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Perspectives from Frederick Mann (9-20-02):

Solutions and Nonsolutions

Before discussing particular proposed solutions, it may be worth examining what constitutes a solution and what doesn't. For example, suppose I propose some "solution" to the "problem of third-world hunger." Suppose my "solution" requires that certain politicians and bureaucrats do what I propose to solve the problem. Suppose further that I have no practical means to get said politicians and bureaucrats to read and consider my proposal (never mind implement it). I contend that under these circumstances, my proposal (whatever its nature) is a nonsolution. See "What Constitutes a Solution?".

Government and Free Market

If we discuss "government" and "free market," it may be worth thinking carefully about what we include under each category.

For the purposes of this article, I define "government" as an agency of coercion. In other words, the essential characteristic that identifies "government" is coercion. See "Why You Must Recognize and Understand Coercion" and "The Nature of Government."

To me, the "free market" is characterized by three essential qualities:

  1. Private ownership of property;
  2. Voluntary exchange (absence of coercion);
  3. Honoring contracts, entered into voluntarily.

Where Do Corporations Fit In?

The next issue to address is whether "corporations" are part of "government," part of the "free market," or whether they overlap or span the two categories. A "corporation" has a government-issued "license" that often protects it from competition by the "unlicensed." Corporations also enjoy "limited liability." In other words, corporations enjoy "coercive advantages" such as:

  • A degree of coercively-imposed exclusivity in engaging in certain commercial activities;

  • Limited liability;

  • Coercively-imposed import quotas and tariffs;

  • Other "favors" such as "subsidies" in return for "campaign contributions" and other forms of bribes;

  • Government contracts paid for with coercively- collected taxes;

  • Government-legislated "pollution limits" that allow corporations to pollute "up to a point";

  • Coercively-imposed patent protection.

When corporations collect taxes from their employees, they could be regarded as government agencies in that respect. Of course, corporations also manifest some free-market characteristics.

To the degree that government officials are "owned" by corporations — for example, one could argue that George Bush and Dick Cheney are "owned by Big Oil" — government can be regarded as a coercive agency or an "arm" of corporations.

So it may be an error to regard corporations as part of the free market. It's more accurate to think of them as "hybrid creatures" having some government characteristics as well as some free-market characteristics. See also "Is the Private Sector Really Part of the Public Sector?"


Given the above, it's extremely unlikely, if at all possible, for consequential harmful monopolies to occur in the free market. I doubt that anyone can provide an example of a consequential harmful monopoly that has ever occurred in the free market.

Is "Effective Government" Possible?

1.   Individual human beings are volitional. We have power of choice. Through our brains, we essentially control the energy that animates our bodies. If someone points a gun at me and tells me to lift my finger, it's still my decision that causes my finger to lift or not.

The notion that we can be "externally controlled" is doubtful. It's only because most people have been brainwashed into believing and obeying "coercive masters" that the apparency of "external control" is created in some people's minds. Check out William Glasser's Choice Theory.

2.   From cybernetics (the science of control and feedback systems) we learn that in many cases a controlling process has to be around 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than a controlled process. Consider, for example, a steel-making oven controlled by a computer. The "significant time frame" of the oven is about five minutes. If the oven starts overheating, corrective action typically has to be taken within five minutes to prevent permanent damage to the oven.

In order for the computer to take corrective action within five minutes, it typically has to perform of the order of 100 actions or calculations per second. The "significant time frame" of the computer has to be around one-hundredth of a second. In addition, the computer must be able to "sense" the temperature of the oven, detect changes that require intervention, and transmit signals to the oven's heating mechanism for corrective action. (In this example, the controlling process is about 30,000 times faster than the controlled process.)

o  2a.   Consider driving a car. Your brain and senses constitute the controlling process. The car is the controlled process. If the car starts veering off the road, or some other eventuality requires corrective action, you typically need to do something within a second to prevent an "accident" or disaster. Therefore, the "significant time frame" of the car is around one second, maybe less.

In order for your brain to be fast enough to signal your muscles to take the exact and precise corrective actions necessary, within a second, it probably has to perform actions and calculations at the rate of at least 1,000 per second. It may have to perform parallel processing to achieve this. A strong case can be made that the brain as controlling process requires a "significant time frame" 1,000 times or more faster than that of the car being controlled.

o  2b.   There are certain "dumb" control processes such as the governer of a steam engine. The governor consists of "flaps" that rotate above openings from which steam can escape. As the engine speeds up, centrifugal force raises the flaps, enlarging the openings, enabling more steam to escape, slowing down the engine. The governer establishes and maintains the maximum speed of the steam engine.

Another example of a dumb control process is the thermostat that turns the air-conditioning system on and off.

o  2c.   Considering these cybernetic factors, you could conclude that, in order for "effective government control" to be possible:

  • Government agents would have to have extremely fast brains — at least 1,000 times faster than the brains of their subjects;

  • The "controlled" subjects would have to provide the government agents with all the information necessary for "external control" in real time (or the government agents would have to be omniscient);

  • The "controlled" subjects would have to have extremely slow brains — at least 1,000 times slower than the brains of their "masters."

  • The "controlled" subjects would have to be brainwashed into belief and obedience, that is, further "dumbed down" into dronehood;

  • The "controlled" subjects would have to be subject to control by dumb control processes.

o  2d.   Many "controlled" companies use computers. From a cybernetic perspective, would government computers, to be effective "controllers," have to be 1,000 times faster than company computers, with real-time access to all the information in all the company computers?

What About "Wenger Incentives?"

Individual human beings have their own "incentive systems" built into their genes. In terms of Glasser's Choice Theory, the basic incentives are "survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun."

What would be the requirements for Dr. Wenger (or any group of government officials) to create a "rational incentive system" to override and nullify built-in individual incentives (even if only in those respects Dr. Wenger et al., in their wisdom, deem necessary)?

  1. Would they have to be omniscient with access to all the information in all the brains of their "subjects"?

  2. Would their brains have to be at least 1,000 times faster than those of their "subjects"?

  3. Would they have to dumb down into dronehood their subjects so they couldn't think for themselves?

  4. Would they need computers at least 1,000 times faster than the computers of their "subjects"?

  5. Would their computers need real-time access to all the information in all the computers of their "subjects"?

In terms of William Glasser's Choice Theory, do "Wenger Incentives" fit under "Seven Deadly Habits" — #7: "Bribing or rewarding to control"? See also Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn.

Do "Wenger incentives" represent an extreme in arrogance, unworkability, and absurdity? See also Wenger Debate #1 and Wenger Debate #2

Frederick Mann

See also comments by Kate Jones and Jan Narveson
Join the debate by emailing your comments to Win Wenger.

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