Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Q&A - 17/5

Larry Summers

I think [Bill Gates] went seriously astray in a recent interview when he proposed, without apparent irony, a tax on robots to cushion worker dislocation and limit inequality. The Microsoft co-founder is right about the gravity of the problem and need for action, but he is profoundly misguided in his proposed solution — and in ways that point up problems with the current public debate.


A robot tax is like taxing companies for using Microsoft Word because MS Word potentially displacing jobs of secretaries.. What kind of convoluted logic is this? I think Gates is truly scared ppl will come for his money one day, in the context of a redistributive scheme.


People are seriously deluded if think they can have healthcare without subsidies or individual mandates.


And out of these two choices, subsidization is far better. You can't force people to have insurance. Governments provide insurance, even to f**ing tourists visiting a country briefly (for basic care), lifting the burden from businesses, individuals (who are becoming small businesses themselves), so not only is everyone insured for life, government can now better negotiate with drug / care providers with its immense purchasing power. Even after Obamacare US is still spending an inordinate amount on healthcare. Individual mandates are stupid, countries doing it must drop it ASAP. Follow Canada, Australia. Insurance companies can bitch and moan, but governments are responsible for the welfare of their citizens, not the welfare of insurance companies.

Another reason for SPH is that people's expectations from insurance does not neatly fit into free-market philosophy. Health is not like buying ketchup. This reminds me a This American Life episode: An interviewee said "With pets, I think we're used to the idea that they're going to die at some point. We all have that stop treatment level. And that alone will probably keep spending from getting too out of hand. But if my wife gets in a car accident, or my kids, my stop treatment level? It doesn't exist. I want that insurance company to meet me at the hospital loading dock with a truck full of money. ".

Tim Bray

[On why he doesn't believe in Blockchain technology that powers Bitcoin]  I’m an old guy: I’ve seen wave af­ter wave of landscape-shifting tech­nol­o­gy sweep through the IT space: Per­son­al com­put­er­s, Unix, C, the In­ter­net and We­b, Java, REST, mo­bile, pub­lic cloud. And with­out ex­cep­tion, I ob­served that they were ini­tia­ly load­ed in the back door by geek­s, with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion, be­cause they got shit done and helped peo­ple with their job­s.

That’s not hap­pen­ing with blockchain. Not in the slight­est. Which is why I don’t be­lieve in it.

A welcome if conservative slant

I guess the issue is that what bitcoin and blockchain is trying to do is so huge - that's why IMO the Web comparison is unfair. With the net the geeks could make immediate difference with some "soft" stuff, the infrastructure (the protocols, the backbone, standards) was already there. A better comparison in this area would be between blockchain and the internet itself.

This Bray comment reminded me an earlier comment of his many years ago, on cloud services, when he said (paraphrasing) "that people make a big deal out of creating virtual machines (with no additional software, only simple OS, u have to install more on top) on the Net, but the real action would be cloud companies offering additional software / framework services on top of hardware". What is the difference? With the latter, say, software for generating web pages is decided for you (by Google, Amazon), developer writes his components against this framework, simplifying deployment / scaling of code.

So this was a nice little contrarian / conservative comment at the time, apparently Bray's "schtick". However, fast forward to today, while it is true a lot of ppl use these prepackaged solutions, Amazon, the oldest player in cloud services still makes its mint through the "bare naked machine" service. There is more freedom there that programmers, IT professionals like.