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Sunday Ponderance

Name the innovations in roads that you have observed in the last 40 years.

Or how about primary schooling?

Compare that to retailing, electronics, software, etc.

Perhaps a counter to this observation is the military, but I’d argue it supports rather than refutes my implied point.

7 Responses to “Sunday Ponderance”

  1. Harry says:

    The road that runs by my house was taken over from the state maybe 20 years ago and repaved with a machine that ground up the old road (approx. 12″) in the front, mixed it with tar, and laid down finished road in the back to be tamped down with rollers. One mile in less than an afternoon. No hauling old road to a landfill, and no hauling in new road on dump trucks. I thing the crew was ten, and they were all busy. A week later they laid down a finish course in a day. No potholes yet. The road was closed two days.

    Then the state replaced the one-lane bridge, and that took over a year.

    • Harry says:

      I should have said our lowly township took the road over from the state from the state, which had done an anbysmal job of maintaining that small stretch of road ever since it had been paved in the 1930’s.The township contracted with a private firm that had the big machine.

  2. blink says:

    Taking your implicit conjecture about government provision, what if causality runs differently? For example, perhaps we turn over to government those areas where we have exhausted the low-hanging fruit. In areas with little potential for innovation, it just is not worthwhile to push back against government encroachment. Entrepreneurs turn to more fertile areas and leave ossified industries to others and government.

    In this case, given a fixed size of government (admittedly unrealistic), the mix of public-private control is probably about right. Corollary: Government subsidies for green energy are much more objectionable than government provision of roads.

    • jb says:

      OK interesting line of reasoning, but then what are the criteria for determining when the low hanging fruit has been exhausted, or more to the point, who determines those criteria?

  3. RIT_Rich says:

    I’d have to disagree with you. I can name lots of innovations in “road” technology, whether in building roads, or in the materials etc. Just as many as there are in building buildings themselves. They are certainly not immediately obvious to anyone who might not be a civil engineer (and I’m not, but I can understand a bit).

    I understand what you may be trying to say, but roads are designed and build by private companies, not the government. As long as private companies and individual design teams compete with each other, there will be innovations.

    Of course, there is no reason to assume that something like “roads” needs to be comparable in terms of the number, speed or magnitude of innovation with something like software.

    As for military, this goes back to a point I once made that the military is perhaps the only part of the US government that functions similarly to a market, because it has competition from other militaries.

  4. Harry says:

    Regarding primary schooling, I guess I am a reactionary not interested in any innovation beyond the one-room schoolhouse. I know a lot of energy has been consumed since those days to educate the whole child, but learning the three R’s to me is not a complicated process. Our school district has employed a vice superintendent with a doctoral degree and a personal secretary to reinvent the wheel each year, and the result has been often but not always to dilute what is taught.

    My daughter did not get the full impact of this because she had good teachers who taught according to what they felt best. For example, her second grade teacher had daily “math races” on times tables where there was one winner, not ten winners who were pronounced above satisfactory. This was counter to the philosophy that self-esteem reigns supreme, and its extension that ethics and truth are relative concepts. Any answer is as good as the next answer, as long as you feel good about it.

    My daughter’s fifth grade teacher did spelling lists and tested for spelling and did spelling bees. Did we need a high-paid PhD assistant superintendent to discover spelling as something good to teach kids?

    Now, I wish they had found time for foreign languages, and had introduced algebra earlier, so there was room for innovation, but those things never happened.

  5. Brian says:

    When roads and schools were in the “entrepreneurial” phase there was rapid growth and new technology, now that they are mature it is all about building a nicer headquarters and squeezing the “customer” for more money. There is very little competition so there is no creative destruction. The fat grow fatter and the customer grows poorer.

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