Ain’t gonna Study Moore no more:
The Confederate constitution starts out with an enumeration of the rights of the citizens, alas not including slaves as citizens.  Then there are amendments that specify the political technicalities of just how these rights are to be secured.  The US constitution gets it backwards.  It starts out with the structure of the government and adds the rights as amendments.  Give them a break.  They didn’t have a good model to work from.  Those first amendments are called the Bill of Rights and to me they are the soul of the document.  They have been and they continue to be degraded. 

Those rights are said to embody the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment.  But I think they are most remarkable.  Enlightenment gives very general principles.  The Bill of Rights is terse and goes straight to the point.  I think they had more to work with than philosophizing.  I think they studied under the best.  Remember that the country was very new.  Until only a few years before the country had been a collection of British colonies.  And of course they had no constitutional protection.  There was a Magna Charta and there was a Parliament in Britain herself, but the colonies had no vote.  They pretty much did as they were told.  So the British, quite good at running empires as it turned out, did whatever they deemed convenient for the control of the populace.  It would be nice if some historian would go through the Bill of Rights, amendment by amendment, and see whether there were not historical abuses that were patently unfair to the colonists that inspired the guarantee they would not happen again.  I strongly suspect there were. 

Things are different now.  The framers of the constitution obviously knew about terrorists.  One named Barabbas is mentioned in scripture.  But the framer could not have conceived that the eminently manageable problem of terrorism could be used as an excuse to subvert their own work.  It certainly strikes me with consternation.

But there are things they could not have possibly anticipated.  One of those things is the computer.  It is now cheap and easy to keep track of everyone in a population and record every transaction that person makes including every trip by public transport or even in his own car.  Cameras placed in public can easily track his every move.  Radar bounced off his window can report every word he says.  The ability of the government to spy on the people is not new, and we have indeed a guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.  But that ability to search has gone beyond all imagining. 

Then of course there are drones.  They can fly overhead and monitor everything.  They can kill with impunity and anonymity.  These threats to our freedom are very new.

The most obvious targets, and those best placed to deal with being snooped, are of course the super rich.  And they are another source of threat.  The framers envisioned an economy that was primarily agricultural.  One person could own a lot of land, indeed could own other people, but the kind of wealth that can now be squirreled away electronically or in the form of art and other valuable objects unrecorded in warehouses never existed before.  As problems go I’m not so concerned with the super rich hoarding art.  The good stuff is in museums.  The rest is only valuable if somebody wants to buy.  A housing bubble or a stock bubble can savage the finances of ordinary folk.  If there is an art bubble and the value of all that stashed stuff falls dramatically then the burden lies on those who can best afford it.  The problem with the rich is not their art collections; it’s their influence.  And that is new or at least has increased beyond ken.

There have to be solutions to these things.  My constant theme is to lament the loss of fertility of the solid bed rock middle class.  Without them and without the traditional old families who have taken an interest in keeping us free and safe this seems perilous indeed.  But ignoring that, the technology just keeps growing faster than our ability to adapt our society to it.

So the scenario comes to mind: a few people have almost all the wealth and influence.  Absent opportunities, technology falters.  Things get really bad.  People figure out what is and is not appropriate for the use of that technology.  By some means, and it might not be nice, people impose that propriety.  Then the cycle starts again. 

But we might not have to go there.  Moore’s law is the observation that computer chips will double in their capacity every eighteen months to two years.  That means ever cheaper computing.  That means technology ever outrunning accommodation.  But Moore’s law may be coming to a close. 


(Benjamin Southerland No Moore? ECONOMIST extra issue The World in 2014 page 141) The chips are getting smaller, but they are getting more expensive.  Using the new technology would be that computation becomes more expensive, not less.  That would force the new technology into very specialized fields, like cell phones, and would not be particularly useful to an intrusive government.  (All right, I suppose they could be used in ever smaller and more sophisticated spy systems, but I’m trying to put a positive spin on this.)

So for practical purposes technology may just about have stalled out already.  And we still have the form, if not quite the substance, of institutions that can be made answerable to the people. 

Don’t mourn the passing of Moore’s law.  It may all be for the best.

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