Paralysis by Uncertainty

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thomas Sowell borrows the phrase "unknown unknowns" from Donald Rumsfeld to describe why our economy remains paralyzed, even with numerous potential investors sitting atop mountains of cash.

Secretary Rumsfeld pointed out that there are some things that we know that we know. He called those "known knowns." We may, for example, know how many aircraft carriers some other country has. We may also know that they have troops and tanks, without knowing how many. In Rumsfeld's phrase, that would be an "unknown known" -- a gap in our knowledge that we at least know exists.

Finally, there are things we don't even know exist, much less anything about them. These are "unknown unknowns" -- and they are the most dangerous...
Sowell goes on to discuss the minefield of unknown unknowns that the Obama Administration has laid in the path of would-be investors in the American economy.
Blithely piling onto American businesses both known costs like more taxes and unknowable costs -- such as the massive ObamaCare mandates that are still evolving -- provides more incentives for investors to send their money elsewhere to escape the hassles.

Hardly a month goes by without this administration coming up with a new anti-business policy -- whether directed against Boeing, banks or other private enterprises. Neither investors nor employers can know when the next one is coming or what it will be. These are unknown unknowns.
Sowell doesn't allude to the unintended consequences of any of these policies, but he doesn't really have to. The damage is already great, amounting to a loss of $200 billion in investment capital to the economy since 2009, or the equivalent of two million jobs, according to one estimate.

-- CAV

--- In Other News ---

Related to the above is the following sign of the times: the rise of the mature intern: "Seven percent of employers surveyed by in 2009 reported receiving internship applications from workers over the age of 50. A quarter of employers also reported receiving applications for entry-level positions from the same age group."

Patrick Michaels of the American Association for the Advancement of Science writes, among other things, that, "Federal domination of science funding has two quite intended consequences: both individual scientists and major universities have become wards of Washington."

Open source guru Eric Raymond likes Google+ and thinks that Facebook "might actually have a fight on its hands." Good. Every time I even vaguely consider joining Facebook, something new creeps me out. A viable alternative would be nice.


Resident Egoist said...

Hey Gus,

I will second ESR's praise of Google+. But I'd say it's more an immediate threat to Twitter than it is to Facebook. In fact, in its current iteration, Goog+ is really just a (much) better version of Twitter. Their essential similarity is that they both handle relationships the same way: you can "follow" X, but X doesn't have to follow you back. Whereas with Facebook, both parties must agree to the relationship, i.e.: you "friend" one another.

Besides the fact that these relationship models (symmetric vs asymmetric) are different enough to appeal to different groups, I think there are just way too many people (and brands) that are too heavily invested in Facebook to just pack up and leave. I'd say for the short to medium term, Facebook is pretty safe. The farmille crowd isn't going anywhere any time soon.

You also mentioned a while ago that you were considering picking up an Android phone. If you're a customer of either T-Mobile or Sprint, I'd recommend a Nexus S. I switched to the Sprint 4G version 2 months ago and I'm very happy with the device. You always get the latest software updates without any OEM bloat or carrier delays. The phone is very easy to tinker with and customize (if you're into that sort of stuff); it's very speedy, has great battery life, and an amazing screen.

Gus Van Horn said...


Good to hear from you, as always.

"The Farmville crowd isn't going anywhere soon."

Well put, and the rest of your points regarding Facebook's entrenchment are sound.

Thanks for the mobile device recommendation. I happen to be a Sprint customer, and am on the same page with many of the strong points you praise the Nexus S for.

Last week's very busy trip put my phone search on hold (and the baby pauses it, along with everything else quite a bit), so I really appreciate the input!