Checks on Checks, or Shipping and Shipping Software

Paul Graham points out that big company checks on purchasing usually have costs, such as purchasing checks increase the costs of purchased items because the vendors have to factor in their costs of passing the checks.
Such things happen constantly to the biggest organizations of all, governments. But checks instituted by governments can cause much worse problems than merely overpaying. Checks instituted by governments can cripple a country’s whole economy. Up till about 1400, China was richer and more technologically advanced than Europe. One reason Europe pulled ahead was that the Chinese government restricted long trading voyages. So it was left to the Europeans to explore and eventually to dominate the rest of the world, including China.

The Other Half of “Artists Ship”, by Paul Graham, November 2008

I would say western governments (especially the U.S.) subsidizing petroleum production and not renewable energy is one of the biggest source of current world economic, political, and military problems. Of course, lack of checks can also have adverse effects as we’ve just seen with the fancy derivatives the shadow banking system sold in a pyramid scheme throughout the world. It’s like there should be a balance on checks. Which I suppose is Graham’s point: without taking into account the costs of checks (and I would argue also the risks of not having checks), how can you strike such a balance?

He doesn’t neglect to apply his hypothesis to SOX:

In more recent times, Sarbanes-Oxley has practically destroyed the US IPO market. That wasn’t the intention of the legislators who wrote it. They just wanted to add a few more checks on public companies. But they forgot to consider the cost. They forgot that companies about to go public are usually rather stretched, and that the weight of a few extra checks that might be easy for General Electric to bear are enough to prevent younger companies from being public at all.
SOX: hasty, incomplete, yet overprotective. And Congress wonders why it has such a low approval rating.

Graham’s parting thought:

And just as the greatest danger of being hard to sell to is not that you overpay but that the best suppliers won’t even sell to you, the greatest danger of applying too many checks to your programmers is not that you’ll make them unproductive, but that good programmers won’t even want to work for you.

Steve Jobs’s famous maxim “artists ship” works both ways. Artists aren’t merely capable of shipping. They insist on it. So if you don’t let people ship, you won’t have any artists.

This could explain why Toyota and Honda seem to have all the artists, and GM and Chrysler don’t. I’m thinking Ford may have a few, but we’ll see.