Saturday, October 20, 2012

You didn't build that .....

I started this a long time ago:

Obama's remark that business people did not build their businesses has occasioned one of the odder bouts of internet discussion I can ever recall. It is not silly in the way the week we spent debating whether it was worse to put your sick dog on top of your car or to actually eat dogs was silly, but it is silly nonetheless, because everyone knows that creators are special, and everyone also knows that creators being able to create depends on many factors that are "produced" at a social level. Some of those factors are produced by government, but more of them are produced informally. Most of the heavy lifting of law and order, for example, arises not from the fact that we have police, but from the fact that almost everyone, almost all of the time, does not commit crimes, even when they could do so without detection.

I will highlight two bits that I have read in the course of the discussion that struck me as worth looking at. One is David Warsh on who invented the internet. This is an older discussion, of course, which dates back to Al Gore's bizarre claim in this regard (which goes oddly unmentioned by Warsh). This piece is itneresting both as history and also because it highlights the difficulties of assignment. If a scientist on the government payroll comes up with a good idea, does the credit go to the scientist or to the government? How important to this assignment is the counterfactual? Does it matter if, in the world without the government science project, the inventor (whether the same person, or someone else) would have been imployed by a private university or a public one? Or a private firm? There are deeper issues here, of course, about what it means to get there first when the next person would have gotten there only months or a couple of years later.

I also liked this piece by David Brooks who highlights views about agency over the lifecycle as well as the social value of having people think they have more control than they actually do.

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