26 December 2009

The detritus of past concepts

The past decade has been one of our changing idea of how we, personally, as individuals, relate to institutions and deal with them.  This conceptual change was getting into swing in 1999 and the Dot Com Bubble economy introduced us to it via the ill-conceived, ill-timed and poorly run companies that sprouted up to offer goods and services via the Internet.  That first wave left the Dot Com Bust of 2000-2001 and the outflow of those poorly funded, poorly conceived, poorly run companies that burned through their Venture Capital and vanished in a puff of business projections.  The reality of what was happening was spoken of widely during the years leading up to 1999, but by 1999 it had become an established concept that was being touted as the 'wave of the future'.  It started in commercial areas then slowly leaked over to more staid venues of governments and institutions that soon found a growing call for them to start doing something very different than they had in the past: provide goods, services, information and feedback directly to individuals and NOT go through a subsidiary institution.

A name was attached to this and describes it to this day:  disintermediation.

That term had a use previous to the Dot Com era, which was to move funds from low yield accounts to high yield ones, but that did not even begin to describe what was happening in that era.  For the Dot Com era disintermediation had one meaning, and one meaning only: getting rid of the middle-man.  Doom forecasters predicted the end of shopping malls, strip malls and even the local market, thus forgetting that there are some items which individuals will insist on seeing, having or otherwise obtaining immediately, not just purchase today and wait for it to be shipped.  With the end of the sock puppet era of advertising, came the concept of 'bricks and clicks' that would see a melding of online transactions with brick and mortar establishments (local retailers) so that customers would have options to purchase and have things shipped, have them made available locally or just shop locally.

Other institutions didn't have that option.

Newspapers had been going through a downturn since the late 1970's with the consolidation of local newspapers with many places becoming 'one newspaper' towns.  That downturn continued with the introduction of cable television and then accelerated in the 1990's as the idea of information delivery, which is something newspapers should have been good at, started to eat away at the print revenue base of newspapers.  For newspapers revenue is derived from circulation and that determines advertising rates.  Thus newspapers are advertising delivery systems, not news delivery systems, and subscriptions make up only a tiny portion of revenue for newspapers.  Those delivery substrates became disintermediated from the news they were containing and trying to get ad revenue from digital delivery has proven to be difficult, at best, as end-users can use proxies, blocking software and other means to stop ads from arriving and get directly to the wanted content.

One phenomena would arrive that had started before the Dot Com era, but became a force after it was unheralded and yet common place.  The ability to have one's credit or bank account automatically charged for monthly billing, which would start to remove the paper bill mailed to individuals.  Furthering that was the concept also started pre-Dot Com which was charging things to a credit card, which had been around for a couple of decades in the catalog sales market, but positively boomed in the Dot Com era and afterwards.  Thus the marriage of any business being able to offer sales online with easy charge systems meant that paper catalogs, while still available, would no longer be the timely way to offer or order goods and services.  Over time this has meant that much of the transactions that take place between individuals and companies for many venues have an online counter-part that is usually far faster and as reliable as the paper based system.

After these venues those of charities, not for profit and information based institutions (notably think tanks) also migrated to have online counter-parts and new opportunities for getting donations, input and other interactions with a public that could only have been considered near unreachable just before 1999.  Today everything from religious teachings to managing your finances to planning your vacation can all be done online with little to no interference from a middle man.  The only place where this lags is the one institution that is one of the most conservative and retrograde on the planet.  That is NOT the US Army which adopted to online games and building an entire electronic system of input and recruiting nearly overnight... no it is the institution far above it: the US Government.

As a whole, not by parts as there are one or two shining examples, the US Government has proven the least adaptable, least capable and least able to move into the disintermediation era.  In an era where one can find information about any medication in mere minutes, we depend on a Government that still takes weeks to months to process simple forms.  Fighting this strong tide of putting more power into the hands of the people, the US Government and many State and Local governments, have demonstrated an inability to adapt, a trenchant attitude against being disintermediated and even trying to build NEW intermediation structures that don't exist.  Just in pure sales alone Ebay can be considered the third largest retailer in the US, coming from nowhere a decade ago.  That ability for person-to-person interaction for goods is NOT being mirrored by any government.  A number do offer some activities online, of course, and if your DMV has any online functions that can AVOID the brick and mortar buildings of it, then people are willing and able to do that and avoid the 'personal' interaction of the institution itself.  The IRS is finding extreme difficulties in moving to a modern processing platform, can't give the same answer to the same question twice, mis-returns forms to thousands of businesses, and only with the leanest, sparsest and least complex returns is it able to offer any swiftness at all.  Data leaks from the IRS, however, demonstrate that your local financial institution is more trustworthy for your personal data than is the IRS.

Lackluster is the best description you can give the IRS and the worst ranges down to abysmal, draconian and authoritarian, what with it having separate courts from the rest of the civil court system.  Yet that is the institution that Congress wants to run some form of National oversight on Health Care.

To put it more succinctly:  Congress wishes to create a huge bureaucratic intermediation institution that isolates you further from your health care practitioner than you currently are and then decide what sort of payments for your health are appropriate.  After a decade of the erosion of institutions to becoming leaner, more responsive and more open, the US Congress wishes to make Health Care more opaque, harder to get and costlier than it currently is by inserting the IRS, of all parts of government, to oversee your health.

Of course your local Congresscritter Representative has a staff of over 20 people to help intermediate between their Noble personages and you the peon.  So if they are unfamiliar with 'disintermediation' it is because they have an entire set of intermediaries to shield them from it, which then distorts their views of how the common man lives their life.  These flacks, flunkies, secretaries and so on run the offices of the Congresscritters to the point where they also write the bills that go on to the floor.  Thus the House of Representatives would be, itself, a prime target for disintermediation by upping the proportion of representation and removing all the staff: you would have the same number of people working but they would all be directly accountable to small and compact districts.

Which, in itself, would remove the power of lobbyists, labor unions, and other organizations trying to sway Congress as 9,000 or so Representatives becomes a very, very, very hard target to sway and the cost to bribe even a small proportion of them is huge.  Unlike the current Congress.

The US Government is entrenched in the late 19th to early 20th century Progressive mold of command and control systems, which means an elite class ruling over the common man who is intermediated by government so as to lose liberty and freedom to make decisions on their own.  Anyone seriously wanting a responsive government and having it disintermediated then must look towards the entrenched old line of thought towards government that was formulated in the horse and buggy era of Marxism.  The Industrial, Space, Post-Industrial, Manufacturing, Information and now Disintermediated eras have all eroded the philosophical core of Marxism and its centralized planning systems.  Even Anarcho-Syndicalists fall into this as the concept of 'workers councils' having any concept of what other people want outside of a supply and demand system is one rife with old-line thought of limited goods, limited distribution, and intermediation of the 'workers council' between the common man and his daily living requirements.  No council, no government, no single institution, no matter how wise can accurately predict or run an important facet of the lives of individuals.  The Roman Catholic Church failed with religion, the USSR failed in an entire economy and goods supply, and the US Government fails in ensuring that individual liberty is not encroached on as those elected to run it feel they have every right to tell the common man what is or is not safe, what is or is not good, what is or is not healthy and then tell the common man to pay up for such divine wisdom as is bestowed by the bureaucracy created by the Aristocracy in Congress.

If the Federal Reserve can't figure out that pushing banks to accept government rated 'safe' securities built on loans to those who can't repay them is a BAD IDEA then just what sort of trust should we have with the IRS and your HEALTH?

The tide of disintermediation is leaving a lot of dead fish on the beach, most of them from government although a number from tiny organizations that should never have been started in the first place and are now long gone.  But Congress is trying to land Moby Dick on the beach to flop around and entertain the beach goers... and then rot in the hot sun for all to enjoy providing you with lovely health care benefits while the system decays and collapses entirely.  Right next to Social Security and Medicare which both have a very unhealthy stench to them, and the newly flopping carcass of the mortgage securities landed by Fannie, Freddie and Ginnie.  Soon the entire beach will be rotting whale flesh, and we will be told how good it is as the maggots infest these dying bodies.

Only a Congress unconnected to the actual, real world that the common man lives in could have devised something like this.

And soon we will all pay for the rotten flesh dropping on us from these rotting beasts.

Because bureaucrats know how to run your life better than YOU DO.

And yet you were born free.

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