Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's your most hated legacy policy?

Scott Adams offers an interesting idea:
One of the biggest problems with the world is that we're bound by so many legacy systems. For example, it's hard to deal with global warming because there are so many entrenched interests. It's problematic to get power from where it can best be generated to where people live. The tax system is a mess. Banking is a hodgepodge of regulations and products glued together. I could go on. The point is that anything that has been around for awhile is a complicated and inconvenient mess compared to what its ideal form could be.

My idea for today is that established nations could launch startup countries within their own borders, free of all the legacy restrictions in the parent country.
Okay, so what legacy systems would we reform/kill?

Um, criminal justice in a big way. Between the number of offenses that make no sense in law, or the conditions in which we jail people, I really wonder if redeploying all of our efforts at incarceration towards simply putting more police on the streets to prevent crime would be more worthwhile, even if you assume that everyone who wasn't deterred got away with it. And that doesn't even get into issues of discrimination...

Telecommunications. AM, FM, Television, telephones, cell phones, all are increasingly irrelevant, or would be in a world where incumbent powers didn't own the best parts of the radio spectrum and the wired grid.

Here's one: end of life care in medicine. The inability to have a mature discussion about the end of our lives--between patients, doctors, and families--is absolutely a holdover from a different age (when medicine was usually powerless before a rapid death) and has serious real-world consequences for the survivors. Families are left heartbroken as their last months are spent with pale shadows of their former loved ones, and -- there's no way to put this that doesn't sound grisly -- their fellow citizens bear the costs, either directly or indirectly, of massively expensive treatments that all too frequently don't work, or add days to a person's life at the expense of weeks of painful treatments. See this Atul Gawande article for a truly depressing exploration.

Intellectual property: boy is this not working at all. A 20-year copyright would allow even the most avariciously successful artists to extract 99% of the value of the current system: only the longest of the long-tail successes would be hurt, but even then not by much. Paul Simon would no longer be getting cheques for his LPs with Art Garfunkel, but he would have continued to get beer money from Graceland until 2006. U2 would still be getting money for Achtung Baby until next year. A 50-year copyright would be almost indefensible in my view, but I'd still take it in a hot second as an alternative to what we have now, provided that we chiselled that bastard in stone.

And yes, then it too would become a hated legacy policy someone would be out to destroy.

Anyway, Adams' thought experiment has a lot in common with the philosophy behind the Seasteading Institute, who want to start ocean-borne colonies with the explicit purpose of escaping the legal and political restrictions on land. Though they're basically a bunch of glibertarian Galtists, there's part of the vision that really interests me.

Also, I'd sign up with the North Pacific Kibbutz and wait for the Galtists to collapse under their own ego. At which point we'd kindly offer to help them out, provided they learn the lyrics to the Internationale.