Some thoughts on Feedback

It has always been a bugbear for me that there are so few people educated in STEM subjects amongst our politicians. There may be an autistic reason for this, as people are much more frustrating to work with compared to ‘things’. Successful enterprises in Germany and Japan often have engineers in charge. This is useful as they take the ‘long view’ rather than the short-termism of many salesmen or accountants who often lead business in the UK.

One of the ideas that has been around a long time, but has not been properly applied in the social sphere is ‘feedback’ Feedback is used to control in many places, and was first used in 200BC according to Wikipedia to control water levels (e.g. lavatory cistern). We know about its use to control temperature in a furnace (1600AD), to control the speed of engines via a governor during the 1800’s and the way that living things use it in homeostasis to control temperature, blood pressure, glucose levels etc.

Economics has the feedback loop of supply and demand. Scarcity causes prices to rise, abundance causes them to fall.

Another more recent example is in electronics (1927 first patent) and operational amplifiers. Here a proportion of the output of a high gain (amplifies the input by 50,000, for example) is fed back into the inverting input, i.e. negative feedback. It turns out that the inverse of that proportion becomes the new gain of the amplifier. If some the output is fed back, the gain can be set for the new amplifier. To do this there is an input resistor and a feedback resistor with a ratio of ten, for example 10k ohms input and 100k ohms feedback. Just assume no current goes into the input and Ohms Law shows the gain as ten. This makes the amplifier more stable and predictable. Of course, it is not as simple as that as people who know this subject already will be thinking. There remain ‘time constants’.

All systems will take time to react, it may be milliseconds or less, or years or millennia. In engineering situations this is well understood and equations can be written and solved to account for it. In certain other situations experiments and studies can give a range of values to allow people to understand what is going on.

Now I come to the area where this idea needs to be used, social policy. I am now a conservative with a small ‘c’. Our society has evolved over centuries to where it was in the last century. We need to be very careful about how we change. Recently we have been changing so fast that the good is being thrown out faster than the bad, and to me, the advantages our society has gained for our civilization in terms of civil rights are being thrown away in the name of nebulous and illusory values.

Benefits are an area where nobody has really done a study on how the amount of benefits paid interacts with the desire to look for a job. Most of us know people who do not work out of choice and use others tax payments for their benefits. My sister has acquaintances who decided to have a child relatively late although they had teenagers. When my sister enquired why, it transpired it was driven by the benefit system. They could have a dependent up until she reached retirement age and receive housing benefit etc. Thomas Sowell has shown that the major reason for the problems of the black population of the USA was due to LBJ paying benefits to unmarried mothers, causing the illegitimacy rate to go from 24% to 75%. The liberals like to tell you it is a consequence of slavery, but in 1940 the rate was 14%. LBJ actually said that his reforms would make sure the “ni**ers vote Democrat for the next two thousand years”. The same thing is happening to the rates in the UK for all children for the same reason.

Similarly with education, where subjects studied do not necessarily tie up to the job market. In the old days the small proportion who went to university were taught how to learn, a skill they could apply to any sphere, but now the general calibre of the students must be lower, and the subjects must be delivered in a different way, less demanding, and the students will not have the skills to self educate.

Politicians should stop passing laws unless they are sure that the gains are greater than the losses. (It is revealing that the Texas assembly meets the least often and the economy in Texas is doing better than all the other states.) The media is part of the problem, the ABBC and most other media giving the impression that the government is responsible/can sort out all the countries difficulties. Politicians really need to step away and reflect things back onto the media. The should understand that things need to be tweaked most of the time, and then left for a suitable time to see the effect. Wholesale changes are rarely required, and if used are likely to destroy the system they intend to improve.

We really need to be much more aware of feed back. I will leave with an observation about positive feedback, which normally causes instability in engineering systems. Everybody would agree (apart from sadists) that you should not punish those who have done nothing wrong, but why are we now rewarding people who have done nothing right?

Finally, I would like to thank our patron for his work in allowing all of us to produce our own online university of life. It is refreshing not to have to read the condescending lies and rubbish that goes out in the MSM, but instead informative well researched articles as well as great fiction. I salute and thank you authors all. I would salute the commentators as well, but, as you know…