Comments

JessSeptember 14, 2007 3:37 PM

harn:

An appalling situation, but hardly one that calls for less government. The biggest problem was that bureaucratic SOP, including oversight from relevant agencies, wasn't followed at all. Congress should in future be less eager to throw tons of money at unaccountable nongovernmental entities.

Here's a real nightmareSeptember 14, 2007 4:25 PM

@Jess

"The biggest problem was that bureaucratic SOP, including oversight from relevant agencies, wasn't followed at all."

Wrong. The biggest problem is the falsehood that bureaucratic SOP, including oversight from relevant agencies, is what will prevent such waste to begin with.

The bureaucratic SOP wasn't followed, yet it was already in place. Totally in place. Yet it wasn't followed. Do you see where this is going?

You think a regulatory agency to oversee the bureaucrats' implementation of the SOP would prevent the waste? Whoops, the agencies were already in place to do just that. Yet they didn't.

So now you have two levels of failure. You suggest perhaps a THIRD level of agency, to watch the second level of agency, who's watching the first level of bureaucrats? Are you beginning to see the problem?

You could mandate from 1 to 100 levels of government watchers watching other government watchers (we already have more than several levels), and the waste will still occur, because the PRIMARY cause of the problem has not been addressed.

"Congress should in future be less eager to throw tons of money at unaccountable nongovernmental entities."

Congress always has been, and always will be, eager to throw tons of money at everyone they possibly can. Do you know why? I'll give you a hint:

It's not their money.™

AnonymousSeptember 15, 2007 12:44 PM

Apologies for continued off-topicality, Bruce. It is a promising song (its heart is in the right place), although I'll agree with some of the YouTube commenters that some of the lyrics could be tightened up.

The Vanity Fair article and other media accounts of the CPA indicate how different the situation is from typical governmental and military projects. This was not ill-advised spending (which we'll stipulate takes place all the time), but naked theft. I don't think we've seen the final act, either. When we elect less see-no-evil leadership, that doesn't need to paper over every Iraq-related problem out of CYA concerns, it is hoped that the DoJ and military courts-martial will be directed to do their jobs. Most of the money is no longer recoverable, but those responsible can still be punished.

HARN, the problems you have with "watching the watchers" and "it's not their money" seem to indicate that you won't be swayed by these details. Your problem is with government doing any big thing, whether that is military, general-welfare, or whatever. That's fine, but it's pretty far out of the mainstream. You're unlikely to be happy with anything the federal government does, and repetition of your concerns on this site becomes just so much trolling.

Bruce SchneierSeptember 16, 2007 2:00 AM

"After seeing this, can you still in good conscience advocate 'government solutions', Bruce?"

Of course. I don't know what other solution you'd automatically advocate, but I'm sure I can find a similar article about how horrible corporate, market, or whatever solutions are.

All solutions can go horribly, horribly wrong. All solutions need to be watched and audited carefully. But the people who advocate market solutions for everything without thought (libertarians) seem just as deluded to me as those who advocate government solutions without thought (socialists). Both market and government mechanisms have their strengths and weaknessess, and both are inefficient. The trick is knowing which one is more efficient in a particular situation.

averrosSeptember 16, 2007 11:18 PM

Bruce:

> Both market and government mechanisms
> have their strengths and weaknessess, and
> both are inefficient.

Sorry, but this is hogwash. There is a simple and mathematically correct proof that free market is weakly Pareto-optimal at any given moment of time - unless personal utility functions (which determine behavior of individuals) are stealthily redefined as "what this dictator wannabe thinks is good for the people".

The proof is simple: personal utility functions define the behavior, meaning that if there is a change that some physically possible economic transaction would increasee UF's of a pair of economic actors, it will get conducted. Meaning that at any moment of time there are no transactions which could be conducted and are not conducted which would be Pareto-efficient. From which immediately follows weak Pareto-optimality of free market at any moment. (Note that insufficient information" and other similar pseudo-arguments against this result are missing the fact that acquiring and processing information about economic conditions is also an economic activity, with real costs, and therefore is subsumed by the proof above).

Given that people are known to imitate successful practices of other people the free market is also an evolutionary optimization algorithm - converging on strong Pareto-optimality. (In fact, evolutionary optimization and market economy are synergetic - as was shown by Eric Baum in his Hayek Machine experients).

Any coercion-based (i.e. "government") manipulation of the free market produces non-optimality (you cannot improve something which is already optimal). But, of course, the modern economists (who are en mass presonally depend on government handouts) go to great lengths to lie about and obscure these fundamental results.

A "govenment mechanism" has no "strengths", period. It merely parasitizes on the market, making its living by influencing behavior of people in its own interests (just like many biological parasites do to their hosts).

MartinSeptember 17, 2007 5:31 AM

Re: Computer Forensics Case Study

Computer forensics isn't supposed to be "ad hoc" in the UK. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has issued a set of guidelines (see http://www.dataclinic.co.uk/... on the subject. The actions of the officer concerned clearly don't conform to those guidelines: a potential disciplinary matter, I would have thought.

guvn'rSeptember 17, 2007 9:04 AM

@averros, your logic is flawed, in several ways. For one it seems to rest on a one to one two-actor model, which is unrealistic. It also assumes purely economic utility function is the only metric.

How, for example, would your model address a case in which a company buries 55 gal drums of toxic waste in a landfill then walks away?

Or for that matter in which a business sells information about individuals who are not a party to the transaction?

AnonymousSeptember 17, 2007 11:28 AM

@guvn'r

"How, for example, would your model address a case in which a company buries 55 gal drums of toxic waste in a landfill then walks away?"

Are you kidding? How enormously easy: that's a violation of the property the rights of the owner of the landfill. Landfill not privately owned? There's the problem.

"Or for that matter in which a business sells information about individuals who are not a party to the transaction?"

Is that information private (read: owned by its owner) ? Then it's a violation of the owner's property rights. Has the information been contracted for? Then it's either a violation of the contract, or it's not. Adjudicate it if it's truly unclear, and the decision becomes part of common law, upon which future actors can base their contractual agreements.

You can't formulate an economic problem concerning the exchange of goods and services, that a system of propert rights can't solve. Nor does there exist such a problem.

But good luck trying.

AlanSeptember 18, 2007 11:49 PM

Doesn't the proof that a free market is Pareto optimal rely on some rather unrealistic assumptions (rather akin to the physicist's massless pulley and the chemist's ideal gas)? In particular, I think you mean a perfectly competitive market and not a free market and you have to assume annoying things like no externalities, etc., etc. In the real world with transactions costs and pollution it isn't necessarily so.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..