FURTHER QUESTIONS FOR MR. BRANDEN
I have just read the Branden article, I would want to ask Mr. Branden some questions such as: What was and is the state of Miss Rand's physical health? If one is below par, one does not function at one's best (e.g., Roosevelt at Yalta—what would he have done if he were well? and Napoleon, who had hemorrhoids, at Waterloo). As an aging person and one who looks down on "homey" activities, I'm sure she doesn't eat properly. And what about Branden? Was his manner provoking (aside from his deeds)? In other words, did their emotional or personality clashes affect the thought processes of both of them? Did Miss Rand get true warmth and understanding from those who surrounded her? I thought her answer to the question about a woman for president might give a clue. She needs someone to give her a certain emotional coziness, as we all do. Rand is fighting the world. It's rough, then, to have to fight those close to you, too. I would want to know more about Branden's hangups, which I think kept him from maintaining communication with Rand. In other words, he could have used another person to psychoanalyze him. I am indebted to both of them for my intellectual well being and would love to see them kiss and make up.
Silver Spring, Md.
BRANDEN INTERVIEW DISAPPOINTING
I found the interview with Nathaniel Branden (REASON, October 1971) somewhat of a disappointment. One of the advantages of the interview technique is to raise questions of clarification, criticism, or whatever then and there when the statement is made. It is a mistake to use the interview technique only to provide a platform for the interviewee to plug his books, gossip, or make summary statements which are nearly vacuous because of their generality. Unfortunately, I found the latter situation to be the case with the Branden interview.
I am aware that what I saw in print represents a very small part of the original transcript. Perhaps the original was much better, but all I can base my comments on are what Mr. Branden has allowed into print. That consists of Branden on other schools of psychology, his books, some contemporary issues, and, of course, Ayn Rand. The conversation is at such a level of generality that it is hardly illuminating. The questions are of the innocuous type such as, "What are your views on…" or "What are your thoughts about.…" They do not serve to penetrate what Branden is saying but only as topic markers for Branden to expound on. I am familiar with Mr. Branden's written work and I know that he can be penetrating, perceptive, remarkable well organized. In my judgment, if REASON wished Mr. Branden to cover a few topics of general interest it would have been better to ask him to write an article. On the other hand, if they wanted to penetrate deeper into Branden's own ideas, then an interview is a good technique. Unfortunately, in this incidence, it failed.
Gary E. Kessler
COMMENTS ON FORRESTER INPUTS
I'd like to comment on Jay M. Forrester's "Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems" (REASON, July and August, 1971). I don't object to Forrester's methodology. There is nothing magical about his use of computers and nothing infallible about his results. The computer is just a tool used to perform a vast number of calculations quickly. The results you get from any computer study are only as reliable as the inputs you use and your computer program. We ought to be wary of any sort of mystical attitude toward computers, like: a computer said so, so it's got to be true. Nonsense! If you put garbage into a computer, you get garbage out. And it's on this question of inputs that I would make some critical comments.
In Forrester's program "pollution" seems to depend very heavily on "capital investment" and "population." He seems to say that a higher standard of living and/or more people will necessarily imply more pollution. This correlation has been true in the past, but that doesn't mean that it will always hold true. It's at least possible for waste products to be recycled and reused and for highly polluting processes to be replaced by equally effective but less polluting techniques.
This would permit a society to exist with a relatively high standard of living, while causing little or no pollution. It remains to be seen, of course, whether recycling will be used to any great extent or not.
But, in connection with that last point, it seems that unpleasant trends carry within themselves a force for reversing the trend, quite independent of any other factors. For example, as taxes rise higher, tax resistance grows. Similarly, as pollution increases, the high level of pollution itself causes anti-pollution efforts to grow. Attention is increasingly focused on the problem, resources are allocated to deal with it, possible solutions are proposed and tried. I don't see where Forrester's program takes into account this negative feedback within the single factor.
Another comment I would make is that "quality of life" and growth of "population" don't have the simple direct relationship that Forrester implies. He says:
Population grows until stresses rise far enough, which is to say that the quality of life falls far enough, to stop further increase. Everything we do to reduce those pressures causes the population to rise farther and faster.…
This sounds exactly like the sort of intuitive conclusion that Forrester warns us against; it seems like it should be true, but it is not confirmed by the facts. The facts are that the birth rate and the population growth rate are lower in developed countries where the quality of life is higher than in underdeveloped countries. And the birth rate is highest in the most wretched slums of third world cities where the quality of life is very low indeed.
What is the cause of this seeming anomaly? Well, it seems to me (this is only a guess) that improvements in sanitation and medicine have just recently caused a decline in the death rate in third world countries. In the recent past, people in those countries had to give birth to a lot of kids since half or more of their children would die before maturity. Now, more children survive, but there hasn't been enough time yet for the desire for a lower birth rate to work its way into the customs of these countries. Also, the acceptance of contraception and abortion is greatly hampered by the poverty, lack of education, and often the religious beliefs prevalent in these countries.
In the developed countries, enough time has elapsed since the decline in the death rate for people to have voluntarily adjusted the birth rate accordingly. The 2 or 3 child family is the ideal here and larger families are looked down on as lower class. People are wealthier, better educated, and more liberal or skeptical in their religious views, so these factors don't prevent the wide acceptance of contraception and abortion.
Note that the reduction in birth rate which has occurred in the developed countries, occurred despite rather than because of government programs. Such things as tax exemptions for dependents, "free" schools, etc. in effect subsidize childbearing by reducing the cost of rearing a child, and such programs may be the main reason why the birth rate here remains as high as it is. In reply to Bill Westmiller, whose letter appeared in the September issue of REASON, this reduction in the birth rate shows that these changes that Forrester posits can be made by private voluntary action, as well as by coercive government programs. This means that Forrester's technique applies equally well to forecasting the results of various possible free market allocations of resources as well as coercive Statist programs.
One final point: what the hell is a "quality of life" curve that rises right off the graph (to infinity?) supposed to mean? When a computer program generates an absurd result in the projection of one factor, one is tempted to wonder if all its other projections may be equally ridiculous.
FLAWS IN FORRESTER'S MODEL
Some brief comments on Jay Forrester's computer simulation models. The criticisms encountered so far in REASON have been, with one exception, by those hostile to the concept of computer simulation of social systems. They have not touched upon the model itself. I am sympathetic to simulation models, knowing fully well their usefulness in planning (capitalists plan too, you know!). After all, even a supply and demand curve assumes human behavior has a degree of predictability—e.g., "they will buy less if price increases…" Computer simulation models are sophistications of marginal economics and offer better opportunity for verification or repudiation.
First, Mr. Forrester's urban model has 20 state variables. That is, his model is a network with connecting functions. There are 20 nodes at which we can look upon the state of the system. They are rather crude ("people," "enterprise," and "housing" being the most important). He defines people as either "managers," "workers," or "underemployed" and enterprise as "new," "mature," and "declining." This is just a sample of the crude nature of the model. There are 150 equations relating the 20 state variables with nonlinear feedback loops.
The weaknesses are glaring. Firstly, there is no way of putting in real urban data to test the validity of the model. He simulated the behavior of the city by starting from zero value of all state variables and letting it loose. It reached a "peak" at 125 years and then oscillated with a very quick damp until stability reached, if I remember, at about 200 years. He tested 11 urban programs on his run along. Nowhere is real data put in. In fact, his starting values for his test of urban programs are silly. Firstly, his birth rate figures are wrong, and hence produce doom-like predictions. Realistic birth rates supplied by Professor Stonebreaker of the Electrical Engineering Department at Berkeley produced unpleasant but not disastrous predictions. Secondly, his starting figures for "underemployed" unemployment is 40%. Hence his programs for reducing housing for the poor and inducing new enterprise in the city produce glowing results. However, when more realistic figures, such as 10% are entered, the results of his programs are far less dramatic, both good and bad.
Importantly, there is a fundamental flaw in his simulation model. Resources and people travel in and out of his urban model from an "infinite sink." That is to say, when he tests a program of reducing housing for the poor, the poor migrate into an infinite sink. They disappear. So naturally the city appears much better off. However, instead of an infinite sink what we really have is another city to and from which they migrate. Any simulation model into an infinite sink rather than a model out of which you cannot send undesirable elements excepting by murder is hardly likely to produce worthwhile results. And when enterprise is induced, no resources are drawn away from another area. There is just this cornucopia from which we can draw. So naturally when we attempt to test a system of inducing new enterprise by, say, tax-exempt municipal bonds for industrial development, we don't have to subtract from the good results the resources taken away from everywhere else.
His dire predictions come from the fact his variables are time-invariant. There is no way, for example, for the birth rate to change in his model. But it has dramatically changed in the last two years. His dire predictions on the outcome of industrialization in the world because of its reducing the death rate far more than the birth rate is false. The United States, if it keeps its current birth rate, has no population problem. Yet his model has no way of including such changes. And the birth rates he supplied were above realistic birth rates. The same is true for every variable in his model. They cannot change exogenously. Yet in reality they do.
Mr. Stonebreaker removed 70 of the 150 equations, leaving only those relating 9 state-variables, those for housing, enterprise, and people. He ran through all 11 urban programs, and the only differences to the state-variables remaining were measured at an average of 6%. Nothing on taxes remained. By Forrester's model, taxes had no effect whatsoever—which is not surprising, considering we are talking about an infinite sink from which resources come and nowhere for new enterprise to choose to open rather than the "city" being simulated.
What is good about Forrester's model is that he's got everyone including myself pissed-off and has consequently increased the chances of better models being constructed by the controversy he has created. After all, no matter what the flaws of his model, he did construct it, the results are not totally ridiculous, the model operates without coming unstable, and it provides an excellent framework within which to construct better and more sensitive results. And to those who complain that models are impossible because people are not predictable belie their own claim everytime they buy a share of stock in a company producing a good product—they thereby predict the public will buy it. Computers offer the opportunity of operationally defining our model, measuring their correctness and accuracy, working with large amounts of data simultaneously, and quantifying the price-theoretical framework within which most readers of REASON view economic activity.
I am on so many mailing lists, both national and local, from political groups asking for financial support, that in discussing this with friends I find that they usually throw them away unanswered. Why contribute to the lesser of two evils, etc.
I would like to propose that all libertarians who receive this sort of letter return it in the prepaid envelope with a short message enclosed to this effect: "We are sorry we will not donate money to an organization which by its nature is losing the battle for freedom" or "To understand why the Republican Party, Conservatism, or whatever cannot win, read LIBERTARIANISM by John Hospers published by Nash Publishing Co."
They will certainly open the message looking for money. If they receive only my letter they will say something like "Hmmmm some crank," but if they receive 200, 2,000, or 20,000 such letters it may get the message across. People working in campaign offices are politically oriented, their main problem is ignorance of the libertarian philosophy.
I chose LIBERTARIANISM by John Hospers because of its matter of fact but not inflammatory tone. (Ayn Rand's CAPITALISM might be mentioned, but, because of the general idea of what capitalism is and the antagonism Ayn Rand produces in many people, it would be a second choice.)
RAND ON POLLUTION
Richard Terrell's seconding (REASON, Letters, October 1971) of Dennis Chase's article "Atlas Shrugged at Me" (REASON, July 1971) excluded, either from ignorance or willfulness, Ayn Rand's comments in THE NEW LEFT: THE ANTI-INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION on local pollution and dirt. There she notes and applauds century-old laws prohibiting "certain kinds of pollution, such as the dumping of wastes into rivers" and calls for the enforcement of "specific laws—forbidding specifically defined and proved harm, physical harm, to persons or property" as "the only solution to problems of this kind." Appropriately, she points out government's role in sewage and waste disposal and the individual hand behind the tossed bottle. Although I think she tends to belittle the problem of serious environmental misuse, nowhere in her writings is she the garbage glorifier of Mr. Ferrell's letter.
Weary of having a caribou's psyche thrown at the advocates of the Alaskan pipeline, I have begun collecting "eco-retractions." After months of panic-mongering it has been discovered (re-discovered?) that mercury levels have been decreasing for decades, that soil is a "natural sink" for carbon monoxide (the U.S. can accommodate yearly 6 times as much as it produces: see SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, August 1971), that pastel bathroom tissue does not kill fish, that unexplained imbalances in nature can occur quite well without our help, thank you, and that General Motors did not bring on the Ice Ages and destroy the lovely dinosaur that Nature had worked on so long.
Two last reminders to those who think we are the Great Despoilers: no rhinoceros ever pleaded for the preservation of human grazing and no pine tree ever replanted a man.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".