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Over and above the giggles there’s an important lesson from Iowa

Summary:
That Iowa caucus thing, well, yes. Those who would run the country find themselves incapable of counting a couple of hundred thousand votes. We all look forward to their running the entire economy, right? But past that amusement there’s an important point:“The sequence of events that led to the failure of this technology is nothing new – it happens in every rollout,” said Meredith Broussard, a professor at NYU and computer scientist. “This was a totally predictable disaster.” What’s more, the app was not tested at scale and not vetted by any third party agencies, according to reports.Move up a level of abstraction from a mere app to any new manner of doing something, or any new thing to be done. That testing at scale. This is one of the things that markets do and planned systems don’t.

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That Iowa caucus thing, well, yes. Those who would run the country find themselves incapable of counting a couple of hundred thousand votes. We all look forward to their running the entire economy, right? But past that amusement there’s an important point:

“The sequence of events that led to the failure of this technology is nothing new – it happens in every rollout,” said Meredith Broussard, a professor at NYU and computer scientist. “This was a totally predictable disaster.”

What’s more, the app was not tested at scale and not vetted by any third party agencies, according to reports.

Move up a level of abstraction from a mere app to any new manner of doing something, or any new thing to be done. That testing at scale. This is one of the things that markets do and planned systems don’t.

Sure, planners - competent ones - do at least try to make sure that what they’re doing works. Works in the sense that if it is adding one plus one it gets to two. What planning doesn’t do, because it can’t, is test whether it works in the grander sense.

That grander sense being, well, is it something that is wanted? Is it better than this other method, does anyone want the thing to be done, is there some wildly different solution unthought of?

This all being what markets do actually do. For we float our new method of whatever into that sea of possibilities and allow them to compete with each other. Those that win are those that do what people want done in the manner that people want them done.

Yes, of course, at one scale everything is planned. The person writing the code had better have an idea of what they’re setting out to do for example. But the market is, in the case of the US, those 330 million people doing that widescale testing. Which is why market systems, with their competition, actually work. Only those things which achieve something desired come into widescale use. We thus end up with an economy full of things that have passed that test, doing something people desire well enough.

Rather than, say, things which reach the answer three when adding one and one and which are then imposed by central command.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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