Round 16843854354354: markets beat government

Ex-(left-)anarchist Robert Paul Wolff writes:

When I use Google or Amazon.com, they seem to have no difficulty remembering who I am, identifying sites I might want to visit or products I might want to buy. Netflix knows what sorts of movies I would enjoy renting. And all of this is done with blinding speed, virtually in what is called real time. But the CIA, the TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, and the State Department cannot "connect the dots," as the cant phrase has it, despite spending 40 billion dollars since 9/11. Why doesn't the President simply call Sergey Brin and Jeff Bezos into the oval office, offer each of them one dollar in salary [an echo of the WW II "dollar a year" men who worked for nothing to contribute to the war effort], and ask them to design and implement, in six months, a system that would allow the integration of every warning, every red flag raised in any embassy or consulate, any question at any airport security gate, all in real time, so that anyone in the entire system anywhere could access that integrated information from any laptop or computer terminal immediately? I mean, this falls under the heading of "solved technical problems."

This isn't really that surprising: Amazon's fortunes rise and fall directly in proportion to its ability to serve its customers. The US Government's, on the other hand, depend on entirely coercive factors, and its contractors have plenty of incentives for making really complicated systems that really don't do that much when they're all put together.

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Blame the public

Here I'd guess the public is to blame; they'd scream about expected privacy violations from big brother.

voluntary association FTW

Be real. Motivation difference between a private employee and a public one matters, but isn't the major factor.

The ability to be "good enough" is a HUGE efficiency. Don't like something Amazon or Google does? don't use them. This lets them put all their effort into use cases that have a lot of customers, and ignore many edge situations.

The government programs you are comparing have no opt-out. They have to cover everyone, including people who don't WANT to be covered. That's just plain a lot harder.

Constitution Anyone?

The U.S. government has this little impediment called the Constitution, a set of rules to protect the citizenry from such a system.

Moreover, there is an immense difference between calling up information for someone who wants to be found and someone who wants to avoid being found.

And Google, for one, isn't that hard to fool. Read around. Plenty of sploggers manage to have have more than one Google account, as well as "vote for themselves" by creating fake blogs, etc. to boost their page rank. Google is at least as easy to fool than our system of driver's licenses and Social Security numbers.

From the "About me" section

From the "About me" section on his blog, it doesn't sound like there's anything "ex" about him.

I could be wrong, but none

I could be wrong, but none of his posts has sounded even remotely anarchist, and most have sounded positively the other way.

Chomsky doesn't always sound

Chomsky doesn't always sound like an anarchist, but still claims to be one.

Amazon and Google had the

Amazon and Google had the advantage of starting from scratch, with centralized authority, and being founded as technology-centric enterprises. The feds have systems anywhere from 30-40 years old to brand new, usually custom-built because there is (or at the time was) no off-the-shelf software that does what they need, managed by people with vastly different and often conflicting interests, with no one really having authority or expertise to resolve them. When you have a situation like that in the private sector (and you do have it more often than you'd think) it also ends in a cluster of lovin' from an integration standpoint.

Systems integration is vastly more difficult than systems design, because not only do you need to design your framework, you have to incorporate every component's extant peculiarities.

Complex systems

"No matter how worthless or redundant it may seem, whole subsystems may depend on it."

The bane of complex legacy systems: maintenance and integration.