The Wrong Solution

I really need to get back into posting here regularly.  Things have been insane at home so it’s tended to fall by the wayside.

Over in “Memories” on the Book of Faces, I saw this:

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The Left never seems to be able to realize that a program or policy, any program or policy, was simply wrong. They always, _always, a.l.w.a.y.s. double down. If they ever acknowledge that things have gotten worse since the initiation of the policy their pat answer is “but it would have been much worse without…”.

There is literally no feedback to say whether a policy works or not. And without that checking, well, there are vastly more ways to be wrong than to be right, the result is a whole lot of wrong policies that turn into perpetual metaphorical millstones around people’s necks.

In the market, at least (if it’s actually allowed to operate) there _is_ feedback. If someone makes a mistake, puts forward a bad “solution” to a “problem”, well, people vote with their trade and take it elsewhere. If, however, someone comes up with a better solution (“better” in that more people prefer it) well, people again vote with their trade.

Now, what people actually prefer may not be what some particular individual or group of individuals like, say, political pundits think they _should_ prefer. Take an example. Back in the days when video cassette recorders were just coming out, there were two primary formats: Betamax and VHS. Now, many people claimed that Betamax was technically superior but somehow VHS “won” and became the de facto standard. However, as it happened while that was going on I was taking a TV repair correspondence course (which also covered video cassette recorders). One of the things I noticed. VHS tapes, at Standard Play, were a full two hours. Betamax were not (I don’t remember the exact length). It seems clear to me that the value of being able to stick a tape in and record a two hour movie off the television (as most movies were, with commercial breaks, edited to length for broadcast) without having to babysit it and hope to change tapes without missing anything was preferred to the image quality superiority of Betamax (my roommate in the AF had one and, yeah, it did provide a clearer picture). Sure, there were “long play” and “extended play” settings which could put more on a tape but using them (for technical reasons I need not go into here) reduced reproduction quality.

Young people who’ve grown up on on-demand streaming video and newer formats that record sound and video at greater resolution even than the historically vaunted Betamax may not really grasp how important that was, but it was a big issue in the day. And so, VHS was preferred by the market for reasons that the “but Beta was better” advocates either did not recognize or simply ignored.

It was market feedback that ensured, in the end, that people got what they actually wanted. Make it government regulated instead and how easy it would have been for someone, sitting in an office somewhere to simply declare “Betamax is better” and declare that to be the standard. And in so doing they would have rendered video cassettes useless for one of their primary purposes–recording movies and TV shows (which came in half hour, hour, and two hour blocks) unattended to watch later–at least until LP and EP came out and then with reduced video quality.

Government solutions, with few exceptions, tend to be the wrong solutions to the wrong problems leading to the wrong results. At best they benefit the few at the expense of the many. But that never seems to stop advocates from doubling down on those wrong solutions expecting that somehow, magically, they’ll get the right results out of them.

Only…it never happens.

3 thoughts on “The Wrong Solution”

  1. Another interesting claim is that the Dvorak keyboard is more efficient, and if typists used it, they would be much more efficient. However, businesses were locked into the QWERTY keyboard, and it would cost too much to retrain all the typists. So they spend more per word typed than they have to.

    However…

    A company with a huge typing pool could have hired a bunch of people, trained them on Dvorak keyboards, and had an efficient typing pool in a matter of weeks. And these typists would have been captive to the company, at least until other companies bought Dvorak keyboard machines. Yet somehow, no one ever thought to do that.

    I wonder why.

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    1. Most companies hire people who can already type. And they are generally trained to type on the standard QWERTY keyboard. Retraining them for the new keyboard is an additional cost, and it’s an up-front cost. I have to wonder about the utility of switching back and forth between keyboards. Once someone is trained on Dvorak, how much difficulty do they have switching to QWERTY? If the difficulty is not trivial, then that means any personal typewriters/computers the people have would also have to be Dvorak. That’s an added cost to the employee making the job less attractive. They’d have to pay more to compensate for that. Likewise the “captive workforce” would also make the job less attractive and, once again, you’d have to pay more for the same quality of workers to compensate for the extra downsides of the job from the employees perspective. So, your typing pool will cost you more which is the price of that fractionally improved typing speed.

      The question then, becomes, is the fractionally increased typing speed (if that, there seems to be some question about whether the Dvorak keyboard really is all that much faster than the QWERTY keyboard–QWERTY wasn’t designed to slow down typing per se, but rather to separate the frequently used letters to prevent jams in old mechanical typewriters) sufficient to justify the increased cost of your typing pool. If, for instance, you get a 5% increase in typing speed (number purely made up for illustration) but have to pay 6% more to get the same quality workers to work under those constraints, then Dvorak, economically, is less efficient.

      Some people like to look at the continued ascendancy of QWERTY over Dvorak as an example of a market failure. Yet they fail to look at the whole picture and the value (and it’s a real one) of having an existing common standard that everyone uses.

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  2. Hmm. Make the Betamax video case slightly bigger to hold a slightly larger quantity of tape? Problem solved except that you now have two different types of Betamax player? So a free market failure of the designer to anticipate what the customer actually wants. Precisely how the FM works.

    My recollection of BM vs VHS was that BM was REALLY expensive and the only people I knew who had them were doctors and lawyers. Those of us whose parents were college professors and stay at home moms, well we bought VHS players and suffered with the lower quality.

    Of course that was after we could buy one at all. At first we rented a player along with the movie at the local video store.

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