Thursday, September 13, 2007

Law of diminishing returns and military spending, also other things

There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to security and defending our country. This law also applies to other things like reaching the temperature of absolute zero in a lab.

Scientists can come very close to absolute zero, but never right there. Those last few steps are increasingly difficult, the closer to perfection one goes.

For instance, maybe 60 billion dollars (just numbers I found in my hat for discussion) will stop 90 percent of the terrorist plots. 60 billion can buy a reasonable amount of airport security, beefed up CIA and military action against terrorist outposts. There would still be a one in ten percent chance that it isn't enough.

Another 60 billion dollars, or twice the original sum, can buy an added 5% guarantee. Now we are spending a total of 120 billion dollars. Double that figure again to 240 billion and the safety factor goes up to 99.5 percent. Of course perfection of 100% is seldom, if ever, achieved. It's sort of a mathematical improbability.

As one forges their way toward that 100 percent safety factor, there is a law of diminishing returns. Each final percentage point gained comes at greater cost. The burden, on our economy, grows until there comes a point when leaving those last stones unturned is less of a risk than bankrupting society in pursuit of that unattainable state of perfection.

Where are we on the diminishing returns index? Rather than provide an answer, basically I don't know, I just feel this question is worth considering.

A similar issue applies to health care. If your life depends on it, don't you want the very best? Or, can this thinking distort everything.

That law applies to other fields as well

Like security, the sports world is another "law of diminishing returns" thing.

Paying a thousand dollars to shave a few more grams off that racing bike?

Is one second that important? Maybe it means the difference between winning and loosing.

* Today's flurry of posts comes from reorganizing another part of my site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For years I've felt that the concept of diminishing returns seems to apply to almost all aspects of our lives. For some reason I couldn't sleep so I got up and for some reason I typed diminishing returns into google to see if anyone out there has made similar observations about the concept. I was amazed to find your site because I am a cyclist and I have arrived at similar conclusions about life and our pursuit of happiness. Imagine thinking these ideas are unique and your own and then finding others who think the same way. I used to race, but could never reconcile riding all those miles for such little gain. I have a friend who still races and each year he logs 10,000 miles. Yes, he can humiliate me, but only a little. His cycling fitness is superb, but mine is pretty good too. Our resting heart rates are similar and I am lean, but I only spend about 4 hours a week on the bike. Anyway, are you aware of any other interesting articles about diminishing returns? Great site.