30.10.16

THE CASE FOR MAINTENANCE.

Keep things that are great in a state of good repair, and you never have to fret about making those things, whether we're talking about the United States, the railroads, or the Green Bay Packers, great again.  But, as in everything that involves allocating scarce resources, there's a tradeoff, ably explored in a Freakonomics podcast, "In Praise of Maintenance."  Here 'tis, as offered by Lee Vinsel, one of the participants in the conversation.  "Our thesis is basically that our culture’s obsession with innovation and hype has lead us to neglect maintenance and maintainers."  That comes from Aeon's "Innovation is Overrated."  But you have to strike a balance, and Harvard's Larry Summers explains how hard that is.  "People always think more about how new ground can be broken than they think about how existing institutions can be sustained or existing facilities can be maintained. It leads to a constant trap where we underinvest in old things, then old things disappoint, us then we feel a need for new things, then to satisfy that need for new things we under-invest more in old things and the cycle goes on."  Sometimes, though, the old things disappoint because somebody came along with an improvement, and you don't want to find yourself in the position of Youngstown Steel, left behind because a small integrated steel mill along a river is done in simultaneously by larger integrated steel mills at deepwater ports and by steel recyclers with ever-better metallurgies.  Instructive.

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