Re: Bureaucracies, genomes & vaccines (was: Sex drives...)

Elizabeth Childs (
Mon, 05 Jul 1999 19:57:16 -0700

"Robert J. Bradbury" wrote:
> > Bureaucracies virtually never produce anything useful.
> How wrong you are 'o libertarian one! :-)

<history of human genome project, web, solar cells, etc.>

> Yes, 'o Libertarian-Wan, governments & bureaucracies
> are universally bad...

I said "virtually" rather than "universally" for a reason. I've never seen a really convincing libertarian attack on state funded science. (If anyone knows of one, please let me know, as I'm open to the possibility. It is rather remarkable how state funded science projects do sometimes seem to be able to transcend public choice theory.)

I used to know a good federal budget site, and now I can't find it, so I can't check this. However, I'm quite confident that US federal funding for science projects is considerably less than 1% of the budget.

If the government is authorized to fund scientific research, some of which will actually turn out to be useful, it is equally authorized to fund pork, bizarre anti-drug campaigns, property seizures, and all of the other strange, costly, and oppressive things that the government does. So I'm unconvinced that it's worth it. I favor a government with extremely limited powers to spend, and then primarily on defense spending.

Why do I think most of what the government does isn't useful, and in fact, acts counter to its stated aims? Read "25 Years Of Reason" or subscribe to Reason magazine ( for a year, and you'll see what I mean.

I also suggest studying Public Choice theory, the Nobel-prize winning economic theory that explains why bureaucracies can't work effectively. I would do a search on and choose one of the sites listed there to get started.

> The solution to the DMV problem is to introduce competition.
> [I assume that brothels will be in competition with each
> other so they would never end up looking like the DMV. :-)]

Government run brothels wouldn't compete with each other any more than government run post offices compete with each other, or government run DMV's compete with each other.

All federally run institutions are subject to an even greater stranglehold of regulations than are private businesses. In such a politically touchy arena as prostitution, this would reach comic levels.

> In a highly competitive environment, you cannot make the
> investments necessary for long term R&D projects.

You mean like Bell Labs, all pharmaceutical and biotech companies, Intel's amazing gains in processor speed every year, speech recognition, supercomputers, etc etc etc?

Long term research pays off big. People like to get paid. Yes, of course a lot of companies miss bets by not funding enough projects or not funding the correct projects. But an enormous amount of valuable research does come from companies.

The stock market has recognized this, and funds biotech companies at enormous price/earnings ratios in order to finance their long term R&D for the hope of getting a big pay off.

You *also*
> generally *do not* undertake projects that will result in
> the elimination of your market. What Razor/razor blade
> manufacturing company would undertake a project for
> research into creams that permanently prevent hair growth?
> Only if a competitor appears to be on the verge of developing
> such a breakthrough would a company be forced to pursue
> this type of development.

Yes, but it's the nature of the marketplace that companies are constantly being confronted with competitors. All large institutions have a hard time changing fast enough, but the great thing about the market is that if they succeed, they will be rewarded and consumers will see the results, whereas if they fail they will fade away, and consumers won't be saddled with the results. This process is not instantaneous and it's not perfect, but it's the best thing that's been invented so far.

Some big companies have done very well at adapting to the massive change in the business environment created by the introduction of the Web. IBM has turned around dramatically in a very short period of time, for example, and now a large part of its revenue comes from services, whereas before they were focused on hardware. Dell was one of the first computer resalers to move on line, and has been duly rewarded.

Small companies that come from nowhere constantly force established companies to change. Barnes and Noble only went online because they were threatened by Internet telephony threatens the telephone companies, mp3 threatens the record companies, and threatens the brick and mortar drugstores. Some of them will adapt (look for or the equivalent) and some will tank. Either way, the consumer benefits.

So, if there is a market for facial hair dissolving cream, if the razor blade manufacturer doesn't do it, someone else will eventually.

I suggest reading Virginia Postrel's "The Future and its Enemies" for more examples of how companies innovate.

> I've seen some interesting
> documentaries on PBS about how GM methodically went about
> buying up and shutting down public transportation systems
> to increase the market for automobiles. A collective of
> companies will act in their own self-interest to promote
> the sales of their products. You will not see GM/Ford/Crysler
> act in a way to promote bicycles (or mass-transit)!

GM was only able to shut down public transit because it was a state run enterprise. You'll notice that they didn't have much success shutting down Ford or Toyota.

> On the other hand, I suspect you as a consumer would
> generally prefer a one-time polio shot as an infant
> to many years spent in an iron-lung that used to
> be sold on a per-patient basis!

Yes, that is why companies have an incentive to make a vaccine for me. Because they can't force me to buy their products, I will choose the superior product - the vaccine. And lucky for me, I am not an idiot. Neither are consumers in general. This is why products like the Yugo were a flop.

I'm not familiar with this example in particular, but if the government is already in the business of manufacturing vaccines, it provides a big disincentive for corporations to do so.

> An industry will not generally act in a way so as to
> eliminate its markets, on the other hand a government
> can act in the collective interest of its citizens.
> The fundamental question then becomes what are these
> "collective interests"?!?

Again, I believe that libertarianism is the most utilitarian system and does best serve the common good. I suggest you read the materials I listed earlier to understand why.

> > (preserving wetlands and endangered species, for example),
> Aha, well here we come to the crux of the problem.
> As a home buyer with an interest in affordable housing,
> you would like to see land inexpensively developed.
> As a contractor intested in profits, you would prefer
> to have more land available and fewer environmental
> regulations to wrestle with. However either individual,
> as a parent, might wish to share some of the natural
> beauty of the planet either themselves or with their
> children without having to drive 500 miles (804.5 km)
> to find some!

I suggest that you familiarize yourself with the history of wetlands legislation and the endangered species act. I chose these because they are particularly poorly designed laws, and have led to a number of really outrageous abuses of power. Perhaps someone else could cite an URL or a book, I couldn't find anything. It was covered in old issues of Reason Magazine.

There are many free market solutions to insure an optimum amount of open space. I suggest:

> > I am loathe to give them any more power than they have, especially
> > without far more convincing proof that overpopulation is a problem.
> "Overpopulation" is not a problem. "Popluation" relative to
> available resources and or "population impact" on the environment
> *is* a problem. It has been a problem for perhaps 50,000 years!
> About 2500 yeras ago Turkey was a nicely forrested country, today it
> is not. The reason (according to my understanding) is that most of
> the trees were cut down to build the ships used in the Turkish-Greek
> wars in ancient times. Going back further, a recent article I read
> attributes most of the extinction of larger land mammals in Europe,
> North America, and especially Australia to the arrival of man.

Again, I suggest you read Julian Simon. The extinction of the land mammals is a clear case of the tragedy of the commons, which would easily be remedied by granting individual tribes property rights in regard to specific herds of animals. This method has been tried to preserve herds of elephants in Africa, and has been an overwhelming success.

The latter example I am not familiar with, but it sounds like it was a government cutting those trees down in order to go to war. Private individuals who privately own a forest have an incentive to take care of it so that it will continue producing wood, rather than destroying it for short term gain.

(My information may be out of date, but there was an episode of Nova a few years back which found the evidence that human beings actually wiped out the large mammals to be ambiguous. It's certainly a possibility.)

> If you have a libertarian philosophy/perspective, please
> present a reasonable argument that you should be allowed an
> unregulated "free hand" to "modify" our collective environment.

Many others are far more knowledgeable about these issues than I am. Many excellent resources are available. is a good place to start. Most people have never been exposed to the arguments for liberty. I can't summarize hundreds of years of thought in a few paragraphs. There is a lot of theoretical groundwork, and it helps to look at raw data and many concrete examples. It is, however, worth the effort. The libertarian argument is an extremely compelling one.

Studying libertarian arguments has changed not only the way I perceive government, but the way I perceive individual people. I respect their right to self-determination and their good judgment now in a way that I did not when I accepted statist paradigms. I recommend trying it out even if you're sure you won't be convinced. These ideas are only growing in influence, and if you read "25 Years of Reason" and decide we're all crazy, at least you'll be able to wipe us out in a debate. Enjoy.