Arnold Kling  

Adaptation

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This official Google blog post says,


Over the next few months we'll be shutting down a number of products and merging others into existing products as features. The list is below. This will make things much simpler for our users, improving the overall Google experience. It will also mean we can devote more resources to high impact products

When you find a similar quote from a legislature or government agency, let me know.


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
DW writes:

Not that hard to find:

http://covalentnews.com/article/budget-cuts-limit-hurricane-forecasting-noaa-nhc-p-3-hunter/2256/

[typo in personal url fixed--Econlib Ed.]

mtraven writes:

Or here's a nice list from 2006. Again, it took less than a minute on Google to demonstrate that a post on this blog had a totally bankrupt premise....

Some Hubble funding was on that list, which reminds me that it looks like Congress is going to shut down funding for its successor, the Webb Space Telescope. Since there is no motive for private industry to fund this kind of research instrument, and the anti-government radicals like yourselves won't permit public money to be spent on it, I guess we'll just have to do without the advancement of knowledge. Maybe we can talk Bill Gates into paying for it.

[This comment was edited with permission.--Econlib Ed.]

mersault writes:

Here's another:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-22_Raptor

Seth writes:

I'd like to note that none of the links provided by the first three commenters show examples of government adapting programs to make things simpler for citizens and improving the overall Government experience.

Caleb writes:

I'd agree with Seth. There's a fundamental difference between cutting programs (that would otherwise live on) due to budget constraints, and cutting programs to enhance end user convenience, even if there's enough money to keep funding them. Google's not cutting those programs because they don't have enough money. Google's cutting them because they aren't valuable enough to the consumer to justify their existence.

That's not to say that there are zero instances of government cutting programs to enhance usability. The sheer size of local, state and federal government total almost assures that a few instances exist. However, they do not jump readily to mind. It seems likely, therefore, that actually providing services valuable to the population is not a priority for government. At least, not a very high one.

@mtraven

Advancement of knowledge is valuable, no? If it's valuable, would not people voluntarily pay for it? If people would not voluntarily pay for a program designed to advance scientific knowledge, on what basis would you justify using force to make people pay for it?

Tom West writes:

Seth, I had a good laugh when a nearby store raised prices *and* cut service "in order to better serve our customers".

I've got the teensiest suspicion that perhaps Google's decision to close these services is not "to make things simpler and improve the overall customer experience" :-).

Joey Donuts writes:

@Tom West

Tom, you don't have to shop at that store ever again if the store didn't "better serve" its customers. Of course the same is true for all the store's customers.

Unfortunately, we can't "leave" the govenment or voluntarily stop paying for its services.

mtraven writes:

@Seth -- I agree with Tom West, you have to take both corporate and government PR announcements with a good deal of salt. Both take actions for many reasons other than improving the lives of their customers.

The underlying implication of the original post is that government can never be bothered to improve or streamline its services. This is also manifestly untrue.

@caleb -- Knowledge is a non-excludable good, and so subject to market failures, in other words, a pure free market will produce less than the optimal amount. This is a pretty basic economic concept.

Caleb writes:

@mtraven

Not by strict definitions. There is still a cost to distributing knowledge (albeit low), and there are still ways to keep it proprietary. The incentives may still be out of whack, but not as much as your traditional non-excludable good. (Air quality, national defense, aesthetic standards, ect.)

The more substantial counter to your point comes from your use of the word "optimal." There may indeed be an "optimal" level of knowledge discovery. However, that does not mean we know what that level is, that it never changes, or that it is the same across all non-interchangeable categories of knowledge. Lacking any sort of price mechanism (by your argument), discovering this information may be quite expensive indeed. Assuming the incentives of the information-discovering and resource-distributing agency in charge of increasing "knowledge production" are efficiently aligned (a very generous assumption), it is still very likely that the marginal costs of finding this information and acting on it by far outweigh the marginal benefits of discovering it. Thus, it would be better to stay with the admittedly imperfect system of market-driven discovery.

Seth writes:

"...you have to take both corporate and government PR announcements with a good deal of salt."

I agree. I also think that such announcements from corporations are rarer than they ought to be. But, that's because they usually come in a combo-form where one company announces bankruptcy while another is growing, which is something else that doesn't happen often in gov't (though on local levels a little more as some towns and states gain population and others lose it).

"The underlying implication of the original post is that government can never be bothered to improve or streamline its services."

Arnold might be more absolute than I am on this point, I don't know. I think it can and does happen. I just don't think the incentives encourage it. So when it does happen, it's "despite of the system" not because of it.

mtraven writes:

@caleb:

Not by strict definitions. There is still a cost to distributing knowledge (albeit low), and there are still ways to keep it proprietary.

Distribution is essentially free with the internet. And while there are ways to keep information proprietary, they are extremely unpopular and probably doomed in the long run. Not all information perhaps, but certainly scientific research is heading in that direction.

The more substantial counter to your point comes from your use of the word "optimal."

"Optimal" in that context is shorthand for "what would be produced if there were perfect markets operating" -- eg, if you didn't have public goods problems, friction, and all the other things that mean that the ultra-simplistic models don't work.

Given market failure, we don't actually know what is "optimal", but we do know that the knowledge produced by the market, in the absence of other mechanisms, will be smaller than that which produces a utilitarian optimum

Thus, it would be better to stay with the admittedly imperfect system of market-driven discovery.

This is a manifestly false conclusion, under your own assumptions, and by "your own" I mean the usual libertarian/marketroid oversimplified way of looking at the world. You seem to be saying that because it is hard to price public goods, we should not produce any of them. Go live in that world if you want, but it's not mine, thankfully, where there are still remnants of the public sphere that have not been trashed by those of your mindset.

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