Friday, July 30, 2010

On legacies

John picks up on Scott Adams' question about "legacy systems", and has some useful examples of areas where it would be a plus to effectively start policy development from scratch. But while I tend to agree with John's ideas, it's worth highlighting a crucial distinction that Adams seems to miss:
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.
What Adams seems to overlook is that many of the most problematic "legacy systems" (the "entrenched interests" blocking action on global warming, the lobbyists and their benefactors pushing for tax exemptions and regulatory loopholes, etc.) are private actors rather than public ones, and would face no restriction in their ability to operate across borders. That means that their resources built up elsewhere would undoubtedly be applied in any "startup countries" from day one, ensuring that any new systems would be developed around their interests. And in the absence of any countervailing forces, it's all too likely that they'd end up being able to turn any untilled soil into an even more tilted (if perhaps less complex) playing field than the one which Adams is seeking to improve.

Which leads to a more general philosophical point which should be particularly salient based on recent experience, whether it's the Harper Government of Vandals shredding whatever it can get its hands on or the Wall government's all-out attacks on the labour movement. As we sort out the nature of progressivism and seek to apply it, part of our theory needs to ensure that whatever progress we make is durable enough to withstand even the most antagonistic of future governments. And that means encouraging the development of positive "legacy systems" as counterweights to the interests which would otherwise crowd out all other voices.

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