Economics of death
July 14, 2005 8:36 AM   Subscribe

How should right and wrong be measured?
posted by jeffburdges (42 comments total)
What does the DMCA have to do with worms?

If we're throwing hypotheticals out there, execute billg — or at least threaten him and senior execs at Microsoft with years of jailtime for writing such poor software. Windows would be cleaned up pretty damn quickly and we wouldn't suffer $50 billion theoretical losses from script kiddies.

As for copyright violations, giving thieves more jailtime than murderers and rapists does seem to point to wacked-out priorities in our legislators. Not sure what you can do other than donate to the EFF.
posted by Rothko at 8:46 AM on July 14, 2005

In imperial units.

The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it.
posted by keswick at 8:54 AM on July 14, 2005

I think what Professor Landsburg isn't taking into account is that the universe as a whole doesn't owe him or anybody else anything. If you aren't competent at performing a task, then why in God's name are you doing it? Go do something else and make way for those who can do it - like the many, many competent tech workers now unemployed in the United States.

If you can't cut it, just hang the keyboard up and walk away - or pay someone else to handle it for you. The problem with Internet security isn't hackers anymore than the 'problem' in natural extinction is predators. In both cases it's just how ecology works - that niche will always be filled by someone and nothing will ever stop that.

Some things in life - especially on the Internet - are irreducibly complex and no amount of animated dogs and software wizards can gloss over that basic fact. People refusing to admit this and not recognizing their own intellectual limitations is the much larger and more fundamental problem than hackers or even decades of a complete lack of security-centric programming from which we are only now beginning to recover.
posted by Ryvar at 8:58 AM on July 14, 2005

= 0.00198mpg. You damn Yankees and your big cars and incomprehensible measurment systems!
posted by Plutor at 9:00 AM on July 14, 2005

I just don't see how monetary damages that don't involve actual physical harm could ever result in a death penalty.
posted by bshort at 9:01 AM on July 14, 2005

My thoughts exactly, Rothko. I went to about three of these links and the predominant impression I got was that these knee-jerk reactions were directed at the wrong target. If MS would build a either a better or else more open version, we would not be faced with the so-called economically crippling losses from viruses.

And every time a virus has been unleashed in a company or institution I have worked in it has been because some dolt clicked on a link in an email. Every virus I've cleaned from a home machine has been because a moron has installed a free version of Kazaa (or equivalent) and then downloaded indiscriminantly.

I have windows machines and I have macs. I am not adept enough to run linux (I've tried, I'm no programmer I've discovered) but I rarely if ever get affected by viruses. But when I do get palgued with adware and the like, it's because some database I must interact with can only handle iexplorer.

I think 21 months for the Sasser writer is perhaps appropriate, but I would rather see the vitriol aimed at Microsoft, not at someone who, in his misguided way, has tried to make Microsoft pay attention to how bloated and gaseous their products have become.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:04 AM on July 14, 2005

First of all, there's really no comparison between writing viruses and worms and hacking, and reverse engineering protocols and whatnot. The first is obviously harmfull to people, and the other only hurts their ability to control you, which they don't have a right to do in the first place.

That said, giving someone the death sentance for writing viruses is just insane. The purpose of the death penalty isn't deterance, it's vengance.

Having a death sentance would only make virus writers more careful. Most of them are caught because they blabbed to their friends who turned them in for rewards.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 AM on July 14, 2005

If you aren't competent at performing a task, then why in God's name are you doing it?

'cause I get paid so well, and I get to use the time normally spent doing a competent task by reading Meatfilter.

oops, there me goes again
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:08 AM on July 14, 2005

Also, yes, microsoft deserves a lot more of the blame, IMO, for writing such a crappy product in the first place.
posted by delmoi at 9:09 AM on July 14, 2005

How should right and wrong be measured?

With a little bit less of a gigantic boner for absolute justice.
posted by nervousfritz at 9:12 AM on July 14, 2005

Well, let's use Landsburg's and Tierney's "logic" for a minute.

People have been talking about this article for a few days now. Therefore one should consider the productivity costs of their work.

First, there is the amount of time actually spent by the totality of people just reading the article. To that you must add the bandwidth costs that companies which provide their employees with internet access have had to pay for just so their employees could read this article on the job (even assuming that's only 1/3 of people who've read it, it's still quite something!). Then there is also the additional loss of productivity inherent in people discussing that article; in accounting for this aspect of the stories one must take into account not only online discussions (and their inherent bandwidth, power, and opportunity costs ("wasted time")) but also the time taken by individuals physically talking with one another about this on company time.

When one accounts for all this, it should come as no surprise that by their own "logic" Landsburg and Tierney should be put to death. Let the deed be done immediately too, lest they should commit other atrocities which would cause further loss of productivity. After all, it's productivity at any cost, right?
posted by clevershark at 9:13 AM on July 14, 2005

I am not adept enough to run linux (I've tried, I'm no programmer I've discovered)

I'm not either but I run Linux just fine. I think you're underestimating yourself.
posted by davy at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2005

Agreed. Programming skill isn't required, but it takes a bit to adopt the unix mindset. Acclimation is easier today, though, than it used to be.
posted by Ryvar at 9:30 AM on July 14, 2005

Executing people for monetary losses. That sounds like a great idea!
posted by driveler at 9:35 AM on July 14, 2005

Yet another pundit equates hacking with terrorism. Gaming is next.

Sounds like another economist just trying to get attention.

As for that groklaw post linked in the FPP, holy shit:

"Using our cars is quicker and at least twice as cheap. And on the bus we didn't have the right to eat or even to speak," said Martine Bourguignon.
posted by tweak at 9:43 AM on July 14, 2005

I'm kind of sickened by the slate article. I have no love for people who create worms, but to use a cost/benefit analysis to justify using the death penalty? Leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Then again, I'm fairly absolutist when it comes to the death penalty.
posted by shawnj at 9:45 AM on July 14, 2005

"A high-end estimate is that each execution deters about 10 murders."

Where the hell is this estimate coming from? Besides those "if it saves even one life it's worth it" fools I've never even heard some one equate each execution with such a precision estimate.
posted by Mitheral at 9:52 AM on July 14, 2005

Mitheral writes "Where the hell is this estimate coming from?"

The Institute for Pulling Numbers out of our Own Arses.
posted by clevershark at 9:57 AM on July 14, 2005

How to measure Right from Wrong. I am answering this question for fun. If you are looking for discussion of the DCMA or other like topics continue on to the other posts.

1) Select a discreet example. If you must use many examples keep the parameters for example tight (compare apples and apples)

2) Define your terms - Do not confuse Morality, Justice and law for Right as they are separate terms that mean different things. If you get past this step in your lifetime, good on you. If you don't, the attempt probably did your soul some good. If you have an easy answer on hand that covers everything, you are kidding yourself.

3) Read up on Ethics. In some ways the study of Ethics is studying the history of way people have come up with to tell right from wrong. If so inclined, at this step you can select a religion to consult or even adhere to strictly. Religion is neither required nor excluded from this process.

4) Select a method of measurement that flushes with your gut instincts. Most people skip to this step right off the bat. The interesting thing is, while the person who did all of the homework on ethics can probably make better arguments, at the end of the day everyone still selects a measure that agrees with instinct.

5) Continue to wrestle with this wonderful fundamental question for the rest of your life.

NB - I am aware that I did not answer the question as it was asked. I know how I measure it, but I have been around to long to think that I have all the answers.
posted by BeerGrin at 9:59 AM on July 14, 2005

btw hats off to jeffburdges for using the "utilitarianisim" tag.
posted by BeerGrin at 10:03 AM on July 14, 2005

with lasers.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:04 AM on July 14, 2005

"Ye cannot serve God and mammon" ... and mammon makes a lousy judge
posted by pyramid termite at 10:06 AM on July 14, 2005

Quote from the Slate article
"But this essential point remains: Governments exist largely to supply protections that, for one reason or another, we can't purchase in the marketplace. Those governments perform best when they supply the protections we value most. We can measure their performance only if we are willing to calculate costs and benefits and to respect what our calculations tell us, even when it's counterintuitive. Any policymakers who won't do this kind of arithmetic is fundamentally unserious about policy."

By his own argument the Government actually is working. One of the protections we value that Gov't provides and that would not be available on a market is the protection of the individual from the mob. Another is the protection of an individual from market forces or powerful market movers.

This logic of Utilitarianism could justify any number of abuses of the individual from removal of privacy rights to slavery.

The flaw, as pointed out very well above, is that the author is putting a monetary value on a human life. A point well countered by the last link jeffburdges provided. I value that the Gov't for protecting me from a unruled market that would sell me as food if there were a profit in it.
posted by BeerGrin at 10:16 AM on July 14, 2005

Rothko, The DMCA is an example of a poor cost benefit analysis (or moral computation) for society. Plus laws to cover worm writers will expand to cover reverse engineering. Clearly those Samba guys are just providing the knowhow to the virus writers.

nervousfritz, Its not about absolute justice (see BeerGrin's post). Its about ridiculing a poor moral metric of economics, by setting it next to far better ideas. :)

clevershark, I think you've got an idea there!

driveler, It has a long and healthy tradition. It may be jokish here, but such jokes can have political legs.

BeerGrin, I'll think about #2. Morality, ethics, and justice have clear distinct definitions, but should you place "right" outside of morality? Or are you just suggesting being competent with (any) two diffrent moral metrics?

To turn around two statements:
1) Hackers add $50 billion to the economy; and keep us safer from industrial espionage to boot.
2) Transports Schiocchet Excursions (link:be) costs the economy €2 million (replace with RIAA, MPAA, etc. & change amount as desired).
posted by jeffburdges at 10:21 AM on July 14, 2005

The DMCA is an example of a poor cost benefit analysis (or moral computation) for society.

I disagree with the DMCA in principle, but I have absolutely no idea what this means in relation to worm authors receiving a death sentence.

Plus laws to cover worm writers will expand to cover reverse engineering.


Clearly those Samba guys are just providing the knowhow to the virus writers.

What are you on about?
posted by Rothko at 10:34 AM on July 14, 2005

".....I'll think about #2. Morality, ethics, and justice have clear distinct definitions, but should you place "right" outside of morality? Or are you just suggesting being competent with (any) two different moral metrics?"

The problem here is still one of definitions. Conflicting moral codes exist, and conflicts exist even between moral codes that have like root assumptions. In the case of conflict between moral codes, which one is "right".

Does morality = right?
If Morality (a) does not equal Morality (b) how does one choose between them? If there is a measurable difference between the options, does that mean one is more "right" than the other? Does this measurable quality of "rightness" mean that "right" somehow means "correct" more than it means "moral".

Admittedly there is a danger here of drifting off into post-modern moral relativism where there is no right or wrong. My personal opinion is that post modern relativism when applied to ethic is a form of cowardice. One should do their best with the best of intentions and accept that they are human and could be wrong. What our grandmothers and grandfathers called "having the courage of your convictions."
posted by BeerGrin at 10:41 AM on July 14, 2005

There are many people who are unable to purchase food here in America. Because of that, they risk further illness, or even death, and their productivity is compromised.
There are also great swaths of people living in lesser-developed nations whose lifetime productivity cannot equal that of a citizen in a developed nation— even a poor citizen (due at least in part to the superior education and opportunities in the global North).
Therefore, as the productivity of people in the global south may be measured in terms of thousands of dollars, versus the life cost of several million for a person in a developed country, the hunger of those in the developed countries should be slaked with the bodies of the poor from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
By breeding the Irish the poor into high-protein morsels, the developed nations, from purely a cost/benefit position, have a duty to their citizens to provide what the market cannot (as yet): Steaming plates of human flesh. (Apologies to Swift).
posted by klangklangston at 10:43 AM on July 14, 2005

well, you are what you eat.
posted by keswick at 10:44 AM on July 14, 2005

And if it deters even 10 of the citizens of lesser-developed nations from being poor and unproductive, it will have paid for itself.
posted by klangklangston at 10:46 AM on July 14, 2005

"Soylent green is my kind of people!" -Bubblegum Tate
posted by clevershark at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2005

Soylent Green is Economicaaaaaaaaaaalllllllll !

- on preview, darn you clevershark ;-)
posted by BeerGrin at 10:49 AM on July 14, 2005

I had this idea for a short story once with a society of strict utilitarians who have special calculators to figure out the maximum good of every situation.
posted by drezdn at 10:51 AM on July 14, 2005

By breeding the Irish the poor into high-protein morsels

thursday is soylent green blue day?
posted by three blind mice at 10:59 AM on July 14, 2005

I had this idea for a short story once with a society of strict utilitarians who have special calculators to figure out the maximum good of every situation.

But wouldn't the time spent dealing with the calculators subtract from their net utility? ;)
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:13 AM on July 14, 2005

By their duration, intensity, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity, and extent?
posted by ontic at 11:13 AM on July 14, 2005

clevershark writes "Institute for Pulling Numbers out of our Own Arses."

Ah, good old IPNOA. That was my first guess.

You know using this guy's logic that it's all about the cost to society some one like Bill Gates could just murder at will. Sure he'd be fined a cool $100 million a piece but hey that gives him his top 25 enemies list before he starts feeling the pinch.
posted by Mitheral at 1:17 PM on July 14, 2005

in joint years?
posted by sharpener at 2:00 PM on July 14, 2005

sense and nonsense
posted by Satapher at 2:22 PM on July 14, 2005

not respectively
posted by Satapher at 2:22 PM on July 14, 2005

very carefully
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:24 PM on July 14, 2005

Jesus Christ, you illiterate swine! Not all cannibalism is Hestonian!
posted by klangklangston at 3:07 PM on July 14, 2005

So the answer to the problem of getting my connection back up to decent speeds when a worm is going around is to accept my intellectual limitations? That article suggesting execution for hackers was, well, ridiculous, but so is the idea that affecting the system is impossible, and we should just give up and go away. Certainly we can't stop all hacking, but it is equally ridiculous to think that we cannot affect it, that there is literally no action worth taking. There are actions that can be taken and things worth doing and discussing. I hate hate hate hate HATE when people respond to anything, even this obvious moron up there, with something that boils down to "Deal with it." I'd rather we start trying to outlaw gravity personally. Whine our freaking heads off at a brick wall until it moves. Dealing with it never caused change, but I know that some change at some time has been caused.

And I don't mind aiming verbal/legal attacks at microsoft if they provably made a dangerously flawed product, but the virus writers deserve to be attacked as well.

If I took a hammer to the gas tank of a semi filled with much needed cargoes to prove a point about the tank's structural weaknesses, and the semi exploded, I ought to be punished regardless of how right I was about the gas tank.
posted by SomeOneElse at 3:22 PM on July 14, 2005

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