Saturday, August 06, 2005


A few weeks ago I was forwarded an annoying post about the new element Governmentium. Now, that post was funny, but annoyingly libertarian in terms of mocking government. I was irritated enough that I thought a little about how I would rebut it. Here's a link to one version:

I did a little google searching, and turned up more than 4000 hits for Governmentium. I noticed that there was actually a great deal of mutation between the different sites' versions. And I let it drop.

A couple of days ago, somehow I stumbled across Administratium. Lo and behold, very much the same post, except that it applies to bureaucracies in government or in private business. Google turned up more than 8000 hits. Here's a link to one version:

I figured these would not go unremarked in Usenet Groups, which now are searchable with Google Groups. And I was right: first mentions of Administratium were in 1993. First mentions of Governmentium were in 2002. And they were followed with comments that Governmentium was an uncreative rewrite. (I also found a comment that Administratium was reported in The New Scientist in 1991.) Two years later, groups had versions that added: "When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium" (2004)

What lessons shall we take away from this?

Well, first, that ideologues (including the right wing and libertarians) are phenomenally uncreative, and generally adapt rather than create their own arguments. We see this all the time: for example Intelligent Design proponents are simply trying to resurrect the ancient creationist argument from design.

Second, the principles of almost any ridicule of government apply just as well to the private sector: it's just a matter of seeing how. When right wing or libertarian reframing points you towards government only, rather than the more general case, this can be hard to notice. That's when a little clever research can turn up the original, and let you point out the reframing.


El Gato con Bolas said...

A new post from you! at last!

One thing that always amazed since I found it at your site was that corporations are in many ways as governments.

For example, in my opinion, the Hayek's knowledge problem applies to corporations as well.

How could a corporation like WallMart escape from the same problems that a government will face as Hayek says?.

One more pearl about Hayek.

During the Pinochet's dictatorship, Hayek was in Chile observing the country's transformation into "a free economy". He said something like "I accept a dictator for a limited time as long as the reforms lead to a reduced government".

Wich is in line with Polanyi's observations that free markets are planned, a kind of "social experiment".



Mike Huben said...

Yes, Hayek's knowledge problem does apply to corporations as well. The Walmart solution is massive computer-aided centralization applied nation-wide to a fairly straightforward problem of buy wholesale and sell retail, while making sure that deliveries and supplies are adequate. And Walmart cleverly offloads the complexity onto its suppliers, leaving problems of how to produce and deliver primarily to them. It can do that because its market power is so great that it dwarfs that of other customers: essentially it has monopsony power at the wholesale level.

More diversified corporations have more knowledge problems, because they cannot effectively centralize. Instead, they have to form subsidiaries, divisions, and bureaucracies like government to divide up the problems into smaller tasks.

Knowledge problems are inescapable: but what matters is what provides the best working solution. Sometimes that will be the market, and other times it will be government.

El Gato con Bolas said...

Claver explanation of how Wallmart works. And how knowledge problems apply to corporations as well.

Let's change the subject, for now.

Don't you think it would be a good idea to debunk currently "free market will solve everything" thinking about Peak Oil?

Or that a free-market solution is the best solution to PO?

Your insights will be very welcome.


Amanda said...

It's WAL-MART. not WALLmart. Duh.