Threatened By Exit

Unfortunately, I had jaw surgery a week after Peter Thiel's response to my Cato Unbound piece came out, and so I spent the ensuing firestorm lying in bed taking liquid Vicodin, rather than vigorously debating. Which is sort of sad, because I love a vigorous debate, especially with people who are being stupid and mean, qualities which were on prominent display in the responses to Peter.

The weird thing is that the firestorm was not over any of the basic ideas, but a throwaway comment he made that one of many reasons why democracy in the US is unlikely to produce libertarianism is that women are a large, non-libertarian voting bloc, and so it is no surprise that the era of female suffrage is also the era of big government. (Although both are the post-Depression era, so as always in country-level trends it isn't like we have clean randomized data).

It is always very telling when people freak out over a simple statistical observation, and I think Jason Kuznicki has the best post pointing out the absurdity of the freakout:

The astonishing thing — the really embarrassing thing for the left-wing blogosphere — is that so many people concluded from these lines that Thiel wants to end women’s suffrage.

People, it’s just not there — he’s not saying it. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
...
Thiel isn’t interested in making any changes at all to American democracy. He wants to exit American democracy. Thiel wants to found a new government with people who share his own (admittedly very eccentric) political views. In other words, he wants to leave you and your suffrage completely alone. Just to repeat, he’s not recommending any change to American government at all, except to subtract himself from it.

There are a lot of things you can accuse a secessionist of, but disenfranchisement is not one of them! The whole point of seasteading is to create more choice among societies. How can that hurt anyone? Oh, wait, I was thinking of a just, libertarian world. I forgot about the parasitic world of the left:

I find it tremendously revealing how threatened the left seems to be at the prospect of a talented, successful individual leaving to found a new society. It’s not enough to say that he’s cooked up a wildly utopian scheme with hardly any chance of success. This might have been more than enough to dismiss him. But no — it’s got to be much worse than that. So out come the lies and the smears. Or maybe the blank incomprehension. (I’m trying to be kind.)

And he closes by mentioning how Atlas Shrugged-sian this is. Which it is! If you doubt that the reaction to Peter's essay is a display of the looting instinct, one of the earliest and highest-profile reactions from the left was entitled "Libertarian inadvertently argues for 90% marginal tax rate":

I think we all know what a combination of watching too many sci-fi movies (plus “Waterworld") and being completely shielded from reality by your money can do. You become either Kim Jong Il, or you become Peter Thiel. We can’t reach Kim Jong Il, but what we can do to help Thiel is to tax away most of his wealth. While that doesn’t initially seem like it’s helpful to take 90% of what someone makes over X million a year, what it would do is force Thiel to get out there and actually work for his money if he wants to be stinking rich. Right now, he’s obviously not getting out of the house much, and all that sitting around counting his money and not associating with the real world is breaking his mind. He needs something to do, and needs to associate with people. Ideally, he’d be in a situation where he had occasional exposure to people who don’t indulge his crazy fantasies. And with the amount of money shielding him from the world, that’s not going to happen. For his own good, that pile of money he’s sitting on needs a dramatic reduction.

Wow. I mean, it pretty much caricatures itself. If you had any doubt that there are people out there who consider all the value you produce to be theirs to dispose of, at whim, "for your own good", this should end it. (If this makes you feel depressed, go join The Seasteading Institute, and you'll feel better).

Now's a good time to note that while I've spent most of my career as a libertarian thinking of Objectivism as a subject for mockery, I am now reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time, and loving it. It hasn't changed my mind about any of the things I think are wrong with the philosophy, and I do get annoyed by things like her constantly equating certainty with strength/good and doubt with weakness/evil (sorry Ayn, but the world is Bayesian and posteriors are rarely 100%. Certainty may be sexy, but it is rarely correct).

But the good things about it are things that hardly appear anywhere else, and are needed now more than ever. The whole theme of how bad laws turn honest people into criminals and outlaws, into hiding from other men instead of taming nature, and what an awful reversal this is of how a good society should be, is just awesome. That's how I've felt my whole life - I just want to create value, not constantly struggle with stupid artificial constraints, and to live my life openly, not constantly have to hide my consensual activities.

The commonalities between Gult's Gulch and seasteading are actually pretty hilarious considering that I had only the vaguest idea of what GG was until a couple weeks ago. There are some key differences, of course, but some strongly overlapping themes.

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The weird thing is that the

The weird thing is that the firestorm was not over any of the basic ideas, but a throwaway comment he made that one of many reasons why democracy in the US is unlikely to produce libertarianism is that women are a large, non-libertarian voting bloc, and so it is no surprise that the era of female suffrage is also the era of big government.

Why would that be? Maybe, the left feels more threatened by anti-egalitarian ideas, by ideas that smash the sanctity of democracy and universal suffrage than by seasteading. I don't know if their fear is well placed, but if they feel so threatened, it may not be that unwise to be politically incorrect.

I think it's a lame defense to claim Thiel didn't wish for the end of women's suffrage. Even if it's not, it looks like a cop out and it concedes the morality of suffrage.

People who are outraged at this idea are not outraged because women's right would possibly suffer as a result of losing political power. Thet are outraged because they see voting right as an end. It fits in a model that gives ethical backing to the state. All of the sudden, if part of the population loses suffrage, the distinction between rulers and ruled becomes more apparent, the illusion vanishes.

The really weird thing though is the belief that democracy's failure to provide libertarian policies or result in free market capitalism should come as a surprise. Oh we tried democracy, but look the women started voting and it didn't work. Oh, democracy has the wrong incentives, etc...

All of this is true, and worthy of analysis, but it hides something more important. Democracy itself is unlibertarian, democracy itself is not compatible with capitalism. There's no need to go back to the depression era to see that. There were taxes since day 1 of the United States, why does Thiel need to invoke women suffrage to declare failure?

Anarcho-capitalism may or may not result in a libertarian society and it's a valid question to ask if it will. It's a pointless question to ask about democracy because it's incompatible in the first place.

A word for collectivism....

There are a lot of things you can accuse a secessionist of, but disenfranchisement is not one of them! The whole point of seasteading is to create more choice among societies. How can that hurt anyone? Oh, wait, I was thinking of a just, libertarian world. I forgot about the parasitic world of the left....

I won’t attempt to defend all the wacky and occasionally mean-spirited things said in response to what is, at this point, a thought exercise. (Although I thought the line “he’s a complete wackaloon and apparently a misogynist besides. Which is to say, he’s a libertarian” provides a remarkably succinct summary of Padagon’s world view.)

That said, I sometimes wonder if we’re so steeped in individualism that we can’t appreciate – yes, sincerely appreciate – other points of view.

People differ both in their resources and their needs, often for reasons beyond their control. Some people find no fault with the idea that people who have a disproportionate share of resources relative to need should feel free to revel in their good fortune, indifferent to the plight of others. But evidence suggests that a minority of people hold this view, even in the US, home of individualism. Most seem to hold at least some vague collectivist view, a moral sense that “to those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Imagine that probability and genetics determines that one person in a billion is a genius. So today the world has roughly seven geniuses who, through chance, were born with a rare capacity for insights capable of improving the world. If those seven people elect to secede from the rest of society and go hang out on a seastead, can you really say that the rest of the world has not lost something? Statistically speaking, that individual genius would not exist but for birth of a billion other people. The world bought a billion lottery tickets in order to achieve a single winner. Is there any sense to think that the proceeds from the winning ticket should help offset the cost of the billion other tickets?

Arguably the most appealing aspect of individualism is strategic: Evidence suggests that the best way the world can exploit a genius’ talent is to give him a lot of room to be creative. Even greedy geniuses aren’t able to capture the benefits of their genius exclusively for themselves.

But this is a consequentialist argument, defining individualism in terms of its value for the world at large rather than as a good in itself. Yet, against a backdrop of people being slaughtered in Darfur for the ???th year in a row, don’t an architect’s struggle for individualism seem a little ... well, petty? Not that the architect isn’t right, but in the grand list of the world’s injustices, what percentage of the world’s population has the privilege to have nothing better to worry about than infringements on their individualism?

...the prospect of a talented, successful individual leaving to found a new society.

I sense this is what bugs people about seasteading: the sense that you’re taking your prodigious gifts and hoarding them to your stingy self. If a bunch of mentally ill homeless people were setting up a seastead, I wonder if people would have the same reaction.

Imagine that probability and

Imagine that probability and genetics determines that one person in a billion is a genius. So today the world has roughly seven geniuses who, through chance, were born with a rare capacity for insights capable of improving the world. If those seven people elect to secede from the rest of society and go hang out on a seastead, can you really say that the rest of the world has not lost something? Statistically speaking, that individual genius would not exist but for birth of a billion other people. The world bought a billion lottery tickets in order to achieve a single winner. Is there any sense to think that the proceeds from the winning ticket should help offset the cost of the billion other tickets?

This sounds nice as an abstraction, but to me it sounds like you are basically saying that people are born into slavery, and I find that abhorrent. 1) There is no entity that is the "world" making investments in creating people. 2) And even if there was, you can't bind an entity that doesn't exist yet with a contract.

1) The resources that go to create and raise me didn't come from the world, they came from my parents. (Some from the state, but it spent far less on me than my parents paid in taxes). So how does the world have a claim on me? If I try 1000 different formulas for a new alloy with my own sweat and resources, why does the world deserve the results?

2) It is pretty widely accepted that parents don't get to bill their kids for the cost of raising them once the kids get a job. Parents may hope their kids will help support them, but it is the kids' right to do what they want. Similarly, even if "the world" puts some resources into creating individuals, that doesn't give it the right to claim whatever those individuals produce. That would be equivalent to being born into slavery.

Sure, the world loses something if geniuses go live on a seastead. But "the world" is not a moral entity, it does not own property, it does not enter into contracts. It merely represents the sum of the other individuals. Why do they have a claim on the world's productive people?

I sense this is what bugs people about seasteading: the sense that you’re taking your prodigious gifts and hoarding them to your stingy self.

Unlike Galt's Gulch, seasteads will be part of the world economic system. People who live there won't be hoarding their gifts - they will be trading what they produce to other people. Their gifts enrich the world. The value I get from Amazon.com is by using their fantastic service, not because Jeff Bezos pays taxes. If Jeff Bezos stops paying taxes, that isn't him "hoarding" his talents, not in my book.

In other words, the "hoarding seasteaders" viewpoint assumes that the real value that talented people provide is by acquiring wealth which can be looted, as opposed to by creating goods and services that allow everyone to gain through trade. This is the exact opposite of the truth, it labels value creation as worthless and assumes redistribution is the engine of prosperity. That's whacked.

This sounds nice as an

This sounds nice as an abstraction, but to me it sounds like you are basically saying that people are born into slavery, and I find that abhorrent.

I'm sympathetic to your general position, but I worry that this might beg the question. Doesn't the concept of slavery entail that you are being denied something to which you have a fundamental right? But the whole question at issue is, really, whether or not you actually do have a fundamental right to your own genius.

It seems to me that there's a danger in underplaying the extent to which it takes a pretty significant amount of social capital for someone like Jeff Bezos to have the sort of success that he's had. There's an awful lot of infrastructure that had to be in place, a lot of technological advancement and so on. What's more, Bezos had to live in a world that was already wealthy enough to have a demand for something like Amazon.

None of this is to take away from the work that Bezos has done. But it's maybe a little bit glib to chalk his success up to just his "own sweat and resources."

I've always thought the ownership approach was a fairly weak one. Ownership presupposes some kind of notion of justice, otherwise we're stuck with saying that I own whatever I happen to possess, however I acquired it. But the question of what I am justly permitted to acquire is the very issue that's at stake in nobody's comment. So I don't think that you can simply appeal to ownership as a response.

You used to offer a far more consequentialist (or, in case Scott is reading: utilitarian) defense of free markets. I rather miss those days.

Mandatory reading,

Wealth

Can take lots of forms, no? There's a certain benefit that we get when a large enough segment of the population (a) owns a computer and (b) has access to the Internet. The same is true for, say, the widespread use of credit cards. I get some personal benefit from using a card rather than cash, but I get lots and lots more benefit from the fact that everyone has them and thus that there's a system in place which allows me to purchase things without handing someone pieces of paper.

The point here is just that it's maybe a tiny bit glib to say, as de Jasay does, that "Value has been and is being given for value received, even though the "value" is not always money and goods, but may sometimes be affection, loyalty or the discharge of duty."

Lots of interactions create wealth. Sometimes that happens through straightforward exchanges or through series of straightforward exchanges. But lots of wealth is created by our old friend, the invisible hand. There's no one of us in particular that is responsible for it. And yet, in many cases, innovation depends crucially on that wealth being present.

That means it's still an open question as to what we should say about people whose own success is built upon the wealth that is created by that invisible hand. It strikes me as a bit unseemly to happily appeal to abstractions to explain how wealth gets created but then get annoyed when anyone refers to those same abstractions when it comes time to divvy up the spoils.

I think that there's still a good case to be made for a system that is far more libertarian than the one we have now. But I'm not convinced that an ownership argument is going to be part of that case.

Seems he answers this.

The point here is just that it's maybe a tiny bit glib to say, as de Jasay does

You seem to be missing a lot of what he's saying. He answers your points. For example, you write:

But lots of wealth is created by our old friend, the invisible hand.

But he supplies an answer to this:

There is a minor and a major point to recognise. The minor point is that the "framework" is not a person, natural or legal, to whom a debt can be owed, "institutions" do not act, "society" has no mind, no will, and makes no contributions.

This applies also to the invisible hand: it is not a person.

It strikes me as a bit unseemly to happily appeal to abstractions to explain how wealth gets created but then get annoyed when anyone refers to those same abstractions when it comes time to divvy up the spoils.

Your statement is too vague. Jasay is not complaining about just any reference to abstractions, but specifically to a fallacy of composition. I'm sure that he would be fine with certain references to abstractions, provided they were done carefully, avoiding pitfalls such as the one he mentions.

There's a certain benefit that we get when a large enough segment of the population (a) owns a computer and (b) has access to the Internet. The same is true for, say, the widespread use of credit cards.

You seem to be talking about a network externality, which is a kind of positive externality. This is not an exchange. But importantly, it is voluntary. No one is forcing a person to enter a network. Here we might apply Jasay's statement:

However, where exchanges are voluntary, tracing and measuring become, in a strong sense, otiose and irrelevant. For in a voluntary exchange, once each side has delivered and received the agreed contribution, the parties are quits. Seeking to credit and debit them for putative outstanding claims is double counting.

Each person enters the network voluntarily expecting that benefit from being in the network outweighs the cost to him. He also, by joining, happens to benefit everyone else in the network. This is very like a voluntary exchange, in that there is, in fact if not in explicit agreement, an exchange of benefits, and the membership of everyone in the network is voluntary. Since it is voluntary all around, we may apply the statement that "tracing and measuring become, in a strong sense, otiose and irrelevant", for no one has been compelled into this de facto exchange of benefits. The participants have individually already ensured that they enjoy sufficient benefits to justify whatever it costs them to be a member of the network. This is very like a voluntary exchange, whose participants have also individually ensured that they enjoy sufficient benefits to justify whatever it costs them to be a party to the exchange.

I don't disagree with

I don't disagree with anything that you've said here. I wasn't attempting to offer any sort of worked out rebuttal to Patri or to Jasay. My point is not that Patri's position is wrong. It's that the ownership argument assumes a certain sort of answer to questions that many would regard as still open.

Indeed, the argument you cite from Jasay is, I think, subject to the same criticism. He says that network externalities (and, yes, that was the term I was reaching for and not finding) are irrelevant because it's a side effect of an exchange that was voluntary and paid for. But isn't the issue we're arguing about in the first place? Namely, whether the fact that an exchange was voluntary is both a necessary and sufficient criterion for determining the justice of ownership?

I thought the whole point of nobody's objection is that the individualism that such a criterion entails is exactly what some people might question. So, then, wouldn't a reply that assumes the truth of that sort of individualism just beg the question?

Again, I'm not committed to this line. In fact, I don't really buy it at all. But I do think it's a point that we can't refute simply by crying: ownership! and moving on.

Collectivism again

I sometimes wonder if we’re so steeped in individualism that we can’t appreciate – yes, sincerely appreciate – other points of view.

Imagine that probability and genetics determines that one person in a billion is a genius. So today the world has roughly seven geniuses who, through chance, were born with a rare capacity for insights capable of improving the world. If those seven people elect to secede from the rest of society and go hang out on a seastead, can you really say that the rest of the world has not lost something?

This sounds nice as an abstraction, but to me it sounds like you are basically saying that people are born into slavery, and I find that abhorrent.

To rephrase slightly, I’m suggesting a view that people are not born atomistic, but rather interconnected into a society that they did not choose, from which they receive benefits even in the absence of contract, and to which they might reciprocate. Some people find deep fulfillment in this idea. Some find it abhorrent. And some just kinda acknowledge it.

[Y]ou can't bind an entity that doesn't exist yet with a contract....

"[T]he world" is not a moral entity, it does not own property, it does not enter into contracts. It merely represents the sum of the other individuals. Why do they have a claim on the world's productive people?

If I try 1000 different formulas for a new alloy with my own sweat and resources, why does the world deserve the results?

My purposes was not to persuade, but merely to prompt an acknowledgment that there is more than one point of view on such matters. That said....

When you try 1000 different formulas for a new allow with your own sweat and resources, in what sense are those sweat and resources “yours”? To rephrase the comment left above, did you create your own intelligence? Did you create the society in which you are able to acquire the materials for your formulas?

Surely you must be aware that there are a great many people in this world who, through no fault of their own, lack your intelligence. And there are a great many people in this world who, through no fault of their own, were born into circumstances that would not permit them to test 1000 different formulas to develop an alloy. You and I and everyone with the capacity to read these words are extraordinarily privileged people – largely as a result of circumstances that we had nothing to do with.

In what sense are the sweat and resources “yours”? In the sense that you exercise control over them. From this fact, you somehow derive a moral claim that it is RIGHT that you exercise control over them. And, by inference, it is RIGHT that all the people born with mental and physical and social infirmities live with only the meager resources that fate has allotted to them.

You were born into one set of circumstances. Meanwhile, a child is born into a different set of circumstances. His mother died, alone, in childbirth. What should become of the child?

One answer to that question involves everyone checking the extent of their contractual obligations. And we pretty much know where that analysis leads. Can you fathom why it is that most societies that have endured have arrived at a different answer to this question?

Again, my point is not to persuade; my point is merely to remind folks that there is more than one perspective on these questions. To a large extent the winners of life’s lottery are free to hoard their winnings, leaving the losers to their own devises. What you think about that dynamic is heavily influenced by your broader outlook about individualism and collectivism.

Seasteading -- rationales and consequences

I sense this is what bugs people about seasteading: the sense that you’re taking your prodigious gifts and hoarding them to your stingy self.

Unlike Galt's Gulch, seasteads will be part of the world economic system. People who live there won't be hoarding their gifts - they will be trading what they produce to other people. Their gifts enrich the world. The value I get from Amazon.com is by using their fantastic service, not because Jeff Bezos pays taxes. If Jeff Bezos stops paying taxes, that isn't him "hoarding" his talents, not in my book.

Bezos? Book? (tee hee!)

I generally agree that joining a seastead would remove you from the world economy, but let's not go overboard. (Yuck, yuck; oh, man, I'm killing myself here...!) To be sure, different seasteads might have different perspectives on interconnecting with the global economy, and I suspect early seasteads would attract a lot of people who want to “get off the grid.” Religious puritans, home-schoolers, survivalists, aqua-hermits, etc.

But there’s no reason to imagine that people who joined a seastead would have to disconnect from the rest of the world. And the benefit of a genius (or even the rest of us) derives from the wealth produced, whether or not that wealth is redistributed by some other entity. So the fact that people would join a seastead does not necessarily imply that they'd stop contributing to the world.

But why do people want to disconnect from the larger society from which they came? Three reasons:

1. “I want to live my life openly, not constantly have to hide my consensual activities.”

2. "I want novelty and adventure."

3. “Having soaked up the benefits of my society, I don’t want to contribute to its maintenance.”

I’m quite sympathetic to the first rationale, vaguely supportive of the second, less fond of the third. Don’t mean that I find no merit there, but it’s a harder sell.

Completion

“Having soaked up the benefits of my society, I don’t want to contribute to its maintenance.”

That is incomplete - it ignores the benefits that the individual gives to his society before he splits, and it ignores the fact that after the split society is no longer giving new benefits to the individual. The following is more complete:

Having soaked up the benefits that others have given me, and having also given them benefits which they, in turn, soaked up, I now choose to cut ties. In the future I will no longer receive new benefits from them, nor will I give them new benefits.

#3

I suspect that most libertarians will be skeptical of #3, as I am. Can you give an example of someone who fits #3? Bill Gates? Warren Buffet?

Most of us see govt, especially one as large as the US, as essentially a waste generator. In the benefit-contribution ledger, it takes more than it gives, for rich and poor alike. Who among us owes more than we have received? I'm just trying to think of examples.

What Constant said

In order to get rich, the people in question have presumably already made contributions to society far in excess of what most of us will ever make, in two ways:

1. Consumer surplus.
2. The taxes they've already paid on their income.

To say that the people who happen to have lived in the same country as them up until now have the right to demand even more on top of that just because...well...to be honest, the idea seems so completely arbitrary to me that I can't even figure out how to finish that sentence.

You could argue that some rich people made their money illegitimately and didn't really contribute anything, but this is an argument for making it harder to get rich illegitimately, not an argument for screwing over rich people in general.

My general rule is, if someone's already chipped in far more than you can ever reasonably expect to, you don't get to bitch about him not paying his fair share.

The Sting

Here’s an old con: Joe announces that he’s selling 100 raffle tickets for a horse. He draws the winning ticket fair and square, congratulates Sue for winning, and tells her to come by that afternoon to pick up the horse. When Sue arrives, he regretfully tells her that the horse has run away. He apologizes and gladly reimburses Sue for the cost of her ticket.

All the ticket holders go home feeling disappointed. But, of course, they should feel cheated; Joe gets to pocket 99% of the proceeds of his raffle without delivering a thing.

What would be a fair remedy to this situation? Two scenarios.

1. If we say that the loss of the horse resulted in the cancellation of the raffle, than Joe should reimburse not only Sue, but ALL ticket holders. And the amount of the reimbursement should reflect the value of the ticket BEFORE the raffle occurs, which is 1/100 of the value of a horse. (If the tickets were auctioned, it may be fair to conclude that the sales price reflected this value.)

2. Alternatively, if we say the raffle was completed, then Joe owes Sue a horse, or at least the value of a horse. The value of the ticket BEFORE the raffle occurs is not a fair measure of the value of the winning ticket AFTER the raffle occurs. We can’t confuse ex ante and ex post value.

Societies aren’t free. Julie who grow up in society and become highly productive. Paul got hit by a destitute drunk driver and is in a coma. As between Julie and Paul, how will society recover its costs?

Sure, Julie could say, “Society, I’m now returning to you the amount you invested in me. Bye bye; I’m off to seastead!”

And no one can doubt that Julie has paid her fair share – at least, judged EX ANTE. She has, in effect, paid society back for the value of the investment it made in Julie ignoring any concept of risk. And, just like the case in which the raffle is canceled, this is a perfectly stable condition assuming everybody reimburses society likewise – including Paul.

Yet somehow society’s books don’t balance. What’s the problem? Well, one way to view it is to say that Paul is the problem. He hasn’t been very forthcoming in bearing his share of society’s costs. Naughty, naughty Paul.

Another way to look at it is to say that the people who designed the system are the problem. You can have the most productive society conceivable, but if all the winnings get privatized and all the losses get socialized, the society must inevitably collapse.

So after you pay society for the costs it has incurred on your behalf and head out to sea, what percentage of the people in comas are you planning to take with you? And if you’re not taking them with you, then who should pay for those people? With what resources?

Kant offers the categorical imperative, which translates roughly into “Take no action that could not be made universal.” It was, arguably, an early expression of the problem of externalities. The attitude that all the successful people can bail out of society simply for the cost of our upbringing, leaving all the unsuccessful people behind with the cost of their maintenance, is a perfectly unsustainable situation. It’s a policy that cannot be made universal – at least, not for very long.

Is it merely by accident that people have chosen to respond to my “Seasteading -- rationales and consequences” post, but not my earlier “Colletivism again” post? Because they are inextricably linked. We love individualism; we hate redistributionist policies. Fine, but let’s be clear about what that means. ‘Cuz I still haven’t heard what we’re supposed to do with that motherless child. The answer would seem to be pretty straightforward. Yet, in all this blizzard of words, no one has been willing to say it.

I acknowledge that some people cannot provide for themselves. I acknowledge that I choose not to provide for them. Do I acknowledge what conclusion flows from that?

You might want to be more clear

You might want to be more clear about the analogy you're making. I searched "sue" through your text and I searched "joe" through your text. Both names appear only in the description of the con. So you're not drawing the connections between the con and seasteading.

I think you're making assumptions, since it is obscenely tendentious to liken society to a raffle (raffles are zero sum and the winner of the raffle is no more productive than the next person - two properties which it is obscenely tendentious to implicitly assign to society), but it is hard for me to get a handle on what your argument is, and thus to answer it point by point, without a point by point connection between the con and seasteading.

There is a contractual

There is a contractual agreement between the raffle ticket seller and the buyers. In the con, that agreement is broken. It's not about fairness at all. I never asked anything from "society", therefore I do not owe it anything. Period.

I was itching to write many

I was itching to write many a long rant here, but you fixed the problem. What took you so long?

Cliff Notes summary, and moving on....

Ugh. I try to be too clever by half, and I just end up talking to myself.

The raffle discussion was simply to introduce the idea of chance and risk, and the unsustainability of valuing your debt to society on the basis of what society has invested in you. Society incurs costs in raising its members. Some of those members will not be able to pay society back. If society is to endure, therefore, it requires that the rest of its members contribute on average MORE than what society paid for their own benefit.

(Some people find it helpful to think of it this way: “If society incurs losses with respect to some of its investments, then it must do better than break even with respect to the rest, or society goes bust.” But if my anthropomorphizing society causes you confusion, then skip this.)

And this prompts two questions:

1. Well, why not let society collapse then? That’s what the parentless infant question is designed to probe. If I really don’t believe in redistributionism, then I accept that people will live without their medications and occasionally freeze. Maybe that’s all for the best, but let’s at least state it plainly.

2. If we decide for the sake of argument that we don’t want to let society collapse, then we move on to a new-ish topic: How much is this gonna cost me? To put it another way, how much should each productive member of society pay to offset the social cost of all the unproductive/insufficiently productive members, ensuring that a prudently-managed society can endure while we take the balance of our assets and go seasteading?

Here’s a possible formula: Estimate how much it should cost per person, and multiply that by the number of people in society. Then calculate the number of productive members of society. Divide the first number by the second, and voila, we have the average cost each productive member of society must pay if we are to maintain a society.

Hey, it’s a start anyway.

Why won't you all write new posts?!?!

This blog is starved for content since the regular contributors are up to our elbows in real life. Yet you guys write multi-page essays and complex thought-exercises in the comments section that only 4 people actually bother to read. Why not help us out and take the discussion to a new post?!?!

oops

Sorry, it's easy to get carried away. From now on, all big comments to go in separate posts.

I'm hopeless

Brandon Berg sends me a periodic nasty-gram about my high-falootan "do your part for society" talk, and my abject failure to do my part initiating blog posts. I think he's got his e-mail system automated to kick these things out quarterly.

...yeah, yeah....

In the meantime, if you feel so moved, I authorize anyone to re-post anything I've written, with or without attribution to nobody.really. Heck, I'm always plagiarizing from you guys, so please feel free.

Quit making excuses!

Git 'er done!

1. Well, why not let society

1. Well, why not let society collapse then? That’s what the parentless infant question is designed to probe. If I really don’t believe in redistributionism, then I accept that people will live without their medications and occasionally freeze. Maybe that’s all for the best, but let’s at least state it plainly.

I appreciate your directness, but we can take it a step further: we can cut out the hypothetical. Parentless infants, or otherwise unfortunate souls, are already dying on a daily basis, and massive scale. They call it africa.

I would contend that this is something for the advocates of redistributionism to explain: if these actions follow from the notions of fairness which you expouse, how do you rhyme them with this pattern of results? Why do we have 'social security' and 'foreign aid'? And how do you explain the disparity of allocation of funds between them? It is obviously neither a per capita nor needs based metric.

Such a mystery... Its almost as if this never had anything to do with 'fairness' to begin with.

Best efforts

Sorry that my response is a little scatter-shot; I fear I’m missing the thrust of your question. I don’t know if I’ve made any reference to “fairness” per se. I’ve referred to Kantian ethics, externalities and sustainability, and I’ve tried to appeal to compassion (and maybe even a little shame). Is that getting close to fairness?

Anyway, what’s up with Africa? Dunno. Insufficient natural resources? Insufficient donor resources? Systemic problems (including perhaps problems arising from donor resources)? Inhospitable coastlines and difficult-to-navigate rivers that discouraged trade, travel and foreign encounters? Education? Destruction of “social capital” resulting from slavery and colonial rule? Bad cellphone coverage? Doubtless somebody knows better than I. This probably should be a new post.

Why isn’t there more redistribution to Africa? Well, I think there IS more redistribution to Africa today than in the past. But, to be sure, different people have different views about how to define the “society” to which to redistribute wealth. Some people regard the world as one big society. Others regard a nation as a kind of mutual aid society, so the impulse to redistribute aid to a fellow countryman holds a higher value than the impulse to distribute aid to others.

Why don’t we have pure egalitarian redistribution of resources? Oh, all the usual reasons, I guess. Self-interest, predominantly. Instrumentalism – a desire to have incentives for productive behavior. Lack of administrative capacity. Ignorance? Indifference? Some racism/tribalism?

People act with a mixed motives, such as compassion and self-interest. People can act inconsistently. People can act cynically. Compassion can be manipulated. Bad things happen to good people. Is there anything else I can concede?

Is any of this responsive? Getting warm, even?

Sorry that my response is a

Sorry that my response is a little scatter-shot; I fear I’m missing the thrust of your question. I don’t know if I’ve made any reference to “fairness” per se. I’ve referred to Kantian ethics, externalities and sustainability, and I’ve tried to appeal to compassion (and maybe even a little shame). Is that getting close to fairness?

I paraphrased your arguments as 'appeals to fairness', yes. If you prefer, i can also refer to them as 'your arguments'.

Anyway, what’s up with Africa? Dunno. Insufficient natural resources? Insufficient donor resources? Systemic problems (including perhaps problems arising from donor resources)? Inhospitable coastlines and difficult-to-navigate rivers that discouraged trade, travel and foreign encounters? Education? Destruction of “social capital” resulting from slavery and colonial rule? Bad cellphone coverage? Doubtless somebody knows better than I. This probably should be a new post.

Ridiculous as all the reasons you name are, they are not the point here. It doesnt matter WHY they are poor. What matters is that they are, and they seem to be missing out on this whole 'fairness' thing going on.

Why isn’t there more redistribution to Africa? Well, I think there IS more redistribution to Africa today than in the past. But, to be sure, different people have different views about how to define the “society” to which to redistribute wealth. Some people regard the world as one big society. Others regard a nation as a kind of mutual aid society, so the impulse to redistribute aid to a fellow countryman holds a higher value than the impulse to distribute aid to others.

Why don’t we have pure egalitarian redistribution of resources? Oh, all the usual reasons, I guess. Self-interest, predominantly. Instrumentalism – a desire to have incentives for productive behavior. Lack of administrative capacity. Ignorance? Indifference? Some racism/tribalism?

That reads a little bit like the usual 'if there was no such thing as rightwing political parties, africa would long since be on par with the rest of the world'. The thing is: political parties wholly embracing your notions of fairness, and fervently denouncing racism, have reigned supreme uncontested in many nations, for deccadeds on end.

Sure, they have matched their rethoric by doubling the foreign aid budget. But twice zero is still zero.

People act with a mixed motives, such as compassion and self-interest. People can act inconsistently. People can act cynically. Compassion can be manipulated. Bad things happen to good people. Is there anything else I can concede?

Is any of this responsive? Getting warm, even?

Responsive, yes. Not quite warm yet.

Say we close our eyes completely to notions of fairness, and look at power instead. Since universal suffrage, power is in the hands of the majority. The tyrant changed faces, but power is still power. The spoils go, as ever, to the tyrant.

Wether he justifies himself with kantian ethics or divine rule principles is all very interesting, but only insofar as disecting the motives of our tyrant goes: its not as if any of this laughably opportunistic rethoric actually impresses me.

Worst form of gov't ever devised -- except for....

Since universal suffrage, power is in the hands of the majority. The tyrant changed faces, but power is still power. The spoils go, as ever, to the tyrant.

Whether he justifies himself with Kantian ethics or divine rule principles is all very interesting, but only insofar as dissecting the motives of our tyrant goes: its not as if any of this laughably opportunistic rhetoric actually impresses me.

I’m still struggling here. Perhaps we have different understandings of "redistributionist"? Jonathan Wilde asked, "Who among us owes more than we have received [from society]?" This prompted some reflection about how to measure what we give and what we receive. I remarked that if everyone "among us" gives back only as much as was spent on us individually, and if we can anticipate that at least some members of society will NOT be able to do so likewise, then we’ve created a formula for social collapse. I don’t understand that to be a statement about fairness; I understand that as a statement of simple mathematics. I have since used the term "redistributionist" to refer to policies that ensure that the average individual’s contribution to "society" is at least sufficient that society would not be doomed to collapse.

How ‘bout this: Could you offer a list of sample nations that you’d say had redistributionist policies, and which do not? Specifically, would you characterize the US as having redistributionist policies? How ‘bout European nations? What is your understanding about the level of aid to Africa from such nations? What is your understanding about the standards of living enjoyed in those nations relative to the rest of the world?

Do you have any sense about the average life expectancy or standard of living of people who live in democratic nations compared to those who do not? Did people in North America enjoy a higher standard of living prior to general suffrage in 1776? Or prior to general black suffrage in 1865(?). Or prior to women’s suffrage in 1920?

Perhaps a direct approach would work better: What is your preferred policy, and what relationship does it bear to aid to Africa and the general standard of living?

Alternatively, we might just skip to the ending. These discussions tend to iterate toward variations on one of three world views:

1. Interpersonal obligations derive solely from consent. Absent my consent, I have no duty. “Ethics” refers to a duty to forgo the opportunity for short-term gain in the hope that others will do likewise, thereby maintaining a social order that provides long-term gains. Absent my consent, I have no ethics. Thus, I have no duty to refrain from acting in an unsustainable fashion, to refrain from causing negative exteralities, or even to refrain from theft, fraud and coercion.

2. Even in the absence of contract, I acknowledge (and expect others to acknowledge) the need for ethics. I embrace an ethic of refraining from taking actions that involve fraud, coersion or intrusion on another person’s property. But absent my consent, I do not acknowledge any duty to take any affirmative action, including the duty to pay taxes, to maintain a social order to defend property rights/guard against coercion and fraud, or to stop externalities arising from my inaction.

3. Even in the absence of contract, I acknowledge (and expect others to acknowledge) the need for ethics. I embrace a Kantian ethic of sustainability. This may impose on me duties to take affirmative actions, including the duty to pay taxes at least sufficient to maintain whatever society I regard as worthy of sustaining. I retain my discretion to disagree about whether an given society, or any given activity within that society, is worthy of tax support, and to remonstrate about the efficiency with which my society uses its group resources. But I surrender my claim that I owe nothing for the maintenance of society.

If you recognize yourself in any of these three world views, just say so and we can perhaps call it a day.

Its mostly 2, yes, but id

Its mostly 2, yes, but id put it differently: I expect others not to make my life more difficult than it would have been in their absence, and it is silly to expect they would demand anything less. If i punch you in the face, or take in shit in your house, i do not expect you to go ponder your right to self-defence or property, and where it comes from: i expect you to react.

But once you expect me to make your life better than it would have been in my absence, we have a problem. Then i am your slave. Im sorry, but i decline. Its a matter of the sheer inbalances of power that i sit by, gnash my teeth, and sing the blues: if i could realisticly improve my fate by doing so, id shoot you in the face unrepentantly. What you have given to me prior to this discussion, does not factor into it: its your loss. 'ok negroe, you can be free, but only if you pay back the food and shelter i provided for you'. See if you can make me.

I would immediately concede that this is a fuzzy line: in indirect manners we are all making eachother worse off by competition for limited resources: i am aware how easily things like the homesteading principle are reduced ad-absurdum. Yet we are making eachother better off by enlarging economies of scale and such. I am blessed to live in a time where the latter dominates; splitting these hairs is the least of my worries.

But the fact that my right to die is even under discussion, that our governments spend most of their time busying themselves with victimless 'crimes', is way over the line in my book.

In the end, its all about subjective preferences, and what you can get away with. Consequentialist arguments are interesting, and i think they are on my side, but it only works insofar as we all have the same goals. And we dont: i care more about me, and you care more about you. Consequentialism only gets you so far. Theories about 'rights' only interest me insofar as they appear to be effective rethorical devices for those more easily impressed by fancy words arranged in a circular manner.

So how would i structure society? Explicit social contracts come to mind, but its a long story. I hear this blog is looking for content, who knows.

Saddle up cowboy!

Explicit social contracts come to mind, but its a long story. I hear this blog is looking for content, who knows.

Git 'er done!

Just don't make it too nerdy.

It seems i have some time to

It seems i have some time to myself this weekend.

Im not sure what you mean by nerdy in this context. Technical terms, or phrases like 'shoot you in the face'? In any case, any concrete pointers you can give in advance would be most welcome.

What I mean is...

...this blog suffers from intellectual inbreeding in which we use terms and phrases that only other people who read this blog might understand. I'd rather you (and everyone) make everything as simple as possible and write so that any reasonably intelligent layperson could understand.

The whole point of

The whole point of seasteading is to create more choice among societies. How can that hurt anyone?

How can failure to give to charity hurt the homeless? How can not trading with someone hurt them?

You can cause physical and economical harm to other people by withdrawing from society. Of course, you're not morally responsible for that harm, because you have no duty towards other people. It's not a crime not to be there for them.

You can go into an argument about the good consequences of freedom and so on, but the utilitarian case for secession is not a one liner, while the moral case is.

I agree that rich people

I agree that rich people leaving reduces the tax base, and hurts net tax recipients. But it's important that it isn't withdrawing from production and trade, only from confiscation. The main benefit of productive people is in creating stuff we all use, not gathering wealth to be stolen. At least, to me.

This is far from obvious to

This is far from obvious to most people.

Of course, so is the idea that an individual owes nothing to anyone.

I think there are a couple

I think there are a couple of reasons why non-libertarians might find it immoral for rich folk to withdraw from paying taxes. It's pretty hard to convince people of the wrongheadedness of either.

First, many people just don't get that trade is positive-sum. We have a mind evolved to deal with largely zero-sum economic environments and so people naturally assume that rich people get that way at the expense of the poor. If we could get everyone to really understand economics at a gut level, this objection to secession will go away. I'm not optimistic on that.

Second, even when people recognize that trade is positive-sum, they see any refusal of the rich to help the poor as deeply immoral. I think it's a morally good thing for the rich to help the poor. Many nonlibertarians seem to view the refusal to do a morally good thing in the same way that libertarians view a rights violation, and are willing to enforce charitability at gunpoint. This sort of reaction is probably hardwired due to the zero-sum nature of tribal economies.

This is a major reason I question the feasibility of seasteads. Many landlubbers will not only recognize that you leaving reduces their opportunities for looting, but also intuitively feel that you are doing them a great injustice by not contributing to society through taxation, especially if you're trading with people on land. They don't see your productive efforts as a genuine contribution, but as you looting from them.

One easy attack will be that

One easy attack will be that the products bought by the seastead are subsidized by the government because they are shipped on public roads, protected by the police etc.

Another - popular in France - will be that the "social model" requires that there be no fiscal competition between governments. They claim everyone benefits from social protection, but competing government create some form of "market failure" where all governments introduce evil free market capitalist reforms.

Too strong

Second, even when people recognize that trade is positive-sum, they see any refusal of the rich to help the poor as deeply immoral. I think it's a morally good thing for the rich to help the poor. Many nonlibertarians seem to view the refusal to do a morally good thing in the same way that libertarians view a rights violation, and are willing to enforce charitability at gunpoint. This sort of reaction is probably hardwired due to the zero-sum nature of tribal economies.

I don't know that you have to go so far as to say that it's hardwired. There are some fairly well thought out philosophical positions that might lead you to a conclusion like this. A utilitarian, for instance, may not see much distinction between acts and omissions. One can certainly reject utilitarianism, but it's wrong to dismiss it as a mere hardwired response.

Similarly, a number of non-utilitarians would offer up arguments that, at least in some cases, failure to help counts as a wrong. If, for instance, respect for autonomy requires more than being left alone -- that is, if it requires not just the space to choose freely but also the basic preconditions (like food and shelter and health and eduction) to make meaningful choices -- then certain failures to help might in fact count as positive harms.

I'm not intending any of this to count as an argument against your position. I'm simply suggesting that there are in fact a lot of worked out arguments that are more than mere hardwired responses.

Seastead Confidential!

I never asked anything from "society", therefore I do not owe it anything. Period.

Going off-topic, but has anyone seen the TV show Jon and Kate Plus Eight? Jon and Kate had two kids already, and then had sextuplets. How could anyone finance such a brood? A TV studio has moved into their house and pays for them to go places, all to have the opportunity to film these cute kids and their exasperated/long-suffering parents. It’s a good deal all around.

Well, here’s a semi-serious way to finance a libertarian seastead: Invite a TV studio to film a reality show on board. Now, libertarians may not be quite as cute as those kids, but I see two appealing characteristics: 1) Exercise in self-governance! (Lots of Founding Father references). 2) Human conflict. ‘Cuz I have a sneaking suspicion that the first libertarian seastead could be a volcano of conflict. Especially with the uber-libertarian personalities I imagine a libertarian seastead might attract.

– “Hand you a hammer? FUCK THAT, JACK – I don’t owe you NUTHIN’!”

– “Yeah, I called you [insert offensive epithet of choice]. It’s my right to say whatever I want! What do you wanna do about it?”

Can you imagine some early organizing meeting as people haggle over the association contract? Condo association contracts can be bewildering, but a contract written for people who will OBSESS over their contractual obligations to each other, bristling at every infraction?

And then, the first time some unanticipated contingency arises and people have to renegotiate while in the middle of a typhoon? This could be golden, I’m tellin’ ya.

All right, maybe the real first seasteaders wouldn’t actually be the sociopaths I’m describing. But that’s the stereotype everyone would be looking for, so ... maybe we give the people what they want. Hey, if they’re paying the bills, we can work in showbiz as well as sea-biz, right?

Alas, this plan faces one major hurdle – as Thiel well knows: Women. We’d need some. But then, many not too many. Competition for female attention could be a great recurring theme.

Golden, I’m tellin’ ya....

– “Hand you a hammer?

– “Hand you a hammer? FUCK THAT, JACK – I don’t owe you NUTHIN’!”

Hed owe him exactly what had been agreed upon. I doubt it would say anything about hammers, but NUTHIN is unlikely to be technically correct.

– “Yeah, I called you [insert offensive epithet of choice]. It’s my right to say whatever I want! What do you wanna do about it?”

Shrug, probably. But people in small groups tend to value the way they are percieved by others. They dont need to legislate cusswords, even if they cared about them. People will be kept in check by their desire for a decent reputation. If not: their social contract better not have a rollover date.

When people dont get along, the best idea is to divorce.

All right, maybe the real first seasteaders wouldn’t actually be the sociopaths I’m describing. But that’s the stereotype everyone would be looking for, so ... maybe we give the people what they want. Hey, if they’re paying the bills, we can work in showbiz as well as sea-biz, right?

Many people ive met online seem to meet your caricature. There seems to be plenty of material for such a show, and id be the first one to watch it, in good humor. In good humor, because there isnt any cause for despair: none of the people ive met IRL did.

Id rather face a typhoon with people of my choosing rather than a random selection of bystanders.