Structuralism 2

In my previous post I attempted to differentiate between Policy Libertarianism and Structural Libertarianism and explain why my interest lies with the latter. Looking back, I realize that I railed on policy libertarianism quite a bit but I didn't explain why structural libertarianism is so interesting. In this post, I hope to correct that shortcoming by quoting some passages from the modern SLs that caught my attention. Then, hopefully before my classes resume, I will get around to discussing the drawbacks of structural libertarianism, and why we might want to reject libertarianism altogether in favor of a more utilitarian theory of politics.

I apologize for going back to the same sources over and over again, but as there are few structural libertarians in modern times and the old SLs didn't keep blogs that I can easily copy and paste from. I am lazy and they are serviceable, so that is what we get.

Source 1:

...[I]t is hard to avoid noticing two basic facts about the universe. One is that libertarianism is an extremely obvious idea. The other is that it has never been successfully implemented.

This does not prove anything. But what it suggests is that libertarianism is, as its detractors are always quick to claim, an essentially impractical ideology. I would love to live in a libertarian society. The question is: is there a path from here to there? And if we get there, will we stay there? If your answer to both questions is obviously "yes," perhaps your definition of "obvious" is not the same as mine.

The basic idea of formalism [the author's SL philosophy] is just that the main problem in human affairs is violence. The goal is to design a way for humans to interact, on a planet of remarkably limited size, without violence....

The key is to look at this not as a moral problem, but as an engineering problem. Any solution that solves the problem is acceptable. Any solution that does not solve the problem is not acceptable.

Source 2:

Is it possible to design a structure of government which will be stable and predictable? Hopefully, of course, stably and predictably benign? History affords no evidence of it. But history affords no evidence of semiconductors, either. There is always room for something new.

The key is that word should. When you say your government "should do X," or "should not do Y," you are speaking in the hieratic language of democracy. You are postulating some ethereal and benign higher sovereign, which can enforce promises made by the mere government to whose whims you would otherwise be subject. In reality, while your government can certainly promise to do X or not to do Y, there is no power that can hold it to this promise. Or if there is, it is that power which is your real government. Your whining should be addressed to it.

The neocameralist [another SL philosophy] structure of Patchwork realms, which are sovereign joint-stock companies, creates a different kind of should. This is the profitable should. We can say that a realm should do X rather than Y, because X is more profitable than Y. Since sovereign means sovereign, nothing can compel the realm to do X and not Y. But, with an anonymous capital structure, we can expect administrators to be generally responsible and not make obvious stupid mistakes.

Given the choice between financial responsibility and moral responsibility, I will take the latter every time. If it was possible to write a set of rules on paper and require one's children and one's children's children to comply with this bible, all sorts of eternal principles for good government and healthy living could be set out.

But we cannot construct a political structure that will enforce moral responsibility. We can construct a political structure that will enforce financial responsibility. Thus neocameralism. We might say that financial responsibility is the raw material of moral responsibility. The two are not by any means identical, but they are surprisingly similar, and the gap seems bridgeable.

When we use the profitable should, therefore, we are in the corporate strategy department. We ask: how should a Patchwork realm, or any financially responsible government, be designed to maximize the return on its capital?

Source 3:

Given how far all current governments stray from the libertarian vision, it is natural that some of us have considered designing or even founding a new nation. In doing so, we sometimes assume that the major failing of present nations is the mental attitudes of their residents. Thus to ensure that a political system works, we merely need to start with libertarians. This is incorrect, because much of what we don't like about current states stems from the behavior of systems - behavior which is to some degree independent of which humans are involved. As an example, the USA started with liberty-minded founders and degenerated anyway.

Continue reading the linked material for their positive visions of government. If you know of anyone else I should read, please let me know in the comments, or at first name dot last name at gmail dot com.

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Mencius doesn't have a plan

Two out of three of your sources are Mencius Molbug. He does not have a plan to get "from here to there". He started out talking about convincing Sulzberger that he owns the world and can stop worrying and convincing righties to just give up. Then he went on about coups and restoring the Stuarts (the Jacobites already had that plan and it didn't work). He talked about the dissolution of the Soviet Union (which led to a pretty sucky period under Yeltsin) as an example of virtually all people being united in opposition to the status quo (due to pessimistic bias, according to Bryan Caplan) but not in favor of anything or anyone and as a plausible event to imitate. He does have something of a settled idea for how to maintain formalism, but it's heavily dependent on crypto-locks on guns (which don't currently exist and whose effectiveness has been called into doubt by a number of commenters) and corporate governance much better than what we currently have. That's why I say Patri has the only real plausible plan for achieving liberty.

I agree that there are

I agree that there are shortcomings in Mencius's ideas, which is why I think we need more variations on the theme. It is also why I am trying to isolate the distinct features of Moldbug's writing that I like, and identify a broader family of thought that shares those features.

And if crypto-locked guns trigger your skepticism, then moving a terrestrial ape civilization onto ocean settlements ought to give you pause, too. I agree that Patri's plan is "plausible", but is it the "only plausible" one?

Seasteading provides a way

Seasteading provides a way to "get from here to there". Cyptographic guns do not, they are just supposed to preserve an existing neocameralist state. We've already moved terrestrial apes onto cruise ships and that seemed to work out alright.


Yeah, agreed that his ideas are worthwhile but flawed (he has quite a tendency towards hyperbole). I think TGGP is too harsh, but I do agree that Mencius really really has no way to get from here to there. And that's arguably half or more of the problem we need to solve.

I view things like "crypto-locked guns" and "VR for bums" as examples of policies that states within his structure might use, not defining elements of his proposals. From my structuralist perspective, what matters is competition, which will then determine what policies are effective. VR for bums seems ludicrous to me, and the idea of using crypto is interesting but has severe problems.

Conceptually I don't think my plan is the only plausible one, but I have not yet had the delight of seeing another plan I consider plausible. I'd love to, though! There are some general plan frameworks which I think could be plausible with the right backing and specifics.

I don't just nitpick on

I don't just nitpick on crypto-locks because it seems eccentric. He explicitly puts a lot of weight on it. Mencius, like many anarcho-capitalists, dismisses limited-government libertarians that want to turn back the clock to the Constitution, because the Constitution was already tried and resulted eventually in today's massive government. Mencius wants to turn the clock back farther, but even then he is vulnerable to the same critique. Paleocameralism was already tried and led eventually to demotism. Why will it be different now? Mencius claims two new innovations make the difference: crypto-locks and the joint-stock corporation (although he is very down on modern corporate governance, claiming it is very distorted by the New Deal).

Arnold Kling has also written about competitive government:

I don't know too much about the details behind Stefan Molyneux's dispute resolution organizations/DROs but it sounds similar. Mencius' seems to be a vertically integrated proprietary community, which Peter Leeson critiques here:
I'm not too much into blueprint anarchism:
I think both Mencius and Rothbard were/are rationalists and overestimate their ability to predict how the future will be and what the optimal form of organization will be. One of the things I like about dynamic geography is that it doesn't stress specific details of how different societies will be structured or depend on such assumptions.

I guess I like him because,

I guess I like him because, under the hyperbole, he is one of the only people talking about competitive entrepreneurial government. He has the right basic idea.

But yeah...quite a bit of hyperbole, no way to get from here to there, and I don't buy the implementation details.

Stable and predictable

I complained about an anarcho-capitalist's dismissal of the possibility of predictable rule of law here, though I'm with him on pluralism in legal systems.


Definition for the "predictable rule of law" please. I've found about twenty versions.

Libertarianism is like the Ten Commandments

in that it sets limits for human activities but provides no plan of operation. Compare "no murder" with "no initiation of force."

Bill, I think that's a good


I think that's a good analogy.

Bryan Caplan and I are

Bryan Caplan and I are agreed. Patri doesn't give himself enough credit relative to those other "structural libertarians". Why are you so stupid that you can't recognize your own brilliance, Patri? :)