Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 7, 2013

Stumptalk: The Magic of Feedback Control

By Phil Billington

CROSSVILLE — Very few people are aware of the scientific and mathematical foundation of the American industrial enterprise, the source of her exceptionalism. Some would say it was the innovations of men like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Wright Brother, James Watt, etc. In fact the correct answer is the ingenuity of Feedback Control that advanced America to become the most prosperous and free nation on Earth. Without the magic of Feedback Control, America would be still back in the buggy days of those great innovators. Without feedback control we could never have gone to the moon or Mars. The scientific principles of feedback control were developed to a high state during World War II and the years thereafter although its basic ideals were understood by men and women of letters for centuries. So what is feedback control?

The first inventions were simply methods to multiply the minute power of man to do useful work. To be sure these simple Open Systems minimized human toil but they provided no way to correct for undesirable and unintended consequences. Feedback Control Systems on the other hand feeds information about the actual output back to its input thus canceling perturbations which causes unintended consequences. A spacecraft control system is an excellent example of feedback and the success of the American space program is self evident. Applications of feedback control eventually spread throughout the industrial world, Automotive Engineering, Aeronautical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Audio Engineering, energy development and the list goes on.

It may surprise some to learn that feed back control is even more prevalent and important in human activities such as economics, government and other human affairs. It is the inherent feedback that makes the capitalism the most productive system for regulating the markets and commerce. It’s the inherent feedback in the Representative Republican form of government that promotes the most freedom and prosperity compared with other forms. Medical researchers utilize feedback in many of their experiments which have resulted in many new discoveries and the development of the best medical system of the world. Behavioral scientists, psychiatrists and neurologists, have long used feedback in their experiments to understand the unintended consequences of human behavior.

Despite the long history of failures, there are still many adherents to Open Systems. These top-down complex plans ignore the multitude of impossible to predict human reactions that pop up along the way and completely disregard citizens’ free-choice. A decade ago, socialist George Soros wrote a book titled “Open Society,” in which he advocated reforming Global Capitalism and establishing an open system (socialism) for the entire world. Most intellectuals quickly dismissed Soros’s nutty utopian idea.

To summarize the above discussion: If nations were cataloged according to their regulatory systems, the distinguishing characteristic of systems of Western nations who celebrate freedom and prosperity are those dependent of the magic of feedback control. On the other hand, in the Old World where poverty runs rampant and freedom is alien, Open Systems dominate, where the primary agenda is to prop up the potentate with little regard to the civil rights of the people.

One of the worst cockamamie Open System plan to come down the pike in decades is ObamaCare, a utopian plan to provide “one-size-fits-all” healthcare to every citizen. This is a throwback to an old world ruled by monarchs. It is a sad commentary on the intellectual levels of our lawmakers that such an abysmal law was even allowed come up for a vote. The so-called “Death Spiral” is the most conspicuous failure of the plan, though there are many others.

A snapshot of the Death Spiral is as follows: as employees shed their full-time employees and replace with part-time workers in order to dodge the ObamaCare requirement of providing healthcare for all full-time workers, tens of thousands of workers are having their work-week cut from 40 hours to 30 hours. This harms the young and healthy the most because even with subsidies the loss of income hurts their ability to pay for medical care. The risk is that these workers are likely to drop out of the health-care system altogether and accept the $95 penalty the act imposes. With younger workers leaving the insurance market, leaving only the older and less healthy workers, insurance companies will raise premiums to stay in business. As premiums climb, more and more people on the margin will choose to drop their coverage causing the system to spin out of control. Hence a death spiral will be set in motion.

ObamaCare is far from a fix for an ailing old healthcare system. ObamaCare is an epistemological nightmare.