Germany). For all I know no such system is on the horizon. To be fair, they said a few things that were about right, for example that beginning in 2004, flat screens would replace those with cathode-ray tubes. But by and large it seems little more than guesswork.

Don't get me wrong - it's not that I am dismissing future studies per se. It's just that when it comes to predicting innovations, history shows such predictions are mostly entertaining speculations. And then there are the occasional random hits.

I was reminded of this when I read an article by Peter Rowlett on "The unplanned impact of mathematics" in the recent issue of Nature. He introduces the reader to 7 fields of mathematics that, sometimes with centuries delay, found their use in daily life. It is too bad the article is access restricted, so let me briefly tell you what the 7 examples are. 1) The quaternions who are today used in algorithms for 3-d rotations in robotics and computer vision. 2) Riemannian geometry, today widely used in physics and plenty of applications that deal with curved surfaces. 3) The mathematics of sphere packing, used for data packing and submission. 4) Parrondo's paradox, used for example to model disease spreading. 5) Bernoulli's law of large numbers (or probability theory more broadly) and its use for insurance companies to reduce risk. 6) Topology, long thought to have no applications in the real world and its late blooming in DNA knotting and the detection of holes in mobile phone network coverage. (Note to reader: I don't know how this works. Note to self: Interesting, look this up.) 7) Fourier transform. There would be little electrodynamics and quantum mechanics without it. Applications are everywhere.

Rowlett has a call on his website, asking for more examples.

The same issue of Nature also has a commentary by Daniel Sarewitz on the NSF Criterion 2 and its update, according to which all proposals should provide a description of how they will advance national goals, for example economic competitiveness and national security. Sarewitz makes it brilliantly clear how absurd such a requirement is for many branches of research:
"To convincingly access how a particular research project might contribute to national goals could be more difficult than the proposed project itself."

And, worse, the requirement might actually hinder progress:
"Motivating researchers to reflect on their role in society and their claim to public support is a worthy goal. But to do so in the brutal competition for grant money will yield not serious analysis, but hype, cynicism and hypocrisy."
I fully agree with him. As I have argued in various earlier posts, the smartest thing to do is reducing pressure on researchers (time pressure, financial pressure, peer pressure, public pressure) and let them take what they believe is the way forward. And yes, many of them will not get anywhere. But there is nobody who can do a better job in directing their efforts than they themselves. The question is just what's the best internal evaluation system. It is puzzling to me, and also insulting, that many people seem to believe scientists are not interested in the well-being of the society they are part of, or are somehow odd people whose values have to be corrected by specific requirements. Truth is, they want to be useful as much as everybody else. If research efforts are misdirected, it is not a consequence of researchers' wrongheaded ideals, but of these clashing with strategies of survival in academia.


  1. If research efforts are misdirected, it is not a consequence of researchers' wrongheaded ideals, but of these clashing with strategies of survival in academia.

    That's unfortunate.

    Creativity given the right circumstances flourishes once some of the things you've mentioned(time pressure, financial pressure, peer pressure, public pressure) are taken care of.


  2. "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future."
    ... Niels Bohr

    Really, Bee? I thought Yogi Berra said that

  3. Well, originally I had written "allegedly said." That is to mean, I have no clue who indeed said that, just that it wasn't me. It however doesn't matter for the purpose of this post, so I wasn't in the mood to verify this quotation. Treat it as a saying if you wish.


  4. "7) Fourier transform. There would be little electrodynamics and quantum mechanics without it. Applications are everywhere."

    Indeed. Electrical Engineering especially. Paul Nahin wrote this book describing in layman's terms AND for mathematicians and engineers, of the incredibly many applications uses of Fourier Transforms.

    Definitely one of my 5 favorite Math books, and #1 in Applied Mathematics.

    Then there's Group Representation theory. Also useful.

  5. Maybe it WAS Bohr, Bee, as Yogi often had ascribed to him many quotes he never originated, although I'm pretty sure he said:

    "Well, you have to go to your friends' funerals, otherwise they won't go to yours."
    .... Yogi Berra

  6. Humanity is wholly incapable of imagining its own future. It is the only thing that saves us. Science fiction exists to expose defective futures so they cannot occur.

    You cannot manage discovery, you can only manage to end it. If you crave discovery, do not look where orthodox theory is brightest. Look where heterodox observation is most likely. Grant funding is the death of the future.

    Imagination is intelligence having fun. All discovery is insubordination. Sin like you mean it - beyond anybody else's imagination.

  7. As far as scientists being mistrusted i think that is wrong. At least by me. However Bee, you said once that I should take it seriously that a wealthy person might suffer just as much by increasing their taxes by $1000 as the suffering induced in ia poor person by increasing the tax by that same amount. That statement alone made me realize you are a very right wing ideologue. So I don't trust that you are a person very grounded in reality with political views like that.

  8. "Science fiction exists to expose defective futures so they cannot occur." ... Uncle Al

    Yeah, except for George Orwell's "1984", which actually came to pass in the last ten years.

  9. One prediction is easy - our ability to predict the future of technology will remain limited into the indefinite future.

  10. Hi Eric,

    Did you just call me a "right wing ideologue?" lmfao :D You totally misunderstood what I was saying, maybe go back and look. I said since I have no evidence otherwise, I have to consider this might be the case. And that clashes with my (middle left) ideology, which thus turns unsustainable if it was the case. So what do I do? Switch rightwards? My post was about a basis to sustain the middle left philosophy. But never mind, it's really off-topic here. In any case, saying that scientists are being mistrusted generally is certainly pushing it too far, but just look at all these cheerful people who don't get tired of pointing out what alleged nonsense academics spend their tax money on. Better in some countries, worse in others. Best,


  11. Bee you forgot to mention that Topology is heavily used in String theory. Or maybe you think that String theory has nothing to do with the real world?:-)

  12. Hi Giotis,

    It actually dates back far earlier to vortex and knot theory. At least so far though, I don't think there's good examples for applications. Best,


  13. Bee,

    Some of these genus figures are located in the valleys? From false vacuum to true?

    My present research concerns the problem of topology changing in string theory. It is currently believed that one has to sum over all string backgrounds and all topologies in doing the functional integral. I suspect that certain singular string backgrounds may be equivalent to topology changes, and that it is consequently only necessary to sum over string backgrounds. As a start I am investigating topology changes in two-dimensional target spaces. I am also interested in Seiberg-Witten invariants. Although much has been learned, some basic questions remain, and I hope to be able at least to understand the simpler of these questionsStanley Mandelstam-Professor Emeritus Particle Theory

    Jacques Distler :

    This is false. The proof of finiteness, to all orders, is in quite solid shape. Explicit formulæ are currently known only up to 3-loop order, and the methods used to write down those formulæ clearly don’t generalize beyond 3 loops.

    What’s certainly not clear (since you asked a very technical question, you will forgive me if my response is rather technical) is that, beyond 3 loops, the superstring measure over supermoduli space can be “pushed forward” to a measure over the moduli space of ordinary Riemann surfaces. It was a nontrivial (and, to many of us, somewhat surprising) result of d’Hoker and Phong that this does hold true at genus-2 and -3.

  14. Bee,

    I know you trust Peter and Lee but you should take a look first......if time with babies is permitted of course.:)


  15. Hi Bee,

    Lee Smolin:

    Here is an example of the kind of question I found I needed a book to explore: what to think of the problems that arise from the need for higher dimensions in string theory, such as the problem of moduli stabilization and the vast number of static solutions. To approach this I read books on the early history of GR and unified field theories and learned that higher dimensional compactifications were explored many times between 1914 and 1984 and that close to the beginning these problems were appreciated and discussed by Einstein and others. I weave this story into my book because I find it useful when trying to judge how serious the present issues in string theory are to know how Einstein and many others struggled with the same issues over decades.

    The evolution of perspective has been marked in terms of the level of mathematical descriptions. I think everyone mathematically is on board with this?

    While your looking at algorithm it is nice to know the geometrical association such views garner in distances even though we have a hard time thinking in terms of that level of perspective(scales of powers of ten). An eye mathematically at a microscopic level is still an attempt mathematically to describe a certain situation?

    I have learn it is better to place the "Fbk like link" not only at the bottom of post but also at the top under title also which leads me to ask where that icon was gotten from. FBK site?

    Statistics and Algorithms right?


  16. @Steven Colyer. Point taken. Islam was the world's light as the Church of Rome squatted on Europe. It adopted the Turkish model of fundamentalist repression and Protestants took over, including New World colonization. Now US Protestants are fundamentalist louts.

    A sewage treatment manual is not rarely enough elevated into gastronomy. Brave New World assumes benevolent dictatorship. 1984 is about power emerging from imposed contraction - fundamentalism. Add Zamyatin's We. Homeland Severity says, "Freedom is compliance."

    The universe wants to be discovered. Qualified people are rare, and unpleasant in frightening ways. They require surplus resources to create the future. The present is stabilized by ending all surplus and centrally managing marginal elasticities, carefully wasting them.

  17. Hi Bee, yes it's off topic, mostly. But you did say in your original post that it is uncomplimentary that people often think scientists don't care about the welfare of society...
    When I read that I thought - wait a minute, I don't think anyone has ever accused scientists of that. Maybe being pie in the sky idealists and wasters of money has been an accusation from the right.

    So I just think you were begging the question about the tax issue. That is, you were trying act like there are two equal sides and you were just trying to be fair. However it is true that $1000 inrease in taxes does hurt the poor more than the wealthy. And contrary to your statement the evidence is overwhelming this is so. This kind of argumentation is familiar on this side of the pond to those who tune into Fox news.

    So to me you should just give up your illusion of being center-left. As Al would say, sin like you mean it. You aren't fooling many people here about your political leanings anyway. That is why I don't post here much anymore.

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  19. Hi Eric,

    Well, I really don't care very much what you believe my political orientation is. If you wish you can also believe I'm a 70 year old lesbian living in Australia. It's just funny you see, I don't think anybody has ever mistaken me for right leaning. And I'm afraid you still didn't get the point I was making. You write:

    "that $1000 inrease in taxes does hurt the poor more than the wealthy. And contrary to your statement the evidence is overwhelming this is so"

    Show me the evidence. The mere fact that increases are made should tell you that the evidence is actually very very weak. My post was about providing exactly that evidence you're asking for. About the scientists, well, if everybody would believe scientists are interested in working towards the well-being of their societies, the regulations I was writing about would be unnecessary. Best,


  20. Hi Plato,

    You get the like-button here. I really don't want the fb icon to be the first that people see when they come to my blog. I don't care enough about the likes to put the icon in the header. Best,


  21. Hi Plato,

    Well, if having the girls has taught me one thing it's not to waste time thinking about stuff I don't care about either way. You can count moduli stabilization and whatever other problems or maybe-problems string theory comes with among that. There's a reason I'm not a string theorist and the reason is that I think I'd be wasting the limited time I have on this planet. Best,


  22. Hi Bee,

    If you can't see it automatically there does not seem to be any way I can make you see. All one would need to do is go through balancing ones checkbook with $20000 at the beginning of the year vs starting out with $20,000,000. It is not at all complicated. In California where I live, especially in metropolitan areas one really can't find a place to live for less than $1000/month. It would be hard enough to live on on the $8000 remaining. It would be harder to live on $7000 after a $1000 tax increase. If that person was single and had 3 kids then that thousand dollars tax would just add to the suffering.

    On the other hand if a person started out with a $20,000,000 balance in their checkbook it is still possible they could spend all of it. It is even still possible that the extra $1000 added to their taxes would put them over the limit. But you could easily argue that the person had it coming if they spent all of it and $1000 additional tax put them in the red and they were subsequently broke.

    This is all so remedial I don't even know why I have to explain it. It is almost the definition of a person being an arch conservative when one can't see this intuitively. I just feel like you and me live on different planets. I also think you have deluded yourself if you can't see this intuitively and still think you are a moderate or left leaning.

  23. Hi Eric,

    Well, of course it's easier to get through if you're a billionaire, but that isn't really the point. The question is how do you know the billionaire isn't suffering as much as the poor man over the loss of $1000? Please read my post which was exactly about this question. What do you do? Measure brain activity? Besides this, how do you know the poor man wont, in the long run, be happier if the taxes are distributed this way? Maybe even be happier than the rich man? And then who is in disadvantage here? Best,


  24. I think (know) I'm right but I give up trying to convince you.

  25. Hi Eric,

    I'm trying to tell you you are right. But the rational justification isn't as trivial as you seem to think it is. The neo-conservative argument against regulation is a good one, and "I know I'm right" doesn't do much to reveal its shortcoming. Best,


  26. I've just started reading "Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer" by Duncan J. Watts. A nmber of comments here illustrate Watt's first chapter point. Particularly Eric's.

  27. I haven't read the book Everything Is Obvious but I looked at a synopsis of the book. Perhaps you have taken a cue from my saying that if my argument isn't intuitive you won't get it. This book says things aren't actually obvious.

    If this is what you are saying you are incorrect. When I said my argument is obvious I meant it is obvious for anyone who has ever been poor and is not later in denial about what it was like. I have been poor in earlier times in my life. It is a miserable condition. I even remember going under the sofa cushions to scrounge for spare change after my money ran out for the month. Believe me when I say that no one with an ounce of human empathy would want to experience the feeling of desperation that I felt at that time.

    For you or Bee to suggest that being dirt poor is not miserable is just wrong. I have never known anyone who is not mentally ill in some way who felt ok about being poor. Somethings ARE obvious with the qualifier that one must be a good human being and have a reasonable amount of

    I'm sorry to have to say this but requiring the scientific method for the miserableness of being dirt poor is only required for people living in their heads too much.

  28. I'll add one more thing while I'm at the pulpit, so to speak. It is very easy to rationalize evil, to try to make it disappear. One method is boosterism of family values. Neo-conservatives are traditionally very pro family values. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or distorted about having good family values. It IS important. But the reason I think it is so important for neo-conservatives, and the reason it is so much worn on the sleeve, is because it allows the mantle of kindness to be shown to the world.
    It acts as a cloak to deflect the accusation that one doesn't care about ones fellow man.

    Bee, it scares me when you say you want to get involved in helping society. If you can't even see the obvious (yes!) things about the society around you I don't want you anywhere near the levers of control. That is a frightening thought to me. Having good family values doesn't make it any different. Nazis had family values. I'm of German descent myself and have done some study of the social dynamics of what happened in Germany in the 1930s so I know how some perverted ideas get started and are hidden behind the cloak of family values.

  29. Hi Eric,

    On the risk of sounding like a broken record, you totally don't get my point. I don't doubt for a minute that being poor made you feel miserable. My point is that saying "it's obvious" is not a rationale that one can base a fruitful discussion on. It doesn't convince anybody with half a brain and that I'm afraid is the main reason why there's still so much poverty, locally and globally. I ask you again: how do you know that some billionaire is more or less miserable than you upon losing some amount of money? And how does his pain compare to yours? How does his pain about losing a million compare to yours of losing 100, how does his pain about losing a billion compare to yours of losing a dollar? Where's the evidence? Where's the data?

    Look, you've gotten damned close to calling me a Nazi, because you apparently don't know anything about general equilibrium theory. I recommend you do some reading and come back if you've figured out what I'm talking about. Who knows, along the way you might actually come to understand why the world isn't as you think it obviously should be if just anybody was as enlightened as you. Best,


  30. " There's a reason I'm not a string theorist and the reason is that I think I'd be wasting the limited time I have on this planet."
    ... Bee

    Thank you, Bee. A new classic. :-)

  31. Bee:You can count moduli stabilization and whatever other problems or maybe-problems string theory comes with among that.

    That you recognize this is all that is needed in order to "acknowledge the math".....and any personal opinions about it....I respect that too.:)


  32. Bee:How does his pain about losing a million compare to yours of losing 100, how does his pain about losing a billion compare to yours of losing a dollar? Where's the evidence? Where's the data?

    Discussion is nice as to recognizing different points of view. It is difficult in a poor persons case to recognize the perspective of what pain it would feel like not having the circumstance of having all those things taken care of. So I see your statement Bee as accurate.

    Somehow Eric does not understand that to accomplish your trade, your hopes for research might mean you have to take a job in order to meet the needs of the family.

    So then, the job that you had been trained for....takes second priority depending on who can provide the best opportunities for the family... whether it be the husband or wife. Loving Grand parents to help out?:)

    Because marriage is a chosen endeavor between husband and wife, one then recognizes the ideal to have chosen amongst themselves. How can anyone judge?

    Rich Man Poor Man

    Should a proportional tax be levied that is the same across the board, rich or poor? A percentage of income?

    I am watching to the south as our neighbors defend an aspect of classifying those that have more, as the Job creators?

    Is this a fair assumption if we were to consider small business start-ups as being financed by the rich/banks?

    I do not have statistics for this so I will back off on that until I can provide that.

    I felt the Debt ceiling was very misleading for the American people.. as too a show down. The display of political reason toward accepting responsibility for the country, is to recognize that a proportional tax must be applicable?

    More debt?

    Is it a bandage for the architects of a fail economical situation who are currently still residing in key positions? One's distaste for the virtual reality should equate the virtual reality of debt and how it is written?:)

    Statistically this has already been recognize as a Algorithmic failure?

    How do you put a Triple A rating on such a process?

    The point is then, what is the truth as to accepting the fate of any country is to find the truth amongst it's population as to agreeing on responsibility to building the greatness of that country and it's people?? Not to deny one's responsibility?


  33. Plato, yes it is heartbreaking for me to watch my own nation going down this path. We seem to be on a path where money buys influence and media time and newspeak is the new normal. In the 1950s the highest tax was 91% I believe, and it was on any income over $100,000. (perhaps incomes over $1,000,000, not sure.) today it is 35%, the lowest it's been in about

    Also, there does not seem to be any correlation, except a negative correlation, between that highest tax rate and the economic viability of this country. I use Paul Krugman's blog to get many of my numbers. He also has lots of good charts he's put up over the years to illustrate what is going on economically in this country.

    As far as me and Bee's differences on the subject, I think they are profound and not all a matter of my not understanding what she is saying. She has wandered into a sphere that she has no expertise in, just as the tea-partiers in this country are doing. There is very much literature, more than just Paul Krugman's blog, about the efficacy of a progressive tax rate. There has been no, zip, nada, evidence that the reduction of that progressive tax rate since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s has helped this country be more economically vibrant.

    Bee says scientific evidence to prove that boosting tax rates further on the most economically deprived has not been proven to be something that would harm them more than boosting tax rates on the most wealthy.

    My answer to that is that this argument has the same worth as a creationist saying evolution has not been proven because because we still cannot explain every single thing in evolution. We might be on the wrong track. In the case of the creationists we know they have a hidden agenda behind this argument because of their belief in an all powerful God separate from the world. I think it obvious that Bee is similarly appealing to some kind of libertarian ideal in her mind that is also not valid scientifically on this question. She is out of her depth on this question but is pretending she is not by appealing to what is not known. This is absolutely no different from how the creationists behave.

  34. Hi Eric,

    We're talking totally past each other. The question what taxation has been working towards what end in which country isn't even remotely what I claiming to address (heaven help). That's a very complicated, context dependent question and your notion of success might be affected by all kinds of things. What I am talking about is the origin of the claim that deregulation is the most efficient way to run an economy. I'm trying to explain you why this argument falls short. Of course if you think it's obviously wrong my explanation is of little interest. That's why I encouraged you to maybe find out what I'm talking about in the first place. Best,


  35. Bee, I apologize for some of the tone of my argument. I absolutely don't back down on the content of the argument, except for bringing in family values and the relations to Nazis. That was unneeded. Things are pretty upsetting for many of us in the states and some of your opinions were unfortunately too similar to people I cannot abide on this side of the pond. That caused me to get more personal than was appropriate under the circumstances. Sorry.

    Don't take this as my agreeing with any part of your argument so far. I don't.

  36. Hi Eric,

    Apology accepted. But you see, we're not even talking about my argument. I'm just trying to tell you why you guys have neo-conservatives arguing for deregulation in the first place. You don't even have to listen to me for that, you can just go and check Wikipedia if you like. What you don't find on Wikipedia is my take on what's missing in that argument and why deregulation does not work. That was the content of my earlier post. Best,


  37. Eric:Plato, yes it is heartbreaking for me to watch my own nation going down this path. We seem to be on a path where money buys influence and media time and newspeak is the new normal.

    The age of the internet has brought opportunistic ways to use and integrate media by many of us who are watching our own political systems and acting in good faith to change the directions political and corporate interests may have had in being favoured.

    As if Lobbying exists here, as in your country, has been the rule of thumb about how money and influence could stand face to face with the growing discontent of the population as well, that the people react in concert to the decay of a democracy?

    They are using democracy to assert there associations and by this can be an affront to the "for profit" corporations, while that part of society sees these "non profit corporations" as an affront to democracy. You see?

    We all recognize the elected government and the people they represent. This is what the people wanted. Does not mean that our opposition cannot grow according to how much our society wakes up to what it had never seen before.

    That's part of it.....we must awaken from our sleep.

    Each issue is different, and in a sense I agree too, that one has to have known a whole life of the working class Wo\man to actually learn to understand what is issuing forth from our mouths(our tones and experience). As if we are listening to what is issuing forth from the educated perspectives and why respect must be paid to the years of education that sits before us.

    IN my case I have had the privilege of visiting here Backreaction and submit to the teachers for what they can make one aware of in the deficiencies that I may populate without good information.

    While I recognize the mathematical basis of the work Bee and other scientists do.....this math basis it seems, can be cold and austere, as well as, beautiful conceptually.

    One has to see this basis in the exploitation of the world according too, algorithms being built? Are these inherent economically that are within our dealings we use everyday.

    Game theory was a nice introduction to bargaining.

    Economically, we do not give it a second thought. That is why there seems to be layers in society, to what eventually materializes, as if settling to concrete/reality.

    So how do you recover. How do you "buy time" until politically they do the right thing? Compromise?

    In my view such denial of Republican responsibilities as to cut spending is not enough and the question of taxation must arise?

    These responsibilities cannot just be sent to the working class.

    They are recovering as well and as long as they are not willing to spend through their own austerity programs enforced you can expect slow growth if at all.


  38. Plato,

    Yes, we seem to be on the same page on this issue. When the presidential election came in 2008 most of us knew we were in for a rerun of the the Great Depression (with variations). So we voted, myself included, for the candidate we thought would be the closest thing to Franklin Roosevelt. Unfortunately we seem to have gotten a clone of George Bush but wearing the mask of a black man. I'm still waiting for him to take off the mask and exclaim to everyone "Gotcha!".

  39. Eric:So we voted, myself included, for the candidate we thought would be the closest thing to Franklin Roosevelt.

    I know from watching that in my view Barack Obama had the heart of Lincoln, "signs with regard to the melting pot of society" which drew my attention, but through "forced compromise" did not have the power for change.

    Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.See:Full text of Barack Obama's inaugural address

    So in my view your country is floating in the same debris with which it stands previous, as if on a precipice waiting for "some leader" as you say.

    New Deal

    Eric I was looking for Roosevelt's plan that was to be implemented before he you know what I am referring too?


  40. Yet the New Deal had lasting success in establishing the principle Lincoln enunciated that the federal government should do for people what they cannot do for themselves. Thus the NRA enacted a minimum wage standard and the right of workers to join unions of their own choosing. Regulation stabilized banking and finance. Civil rights became a significant part of the Democratic and then national agenda. And to extend recovery to mind and spirit, the WPA devised an arts program that inspired the later creation of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. From the socially conscious art, regional guides, and documentary film and photography sponsored by the program has come a significant share of what Americans have learned about their history and culture.

    Read more:

  41. Abraham Lincoln-First Inaugural Address-Monday, March 4, 1861

    I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

    Eric, I think you will understand what I hihlghed in bold.

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  43. This is a revision of the previous post, which after rereading seemed to be sloppily written.

    Plato, you've come up with some really good references there. Sometimes it feels like when you look back in history there were men who were truly giants among men. You can look far and wide today and one doesn't seem to find them, at least in government. A large part of the problem it seems to me is that we no longer see government as being an extension of ourselves and of our individual natures. This is really a big problem. One can no more divorce the people within a country from it's government than one can divorce a man from his heart.

    Now the mantra is that we should shrink government until it is so small that we can drown it in a bathtub. This philosophy will in the end cause the death of any country it is successfully applied to. It is completely misguided in that this treatment depends on killing the patient to kill the cancer eating away at it.

    On the question of Keynsian economics: I read an interesting column by Robert Reich years ago. He said that his father would always tell him how the USA would never economically survive WWII because of the ginormous deficit we ran up then. He believed that this enormous debt would surely kill us.

    Anyway it turns out that you can deal with a deficit in two ways. You can try to reduce it by raising revenue or cutting expenditures or both, which is contractionary to the
    economy. This is ok as long as it is done while times are
    pretty flush. Bit if it is done while the economy is already in
    a recession it will create a depression. This is what Herbert
    Hoover did which pretty much created the great depression.

    The other way of handling the deficit is to stimulate th
    economy to lower the debt to GDP ratio. Deficits in
    themselves are not that big a deal. It is the high debt to
    GDP that can kill a nation. After WWII the debt did not
    really come down but it didn't matter. The GDP grew so
    much that the new debt to GDP ratio after WWII was low and it was then easy to pay the interest on the debt.

    A side issue to all this is that you can't just throw money at things to stimulate the economy. People with low to moderate incomes will pretty much spend what they earn. That is actually good for the economy because it stimulates jobs. But the very wealthy actually have a hard time spending all their income. It just accumulates in their accounts. That is why it is always better to tax higher incomes at a higher rate. If you don't money just migrates more and more to the wealthy. There is no trickle down effect from the wealthy to the poor. That is just a myth.

    That is Keynesian economics in a nutshell. Unfortunately we are doing exactly the wrong thing in this country. Pray for us, we need it. You should be thankful you live in Canada.
    Your government seems to have it's head on straight, or at least a little more than ours does.

  44. Doesn't this demonstrate that central planning may not be harmful to research? Centrally planned research may have huge unplanned benefits centuries from now!

  45. Andrew, yeah I think it could depending on the infrastructure that is created from the stimulus. I don't know where you live but the use of the term "central planning" makes me cringe. In the USA simply using that term will create the Pavlovian Dog response from many (not me). People in general are just so stupidly educated here that an innocent term like that is totally associated with the red menace. It is sort of like the Manchurian Candidate in reverse in which all the citizens simultaneously act on cue that building infrastructure via central planning must be a communist plot. Sad.


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