Malice or Stupidity?

In a conversation with my wife this weekend, I was complaining about some new acts of regulation that emerged from the sausage factory of government. I framed these as the unintended consequences of stupid politicians, and in this case, she took the opposing side of that age-old debate and suggested that they were the intentional consequences of malicious politicians.

I was suddenly reminded of a passage from Murray Rothbard's "Conceived in Liberty" (Volume 3, p. 272):

Suddenly America erupted again, and now the British saw that the colonial problems had never been really quieted. They also began to see something more: that generally only the "extreme" poles are logical or viable, and that in-between states are logically self-contradictory and unstable mixtures that impel persistently toward one pole or the other. And so the British began to realize that continued drift and repeated near conflicts with Americans were unworkable, and that Great Britain must finally choose—either to pursue appeasement and go back to the salutary neglect and colonial quasi-independence of the pre—Seven Years' War era, or to take the hard line and crush the colonists and impose absolute British rule. The choice was appeasement and peaceful co-existence on the one hand, or maximum force for total victory on the other. In keeping with its nature, of course, the Tory imperialist ruling clique opted unhesitatingly for coercion and the mailed fist.

It made me consider the following idea. There are two stable social systems--central authoritarian control, and distributed individual action. A mix of the two is inherently unstable. When a solution is sought for a problem, the system incrementally moves in one of the two directions--either towards central control or distributed individualism. Someone who believes in authoritarian control, when faced with an unstable situation, will suggest to impose greater control, and incrementally move a step closer toward totalitarian government. Someone who believes in distributed action will act individually, and reinforce the distributed system. As the system reaches one of the two equilibria points, it is more difficult to move toward the opposing point.

Social systems are difficult to isolate. Previously, there may have been many independent societies separated geographically, but they are becoming ever more interlinked. As they come into contact with one another, either similar systems coalesce, or opposing systems display turbulence until they resolve.

Personally, I think the jury is in. The Internet shifted power toward individual control. The central planners are trying to shore up their system, and reaching totalitarian conclusions that may sound workable within the DC Beltway, but would take a near infinite amount of resources to implement. As Kevin Carson suggests in this C4SS paper (albeit discussing a more specific social structure--the Alternative Economy), we have passed a singularity.

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That's what I hope, but the

That's what I hope, but the same technology also helps the totalitarians exert control in ways they never could have otherwise.

Not exactly

Distributed Individual action best functions when the individuals are separated by a day's ride. In any community there is always some sort of leadership and some sort of followership even if unelected and and unofficial. It is human nature.

From the cited paper:

Two economies are fighting to the death: one of them a highly-capitalized, high-overhead, and bureaucratically ossified conventional economy, the subsidized and protected product of one and a half century's collusion between big government and big business; the other a low capital, low-overhead, agile and resilient alternative economy, outperforming the state capitalist economy despite being hobbled and driven underground.

Not exactly. Thanks to human nature - human greed - there will always be a sell out on both sides. Consider the controlled substance economies. In Mexico there seems to be a fight to the death - but between whom? The government and the low overhead economy or between two low overhead economies?

In the US the main difference between the dope war and Prohibition is that these days the local police are not getting a direct cut in the form of bribes and kick backs. The payoff is through increase tax revenue and good union jobs.

Or consider the Mafia. They have local control but also get elected to public office. Is it just happenstance that the numbers racket has a higher payoff than the state lottery?

Thanks to human nature -

Thanks to human nature - human greed - there will always be a sell out on both sides.

If there is a competition between two parties to establish central control, there can be a sell out on both sides. I assume this is what is happening in Mexico, but I am not very familiar with the situation there.

I did see the negotiation in South Africa in the early 1990's, and the two chief negotiating parties (National Party and African National Congress) did a poor job of maintaining their duopoly cartel. There was an explosion of market activity and freedom that took a decade for the ANC to bring back under control once it established monopoly rule.

If there is competition between many parties that accept that control is distributed, human greed is regulated the most effectively--through the market decisions of trading partners.

In simpler words: Ronald

In simpler words: Ronald Coase's arguments about the spontaneous formation of corporations' hierarchies within a free market (The nature of the firm) also apply to the spontaneous formation of states' hierarchies.

And just as the market's production forces are in permanent dynamic balance and shift continuously, so do the state's forces and stances.

But, what impressed me was

But, what impressed me was realizing the incompatibility of distributed systems with centrally controlled systems. A social system that tries to combine the two will naturally drift to one type or the other.

Actually, "drift" isn't the picture I have in mind. The growth of centrally controlled systems seems more gradual and linear. The transition to distributed systems is sudden and non-linear.

Maybe you underestimate the

Maybe you underestimate the tolerance of most people for cognitive dissonance :) We agorists like to think of the "anarchism" of any given society as a ratio of how much of total action happening, that respects the consent of everyone involved. It's never 1 and never 0, obviously, but also it apparently tends to fluctuate more with the time's mores than anything else, and slowly so.


Perhaps you're right, and there needs to be a wedge that forces people to decide whether they repeatedly act within the dominant hierarchical social structure or within a distributed social structure. If they can jump back and forth according to whichever has the biggest payoff at the moment, why restrict oneself?

Also from Rothbard's history, I was struck by the role of Sam Adams in maintaining cartels which refused to deal with the British. Merchants were forced to choose--deal with the colonists or deal with the British. I suppose this is the point of the radical street marches I associate (unfairly?) with agorism: to drive a wedge between those who would deal with the State and those who would ignore its restrictions.

Of course, the State is probably driving the biggest wedge between central control and distributed action. It mandates we live on its terms or suffer confiscation, imprisonment, and death. As the command economy grinds to a halt and you have to choose between keeping a pristine permanent record in the State's secret databases and starvation, I think you'll see ever more people willing to break the rules.

There are three major problems with communist/socialist systems

First, no one knows what anything is worth - what anyone wants.

Second, when everyone owns something, no one owns anything.

Three, there will always be a top 10% and a bottom 10% and a whole bunch in the middle.

Chairman Mao didn't go to the local Wal-Mart equivalent to obtain his "Chairman Mao jacket."

There is no way to get around the human nature of it all.

>The transition to distributed systems is sudden and non-linear.

The people who want to dissolve the Federal system and dump the dollar for gold . . . if they got their way I think we would be blasted back to the city-state system as when Florence controlled Italy. 1300's?? The guys with the guns will hold the gold.

The people who want to

The people who want to dissolve the Federal system and dump the dollar for gold . . . if they got their way I think we would be blasted back to the city-state system as when Florence controlled Italy. 1300's?? The guys with the guns will hold the gold.

The city state system worked for the Swiss in the 14th century, they even formed a loose confederacy. Thomas Jefferson felt that many confederacies would be born of the disagreements of the early Americans.

I do not see why the states wouldn't form confederacies and issue currency based on gold, land and other tangible assets. State governments (west o' the sixth principal meridian, at least) would be loath to let their constituency, and thus their economic support base fall into abject poverty. If they failed to act during an economic crisis, all the power they have worked to cultivate would be lost. They would probably begin issuing their own currencies again, in very short order.

In Nevada, the local business interests have brought up that very issue with the governor. It also helps that Nevada has a very real and vocal secessionist community, mostly over Yucca Mtn.

The transition would be painful. Real change always is.

AT&T vs. the Internet

The Internet may well have "shifted power toward individual control", but who are these individuals? Freedom lovers or worshippers of Beck, Palin, and Limbaugh? As long as the financial oligarchy is in control and succeeds so brilliantly at manufacturing consent (false consciousness to the Marxists out there), there will be no change. And AT&T is doing its level best to silence the opposition by charging for access. There is an excellent article at Truthout that shows how the puppet-meisters made a superb choice in selecting Sarah Palin. Read it and weep - how many people stood for hours in inclement weather to get Going Rogue autographed?

Who are these individuals?

who are these individuals?

We're all individuals. Perhaps in aggregate, more individuals are statists, or perhaps in aggregate the majority are below average.

But my point is, that the Internet is inherently structured to let individuals communicate directly with each other, as you and I are doing now. Television and newspaper is inherently structured to let a few people broadcast their ideas to a mass audience, and then control their feedback.

You've given me a good opportunity to say how much I appreciate the community we have developed here and on similar sites on the Internet. I realize I have passed some point of singularity in the way I learn about and relate to events of the world. I see so little broadcast or cable television or radio or newspapers that I am taken by surprise when I do. I borrowed the neighbor's truck last weekend and heard radio commercials--it was like traveling to a foreign land! I saw a big metropolitan newspaper in a plastic bag lying on the snow and had to do a double take to figure out what it was--the last time I touched a USA Today (I even had to google for "newspaper" now to make sure I had their name right) was when a hotel left them for me each morning and I took them home unread to help start fires in my woodstove. There were TV screens running in a YMCA I visited, and I watched the screens silently to make mental notes of youTubes to search for when I got back online. My media hours are spent reading blogs, listening to podcasts, watching Netflix, and listening to music mostly created by family or friends.

I keep trying to force myself to stay in touch with mainstream media--for example, I've put the NPR 7AM news on my podcast feed. But it is so out of touch with my world of Distributed Republic, LRC, AntiWar Radio, FR33 Agents, Stephan Molyneux, and C4SS, that NPR's news is like sitting through five minutes of scraping fingernails on a blackboard. I live in a world where the majority of my interactions are with people trying to figure out how to build a peaceful free society, or at least how to escape the violent authoritative system that claims to control the majority--a majority I drift farther from dealing with each day.

AT&T, or any other organization that has pinned its fortune to the State, may have an evil plan to control the Internet. Merck may have an evil plan to control our medicine. But I can google for "secure communications" or "cholesterol control" and get a wealth of information for orders of magnitude less cost than I could twenty years ago in the age of television and printed books. I could probably start working the various online social networks and within 24 hours find an expert on the subject willing to deal with me directly (maybe they even work for a State corporation as a day job and sell direct to individuals for extra money on the side).

Merry Christmas Eve to all DR readers. Thank you for being part of this free society.


More than one commentator has pointed out the reality that one of the downsides to the Internet is also the very reason for its success: its ability to enable isolated individuals world-wide to create an ersatz community - one which exists only in the abstract. It is wonderful to be able to access so much information, but until a real-life community of freedom-lovers exists, with all of the messiness that community involves, no individual liberty lover, no matter how empowered by the Internet, will make any progress against the forces of the financial oligarchy. An excellent example is the issue of snow removal from public places in a town both of us are familiar with. Some demand that the town remove the snow and others complain that business owners haven't followed the law. Few seem to have enough kindness and understanding to realize that snow removal may not be the first priority for many people. Community is not easy to achieve.

This is not to say that the phenomenon of social networking (Facebook and other copycats) won't bring change, just that it is one thing to praise the benefits of the Internet in regards to information retrieval and quite another to apply that to the real world of interpersonal conflict. For example, how do you deal with Christians who have a very different interpretation of Romans 13 than an anarchist would? It is one thing to find others who agree with you on the Internet and quite another to convince your neighbor to consider a different view. And if you can't convince enough of your neighbors to consider your view, what do you then do? Answer: you exist under the watchful eye of a coercive State and converse with your friends on the Internet.

I have a problem with the concept of "currency."

>I do not see why the states wouldn't form confederacies and issue currency based on gold, land and other tangible assets.

Seems to be that currency is nothing more that a government issued IOU for goods or services. I could give the bartender an IOU for future delivery of goods and services but he prefers an IOU issued by the government.

"Dollar," "pence," whatever, is basically a unit of conversion between the economic value of my time, of your time, of a new car and/or a heart transplant. I suggest a new money system based on a international common standard, the amount of pea gravel that a healthy man can shovel in one hour . . .a "human" equivalent to the "horse power." Call it wh, the work hour. My dentist can give me, say, ten times the economic value in an hour than a guy with a shovel can, so he charges me 10 wh/hour for his labor.