Thursday, May 22, 2008 92 Comments

OL6: the lost theory of government

[If you're using Firefox and you see a gray box in the middle of the post, it is Blogger strangeness. Click on the post title and it goes away.]

The best way to understand government is to assume everything you know about it is nonsense. Or so at least I claimed last week. Let's demonstrate it by solving the problem from scratch.

Growing up in the modern Western world, you learned that in all pre-modern, non-Western societies, everyone - even the smartest and most knowledgeable - put their faith in theories of government now known to be nonsensical. The divine right of kings. The apostolic succession of the Pope. The Marxist evolution of history. Etc.

Why did such nonsense prosper? It outcompeted its non-nonsensical competitors. When can nonsense outcompete truth? When political power is on its side. Call it power distortion.

And why, dear open-minded progressive, do you think your theory of government, which you did not invent yourself but received in the usual way, is anything but yet another artifact of power distortion, adapted to retain your rulers in their comfortable seats?

Probably because there is a categorical difference between modern liberal democracy and the assorted monarchies, empires, dictatorships, theocracies, etc, which practiced the black art of official mind control. The priests of Amun tolerated no dissent. They flayed the heretic, the back-talker, the smartmouth, and stretched his still-living flesh to crack and writhe in the hot African wind, till the hyena or the crocodile came along to finish him. But now they are all pushing up the asphodels, and Google hasn't even thought about deleting my blog.

You think of freedom of thought as a universal antibiotic, a sure cure for power distortion. It certainly allows me to post my seditious blasphemies - for now.

But as a progressive, your beliefs are the beliefs of the great, the good and the fashionable. And as we've seen over the past few weeks, power can corrupt the mind in two ways: by coercion, or by seduction. The Whig, the liberal, the radical, the dissenter, the progressive, protests the former with great umbrage - especially when his ox is being gored. Over the past four centuries, he has ridden the latter to power. He is Boromir. He has worn the Ring and worked it. And it, of course, has worked him.

Today's late Whiggery, gray and huge and soft, lounges louche on its throne, fastened tight to the great plinth of public opinion that it hacked from the rock of history with its own forked and twisted tongue. The mass mind, educated to perfection, is sure. It has two alternatives: the Boromir-thing, or Hitler. And who wants Hitler? Resistance is more than useless. It is ridiculous. The Whig cackles, and knocks back another magnum of Mumm's.

And a few small rats wear out our incisors on the stone. Today we'll learn the real principles of government, which have spent the last four centuries sunk under a Serbonian bog of meretricious liberalism. ("The funk... of forty thousand years.") This is a bit short for a UR post, but parenting is a bit of a time sink. We'll have to wait until next week to see what government is today.

The two, of course, have nothing to do with each other. Nor is this likely to change soon. Nor can you do anything about it. So why bother? Why think about government?

The only defense I can offer is Vaclav Havel's idea of "living in truth." As a fellow cog in the global public supermind, you are bombarded constantly and from every direction with the progressive theory of government, with which all humans who are not ignorant, evil or both must agree by definition, and which makes about as much sense as the Holy Trinity. If you are ready to be the nail that sticks up and is hammered down, you can be a "conservative," which ties up a few of the loose ends, and unties others. It also makes you a social pariah, unless most of your neighbors are named "Earl."

This shit is stressful. Most of us already have stressful lives. Do we need it? We don't. The nice thing about understanding government is that it gives you an off button for the endless political yammering. While it may replace this with a bit of despair as regards the future, the future is a long way off. And not entirely without hope, but that's another post.

In any case: government.

First, let's establish what a government is. A government is a sovereign corporation. It is sovereign because its control over its territory is not subject to any higher authority. It is a corporation because it has a single institutional identity. All governments in history fit this definition, unless their sovereignty is compromised by some stronger power. In this case, that power is the true sovereign, and your analysis should be aimed at it.

Second, what makes a government good or bad? The easiest way to think about this problem is to think subjectively. Assuming you have no power over the government's decisions, under what kind of government would you prefer to live? Given two governments A and B, what would make you move or want to move from A to B, or vice versa?

The key is that we are evaluating a government based on what it does, not what it is. As Deng Xiaoping - probably the greatest statesman of the 20th century - put it: "Who cares if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice?"

The subjective approach asks whether the government catches mice. It does not ask who the government's personnel are, or how they are selected, or how they are managed. Perhaps they are all Dinka warriors from the middle of nowhere, Sudan, chosen for their impassive visages as they execute the brutal Dinka ritual of auto-hemicastration with no implement but their own fire-hardened fingernails. If they govern well, so much the better.

Your subjective desires for government may be different from mine. They probably are. In a world of good governments, subjective preferences would reduce to the trivial and cosmetic. If I am in the market for fast food and I see a Burger King next to a McDonalds, I will go with the King. Why? Does it matter?

Fast food is an fine metaphor for government. You'd think managing a sovereign corporation is probably more complicated and difficult than operating a fast-food chain. Heck, operating a nonsovereign US state is probably harder than flipping burgers. And if B is harder than A, you'd think anyone who can pull off B would ace A.

But if I saw a McDonalds next to a Calmeat, Mickey would be my man. Of course, there is no Calmeat. We do not live in a world where the State of California sees fit to operate restaurants, fast or otherwise. There is no state burger. Even as an open-minded progressive, however, I'm afraid you will have to concede that if there was a Calmeat, it would either be either horrible or horribly overpriced, and probably both.

Why? It will become obvious, if it isn't already. But what it tells us - if this isn't already obvious - is that we don't live in a world of good government. California is better-governed than nine-tenths of the Earth's surface. And there is no way its government could flip a decent burger. As Mark Twain put it:
Omar Khayam, the poet-prophet of Persia, writing more than eight hundred years ago, has said:

"In the four parts of the earth are many that are able to write learned books, many that are able to lead armies, and many also that are able to govern kingdoms and empires; but few there be that can keep a hotel."
Twain's quote does not strike me as authentic - but I quail at the notion of Calstay. In any case: not only do we not live in a world of good government, we live in a world of disastrously bad government. If the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds some fresher hell for us.

So we are not concerned with the subtleties of good government. We are not interested in excellent government. It would be nice, but we would be satisfied with mere competence - perhaps with whatever enables McDonald's to survive in a world that contains not only BK but also In-n-Out, even though its burgers taste like boiled cardboard. Our goal is the mere basics.

Here are the basics: a government should be secure, effective, and responsible. None of this is rocket science. The only secret is that there is no secret.

Let's define and analyze these qualities individually, assuming the others in each. When we explain how to make a government responsible, we'll assume it is secure and effective. When we explain how to make it secure, we'll assume it is effective and responsible. Etc.

Let's start with effectiveness. Effectiveness is the ability to accomplish what you're trying to do. Under what design is a government most effective?

We can think of effectiveness as a measure of good management. A well-managed enterprise hires the right people, spends the right amount of money on them, and makes sure they do the right things. How do we achieve effective management?

We know one simple way: find the right person, and put him or her in charge. This single, frail being, our administrator, holds final decision-making authority - the Roman imperium - over budget, policy, and personnel.

In the military world, this is called unity of command. In the (nonsovereign) corporate world - and in the nonprofit world that opposes it - this individual is the CEO. Even that most anarchic of human endeavors, the open-source project, tends to follow the administrator design.

Why does individual administration work? When said individual is a douche, it doesn't. There is no reliable formula for good management. But there are many reliable formulas for bad management. A better question is: why does management by committee not work?

Divided control of any human enterprise tends to fail because of a phenomenon generally known, around the office, as politics. Politics always emerges when management breaks down. An individual manager, with undivided control of some enterprise, can only succeed by making the enterprise succeed. Replace one manager with two - the unorthodox administrative design known as "two-in-a-box," a disaster I personally have experienced - and either has a new way to succeed: making the other fail. The more cooks, the worse the broth.

In every human endeavor outside government itself, undivided administration is well known to produce optimal results. If Peet's could beat Starbucks, Southwest JetBlue, or In-n-Out Mickey D's, by adopting a "separation of powers" or a "constitution" or some other architecture of leadership by consensus, one of them would certainly have tried it.

Contemplate, dear friends, the great heap of rococo procedural ornamentations that have replaced the simple principle of personal decision in the modern Western government. Montesquieuean separation of powers is the least of it. Outside the military, in which the principle of command still functions to some extent, it is simply impossible to find anyone with unified responsibility for getting anything done. And even military officers, while they have some vestiges of imperium - rapidly being sucked away by the judicial system - seldom control anything like their own budgets, and have zero power over personnel.

So: the modern aversion to individual management cannot be motivated by effectiveness. Undivided administration is more effective, period. We can only explain the penchant for collective decision-making as a function of responsibility or security. It is hard to see how it has anything to do with security. It must be a matter of responsibility.

But, in a system where no individual can be connected reliably with any success or failure, where is the responsibility? As none other than Woodrow Wilson put it, in 1885:
It is quite safe to say that were it possible to call together again the members of that wonderful Convention [of 1787] to view the work of their hands in the light of the century that has tested it, they would be the first to admit that the only fruit of dividing power had been to make it irresponsible.
Wilson himself, of course, had a great deal of undivided power. Nor did he use it responsibly. When we think of sovereign executives, we tend to think of bad examples. We think of Hitler, not of Frederick the Great. We don't think of Sultan Qaboos or Lee Kuan Yew or Hans-Adam II. If you think this is a coincidence, think again. But perhaps a thought-experiment will help.

Washington, especially since it governs not only the United States but also most of the world, is just too huge to serve as a good thought-experiment for government. It's easier and more fun to think in terms of California, if California could somehow be a sovereign state. Assuming security and responsibility, how could we produce effective government in California?

The answer: find the world's best CEO, and give him undivided control over budget, policy and personnel. I don't think there is any debate about it. The world's best CEO is Steve Jobs.

Which would you rather live in: California as it is today, or Applefornia? Which would you rather carry: the iPhone, or the Calphone? I rest my case.

So let's segue into responsibility. Assuming a government is responsible and secure, we know how to make it effective: hire Steve. But how do we make it responsible?

Steve, after all, is a turbulent fellow. He is moody at best. He could easily go around the bend. And he is already a notorious megalomaniac, a tendency that total imperium over the Golden State - including its new military forces, whose heads are shaved, whose garb is white linen, and whose skill in synchronized martial-arts demonstrations is unmatched even on the Korean peninsula - can hardly ameliorate.

A responsible, effective government has three basic parts. One is the front end: all the people who report to Steve. Two is the middle: Steve himself. Three is the back end: the people Steve is responsible to.

Apple itself, like all public corporations in the modern system, has a two-level back end: a board of directors, elected (in theory) by a body of shareholders. There is no reason to copy the details of this system. Corporate governance in the US today is nothing to write home about. It is the principles that matter.

Call the back end the controllers. The controllers have one job: deciding whether or not Steve is managing responsibly. If not, they need to fire Steve and hire a new Steve. (Marc Andreesen, perhaps.)

This design requires a substantial number of reasonably cogent controllers, whose collective opinion is likely to be trustworthy, and who share a single concept of responsibility.

What happens if the controllers disagree on what "responsible" government means? We are back to politics. Factions and interest groups form. Each has a different idea of how Steve should run California. A coalition of a majority can organize and threaten him: do this, do that, or it's out with Steve and in with Marc. Logrolling allows the coalition to micromanage: more funding for the threatened Mojave alligator mouse! And so on. That classic failure mode, parliamentary government, reappears.

Call a controller model with a single shared concept of responsibility coherent. How, with an impossibly fuzzy word like "responsibility," can we round up a large number of intelligent individuals who share a common definition? The task seems impossible. And our whole design relies on this coherent back-end.

Actually, there's one way to do it. We can define responsibility in financial terms. If we think of California as a profitable corporation, a capital asset whose purpose is to maximize its production of cash, we have a definition of responsibility which is not only precise and unambiguous, but indeed quantitative.

Moreover, this definition solves a second problem: how do we select the controllers? If our controllers are the parties to whom the profits are actually paid, and their voting power is proportional to the fractions they receive, they have not only a shared definition of responsibility, but an incentive to apply that definition in practice.

We have, of course, reinvented the joint-stock company. There is no need to argue over whether this design works. It does. The relevant question is: in the context of government, does this financial definition of responsibility actually match the goal we started out with?

In other words: will an effectively managed government (remember, we are assuming security and effectiveness), which is responsible only in the sense that it tries to maximize its profits in the infinite term, actually provide the good customer service that is our goal? Will it catch mice for us? Or will it flay us, and hang us out to dry, etc?

As a progressive, you consider undivided government ("dictatorship") the root of all evil. It is impossible to enumerate the full list of reasons behind this belief. It's like asking you why you prefer a romantic candlelight dinner for two at a simple, yet elegant, French restaurant, to being dragged alive behind an 18-wheeler at highway speed until there is nothing on the rope but a flap of bloody skin. When we add the abominable and astonishing suggestion that said government should actually turn a profit, we reach maximum horror. But if we are not willing to question even our deepest beliefs, our minds are hardly open.

First, it helps to remember that profitability is hardly antithetical to good customer service. Again, try the restaurant analogy. If all restaurants were nonprofits, do you think we would have better food, or worse? How does a nonprofit restaurant differ from Calmeat, which has no institutional incentive to keep its diners coming back? Perhaps if the restaurant is a small cooperative run by people who really love food, it will continue to shine. California is not a small anything, and my own interactions with its employees have revealed no such passion.

Second, I suspect that your deepest fear about undivided government is that it will in some way prove sadistic. It will torment and abuse its residents for no reason at all. Perhaps, for example, Steve will decide to massacre the Jews. Why not? It's been done before!

Think about this for a minute. Steve is responsible to his controllers, who evaluate his performance based on his stewardship of one asset: California. The value of California is the sum of the value of its shares. If one goes up or down, so does the other.

Which is worth more? California, or California infested by Jew-eating crocodiles? Which can be made to produce more revenue? The former, clearly. Jews pay taxes. Crocodile dung doesn't. And from the perspective of either Steve or the Jews, what is the difference between crocodiles and stormtroopers? At least the former will work for free.

Perhaps this is skipping ahead slightly, but one way to understand why Stevifornia will not be sadistic and aggressive is to explain why the Third Reich and the Soviet Union were. Sadism was not profitable for Hitler or Stalin - not that they cared, all that much. But they cared a little. Money meant power, and Hitler and Stalin certainly cared for power.

The sadistic side of these states is best understood as part of their security model. Hitler and Stalin were not gods. They could not shoot lightning bolts or resist bullets. They rose to and stayed in power by ruthless intimidation, up to and certainly including murder. Stalin didn't kill all those Old Bolsheviks because they had bad breath or had made passes at his wife. In the 20th century's "totalitarian" states, murder foreign and domestic was an essential strut in the Leader's security design. We will not be reproducing this element. But I digress.

Third, as a progressive, you think of government as a charitable institution. You think of its purpose as doing good works. And indeed, today's governments do many good works. They also do many things that are not good works but purport to be, but that is beside the point. Let's assume that all its good works are good indeed.

Clearly, good works are not compatible with turning a profit. It is easy to see how California improves its bottom line by refraining from the massacre of Jews. It is hard to see how it improves its bottom line by feeding the poor, healing the lame, and teaching the blind to see. And indeed, it doesn't.

So we can separate California's expenses into two classes: those essential or profitable for California as a business; and those that are unnecessary and wasteful, such as feeding the poor, etc, etc. Let them starve! Who likes poor people, anyway? And as for the blind, bumping into lampposts will help them build character. Everyone needs character.

I am not Steve Jobs (I would be very ill-suited to the management of California), and I have not done the math. But my suspicion is that eliminating these pointless expenses alone - without any other management improvements - would turn California, now drowning in the red, into a hellacious, gold-spewing cash machine. We're talking dividends up the wazoo. Stevifornia will make Gazprom look like a pump-n-dump penny stock.

And suddenly, a solution suggests itself.

What we've done, with our separation of expenses, is to divide California's spending into two classes: essential and discretionary. There is another name for a discretionary payment: a dividend. By spending money to heal the lame, California is in effect paying its profits to the lame. It is just doing it in a very fiscally funky manner.

Thus, we can think of California's spending on good works as profits which are disbursed to an entity responsible for good works. Call it Calgood. If, instead of spending $30 billion per year on good works, California shifts all its good works and good-workers to Calgood, issues Calgood shares that pay dividends of $30 billion per year, and says goodbye, we have the best of both worlds. California is now a lean, mean, cash-printing machine, and the blind can see, the lame can walk, etc, etc.

Furthermore, Calgood's shares are, like any shares, negotiable. They are just financial instruments. If Calgood's investment managers decide it makes financial sense to sell California and buy Google or Gazprom or GE, they can go right ahead.

So without harming the poor, the lame, or the blind at all, we have completely separated California from its charitable activities. The whole idea of government as a doer of good works is thoroughly phony. Charity is good and government is necessary, but there is no essential connection between them.

Of course, in real life, the idea of Calgood is slightly creepy. You'd probably want a few hundred special-purpose charities, which would be much more nimble than big, lumbering Calgood. Of course they would be much, much more nimble than California. Which is kind of the point.

We could go even farther than this. We could issue these charitable shares not to organizations that produce services, but to the actual individuals who consume these services. Why buy canes for the blind? Give the blind money. They can buy their own freakin' canes. If there is anyone who would rather have $100 worth of free services than $100, he's a retard.

Some people are, of course, retards. Excuse me. They suffer from mental disabilities. And one of the many, many things that California, State of Love, does, is to hover over them with its soft, downy wings. Needless to say, Stevifornia will not have soft, downy wings. It will be hard and shiny, with a lot of brushed aluminum. So what will it do with its retards?

My suspicion is that Stevifornia will do something like this. It will classify all humans on its land surface into three categories: guests, residents, and dependents. Guests are just visiting, and will be sent home if they cause any trouble. Residents are ordinary, grownup people who live in California, pay taxes, are responsible for their own behavior, etc. And dependents are persons large or small, young or old, who are not responsible but need to be cared for anyway.

The basic principle of dependency is that a dependent is a ward. He or she surrenders his or her personal independence to some guardian authority. The guardian holds imperium over the dependent, ie, controls the dependent's behavior. In turn the guardian is responsible for the care and feeding of the dependent, and is liable for any torts the dependent commits. As you can see, this design is not my invention.

At present, a large number of Californians are wards of the state itself. Some of them are incompetent, some are dangerous, some are both. Under the same principle as Calgood, these dependents can be spun off into external organizations, along with revenue streams that cover their costs.

Criminals are a special case of dependent. Most criminals are mentally competent, but no more an asset to California than Jew-eating crocodiles. A sensible way to house criminals is to attach them as wards to their revenue streams, but let the criminal himself choose a guardian and switch if he is dissatisfied. I suspect that most criminals would prefer a very different kind of facility than those in which they are housed at present. I also suspect that there are much more efficient ways to make criminal labor pay its own keep.

And I suspect that in Stevifornia, there would be very little crime. In fact, if I were Steve - which of course I'm not - I might well shoot for the goal of providing free crime insurance to my residents. Imagine if you could live in a city where crime was so rare that the government could guarantee restitution for all victims. Imagine what real estate would cost in this city. Imagine how much money its owners would make. Then imagine that Calgood has a third of the shares. It won't just heal the lame, it will give them bionic wings. But I digress.

So we move on to our third essential: security. (Note that this is Arnold Kling's objection to the above design, which I've given the cute name of neocameralism.)

Security is the art of ensuring that your decision process cannot be compromised by any force, domestic or foreign. Steve, for instance, is entirely indifferent to the opinions of Stevifornians, except inasmuch as those opinions affect his quarterly numbers. This is the ideal "type 3" state: you think what you want, and Steve does what he wants. The government neither controls public opinion, nor is controlled by it.

If nothing quite like a neocameralist government has ever existed in history, the reason is not hard to figure out. How do you secure an intricate decision mechanism like the above? What happens if the controllers decide to fire Steve, and Steve doesn't want to go? How does Steve remain in power if a million Stevifornians storm the presidential palace, and the guards side with the crowd and turn their guns around?

Fortunately, we do not have to design a solution that will protect Charles X (no relation to Malcolm) from the machinations of the treacherous Marmont. The neocameralist state never existed before the 21st century. It never could have existed. The technology wasn't there.

Secure neocameralism depends on a cryptographic decision and command chain (CDCC). Once the world has cryptographically secure government, it will wonder how it ever lived without it.

In the world of today, the security of all governments is dependent on mere personal loyalty. The US Army could take over Washington tomorrow, if it wanted to. It certainly cannot be compelled to obey the President, the Supreme Court, the Congress, or anyone else. It so happens that the US military has a strong tradition of loyalty - a tradition that was tested, for example, in the case of the Bonus Army. Would today's Army fire on an American mob? Especially a mob that shared its political orientation? Hopefully we will not find out.

The only reason that we accept this appalling and dangerous state of affairs is that we don't know there's an alternative. But there is, actually - in the form of permissive action links. This is an old Cold War design that implements the command side of a CDCC, for nuclear weapons only. (The control codes are in the President's pocket.)

In a full CDCC government, the sovereign decision and command chain is secured from end to end by military-grade cryptography. All government weapons - not just nukes, but everything right down to small arms - are inoperable without code authorization. In any civil conflict, loyal units will find that their weapons work. Disloyal units will have to improvise. The result is predictable, as results should be.

Cryptographic command of the military has a critical effect on political dynamics: it makes public opinion irrelevant. Today, even the most militaristic of military despotisms has to invest considerable effort in persuading, cajoling or compelling the public to support it, because the army is inevitably drawn from that public. Witness Marmont, who decided his chances were better with Orleans than Artois.

This is the final blow in the elimination of politics. Men enter politics because they have a lust for power. Good men as well as bad men lust for power, and sometimes it does happen that good men lust for power, seize it, and use it to do good things. But it is more the exception than the rule. And the lust for power is an eminently practical one - if no power is available, no one will bother to scheme for it.

Take Apple, for example. Mac users, such as myself, are tied to its vagaries. For example, the battery for the MacBook Pro is shite. It's disposable. I believe it may actually be made of toilet paper, chewing gum, and old paper clips. I go through two a year, and I hardly use them.

How do I cope with this appalling injustice? I deal. Why do I deal? Because even if I went on to the right forums and whipped up a screaming mob and persuaded them to march around and around and around 1 Infinite Loop, chanting slogans and burning old batteries, I know that it would have absolutely no impact on Steve's handling of the problem. (Which I suppose he doesn't think is a problem at all.) In fact, it would probably make him more stubborn.

There is simply no way for anyone outside Apple to influence Apple's decision process by the use of force. Apple is not sovereign. It does not have a white-robed black-belt army. It relies on the security forces of Uncle Sam, or at least Cupertino. But the problem is solved, anyway. And I consider this a good thing.

Cryptography applies to the back end as well: the decision side. If the controllers vote to refuse to renew Steve's key, and anoint Marc instead, Steve will no longer have command of the army. He won't even have command of his office door. He will have to call security to let him out of the building. (If you doubt that this is technically feasible, it is.)

Once we realize that 21st-century technology is needed to implement the neocameralist design, we understand why good old cameralism, Frederick the Great style, was the best that previous centuries could do. What Whigs call absolute monarchy (and non-Whigs just call monarchy) collapsed the controllers and the administrator into a single royal person, solving the decision problem quite neatly - and introducing a nasty biological variable into the responsibility mix. And on the command side it relied on loyalty, which was not always there.

Was royalism a perfect system? It was not. But if we imagine a world in which the revolutions and civil wars of the last four centuries had never happened, it is hard not to imagine that world as happier, wealthier, freer, more civilized, and more pleasant. At least if you're an unregenerate Jacobite like me.

Continue to part 7...

92 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, I must point out that the idea of putting cryptographic locks on small arms is absurd, unless you are postulating something besides the firearms of today: it simply WILL NOT WORK. You may as well talk about putting a cryptographic lock on a hammer, so that nobody can drive a nail without government permission.

May 22, 2008 at 4:50 AM  
Anonymous M said...

Anon, I'd be interested in hearing why you don't think cryptographic locks are feasible on small arms. There would probably be a price to be paid in reliability, and some ingenuity would have to be applied to make it difficult to override the mechanism certainly, but is it really that hard?

Mencius, interesting post, as ever: thanks. I have to admit I'm a bit unclear as to why Steve will be happy to remit shares in Applefornia to those within its borders in need of aid. In particular, should we extend this privilege to those who choose to live within this border? Do persons of little economic use even have this choice, or would be rather chuck them over the border into Gatesylvania?

There also seems to be considerable incentive for both Steve and his learned stockholders to do a Kim Jung-Il and send their white robed troops to close off the borders. I admit that this won't make Applefornia a particularly attractive destination for new citizens and holidaymakers, but it would afford the opportunity to milk the private wealth and captial of the captured citizenry for the benefit of their shadowy overlords. That has to be worth something, even if it is only going to be a sure fire thing for 40 years or so before the country implodes: after all, by that time Steve and co will have retired to their private island mansions.

Of course, please let me know with all haste if I'm too blinded by a lifetimes thrall to "late Whiggery" to see the beautiful neocamerialist solution that will align these incentives with my perceptions of good government.

May 22, 2008 at 5:47 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"Growing up in the modern Western world, you learned that in all pre-modern, non-Western societies, everyone - even the smartest and most knowledgeable - put their faith in theories of government now known to be nonsensical."

Really? The Greeks were familiar with many constitutional forms that we would consider, at the least, to be rational, or do they not count?
How about tribes using the obvious emergent forms?
How about China, with its imperial eunuch bureaucracy and local administrative control by the people with the best test scores?
Renaissance city states?

"not only do we not live in a world of good government, we live in a world of disastrously bad government. "

Which is why we have the fastest GDP growth rates and the least violence in the history of the world, right?

"Sadism was not profitable for Hitler or Stalin - not that they cared, all that much. But they cared a little. Money meant power, and Hitler and Stalin certainly cared for power."

No Mencius, this is where you show the crack stains. Sadism wasn't 'profitable' for Hitler, Stalin, etc, Sadism was 'profit' for them. It was the consumer good that they wanted that money-is-power to buy. Sometimes you really show Rousseau's faith in a universal benevolent profit maximizing human nature uncorrupted by culture. Funny in a post that also talks about tribal autohemicastration.

May 22, 2008 at 5:57 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Michael said:

"No Mencius, this is where you show the crack stains. Sadism wasn't 'profitable' for Hitler, Stalin, etc, Sadism was 'profit' for them. It was the consumer good that they wanted that money-is-power to buy."

Ahem. This, unfortunately, is dragging good and evil into the mix. As much as we want them to have been, I can't imagine that Hitler or Stalin were sociopaths -- they didn't grab the reins of power so they could murder people. How ridiculous. Instead they viewed the murdering of people as necessary for gaining and keeping power. If Hitler felt that "international Jewry" would have helped him in his fight to control Europe he would have had training camps and not concentration camps.

Needsaname:

I'm with "m" on this -- it's damnably easy to put a cryptographic lock on small arms -- just mechanically restrain the firing pin with a wireless electronically controlled locking mechanism.

M

"Steve" couldn't make the decision to close the borders -- it would have to be done by the controllers who, we would assume, would realize that closing the borders would have a drastic impact on the bottom line (especially with regards to property values and trade).

MM:

I'm still unconvinced that the controllers could be trusted -- there's no feasable mechanism for ousting them -- but I think that the CrypLocks are an excellent way to reduce violence.

They are also an interesting way to ensure that a mass revolt (of citizens armed with non-locked weaponry) would have the element of surprise.

Read about public and private poetry,
Michael (GMP)

May 22, 2008 at 6:11 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

You may as well talk about putting a cryptographic lock on a hammer, so that nobody can drive a nail without government permission.

Ah, good idea, we can control the carpenters, too!

Seriously, I don't see it as technically infeasible at all to put a lock on a gun. It's already been done. There are three very challenging problems for MM to explain here:

(1) how to prevent security forces from altering their guns

(2) how to prevent security forces from mounting a coup before you can turn them off (assumes that their weapons are normally enabled, which seems reasonable to me)

(3) how to prevent the masses from outgunning the security forces, using non-locked guns

(3a) or, alternately, how to get rid of billions of non-locked guns currently in existence

and finally:

(4) how to make sure the security forces will fire on the masses, if they are only mercs.

I think (4) may be the hardest here. The point of loyalty is not just that the security forces don't coup; it's that when a mob rises, they are willing to gun it down. It strikes me that ideological work is still useful in this end, even if you've succeeded in cryplocking every gun, knife, and hammer. Because four men in a mini-mob can still take down Steve, if he's the only guy in the Apple building willing to fight.

May 22, 2008 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

MM: There is no need to argue over whether [the joint-stock company] works. It does.

Actually, what we know is that the joint stock company as a secondary property works. (And even there is has real problems; but let's ignore those.) But there is still a big need to argue that a JSC as a primary property works. So far as I know, it's never been tried, nor anything even remotely like it. At least anarchists have a few "maybe kindas" tucked away in the corners of history.

Consider the following "hack" to a standard JSC: I go to the yearly meeting, and propose the following: the smallest shareholder shall be dispossessed of all shares, his share(s) to be repossessed by the company.

Or this hack: The company shall issue 1 million new shares, unequally: they shall be given to the N owners of the largest blocks of stock, in proportion to their ownership. (Presumably N should be large enough to get to 51%.)

Either way, you can see that the process can iterate, and thus there's a race to dictatorship, all done perfectly above board. Of course, such dealings might violate the corporate charter -- if it was a secondary JSC. But there can be no charter for a primary JSC (there can be a piece of paper, but there's no higher law to enforce it). The only limit on such dealings would be that stockholders, even those in the majority which would benefit, would be afraid to tamper with the Schelling point of "no monkeying with current shares". But that's a rather large thing to hang the security of your government on, don't you think?

Are you thinking of cryptographically controlled shares? I'm not sure about this, but conceivably it would be possible to set up a voting system so that it would be mathematically impossible to create or destroy voting shares. If so, then this problem is solved, given adequate tech.

May 22, 2008 at 7:38 AM  
Blogger AMcGuinn said...

I'm afraid I have to line up with the cryptographic-lock sceptics too. Putting the locks on the guns is easy enough. So is taking them off. I may be out of date here, but I always understood that one of basics of infantry training was taking your gun apart and putting it back together again. Armies have enough issues with the reliability of their firearms without having them clogged up with an X-Box worth of anti-circumvention devices.

May 22, 2008 at 7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moreover, this definition solves a second problem: how do we select the controllers? If our controllers are the parties to whom the profits are actually paid, and their voting power is proportional to the fractions they receive, they have not only a shared definition of responsibility, but an incentive to apply that definition in practice.

So what's to stop the controllers from milking the citizens with massive taxes? That would constitute "profit" for the controllers, would it not?

Which is worth more? California, or California infested by Jew-eating crocodiles? Which can be made to produce more revenue? The former, clearly. Jews pay taxes. Crocodile dung doesn't. And from the perspective of either Steve or the Jews, what is the difference between crocodiles and stormtroopers? At least the former will work for free.

Killing the Juden didn't have to do with profit, but it didn't have to do with "security", either. Killing them did not make Germany richer or safer. So we do have an example of "controllers" who will do sadism neither for money nor safety.

A sensible way to house criminals is to attach them as wards to their revenue streams, but let the criminal himself choose a guardian and switch if he is dissatisfied.

They cannot make good decisions or they would not be in prison in the first place.

Which is why we have the fastest GDP growth rates and the least violence in the history of the world, right?

In spite of, not because of, the government. =)

May 22, 2008 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

MM: Since I'm already writing, I thought I might also share one other concern that I have with your conception of neocameralism. And that is, that I am not sure the secondary JSC maps to a primary one in a second way: that I'm not sure the owners would only be concerned with money.

Money is nice, no doubt, and I would agree that it would remain the primary concern of the owners. But there is also power, which humans like. A secondary JSC doesn't have enough to be worth mentioning, excepting perhaps some historical examples like the India Companies, or -- more to the point -- the Congo Free State.

Consider the following proposition for your exemplary corp: all shareholders with more than 100 shares shall be Knights of Applefornia. All lower ranked citizens must address them as "sir" at all times, under pain of law. Similarly there will be peers (to be addressed as "your highness"), perhaps all shareholders with at least 1000 shares. Perhaps the ranks would be Duke (100000+ shares), Marquess (30000), Earl (10000), Viscount (3000) and Baron (1000).

More ranks could be invented. At the 1000000 share level, perhaps the rank could be "Darth", and owners at that level exempted from the law as it applies to nonshareholders -- allowed to assault or even kill subjects at their whim.

May 22, 2008 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

i think that one of MM's solutions to the problem of corporate power abuses is to prevent shareholders from living in a sovcorp.

May 22, 2008 at 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, it's Mr. Anonymous the First here. Leonard has, uh, hit the nail on the head with #3/3a. It's not that it's technologically infeasible to put a lock on a gun; it's that it's far too simple to defeat. Never mind that there are hundreds of millions (something like 250M in the USA alone) of "legacy" firearms. The problem is that firearms are purely mechanical devices. I used the hammer analogy for a reason; part of the mechanism that makes a firearms go "boom" is called the hammer.

The basic principles of firearm operation have not changed since they were first invented: a hunk of metal, propelled down a tube by expanding gases released by a chemical reaction, flies through the air and hurts you when it hits. In a modern weapon, the unit of ammunition is called a cartridge, and it's a little package containing the hunk of metal (the bullet), the gunpowder to cause the chemical reaction, and a little button called a primer that sparks this reaction when it is struck with enough force. All of this is hooked together by a brass cylinder. Now, how are you going to install a cryptographic locking mechanism on this? Seriously; it doesn't require any prime-number factoring to work. You just gotta hit it hard enough in the right spot.

Ok, ok, you say; it doesn't do any good unless the reaction happens in the tube at the right time, so that the bullet goes where we want. Can't we at least build some kind of mechanism that prevents the hammer from hitting the firing pin that ignites the primer? Sure, you could; but again, we're talking simple mechanical devices here. Even "modern" firearms are really late-19th Century/early-20th Century technology: one of the most popular deer-hunting cartridges is the .30-06 (06 meaning "1906," the year it was invented), and one of the most popular handgun designs is the 1911 (again, guess what the number stands for). Guns can be built in a prison machine shop by half-educated hillbillies. They can be stamped out of sheet metal in seven seconds by Rosie the Riveter. So, how are you going to put an un-removable cryptographic locking system in one?

May 22, 2008 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Dear Darth Anonymous,

The easiest way would be to use guns that don't dismantle. That's not "something besides the firearms of today." A little welding would do the trick.

Since I brought up the "legacy gun" (nice term) vs "official gun" think in the first place, I'll address it a little more:

The problem is not guns but who is using the guns. An armed citizen's group is unlikely to form without government knowledge -- ergo the official guns can be armed and the insurgents dealt with. The ACG is unlikely to pose much of a threat in a well-run sovcorp.

What is much more likely to happen is corruption-by-power of the manager, the military, or a (group of?) controller(s). In this case it is important for the military to only have controllable weapons so that they cannot go off all willy-nilly. In fact, the best idea would be a 3-part PAL system in which the controllers, the manager, and the military (enforcers?) would all have to arm the system in order to take action. Sure, as I said, it might give an ACG a bit of headroom, but the military will always be better trained and equipped.

It doesn't really matter how it's done with guns. I can be done and could work.

Anything bigger than a gun (tank, humvee, plane, bomb, etc.) is pretty easy to lock down.

You could have a problem with the military manufacturing its own weapons but again, this would be a fairly difficult activity to hide, as one would assume no right to privacy within the offices of the sovcorp.

May 22, 2008 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

>>The easiest way would be to use guns that don't dismantle.

Speaking as someone rather less than enthused by expansions of governmental power, please do this.

LOL its clear many of you have little experience with firearms.

But I, for one, am happy to not correct you. Anyone with plans of these sorts should be encouraged in their folly.

May 22, 2008 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Dan Weber said...

The ability to cryptographically lock guns doesn't need to be 100% effective to work. In addition, the government can encourage the demise of "non-approved" guns by distributing and servicing its own guns, free of charge. Tamper-evident is also an easier task than tamper-proof, and knowing that a bunch of guys in the army are trying to remove their gun locks all at once may be sufficient to maintain control.

I feel bad for having typed this and maybe giving someone an idea, but there's no way the gun control crowd would get behind the idea.


But I still don't get how Stevifornia maintains its profit motive. Calgood, remember, isn't interested in money, but rather in feeding the blind and helping the hungry to see. They may decide that it's a good investment of their money to buy up a controlling interest in Stevifornia and pass the same kind of laws that California does today. (This is pretty much the same as the "Hilter saw dead Jews as the consumer good" argument, except that you don't have to assume any kind of evil.)

May 22, 2008 at 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Ivan K said...

About the cryptographically locked guns - I think it can be done, not in a sense of locking every gun out there, but by creating advanced weaponry that outguns standard stuff, but comes with a lock, thus allowing "government officials" to win a fight over those with improvised arms. Now this is a very hard technical problem, but it can be done. Couple this with a program to remove pre-lock guns from circulation, making them substantially more expensive and hard to come by, and you have your answer.
As normal mechanical guns today are already as good as they could ever be, making something more effective will probably require some advanced circuitry, putting cryptographic locks on them might not be that hard to achieve.

May 22, 2008 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Mark-whose-profile-is-private:

Huh? Plans of what sort? What folly? What is your extensive experience with firearms? Do you have a suggestion for how to fix the problem of cryptographically locking small arms?

Another way to solve the problem is to have the patrolling troops only armed with less-lethal weapons and have the regular, unlocked, lethal type cryptlocked.

May 22, 2008 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Not much new this week. No doubt it's been said before, but it's worth saying again: most of the superiority of privately provided services vs. government ones is due to the competitive nature of the marketplace rather than superior management structures. Restaurants tend to give decent service at a decent price because nobody is "locked in" to a particular restaurant so those that provide poor service tend to go out of business. Private companies that have local monopolies (like power companies or cable tv) can often stay in business for quite some time while providing poor service. Most cities used to have privately owned mass transit systems, and although I think they tended to be better run then than before the cities took them over, they weren't so much better that there's a significant push for re-privatizing mass transit.

May 22, 2008 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

George --

I have to concur -- I'm still waiting for MM to fix the problem of moving between sovcorps. The idea that borders will be free is a fine one -- but if you're stuck in a poorly-run sovcorp, how will you get the money to move somewhere else (i.e. who will buy your house, etc)?

-gmp

May 22, 2008 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

if you're stuck in a poorly-run sovcorp, how will you get the money to move somewhere else (i.e. who will buy your house, etc)?

By saving? I mean this is no different than the problem of 'how do I move out of the ghetto' right now. If you're stuck in East Baltimore, yeah, your house probably isn't worth much -- though you are probably renting anyway. (The landlord probably doesn't live there!) But if you can get a good-paying job, you save up and leave anyway. And your savings, you don't hold under the mattress. You send them to high-functioning New York.

I'm not so sure the sovcorps would allow freedom of movement, though. Why should they? If you're on their property, they own you. And it would seem reasonable that they would negotiate with each other to formalize this ownership and support each other with 'runaway subject' laws.

May 22, 2008 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Leonard -- the "if you can get a good paying job" is quite the sticky widget --

I suppose the underlying point of the question is how can the sovcorp method / neocameralism prevent ghettoization?

May 22, 2008 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Depends on how you mean "ghetto", but I am taking it in a modern sense: as a place where welfare cases, indolents, and criminals live, along with an admixture of the working poor.

Certainly each sovcorp does have the financial incentive to prevent itself from being a ghetto. Can all of them succeed? In absolute terms, yes. Sovcorps as such won't have any welfare (they might have some shares owned by welfare groups), and criminals almost certainly not be coddled. Crime is likely to be very low by our standards. Indolence will probably be permitted, but not to the point of living in the streets.

In relative terms (to each other, that is), of course the answer is no. Some must always be richer and some poorer. But I note that there's little reason to think that this difference will affect the subjects much, assuming that the sovcorp itself is working right -- "secure, effective, and responsible". What it affects is the stock price of the sovcorp. Presumably, every sovcorp taxes all subjects more or less similarly, to try to hit the Laffer maximum. So they don't see a better or worse deal anywhere (else, they would move). Similarly, they all offer good law-enforcement, etc. So having a bunch of poor subjects just means that the sovcorp is worth a lot less.

That doesn't mean there would not be some ghettos, if there's 30000 sovcorps. There's always going to be some two and three sigma exceptions: a particular sovcorp has one very large shareholder who is incompetent, and thus, the CEO can run wild, and thus, the provision of effective law goes to pot. People will flee from such a place if they can, causing further losses in its stock price. And if the incompetent big owner does not sell, but even keeps buying, then the problems might persist for quite some time -- a lifetime, even.

A sovcorp run badly enough, though, would just be conquered. Although they would probably have nukes (to deter other sovcorps), nukes are pretty useless against a non-territorial mercenary army. I suspect that sovcorporate raiding would be a constant corrective force. (So much for "world peace", yet again, although it's worth noting that a fundamental part of this kind of warfare would be to convince the sovcorp's security mercs to give up w/o fighting.)

May 22, 2008 at 12:56 PM  
Anonymous M said...

GM, I don't think it's at all unprofitable to close the borders and soak the citizens for all you can get. It does throw away long term profits, but I certainly have a hard time thinking that this would never be better than waiting for the long term to pan out.

You could also use other, more subtle, forms of lock it. It certainly doesn't seem to me that people are any less likely to patronise some mobile phone carrier just because they can't keep their number if they switch providers etc.

If as several commenters have positied it really is impossible to secure small arms MM is in a difficult situation. Ultimately, if you want to stifle the role of public opinion in government you need some sort of unbeatable military advantage along those lines. Perhaps MM should consider more drastic measures, such as a remotely detonatable bomb planted within the skull of all those who enter the country, that explodes upon tampering and is only removed upon exit from the country..? :-)

May 22, 2008 at 1:01 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

California does own a hotel/conference center. See- http://www.visitasilomar.com/default.aspx

It is a great place.

May 22, 2008 at 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a remotely detonatable bomb planted within the skull of all those who enter the country, that explodes upon tampering and is only removed upon exit from the country..?

How about a torc around the neck with explosives in it, that can be detonated remotely by the secret police or whenever the wearer tampers with it.

May 22, 2008 at 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like many here I don't think the locks would work very well for small arms. You can't weld a gun together because then you can't clean it and you can't do field repairs - it would be absurd.

However, many other weapons could be locked. Communication devices could be locked(cut off the disloyal unit's ability to coordinate). GPS and other navigation systems could be locked. War gas weapons could be locked and if needed they could be deployed against the disloyal units. Defensive gear against war gasses could not be locked but detection systems for such gasses could be locked and this would make disloyal units have a hard time knowing if they were in danger. These new "pain ray" things could be locked. Planes could be locked of course(I believe they are today) and I've read somewhere that France remotely destroyed a missile they made that someone attempted to use against them. Radar could be locked and artillery range calculators could be locked. There are new things in the army pipeline such as special suits for the men on the ground that give them augmented vision and monitor vital signs and do other useful things - these could be locked.

I think the locking idea would work well enough to defeat any small arms only rebellion although you'd have to be worried about class breaks and the like.

May 22, 2008 at 1:26 PM  
Anonymous m 1 said...

"Like many here I don't think the locks would work very well for small arms. You can't weld a gun together because then you can't clean it and you can't do field repairs - it would be absurd. "

Seconded. This discussion has devolved firmly into fantasy land (with a little prodding from Mencius). This is getting ridiculous.

May 22, 2008 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

I'd doubt that small arms could be effectively locked down also, but I think it's quibbling over an irrelevant detail. Locking down military vehicles is probably enough to keep the country coup proof. Unrestricted ownership of small arms might even increase the customer base.

May 22, 2008 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Why would you need to do field repairs or clean the guns if you had a fairly large supply? Make cheap, lockable guns that have 50 or 100 or 500 rounds each. When they're done, send them back for retrofitting.

May 22, 2008 at 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

It is quite conceivable that new firearms could be made with locking devices, but what about all the old ones out there? The problem with the cryptographic locking idea is the number of firearms that don't have it which are already in circulation.

I recall before the fall of the old Soviet Union reading an article by Vladimir Bukovsky in which he gave an estimate that some 20 to 30 million unlicensed firearms were in circulation inside the country, many of them battlefield pickups from the Second World War. How this estimate was arrived at, I have no idea, but it is worth bearing in mind that the Soviet Union had strict 'gun control' measures, and internal secret police having vast powers to enforce them, laboring under almost no procedural restraints. Despite these, the country's government was unable to prevent its subject peoples from squirreling-away firearms against some future perceived need. The same will be true of any real-world attempt to limit access to weapons.

Firearms and ammunition are also rather low-tech articles. Functional breech-loading weapons can be made with rudimentary machining capacity. In British India the government of the Raj was confronted with tribesmen who made reasonably working fascimiles of the Lee-Enfield rifle. Steel for barrels and actions was obtained by tearing up railroad tracks. Ammunition was loaded with chopped-up nitrate film stock stolen from the cinemas, in lieu of cordite. Bullets are easily cast or swaged. The primer is the most difficult part of a round of ammunition to produce on a cottage-industry scale, but even this can be done by the determined. Composition scraped from match heads has been used. In any event, such techniques begin to be of concern only after the billions of rounds of perfectly good industrially-produced ammunition in circulation have been exhausted.

The only ways history has shown that insurgencies can be defeated is by superior force or superior technology, ideally in tandem. If the ability to fight of a high-tech armed force combating an insurgency were to be limited by someone's ability to turn their weapons off by remote control, I should think that would be to the insurgents' advantage, rather than otherwise, since they would be operating under no comparable limitation.

May 22, 2008 at 3:28 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

GMP
>>Mark-whose-profile-is-private:

What possible good would a profile do for you in making any determinations whatsoever? It could be any of several nom de blogs invented for whatever purposes I cared to dream up. Instead of this, lets simply argue common sense, or not at all.

Huh? Plans of what sort? What folly? What is your extensive experience with firearms? Do you have a suggestion for how to fix the problem of cryptographically locking small arms?

Ignoring the biographical [which cannot convince, surely] the folly is the plan itself, namely, the notion to place 'cryptographic locks' upon small arms. As others have noted it is a side issue, yet the problem becomes evident when one reflects on essential differences between the digital and the merely mechanical.

Its entirely possible for MMs ideas to come to fruition but it will only become so once arms like the Glock-21 are as ancient and superseded to contemporaries as flintlocks are to us, replaced by digital arms, which is what Heather seems to be after.

May 22, 2008 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger James said...

MM,

Anon at 1:26 has a remarkable idea. Using cryptolocks for simple weapons is impossible. Besides, is it a good idea to disarm the population completely? The state does need a monopoly on violence, but I can't wait for the police to show up when someone is breaking into my house now. You are talking gun control which works about as well as drug control. No effectiveness there. Advanced weapons, the ones that give the military the advantage over the people in your thinking, can be and probably should be cryptolocked.
If the military attempts a coup then the government can turn off the advanced stuff, and give the people a fighting chance. Of course that assumes the people were interested in keeping the government anyway.
I'm starting to see the disadvantages of divided government, but I still think the concept of checks and balances is valid. You can have one man in charge, but the devil is finding a way to fairly check that persons power when necessary.
A few posts back you broke down the relationship between the government and its citizens into three parts: rights, obligations, and trusts. What seems to be missing from this discussion of Applefornia is in order to attract talented people and business you would need the rule of law and rights for the people. Any sovcorp worth its salt would have a bill of rights. Rights, especially in the form of negative rights, is a check on government power. You know that social contract thing, or am I being idealistic?
Government without politics. I like that. I think it is the ideal. So are you trying to engineer a system that will bring us closer to that ideal?

May 22, 2008 at 6:18 PM  
Anonymous Matt Simpson said...

"In any case: not only do we not live in a world of good government, we live in a world of disastrously bad government. If the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds some fresher hell for us."

Whoa...slipping into the nirvana fallacy there. Our governments are disastrously bad relative to what? Perfection? Sure, but who cares. Considering the level of prosperity that Western civilization is achieving now relative to other periods, our governments look pretty good, if imperfect.

Like Kling, I have a problem with formalizing all governments into corporations. I think you are attacking the symptom rather than the disease. If we imagine a world full of formalized governments, it isn't difficult to imagine heinous dictatorships where the CEO finds it profitable to (quite literally) wall everyone in, increase taxes to a very high level, and then use force to guard the wall and collect taxes. Dead people don't pay taxes, sure, but a few examples go a long way toward quelling dissent.

The actual problem is a lack of competition in which the consumer of government services can leave the jurisdiction of their respective government quickly, cheaply, and easily. Solve that problem and government structures will improve. Note that Dubai, one of your favorite examples, is a city state attempting to be the financial capital of the world. Competition seems to be the driving force there.

May 22, 2008 at 8:22 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Matt-

The governments of 20th century were awful compared to pretty much any other century of the millenia.

How government orchestrated genocides were there in the 1800's? How many total wars where conscript armies marched into certain death?

Yes it was prosperous, but that's do to the continuance of exponential technological growth already started in previous centuries.

The past 30 years have been a lot better - although very stagnant compared to the 1700's or 1800's.

May 22, 2008 at 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

I'm not sold on cryptographic locks on small arms, but I don't see that as vital to the plan.

I imagine a three tier system:

1) Local police who have ordinary hand guns.

2) An elite, mercenary guard. The bulk of the soldiers would be called in from abroad when needed to quell a revolt, and they would be paid directly by a corporate shareholder account. They would be given cryptographic heavy weapons ( tanks, hellicopters, predators).

3) A defense only force - fighter plans, cruise missles, nuclear subs, anti-aircraft missiles - all that would be cryptographically locked.

I think the weapons would have to be unlocked by the shareholders, not just the board of directors. Else, it would seem the board of directors would have an incentive to game the system.


One question I have is, how would the weapons get unlocked/locked? How you prevent someone from jamming the radio signals?

The trick is there is a two tier system of security. One is cryptographic locks, the second is money. You would bring in a mercenary army just big enough to quell any rebellion. If they broke their locks and defected, the shareholders could hire a bigger army to defeat the first army.

May 22, 2008 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Here's a different idea for how to secure primary property: a doomsday device. The corp does not need to bother with an army much. Instead, set up nuclear devices in its own territory, with potential blast zones covering all areas of substantial value. (Mainly cities, but anywhere else with value, too.) Each bomb would be completely encased in thick concrete armor, and around that barbed wire, guards, etc. to make access difficult at best, and any quick access impossible. Wires run in through the concrete shell, and there's a backup system based on long-wavelength radio or whatnot. The bombs are set up with cryptographically controlled triggers, like modern nukes are.

Each corp would publicize the existence of its doomsday devices, and threaten to set them off if it is ever dispossessed of its territory by coup, war, mob action, or any other means.

It's a sort of nuclear poison pill.

May 22, 2008 at 10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, leonard, that's going to be a popular selling point - "Come live and work on top of our big giant nuke! No area of value left untouched, or your money back!"

May 22, 2008 at 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Matt Simpson said...

Patrick:

I think we need to be careful not to lump all governments together. Some were terrible. Some did quite well, even if they didn't quite live up to Mencius' favorite governments of yesteryear. Maintaining economic growth doesn't sound like a disaster. It probably could have been better, but that's nothing compared to actual disasters such as Stalin and Mao. The 20th century is really more of a mixed bag with a few really rotten turds dragging the averages down.

May 23, 2008 at 12:56 AM  
Anonymous sdurkin said...

Palmer: "As much as we want them to have been, I can't imagine that Hitler or Stalin were sociopaths -- they didn't grab the reins of power so they could murder people. How ridiculous."

Oh, wow, no. Hitler really was a murdering psychopath. Read his original works, examine his international relations policy during the war (Why did he invade Russia? Why?), specifically examine the criteria he used to make decisions.

From a realist point of view, it made zero sense for Hitler to invade Russia. He knew, he admitted it, his generals told him. Yet he did it anyway, to get his "living room" and to stamp out the jews.

Do you know why Hitler was so unafraid of America entering the war against him? All his generals said the key to victory was an alliance with the Americans. He thought we were a racially inferior people. He stated that could not fear a state that had become a "half-Jewified and half-Negrofied land of racial mongrelization." Genocide wasn't a tool for him. It was his endgame.

May 23, 2008 at 3:39 AM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

sdurkin, you gotta read the comments section of the previous post, in which it is asserted that Hitler's "original works" were a good reason for America to stand aside and let him do his thing.

May 23, 2008 at 5:18 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Mark -- my apologies -- I meant by the name comment that I try to read the blogs of the commenters here and if'n you had a blog, I'd read it. Heather was me quick posting on my home computer. I didn't realize that my wife's name was on the post until you said something (and now I know how the hyperlinked name-thing works in blogger).

At any rate -- I prefer the ideas that Anon1:26 et al have put forward -- that of locking the big arms and not the small arms -- easier and likely more sensical. I still stand by the fact that one could cryptographically lock small arms but it might just be too damn expensive/disruptive to try.

Sdurkin --
My best guess is that Hitler invaded the USSR in order to get the democracies on his side. German soldiers were fairly amazed when their offers to help the conquering American soldiers fight on against the Commies were turned down. My second best guess was that Hitler was a bad war planner with way too much control over what his military did (*cough cough*bush*cough cough*).

I was thinking about the actual testing of neocameralism (or whatever word MM will coin eventually) -- where could it be done? Not in America, obviously, at least not without some serious uphevals. But perhaps an aboriginal semi-autonomous tribe somewhere? Haiti? Some other banana republic? They're always in an unstable state and prone to influence. . .

So where does one get 1) the money, 2) the money, and 3) the money to try this thing out?

Or is this safer in the realm of anonymous internet speculation?

Peas,
Miguel

May 23, 2008 at 5:53 AM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

"My best guess is that Hitler invaded the USSR in order to get the democracies on his side."

Nah. He wanted to crush the USSR in order to build a continental power base in order to fight the democracies, not be buddies with them.

May 23, 2008 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Sure, eventually. Everyone knows Hitler was a backstabber. But I think he thought he could get England and America to fight with him against the USSR and then he could take over/use them as puppet states once the Ruskies were defeated. But this is getting way too Godwinny. . . :)

M

May 23, 2008 at 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

Nah, not eventually, right then in the 1940s. The most he hoped for from Britain and America in 1941 is that they'd stand aside while he crushed the USSR, and he knew that even that was a long shot (I view the Hess mission as a last-ditch effort to get peace with Britain before Barbarossa). But even as he was preparing for Barbarossa, he was also preparing for global air/sea warfare against Britain and America. He didn't have any hope of active cooperation against the USSR from states that were, after all, controlled by "world jewry".

May 23, 2008 at 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

G.M. Palmer-

I might need to have my head checked, because the other day I was actually using Google Earth and Wikipedia to research places where neocarmelism could be tried.

The top choice would be a post-Castro Cuba. I'd imagine that a group of international investors would be able to buy out the leadership, and then set up a low tax, low regulation haven for American high-tech businesses. It would be very, very profitable.

The second best choice would be a special economic zone in Baja California. This is politically tougher, but the Mexican oligarchs could make a lot of money off of it.

The cheapest country in the world to buy would be Gambia. I'm guessing you could buy it for under $50 million.

Haiti and Guyana would be other cost effective states to try it out. I'm wondering if you'd have to buy the entire country, or could purchase rights to a special economic zone within the country.

The final possibility is a US State. If politics continue to polarize, it's not impossible to imagine a coalition of the far-left and far-right getting an amendment to the constitution passed allowing state secession. Certainly a remote possibility at the moment, but it's starting to become thinkable again.


As for the money, know any real estate billionaires or hedge fund managers? On the other hand, if Ron Paul raised $35 million over the Internet, perhaps someday the Neocarmelist Colony Corporation could too. I'd buy a few grand worth of shares.

May 23, 2008 at 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Lawful Neutral said...

Oh yeah, neocameralist Gambia! That'll work out well, I'm sure. Remind me, what color are the shareholders going to be? And the sla - I mean serfs - I mean residents? An untested theory of government applied by outsiders to a dirt-poor backwater, and vehemently opposed by the entire world... Let me get my checkbook.

Why can't we be more realistic like the libertarians and just do it on a giant man-made island, or in orbit, or something?

If MM's going to be the Confucius of the 21st Century, you'll just have to wait for democracy to implode and pick up the pieces.

May 24, 2008 at 2:25 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

MM the Confucius of the 21st Century?

Oh, my. Listen to the warnings MM himself gives us: He would be a very bad choice for anything of the sort.

MM is doing a bang-up job of diagnosing the problems up-front, I'll admit. I've been following the blog for some time now, and find this series to have been excellent.

Right up until he proscribes solutions. Its very well thought out and logical, true, like Marxism was. Maybe the error is to discount the agency of others, human nature, the populace, etc.

The issue of cryptographic locks on small arms strikes me as an example in microcosm of the error. It seems an elegant solution, but doesn't it replace the surety of loyalty - a tradition with spillover benefit to one's society at large - with distrust?

The entertainment value is high, so I don't complain of it too strongly.

May 24, 2008 at 5:16 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

2 mark:

+1

May 24, 2008 at 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Lawful Neutral-

It's easy to criticize a potential neocarmelist state in Africa. But the average life expectancy in Africa has dropped by 15 years in the past few decades. Is that absurd to attempt a new solution in one small country? Do you have any better ideas?

May 24, 2008 at 1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick, it's neocameralist / -ism, not neocarmelist / -ism. You're making me think of the nuns. =)

Frankly a better idea than neocameralism for Gambia would be returning Gambia to British colonial control.

May 24, 2008 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger Reginald said...

Competition Creates Good Managers: Apple's products are only relatively good because Apple's shareholders are enriched when their products are overall better, and obviously impoverished when they are overall worse. A market process of elimination produces good companies/managers. A sovereign State has no competition, and regardless of management will not produce an overall better product. Why? The State has no need to because it survives on taxation - income that is earned regardless of performance in most situations. Only when taxation becomes extreme on a psychological level will this income disappear. Market competition is a lot faster because income is derived from voluntary transactions - not involuntary taxation.

May 24, 2008 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Reginald, there's two responses to that. First, MM imagines a world patchwork of 30000 small states, so there would be competition for customers insofar as the states cannot prevent them from moving around. Whether or not they would (and could) is of some question, but it's generally hard to stop people from moving the nearer a border is.

Second, the criticisms you make apply just as much to the current world of the nation-state, but in addition there are many other reasons above and beyond "competition" that these states ought to (and do) produce poor service. MM holds that current states tax at more or less the Laffer maximum, and I agree on that. They channel something like 50% of GDP. A neocameral state ala MM would do the same. The difference is not how much the wealth-producing subjects get to take home; rather, it is in how much of the state's share is spent on unproductive, or even negatively-productive activities. In the neocameral state, almost all taxes are paid out as dividends, and thus are all channeled back into productive uses. And the state itself has no tolerance for criminals other than those directly in state employ (a small number). Whereas, in the advanced-stage democratic state, there is deep derangement both in the content of the law, and also in terms of spending vast sums on valueless or negative-value things.

Promiscuous warfare is one example: building bombs by itself is essentially zero production, so long as they are dropped elsewhere; but in making millions of enemies where we don't need to, we create all sorts of costs (for security, and in property and lives lost i.e. at the WTC) that are absolutely unnecessary.

Welfare is another example. When you subsidize anything, you get more of it. Thus to make a welfare system which works, you must make it deeply unpleasant in non-monetary ways to be in, enough so to counteract the pleasantness of getting free money without work. In short, you need to make it a job, slightly less pleasant than whatever real jobs are on offer. We have not done that for obvious political reasons; hence, we get much of it.

But it is derangement of the law, both in terms of its content and its lax (or nonexistent) enforcement, that would probably be the biggest difference between a neocameral state and the degenerate nation-state. In our time all sorts of things are against the law, creating vast waste in all sorts of ways. Armies of lawyers keeping each other employed. Similarly the law is not enforced stringently, which, combined with the existence of welfare has resulted in the de-facto surrender of the inner cities to criminals, leaving to vast destruction of wealth. MMs sovcorps would not be resigned to this, and would happily implement whatever mean were necessary to regain control. I can think of many such measures, some more or less humane, and many, not. All of them, however, require violation of one or more key progressive tenets, for example, that the state should not punish innocent people for the crimes of their relatives. That the state should not racially profile. That the state should not require all subjects of good character to go armed at all times. That the state should implement strict internal and external borders and regulate movement, to deny freedom of movement to criminals (and everyone who lives near them). That the state should not stop and search, nor search without a warrant.

If you think about the means above, I'm sure you could imagine a much more stringent and effective regime of law-enforcement that currently obtains in the inner city. And I'm sure whatever you come up with, would be anathema to any modern goodthinking whiterperson.

May 25, 2008 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Patrick, I think you are missing the point. For a small country to exist at all in today's world it must be tolerated by the powerful countries, and for it to be at all prosperous it will need to engage in quite a lot of foreign trade. A neocameralist state in Africa would almost certainly be embargoed by the major western powers and might even be invaded.

May 25, 2008 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Why did such nonsense prosper?
Because people are idiots and nonsense appeals to them. You don't need to come up with conspiracy theories.

It certainly allows me to post my seditious blasphemies - for now.
DUN DUN DUNNNN!

This is a bit short for a UR post, but parenting is a bit of a time sink
May we all thank God for small miracles. Get it? Yes, that was awful.

It also makes you a social pariah, unless most of your neighbors are named "Earl."
Last I checked, there are more conservatives than liberals in the U.S. I don't think either are pariahs (polarization is greatly overhyped), but if anything the latter is more likely to be unpopular.

The subjective approach asks whether the government catches mice. It does not ask who the government's personnel are, or how they are selected, or how they are managed
So I guess you're not a procedure obsessed rule-utilitarian.

But if I saw a McDonalds next to a Calmeat, Mickey would be my man
But if McDonalds was good at providing a monopoly on violence, Calmeat would be sending taxes Ray Kroc's way rather than McDonalds paying Uncle Sam. They are two very different activities which different organizations specialize in.

we live in a world of disastrously bad government
Compared to what? [Note to readers, the link there is a direct response to OL6 at Distributed Republic] Our country is pretty damn nice, that's why so many immigrants try to get in. Few space aliens do.

The only secret is that there is no secret
Except that there has never been a government in history that did not royally suck.

Effectiveness is the ability to accomplish what you're trying to do
Who is the "you" in "you're"? If it's the people in charge of government I DON'T WANT THEM TO BE EFFECTIVE! Hooray for corruption in general and in cops in particular!

We know one simple way: find the right person, and put him or her in charge
Now you're already wrong. There is no right person to govern. No philosopher king has ever lived up to Plato's promise. My dog would do a better job on the throne than any of them for the mere fact that it can't speak English to issue any commands.

and in the nonprofit world that opposes it
I believe there are non-profit organizations whose purpose is to help found profit-making corporations, so they aren't actually opposed.

and either has a new way to succeed: making the other fail
When those people are in government, that's a good thing.

So: the modern aversion to individual management cannot be motivated by effectiveness
Funny enough, there are some who are convinced that it cannot be adopted for its profit-making powers and instead fulfills the hunger for power over employees among managers!

As none other than Woodrow Wilson put it, in 1885
I don't want to sound like one of those What Would Hitler Oppose, but if Wilson suggested something I would be inclined to do the opposite. The man was wrong about every damn thing.

Wilson himself, of course, had a great deal of undivided power
So haven't you learned your lesson!?

We think of Hitler, not of Frederick the Great
I would not risk even a small chance of getting the former in exchange for otherwise getting the latter. The risk of getting a fantastically bad absolute ruler outweighs any small benefits of any of the relatively decent ones. One person who actually does take seriously the idea that you can have good or bad absolute rulers who may do different things with their "discretionary" power is Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. One thing of particular interest he discusses here is the difference between King Leopold's rule of Belgium and the Congo. He was owner of the Congo Free State and had no restrictions on his rule over it. He made it a hellhole. In comparison, despite being a monarch he faced a lot of restrictions in his rule over Belgium and the country flourished under him. I pointed out that example to you before and I would like you to seriously discuss it.

I don't think there is any debate about it. The world's best CEO is Steve Jobs.
Why not Bill Gates or Warren Buffet? They've done a better job in the marketplace of making money. Even many Apple fans who love Steve for starting the company think he never should have returned to it.

Which would you rather live in: California as it is today, or Applefornia?
The latter is completely imaginary. You don't know which you'd prefer and the possibility of it occuring is so law we'd have to live in a universe so different we could hardly make any inferences about it with any confidence.

Assuming a government is responsible and secure
Why not give everyone a pony and repeal the second law of thermodynamics while you're at it.

Apple itself, like all public corporations in the modern system
A system you have dismissed earlier as warped by the regulatory New Deal State which would be completely different in Fnargland or whatever.

Actually, there's one way to do it. We can define responsibility in financial terms.
You're assuming away the problem of disagreement. Even self-described libertarian CEOs like John Mackey and T. J. Rogers can't agree on corporate social responsibility. Think hippy-dippies like Jobs will invariably steer clear of it? Your arch-enemy, the New York Times is a publicly traded company, though its chairman (Arthur Sulzberger) is better known than its President & CEO (Janet Robinson).

Logrolling allows the coalition to micromanage: more funding for the threatened Mojave alligator mouse
Better many bits of pork than a giant centrally planned boondoogle at the national level. Jim Henley plays devil's advocate and gives the libertarian case for pork here.

We have, of course, reinvented the joint-stock company
Speaking of which see Kevin Carson argue against the concept when defended by Alex Tabarrok here and the Mises blog's Bard Edmonds here.

Will it catch mice for us? Or will it flay us, and hang us out to dry, etc?
Most certainly the latter.

As a progressive, you consider undivided government ("dictatorship") the root of all evil
I would think the movers and shakers of the Progressive Era were the ones most amenable to the concept. Wilson being a case in point.

Perhaps if the restaurant is a small cooperative run by people who really love food, it will continue to shine. California is not a small anything, and my own interactions with its employees have revealed no such passion.
Than why not make the country tiny? That was part of your earlier proposal for neo-cameralism. I support that plank because I fear my government and want to make it as small and weak as possible. If that makes me paranoid, then go ahead and call me paranoid. Also, I think progressives deep down want the State to be like a family, which gives according to need and takes according to ability.

It will torment and abuse its residents for no reason at all
Or it will wrench every ounce of slave labor it can, letting you die when you are no longer useful. See either Leopold's Congo, Stalin's gulag, untermenschen under the Nazis and modern day North Korea (which apparently still has some western fans).

Sadism was not profitable for Hitler
Have you heard of Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State?

Stalin didn't kill all those Old Bolsheviks because they had bad breath or had made passes at his wife
I bet a number did die for such reasons. If you've got the power, why not?

We will not be reproducing this element
Oh, sure you won't. As if nobody who presented such grand plans for the future didn't declaim all past abuses and assure that they would not be repeated.

And indeed, today's governments do many good works
Name a few.

And dependents are persons large or small, young or old, who are not responsible but need to be cared for anyway.
Let them care for themselves. None of Stevifornia's business.

He or she surrenders his or her personal independence to some guardian authority
When does that surrender take place? Is it actually voluntary?

Most criminals are mentally competent
I suppose it depends on where you set the bar. There are some pretty freaking dumb ones.

let the criminal himself choose a guardian and switch if he is dissatisfied
Won't they just pick their gang-leader?

I suspect that most criminals would prefer a very different kind of facility than those in which they are housed at present. I also suspect that there are much more efficient ways to make criminal labor pay its own keep.
Keith Preston has some suggestions on that issue here.

Arnold Kling
Speaking of him, he responds to OL5 here.

Steve, for instance, is entirely indifferent to the opinions of Stevifornians
I doubt it. I bet if you started arguing with him he'd reciprocate rather than ignore you (this is assuming he's aware of you, not just because you have nasty things to say about the MacBook on some insignificant blog).

If nothing quite like a neocameralist government has ever existed in history
Then it is unlikely ever to exist. Wasn't it you who said Aristotle was familiar with every form of government we are?

How does Steve remain in power if a million Stevifornians storm the presidential palace, and the guards side with the crowd and turn their guns around?
Or they could just ignore the mob, as the Lebanese army has done in recent clashes in Beirut between Hezbollah and pro-government militias.

Once the world has cryptographically secure government, it will wonder how it ever lived without it
Why doesn't it exist already? Are you the only person aware of this? Wouldn't Kim Jong Il love to have this? If he can afford nukes, why not this?

The US Army could take over Washington tomorrow, if it wanted to
Some Freikorps were able to take over Weimar Berlin and the Reichswehr ignored them but they could not hold it when there was a general strike.

All government weapons - not just nukes, but everything right down to small arms - are inoperable without code authorization
Not all weapons work like nukes. I don't know how a melee weapon can be rendered inoperable, and mechanical ones can always be rejiggered (as is the case with automatic weapons reconfigured to be single-shot). Finally, as long as troops elect not to fire on the mob, the mob can still overthrow the government. Heck, the President's security could simply drop their weapons and put him in a choke-hold and force him to hand over the codes for the nukes.

There is simply no way for anyone outside Apple to influence Apple's decision process by the use of force
Of course there is! If that someone is the government, they do so routinely.

What Whigs call absolute monarchy (and non-Whigs just call monarchy)
Wrong, the Sun King was a new appearance in Europe, used to the decentralized feudal system. This long trend of centralization was made possible by technological advances. The non-absolute monarchs that preceded him were still monarchs, they just had very little authority over the nobility below them that looked over local affairs.

But if we imagine a world in which the revolutions and civil wars of the last four centuries had never happened
Since those did often occur under the monarchies considered "absolute" but were less common in "parliamentary" England and America, that doesn't say much for absolute monarchy.

If I hadn't been otherwise occuppied I would have commented earlier, but I am, and that is why I won't be getting to other comments people have left. But I highly encourage them to check out the Bruce Bueno de Mesquita podcasts as they seem to be analyzing the same problem that MM does and from a rather similar non-idealist perspective.

May 25, 2008 at 5:59 PM  
Anonymous Lawful Neutral said...

Patrick -

A neocameralist state in Africa might work better than the status quo, or it might not. Either way, George Weinberg's right: there's no way in hell the rest of the world would let it happen.

As a matter of fact, I do have a better idea. I'll take my money and invest it elsewhere, or maybe I'll just bury it in a coffee can in the back yard. I'd be hard pressed to find a worse investment than buying Gambia. As for the Africans, they'll have to take care of themselves, or if my conscience is really bugging me (unlikely, but possible), I'll make a little contribution to Oxfam or something.

May 25, 2008 at 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

George & Lawful Neutral

You're probably right about the impractiability. There might be various ways of making it politically digestible to the West, but it would be very difficult.

I was just reading World on Fire yesterday by Amy Chua. It's interesting that most states in the world seem to be gravitating between two governments:

1) A corrupt plutarchy sponsored by an ethnic minority that controls most of the wealth. Examples: Burma, which is run by a Junta supported by ethnic Chinese businessmen. Bolivia, run by the wealth, fair skinned minority. The Gambia - run by the Lebanese.

2) Mob rule/dictatorship of the majority ethnicity. Examples: Venezuala, Zimbabwe, Indonesia.

It seems that the ethnic minority is very good at acquiring wealth. Democratic demagougues then rouse the population by blaming the minorities for the destitution of the majority. The majority rises up and the result is ugly mob rule.


It seems like 1), the plutarchy, is fairly close to neocarmelism. It does not seem to be working very well. Rather than investing in the human capital of the population as the road to riches, the government and corporations use the majority as manual labor for cash crops and resource plundering. Unfortunately, mob rule by the majority appears to be even worse. I haven't read such a depressing book in quite some time.

May 25, 2008 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

I have dubbed my new ideology "neocaramelism", based on the fact that saut´eing onions can convert an unpleasant, acrid, tear-producing vegetable into something sweet and delicious. In a similar fashion, by applying oil and gentle heat to oppressive governments we can convert them into instruments of sweet, sweet liberty. Or something like that, details tbd.

May 26, 2008 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Patrick -- post-Castro Cuba is the best shot.

May 26, 2008 at 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, Cuba is the best place to establish a neocameralist paradise! You'll have 11 million proto-libertarians who will be wide open to the idea of running a country as a profitable corporation. What could go wrong with such excellent human capital?

May 28, 2008 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Jeez.

You'll have 11 million people who would like a government that works, keeps them safe, and lets them do whatever they want.

It's the best shot because it's close enough to keep an eye on, tons of people want to move there and troops can't march on it without coming by sea or air (i.e. easily defensable).

May 28, 2008 at 7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You cannot possibly demonstrate that the entire population of Cuba, or even a significant fraction of it, wants a government of this sort. I doubt you could find 11 million people in the entire United States who would agree to live under this form of government. There aren't even a million Libertarians in a country of 300 million, so it is not immediately obvious at all that a lot of people really desire a "government that lets people do whatever they want."

May 28, 2008 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Okay needs-a-name:

First of all it doesn't really matter what 11 million Cubans think. Let's look at America for starters:

The greatest number of Americans that matter has been around 33% of the population (more or less -- see here). That is, 100 million. So it follows that it only matters what 3 or 4million Cubans think. Take into account majority politics and you're only talking 1.5-2 million of the buggers.

So leave your price-taggery at the door, Smithers.

Secondly, do you mean card-carrying Libertarians or people who believe in libertarian ideals (a government that governs least?). If you mean the first, Smithers, you are a moron. If you mean the second, you can't count.

And, please, find me a significant percentage of the American population who do not prefer to live in a government that will ensure their safety from enemies foreign and domestic while ensuring their liberty and tranquility and I will gladly arrange for those folks' transportation elsewhere.

May 28, 2008 at 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all it doesn't really matter what 11 million Cubans think.

It doesn't matter what the people who are actually going to live under your proposed system of government think about that system of government? And the system of government they have been living under for nearly 50 years has no influence on the potential for success of the proposed new scheme of government? Hmmmmm. Seems to me that we can point today to an excellent example of a country that formerly lived under a vicious dictatorship but did not, in fact, transform itself into a prosperous democracy with a pinch of libertarian pixie dust and the help of a few Marines. What reason do we have to believe Cuba would be different? Oh, right, people everywhere yearn for freedom, yadda yadda yadda.

The greatest number of Americans that matter has been around 33% of the population (more or less -- see here). That is, 100 million. So it follows that it only matters what 3 or 4million Cubans think. Take into account majority politics and you're only talking 1.5-2 million of the buggers.

People who vote in Presidential elections are the only people who "matter"? How do those figures you linked to demonstrate that 33% of all Americans (or indeed, any Americans whatsoever) would be willing to live under the type of regime proposed here (neocameralist)?

The rate of voter participation in US presidential elections proves exactly nothing about how many Cubans would vote in a generally free election, let alone whether they would agree to live under a neocameralist regime.

So leave your price-taggery at the door, Smithers.

Logic is not your strong point.

Secondly, do you mean card-carrying Libertarians or people who believe in libertarian ideals (a government that governs least?). If you mean the first, Smithers, you are a moron. If you mean the second, you can't count.

Take your pick. When you say, "people who would like a government that works, keeps them safe, and lets them do whatever they want", you are describing people who endorse libertarian ideals and also people who vote Libertarian. The latter group is a reasonably good proxy for would-be neocameralists in the American population. There ain't a lot of 'em, seems to me. Also seems to me that a lot of people agree with the theory of "liberty" but are also happy to accept whatever government largesse might be offered. So ideals and reality are usually at odds.

And, please, find me a significant percentage of the American population who do not prefer to live in a government that will ensure their safety from enemies foreign and domestic while ensuring their liberty and tranquility and I will gladly arrange for those folks' transportation elsewhere.

I bet you would find a significant percentage of Americans think they already have such a government when it is defined in such broad and vague terms. It's when you get into the details of defining "liberty" and "tranquility" that you'd get into trouble. Fact is, right now, most Americans want a government that does things for them and to other people. Hardly any Americans want a government that "lets everyone do whatever they want" in the sense you mean it.

May 28, 2008 at 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Gallup: 50 million Libertarians in U.S."

Haw. That tells me nothing. How were the questions phrased? You have to dig into their attitudes about what they want the government to do, or not do, before you know whether they are serious about being libertarians or not.

May 28, 2008 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Sigh.

First of all, grow a sense of humor.

Secondly, if you are discussing radically altering a population's form of government, as I believe we were, the only people that matter are the people who care.

In America, it seems that only 33% of us care enough to take half an hour out of one day every four years. I would wager that the other 66% (or say 50% if you think about the fact that a lot of the non-voting population is underage) wouldn't give a flying fark if W declared Martial law tomorrow as long as Dr. Phil was still on. The situation is the same in many, if not most, places (lugo -- that's why someone like Hitler can take power -- half or so of the people just don't give a shit).

And I bet all of those who lock their doors and all of those who cringe in fear at the idea of Cornerman or sending their kids off to school or whatever-irrational-fear-Homeland-Security-and-the-local-news-have-foisted-off-this-week feel like their gubmint is just providing them with scads of safety.

More to the point, why do you read this blog?

May 28, 2008 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...


In America, it seems that only 33% of us care enough to take half an hour out of one day every four years.


I suspect that many non-voters would vote if there were a more substantial difference between the candidates. But there are reasons beyond apathy for not voting, I give my thoughts on voting here.

May 28, 2008 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

One of the problems noted was that sovereign States have no competitors. I realize that MM is postulating many smaller States as a possible remedy, but has anyone considered a more direct route to competition?

For example, denominating which existent State one pays taxes to?

If I like Vaclav Klaus' public stand on Global Warming, why not pay taxes to Czechoslovakia for that year in lieu of the US?

May 28, 2008 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

BTW, I think it's a mistake to talk about Mencius's ideas as if they were likely to be implemented in the real world in the near future. As far as I'm concerned, this is all just philosophical speculation.

That being said, I think if one of today's more brutal despots could equip his country's weapon systems with the kind of cryptographic controls Mencius describes and then "sell out", the new "owners" of the country wouldn't find it too hard to maintain control. The soldiers would obey the new owners since 1) they could make more money as soldiers than they could in other employment and 2) they couldn't effectively work as soldiers for anyone else since if they tried to their weapons wouldn't work. The populace probably wouldn't be too unhappy since the new regime would almost have to be an improvement over the brutal despotism it was replacing.

It occurs to me that if Mencius's theories are correct, even without neocameralism if the dictators of the world could "coup-proof" the weapons of their countries the dictators would automatically become less brutal and more willing to invest in their countries because they would be relatively certain of maintaining control.

May 28, 2008 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

George --

And yet you say it's all speculation. . .

sewiously, you guys -- what's the point of sitting around and talking about why and what if we don't talk about where, when, and how?

May 28, 2008 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

George is on the right track here. You have to find a reasonable way for a particular social system to evolve, or else it is of merely theoretical interest.

Neocameralism seems practical to me, in that sense. I.e., crypweaps evolve, and dictactors start using them, leading to unstoppable, iron dictatorships... which then age and evolve. Perhaps a dictator has a few kids and wants to leave it all to them but without giving them incentive to kill off each other. So he arranges a corp with transferrable shares, etc., but somehow avoid the corp gov problems which many of us have repeatedly dinged MM on (his refusal to engage is, I am sure, not intellectual cowardice but rather fatherhood).

Now, I take this thing further than MM does... because I can see that the neocameral state itself, can evolve. It will evolve towards minarchism, to the extent that its shares can be gradually bought up and/or given to charitable organizations dedicated to freeing the population from taxation. Then minarchism can extend to its logical conclusion, anarchocapitalism. And since that's my preferred politics, this whole thing is fairly exciting to me.

I've sometimes woefully described AC as like an arch: stable if you can get it going, but very unlikely to spring into existence in any way. In fact I had rather given up on thinking about that, because there simply is no way that AC can evolve out of democracy, not directly. But now I think there is a path, as described above:
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It's a long road.

May 28, 2008 at 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Call me crazy, but I think this debate is more than just philosophical speculation.

If MM is right, the oligarchs or dictators in charge of various states ( like Cuba ) could make a lot of money by adopting neocamelism. A new breed of venture capitalists who invested in SovCorps could also make a lot of money. When incentives align, and there is money to be made, things have a way of happening.


I also think that there is a non-zero chance that WashCorp4 collapses, or has a major crisis, within the half-century. If that happens, political change will not be a choice, it will be forced upon us, and we'd be wise to understand why WashCorp4 went wrong, and how it might be fixed in the future.

May 28, 2008 at 8:19 PM  
Blogger Mitchell said...

"Brahmins... why did it have to be Brahmins?" - Indiana Jones and the Lost Theory of Government

May 29, 2008 at 1:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

has anyone considered a more direct route to competition? For example, denominating which existent State one pays taxes to?

Um, I pay taxes to Washington and Richmond because they make me. I could pay taxes to Prague if I wanted, I guess, but Washington would still take its cut up front.

If MM is right, the oligarchs or dictators in charge of various states ( like Cuba ) could make a lot of money by adopting neocamelism.

The dictators in charge of Cuba and the like already have all the money they need, and all the money they could possibly use. Being dictator is better than being rich - you can obtain by fiat all the things that money can buy (plus you can keep a hefty stash in offshore accounts for emergencies). Why should they risk what they have for some risky new political scheme when the existing scheme works perfectly for them?

May 29, 2008 at 7:30 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Because it could easily legitimate their power. We don't hate Cuba because of its dictatorship. We hate them because they stole our businesses & money and won't trade with us.

If they did (as neocameralism pretty much dictates), then the Castros wouldn't have to worry about some uppity American invading them (not that it's happened, but still -- perhaps Burma is a better example).

May 29, 2008 at 8:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Their power is already as "legitimate" as it needs to be for their purposes. They don't have to worry about Uncle Sam invading them - that's just not gonna happen, and even the Cubans don't believe it will. They only talk about it when they're trying to get their people fired up about the Yankee Threat.

We hate them because they stole our businesses & money and won't trade with us.

It's not that they won't trade with us. We won't trade with them! They would happily trade with us in a second if we agreed to do so. The initiative on this score is entirely on our side. The amount of "business and money" stolen was relatively trivial, certainly not enough to hold Uncle Sam back (he has written off a lot more money than that on a number of occasions).

The Cathedral would hate Cuba a lot more if it were neocameralist than if it were what it is now, a Commie dictatorship. Thus going neocameral would actually increase the threat to Cuba, not decrease it.

May 29, 2008 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I wonder if the Cathedral will love Nepal now?

Understand your point about being made to pay taxes, Anon. My suggestion was merely to ask what would change IF such could be made optional, at least towards where one pays? I'm not suggesting it as necessarily a good idea, mind you.

May 29, 2008 at 10:59 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

"Here are the basics: a government should be secure, effective, and responsible".

Gibbon was of the view that there were "three principal objects of a regular police [i.e., polity] - safety, plenty, and cleanliness" (The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, chapter XVII). I appreciate that he was addressing a somewhat different point.

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March 2, 2009 at 10:16 PM  
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March 6, 2009 at 6:29 AM  
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March 9, 2009 at 11:08 PM  

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