Quick Roundup 507

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When altruism and collectivism go unchallenged, ...

... "budget hawks" look like this:

For those 55 or older today, [Social Security] would remain unchanged. For those younger, benefits would be reduced -- with no cuts for the poorest workers. Workers 55 or younger in 2011 could establish individual investment accounts that would be funded with part of their payroll taxes. Government would guarantee a return equal to inflation.
Note that there is no talk of phasing out and eventual repeal. Oh, and treating inflation like a metaphysical fact rather than the man-made disaster of government planning that it is won't help, either.

And yet, as Robert Samuelson indicates, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), "stands virtually alone" in proposing that we do something about our ballooning federal deficit before it's too late.

136 at 3

This week's Objectivist Roundup is posted over at 3 Ring Binder.

A Fine Line

On the one hand, computer vendors help large numbers of people realize the potential of their various computing devices without having to wallow in technical details for inordinate amounts of time.

On the other hand, many computer vendors seem intent on going beyond simple division of labor to actively fostering dependence, as this excerpt from an article at Cracked indicates.
[T]here's an unfortunate catch with Apple products. Even after you spend your hard earned money on fancy Jobsian wonder-toys, you still don't really own them. ...

... [M]anufacturers of other cell phones and gadgets generally don't care what customers do once they've paid for their products ... But Apple goes beyond complaining. They will actively break your shit for disobeying their arbitrary rules.

Yes, Apple has sent out updates specifically designed to disable phones that have been modified to work with carriers other than AT&T, or to run Microsoft Office. [links dropped]
I can see not wanting to provide support for technologies their designers might not have had in mind when designing the iPhone, but why not just make it clear that any problems associated with such modifications are unsupported? Or, if Apple's contracts with AT&T and Verizon demand such updates, why not make it clear that they will break your phone if you stray? (Maybe Apple does both. I don't know.)

I wonder whether Apple would fare so well in a more rational culture. On top of the fact that it would probably face better competition, would as many people accept such deals so willingly? Would more people want to go the extra mile to modify their iPhones? Would this cause Apple to have to be more accommodating?


Nature's wonders are fine, but her bloopers are underappreciated.

-- CAV


Galileo Blogs said...

"I wonder whether Apple would fare so well in a more rational culture. On top of the fact that it would probably face better competition, would as many people accept such deals so willingly?"

It is an interesting question. One aspect of this is that Microsoft had its gonads cut off decades ago because of antitrust. Apple, so far (and thankfully, yes) has been immune from it.

Somehow, Gates got on the wrong side of the antitrust people, but Jobs and Apple are seen as so cool that antitrust should not touch them.

Meanwhile, there is no objective difference between Apple's business practices and those of Microsoft (and Intel) that would warrant antitrust prosecution of the latter, but not the former.

One can only wonder at all of the innovations that we have not seen because of the antitrust shackles that have held Microsoft down all these years. That also includes potential innovations by Microsoft's competitors, including Apple. With Microsoft held down, no one had to try as hard as they would have otherwise.


The fact is, antitrust destroys technological innovation, which is the most virtuous aspect of competition. Competition in innovation is what fundamentally drives our standard of living upward. The antitrust enforcers only see competition in terms of price and market shares.

Andrew Dalton said...

I've been pretty satisfied with the desktop iMac that I recently purchased (I was a long-time PC user before), but the iMac happily runs third-party software. Apple seems to have a completely different philosophy for its handheld devices.

Sandi Trixx said...

Regarding Paul Ryan, he may recognize the debt is out of control, but he voted in favor of TARP and the auto bailouts. See his wishy-washy response to being confronted about the issue on Stossel.


Gus Van Horn said...


You're practically reading my mind regarding the essential similarities between Microsoft and Apple, and the screams of "there ought to be a law" any time a corporation runs afoul of the wishes of its customers.

I see two interesting cultural phenomena here. Antitrust, yes, but also a pervasive consumer passivity. I understand not wanting to have to screw around with computers, but I don't understand being willing to have one's own property rendered useless by its manufacturer.

Apple reminds me of an ad I once saw by some neurotic cat breeder who "promised" to stay "stay involved" even after you bought a cat from her.

Ummm. No thanks!


Indeed they do, and their approach makes me not want anything to do with them.


No surprise there, and completely in line with my point. This guy is right to be alarmed, but if he thinks his scheme is going to fix anything, he's got another thought coming.


Steve D said...

Well, our biggest problem is with the writer not the politician. A writer who cannot conceive of anything outside of his narrow box. Such are the people who set the direction of our culture.

“Many public policy problems are genuinely hard. How to guarantee job creation? Provide financial stability? Improve inner-city schools?”

I can see how that might be difficult for a government or a brick wall. Their natures don’t seem to fit these goals. I’d choose something a little more up to the job like private business (or several). The government (or brick wall) might want to stick to goals slightly easier for it to accomplish like how to make a perpetual motion or a free energy machine or guarantee eternal youth. (or another option would be for the government to protect rights and the brick wall to stop things and neither of them worry about schools or jobs).

Interesting how he assumes that job creation, financial stability and schools are automatically the governments problem. I think you used the term altruism?
One practical outcome of altruism is that is seems like it makes people completely unable identify the proper tool to fix the problem.

“There are no panaceas.”

Well actually there is but that was rejected a long time ago and so the writer probably has no idea what it is. If you have been trying for decades to tighten a nut with a hammer you might have the same comment.

Snedcat said...

"Nature's wonders are fine, but her bloopers are underappreciated."

Ha! I'm going to use that the next time I need a quick jab at a particularly stupid person.

P.S. My confirmation code is "unsubd." I think that's a tribute to you somehow...

Gus Van Horn said...

I quite agree with your comments on the lack of imagination of the writer and its unfortunate consequences. This guy had a chance to start a real "conversation" and blew it, and mainly because he failed to see it.

Gus Van Horn said...


I hadn't thought of that, but ... yeah.

Watch enough nature shows and, between the environmentalist propaganda and the carefully selected film sequences, you'd think that man was not just stupid and evil, but completely graceless.


Jason said...

I was going to comment on regulations and antitrust holding down Microsoft, cell phone carriers, and other major industries Apple has to work with--but Galileo made the point better than I could.

Gus Van Horn said...

Indeed. He has frequently added value to my blog with his astute comments.

Anonymous said...

Steve D.,
I loved your analogy about trying for decades to tighten a nut with a hammer. PRICELESS!

As far as the Microsoft Anti-trust persecution; there is a theory out there that my economist brother introduced me to. It was pre-internet so there is no link but the gist of it is that Microsoft wasn't paying their pound of flesh to the DC establishment. That is, MSFT only had one Washington DC lobbyist prior to the anti-trust action and that was their representative on the Electronic Freedom Foundation. And since MSFT wasn't paying the DC establishment the correct amount of squeeze, the DOJ figured it would squeeze Bill Gates for the requisite amount of money via anti-trust.

Apple's behaviour is not new; back in 1983 they proposed tripling the inventory costs for their retail outlets by requiring separate printers for each of their CPU's (the II, the IIa, and the III). Their method for this was to arbitrarily change the cable pinouts for the parallel interface on both. Apparently they had it pointed out to them that all that would do was increase the number of custom cables the techs would have to make because no retail outlet in their right mind would stand for (or even survive) tripling their inventory costs. I don't think that it was ever implemented but the store I worked for dropped Apple anyway because this was not an isolated instance of their insanity.

18 months later I went to work for a competitor just as they dropped the Apple line for similar shenanigans. And this corporation had actually sold the first Apple computer at retail.

Sometimes the baggage that comes with a superior product reduces the value of that product to the point that consumers go elsewhere. In fact I think the only reason Apple survived their return to a proprietary system (after their open system cut the legs out from under IBM etal) was because they had positioned themselves as anti-establishment with the counter cultural types. Who, admittedly used them because of their surpassing technical excellence in the graphic arts. (The first version of Windows, packaged with the HP Scanjet was so lamentable that it literally could not get through a single black and white scan without crashing. I had to go to Z-Soft to get something that worked.)
However, I think that Apple today has a lot in common with IBM of the 1970's. Great technical work coupled with a marketing program that loads the user down with "Thou Shalt Nots..." even if Apple uses technical means to enforce them vs the legal means favored by the 70's IBM.

For instance, the Selectric Typewriter was a huge innovation but you couldn't own one (until one of the anti-trust actions by DOJ) you had to lease them. Acquaintances of my father refused the superior product because they didn't want the business hassle of the perpetual lease that came with them.

Now I'm not saying that IBM should have been forced, as they were, to change their business model. But I do think that anti-trust promotes a market stasis that allows these businesses to avoid paying the full market price for their less than stellar marketing decisions.

C. Andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


"Acquaintances of my father refused the superior product because they didn't want the business hassle of the perpetual lease that came with them."

That's pretty much how I see the decision to purchase almost anything hand-held from Apple: as a perpetual lease.

And the price for a Windows machine, at least until OSS came along, was something I always regarded with a jaundiced eye. How much more would I have to pay before it became truly useful?


Andrew Dalton said...

"this was not an isolated instance of their insanity."

An instance that I remember was during Apple's comeback over 10 years ago, when they insisted that every retailer carry all of the available iMac colors. Best Buy dropped their product for this reason.

Gus Van Horn said...

This is getting pretty interesting. Not having watched Apple much until recently, I find it interesting that it has been making the same basic mistake over and over again all this time.

Some time way back, some IT writer I read once said Apple was run by control freaks and said it was "self-righteously destroying itself." I don't know that self-righteousness factors in, but it's certainly hurting itself, strategically.

Jason said...

Apple is more innovative and has products that function more smoothly than the competition precisely because of the fact that it is run by "control freaks", or more accurately, people with a vision (and the talent to implement it) who refuse to compromise.

Retaining airtight control of their products has been and still is a rational move given that other sectors and companies Apple has to work with make lousier products prone to viruses and less integrated and less streamlined user experiences.

Apple's products work better because they design their own software and insist that other software meets their standards. In principle, in the long run, Apple refusing to turn its products into "run anything you want" devices keeps its products integrated and fast, and keeps them from becoming bloated and slow.

The colors issue on iMacs is a non-essential marketing issue (to be analyzed separately), and should not be conflated with Apple's very real and rational need to control the software and operating system on its products with an iron fist.

Gus Van Horn said...


The virus problem is a result of Microsoft's design decisions. Linux, for example, does not suffer from viruses any more than other Unix-like systems (of which OS X is a variety). A company need not be run by control freaks not to have virus-prone products.

As far as control over products for integration goes, I conceded that point in the post. The flip side of that is that, for customers who want to tinker with their own computing devices, Apple's tight control means Apple products are less than ideal.

For Apple and for the consumer, tight integration versus freedom to customize are tradeoffs. Apple is betting that most consumers want smoothness and integration. They may be right, but they risk losing a significant market that thinks otherwise.


Mike said...

I heard it explained to me once that most people misapprehend the product Apple is actually selling and that they are buying. What Apple is actually selling is the Mac OS X / iPhone OS software experience. They're not actually selling you a multipurpose device or computer or whatever. The hardware is merely a vessel for delivery of their actual product, the software experience, and in order to deliver that "arrangement" the way they want it "performed" so to speak, they design the hardware with that exclusive purpose.

It makes sense when you begin to think of it. I'm not as concerned with the specific specs of my iMac as I am that it runs OS X well. If it can't do that, mise well just buy a generic PC for a fraction of the price. And the iPhone is an even more obvious case, considering that Blackberry smartphones and arguably Droid are far more capable products... but neither delivers the iPhone OS experience.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's the best explanation of Apple's business practices I've ever heard.

On top of that,fan and critic alike will find it apt!