At last, the people: Stafford Beer's model of the Chilean economy

Beer with model

I had a couple of bottles of wine and a tangled bank of discussion last night with Andy Goldring. One of those ones where notes must be taken - at least on my part, since I got so many ideas from him. The one I want to write about here is Stafford Beer, a plummy, crazy-bearded cybernetician. After his World War Two service he got into cybernetic management theory, consulting for a load of large companies. I'd heard about his attempt to create a cybernetic economy at some point but never followed it up. It's a fascinating chunk of history. The economic system he designed was called Project Cybersyn; there's a website with films from a documentary / art installation about it, which has a wonderful bit of footage from Beer's time at UMIST. It's accessible via one tiny little pink dot - or if you're impatient, the direct link is in the source of the page - I've kindly put it here for you. [update: video is now on youtube here] The silent UMIST audiovisual timer at the start gives it a convincing sense of antiquity. I recommend watching the first five minutes at least.

One day while working in London in 1971, Beer - to quote from the film -

... got a letter that very much changed my life. It was from the technical general manager of the state planning board of Chile. He remarked in this letter that he had studied all my works, he had collected a team of scientists together, and would I please come and take it over? I could hardly believe it, as you can imagine. But this was to start me on a journey that had me commuting 8000 miles over and over between London and Santiago.

Why make things simple when one can make them complicated?

Just started reading Manuel DeLanda's 'A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity'161 - a brave title! But it's got me braincells going on a Monday, so it can't be all bad. He's immediately argued against reductionism at the micro and macro levels and started talking about things being 'more than the sum of their parts'. He proposes to take the reader on a journey through all the nested levels existing between micro and macro -

It is my hope that once the complexity of that forgotten territory between the micro and the macro is grasped at the visceral level, the intellectual habit to privilege one or the other extreme will become easier to break.

Digs are had at structuralists (macro-reductionists) and economists / social scientists who build theory on the individual, and aggregates thereof (micro-reductionists.) Oh, and Anthony Giddens (a 'meso-reductionist', apparently!)

Here's some Monday musings its caused, using Icosystem's Game and the genes of ants to bounce off.

Statistics joke

... and you look slightly like Tony Blair.

22:55 - restate my assumptions

It was a night of the long knives for my PhD last week. After much internal bickering amongst the various factions, some of them produced evidence that the leader of the powerful 'planned economy' clique were being funded by the French in a secret plot to overthrow the central question. There was some truth to this, it transpired: references can be found to a title stating -

Aims: to re-examine the 20th century 'economic calculation debate' using 21st Century computational methods'.

(Here is a good summary of that debate.)

A very manly and rugged aim, to be sure, involving what Diane Coyle might call 'macho' mathematics: men in itchy shirts, smoking pipes in the basements of ostensible bookshops, mathematically proving or disproving the theoretical possibility of socialism. (Hayek was above all this, of course.)

But in the grey light of the new year, a Gay Mafia consisting of various 'keepin it real' types carried out the final coup in a moment of wheel-of-fortune-spinning randomness. Well, now the die is cast. Or possibly the dice, I'm never sure. The good news is, it means it won't take me 25 years to finish my PhD - so I've hopefully avoided reaching 60, nourished on stray dogs and fagbutts alone, and submitting a final manuscript on radioactive cardboard written in the bushes of a motorway feed island.

Bonfire of the Vanities

The Guardian reflects on 20 years since the Bonfire of the Vanities was written. Another book I haven't read: added to the blog list of unread, though.

This story marks 20 years of change in New York city:

Wolfe chose New York because it said something about America. Now many are wondering if the safer, cleaner, richer city has not also lost its role as the heartbeat of American culture. Wolfe thinks so: his latest book tackling the modern American zeitgeist is set in Miami. 'New York, while it is flourishing, has become a less interesting place. It is not where America is changing any more,' said Brian Abel Regan, author of Tom Wolfe: A Critical Companion.

Begin again

Well, it's like this: I'm going to try and use coveredinbees as the information repository for my PhD. As outlined in 'about CIB', only time will tell if this is a good idea. Perhaps there's a good reason why I haven't heard of anyone else doing it.

The old site is here. This first bit of writing is mainly just for my benefit, so I have a record of what I thought I was doing at the start. See the subscription page for getting a relevant RSS for future postings.

Syndicate content