Never Let a Crisis or Conspiracy Theories Go to Waste

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

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  1. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    Looking at the actual study, I found this odd:

    The strongest predictors of beliefs in these ideas are a psychological predisposition to reject expert information and accounts of major events (denialism)

    So denialism is defined as a psychological predisposition to reject export information and accounts of major events. But here are the questions they asked to assess denialism:

    * Much of the information we receive is wrong.

    * I often disagree with conventional views about the world.

    * Official government accounts of events cannot be trusted.

    * Major events are not always what they seem.

    Because of the crisis of competence in journalism, much of the information we receive is wrong, and contradicts expert consensus. On top of that, the replication crisis demonstrates that even academic research is often wrong.

    Conventional views about the world are also routinely at odds with expert consensus.

    Major events are also not always what they seem. We know this because initial reports on major events are often contradicted by later reports.

    I get what they’re trying to measure here, but these do not strike me as particularly good questions for that purpose.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      This piece is particularly risible in covering-up for “traditional media in the United States, which exhorted us to worry about the flu instead, and warned us against overreaction” in February. The Atlantic What did the NYTimes, the WaPo, Vox, and Buzzfeed have to gain? Who put them up to this? What is their next dastardly step? Do Atlantic writers read the Atlantic? Why would I list Vox and Buzzfeed in the same category as NYTimes and the WaPo? The questions merely beget questions.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw
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        says:

        The comparison that I’ve seen is to the ability to change one’s bet after the reveal.

        Why do you keep pointing to the same 4 or 5 articles from February that were wrong? Why aren’t you looking at the 4 or 5 articles that got this right in February?Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          I would point to the same 4 or 5 articles, but some of them keep disappearing down the memory hole. I think the better retort is “but Trump . . .” so long as the audience is Trump supporters, but most of this type of stuff is about Trump supporters, not an open dialogue.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to PD Shaw
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        says:

        Note that the authors of this piece are not “Atlantic writers” except insofar as anyone with at least one article published in the Atlantic can be considered such. They’re political science professors, and this is the first article either has ever written for the Atlantic.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      Some of their questions makes me think the survey is like a world history quiz written by Bluto Blutarsky. “87% of Americans didn’t know the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, and blamed some other country.”

      Let’s have a look at the appendix, which has the four questions on which their whole study hinges.

      I. Question wording, variable coding

      -The threat of coronavirus has been exaggerated by political groups who want to damage
      President Trump.
      1. Strongly disagree
      2. Disagree
      3. Neither agree, nor disagree
      4. Agree
      5. Strongly agree

      That’s a yes/no question, not one of degrees, and the correct answer is yes. Are there people who want to damage President Trump? Heck yes. Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Ilham Omar, AOC, Jerry Nadler, the entire staff of CNN, and many others have essentially devoted their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to bringing him down. They call themselves “the resistance”.

      Have they exaggerated the virus threat to get Trump? Many times. Many times they’ve also accused Trump of exaggerating the threat. This happens all day, every day, so it’s kind of like sports entertainment. If Trump passes the ball they’ll say he should have run it, and if he hands it off for a run up the middle, they’ll say he should have thrown deep. They don’t like the quarterback and they’re going to snipe. So the first question doesn’t have anything to do with a conspiracy.

      The question seems predicated on the idea that there are people who know exactly how much threat Covid poses (It’s a 5.92!), when in fact everybody has been guessing (modeling) based on limited and changing data sets and past experiences with prior pandemics. “Threat” isn’t even an objective term, and can’t be described by a single number. If you’re a 70-something obese diabetic in Brooklyn, the threat is extremely high. If you’re a 12-year old in Montana the threat is extremely low. Any blanket statement about “the threat”is simultaneously exaggerated and underplayed.

      So the answer to question 1 is about as informative as “pick a random number from 1 to 5.”

      -Coronavirus was purposely created and released by powerful people as part of a conspiracy.
      1. Strongly disagree
      2. Disagree
      3. Neither agree, nor disagree
      4. Agree
      5. Strongly agree

      Well, the correct answer to that would depend on facts we don’t yet have. One of the top Russian virus researchers says the Wuhan lab had been publishing papers on modifications to bat corona virus for years, to produce useful information on how such viruses might mutate to infect humans. That’s pretty much why we pay PhD’s to study potential human pathogens. It’s going to take further studies of its genome, and lots of samples from caves where the bats lived, to really resolve the question as to whether the virus was “created” and if so, to what extent. And “created” itself could cover everything from gene splicing to just sticking it in a different environment to see if it mutates in any interesting ways. So the answer to the “created” question might be a big “yes”, or it might not, or it might depend on just what is meant by “created”. We don’t know yet.

      But that question is combined with “and released”. Now the act of “creating” and the act of “releasing” are two entirely different things, but you don’t get to offer a different answer to each. You might think that the virus was natural but was released on purpose, or you might think the virus was intentionally created (as part of normal research into the virus) but was released by accident, such as a lab worker getting unknowingly infected.

      Then there’s the thought that once it was burning through Wuhan, it was in China’s interest to let it infect other countries, both from a perspective of not taking a hit that economic, political, and military competitors entirely escape, and from the perspective that if the virus was global, a vaccine would be produced far, far more quickly than if it was just a local or national problem. If China had to stay locked down and locked out of the world economy, would Xi think it would be better for China if all the other countries were locked down too? Maybe so. To know the answer to that we’d have to peer inside Xi’s brain.

      And of course there are reports that China was focused on virus research because they wanted to supplant the CDC as the world’s go-to resource during a crisis, such as occurred during the Ebola outbreak. Chinese leaders are jealous of America’s expertise in many fields, expertise which gives the US a good reputation and lots of influence, a reliance and respect that China covets. So you could make a very good argument that the whole reason bats were in a Chinese lab was a set of decisions by powerful party leaders looking to gain world influence.

      And finally, the question has “as part of a conspiracy”. Was their a Chinese conspiracy surrounding the virus? Heck yes. For months they were covering up any knowledge about the virus or the outbreak, which allowed the screw up to grow into a global disaster, and many countries are pretty ticked off about it.

      The second question is too poorly worded to tease out anything useful, as it combines things that are probably true in some sense with things that probably are not, and it could be measuring how people are parsing phrases and weighting clauses.

      -Conspiracy thinking scale (each item is 1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree):
      1. Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places.
      2. Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway.
      3. The people who really ‘run’ the country, are not known to the voters.
      4. Big events like wars, the current recession, and the outcomes of elections are controlled
      by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.

      I’ll just take these individually.

      1. Heck, Trump spent months under an impeachment investigation that was hatched by ne’er-do-wells at State and the CIA. If the life of the leader of the free world is profoundly affected by secret plots, there’s a good chance the rest of us could be even worse off. Someone might just ponder on the Star Wars sequels, the revelations about what Kathleen Kennedy actually said in various meetings, and how she wrecked Disney’s Galaxy Quest theme park, and conclude much the same thing. This would be especially true for an Imagineer who had two years of design work tossed in the trash.

      2. Even though we live in a Democracy, only a few people run things. We call them senators and representatives and governors. See the definition of “democracy” or more accurately “republic”.

      3. The people who run the country are not known to the public? This might depend on what you mean.
      How many people can name three Supreme Court Justices? How many can name the Senate minority leader? How many can name the vice president or chairman of the Federal Reserve?

      4. Big events like wars, the current recession, and the outcomes of elections are controlled
      by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.

      Hrm… Were the Germans working secretly against us when they bombed Pearl Harbor? Maybe. Maybe. And didn’t one party spend the last three years saying the Russians secretly put Trump in office?

      Is this survey merely measuring how many people watch CNN and MSNBC, or was it trying to determine something else?

      -Denialism scale (each item is 1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree):
      1. Much of the information we receive is wrong.
      2. I often disagree with conventional views about the world.
      3. Official government accounts of events cannot be trusted.
      4. Major events are not always what they seem.

      1. Definitely true. That’s why we have to spend so much time tracking down sources or waiting for complete investigations instead of taking news stories as gospel. Heck, now press people brag about how they mislead the public.

      2. What is a “conventional” view about the world? There are always contradictory narratives that are held and accepted by large numbers of people. Are you a conspiracy theorist if you think the New York Times 1519 project is junk? Are you a conspiracy theorist if you think Islam’s conventional views of Muslim women or gays might be incorrect? Are you a conspiracy theorist if you think Muslim refugees will be a boon to Europe? Are you a conspiracy theorist if you think the planet’s species are or are not facing an extinction crisis? Could this question be rephrased as “I often disagree with groupthink?” and have the same answer take on an entirely different meaning?

      3. Can official government accounts be trusted? I don’t know. Let’s ask someone who was at the Gulf of Tonkin, or maybe ask Colin Powell about those Iraqi WMDs.

      4. Major events are not always what they seem. See Neville Chamberlin getting off a plane and declaring “peace in our time.” I guess it seemed like “peace in our time”, but things weren’t really what they seemed. They should have asked some historians about how major changes go unnoticed or are misinterpreted until historians looked back and said “Well, given the benefit of hindsight, it turns out that…”

      So yeah, they just crunched a bunch of pretty statistics on Americans who don’t know the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.Report

    • Avatar InMD in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      I agree. There was a Matt Taibbi article I read this morning on this issue that for the life of me I can’t seem to find. There’s a neat sleight of hand where totally justified skepticism of government and media actors based on documented track records is equated to believing in little green men or the loch ness monster.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to InMD
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        says:

        This one?

        https://taibbi.substack.com/p/temporary-coronavirus-censorship

        I don’t really agree with Taibbis personal politics, but he is on a short list of journalists still worthy of the name. Selena Zito and Jesse Singal are two others.Report

        • Avatar InMD in reply to Aaron David
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          says:

          That’s the one!Report

          • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to InMD
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            says:

            That’s a pretty good piece. He also lassos in the related problem of expertise — which I would describe as many-faceted: experts outside their field of expertise; experts giving offhand insights; experts whose opinion will change rapidly if given new information; experts being over-confident; experts trusting other experts; experts not being willing to change their opinion with new information; experts operating within a narrow range of their professional work/experience.

            These are intended to be neutral critiques, not requiring any bad faith on the part of any experts, but it does require a lot of work from media if they wish to be the mediators of expertise.Report

            • Avatar InMD in reply to PD Shaw
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              says:

              Exactly. Even the most brilliant, well trained people with the right intentions can get things wrong for all sorts of reasons. Good journalism accounts for that.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to InMD
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        says:

        The thing that really gets me about the pro-censorship argument is that they utterly fail to comprehend that Donald Trump is President? Who do they think will be deciding what counts as false information?

        Free speech is a good idea, not because misinformation is benign, but because governments cannot be trusted to adjudicate what information should be permitted in the public square.Report

        • Avatar InMD in reply to James K
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          says:

          It goes beyond fear of the censor. Tolerating inane and stupid speech is a price we pay to be able to self-criticize and correct. Not sure about NZ but in America the press and to a lesser degree big tech tend to take an official statist faux-technocratic view of the world. Much of what’s published day to day, even when correct, often relies on an appeal to authority, not real work or due diligence.

          Contra what the Sinophiles are saying censorship is even more dangerous during something like a pandemic. The Chinese haven’t used it to protect people from incorrect information. They’ve used it to ass cover and downplay the situation. Their model has gotten way more people killed than dumb statements about cleaning supplies or dubious miracle cures.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to InMD
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            says:

            Our media seems more fixated on the personal charisma of our leadership, but I agree with your point.

            The Chinese government’s early reaction to COVID makes me think of Chernobyl: “This is how the infected population explodes – lies.”Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      There is double butt load of fail in the media. That is a also a lame ass excuse for people. We aren’t passive observers with our eyes forced open to watch fox or cnn. If the media people are watching is stupid, and plenty is, then they should find better media. There are a lot of places to find better info.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Cain
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    says:

    Fifty-four percent believe that the “1 percent” of the wealthiest Americans secretly control the government;

    Secretly?Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      The word “control” does a lot of work there. If I had to answer that question, I couldn’t give it a simple yes/no answer. It’s more complicated than that.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to veronica d
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        says:

        For me, the fact that the question can’t be answered with a declarative NO is itself damning.

        We could reproduce one of those Thomas Nast cartoons of the Gilded Age with the fat robber barons sitting in the gallery of the Senate and it would be accurate.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          Given how grossly unqualified the median voter is for the job, it’s pretty clear that the (((1%))) don’t have enough control over the government.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to Brandon Berg
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            says:

            Imagine if the Koch brothers actually controlled the Republican party – they would have been able to block Trump’s nomination.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to James K
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              says:

              Agreed, if anything 2016 was a very vivid demonstration of the very limited reach of libertarianism. Principled libertarianism was revealed as basically an entirely hollow ideology; intellectually coherent but with utterly no actual electoral constituency of any significance. And even the plutocrats pet Republitarians proved capable only of wringing out tax cuts for themselves and nothing more.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to North
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                says:

                True, but if we change the view a tiny bit… think of the influence and policy gains they’ve had with “no actual electoral constituency”

                That’s exactly how to play the game.Report

              • Avatar InMD in reply to Marchmaine
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                says:

                Yea, I mean, what’s the one thing Republicans can be counted on to do in government? And the only real legislative accomplishment of the 115th Congress? Supply side tax cuts.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      Heh. That was my reaction. It ain’t that much of a secret. But as Veronica says, “control” does a lot of work.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      “Control” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here as Veronica mentioned. Do they have a lot of influence and sway? Yes. Can they kill popular legislation via astroturf protest? Yes. But do they meet like a secret cabal? No.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        I’ll concede your and Veronica’s point. Most of the 1% have no interest in directly controlling the government. If you want to sit in one of the top positions (President, Speaker of the House) you have to win elections. Donald Trump notwithstanding, getting to one of those positions takes a lot of effort and requires doing a lot of unpleasant things. Of course, most of the 99% would have no interest in directly controlling the government either once they understood what was required.

        I occasionally suggest people read The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care). The Gang of Four (all with net worth somewhere north of $500M) met regularly and planned strategy. With the goal of electing Democrats in select districts, and making sure that those candidates knew (a) where the money came from and (b) what policy changes the Gang wanted. Largely environmental protection and gay rights, as it turned out, which they got.Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    Thirty-seven percent of Americans believe that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election…

    Even more striking, about half of Americans believe that humans evolved from apes.Report

  4. Avatar Urusigh
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    says:

    “and 43 percent believe that an extrajudicial deep state is secretly embedded in our government.”

    It’s not that secret, that’s just “The Administrative State” and “career bureaucrats” who happen to disagree with the current political appointees and have been less than entirely professional about taking their marching orders from the top. The many revelations coming out of court cases against the FBI have been quite demonstrative of this. It is TRUE that the vast majority of the rules under which we live actually ARE written and enforced by unelected bureaucrats whose names are not generally known to the public and whose employment is not directly subject to revocation or replacement by the public. Whether you consider this a feature or a bug depends heavily on your political priors and whether it’s your party in office, but it’s hardly “conspiracy thinking” to acknowledge that that is in fact the current state of affairs and has been for decades. That only 43% agree says less about the existence of the “deep state” and more about the pervasive ignorance about how our government actually functions.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Urusigh
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      says:

      What is “extrajudicial” about the bureaucracy?Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        When they don’t go through the courts, or go and lie to the courts, to pursue their personal agendas. Comey’s people were lying to courts and lying to defense attorneys, conspiring to deprive people of their due process rights and withholding Brady materials from defense attorneys. The Supreme Court struck down some bureaucratic behaviors where the EPA was requiring farmers to pay multi-million dollar fines before they could go to court to challenge the legality of the fine.

        A bureaucracy can behave in ways that trample your rights and deny you any legal recourse. What do you do when bureaucrats decide to ignore the law? I suppose you won’t realize the problems with that until Trump sends his legions of Orcs after you, and then you’ll be all like “It’s Fascism! It’s Fascism!”Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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          says:

          So in this context, “extrajudicial” only refers to agencies that don’t follow the law?

          As opposed to the ordinary regulatory rulings that every bureaucracy issues as part of the workings of government?Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Urusigh
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      says:

      Well we should really have political appointees heading up all those departments then. We should also have a congress to make the laws that agencies have to follow.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Look, the Democrats don’t control the Senate, alright? Just thinking that the House should be able to pass a law when Turtler is just going to block it from ever getting a vote is naïve.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          Put down the bong elon……

          Or more seriously….huh? I know what U’s point is though i think it is weak sauce. What is yours? I can’t reach your meta above it all level to comprehend.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
            Ignored
            says:

            Just saying “oh, we should pass a law” doesn’t take into account the fact that we can’t. Not, like, “in theory” can’t. But “in practice” can’t.

            And pointing out that, in theory, we could pretty ignores the problem that exists.

            (And, get this, it exists no matter who is in charge! Wacky!)Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Do you even understand the point U is making? I dont’ think you do.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
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                says:

                It’s that there is a whole bunch of unelected bureaucrats about whom we, as citizens, pretty much cannot do anything about and people who point out that we could pass a law or change the executive are being facile.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                You can pass laws if have a big enough electoral coalition. Not having that is problem for anyone who wants to pass a law but in itself is just a function of democracy. Democracy means nobody gets everything they want. ( that means me, you and U)

                Bureaucrats: yeah that is magic word to signal someone is bad, but it’s meaningless. It just a way to label someone as bad and their function as useless. It’s a lazy ad hominem in place of an argument.

                Unelected: Um yeah so. Every person working for the government isn’t elected. Is that supposed to be an issue.? The front desk staff at the court i work in aren’t elected. They follow the rules and sometimes that is a pita for people. So what? Should every single gov emp be elected? How does that make a lick of sense.

                The thrust of U’s argument is that every part of the gov should be political. There should be no rules or process outside political power. Every position should be political. That would be the ultimate in corruption and payola. It also doesn’t explain how a gov would function when there is power divided between the parties as it is now. The current R position is that the prez is close to all powerful which you seem to be fine with now i guess. That isn’t exactly how that was ever envisioned nor do i see an argument here about why the Prez should have about 110 times more power then now. But feel free to make it. It also doesn’t answer how multiple concerns/issues are settled when there is a conflict between powers/laws/regulations. This has happened frequently in the immigration disputes of the last three years. Your and U’s argument suggests the prez has ultimate power to do whatever regardless of the constitution or law. Strong work.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
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                says:

                (describe problem)

                “Oh, you say there’s a problem. You think that there’s a solution? Solution X would be a solution. You believe Solution X? Solution X is stupid!”

                This doesn’t get me to the conclusion that we don’t have a problem, Greg.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                What exactly is the problem?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                You can scroll up and read what I said to Greg that got him to reply and that I replied to with my comment that you’re replying to.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                1 Try being clear. I don’t know what this means.
                2 Trump has been getting rid of those damned unelected bureaucrats. You should cheer. He fired another IG yesterday. No oversight for him if he can fire people who might say things he doesn’t like.

                Gov oversight is exactly the reason why you want some positions/parts of the gov to not be elected and have long terms that stretch beyond typical terms.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
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                says:

                I am being clear.

                I say that X is a problem.

                You’re pointing out that something is being done about X and therefore that something is a solution and therefore I should support that something.

                And that’s a fallacy. It’s called the “Politician’s syllogism”, funnily enough.

                Anyway, the problem remains.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                What is the problem though? I noted an example of unelected people where i’m suggesting not being electoral is a very good thing. Why is it bad to have people who aren’t elected making rules or doing things in government? I think we’ve actually had this discussion about regulations. Who should say how many parts per ML of Posiononium should be in the water. Some congressman/lawyer or a scientist. Some jobs should be professional and based on expertise. Elected reps hire pros to do some jobs. Reps/Prez install agency heads and such.

                There is an argument about to many regs. Often that , fair, argument is buried in corps/industry just wanting to rule the roost. In fact that is often the entire point. Industry trying to capture the regulators by making them entirely beholden to the current elected official or having industry science be all that guides gov policy.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to greginak
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                says:

                The regulatory state is a big issue. You elect people to the legislature and they vote to make an agency that will write reams of regulations that will have the force of law. Many of those regulations might be so daft or onerous that no elected official would ever vote to approve them, but thankfully they don’t have to. They can just say “Well, that’s just [ OSHA, EPA, ATF, BLM, FCC, SEC, IRS, etc ].”

                This creates problems with lack of accountability, regulatory capture, and people who constantly make up new and unnecessary rules because they get paid to write rules and their coworkers get paid to enforce those rules.

                There is no real opportunity for “customer feedback” in the system, so it can produce the same results as mercantilist systems, absolute monarchies, military juntas, and totalitarian communist states, whose regulations regarding light bulbs or flush toilets might be even less obtrusive than our own.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                When we have discussions of housing policy, isn’t it often pointed out how the administrative state will approve a low income housing project, then NIMBYs and environmentalists will stop the project in its tracks?

                IOW, that the yeoman citizens have enough power over the administrative state to thwart its will?Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                The fourth branch of government is a concern. When I’ve worked for the government it’s always been on the legislative side, and I told the members that they should think hard about delegating authority to the “executive.” OTOH, the federal agencies do operate, and even exist, at the pleasure of Congress. The courts routinely smack ’em for overstepping the authority Congress gave them, or failing to follow the procedures Congress mandated.

                On the gripping hand, the Founders saddled us with a fundamental law where it’s almost impossible to make structural changes. Less than a hundred years in it became clear that the three-branch arrangement couldn’t deal with the impacts of emerging technology, scale, etc. So the existing three branches agreed to create and manage a fourth branch. Most voters, certainly in the early days, thought it was an improvement, or at least necessary. And here we are.

                As long-time readers will recall, I’m the lunatic that predicts a partition of the US states. (Laugh if you like, I’m used to it :^)) Perhaps unsurprisingly, I expect the fourth branch will be an important factor in precipitating tat.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Cain
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                What’s interesting and often overlooked in discussions about the regulatory state is the size and power of the private regulatory entities.

                Entities like ASTM, ANSI, ISO, and all the other private, voluntary groups which set standards for industry.

                We call them voluntary, but they really have immense power since the modern industrial economy relies on interoperability, where everyone follows the same template of rules.

                They also have power because in many cases, their regulations are the template which is adopted by governments.

                So instead of government bureaucrats crafting rules, as often as not, it is private voluntary entities formulating rules, and the government just adopting them wholesale.

                Sometimes this is a concern when the entity is captured by interests which exclude other legitimate stakeholders. Like when a regulatory writing body is captured by producers to the exclusion of users for example.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                That’s a pretty good summation. Beyond the Code of Hamurabi, governments long maintained standards for weights and measures because so many buyers and sellers would try to cheat each other.

                I know European arsenals adopted proof-testing of their firearms to make sure they didn’t blow up, which remained a recurring problem, but one that eventually advanced the field of metallurgy. Naval construction and ship construction also came up with standards out of hard-won lessons at sea.

                Them steam engines drove a leap in regulations and standards, as one of the first large products that combined extreme engineering, sophistication, utility, high pressures and temperatures, huge profits, and the potential for mass death if they failed. Accidents resulted in lawsuits and insurance claims, so the insurers came up with engineering standards which served as a model for other technical fields, such as Then came electricity and its many dangers, cars, airplanes, and the modern world’s myriad of expert fields.

                However, I would argue that Western legal systems played a big role in regulations and standards because injured parties could sue in court. Standards are a useful defense for manufacturers who need to show a failure wasn’t their fault, and standards and regulations also protected consumers from poorly built products or unsafe situations.

                Given this, my feeling is that, ironically, communist and other totalitarian “nanny states” aren’t good at producing regulations. Totalitarian states protected producers from lawsuits filed by regular folk. Their legal systems were aimed at controlling classes of people, not tech. If the public did get outraged about some disaster, the state could just conduct a show trial and shoot a few plant managers or drunk captains, which solved the political problem.

                The Stalingrad tractor works didn’t need reams of engineering standards because no Russian was going to get rich by suing for millions on a product liability claim, because when it’s society that’s managed, the state doesn’t need to guard against engineering failures.

                When they did need engineering standards or health and safety regulations, they could just adapt Western codes.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                Liability, and immunity from it, is now a very big issue as states re-open.

                If nursing homes and meatpacking plants are immune to liability, what use do they have for standards?Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                Customer feedback is elections. Winning elections never gets people everything they want.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    I see this already produced a word shit salad from George. How surprising.Report

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