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“Socialism presumes that we already know most of what we need to know to accomplish our national goals. Capitalism is based on the idea that we live in a world of unfathomable complexity, ignorance, and peril and that we cannot possibly prevail over our difficulties without constant efforts of initiative, sympathy, discovery, and love.” – George Gilder
I’ve had the great good fortune over the last three-plus years to play a very small part in the development of the first supercomputer in world history to reach exascale performance. A lot of very smart people worked on this system from design to implementation. As you might imagine, it is extremely complex.
When I was an engineer at Amazon, back in the early 2000s, one of the things I learned was the propensity human beings have for developing superstitious explanations for the visible phenomenon of complex systems. The last talk I gave to the engineering organization there was called “Superstitious Architectures: How to Avoid Them.” The gist of that talk was that complex systems can only ever be understood by beginning with the humility to recognize the limits of your present understanding. Taking the trouble (and it’s a lot of trouble in really huge systems) to gather and analyze hard data is a prerequisite for understanding. You simply must presuppose your own ignorance.
One of the very best data scientists I know will, when asked what he does for a living, tell people “I’m a data scientist but none of us really knows what we’re doing.” It is this fundamental recognition of his own limited grasp of what he’s doing that makes him such an excellent data scientist. Humility is the magic juice that creates the necessary motivation to actually learn.
One of the things that has always made me skeptical of the doom and gloom claims about the climate, as it happens, is the over-weaning self-assurance of the Chicken Littles of global warning. Their authoritative pronouncements are just too long on sanctimony and too short on humility, especially for something as complex as a planetary climate. At Amazon, the most operationally competent company I have ever worked for, we couldn’t even get all the measurements we needed from our own computing infrastructure. A lot of the time we didn’t even know what measurements we needed. The idea that climate scientists can measure an entire planet with sufficient comprehensiveness to illuminate what they claim to know is, well, dubious.
Gilder’s quote should be memorized by every politician who thinks that he possesses any understanding whatsoever whenever he’s tempted to put his hands on the levers of the economy. The best politicians are those with an acute sense of their own limited understanding of something as complex as an economy, to say nothing of their rank ignorance about the richly diverse lives of the real human beings who comprise a nation.
The politicians we need are those who stand ready to leave us all alone. Such politicians will, by definition, never be part of the socialist herd. At least not before they’re elected.Published in