The op-ed on vaccines and industrial policy written by Deirdre McCloskey and me for Project Syndicate prompted a very interesting comment from Dallas Weaver. It is on the Project Syndicate website, so I feel free in reprinting it below:
On the claim of the government inventing the Internet, I am old enough to remember the initial contracts that created the protocols and got it working. The objective was to network the few super computers of the day. I was at LLL and my friend was in charge of computation at Standford as we sat in his kitchen after dinner using a modified typewriter to talk to the computers on campus.
None of us or DARPA had any vision of todays Internet. If we did have such a vision we surly would have not built in the assumption of “trust” that the packet coming in was from where it says it is from. With just a few super computers (my watch is more powerful than they were) run by people we knew, the trust assumption is fine. However, for oil pipelines assuming trust is not very satisfactory.
All bureaucratically evolutionary systems such as the internet or biological evolutionary systems have the problem of building in errors that can’t be fixed. Internet security is one which allows China to do packet injection using the “great cannon” and put malcode in your computer when you think you are talking to Google. The vertebrate eye is designed backward where you have blood and nerves between the light source and the sensors (a real stupid design) which can only be corrected by starting over like the squid did.
The government isn’t smart enough to plan the future, they are just people who just go with the flow and don’t innovate, if it means you may get into trouble for a failure. If the government is so smart why doesn’t it get rich betting on wall street instead of just taxing the people.
The existence of design stupidities demonstrates evolutionary type of design methods by governments or gods.