The Doomed Moralists

I recently had the opportunity to sample The Partially Examined Life’s Robert Nozick episode and IQsquared’s Karl Marx discussion. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less and less amenable to both Nozick’s libertarianism and Marx’s, well, Marxism. It might just be early onset curmudgeon, perhaps blind prejudice but I’m going to at least try to rationalize these feelings.

I don’t think it’s a secret I’m hostile to Marxism. It’s not because I think Marxism is morally bad in the conventional sense. I don’t think it is an ideology of slavery, I don’t think it is an ideology of hatred, I don’t think “bad people”* have much to do with it at all. I dislike the ideology for the far greater sin of putting a moral ideal above the imperative for existence.

 

Karl Marx wrote his manifestos and essays because he saw widespread injustice in capitalism. He waxed poetic (mostly not poetic, actually, more awkward and stilted) on the way capitalists squeeze the labor and value from their employees, seeking always to achieve greater exploitation. He saw capital as a spreading fungus, subsuming all the variety and diversity from life, sucking the individuality and humanity from the oppressed masses and making every human being into little more than units of consumption and production.

Moral sentiment cannot survive in capitalism, Marx said, if it does not bend to the all-consuming will of the market. The craftsman tending his vines in time-honored ways cannot compete with the impersonal colossus building “wine” from reconstituted corn extracts. McDonald’s crushes the local burger joints, forces everyone into minimum wage jobs and reduces the populace to starvation wages.  Everything is an icy calculation, nothing is genuinely human.

Blessed are the proletariat for they shall inherit the means of production. A rich man may pass into the party only with more difficulty than a camel may pass through the eye of a needle. Amen. 

Minus the hysterical adjectives, I’d basically agree. Capitalism, if it’s rigid and libertarian and monolithic, does crush everything under a blanket of competition-suppressing monopolies. Let that go on long enough and labor monopolies can reduce everyone to starvation wages. We called this time the Guilded Age and it was not pleasant.

So yes, Mr. Marx, I understand your moral problems with capitalism. I would even go so far as to say you were right about many of capitalism’s evils. If all we care about is right and wrong, you’ve got a pretty good case.

GaltsGulch

Lesson number 1, continuing to exist is really hard. 

Then we move onto Robert Nozick. From and ideology standpoint, Nozick seems like Marx’s polar opposite, especially if you accept the common modern notion that freedom and equality are essentially opposed.*

“Human beings are ends and not means,” Nozick passionately plagiarized from Kant. “The individual is inviolable. Natural rights are beautiful, glorious.”

It’s hard to disagree with these sentiments. Like Marx, Nozick gets queezy when he sees people being dehumanized, reduced to cogs in a system. Of course, his comic book villain is the government and Marx’s comic book villain is the industrialist, but as someone who doesn’t take villains or heroes very seriously, I’m not convinced this is a significant difference.

Nozick goes on to explain that we, as good Kantians, can never justify infringing on the glorious, John Locke-style natural rights.* We need to be perfectly just in all times and we don’t get to violate an individual’s rights for the sake of the community. After all, if the ends justify the means, there’s really no limitations to the state’s infinite appetite for oppression. This is why taxation is wrong. You see, taxation is hijacking somebody else’s body and stealing the fruits of their labor and if we don’t allow people to own themselves, that’s naked slavery.

It doesn’t matter how necessary that slavery is, we can’t take short cuts. This is because the right to self-determination is absolute and nobody can put a restriction on your self-determination.

If all we care about is right and wrong, Mr. Nozick, you’ve got a pretty good case.

SyriaFreedom

The inevitable spread of freedom in Syria. 

But I don’t just care about right and wrong. In fact, I would argue that a society shouldn’t even consider right and wrong until it’s very certain it will continue to exist. If slavery – whether imposed by the government or capitalist doesn’t matter – is the way to continue existing, a society should institute slavery. If human sacrifice is a big enough advantage to a society’s continued existence, human sacrifice will absolutely arise.

That said, I’m not advocating slavery or human sacrifice. Not because they are naturally wrong but because of the way they became wrong. Namely, I’d argue that human sacrifice and slavery became wrong by not being able to compete with different systems. This evolution of wrongness, I hope, will contain enough evidence we can leave the moralists, whether Marxist or libertarian, behind.

5c1cbece-a001-11e3-_530413c

They don’t look like they’re faking it to me. 

In 1935 fascism was very popular. Hundreds of millions of perfectly nice people all across Europe thought, sincerely, that it was a morally good program. They pointed to the amazing resurgence in Germany, the unification and strengthening of Italy and the meteoric rise of Japan, although Japanese fascism was admittedly a different animal. And yet by 1955 calling someone a fascist was a slur. What happened?

I’m sure that if you asked Marx he would talk about people coming to recognize the emptiness and destructiveness of bourgeoisie exploitation. He would talk about the fall of fascism as a demonstration of  rising class consciousness and he’d probably predict the imminent rise of the proletariat because he always predicted the imminent rise of the proletariat.

If you asked Nozick, I’m sure he’d tell you how freedom triumphed over oppression. He’d certainly make moral points about how terrible the inevitable oppression of the state had been. He would point to victims and explain that the lack of freedom put these people into concentration camps. He would predict that we could all learn from this and put into place the truly just nightwatchmen states we really need.

Firebombing_of_Tokyo

 

The Japanese learning to embrace freedom and democracy.

If you asked me, I would simply say that the western democracies and communist authoritarians were really, really good at killing fascists. Better than the fascists had been at killing their enemies. The lure of freedom was little discussed in Japan of 1945, in clear contrast with the topic of total annihilation. The Hitler youth joined their mothers in weeping when they heard of their Fuhrer’s death. The Spanish fled into the protective embrace of Francisco Franco. These people do not appear to have been experiencing moral revelation. They appear to have been experiencing the much earthier revelation that their way of life was ending and that they could do nothing to prevent it.

Authoritarian socialism likewise died in the 1980s not from moral enlightenment but from the simple fact that the mixed market economies of the United States, western Europe and Japan could make a lot more stuff a lot more efficiently. Tribal societies are disappearing today not because tribal societies are wrong but because they can’t keep their young people from drinking Coca Cola.

In other words, the might of a society is the source of its rightness. We tack justifications for goodness on later – freedom, equality, whatever makes you hot and bothered – but these “good” systems are good first and foremost because they are capable of surviving in a competitive, dynamic world.

Thankfully, being powerful is usually congruent with human flourishing, so this isn’t usually a problem. However, being powerful and surviving is the first contingent, in my sincerely held opinion.

For ideologues like Marx and Nozick (or Kant if I’m being uncharitable), justice comes first and survival comes second, or third, or not at all. This is a wonderful way to avoid messy compromises, I’m sure. I’d assume that thinking thus is very comforting when it’s bedtime. However, putting morals before might is also the surest path I know to extinction.

 

 

*The more I think of it, the less inclined I am to  believe in the importance of “bad people” in world events. I’m getting close to discounting them entirely.

*Just for the record, freedom is such a problematic concept for me that I really can’t say if it conflicts with equality or not.

*Well, quasi-Lockean. Locke had things to say about taking resources only if you left enough for everybody else. Nozick, not so much.

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24 comments

  1. Succinct, cogent and well written, a combination that seems to be your hallmark. As always, a very thought provoking post. In my opinion there are no truly evil people running the planet or any subset of it, merely people responding to circumstances within their gestalt as best they see fit, limited by their perceptions and abilities. And yes, this would extend to a Kim Jung-Un or Idi Amin. After all, the beloved author L. Frank Baum once called for the complete extermination of the Native American population in order to save them from degradation, a fate he considered worse than death for the noble red man. Lately I have come to believe that the greatest threat to traditional American values and our “way of life” is globalization. Not in and of itself but due to the unintended consequences that are occurring, such as increasing unemployment being ameliorated by the decline of the middle class and the creation of a compliant segment of society willing to be supported by the government, who no longer seek employment. In my simplistic view, the two great antagonists on the world stage are the Globalists on one hand and the Mahdis on the other. Each seeks one world government, one to remove all restrictions on doing business the other to establish a world wide caliphate under Sharia law. Uh-oh, brain starting to hurt. Must stop now.

    1. Do you have more on this idea about Mahdis and globalists? I was looking on your website but didn’t see anything.

  2. Ordered your book from Amazon, employing the “Senior Citizen’s Discount” commonly known as “Used, Like New.”

    1. You’ll love The Blackguard

      1. You do me honor. Thank you very much. 🙂

    2. Thanks! I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

  3. Guess we have some minor differences of opinion once again:-)
    I can say that I am a Libertarian, with respect to having a utter distrust of government. However, I sort of part company with other Libertarian “purists,” because I have an equal distrust of big business.
    Congrats Ben, you have once again turned on my synapses.
    I believe that Justice and Survival are co-dependent, like the strands that make up a strong rope. It would be difficult to have one without the other and also, the more you have of one, the more you have on the other.
    “…putting morals before might is also the surest path I know to extinction.” I see the removal of morals as the surest path to extinction. A practice that Western Civilization is currently embracing.
    Perhaps we’re defining things differently and you can offer your definition.

    1. I suspect it is largely a matter of definitions. One of my big problems with justice is that I think it’s so squishy and abstract that it devolves into little more than a hook from which to hang preexisting prejudice.

      The thing about survival is that, generally speaking, it really doesn’t involve a lot of war crimes or oppression. The society is stronger in proportion to the vitality of its people so dystopia is DOA in a society that endures.

  4. An interesting post. I’m not sure it’s all about might, but might certainly matters, and it’s definitely more complicated than the moral arc people often assert.

    Human sacrifice never seemed to last long once societies had a literate class. Maybe it took written records to realize it doesn’t work. (Although animal sacrifice appeared to wax for a long time.)

    Slavery was viewed with distaste by a lot of people, but held on until the industrial revolution made it obsolete for most businesses. Economies dependent on industries where it was still viable (like the plantation economy of the American south) found themselves on the wrong side of history.

    I think people’s revulsion to fascism had as much to do with Nazi atrocities, scenes of which were relayed to the world in ways not possible in prior times, as it being the ideology on the losing end of WWII.

    The interesting thing about Communism is that, as a pure ideology, it failed, yet a lot of its principle got adopted by capitalist societies, leading to the mixed economies we have today. And world history seems to show that these compromises between the extremes work better either than laisez-faire capitalism or state controlled economies.

    The interesting thing to ponder is, how long will democracy last? It flourished in ancient times before dying out. It’s ascendance and prevalence today make it seem increasingly well entrenched, but if history shows anything, it’s that everything eventually changes.

    1. I think the might right relationship is probably circular, thought that’s probably oversimplifying as well. The thing about becoming mighty is that being too much of a jerk just convinces people to leave. So yeah, with the case of the Nazi atrocities, they basically spent a ton of money in order to kill millions of productive people and drive Albert Einstein into the arms of their most dangerous enemy. Not to sharp on Adolf’s part.

      I’d also say that, from the standpoint of a society, you’d basically want your people to be healthy, productive, satisfied enough to be stable and badass enough others aren’t going to come after you. That doesn’t sound so bad for the citizens. If you want to call this state of affairs justice, I think that gets rid of most of the problems.

      Where I think justice is dangerous is when it becomes some sort of absolute or something that is “higher” than “mere” existence. I’ve got a whole spiel on why I think these sorts of justice are basically self-hatred in disguise, but that’s another conversation.

      I’m interested to hear what you think is after democracy. I have a proposal, but I’d like to hear your ideas first. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting,
      Ben
      🙂

      1. What comes after democracy? I’d like to think it was a more effective system, but based on history, it’s possible the world falls back into authoritarianism of one type or another. If might is the ultimate factor, then the rise of China might spell trouble for democracy down the road.

        One possible difference our future might have from the past is the existence of artificial intelligence. I could see some societies gradually ceding decisions to a class of AIs (think of the society described at the end of the original Day the Earth Stood Still), leading to a benevolent dictatorship, although technically it would be just another form of authoritarianism.

      2. I need to finish my AI article. I’m not sure computers, in forms recognizable to us today, are capable of overtaking people, especially on complex, non-discreet tasks.

        I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the nature and history of democracy and one of the things I’ve found interesting is how skeptical early democrats like George Washington or Stephen Langton were about giving the franchise to everyone. Non-landowners? Ha! Women? Hahahahaha! People of other religions? Please.

        To us, sitting here in the 21st century, this seems discriminatory and wrong but I think that’s because not very many of us are illiterate, superstitious peasants.

        Reading about the actions of illiterate, superstitious peasants in the French Revolution, the current Arab Spring and, to a lesser extent, the English Revolution, I think I agree with limiting the franchise to exclude the poor, even against the arguments of egalitarian and modern sounding groups like the Levelers.

        Basically, I don’t think democracy is possible without a minimum quality level in the populace. We are clearly above that threshold in Western Europe, North American, much of East Asia and much of South Africa.

        However, I would venture that the things Washington and Langton worried about – superstition, ignorance, not actually having a stake in the survival of the polity – are still very much with us. I mean ask some people in the grocery store about their opinions on economics. It hurts and yet democracy puts economic policy in these folks’ wildly ill informed hands.

        The benefit of democracy then comes down to giving people more stake, making it harder to abuse one group and legitimizing decisions without recourse to violence.

        I hope there’s a way to combine legitimization, stake holding and abuse avoidance with expert decision making.

        The way I’d do that is to randomly select a few thousand people and give them unlimited access to reputable education sources. Give them a minimum amount of coursework and spread them around. Keep their identities secret while they are studying. A maximum of 20 people could study economics at Yale, for example. 20 more could study econ in Oxford or the University of Texas.

        Then rotate these people through for, say, six months at a time where they are the legislative branch. They still represent the people, they are still from different stakeholder groups, they are difficult for special interests to control. Boom, all the benefits of democracy but since everybody has spent the last couple years getting the finest educations possible, they are also going to do a much better job avoiding demagoguery.

      3. I’m looking forward to reading that AI post. You statement has a lot of nuance in it, so I think I’ll wait until you’ve had a chance to expound on them before giving my views. (Although if you read my blog, you probably have an idea of them.)

        Interesting ideas about governance. My own historical observation is that power takes care of those in its power base first and foremost, with everyone else being lower class citizens (officially or not). Consequently, my view is that, yes, universal suffrage is often unbearably messy and sub-optimal, but that it beats any current alternative over the long haul.

        A dictatorship or oligarchy can be benevolent for a few years, but eventually things always seem to regress to power taking care of its base. If we want a society that cares about the well-being of the widest range of its members, then suffrage needs to extend to those members.

        That doesn’t mean the passion of the masses should rule unchecked. Successful republics have checks and balances. But it takes time for those to develop and be trusted, which is why I think the Arab spring failed. It’s a historical reality that most revolutions go bad. The US case worked because it was really more of a secession from Britain than a revolution. Universal suffrage evolved over the following century with lots of time for everyone to adapt. I think that’s the real secret to success in changing societies, which is unfortunate for those suffering under a current regime.

  5. @ authorbengarrido, a very good, thought provoking article.

    @ rixlibris, you pushed my button. Sorry for the dissertation, but I had to get it out. 😀

    I have come to believe that the greatest threat to traditional American values and our “way of life” is globalization. Not in and of itself but due to the unintended consequences that are occurring, such as increasing unemployment being ameliorated by the decline of the middle class and the creation of a compliant segment of society willing to be supported by the government, who no longer seek employment.

    First, exactly what are “traditional American values?” Social values, I think, change over time with various stresses placed on society, much like any evolutionary process. For example, the value of families being close and depending on one another was great during that period before the automobile and RFD–during the long period of homogeneous, island communities across the U.S. It was a time when gun ownership and hunting was a necessity and morality was essentially dictated by the church–a church to which virtually everyone belonged. Individualism and entrepreneurship were essentially without regulation other than by peer-assessed behavior and fair trade.

    Conservatives today, by and large, seem to think free enterprise (unregulated by government), and individualism should still exist as it did back in the days of island communities. Many believe that families today break up because of the loss of Christian values.

    But island communities no longer exist. We are no longer homogeneous in skintone or culture. Values can no longer be dictated by Christian Church or by peer pressure, and I think that is a good thing. “Traditional Values” should never override freedom of conscience. Families break up because of the myriad distractions and cultural choices that now exist. Too, families break up because of poverty.

    As for globalization, I’ve been against it, at least in the sense that the income of our workers must be reduced to a competitive level with workers in other countries making 50 cents per hour and that environment regulations must be killed in favor of cheaper production. Still, I have to recognize, that the U.S.–as a virtual island nation–has gone the way of the old island communities. It is a stress with which I am uncomfortable, but there is no stopping it. We can, however, reduce the impact on our workers by instituting laws designed to bring about a more economically just nation. We should be a nation that cares about the least of us.

    Capitalism: It should be without question that since the rise of the neoconservatives and the institution of supply-side economics, we have seen a steady redistribution of the wealth of the working class upward to the already wealthy. Deregulation of Wall Street financial institutions was a major cause of the Great Recession of 2008. Corporations are no longer held to fair trade by the people, but have gained control over much of politics, sometimes writing their own legislation and most often influencing the creation of loopholes.

    The true value of Capitalism in the U.S. is no longer to fairly serve the “consumer,” but to make as much profit as they can by hook or crook. That is why we’ve been unable to pass a living, minimum wage law. It also is the reason behind union busting. Corporations want a large, relatively cheap workforce, and too many self-interested “consumers” agree because they do not want to see a 25 cent increase in their fast food burgers.

    Socialism: I am one of those “progressives” that believes we should have a real war on poverty as a means to greatly reduce the amount of poverty (via a living minimum wage–increasing opportunities for those once poor), raise the nation’s educational level, increase the middle class, tax trading in the stock market, and generally control capitalism to the point it is of benefit to all Americans, not just the wealthy.

    I agree with philosopher John Rawls. All people should have equal, basic rights and equal access to the institutions of our society (including higher education and healthcare). While people are inherently unequal in ability, no person should be allowed to advance in society at the expense of others.

    Of course, that is an ideal currently not attainable, at least not without another millennium of evolution in our collective sense of empathy.

    Bottom line is that capitalism and socialism are not exclusive. We already have socialist systems in the U.S, just not quite enough of them. It is clear, at least to me, that we should move toward an Aristotelian Golden Mean. That is just enough socialism to benefit ALL Americans, but retain the rights (supposedly) guaranteed in the Bill of Rights–which was a good but flawed effort to bring about equality among the citizens).

  6. Ben, I just posted “Globalism V. Mahdis” in response to your prompt. Your opinion, please.

    1. I left a comment on your blog. I think I generally agree with the premise in the sense that both are important movements, but I’m not sure they’re the only movements. I’m also not sure they’re new.

  7. Ben, you’re a man after my own heart. No small talk, and you (almost) always talk about the big issues in a highly intelligent way. This particular post addresses issues first treated systematically by Plato in a dialog between Thrasymachus and Socrates. Thrasymachus argues that might makes right while Socrates argues for a traditional concept of justice.

    You appear to be a methodological collectivist, that is to say your analysis is virtually all in terms of groups, societies or nations as opposed to individuals. You seem to hold the view the view that the former are the prime actors in society not the latter, ignoring the fact that it is individuals interacting together that make up societies and nations. The latter do not exist independently of the individuals that constitute them.

    While you say “I don’t just care about right and wrong”, this isn’t true. Not only do you care about these moral concepts but you can’t help using them. In reply to a comment you say:

    “The benefit of democracy then comes down to giving people more stake, making it harder to abuse one group and legitimizing decisions without recourse to violence.”

    Why should you care about giving people more stake, making it harder to abuse people and legitimizing decisions without recourse to violence? These considerations involve the use of traditional moral concepts, but you are only concerned with whether democracy can compete with other systems not about human freedom dignity and autonomy. You say you don’t care about right or wrong and that these concepts only come into existence once a society is strong enough to compete with others. This is deceptive as you are just giving us your stipulative definition that moral concepts appear once a society becomes powerful. Your true position is moral nihilism, the belief that no moral concepts exist at all. This can be seen from your statement that “If slavery…is the way to continue existing, a society should institute slavery.” This sentiment is completely devoid of any moral content as it is usually understood.

    Not only are your arguments about morality incoherent but your history and economics are very questionable. You say:

    “Capitalism, if it’s rigid and libertarian and monolithic, does crush everything under a blanket of competition-suppressing monopolies.”

    Your two political extremes appear to be Marxism and a Nozick style libertarianism. I would remind you that Nozick’s book is “Anarchy, State and Utopia”. It is actually a defense of anarcho-libertarianism. I have often heard criticisms of such a society but I have never seen one that describes this position as “rigid” and “monolithic”. What history or economics text book are you using to argue that the free market crushes “everything under a blanket of competition-suppressing monopolies”? The U.S Postal Service is an example of a rigid and monolithic monopoly that crushes competition. It takes its power from statism. Google, Uber and Amazon are companies that have emerged from ruthless competition. Your choice.

    You say, “Let that [capitalism] go on long enough and labor monopolies can reduce everyone to starvation wages. We called this time the Guilded Age and it was not pleasant.” Marx got it wrong. Capitalism did not lead to starvation wages and the proletarian revolution. The first communist revolution took place in an agrarian economy where there was hardly any proletarians to revolt. Capitalism instead led to rising wages and standards of living. It was easy for Mark Twain to describe the Gilded Age as an era of corruption, conspicuous consumption, and unfettered capitalism. But it is more useful to think of this as modern America’s formative period, when an agrarian society of small producers were transformed into an urban society dominated by industrial corporations. The late 19th century saw the creation of a modern industrial economy. A national transportation and communication network was created, the corporation became the dominant form of business organization, and a managerial revolution transformed business operations.

    In reply to a comment you say:

    “Reading about the actions of illiterate, superstitious peasants in the French Revolution, the current Arab Spring and, to a lesser extent, the English Revolution, I think I agree with limiting the franchise to exclude the poor, even against the arguments of egalitarian and modern sounding groups like the Levelers.”

    You go on to recommend rule by a small handful of highly educated experts. This is simply a rehash of Plato’s argument for a philosopher king helped by a cadre of specialized technicians. We have seen this system before. It was called totalitarianism and it was not pleasant.

    1. Hey Malcolm,

      Thanks for swinging by. I’m not going to get into capitalism too much because it’s pretty clear to me that we’re talking about different things. Every first world economy extant, in my humble opinion, is a mixed market economy. Dogmatic lassez faire as described by Nozick is what I’d consider a monolith. I’d also consider it impossible in much the same way I’d consider Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat communes impossible.

      “You go on to recommend rule by a small handful of highly educated experts. This is simply a rehash of Plato’s argument for a philosopher king helped by a cadre of specialized technicians. We have seen this system before. It was called totalitarianism and it was not pleasant.”

      More like “control of one of the houses of congress by a handful of randomly selected people who get all the education they desire and get rotated out of their government roles after like 12 months of legislating.” I should also clarify that I don’t recommend getting rid of the voting right for poor Americans now. I was saying that in the context of 1776, I think it was probably the right call. Dropping freedom and voting rights on a chaotic, poorly educated population is a great way for democracy to fail. Iraq, for example, would have had a much greater chance of success with limited suffrage, I think.

      I answered the rest of your points, but that answer ended up being 1300 words long. I hope you’ll forgive me if I reorganize those answers into another blog post rather than writing a book in the comments section. https://bengarrido.com/2016/02/21/the-doomed-moralists-part-two/

  8. “More like ‘control of one of the houses of congress by a handful of randomly selected people who get all the education they desire and get rotated out of their government roles after like 12 months of legislating.’”

    “A maximum of 20 people could study economics at Yale, for example. 20 more could study econ in Oxford or the University of Texas.”

    Ben, you give too much credit not only to an Ivy League education but to formal education itself. You appear to believe that the problem to be solved is how to optimally organize society to achieve maximum power. Just throw some computing power and Ivy League diplomas at the problem and voila, the answer will pop out. The correct rebuttal to this is two-pronged. Please google the Mises Economic Calculation Problem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_calculation_problem) to see why computers and education are not the solution to the optimum allocation of resources. Lastly, you frame the issue as if society only has one goal but society itself does not have any goals, it is individuals who have goals.

    “Iraq, for example, would have had a much greater chance of success with limited suffrage, I think.”

    It is hubris of the worst kind to believe that you know how best to run a country as complex as Iraq. What makes you think that the Iraqis want or need democracy, a western import, let alone your particular concept of democracy?

    1. Too much credit to the Ivy League? Perhaps. Too much credit to computer programs? I really doubt that. I’m actually in the process of arguing that computers are not yet near the level of house flies in a different article. Regardless, my point is not to propose some sort of central planning apparatus, but to ensure that at least some of the people legislating know what they’re talking about.

      And yes, I know about von Mises and the information problem. How many voters do you think understand the impossibility of centralized price information? How about the ways tax elasticities work? How many voters do you think know how much carnage would result if the government ran a surplus every year? I would prefer that part of the legislative branch be filled with people who have learned what those things are. It might result in more coherent tax policy, for example, than a legislature whose primary skill is assuring the public that you really can lower taxes, increase spending and cut the deficit. (You seem to think I’m a socialist … I’m not.)

      I’m sure there are lots of ways to come to this sort of understanding. For me, it was formal education (and hundreds of hours of books/magazines/academic papers/discussions like this one). For others, perhaps it’s a subscription to the Economist or a really clever neighbor. I don’t care where the knowledge comes from, so long as it’s present.

      I’d design my pool of legislators with the following goals – 1. Comprehensive demographic representation. 13% should be black, 51% should be female, they should closely follow the age curve of the population, they should closely represent the wealth curve. 2. Random selection. There shouldn’t be a way to get nominated for one of these posts. 3. The expectation of these people becoming experts. 4. The requirement that these people gain their expertise from several, mutually incompatible schools of thought. Ie, Keynesian and Austrian, Social Justice vs. Natural Rights, Theological Perspectives vs Atheist, etc. One of the reasons Richard Dawkins is so mind-bendingly banal is because he doesn’t have the slightest clue what Christianity actually is, for example. Compare and contrast with the vastly more effective atheist Nietzsche. If you only learn one school of thought, you basically don’t know what you’re talking about. 5. A short term in power and no eligibility for being selected again.

      If these people decide to try central planning again that would be a) fascinating b) unlikely to get through the other house/president and c) a very strong signal we need to reconsider the foundations of either our education system or economic system. If, on the other hand, they decide we need lassez faire that would still be fascinating, unlikely to get through the other house/Presidency and a signal something is very fundamentally amiss. Either way, useful information.

      As for hubris and Iraq, I get to have opinions just as much as anybody else. I personally think dictators are underrated in crappy countries, I don’t think air lifting democracy into Iraq was remotely intelligent but, if you’re going to do those things, I think you’re better following the example of George Washington and Stephen Langton than the (relatively) universal suffrage examples of dudes like Robespierre and the Egyptian revolutionaries. It would probably still fail, but at least it would have a better chance.

      If you really want to discuss this more, here is my analysis on the conditions necessary for democracy. Short version, I don’t think it’s possible while the original culture remains intact. My model might be wrong, but it does a pretty good job predicting the failure of the Arab Spring, the Ukrainian uprisings and democracy efforts in Africa. https://bengarrido.com/an-open-letter-to-mohsin-hamid/

  9. Quote: “…I would simply say that the western democracies and communist authoritarians were really, really good at killing fascists. Better than the fascists had been at killing their enemies.”

    The above text is what most stood out for me in your well written post although I suggest this WW2 Zio-Imperial killing machine you refer to is basically the same one as today’s war on terror replete with mainstream media and hollywood propaganda machine and Wall Street Banker 2 party political S-elections. Now of course there’s an engineered clash of civilisations c/- EU refugee migrant crisis and False Flag ops c/- controlled opposition (ISIS) that are a direct consequence of these neocon Zio-Banker-Wars. Yet, still no bad guys?

    My 2 cents is, Sane people aren’t interested in trying to rule the world. Most have oppressed lives to live as best they can. Psychopaths and Sociopaths and Zealots who believe in their Racist Supremacy are on the other hand the <1% sick individuals in the guise of corporates and states and nefarious networks (i.e. parasites) who do want to rule the world so they can win and horde the dry stale biscuit for themselves and themselves alone!

    1. I’m currently reading two books which might interest you. The first is called Han Fei-tzu and it’s a book of collected political wisdom from the warring states period of China, before the Qin Dynasty unified China for the first time. The second is “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” What strikes me is that the historical characters in both books universally sing the praises of hegemony as a concept, even when they are the ones falling to a hegemon. It’s just taken for granted that life is better when there’s an empire uniting all the everybody.

      What, I wonder, has made our attitudes toward hegemony so much more negative than the ancients?

  10. I’m guessing it probably has something to do with people’s commitment to that old Americanism, Freedom from Tyranny. I also believe the ancients as you refer to them felt similarly but just don’t seem to have featured as the main characters in the books you’ve read. I would go so far as to suggest that your enemy is so Fiercely committed to Freedom that it’s not even worth Trying to be a Tyrant. Especially these days.

    1. Could be, though I think a huge part is that most of us don’t have up close experience with chaos. Those ancients pining for a hegemony did have experience with chaos.

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