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The Main Idea: American Political division between 3 main groups Conservatives, Liberals, and Libertarians comes from 3 different word views and dominant heuristics, which causes people to use 3 different languages talking about the same event. No wonder people have difficult time understanding each other.
Here they are:
1. Liberal (Progressives) – world is viewed in terms of straggle of oppressors against oppressed: Capital vs. Labor, Rich West against Poor East, and such.
2. Conservatives – world is viewed in terms of civilization against barbarism: Innovative and productive Entrepreneurs vs. Lazy unionized workers, Civilizing West with god given human and property rights against Barbaric East with no human rights and shaky property rights superseded by corruption
3. Libertarians – world is viewed in terms of Freedom vs. Coercion.
To graphically enhance this understanding Three-axis is proposed where every individual can find his point in 3-dimentional space along these lines, while consciously recognizing and placing people only on one dimensional line. For example Liberal could see conservatives and libertarians as being on the side of oppressors, while Conservative could disregard oppression factor and concentrate on civilization and liberty. For example when looking at history of colonization Liberal vehemently hates colonizing power and supports peoples of colonies disregarding technological, moral, and cultural progress brought in by colonization, while conservative would glorify railroads, contemporary medicine, and improved administration, while ignoring oppression and humiliation of indigenous people.
The book reviews state of closure when people incapable to look at the problem outside of their dominant heuristic and, consequently, approach people with alternative heuristics as enemies. This create problems in finding solution for any serious society-wide problem and guaranties incessant and somewhat futile political struggle when nobody can push through their solution while preventing implementation of alternative solutions.
Author’s conclusion is that we need to use multiple heuristics to learn understand each other and it will help us to find solution for the problem.
I do not think it is possible and the only solution I can see is to get away from statewide problems by dividing any problem into smaller pieces, ideally bringing it to the individual level and allowing individuals to solve these problems for themselves in cooperation with likewise thinking individuals. For example currently hot problem of healthcare in my opinion could be solved by creating several different healthcare systems with voluntary participation as decided by individuals. In this case progressives could sign up for government managed healthcare system, while libertarians could sigh up with insurance companies on individual basis. I would even accept some resource equalization between systems as whole based on average health status so if one system spends more then average per the same health status, individuals in this system would pay more. Correspondingly individuals in more effective and efficient system would pay less then average.
This is a theory applicable to agrarian societies and it seems to be pretty well fit into real historical data. The core idea is somewhat Malthusian, connecting growth population to development cycles of society. In short most of conditions depend on ratio of available natural resources to population. The cycle goes through several stages:
1. Expansion – population is small and there is enough arable land to feed it well. It results in population and society growth until it hit some natural o human barrier – borders of powerful neighbor, or geographical limits like oceans.
2. Stagnation starts when the limit achieved and there is no place to expand. Long period of stability with slowly declined quality of life follows for a while.
3. This stagnation period ends by decline usually not expected and quite dramatic often connected to epidemics of contagious disease, or invasion, or some other cataclysm that dramatically decrease population and changes structure of society to some new form in which the cycle starts from the beginning.
The book reviews in details 8 such cycles:
2 for England – Plantagenet cycle (1150-1485) and Tudor-Stuart (1485- 1730)
2 for France – Capetian Cycle (1150-1450) and Valois (1450-1660)
2 for Rome – Republican Cycle (350-30 BCE) and Principate (30 BCE – 285 CE)
2 for Russian – Muscovy Cycle (1460-1620) and Romanovs (1620-1922)
All cycles last between 200 and 350 years and include stages of Expansion, Stagflation, Crisis and Disintegration.
Very interesting is discussion for each cycle of elite’s structure and behavior. It looks like one of necessary condition of disintegration in addition to unsustainable level of population is break down of elite into warring parties of approximately equal strength so nobody can achieve decisive victory until society disintegration is completed and it is ready for the new cycle.
I guess it looks like we are now at similar point, though our society is not agrarian and our elite seems to be not that keen on killing each other, it is rather fight on paper and in the voting booth. However I think outcome of the fight will be a new cycle of reformed society, only this time without population decrease.
This is a nice description of life long travel of Jewish orthodox boy from his Brooklyn background with Yeshiva education to the top of the world as famous lawyer, professor, and writer, powered by combination of intelligence, cultural training for legalistic discussions, and, to significant extent, by opportunities created by previous generation of Jewish lawyers well established at the top of profession by the mid of XX century in America.
The book is divided into 4 parts with first part mainly biographical story, the second part dedicated to AD’s fight for the freedom of speech and reviewed based on 7 legal cases; the third part dedicated to criminal justice and reviewed based on another 7 criminal cases; and the fourth part dedicated to AD’s understanding of equality and justice and his fight for these values based on 3 global issues: Race, Religion and State, and Human Rights vs. Human Wrongs.
I could not say that I was surprised, but I was definitely glad to see that AD despite his left wing background is intelligent enough to stray away from left wing orthodoxy. The fact that he is deeply Jewish while left wing zealots are increasingly becoming Anti-Semitic, obviously has some impact on his progress, but I inclined to think that it is driven more by power of his intellect. After all with XX century’s temporary triumphs of International, then National Socialisms and, eventually, Welfare state followed up by defeat of National Socialism of developed world (Germany and Japan) in WWII, slow disintegration of National Socialism of third world, spectacular falling apart of International Socialism of Soviet Union and Welfare State failure happening before our eyes now, it is more then difficult to remain both intellectually honest and politically Left wing at the same time.
On legal ideas that AD presents in his book I probably agree with some 60-70% with his opinions and I think remaining 30-40% seems to be not completely ossified in his mind so it would be interesting to hear more extensive discussion of them with somebody of equal intellectual capabilities.
It’s a very interesting analysis of American democracy from the point of view of voters’ competency and its consequences in the management of the country. First of all it establishes the level of political ignorance as very high based on questionnaires conducted over significant period of time. Obviously there is now surprise here.
However it goes not just beyond usual laments about stupidity of the voters, but into much more interesting discussion of rationality of voters’ low level of political knowledge. It reviews various theories of democracy such as retrospective voting, Burkean Trusteeship, Majority views representation, Deliberative Democracy, and Pure Proceduralist Theories of Democracy.
Another interesting and unusual approach is to look at the problem when voters know too much. The interesting conclusion here is that yes, voters could know too much when knowledge is combined with “bad” values. There is seems to be not completely conscious assumption that there is somebody outside who knows what the “good” outcome should be. Here I think we are going into very core issue with democracy – whether democracy is acceptable, as simple rule of majority or it should be tempered by “elite” so non-elite would not do evil due to its bad values. The example is racist population deceived by elite politician who pretends to be more racist that he is in order to get power. For me there are two big problems here. One is that elite usually has a lot worse values then regular people. The second one is that deception in itself is not a good value whatever justification politicians could come with. For both of these reasons I believe that pure majoritarian democracy is not much different then tyranny. Only democracy restricted by external set of non-violable values either religious such as 10 commandments or humanitarian such as American bill of rights could provide for a system leading to freedom and consequently to prosperity.
The next discussion is pretty convincing essay on rationality of political ignorance due to the simple fact that it is not rational to spend much time on knowledge acquisition of resulting improvement in decision-making has negligible impact on reality, because one vote is not deciding anything.
Another highly insightful analysis is provided for Foot Voting vs. Ballot Box voting. In other words people are moving to another place where conditions are better for them. Being immigrant, this discussion is very close to my heart. I more then fully agree that such voting is immeasurably more effective and knowledgeable because of high stakes involved. I think we all would be a lot better off if this kind of voting occurred with higher frequency and more information about results provided to everybody.
The weakest part of this book, in my opinion, comes at the end when different solutions provided to improve voting process. I think that it is completely wrong approach. What we really need, if we are serious about improving lives, is movement away from big decisions made based on majority rule and towards maximization of individual freedom, the only way when individuals could possible pursue their happiness successfully. There is no need really to justify it in any way other then simple pointing to the fact that all individuals are different and therefore it could not possibly be one size of happiness that fits all.
This is the book about future. More exactly – what we can expect in 2050 when demographic projections point to 100 million more people living America then 300 million living now. In short, the expectation is that America is radically transformed, but the American creed, which includes rejection of fatalism and hierarchy, while supporting individual freedom, will be prospering as never before. The discussion goes along demographic lines and here are the main points:
Additional 100 million will come from immigrant and minorities with proportion of original WASP population going down. The important feature is American openness for all humanity regardless of small staff like race, nation, and religion. Everybody can become an American and be perceived as such by everybody else. An interesting point is that overall world population will stabilized or even go down, while American will keep growing.
Cities will remain entry points and suburbs will remain core America where mature native-born Americans, well Americanized successful immigrants, and minorities will wield increasing political and economic power. Los Angeles model with small downtown and huge suburbia will expand around the country, but with significantly better communication and transportation amenities supporting economic main activities which will also move to suburbia. America would become an archipelago of villages where people not only sleep, but also work, get entertained, and spent most time of their lives enjoying plenty of space, nature, and security.
In short the future is bright and we can expect the great improvement in American life pretty much as it always was before.
I mainly agreed with this evaluation because I think that the great growth of power of bureaucracy and politicians that occurred over last 100 years is about bump head on into Americans’ well being and deep cultural believes with, in my opinion, inevitable outcome of significant decrease of this power and conversion of great many bureaucrats and politicians into productive members of society.
Malcolm Gladwell found a great recipe for writing bestsellers: take a simple even banal idea, wrap it in a bunch of curious anecdotes that illustrate this idea, and indicate that this idea universally applies to everything in the world. The result is an enjoyable and easy reading without deep dive into complexities of real life.
So the simple idea is that inequality of sides often really works to the advantage of seemingly weaker side with top example of David versus Goliath. The traditional reading is that Goliath, as professional warrior – big, strong, and well armed had huge superiority over simple boy David, so David won by using his specific skills in non-traditional way. The point Gladwell makes is that in reality Davis had advantage because he used projectile against slow moving target that could not effectively defend itself. Leaving alone ridiculousness of this example (after all it was not peasant boys who were living at the expense of big strong warriors, but rather other way around), the idea is not bad. It just had to be taken with a grain of salt and used very sparingly because in real life Goliaths usually win.
The expansion of main idea comes in two directions. One is that disadvantage makes people do thing that they did not know they can do before and achieve things that they would never achieve if the disadvantage would not make them to work double hard. The second expansion is into limits of power. It comes with complexity of life and existence of way too many powers. This part as usual when invoked in humanistic discussion could not held in real life because they take for granted self-imposed humanistic limitation, which often prevent civilized powers to achieve secondary objectives. In reality these limitations are not permanent limitations on everybody by any means. A good example is non-violent movements. Gandy and Martin Luther King were possible only in opposition to relatively civilized and therefore humane power whether of British colonial or American democratically elected administrations. Against non-civilized and non-humane power like Hitler’s Nazis or Stalin’s communists they would be wiped out long before anybody knew they existed. This is really not an assumption, but reality of many people who were crashed by power without limits.
In short a nice book with very limited relation to reality.
This is a classic work of social science written in 1950s and carrying indelible mark of this time – time of triumph of hard science, math and engineering. It investigates the nature of choice in a group or society, how it is done and what is normally comes out of it. The unusual part of this is an attempt and quite successful to apply rules of mathematical logic with its language of theorems and equations to society and individuals.
Here a sample of how it looks like in my translation from Math to English:
Axiom I: Any two conditions could be either indifferent or one more preferable then another.
Axiom II: IF condition X preferable to Y and Y preferable to Z, THEN X preferable to Z
After dealing in details with preference and choice it goes into definition and discussion of Social Welfare Function. It is to a significant extent reverberates with Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy – something that I believe is completely meaningless because humanity and society does not exists except as abstraction. The reality is that it all consists of individuals and calculation of total satisfaction or happiness could not possibly be done. In short if there are 10 people and they all are hungry, to kill and make dinner for 9 people out of one could not possibly be good even if as result we have 9 people who are not hungry any more at the expense of one who is not alive any more. My point is that social welfare is meaningless and only individual welfare makes sense. However it was interesting to look at this work.
The main idea of this book is coming from the simple fact that we have a lot of free time on our hands and with much higher level of education of the people we have a huge surplus resource of cognitive ability. If we apply this cognitive surplus to problems that we are facing we could progress in unexpected and probably very productive ways.
Shirky touches all points that are required to make something of this surplus:
Means – Contemporary communication networks and social media that allows disseminate ideas with lightening speed
Motive – People need to belong to a group and now it is possible to do across countries and regions, providing people with similar interests opportunity to join a fitting group regarding of how small percentage of population this group represents.
Opportunity- This combination of networks, need to belong, and interests creates opportunity to combine all of this in something significant and productive such as open source software (example of Apache)
Culture – Finally culture, if seen as coordinating tool, will provide environment in which all these could factors could join together creating new method of use of cognitive surplus for production of ideas and services much more fitting for post-industrial age. The new generation would probably have difficult time even to imagine the time when people did not have so much freedom to use their time and efforts to do whatever they want to do together with other people across the globe who think likewise.
It is somewhat strange to read a book that includes a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about for a while. One of these things that always come to my mind when I hear or read an incredibly counterfactual statement “Violence is not an answer” has become a chapter in this book named “Violence often is an answer”. This answer is what defines any political system – the form of organized violence. Political system or the state is more effective in its violence because it is bureaucracy and therefore is capable to overcome natural limits on violence normally present in humans. Ginsberg is also bringing in welfare state as another side of state violence, this time as a carrot. Finally he absolutely correctly defines violence as necessary, if unfortunate condition for a change. Even democracy could and should be evaluated as mechanism to prevent violent change, by providing for peaceful, if slow moving, mechanism of change. It is not that often that I encounter book so much in sync with my own thinking.
The chapters of this book provide nice and detailed analysis of use of violence as driving force of political life allowing groups of individuals to establish dominance within society or over other society. Very interesting and quite non-trivial analysis provided for non-violent movement. I pretty much had to agree that such movements do not really exist. It all comes down to ability of leaders of “non-violent” movement to provoke intervention of some external power in possession of tools of violence exceeding such tools of their adversary. A very good example is “non-violent” civil rights movement in USA with its leaders working tirelessly trying to generate support of northern white population and federal government, which was representing it. At the final analysis “non-violent” movement succeeded when troops of 101 airborne interfered on its behalf.
Another issue wonderfully analyzed in this book is connection between bureaucracy and violence. Historical examples provided illustrate this connection in very interesting way. One of such interesting facts that were new to me came from analysis of Rwandan genocide. Contrary to common view it was not completely spontaneous process, but rather an operation that was prepared well in advance and implemented using all necessary trappings of bureaucratic hierarchy. Obviously violence is much more effective if it is conducted using all logistical and organizational achievement of contemporary bureaucracy.
By extension violence based on bureaucratic support find its most effective form in state apparatus. It relates not only to logistics and other material processes, but also to software of government – rule of law, legitimation of the ruling elite, propaganda, and all kind of brainwashing applied to members of society, starting before kindergarten and never really ending, except that with age and experience it always become less and less effective. The counter force to this decrease in susceptibility to propaganda that bureaucracy always uses is violence as tool of keeping individuals in line.
The book also provides a very good review of America and its system of combination of hard and soft power which allows American elites to succeed where elites of old empires failed miserably. Being democracy with mainly market economy, which necessarily provides a non-trivial amount of freedom for regular Americans, resulting in much more resilient society capable to a great change without big violent interruptions.
The final chapter dedicated to analysis of relationship between violence and change. This analysis includes review of law-preserving violence versus change promoting violence. There is continuing tension and counteraction between these two forces with forces of law-preserving violence normally overwhelmingly more powerful and continuously winning tremendous number of small skirmishes, until at one point existing system is not capable to meat requirements of significant enough number of active members of society who want to change it and revolutionary change occurs sometimes in really wild paroxysm of violence as it happened during French revolution of 1789 and Russian revolution of 1917. Thankfully lately the great change happens with minimal amount of applied violence as it happened with dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991.
This small book is written in 2011 and it seems to be a response to the famous statement by president Obama when answering to question about American exceptionalism. He pretty much stated that America is as exceptional to Americans as Belgium is exceptional to citizens of Belgium. I guess this piece of ignorance should be engraved somewhere next to Obama’s statement that he visited all 57 states of USA.
Actually American status as an exceptional country is pretty much generally accepted worldwide view whether it is accepted with positive connotation as country of freedom and prosperity, or with negative connotation as country of greedy capitalists and self-destructive, unreasonably hard working, money crazy, and madly religious primitives.
This nice book provides a response by presenting pretty clear picture of what American exceptionalism is, and how it come to be. First of all America is exceptional in its geographical settings – it represents a big chunk of the continent separated by oceans from big and powerful at the time countries of Europe which provided for America’s peaceful existence for significant part of its history, meaning no big military, no big war, no mass conscription, and no regular destruction. The size of country provided for abundant land open for settlement for the first century and a half, giving opportunity for any European with guts and drive to settle on his own farm without being robbed by lords, kings, and such.
These settlers created their own ideology, which while being articulated pretty well in founding documents, nevertheless was deeply engraved in minds and hearts of majority of Americans well before these documents were written. The key to this ideology is the simple notion that “all men are created equal” and while acting in their own self-interest through market and without violence, except for self-defense, they more often then not create the best outcome for everybody involved.
Charles Murray identifies 4 key American traits that make this country: Industriousness, Egalitarianism, Religiosity, and Community life based on Voluntarism and Philanthropy.
He provides a very nice picture representing how typical American behavior patterns grow out of these traits, for example Industriousness linked to self-reliance, hard work, and getting ahead. Religiosity linked to social activism, utopian aspirations, and inner self-government. Egalitarianism made aristocracy non-starter, supported mutual respects and equality of dignity, and produced special American phenomenon when the vast majority of individuals identify themselves as middle class even if some of them are rich and others are poor. The last trait is one of the main reasons why socialism and communism ideas did not created mass political movement in America as it happened in Europe.
Murray also analyses current state of American exceptionalism and finds significant deterioration of all these specific American traits. His diagnosis is this:” America still has exceptional aspects, but we are no longer the unique outlier that amused, amazed, and bemused the rest of the world from its founding through the first half of the twentieth century”.
I think that something is missing in this diagnosis. This something is the fact that the whole world moved quite dramatically in the direction of American ideology, even if in America itself this ideology is under attack. This movement removed formal aristocracy just about everywhere in the world. It created democracies elsewhere even if lots of them are far from perfect. It moved the vast majority of the world to market system living state planning in dust. In short as world moved close to America, it became less exceptional.
I also think that America is far from done. I believe that resurgence of American culture is coming and it is coming on the scale that nobody can even imagine right now so the current temporary degradation will be considered for what it is – the small bump on the way to world wide triumph of freedom, self-reliance, and egalitarianism.
This book is somewhat curious take on facts, journalism, and big data. Actually author talks about it as data journalism that is journalism based on databases, statistical information, and such. Simon Rogers, author of this book works for Guardian and is one of creators of Datablog – website for data journalism and this book based on his experience in this area. There are quite a few mainly statistical interesting facts about information from government databases, Wikiliks. It also contains some technical information on file formats and spreadsheets. There is also some information about sources in UK. Overall this book is mainly a collection of curious data and review of methods of their acquisition and analysis.
During the first half of my life I lived in environment where everything was science or at least scientific. I studied Scientific Communism, Scientific Atheism, and other Soviet Scientific BS. I also studied subjects which had nothing scientific in their titles, things like mathematical physics, electronics, Boolean algebra, design of computer processors, and quite a few others included in university studies for system engineers. Even at the time I noticed an interesting phenomenon that the more words “science” and “scientific” used in description, the less reliance on experiment this subject contained and more difficult it was to pinpoint reason why, despite lots of very logical and complex statements representing this subject, they clearly made no sense whatsoever if compared with realities of the world around me.
Obviously I never heard about Karl Popper and his epistemological work. Somehow it did not even get into books with names like “Critic of bourgeois philosophy of science” which I kind of liked to read to amuse myself by the strange inability of bourgeois philosophers to accept compelling logic of Soviet Official Scientific Whatever. Now I finally got to read “Logic of Scientific Discovery” and really enjoyed a clear thinking of Karl Popper even if I left Soviet notion of “Scientific” behind long, long time ago.
This book is somewhat complicated so I would not try to go into details and particularities of its logic. The most important in it is a notion of scientific logic, which includes two steps process – building of theory and its falsification or more precise attempts for its falsification.
This notion of falsification is, probably the most important contribution to understanding of science as method of knowledge acquisition. In short falsification of theory is the clearly defined conditions for experiment and its outcome, which, if proved to be true, falsifies the theory, or in other words proves that it is incorrect. The simplest example of this method is a theory that sun always rising every morning. The falsification of this theory would be fact that one morning sun did not raise. Even if sun will rise the morning after, the original theory still is falsified and we’ll need another theory to explain the phenomenon of raising sun.
By the same pattern an extension of this theory would be the theory that sunrise is directly connected to the chief priest’s making sacrifices to gods. The falsification of this theory would be the statement that if chief did not make sacrifices, sun still would rise. It is scary, but if proved to be true, it would make the theory about sacrifices and chief false and could even lead to chief’s unemployment since his work on making sunrise to occur is just not necessary.
One very interesting consequence of this logic is impossibility of any settled science whatsoever because as long as theory is scientific it has a statement of falsification. It doesn’t matter how many such statements where tested and confirmed because for theory to remain scientific it should still have a statement, which could be tested only sometime in the future. As soon as such statement could not be provided the theory cease to be scientific and become an article of faith. And that is exactly what happened with all this “scientific” theories that I studied in the late Soviet union – they where falsified and before disappearing turned into articles of faith, and pretty evil faith at that.
The main point of this book is that American Constitution should not and cannot be used and understood outside of unwritten rules and mores of culture at the any given moment, so with changes in this culture overtime the written text is read and perceived differently even if not a word had changed.
Akhil Amar starts with detailed legal review of constitutional issues of impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. He makes pretty convincing case that the text of written constitution if taken literarily could conceivably lead to situation in which Andrew Johnson would preside as judge in his own case. This logical outcome of written text contradicts not only to all cultural traditions, but also to simple common sense. So the first lesson of this case is necessity of dialogue between written Constitution and unwritten Constitution, which includes various principles implicit in the text.
The second case used for analysis: McCulloch vs. Maryland related to state’s claim to tax Bank of United States – federal organization. Here chief judge Marshall established option of deriving rules not from the written text, but from “broad purpose of document”. Here is the logic: Step 1 – purpose of constitution security of the people; Step 2 – Creating central bank fit into this purpose; Step 3 – Therefore central bank is constitutional. I think it is one of the earliest examples of pulling constitutional rabbit out of the top hat. Needless to say that not everybody agreed with this logic and it took more then a hundred year before supporters of central bank achieved final victory in form of establishment of Federal Reserve System, and, after another 100 years, it is still not clear whether FED increased or decreased economic security of the country.
Other cases reviewed in this chapter involve freedom of speech and executive power. They all lead to one conclusion by author – the clause-bound literal interpretation of constitution fails.
The second chapter provides an interesting take on how the Constitution became the law. The one of the most important characteristic of this process was unabridged free speech of everybody involved and interested in process. This was a great break off from all known traditions including well-established British tradition of Parliament making laws and people just accepting it. The tradition of free speech with which American constitution started was not formed easily. Long after the Constitution become law the attempts by people in power to limit free speech continued, and so far all of them from Sedition Act of John Adam’s administration to “Fox News is not a news organization” of Obama’s administration failed and failed quite miserably. Another interesting things that was not well understood before, is that 9/13 rule of states ratifying constitution was not binding on states that voted NO. Actually 2 states Rhode Island and North Carolina declined to ratify the Constitution in 1787-88 and joined the Union later. In other words majority decision was binding only on states that vote for it. It would be great if such rule were expanded to individuals. In this case we would reed of the worst problem of democracy – people voting to give themselves money of other people.
The chapter three is about constitutional status of textually unnamed or underspecified rights. Such rights from property law to criminal law are based mainly on common law traditional for British culture. In this case it is not unusual for judges just attach part of constitution to whatever rules or rights they feel like creating. A good example of such situation reviewed here in details is the rule of exclusion of reliable physical evidence if it was obtained in violation of law. Neither Constitution nor common law provided for such option, but nevertheless this rule was successfully established and is maintained because it is what legal establishment wants.
The chapter four is all about the greatest discoverer of constitutional rights and privileges that nobody knew about before him – Earl Warren and his court. The legal revolution that occurred in 1950-60s was based on pretty much complete disregard of actual text of document and implementation of new rules that temporarily winning liberal establishment deemed proper. To say truth the previous conservative judges were not absolutely dedicated to the text either, but Warren’s court revolution was breathtaking. We can see it even now when the newest addition to the court Elena Kagan could not articulate anything hypothetical that government cannot do, logically stating that government has tyrannical power and constitution is just meaningless piece of paper which should be referred just for show.
The chapter 5 explores relationship between text and judicially crafted unwritten doctrine. More specifically – it looks at how precedent is treated in new decisions and when it is considered binding or not. There are lots of interesting intricacies in this discussion, but the bottom line is simple – whenever majority of court wants disregard previously established precedent and has support of other powers, it does it. The example used to demonstrate it is cases of segregation and Supreme Court’s change of position to completely opposite over period of a few dozen years.
The chapter 6 discusses a symbolic meaning of American Constitution as document, which helps to forge unity of nation that includes millions of people of completely different races, cultures, religions, and attitudes. This symbolic constitution includes not only Constitution per se, but also Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg address, and many other things that are America. The chapter provides detailed analysis of 6 such texts.
The chapter 7 dedicated to Ladies – the detailed review of process of expansion of individuals included into notion of American people which started with adult propertied white males and grew wider and wider to include the biggest part of population – ladies.
The chapter 8 reviews process of establishment of precedents of American republic starting with multiple precedents established by George Washington.
The chapter 9 is about American Institutional Constitution – the way of interpretation of government practices. This is pretty much about real distribution of power between individuals and groups who hold positions in institutions of power – Congress, Senate, Presidency, Supreme Court, and others.
The chapter 10 gives a very nice review of history and working of American two-party system. It was quite a process, but the one most important thing that could be inferred from this is that any political movement that want to become relevant has to take over one of two parties. We now at the very interesting point of American history when coalition of upper class socialist-democrats and underclass national-socialists took over Democratic party and are trying to implement their objectives – expansion of government with many positions of power to implement their utopias for upper class liberals and redistribution of wealth from middle class to them for national-socialist underclass. In its turn the Republican party is now in transition from party of conservative plutocrats who until recently happily enjoyed their wealth paying a little bit down to lower classes in form of compassionate conservatism, to the party of enraged middle class who are mad as hell and will not take any more of redistribution of wealth from them to upper class for their luxuries and utopias and to underclass for their non-working, even if miserable, living.
Chapter 11 – Conscientious Constitution is all about good feeling like rejection of death penalty in principle even in rejection of compliance with existing law as demonstrated by justices Brennan and Thurgood Marshall. It is also about juries and their power of law nullification demonstrated on many occasions over history of America. It is also about pro defendant asymmetry, which mainly exists in theory, while helping a lot in practice to well-connected and wealthy defendants and being practically nonexistent for vast majority of defendants. It also spends quite a bit of space on amendments process and on conscience of judges.
The final chapter 12 is about America’s Unfinished Constitution or, in other words about future changes that Akhil Amar envisions in American Constitution. He believes that it will be expanding into direction of more rights and inclusion. For example he believes into expansion of constitution to allow immigrant to become eligible for presidency, that we will soon rid of electoral college if not by changing constitution, then by going around it at the level of states when all state electors go to winner of popular vote. He also dedicates quit a bit of text to interaction between states and federal power and seems to believe that progress means decreasing role of states and increase of power of federal government as it did happen over last 100 years. I see it differently. I think that this century will be different and we’ll see decreasing power of federal government after huge government enterprises of XX century like big military, social security, and similar things will go down crashing. We’ll go away from the way of utopian thinking of upper classes isolated from real life by their wealth and/or academic environment into direction of thinking of middle class people who are not isolated from consequences of their mistakes and know very well that future is unknown and all experimentation should be not big and bold, but small and cautions, done at the level of state or even more local level. And when dust settle, we’ll see new refreshed constitutional order dictated by middle class for which good life now is much more important then future progress which will take care of itself, providing we took care about current situation now.
In volume three Hayek is going into discussion of Democracy as the lousy, but the best and the only effective method of peaceful change of society. At the time of writing in late 1970s he was concerned with growing disillusionment about democracy as a desirable method of government and anticipated movement to an impasse. Therefore 3d volume is basically a proposal of basic alteration of the structure of democratic government.
12 Majority Opinion and Contemporary Democracy
The biggest threat to contemporary democracy comes from government intervention into economy and wealth redistribution. When government starts to decide who gets what, when and how, it inevitably drives society apart. Hayek identifies unlimited power of democratic state as the fatal defect of democracy. He believes that the only remedy is limitation on government coercion. It should be limited to “purpose of ensuring obedience to rules of just conduct approved by most”. Involvement of democratic government into wealth redistribution and business regulation is inevitably leads to multiple special interests corrupting politicians by selling support and participation in coalition in exchange for share of loot either in form of subsidies, or tax relieve, or regulation of competition. The bottom line – only limited government can be a decent government.
13 The Division of Democratic Powers
Significant problem for democracy is created when over the time legislature losses its function as law giving body and becomes a dictatorial body which uses its power pretty much as kings used to do to direct use of resources and redistribution of wealth. The same relate to executive power, which over time tends to loose its limitations and become more of the legislature. I guess in USA this process moved quit a bit ahead with executive branch usurping more and more legislative power via regulation, which have power of laws. This intermixing of power leads to deterioration of democratic system creating lots of small tyrants at agency level of executive power and big party lines tyrant of legislative majority.
14 The Public Sector and Private Sector
This probably one of the biggest disagreement I have with Hayek. In his opinion government has legitimate functions in multiple areas not related to defense and security where it can provide services and collective goods using violence to collect taxes. I believe that role of government should be limited to the area of violence with all areas covered by private sector with government only providing decision supporting information which could not be obtained without violent power of government.
15 Government Policy and Market
Here Hayek contradicts doctrine of perfect market, which was so popular in the 1990s and I am completely agree with him. Markets are not perfect. Market consists of real human individuals and nobody is perfect. People, make mistakes, deceive, and are being deceived, fail to deliver on promise and do a zillion ineffective and inefficient things. Nevertheless market is the only mechanism discovered so far that creates opportunities and stimulus for innovation and constant improvement in quality of life. It is interesting that Hayek looks at competition as a procedure of discovery. Discovery of real human needs and prices that individuals are willing to pay to satisfy these needs. Hayek also discusses here a problem of monopolies in quite a details and seems comes to conclusion that anti-monopoly legislation is a bigger problem them monopolies.
16 The Miscarriage of the Democratic Ideal: A Recapitulation
Democracy as it developed now in western world denies ideal of equality before the law and rule in interests of majority. It developed into bargaining democracy were power of the state used to benefit special interests that bargain between themselves to achieve majority however fleeting coalition this majority represent. This necessary creates situation of lawlessness because law is stable rule, which does not change with every election, while rule by direction of current coalition in power needs flexibility to meet interest of its members and therefore had to override law. The only reprieve we have comes from separation of power and even this only when different branches of power are taken over by different coalitions of special interests which compete with each other and in process prevent complete lawlessness.
17 A Model Constitution
At this point Hayek presents some ideas to remedy the problem of democracy deterioration:
• Slightly different model of separation of power when upper house of representative body provides more law making activity, while lower house takes over some executive functions. The idea here is to reinforce rule of law by separating it more strictly from rule by directions.
• The basic clause of model constitution is that in normal times men could be restrained from doing what they wished, or coerced to do something they do not wish only in accordance with the recognized rule of just conduct. I think it is far from enough because whoever defines what are such rules has practically unlimited power. I think that the rule for coercion of not allowing doing something should be acceptable only for prevention of coercion or violence against other people. Coercion to make individual to do something he does not want should not be used at all except for removing individual off the way if he/she prevents other people of doing something.
• Hayek suggests two representative bodies with distinctive functions one more of law giving body and another more of executive day by day conduct of government business. He goes into somewhat interesting discussion how to use age of representatives, process of election, terms, and other details of how to get right people in right places of power. I, on other hand do not think that it is possible at all to have good and benevolent people elected into position of power. The power hungry crooks are just inevitable in these places. The only way to avoid it is just not have such high power positions in the first place.
18 The Containment of Power and the Dethronement of Politics
The final chapter is about limited and unlimited power and how to contain it. Hayek believes that the only way to prevent democratic representatives from serving special interests is to deprive them from giving discriminatory benefits to groups and individuals. He understands that it is not really possible, but still believes that it could be achieved by giving supreme authority to tradition or as he puts it to long-term running rules. I do not believe that it is possible because all rules and all traditions are subject to interpretation by current generation of people. It is also impossible because in last few centuries due to tremendous development of science, tradition lost its aura of the best known way because science proves every day that what thought to be correct yesterday turn out to be an error today. It constantly comes out with examples of logic and experiment beating up old notions and ideas. I think the only way to prevent democratic government from using power of coercion to serve special interests is to minimize power of coercion, period.
Actually at practical level Hayek comes to the same conclusion because after spending lots of time on designing democratic system, which would not serve special interests he talks at the end about Peace, Freedom, and Justice as “the three great negatives” meaning that they could be achieved only by negating ability of government to interfere.
EPILOGUE: The Three Sources of Human Values
It is extremely interesting discussion about evolution, sociobiology, formation and maintenance of tradition, and unstoppable march of progress. Hayek seems to believe that civilization and tradition are going against human primordial instincts. He talks about deterioration of Western world and its democracy as consequence of re-emergence of suppressed primordial instincts. He even states: “And since we owe the order of our society to a tradition of rules which we only imperfectly understand, all progress must be based on tradition. We must build on tradition and only tinker with its product. “. I actually believe quite opposite. As bad as democracy looks now, it is a lot better then it was at any point of time in the past. It is just question of what is it compared to. If it is compared to ideal, it is pretty bad. But if we compare it to the reality of the past, it is getting better every time we learn something new about the past.
I mainly agree with Hayek’s final conclusion: “Man is not and never will be the master of his fate: his very reason always progresses by leading him into unknown and unforeseen where he learns new things”. However I would add a significant adjustment to it: “The more man learns, the better he is capable to adjust environment to himself and himself to environment even if it is constantly changes, and, as result, he is able to make his fate a lot better then it would be otherwise.”
This is an old book from 1980s in which two views on history presented by two people who actually know what they are talking about. One – Robert Fogel presenting cliometric or scientific approach to history and another one G.R.Elton presenting traditional approach.
Here is the core of their ideas compared by Fogel, Cliometrics vs. Traditional:
• Subject Matter: focus on collectives of people vs. individuals and their stories
• Preferred types of evidence: statistical data and quantitative evidence vs. testimonials
• Standards of proof: documents designed to meet current needs: bill, bureaucratic paperwork, and such vs. legalistic prove by evidence and analogy
• Role of Controversy: cliometricians tend to accept controversy and access part of history based on estimating procedure, while traditional historians evaluate a large work as whole trying to resolve all controversies
• Attitudes toward collaboration: cliometricians work collaboratively and could not work otherwise due to amount of material they analyze, while traditionalists work more as writers creating narrative rather then scientific report.
• Communications with public: Cliometricians’ direct communications at other historians as it is usual for professions which require special knowledge, while traditionalists direct communication at wider public trying to have cultural impact rather then just stay within profession.
Elton response is very interesting. It comes down to the statement that Fogel’s description is somewhat oversimplified and it assigns to traditional historians attitudes and behavior that is just plainly caused by low level of professionalism of some individuals, rather then different attitude to the subject.
Overall I find a very little of substantial difference. Cliometrics is just an expansion of method of development of historical knowledge that allows including a significant number of material evidence which was not possible before advances in information technology allowed dramatically expand our ability to process it.
The 30 years that passed since this discussion took place seems to show, that eventually both method merged into one process of developing historical knowledge that materially improved quality of such knowledge.
That is one very unusual idea. So in the war which was conducted by all major powers in the word with hundreds of millions in population and multimillion armies it was a relatively small group of people with no nation of their own, speaking different languages, and, as diverse as 18 million people could be, with only one thing in common – religion and culture actually defeated Hitler.
This idea seems to be a preposterous until one think about perception of the war by Hitler and all other ideological Nazis. In their minds it was the war of races between superior and noble Arian race and filthy, disgusting, and evil race of Jews. It is weird, but it was not only in their speeches and writings where ideological Nazis expressed opinion about enemies they are fighting, but even more important this opinion directed their actions. Even during the most important moments of battle when everything was on the line, the Nazi leadership gave priority to trains carrying Jewish children to gas chambers over trains carrying ammunition for German troops on the front line. If this is truth, then in minds of Nazis these children were more dangerous enemy then Russian or American soldiers. And at the final count by this logic with Hitler and Nazis going down in April 1945 while 12 million of world Jews out of 18 million before WWII of world and 3.5m out of 9.5m European Jews still alive, Nazis were defeated in this race war.
In reality it was not really war of races. It was ideological war of the world including Western democracies of America and Great Britain, International socialism of Soviet Union, and everything in between against German National-Socialism. The inequality of resources was so significant, that Hitler could not possibly win even if ammunitions were put ahead of killing children.
Nevertheless this book provides a good overview of totality of efforts of individual Jews and their influence on outcome of this struggle:
1. Millions of American Jews used their abilities and position to overcome isolationist and pro-Nazi movements in USA such as German immigrant’s Bund. It was a high stakes ideological struggle outcome of which was not known at the time. If Jews lost this fight it is quite possible that Germany would achieve victory in Europe with USA standing by or even helping Nazis. This would inevitably lead to much more difficult for USA war against united national-socialist Europe that would have to be conducted for decades to come.
2. European immigrants many of them Jewish contributed technological knowledge that culminated in creation of nuclear weapons. It was used against Japan, but there is no doubt that if Nazi lasted a few more months it would be used against them.
3. Millions of Soviet Jews used their communication skills, technological and managerial abilities to contribute to Soviet victory. It was not a small deal because Jews while small minority provided non trivial numbers of top engineers, scientists, and managers way out of their proportion in population.
4. Being traditionally more or less community interconnected across border in Europe and well familiar with multiple cultures and languages Jews provided significant services in intelligence.
5. Finally at least hundreds of thousands Jews directly participated in fight as soldiers and officers in all armies of anti-Nazi coalition, partisans, and saboteurs of German war effort.
In short even without state or any other organization the sum total of individual efforts was qualitatively higher then just their numbers. This qualitative difference could be demonstrated by counterfactual thought that if Germany remained culturally and politically the same way it was during WWI and all these Jewish scientists who participated in creation of American nuclear bomb would remain Germans, Italians, and citizens of other European states, the outcome of war could be quite different then the one which actually occurred.
This is a kind of book I am quite interested in – ideas about where we are now, how we got here, and what we could expect in the future based on whom we are.
So the first thing first – the future is bright. At least we have reasons to think that it is bright. These reasons are based on our history, especially on our traditional family way of life. Here is an interesting point that I did not think about before. The American nuclear family that authors trace back in history to typical family type of Germanic tribes is exceptional if compared with other family types usual among other peoples and that is where American exceptionalism is coming from.
The core difference is position and freedom of individual within the family structure, which in America’s case is nuclear with very week connections to extended family, tribe, and location. Americans setup up their family as man + women + children and that’s it. Parents, cousins, matriarchs, and patriarchs are out of picture. Parents interact with the world the best they can, obtaining resources and providing children with opportunity to grow, but as soon as children become adults they are supposed to get out and start their own nuclear family more often then not in some distant location. Children are not supposed to count on inheritance because the parent’s wealth belongs to parents and could be used as they wish with no consideration for children. By the same pattern children do not have to provide for parents at their old age – parent’s savings should take care about that. Certainly in reality parents leave inheritance to children and children take care about old parents, but point is that American culture unlike other cultures does not demand and/or force it. So the family life is basic training for Americans in individualism and self-reliance, which they are famous for. This is also an all-important conditioning for rejection of big government as substitute for family where father/government knows best just because such family is not an American family. Therefore, based on the deeply entrenched cultural feature of Americans the current period of big government sickness is expected to pass with relatively small changes, while opening new venue for flourishing of American culture.
Bennet and Lotus review in details how American family culture was formed and changed based on Germanic roots, through English inheritance, and consequently multiple influences of immigrants from all over the world who brought in some of their specifics. Nevertheless over time all immigrants accept American culture and become as exceptional as all other regular Americans.
In addition to family authors propose tree steps model of American development naming based, as it is usual now, on designation of software generations:
America 1.0 – original America of small farmers, manufacturers, and traders at the North in constant conflict with slave owning budding aristocratic society of the South. The conflict was resolved in Civil war with the North winning and then moving for full development of relatively free farmers agricultural republic and South losing war, but winning afterward low intensity war of rebellion and attrition, establishing segregation as substitute for slavery, and, as result, economically stagnating for the next century.
America 2.0 came to the life after version 1.0 ran out its course with end of frontier, disappearance of freely available land, and expansion of cities and industries populated by mass influx of new immigrants. The 2.0 versions did not come to life easy. It was born in long industrial wars with real shootings from 1870s through the New Deal in 1930s. This version was a combination of highly regulated welfare state with big government and massive limitations on individual freedom. For a while it brought in prosperity, which was based to the significant extent on the fact that all other industrial world was busy destroying itself in two world wars working out outdated notion of prosperity based on acquiring territory and slaves through conquest.
America 3.0 is being born now and it is America of free and independent individuals whose prosperity based not on land and agriculture, but on creating sophisticated services for each other and exchanging them on highly computerized and interconnected virtual market. The old material staff like manufacturing and agriculture would be brought to insignificance by such technological development as robots, 3d manufacturing, and such. Here I somewhat disagree, even if my opinion used to be very similar. I just do not see enough demand for services of other people especially when information by nature has unlimited simultaneous use by infinite number of individuals and consequently impossible to control. My current opinion is that universal property would have much better chance to do the trick, but this is a different story.
Authors claim and I tend to agree that we are now going through dying pains of America 2.0 and birth labor of America 3.0 which will be much more true to individualistic nature of America with social settlement between beneficiaries and supporters of America 2.0 somewhat dividing country with beneficiaries of America 3.0. They see such settlement in form of decreasing power of federal government and increasing power of the states, which will attract people with different preferences. Some states will be strong welfare states with big state government while others will be small government individualistic states. I am not sure that it could happen because welfare state is by its nature is an arrangement in which parasitic part of population such as bureaucrats, politicians, poor, and others who do not produce anything that other people need, live at the expense of people who are working hard and create marketable goods and services. It would be kind of difficult to maintain welfare state if productive individuals can easily move to another state and could not be robbed. We seems to have a good historical example of this in Berlin Wall.
Nobody really knows what will happen, but I agree with authors that it will be long and difficult, but peaceful process.
In volume two Hayek analyses somewhat contradictory relationship between human notions of justice and overall culture developed over millions of years when people lived in small bands of basically tribal society versus demands and notions of justice that makes market possible and efficient.
7. General Welfare and Particular purposes
This part is dedicated to analysis of abstract rules compliance which creates opportunity for functioning market. Probably the most important conclusion that somehow escapes many philosophers of “progress” is that future is unknown and therefore even notion of progress when somebody knows that some end is inevitable in the future is invalid. The best we can do is just complying with time tested abstract rules. I am not necessarily agreed with this idea of compliance. I absolutely agreed that future is unknown and that “progress” as in “progressives” is purely junk thinking. But I believe that present is known and if the present provides clear and obvious evidence that time tested abstract rules are not effective any more, then compliance maybe unreasonable and rules should be changed
8. The Quest for Justice
Here presented the idea that Justice is pretty much negative that is absence of injustice. The following very interesting discussion about Justice vs. Law vs. morals vs. nature vs. sovereignty is very interesting. I am fully in agreement with this notion of justice.
9. “Social” or Distributive Justice
This is detailed discussion of “Social justice” as equality of result assured by government intervention into all areas of human life. Hayek dedicated lots of space to this discussion and it is probably good decision because it became so popular in his time and still remains popular. I think that this notion of social/distributive justice is so logically absurd that the only reasonable explanation of its popularity is that it is a great tool for people not happy with current resources allocation to unite around common objective of violent resource redistribution to them. Leaving alone moral side of it, it is just simply counterproductive when resource transfer comes down to the robbery by government of individuals who produced these resources. The outcome proved beyond any reasonable doubt by all history of XX century is always the same – productive individuals stop producing and amount of resources greatly diminished in direct proportion to severity of robbery. For example in Russia and China robbery by communist governments was absolute and immediate consequence was starvation in places that did not know problems with food for centuries before communists implemented social justice. The robbery in Western Social democratic countries was relatively benign leaving productive individuals with some incentive to remain productive even if it was significantly diminished. As result they wind up with significantly diminished amounts of resources available as result of decrease in economic growth.
10. Market Order
Probably nobody is as good as Hayek in describing market order and logic of its superiority over any other system of organization of human activities. I think that the most important take out from this chapter would be this:
• “A Free society is a pluralistic society without a common hierarchy of ends
• “Specific commands / interference in market order create disorder and can never be just”
• “The good Society is one in which the chances of anyone selected at random are likely to be as great as possible”
11. Discipline of Abstract Rules and the Emotions of the Tribal Society
Here Hayek provides a detailed analysis of reasons for people moving back away from superior market order to organizational thinking of Tribal society and consequently to the royal screw-up of their lives. I am not completely agreed with his analysis, but I do not think that it is that relevant. The humanity always acts in the trial and errors mode and errors of “Social justice” / Progressivism, and Communism/Socialism present themselves in form of decreasing quality of life for vast majority of people. Eventually these junk ideas will go away with the wind. Too bad for many people it spoils the only life they have.
As usual Hayek tackled one of the most important areas of human life / action and came up with very interesting insights:
1. Reason and Evolution
The main point is the collision of two views of the world – evolutionary view, which holds that law is and organic part of human society and developed through method of trial and error with the level of complexity just not comprehensible for human being; and Cartesian view coming from tradition of René Descartes which holds that law comes from human reasoning by some legendary law giver and not only easily comprehensible by human beings, but is subject to legislative change as it deem fitted by current generation of philosophers/Legislator/kings .
When I was a young member of Soviet Society, O would wholeheartedly supported Cartesian view that was fitting so much to communist ideal of changing world. Now quite a few years older and a lot wiser based on my experiences I have little doubt in validity of evolutionary view. The way I see it now – any change should be treated as necessary fix when something is not working anymore. It is not that any change should be small, but rather it should be proportional to changed environment and should not be taken easily. In short the imperative should be to minimize possible damage. The results of Cartesian view with logic of doing change fast and on mass scale was widely used in country of my birth and it has millions and millions of graves and destroyed society to show for it.
2. Cosmos and Taxis
These two notions are linked to concept of order which is defined by Hayek as “A state of affairs in which a multiplicity of elements of various kinds are so related to each other that we may learn from our acquaintance with some spatial or temporal part of the whole to form correct expectations concerning the rest, or at least expectations which have a good chance of proving correct”.
From here comes notion of TAXIS as made order and KOSMOS as grown self-organized order taken from Classical Greek. The very important inference from this is that spontaneous / self-organized order (KOSMOS) comes from compliance with certain rules of conduct developed over the long time in evolutionary process even if these rules are vague and does not make a lot of sense to individual. The TAXIS on other hand is man made rules of organization created by organizational leaders any way they wish.
3. Principles and Expediency
This is another point of Hayek’s multidimensional view – Principled approach to decision-making based on inviolable principles whether individual understands them or not versus Expediency approach when decision-making based on what individual believes is the most effective way to achieve objective.
I think it could be illustrated by contrast of use of one of Ten Commandments “You shell not kill” with communist / national-socialist approach – “Let’s kill these people Kulaks/Jews because they seems to be an obstacle to achieving our objectives.” I completely agree with Hayek on this point:” Freedom can be preserved only by following principles and is destroyed by following expediency”
4. The Changing Concept of Law
Hayek contrasts concept of Law as old self-organizing system developed by society with Legislation as part articulation, part codification of existing Law and part current rules of game defined by Legislature. He brings a very interesting definition of Common Law given by eighteenth century judge Lord Mansfield –who stressed, “ Common law does not consist of particular cases, but of general principles, which are illustrated by particular cases”.
5. Nomos: The Law of Liberty
Here Hayek uses is another Greek notion for customs and habits to discuss role of judge as interpreter of existing Law for a special cases before him. In this case the aim of jurisdiction is the maintenance of and ongoing order of actions. In this case judge should act under constrain of two notions: values and facts to decide which expectations of outcome should be met and which should not. In this view the law is process of discovery of what are relevant norms and how they apply in particular case.
6. Thesis: The Law of Legislation
In this case the law is not a discovery process, but rather manufacturing process. The Legislature manufactures rules of conduct with little if any regard to previously existing norms. Hayek reviews various areas of legislative activities demonstrating that in this case law become just a tool for rulers to control individuals first in foremost in the interest of people who are in control of government, whatever they interests are.
John Allison is the former CEO of BB&T – the 10th largest financial services holding company so unlike vast majority of analysts writing books about financial crisis he really knows what he is talking about and has success of his company as unimpeachable prove of it. BB&T went through financial crises without one single quarterly loss despite its core business being real estate related. So here is what he had to say:
1. Government policy is the primary cause of the financial crisis because American system is not free market system, but rather mixed economy with government dominance in financial industry.
I am fully agreed with this statement, but I would also add that American economy had never been fully free market system. However up to the beginning of XX century it was relatively close to the free market mainly because of availability of new land and weakness of government that lacked standing army and was divided into multiple entities (states) making it difficult to properly organize mass robbery of population by bureaucrats and politicians (BUPs). During XX century American BUPs managed to obtain permanent Army, consolidate power at the federal level and bring economic development to near standstill.
2. Government policy created a bubble in residential real estate
I do not believe I met anybody disagreeing with this statement, so it could be considered trivial, unless vast majority of people were ignoring logical conclusions from this fact – need to remove government from economy in order to prevent similar bubbles
3. Top Wall street financial institutions contributed to crises by using Government provided incentives to generate profit without regards to negative consequences and were proved to be correct in their reckless disregard to economic consequences by government bailouts
This fact as the previous is generally accepted, but then fully ignored by mainstream
4. Government Actions since the start of crisis while helping in the short term will result in reduced standard of living on the long run
My attitude to this is more expansive – any government actions are always conducted in interests of BUPs and since BUPs are a mainly parasitic element of society, they always decrease standard of living on the long run
5. The deeper causes of America’s economic problems are philosophical, not economic
I would only added that philosophy is not a stand-alone product of human intellect. It is developed by individuals based on their perception of reality and directed at providing survival and promotion of values of these individuals. Current philosophical crisis is result of failure of socialist ideas, which in the absence of viable alternative for significant part of population just mutated from erroneously thought as productive form of government property over means of production into ideas of government controlled distribution and rules of game imposed on production. I think that this mutated socialist idea is as flowed as idea of government control over means of production and will be as destructive as original one.
6. If direction is not changed soon, the United States will be in serious financial trouble in 20 to 25 year
I think that it will come quite a bit earlier. My guess is 10 – 15 years.
Allison’s solution is:
Let markets correct errors by allowing big financial companies fail and recessions run their course and bring supply and demand in sync by eliminating ineffective businesses. Avoid Keynesian solution since demand does not create supply, but rather supply creates demand
I think that all discussion about supply side versus demand side (Keynesian) economy is misguided and most resembles discussion of what comes first – chicken or egg. It is all about incentives that people have or do not have to be productive. I fully support free market because it provides such incentives giving capable people only one option for prosperity – do something that other people need, while demand economy of Keynes does not. Keynesian demand side economy creates incentive for capable people to get as close to control of wealth allocation as possible and allocate it to themselves. This leaves productive work to people who failed to get close to government redistribution levers. The result is completely logical – the more capable people move away from producing goods and services where they get robbed of fruits of their labor into the ranks of BUPs to do redistribution where they get rewarded with the fruits of other people’s labor, the less goods and services are available overall. Large-scale experiment to test this notion was conducted in former Soviet Union, which successfully proved this logical inference leaving Soviet Union in dustbin of history.
In the last few chapters John Allison provides quite a few well thought through solutions in area of government economic and financial policies. Unfortunately they all are unrealistic because they do not provide direction how to change attitude of bureaucrats and politicians (BUPs), low marketability people and all other people who are grew to be dependent on government so they would support market oriented reforms. Without such change of attitude reforms are impossible.
The name of this book is an interesting case of misstatement. It is not really about people doing nothing. It rather about people doing something that is not a business or in other words something that nobody wants to pay for and the struggle of two forces in American culture. One force originally represented by Ben Franklin was all about doing something that other people need and would by, that is business. Another force originally represented by Samuel Johnson was all about doing something that nobody needs and/or would buy. Interestingly enough both cases actually involved doing not just something, but a lot. The difference was that in case of “doing nothing” it was anything that one can imagine from writing poetry to growing trees and working very hard in hippy community just for food.
The book contains reports about fates of a long line of individuals who did nothing while managing to leave a significant literature and legends. The list includes quite a few famous American writers throughout history and to this extent it is not that interesting. It is kind of trivial that until big government started robbing regular people on behalf of these geniuses transferring loot to them in form of grants and tenured professorships, they had pretty rough time making living. Much more interesting, at least for me, is detour into life of regular people and their work ethics which was in constant competition with their doing nothing ethics. The review of slow implementation of notions of work day and work week and fight between labor sellers and buyers for extraction of time/value is really interesting and provide quite a bit of non-trivial information.
In short this review of alternative to business strife for self-fulfillment is interesting because it provides some insights into diversity of American culture and uncovers quite exciting potential of this culture to support coming gigantic and dramatic change in paradigm of use of human efforts which quite obviously comes with approaching full automation of all routing jobs. It would be interesting to see how “Doing Nothing” will be converted into extended “Pursuit of Happiness”
Two men were born early in XIX century – one in France and another in Germany with difference of 17 years. Both were lucky because they had opportunity to avoid working for living and had time to develop and express their views on political economy, society and how it should be organized. The older one – Frederic Bastiat had extensive experience in business early in his life while the younger one – Karl Marx had never been in business and was fully immerged in theoretical world of intelligentsia.
It is hard to imagine two more polar ways of thinking and expressing ideas then these two men did. One – Bastiat had clear views of economic world, expressed it in crystal clear and logical way in a number of short essays with great examples, which could be easily multiplied by anybody with any ability for logical thinking whatsoever. Another one – Marx wrote huge volumes of extremely muddled text that was progressively deteriorating with age of author.
It would be puzzling why the smart one – Bastiat was mainly unknown while semi crazy blabber – Marx become a great founder of mass movement that caused and still causes innumerable suffering for millions of people if not the simple fact that Marx’s ideal promised a paradise in the near future, while Bastiat just explained how economy works and correctly predicted the sad consequences of meddling with the free market.
This volume was compiled from Bastiat’s works in 1995 contains key components of his ideas. These are:
• Capital deserves to be paid for with interests because it is a necessary component of production. Without interest individuals in possession of capital would not agree to provide it and therefore no production could possibly occur. The private owner of capital is also a necessary player because only private owner who gets not only gains, but also losses would be interested enough to allocate all his abilities to finding the best application of capital as defined by highest amount people who would agree to pay for it in interest. The very sad history of real socialism abundantly demonstrated that huge price is paid for removing capitalists and substituting them with bureaucrats who do not take losses and whose gains are not related to performance of capital they manage.
• Another set of ideas relates to the notion of seen and unseen consequences of decisions. Bastiat provides a number of examples:
o Broken window – job for repair is seen, while alternative use of resources is not
o Military expenses – well paid troops and supporting businesses are seen while much better use of manpower and resources for producing goods and services is not seen
o Taxes used to provide something useful for everybody are seen, but use of money by original owners that would be much more efficient is not seen
o This list goes on and on and each example well thought through, clear and convincing
• Finally the discussion of government as violent way for elite to enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor is just wonderful. I love his definition of government as “the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else”. Probably this is the key to popularity of Marx after all. His muddled works seems to provide foundation for people to believe that they all will be able happily live at the expense of others. Too bad that chances to achieve it are somewhere out there next to the ability to build perpetuum mobile, while price is very real – miserable lives for just about everybody.
I grew up in the shadow of WWII and I probably will never be able to completely rid off it until the end of my life. Every time when I read another book I hope that it is the last one and I will finally loose interest in this war since I do not expect to learn anything new that I did not learn from previous hundreds if not thousands of books, documentaries and interviews. However again and again some new book or documentary attracts me and I wind up spending time only to find out that I did not find out anything new.
This book is somewhat unusual because it is not so much about new information as about new view at existing information about this war which, in my opinion, is much more consistent with data then traditional view. The traditional view is that Hitler’s Germany after failing in air war against Britain just switched its aggression from West to East and invaded Soviet Union which, while preparing for the war, nevertheless was not ready and therefore was badly bitten during the first two years of war. The reasons for this beating in traditional view was decimation of Soviet officer corps by Stalin’s purges, Stalin’s incompetence, and technological obsolesce of Soviet weapons.
This book makes a pretty convincing argument that Soviet officer corps despite purges was not completely destroyed and by the time of invasion was pretty much back in their previous positions and ready to fight. There are quite a few big names of Soviet military leaders who made a great career by mid 30s, found themselves in prison in the late 30s, and then were back in command by the time of German invasions on June 22d 1941. For anyone familiar with the logic of Soviet system it sounds quite plausible. One fascinated example of this was a chief of gulag who was intermediately prisoner and then back in his position as chief more then once. An individual was nothing so at one point Stalin decided that engineers would work more diligently if not distracted by families and freedom and whole design bureaus were denounced as enemies and imprisoned while keep working on the newest military equipment.
Also book’s argument that Soviet military equipment was superior then Germany’s is also very convincing. Due to results of WWI German military industry was paralyzed until 1933 and American superior technology designs had no military use in demilitarized, pacifistic, and isolationist democracies, but were easily available for Soviets to buy and use. Few people know for instance that the best tank design of WWII – soviet T-34 was based on American’s designed transmission. The impressive comparative data for military equipment provided in the book supports this argument pretty well.
So what then cause a dramatic defeat of Soviet armies in the summer of 1941? According to the book it was dedication to the doctrine of blitzkrieg, only contrary to usual history it was not only German, but also Soviet dedication to this doctrine. According to this doctrine the winner of military conflict is the side, which concentrates its resources as close to front line as possible in secret, and then attacks suddenly, decisively, and without hesitation, applies mechanized forces for deep penetration and encircling of enemy forces. The negative side of this strategy is that concentration of resources for attack makes them very vulnerable if enemy attacks first. According to the book this is exactly what happened to the soviets. Both Dictators Stalin and Hitler concentrated their forces on the border for sudden attack. Both completely rejected idea of defensive actions at the beginning of conflict. It just happened that Hitler completed preparation and struck first leading to tremendous losses for the Soviet Union, but eventual defeat for the Hitler.
In addition to pretty detailed analysis of troops and resources concentration and multiple reports from contemporaries, the book provides a very interesting analysis of other 3 blitzkrieg conflicts from 1939 to 1945 with participation of Soviet Union. These were attacks against Japan in 1939 and later in 1945 when in both cases Soviets achieved victory using blitzkrieg methods against another aggressive military which subscribed to the same doctrine. The third was against Finland in 1940 where Soviet blitzkrieg encountered well thought through and well prepared defense by much smaller forces. The soviets won, but only after difficult winter fight and with tremendous losses.
Finally one small detail is that while both Stalin and Hitler obviously were aggressors, the book implies that Hitler’s attack against Soviet Union was prompted by Stalin actions during Molotov’s visit to Berlin in 1940. During this visit the supposedly final division of the world between two totalitarians failed because of extreme demands of Stalin which if met would leave Germany under constant thread to loose access to strategic resources such as oil in Romania and metals in Scandinavia. This failure to agree left Hitler with no better option then preempt soviet first strike with his own despite less then full preparedness of Germany for significant expansion of war and inevitable war on two fronts.
One can only wander how much less losses people in the Soviet Union would suffer if Stalin choose Finish like strategy of absorbing first strike using well prepared deep defensive positions with following up counteroffensive against weakened opponent. Eventually Stalin come to accept this strategy in 1943 in Kursk battle, but only after loosing two summer campaigns in 1941 and 1942. On other hand who knows what losses the world would suffer if the WWII not ended in annihilation of one totalitarian regime and significant weakening of another despite of its victory. If victorious with small losses, Soviet Union would not only dominate all Europe, but quite possible would go on to the world wide conquest especially if America would remained disarmed and isolationist as it was before Pearl Harbor. I do not think that communism would win, but the struggle and losses could be much worse that it had been.
It is a pretty good collection of 48 essays by historic and currently active anarchists or how they sometimes call themselves left libertarians. The main thrust of these essays is pretty much expressed by the header – these people are fully in support of free markets and fully against capitalism as a system of society’s organization where individuals with capital (capitalists) are in dominant positions.
The ideal society for these people is a society where all transactions are voluntary and therefore the state does not exists. As Libertarians they are in support of property rights and market exchange, but as the Left they are against property rights when these property rights are obtained in unfair way. They believe that property rights should come from mixing one’s labor with nature. However not one of essays provide any reasonable or even unreasonable way to fix the currently existing property rights which by all known accounts obtained mainly unfairly.
Being the Rights (not right) Libertarian, that is person who believes that everybody should have equal, unalienable, and marketable rights to natural resources, I do not see any sense whatsoever in trying to define fairness or unfairness of current wealth and property distribution. I believe that it is just not possible to identify who owns something fairly and who unfairly because just about every piece of, for example, land changed hands many times in history and many times before history and a vast majority of these changes where violent. Therefore in my opinion it is useless to try redistributing property in any “fair” way because it is just impossible. We’d better come up with ideas of how to change property use in such a way that it would be acceptable for everybody so people would be satisfied with pursuing their happiness without demanding violent property redistribution.
Outside of key philosophical differences, it is a very interesting collection from point of few of obtaining a new knowledge. Some of essays are very educational at least for me. For instance I did not know that all progressive movement of the end of XIX century and beginning of XX century was powered not that much by intellectuals, but rather by big business. The history of railroads with multiple failures to organize a stabile cartel, cut throat competition in prices when small start up companies continually undermining big companies with eventual government intervention on behalf of “stability” changed my mind on some details of the process of government growth in the United States.
Similarly I found myself missing on a valid point in civil rights fight of 50s and 60s. As many libertarians I do not like government telling business owner who he can or cannot serve so I see demand for restaurant owner to serve people he does not want to serve as violation of property rights. Personally, being Jewish, I have no problem with restaurant owner who would not serve Jews. I would be happy to take my money to another restaurant. By the way being born in Soviet Union were being Jewish meant to be a second class citizen, I was perfectly satisfied with taking myself out and moving to America where I am much happier and I think everybody in America should be much happier at least based on amounts of money I pay in taxes. However the important point that I was missing is that a racist business owner on South in 50s and 60s was artificially isolated from competition by non-racist business owner. This government intervention annuls his right as business owner to deny service. Thinking about it, in actuality this entire civil rights struggle was not for civil rights of individuals, but rather for dominance between state and federal organizations violent and non-violent controlled correspondingly southern and northern establishments (governments state vs. federal, State National Guard vs. Federal Army, KKK vs. Black Panthers, White citizen councils vs. Civil Rights organizations).
The federals won and racial discrimination continues this time in form of affirmative actions and multiple other forms. Much better way would be instead of directing efforts to suppression of racist business owners and forcing them to behave like they are not racists would be promoting and defending non-racist business owners who would happily accept money and provided services to everybody. This would require a much less level of confrontation and violence – just override zoning codes and licensing requirements. Somehow I am pretty sure that as soon as black and decent white population would start taking their money and labor away from racists business owners to non-racists business owners one of two things would happen – either racist business owners stop being racists or they would stop being business owners.
Overall this is a very interesting collection of thoughts and ideas and it clearly demonstrates that anarchism is still alive and kicking.
Written at the height of cold war this book by Reinhold Niebuhr is an interesting look at irony of two competing systems: Communism and Americanism. Being theologian RN brings to this discussion an awful lot of religious background, but his points are much more secular. The biggest irony of all for him is what seems to be a conflict of two competing messianic views: Communist mainly represented by real life implementation in Russia, Eastern Europe, and China versus American incarnation of liberal democracy.
There are many fine points in this book that are absolutely correct, but the bottom line in my opinion is somewhat off the target. I think RN fully and correctly identified Communism as messianic religious movement, but he is not completely correct about Americanism. He seems to consider it as another much more benign form of messianic movement which nevertheless has something in common with communism – the intention to expand itself to other countries all over the world as alternative to existing unsustainable condition of post feudal world.
He dedicated the whole chapter or about 30% of the book to “The innocent nation in innocent world” notion, that is to analysis of American innocence and how it was lost after reality of two world wars. Actually this view makes sense if one considers country as “collective man”. In reality there is no collective man, but rather millions of real men and women each of which had to deal with real life upon achieving adulthood and there is no place for innocence. The difference between America and whole other world is that individuals in America historically had a lot more freedom including economic freedom which means that their well being depends to much higher extent on their own actions and luck then on anything else. In this situation people tend to care about their local life and consider outside world more as nuisance then anything else as long as outside world does not invade their lives. The democratic form of government made this attitude to influence politicians in government and it made America to consistently attempt to avoid participation in world political game of conquests, balance of power and such.
Unfortunately two parallel developments moved America to the forefront of world politics. The first was internal – end of frontier and with it free land and relative economic independence of individual. This inevitably led to increase of power of government as hierarchical structure of bureaucrats and politicians who for the last 100 years successfully fought and won majority of battles against traditional American individualistic culture taking bigger and bigger share of resources from individual use under its own control and making individuals more and more dependent on handouts from the government. The switch of America from isolationism to highly active political and military role in the world was just one of many side effects of this change.
The second development was the growth of world wide communist movement which represented real and clear danger to American way of life. Paradoxically it was communism that provided justification for growth of American government way beyond limits imposed by constitution. Interestingly the messianic movement of communism attracted wide majority of non-technical and non-business intellectuals who happily embraced the notion of wise philosopher-scientist kings leading clueless population to happiness. Actually they are happy to play role of such kings especially when it comes with very significant wealth redistribution to their benefits.
RN did not live long enough to see it, but here comes the biggest irony of all – after Communism self destruct at the end of XX century due to nearly complete elimination of incentives for individuals to work, the Americanism, as philosophy of self-reliant individuals working independently and hard to achieve happiness, found itself on the death bed in early XXI century cut down by cancer of growth of unlimited government and welfare state.
The prognosis does not look good now, but I am optimistic that old religious tale of resurrection will work out again in the future and Americanism will revive itself in the new much more sophisticate, effective, and efficient form bringing into its embrace whole humanity by demonstrating its usefulness in achieving happiness.
This is somewhat unusual book about history of America’s war in the middle of XIX century. Typically any book about this period is pretty much about American Civil War. This is about much more. It is a well documented and analyzed account of period from early 1850s through American centennial in1876 and 3 wars that occurred on American soil during this period.
Based on participants and conduct of these wars it is very difficult to treat any of them as civil war. By definition the civil war is a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country. The three wars of this period hardly fit this definition despite the fact that the first, the biggest, and only one well known is named American Civil War.
I think it is misnaming of the conflict because the war was not between citizens of one country, but rather between citizens of two different countries that while being joined by common ancestry, religion, and relatively loose Federal Union nevertheless where divided by economic structure of society, culture, philosophy, and type of citizenship. The Union was created at the beginning of American Republic and was more of an alliance against external enemy – Great Britain. After winning independence American republic continued exist as a federal union of two completely different countries – republic of independent farmers with significant, growing, but not overwhelmingly powerful plutocracy at the North and republic of slaveholders with some limited representation of farmers at the South. People in the United States of America at the time considered themselves first and foremost citizens of the states where they reside. The typical example would be Robert Lee who resigned his commission in United States Army to accept commission in Confederate States Army because he was a Virginian and Virginia joined confederacy. That was attitude of majority of population so majorities of northerners and southerners fought on the side of their states regardless of their attitude to slavery or any other issues related to the war.
This war or more precisely conflict over dominance between these two countries started in 1854 after Kansas-Nebraska act that ended Missouri compromise and opened new territories for competition between Slaveholding and Plutocratic republics. This war ended in 1865 with Northern victory and destruction of Slaveholding republic, its economy, and main features of its culture.
The second war much less researched and understood was the racial war between blacks, mainly liberated slaves, and southern whites started immediately after the end of the first war and ended in 1876 after election. This war was a lot less regular and a lot less bloody with number of victims counted in hundreds, maybe even thousands, but nowhere close to the hundreds of thousands loses in war between states. This war was won by southern whites after 10 years struggle against black liberation movement for equality which was initially supported by northern whites even if half-heartedly, but eventually lost this support and with it any chance for the victory. Even so while restoring white supremacy southern whites failed to restore their slaveholding republic and ended with regime of segregation that stifled southern economy for next 100 years until it was blown away by civil rights movement this time with unqualified support of majority of whites in the second half of XX century.
The third and final war – war against Indians also could not be considered a civil war. It was rather a typical war of territorial conquest when Americans pushed out Indians from their ancient territory. Typically such wars in history ended with original population being enslaved, exterminated, or completely pushed out, but American culture, being even in these cruel times more humane then it was typical, limited consequences of defeat to transfer of Indians into reservations, depriving them off dignity and self-sufficiency making them dependent on handouts from government.
We still have remnants of these wars impacting American culture, but this impact will go away as soon as economic market opportunities for everybody would become more significant then opportunities from getting handouts from the government by inflating racial and ethnic grievances. Successful people do not need this staff and will probably keep different parts of they highly mixed ethnic identities only as subject for curiosity and entertainment, but not much more then that.
Rumsfeld’s memoir is an interesting if a bit too voluminous account of outstanding bureaucrat, better then average politician, and underachieving family man.
The account of events he provides does not uncover anything new and dramatic, but is interesting mainly by demonstrating the mechanisms of political / bureaucratic corruption that was established at the very beginning of republic and grew extensively over next 200+ years currently consuming more then a half of country economy and bringing it to a grinding slowdown.
Actually American corruption is a lot more benign then corruption in other countries mainly because it is relatively open for everybody to see thanks to the first amendment, free press, and most of all to the democratic process when two approximately equal groups of politicians and bureaucrats fight via nonviolent election process for the place at the controls when they can satisfy their needs and wishes both material and immaterial.
The nice description of this process is provided in details when Rumsfeld gets out of politics due to the republican defeat in mid 70s and goes to work and make his fortune in private business. It is kind of touching to see that he does not recognize that there is something wrong with the system when the entry level job for politician out of office and without any business experience whatsoever is CEO of big pharmaceutical company. Actually he dedicates quite a bit of time proving that he was a big asset for the company and his appointment paid to shareholders a big time. This is absolutely correct. The story is simple – company developed a new product (sugar substitute) which it could not sell without government approval. After years of delay, the hiring of experienced politician out of office allows company to obtain the approval it seeks and make billions from the selling its product. In my opinion Rumsfeld absolutely deserves money that he made from this transaction and I am sure he learned business quick and well. However the fact that company had to hire politician to get a good product to the market says a volumes about whose interests government (politicians and bureaucrats) serves. Actually I think that Rumsfeld “politics to private business” story is a wonderful argument against decision making by politicians/bureaucrats and for limiting government to only advisory role in business.
Another interesting feature of the book is detailed discussion of events after 9/11/2001. Here again Rumsfeld demonstrate his quality of outstanding bureaucrat with clear thinking and abilities to get things done. His account of events includes insistence on defining response not as vacuous “war on terror”, but as war against militant Islam. By the same pattern this clear thinking bureaucrat would limit war in Iraq to quick removal of Saddam, transfer power to Iraqis of whatever political inclinations they are with only one caveat to remain friendly to USA and quick decrease in forces to minimum necessary to assure that Iraqis remain friendly and troops situated out of cities and out of view of Iraqi population. Too bad he was overruled by old bosses’ son Bush. This is another old feature of American system – nepotism common for both private business and government and often harmful for both.
Rumsfeld is competent and effective bureaucrat and he would make a great president at this point in history. Too bad those republicans choose family connections and political competence of Bush over abilities and experience in governing of Rumsfeld.
As far as I am concerned it is really difficult to find a deeper thinker and analyst of society then Alexis de Tocqueville. I knew about his analysis of American Democracy since my life back in the Soviet Union (obviously it was not available for reading at the time, but I read it soon after coming to America).
What is interesting and unexpected for me was to encounter his book about French revolution of 1789 or more precisely about economic, political, and psychological conditions preceding this revolution. Everything seems to be not the way as it is typically presented in history books and I actually trust De Tocqueville a lot more then authors of these books because his analysis was based not on metadata, but on actual reading of documents of the period from personal diaries to bureaucratic reports.
So instead of traditional picture, which could be summarized as revolt of the Third estate against First estate (aristocracy) and the Second estate (clergy) caused by increasing burden on peasantry and business from wasteful aristocratic accesses supported by religious ideology enforced by church and accompanied by the contempt and indifference to the fate of people who actually carried this burden, we have quite a different picture of pre-revolution society.
First of all it includes real power groups (classes) that was missing – huge bureaucracy which quietly took over control of economic and political life of the society from aristocracy and secular ideologues from Voltaire to Diderot to Rousseau and a zillion other men of letters fed and supported by both aristocracy for their entertainment and feel good value and by bureaucracy for providing ideological support.
It seems that by the time of revolution the real power slipped from the hands of aristocracy. The lord of the locality did not control life of people in this locality; it was the function of Intendant appointed by bureaucratic power from the Paris. It was this unelected and not really visible Intendant who made all decisions on use of state violent powers – who will get taxed and how much and who will not, what revenues will be used for and how. Bureaucracy even wrangled out judicial power from the courts and judiciary that was formally serving to the king, informally and traditionally quite independent. By the time of revolution a bureaucrat rather then the king’s court resolved any serious dispute. By the same pattern ideological underpinning of society slipped from the church to the secular ideologists of Pure (more often then not bureaucratic) Reason.
All this left Aristocracy and Clergy redundant and parasitic in the eyes of majority of population. These people were excluded from taxes, waved around their superiority and external attributes of power while actually loosing real power to centralized bureaucracy. By the 1789 they become a perfect scapegoats to be punished for whatever wrong was happening in society without real power to do anything about it.
And it did went wrong as it always does when bureaucracy acquire power to transfer resources to themselves using apparatus of violent state. There were sinecures to create for brothers in law and government contracts to assign to old friends. There were wars to fight and grand projects to implement, but most of all there was an urgent needs to expand government and spend on it all resources that could possibly be obtained either via taxation or government debt.
This “noble” strive of bureaucracy to expand itself well beyond ability of French society to support it did aristocracy and clergy in during the storm of revolution of 1789.
Here is where the similarities between French society of 1788 and American society today are striking – uncontrolled growth of tumor of bureaucracy. New agencies and new regulations functioning using force of law; without obtaining any authorization by legislative power. Crowding out by bureaucracy of all other components of society in providing functionality necessary for society’s existence – government organizations providing everything from income to healthcare instead of private enterprise. Consequently it led to dramatic decrease in efficiency and effectiveness of these functions, because bureaucracy could not possibly match private enterprise. Tremendous growth of government debt and continuing attempts to increase taxes in the name of “fairness”.
The good news is that America is still democratic country and still has significant residue of American culture as created by independent people, pursuing their happiness in the wide wilderness of new continent. Hopefully there is still enough of health in American society to shrink this tumor. Lately we are doing pretty well using science in improving human chances with many other forms of cancer. Why not the cancer of bureaucracy?
This book is about individuals who are both engine of human progress and scourge of humanity – true believers. Actually they also supply fuel for all big changes in the human society. It was written in the middle of XX century that was crowded with mass movements probably more then any other century in human history. Communism, Nazism, Italian Fascism, innumerable small and big Nationalistic movements, and even to some extent western Democratic Statism are all samples of mass movements of the last 150 years.
There are quite a few very interesting points in Hoffer’s analysis of causes of such movements and personalities who become true believers and fighters for idea of such movements. The most important of them is the notion that such movements are caused by refusal of significant number of individuals in society to continue their lives within a framework of this society and they readiness to fight and even die in order to change this framework. Such movement is not aiming at practical improvement of society it rather attempts to completely change its organization and function from routine and maybe not great, but functioning state into some ideal superior state when all problems are resolved and some perfect stasis is achieved.
Very interesting and well-illustrated point is that individual becomes true believer in very specific circumstances:
1. Potential true believer is not destitute; he/she does not spent all time just trying to survive. It is rather combination of availability of material resources with deep psychological dissatisfaction with current status of individual in existing society.
2. The dissatisfaction of individual with his/her status is perceived as impossible to resolve bringing individual into condition of frustration and self-hate. It is especially true in free societies that provide wide range of opportunities and, consequently individual has nobody to blame for failure then himself.
3. There is an ideological framework which seems to be able provide future state when this individual is guaranteed to achieve the status he is craving for even if this guaranties are illusory.
4. Existing society framework weakened and is not capable to apply force on the scale necessary to suppress mass movement.
Actually a very interesting dynamics for mass movement is implied in this book:
There is tension between freedom and equality in society. If society forces equality as in Socialism/Communism/Nazism (which is always false, but it does not matter as long as people believe in it) it is supported by great majority, but prevent talented individual to apply their talents leading to stagnation and switch of activities of talented minority to building ideological alternative to existing society. On the other hand if society provides wide freedom and opportunity so the talented minority could dramatically improve productivity and quality of life for everybody, but in the greatly unequal levels. This creates resentment in everybody, but especially in talented people whose special talents do not provide for the status they believe they deserve. It could be one of most important reasons why so many artists who did not achieve fame and recognition became leaders of mass movements and why business people very seldom become involved in mass movement on their early stages. Maybe it is because there is not limit on number of successful businessmen in prosperous society and failed businessmen can start all over again eventually achieving some level of comfortable life, while artist who is not rich and famous by his/her 30s will probably never be able to achieve material and psychological comfort.
Finally I found very interesting Hoffer’s analysis of personality types which are most effective during different stages of mass movement:
1. Intellectuals/ideologues who channel their frustration into theory of society and humanity that becomes foundation of new mass movement. These individuals work within existing society and could do it only if it is free or already undermined and weakened if it is not free. The example very close to my heart is former Soviet Union where somebody writing something with the slightest critic of communist party would be dead within days as soon as secret police found it during 1930s to 1950s, but would get away with just a warning in 1980s. These people usually much better off if they die before mass movement takes power. In this case they become well esteemed founders and prophets like Marks, but if they live long enough they inevitably transfer their intellectual urges into critic of new regime that could never do everything right and consequently they get persecuted as enemy and killed like Trotsky.
2. Fanatics – these are frustrated artists and intellectuals who could not get status under old regime. These people would rather die for idea then live bring and tedious life saturated by feeling of individual failure to achieve. These people are essential for movement and if in possession of effective communication skills they become leaders of mass movement and either die fighting for it or bring it to power.
3. Practical people – these are the people who do pretty well in existing society, but either can see opportunity in new mass movement or forced to join when mass movement has enough coercive power. They are managers, engineers, communicators, and other specialists who bring their practicality to bear and turn mass movement into new framework of society that more or less allows it to keep going. Certainly when mass movement brings ideology deleterious to economic success like socialism or war generating qualities like Nazism no amount of talented Russian engineers and managers or German best in the world soldiers could prevent society from disaster.
I think that this book provide a great insight into catastrophic mass movements of XX century and indicate some way of preventing such catastrophes – just give people opportunities to apply their talents and strive to achieve whatever they want to achieve, but be vigilant when somebody moves in direction of violent achievement at other people’s expense.
Any movement, which targets human rights, either it is religious intolerant movement of Islamists who want to force everybody to accept their rules or it is anti-property rights movement of statists (they are not socialists anymore because socialism failed), such movement should be suppressed preferably with democratic means, but without slightest signs of weakness because any weakness invites father expansion of intolerance and inevitably lead to more loss of blood and treasure then necessary.
Nat Silver author of this book got his notoriety or even fame in very unusual way. He specializes in political predictions and his prediction proved to be highly correct in last few election cycles. Since my own political prediction were more often then not incorrect it make lots of sense for me to pay attention to what he has to say and he has a lot to say about art of forecasting and prediction overall.
First of all he gives a nice common sense definition of difference between forecast and prediction: Prediction is a definite and specific statement about what will happen whereas Forecast is a probabilistic statement about future.
Also there is a very nice discussion about risk versus uncertainty with Risk being a quantifiable representation of possible outcome whereas Uncertainty is unquantifiable. “Risk greases the wheels of free-market economy; uncertainty grinds them to a halt.”
Then Silver goes to review multiple areas of prediction and forecasting dedicating a separate chapter to many of them:
• Political forecasting with heavy accent of its failures as practiced by pundits and experts and documented by Tetlock in his book.
• Sports forecasting
• Weather Forecasting
• Earthquakes Forecasting
• Even Poker game review as exercise in forecasting and prediction
Out of all these reviews comes out a number of rules that makes predictions and forecasting more or less viable:
1. Think probabilistically
2. Keep changing forecast as soon as new data come in – it is a dynamic process
3. Look for consensus – aggregate of forecasts is usually 15 to 20% more accurate then the individual ones.
4. Beware Magic Bullet forecast – too much certainty based on historical record could hurt
5. Weighting Qualitative information
6. Do everything possible to control for bias – objectivity is material for good forecast and is very difficult to maintain
7. Avoid overfitting – mistake of perception of noise for a signal. Often happens when correlation is taken for causation.
There is also quite nicely intersection with Taleb’s Antifragility and Randomness notions – a nice discussion of nonlinearity of the future and role Chaos theory (this nice little butterfly which can cause a huge hurricane due to nonlinearity of cause) effect sequences.
There is also an important discussion on Self-fulfilling and Self-cancelling predictions that provides a good reason to try taking into account the impact of prediction itself. Everything that we do has impact on the future events.
Silver also goes into nice set of details about Bayesian statistical methods and successes and failures of computer models and overall computer versus human issues in prediction and / or forecast development.
Overall a very useful book for me.
There is the great difference between descriptions of hunter / gatherers life in this book and a zillion descriptions of such life in literature from Jean Jacques Rousseau to present time – the author actually knows what he is writing about. Jared Diamond spent years living in hunter / gatherers societies and collecting information so he is probably the last trustworthy witness of how these societies worked. The simple and obvious reason for this is that during his research’s duration starting from 1960 to the present day these societies disappeared for good so we are not going to have any witnesses of them in the future. It is too bad because our genetic makeup is pretty much defined by the process of evolution as individual members of such societies successful enough to pass their genes on to the next generation. Obviously the genes that were not consistent with mode of living in such society were filtered out by this process.
So let’s look at what his knowledge of such societies tells us about what we can or cannot do; what we can and cannot be in different areas of human life:
Territory – all hunter / gatherers are territorial creatures. They divide space between tribes and guard borders as much or actually much more vigilantly then nation states because their survival depends on it. This territoriality runs deep in our genes and it is just not possible to remove it whatever socialists / communists / utopists think about it. We’ll always divide world into bits and pieces of property that belong to somebody: individual, family, tribe, or government or, more precisely to individuals who are in control of these entities and therefore care about this property decreasing in proportion to decrease of level of control over this property.
Consequently the division of the world into property pieces leads to conflicts because of dynamic nature of the world, which is constantly breaks down whatever mutual agreements about division exist at any given moment. Since there is always a change in power and legitimacy balance, there is always change in property allocation: who owns / controls what and to what extent. This leads us to another important feature of our nature – we are very prone to use violence to get what we want. Fortunately we are also very prone to build images of future outcomes which make us very peaceful creatures if we expect to fail in achieving whatever we want to achieve either because of inevitable and forceful violent resistance, retaliation, or whatever else can cause this failure.
Actually it opened a proven way to achieve peace – inevitable and extremely severe retaliation in form of nuclear strike stopped total wars between big states in the middle of XX century. With expansion of electronic surveillance of everything and everybody which seems to be impossible to stop, it looks like we are well on the way to eliminate individual crimes except in the case of complete desperation when consequences are irrelevant for individual.
Another important feature of hunter / gatherer is what author defined as “Constructive paranoia” – cautious and careful approach to environment with main objective to avoid catastrophic outcome rather then achieve a significant gain. There is a wonderful discussion in this book about agricultural strategy of tribes when everybody works on a number of different plots (sometimes 7-10) in different areas to assure that at least some of them provide enough food to survive despite a high cost of moving from one plot to another. It is a wonderful sample of antifragility in stark contrast to fragility of recently expanded nation state societies which provide such examples as potato famine in Ireland, or Cultural Revolution in China, or socialism in Russia.
For me as convinced libertarian, one additional source of hope that comes from this book is discussion about treatment of children and old people in this society. With all multiple variations of such treatment one thing seems to be consistent across the board – self-sufficiency of individual within framework of the tribe. It means that individuals either children or old entitled to receive resource transfer from other people only on two conditions – they could not do without it and their survival has more upside then downside for the tribe survival. Since we did not get that far away in our background from hunters / gatherers, I would expect that genes of majority of individuals would switch to the mode of survival when decrease in quality of life due to parasitic bureaucracy will achieve the level unacceptable for them.
The final part of book dedicated to religion, language, health, and nutrition of hunter/gatherers. Curiously as much as all these areas distant from each other they have something in common – in natural environment they are provided in very small doses and as result our genes developed to grab all these things as much as possible and consume them without a limit.
As result the religious world view of hunter / gather which serves a valuable purpose to explain world and help to deal with it, but could be only supplemental activity not capable to provide for survival, becomes a full time business of expansion, often violent, of religious world view on other people. The necessity for hunter-gatherer, member of a small tribe to speak several languages in order to communicate with members of other tribes become intellectual indulgence in symbolic arts of literature and entertainment. The health – death and life issue for hunter-gatherer, becomes an unhealthy obsession with unnecessary treatment for non-existing deceases for influent member of our society. By the same pattern the sweet and fancy food rarely available in small quantity in natural environment becomes easily available in unlimited quantities leading to obesity and early death.
I personally have no doubt that humanity will survive either via traditional way through elimination of individuals, whose genes are too much prone either to religious fanaticism or food overindulgence, or via less traditional and more human way of education and prevention of excesses.
An interesting take on the world as it exists with non-trivial philosophical approach are presented in this book. I found it very consistent with my own believes and experiences.
The most important part of this approach is acceptance of the world as a given set of material substances and all events in this world as pretty much random and unpredictable sequences with no real meaning and / or objective behind it. It is not really important if there is something supernatural behind all of this or not because we cannot comprehend it anyway. My personal believes is simple – there is nothing to comprehend.
So in this unpredictable world filled with random events when in vast majority of cases the previous experience does not allow to predict future events, all systems from simple to complex created by humans or by nature have 3 levels of survivability status – Fragility, Robustness, and Antifragility. Fragility level is a condition of the system when unexpected changes are easily capable to destroy the system, Robustness level is a condition when system is capable to continue as it is despite significant changes occurred outside, and Antifragility is a condition of the system when it can change itself and self improve in response to changes.
Not surprisingly it comes down to difference between man made mechanical, chemical, or organizational systems and evolution made organic systems. A simple example of these notions would be a vessel to collect and keep water. It could be a glass bottle, a plastic container, or a leave of a plant. Obviously the glass bottle is fragile. It would break and spill all water if dropped on the hard floor. The plastic container is robust and will not break, but it would not change either. The plant’s leaves would change if not right away, then over time via process of evolution. So if we put up these three different containers with objective to collect water for a very long period of time the glass bottle will probably not survive strong wind or earthquake. The plastic bottle being robust would survive, but it would always collect water from the same area and always to the amount of its volume. The plant however would change from generation to generation and if climate become to be drier, it would expand its leaves to collect water from wider area. If climate changed to be wet, it could change form of leaves develop them into something quite different like pine needles to take advantage of abundance of water.
There is a very interesting discussion of this idea in application to human society with convincing argument that society build on libertarian market oriented principles with local democratic form of government is inherently superior to large scale bureaucratic state even if bureaucracy is limited by relatively democratic form. In turn even big bureaucratic, but at least somewhat democratic state with some level of rule of law is greatly superior to authoritarian state with level of fragility going up dramatically from local democracy to bureaucratic democracy to autocracy.
There is also an interesting discussion about system / subsystem relationship when subsystem, for example an individual is necessarily fragile in order to provide for high level of Antifragility for the system as whole – society this individual belongs to.
The book is also provides an interesting insight into human organizations from firms to society as whole depending on its setup for positive and negative feedbacks. In terms of this book it is treated as transfer of fragility from one subsystem to another for example from CEO to shareholders which could lead to destruction of the system as whole (firm) with prosperity of some subsystem (CEO) at expense of others (shareholders).
Overall I think this book is an excellent argument for libertarianism and for small local democracies against bureaucratic crony capitalism that currently is the organizational principle of majority of Western societies. Logically it leads to conclusion that we’d better start working now on developing general understanding and acceptance of these ideas if we want to be ready for inevitable self-destruction of super fragile contemporary societies. If we are successful, we’ll be able to smooth the transition to more Antifragile forms minimizing pain and suffering of this transition. If we’ll fail, the transition could be extremely painful. Just look at billions of lives lost and / or screwed in XX century’s painful transfer from autocratic states of kings and queens to democratic welfare states of politicians and bureaucrats.
It became trivial to hear that US government debts become so huge and that we put our children and grandchildren in economic jeopardy by accumulating this debt. I think it is high time to clarify this thing a little bit.
First of all we cannot put economic future of people not yet born into jeopardy any more then we can eat today lunch prepared two month from now on Monday. Future generations will always be free to cancel this debt or just inflate money so debt will go away. We actually have a good example of it. After WWII the government debt of USA was $251.43 billion in 1945. It was pretty much paid off by 1970 when debt ratio to GDP went down to the prewar level. If one takes into account that average house price was $10.000 in 1945 and $24,000 in 1970 we can say that US borrowed at value of 25,143,000 houses and returned at value of 10,476,250 houses. So our grandchildren can return pennies on dollars and be just fine.
Much more important is that people seems to fail understand that internal debt is just an accounting method to represent wealth transfer from productive people to unproductive. If one think about it the mechanics is pretty simple. US FED creates dollars with which it buys T-bonds from US Treasure. The US treasury transfers these newly created dollars to bureaucrats and politicians who use these dollars to pay themselves and to buy goods and services that nobody would voluntary buy otherwise. A good traditional example would be a bridge to nowhere that nobody would build but government. A good contemporary example would be R&D for technology that nobody would invest into because there is no reason to believe that these R&D will produce anything useful beyond salaries for researches and revenues for contractors.
The net result of this debt is always and inevitably inflation because people who produce useful goods and services get the same dollars for them, that bureaucrats and politicians who do not produce anything useful and waste resources for unnecessary staff. Obviously the dollars paid by productive people represent value of goods and services they produced, while dollars paid by bureaucrats and politicians represent nothing valuable. The net result productive people get for their dollars less of useful goods and services then they produce, while bureaucrats and politicians lots and lots more.
As of now US bureaucrats and politicians (Federal + State + Local) consume 40% of GDP without producing anything valuable, that is something that people would by voluntary. That means that productive people get back 60 cents on dollar in valuable goods and services produced by other productive people in exchange for valuable goods and services that they produce themselves.
It is not obvious for a number of reasons. One reason is the complexity of exchange when people do not have ready option to compare value of what they produce with value of what they consume. This comparison is partially represented by taxes + government debt which is most obvious and therefore causes some pushback. However much more of this inflation is hidden For example increase in productivity that would led to decrease in prices and therefore better return on productive work is completely annulled by increase in government regulation that decreases productively. Another example is when bureaucratic machine takes over some valuable part of economy such as education and makes potentially productive teachers to deliver subpar educational services which by the way politicians on the top of bureaucracy from Clintons to Obamas refuse to use for their own children but insist on use by regular Americans.
So to summarize it in short – the government debt represent current transfer of valuable goods and services from productive people to unproductive bureaucrats and politicians and have no impact whatsoever on future generation except for decrease in current productive investment that could make their life better via new technology like flacking instead of bureaucratic boondoggles like wind energy; or infrastructure in form of bridge to somewhere instead of bridge to nowhere.
The good news is that next generation could be smarter, thru away society structure created by socialist / progressive ideological movements of XX century and create new libertarian and productive structure that would make their life much happier due to abundance of resources.
The bad news is that next generation is being educated by socialist/progressive bureaucrats and politicians with objective to maintain existing structure permanently and even expanding it. If the next generation will continue to buy their junk philosophy, they will continue to pay price in lack of resources ad decrease in quality of life.
The real remedy to government debt in democracy is the economic education of people, which as successful for majority will eliminate this unproductive structure.
This book’s main idea is about psychopaths – them being always among us with proportion going up from 1% of general population to significant share or even majority among high achievers in such areas as politics, management, and, obviously, criminals. This sounds quite plausibly to me, even if author’s selection of individuals for detailed review provides only anecdotal confirmation. Most interesting to me was a simple test that supposed to identify person as psychopath. If looked at as personal characteristics, quite a few of them seems to be very beneficial for some careerist who is moving up in hierarchy at any cost. It is definitely consistent with all that we know about great leaders in history and how they usually come to power.
From my point of view it is just another reason to limit power of hierarchical structures such as big businesses and government as much as possible because it is the one and only real way to avoid impact on one’s life of some psychopath in power.
Here is the test:
1 Glib and Superficial Charm The tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. They have freed themselves from the social conventions about taking turns in talking, for example.
2 Grandiose Self-Worth A grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.
3 Need for Stimulation or
Proneness to Boredom An excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have a low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.
4 Pathological Lying Can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest.
5 Conning and Manipulativeness The use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one’s victims.
6 Lack of Remorse or Guilt A lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted, and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims.
7 Shallow Affect Emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness.
8 Callousness and
Lack of Empathy A lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.
9 Parasitic Lifestyle An intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities.
10 Poor Behavioral Controls Expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.
11 Promiscuous Sexual Behavior A variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of several relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits or conquests.
12 Early Behavior Problems A variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use, and running away from home.
13 Lack of Realistic,
Long-Term Goals an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.
14 Impulsivity The occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless.
15 Irresponsibility Repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.
16 Failure to Accept Responsibility
for Own Actions A failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial.
17 Many Short-Term Marital Relationships A lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including marital.
18 Juvenile Delinquency Behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.
19 Revocation of Condition Release A revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation, or failing to appear.
20 Criminal Versatility A diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes.
Sometimes, actually quite often the simple substitution of words in a text with different and more exact meaning of these words makes very clear underlying understanding or misunderstanding of the text by both author and audience.
I would like to offer such an example. We hear all the time from Democratic Party about greatness and benevolence of the government and from Republican Party about inefficiency and sometime even malevolence of the government. It seems to me that both sides would be much clearer if they would use instead of the word “government” two words that designate human beings who really are the government – bureaucrats and politicians. Here is the small piece of Obama’s commencement speech where such substitution is done with resulting wonderful clarification:
“And that’s precisely what the founders left us: the power to adapt to changing times. They left us the keys to a system of self-SERVING BUREAUCRATS AND POLITICIANS—the tool to do big and important things together that we could not possibly do alone. To stretch railroads and electricity and a highway system across a sprawling continent. To educate our people with a system of public schools and land grant colleges, including Ohio State. To care for the sick and the vulnerable, and provide a basic level of protection from falling into abject poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. To conquer fascism and disease; to visit the Moon and Mars; to gradually secure our God-given rights for all our citizens, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or who they love.
We, the BUREAUCRATS AND POLITICIANS, chose to do these things together. Because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.
Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of BUREAUCRATS AND POLITICIANS as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
We have never been a people who place all our faith in BUREAUCRATS AND POLITICIANS to solve our problems, nor do we want it to. But we don’t think the BUREAUCRATS AND POLITICIANS is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-SERVING BUREAUCRATS AND POLITICIANS.”
Now the unshakable believe of Barak Obama in ability of bureaucrats and politicians “To stretch railroads and electricity and a highway system across a sprawling continent. …To care for the sick and the vulnerable, and provide a basic level of protection from falling into abject poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth” sounds absolutely ridiculously and clearly contradictory to any known fact about American history. Add to this a self-evident fact that Barak Obama loves bureaucrats and politician most when he is the top dog in this pack and true nature this man and his party could not be missed.
It is a nice little book by professional debater and opinionator designed to expire his future colleagues. There is a lot I would agree on with Hitchens except for one small thing – it kind of easy to be a contrarian if one gets paid for it, has significant support of surrounding people and no real risk to suffer consequences from “establishment”. In other words in well developed democratic state when attacking existing order verbally or in writing is a very secure and even beneficial career choice. But it there was nothing courageous about it.
Attacking Christian church, Western Imperialism, Capitalism, and such is not only was save, but actually career enhancing activity in the second half of XX century for western intellectual. Even for many intellectuals in Eastern block acting against existing socialist regimes it was not as dangerous as one would think. The common attitude of educated part of population to these regimes could be characterized as “finger in the pocket” with safety pretty much insured as long as finger remained in the pocket.
More important question that Hitchens failed to address was selection of causes between evils. Granted Hitchens does put socialist murderous dictators like Stalin in the same bucket as Hitler (who, by the way, ideologically was not that far away with his National-Socialism from Stalin’s international socialism). However he fails to distinguish between regimes for which murderous activity was necessitated by core logic of regime from regimes for with such activity was just a feature.
For example he is still proud of his support of North Vietnam completely missing the fact that North Vietnamese communist regime was based on statist ideas which by the time of war proved to be murderous to great number of regular people through artificial famines, overwork, and other miseries that followed inevitably with government control over economy. Comparatively the corrupted, undemocratic, and incompetent regime of South Vietnam with all its evil left regular people more or less economically alone content with robbery rather then ideologically motivated slavery and annihilation.
The western idealists – socialists will never accept their own guilt in innumerable killings of Soviet, Chinese, and many other regimes that they enabled by their support, but it would nice if they would at least understood the connection. Hitchens probably more then other getting close to such understanding, but he seems to be not able to step over this threshold.
Last Friday the milestone event happened – Dow Jones have got over 15,000. At the first glance this happy event is kind of strange. The American economy is not moving anywhere for many years. Official unemployment at 7.5%, but according to Shadow Government Statistics which calculations include all unemployed is really about 23%. GDP growth is something between weak and non-existent and big new tsunami of Obamacare is coming closer and closer carrying significant potential for a huge economic destruction. So why is Dow so happy?
Long ago professor of economics Ben Bernanke had got some notoriety proclaiming that in case of economic downturn government should increase money supply by all means necessary even dropping bags with money from helicopters on American cities. As result Bernanke got nickname “Helicopter Ben” and now as Chairman of FED he remains true to his credo and continue pumping money supply up even if there is no positive result to be excited at.
On the bright side the inflation is relatively tame at least according to official statistics. However official statistics mixes a lot of staff together hiding areas where real inflation is growing due to increase in money supply. It has impact on goods and services consumed by regular people, but not as big as it used to be because high level of productivity allows one productive person easily provide goods and services for a dozens, including useless and even harmful for production bureaucrats and politicians. The demand for such goods and services did not decrease dramatically because, contrary to old great depression, low income consumers had their labor income substituted with benefits from extended unemployment and social security disability. So current money oversupply has relatively low impact on their prices.
So the extra money created by Bernanke’s FED is going into assets especially relatively inflation proved assets like gold and stock market. Hence Dow’s wonderful growth is nothing more as reasonable way to defend wealth against inflation. As optimism goes this definitely demonstrates optimism about stability of American political system so companies shares will not be confiscated and government will support really big companies even if they fail in business as GM or big banks.
The simple result is that companies are sitting on trillions of dollars and not investing in business expansion, but rather continuously increasing dollars numeration of their assets. The same continuous increase of dollar numeration applies to government debt. The downside is economic stagnation when productive people have decreasing incentives to expand because of continuous threat of government wealth confiscation via taxes, while unproductive people are deprived of opportunities to become productive and increase quality of their lifes.
For me it looks like this low moving disaster will continue at least until after election of 2014 when political dynamics could change to benefit productive part of population and business expansion would start moving the way it used to be.
20130425 Meaning of war as applied to the Ideological Movement (to win – disable guy with the finger and microphone)
It is getting quite boring to hear about war on terror from people who have no idea what war means and familiar with terror mainly in contexts of their relationships with spouses, bosses, and doctors. I think that it is a high time to clarify meaning of what we are dealing with so I would like to offer my own understanding of situation, actions that would resolve it, and expected consequences of not resolving it.
First of all I’ve got to repeat something that many people keep saying ever since 9/11/01 – terror is just one tool of war among many and making war on terror makes no more sense than it would make for United States to declare war against air carriers after Perl Harbor, simultaneously trying to maintain peace with Empire of Japan because Japanese are very nice people and have very ancient history. Technically it could be done and any attack against Japanese battleships, leave alone industry and cities would be considered illegitimate. The only small catch is, I think, that in this case we would still be continuing war with Japan waiting in fear while they completing building their next air carrier and discussing if it would be legal to attack it before it wiped out another American city. On other hand if American leaders of 1941 were as soft minded as American leaders now, we would probably don’t even know by now that once was such a country as America before the great Japan took over the world around Pacific ocean and started the great racial fight with the great Germany which took over world around Atlantic ocean.
So who attacked us, and whom we should be making war on? It is simple – Islamic Dominance Ideological Movement (IDIM) attacked us, and we have to make war on people who belong to this movement until they surrender, will be taken prisoners, or killed. The complete victory will be achieved when the number of individual belonging to Islamic Dominance Ideological Movement is close to 0.
As form of human cooperation and congregation Ideological Movements are somewhat different from nation-states, mainly spatially and by type of inclusion. Spatially nation-states are based on geography and control of territory, while Ideological movements are thinly distributed around the multiple geographical regions and do not have control over territory until they took over some nation-state as it happened with Communist Ideological movement which took control of Russia in 1917 or National Socialist Ideological movement which took control of Germany in 1933.The type of inclusion of individual into Ideological movement is mainly voluntary, while inclusion of individual into Nation state usually based on residence of individual on territory under control of nation-state. Consequently key to power of Nation-state is control over territory while key to power of Ideological movement is control over minds.
Therefore the war against nation-state includes taking over territory from nation-state until individuals in control of nation-state has no place to go, and either surrender and become POW or just killed. Correspondingly the war against Ideological movement includes convincing individuals who capable to change their mind to leave this Ideological movement, while making people who are not capable to change their mind either POW or dead. Nation-state as collective is controlled by political and bureaucratic hierarchy therefore to win the individuals in control of hierarchy should be targeted. Ideologues and propagandists control ideological movements, therefore individuals who are the most influential ideologues and propagandists should be targeted.
Practically right now a serious war against Islamic Dominance Ideological Movement would include attempts to discourage, capture, or kill all people who attach themselves to this movement. It is not really that difficult to identify such people because they advertise their attachment every way they can. They do it because they have support of many individuals in control of nation states with significant Muslim population and sympathy of many people in control of democratic nation states. The reason for this is that both groups of individuals in control belong to intelligentsia, that is people brought up and educated on abstract notions of multiculturalism and collectivism. However my intention in this post is not to discuss reason of what is, but rather suggest what could have been done if (counterfactual assumption) leaders of democratic states, especially USA were serious about defending security of their citizens against attacks by members of IDIM.
Let’s ignore all previous attacks including 9/11 and assume that it started with Boston bombing. The facts are simple – 2 young foreign-born residents of USA voluntary become members of IDIM and in accordance with main ideas of this movement exploded bomb that killed Americans. These two young men did not invent IDIM, but rather learned about its ideas from multiple propagandists with prominent role in this case belonging to Australian Islamic cleric Sheik Feiz Mohammed. Let’s see what action could be taken by individuals currently in control of American nation-state, which would lead to speedy destruction of IDMI.
First and foremost according to the constitution President could ask for declaration of war against this movement. That would lead to clearly identified mission for the state to convince all individuals identified as belonging to this movement to change their mind, if not possible to capture them as POW, and if this also not possible to kill them. In process all nation states that provide cover for such individuals could be identified as allies of IDIM and therefore put under the thread if war.
With war declared, USA could publish names of all individual it consider members of IDIM and demand them publicly reject this ideology with clear understanding that this rejection will not be revocable. If refused, they should be invited to surrender as POW and moved to POW camp in some remote place were they would be kept in humane conditions, but without access to communication tools until the end of movement. All nation states that refuse apprehend such individuals who refuse to surrender could be subject of traditional military action. If this war conducted decisively it would cut off all propagandist facilities of IDIM. Without propagandist facilities any movement dies out in short order.
Back to the real world – none of this will be done and consequently IDIM will continue its existence and quite probably expansion. It is already taking over some significant nation states and most probably will be able to achieve the level of success of communism and national-socialism ideological movements of XX century. I do not foresee a serious chance of victory for IDMI mainly because nation states that they are capable to take over do not have such advance military capability as Germany, Japan, and Soviet Union had in XX century, but terrorists will kill thousands in Western world in future years. And there is no doubt that millions of people in the Muslim word will have their life completely screwed the same way as lives of people in Russia and Germany were screwed. Eventually it will be defeated, but at much higher cost then it could have been.
This book is a very interesting view at the world from seemingly special point of view of neuroscientist. Generally speaking it describes works of human brain as it is understood now based on significant amount of research and experimentation with people whose brains were impacted either by lesions or necessary surgeries that either took out some parts of brain or cut out some connections between parts of brain.
The picture that emerges from this research shows human being not as one defined and whole entity as we usually perceive ourselves, but rather as totality of multiple neurosystems that pretty much independently control not only unconscious functions, but also a lot of what we consider conscious thinking. Especially interesting are multiple experiments with people whose right and left hemispheres of brain are separated and cannot communicate. Since our receptors are independently connected to left and right hemispheres such people react completely differently to the same stimuli depending on whether they presented to left analytical part of the brain or to the right sensitive part.
The experiments with “interpreter”, that is the part of left brain which makes sense out of inputs, shows that our “making sense” has really shaky relation to reality while having a huge costs for the organism which spends 20% of energy on supporting such a huge brain. It has to be good evolutionary explanation and in my view such explanation comes from survival advantages provided by long term planning. I think that such planning even if based on incorrect assumption allows for much better outcomes of intentional acting comparing to just plain reaction to environment. Obviously if planning occasionally gets to be based on right assumptions, the result would be spectacular improvement in survivability; the great example would be agriculture which is completely based on long term planning.
Another interesting philosophical take out would be understanding that even our own personality is not really one strictly hierarchical command and control system that we believe it to be. If even one brain of one person is really a complex combination of multiple autonomous and semiautonomous systems which act pretty much on its own and interact with each other via communications based on the strengths and volume of signals which often make us act even before we consciously decided to act, then we deprived of one and only example of effective work of command and control system.
That puts all philosophical structure of superiority of top down command and control systems build in XIX century in precarious position of being based on plainly incorrect understanding of reality. If even a brain of one person is really not a top down system, but rather neurological market where different parts of brain exchange signals and producing actions as outcome of self-organizing activities, then what reason do we have to believe that other complex systems like human society could be efficiently organized in such way? The answer is – none, and without such reason the whole philosophical foundation of communism, socialism, and such just goes down the drain.
Every time when I read a new book, even if it is by author I know, I cannot say upfront if it worth of my time or not. Not so with E.Q. Wilson who’s every book that I read so far brings something new to think about. This time these are 2 very big ideas that do not come naturally.
The first one is that human species is not alone conquerors of Earth. Other species that we do not think about that much are actually as successful as we are. It turns out that ants and bees are as good as we are in adjusting to environment and changing environment to meet their own needs. As humans they build accommodation for millions of individuals, practice agriculture and to some extent manufacturing. Contrary to humans who are still in process of completing their expansion, these insects slowly co-evolve with environment and therefore achieved sustainable levels of existence millions of years ago.
According to estimates their biomass is approximately equal to biomass of 7 billion currently living humans, so as of now we have two types of species with eusociality sharing earth between them. One (insects) with complete subordination of individual to collective or, based on the fact of genetic sameness of all individuals in ants or bees colony, rather expansion of one individual into multiple clones adjusted by environment to fulfill different functions. (Oh boy it really sounds like socialist / communist dream). Another one (humans) with more complex relationship between individual and group based on relative independence of individual from the group and genetic diversity between individuals.
Here is where the second main idea kicks in – human evolution occurred in two dimensions. It is combination of individual selection and group selection. This duality explains a lot in human genetics and human behavior. The individual cannot survive on his/her own, but any sacrifice of own genetic fitness to the group leads to evolutionary disadvantage. So this is where duality of humans is coming from – constant tension and interplay between individual and collective interest.
The only thing is I do not think there is such a thing as collective interest, so it should be formulated as tension between individuals who are not in control of the group and individuals who are in control of the group. The individuals in control obtain it by building group identity whether as tribe or state or nation or religion or whatever. If successful, it kicks in genetically imbedded need to belong to the group and support group competition against other groups especially when this competition comes in the form of war. If needed, this support could get to the level of self-sacrifice especially in young and well-indoctrinated individuals. Somehow older age and family often switch individual’s effort from achieving group ideals to obtaining benefits for his/her family.
What is really differentiate humans from insects is that any group successfully winning competition against other groups tends to have individuals in control overreaching in identification of their own individual interests with the group so they direct resources to satisfy these interests at the expense of individuals not in control. The typical outcome is internal revolution in the group sometime partial when only individuals in control are changed, but sometimes complete when the whole group identity is changed – for instance individuals accept a different religion or much more often drastic modification of old.
The great invention of democracy is that it provides procedure for orderly and peaceful change of individuals in control. Depending on severity of unhappiness the change could be small something like between similar political parties or it could be big something like coming to power of new political force with ideas drastically different from the ones that dominated before.
Such big changes happened several times in American history – the last time it was triumph of Progressivism in both dominant political parties over period from late XIX century to the mid XX century. The continuing degradation of progressive / socialist / communist / collectivist ideas to the level of rusty junk car that we can observe now created the general unhappiness of individuals not in control that will probably lead to another radical, while peaceful change in USA and consequently in the world within next 30 to 50 years.
Ben Carson’s story narrated in his memoir would be trivial if written by the son of Jewish or Asian immigrants. Start at the bottom of society in poor family without father and growing up to be a top notch professional in his field represents nothing unusual for people belonging to these groups.
Written by the black man it is inspiring story that implies a great future for America because it clearly shows the way out of racial dead end it was pushed in by leftist intellectuals and rent seekers of all skin colors who built their careers and well being on suffering of minorities.
Carson clearly demonstrated that color of skin is irrelevant to success, but culture is definitive cause and reason for positive or negative outcome. And it seems to be just a set of simple cultural rules that in his case were transferred to him and enforced until they become self-sustainable by his semi-literate single mother.
This set of rules is very simple and includes:
Find what is one’s talent that could be developed to the high level and define goal consistent with this talent.
Set up realistic goals – for example to be a doctor when there is a great need in thousands of doctors even if it is not easy to become one. The opposite would be a goal to become a basketball star even if one does not possess superior athletic genes
Have discipline to do what needs to be done to achieve this goal – to study, do tests, and avoid distractions like TV shows
Learn to enjoy something that is not exciting initially, but had to be done in order to achieve the goal like reading and listening to classic music in the case of Carson.
Right now Ben Carson seems to be trying to find out if it is feasible for him to win American presidency. I think it is not such a bad idea even if it is far from being a trivial. Americans are fed up with both parties which quite possibly can open a huge opportunity for outsider with skills, financial support, and big and attractive for majority ideas. During next 2-3 years we’ll see if this ultimate achievement will be within Ben Carson’s grasp.
It is quite interesting that the author of eyes opening book about malignant mutation of American society into big government society during the Great depression (The Forgotten Man) decided to write book about Calvin Coolidge – the last American President who presided over a mostly limited federal government. I think it is a very important book because it brings to light results of amazingly successful experiment in limited government, especially in tax policies of low rates of taxation and economical policies of doing nothing and allowing market to resolve problems created by economic cycle without throwing in monkey wrench of government intervention.
It is especially interesting because the successful experiment was conducted just before tsunami of XX century big government was about to engulf United States denying its people for generations many opportunities of private enterprise despite the fact of even the big American government being relative benign especially if compared with big governments of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Communist Soviet Union, or China.
I have no doubt that Coolidge would be quite amazed if somebody told him that he is conducting experiment. He would be vehemently denying it and insist that he is just conducting regular conservative policies of not interfering in complex things that one does not understand. He would probably concede that his tax rate decrease policy is somewhat experimental, but would insist that it based on scientific taxation ideas of Andrew Melon which are not really that experimental, but rather follow accumulated business knowledge of human economic behavior. The resulting increase in tax revenues confirmed that this knowledge was correct.
Few people know that American economy had a pretty big dive in the beginning of 1920s with Harding and Coolidge doing nothing. Consequently economy moved into roaring 20s fixing itself without government intervention resulting in tremendous increases in productivity and volume. The after Coolidge activist government of Hoover and then triple activist government of FDR coincided with pain and suffering of great depression.
Certainly coincidence does not mean cause, but activist government in economy always reminds me my childhood experiences with poorly manufactured Soviet TV – when it stopped working a few fist hits on the side would make it come back to life. It would work for a while, but then stop again and after a number of iterations would completely die.
The lesson is that if one deals with more or less complex things that one does not completely understand, the proposition of using fist or hummer or stimulus maybe not be a very good idea especially when this thing is complex self-adjusting market economy rather then simple TV of 1960s design. Calvin Coolidge understood this, but his intellectually inferior, but supremely arrogant successors did not and still do not.
It is strange sometimes how something that seems to be impossible to know suddenly becomes obvious and relatively easily available for learning. The new technology that opened human genome for sequencing and analysis over last 50 years is one of such examples and this book quite well describes this knew knowledge.
There is a precious little technical information in this book; just enough to inform us that mail and female part of humanity could be traced separately via exclusively female mitochondrial DNA and exclusively mail Y-chromosome.
Steve Olson makes somewhat convincing case that we all genetically came from one source – mutated humanoids in Africa and much less convincing case that we are all the same; meaning that DNA variation between human races is insignificant. He spends lots of effort trying to be as much politically correct as possibly and convince a reader that whatever is the difference – color of skin or anything else is either insignificant or result of different cultural development.
Sometimes it sounds absolutely ridiculous when he is stating that even if easily measurable parameters such as average size or the same color of skin are clearly different, more complex features such is intellect are the same on average across all human races and populations.
What I do not understand is why does it matter? Why do we need to substitute old Nazi type racism that held that some groups are inferior and therefore should be violently suppressed by the state, with the new liberal/progressive racism that holds that all groups are the same and therefore some groups should be violently promoted by the state? Either form of racism does not make any sense whatsoever. If a group is inferior it will always loose in fair competition; if all groups are the same everybody eventually will get equal share of everything. In both cases no violent interference of state is necessary.
I also cannot understand the logic of averages as applied to individuals. Even if we have a group of people who are on average have low IQ, it does not mean that one individual in this group could not be the greatest genius who ever lived. So if we deprive these low IQ group individuals of equal opportunity, we deprive ourselves of potential huge benefit that the genius’ effort could bring to all of us. By the same pattern promoting somebody only because this person belongs to high IQ group would hurt us if it results in incompetent person in highly position.
In short I believe that we just need to take care to provide opportunity in as much blind way as possible. For example I would make all decisions about admission to high value educational institutions in such way that decision makers would have no clue what race, background, beauty, or anything else unrelated to ability to succeed in obtaining education this individual has. It is the only way to get the best outcome for everybody. I also see absolutely no problem if one group of people commonly defined as race X is highly overrepresented in sport and entertainment, while another commonly defined as race Y if highly overrepresented in writing and sciences. I do not get why would anybody care as soon as we get the best possible musicians, writes, and everybody else.
One nice thing however is clear that with current intermixing and communication of people from all background it just a few dozen years we would be hard pressed to find anybody who would be find it conceivable to claim purity of race and all weird staff will just fade away.
I think this is a very profound book about contemporary history and, quite possibly, with implication for future development. It talks about sources and meaning of maritime powers that were represented first by Dutch, then by British, and currently by American power. It aims to answer 6 questions:
1. Why Anglo-Saxon powers are always winning in clash of civilization against other powers either continental European powers of France / Germany / Russia or ancient states that fallen behind in XVII – XVIII centuries like India and China?
2. What moves people who passionately hate Anglo-Saxon civilization and all that it represents?
3. How relatively small Anglo-Saxon powers were able to put together economic and military resources that enabled them to defeat all enemies for hundreds of years
4. How the great philosophical idea of invisible hand become deep seated foundational notion of Anglo-Saxon culture leading to tolerance in all areas of life – economics, religion, entertainment, and all other areas of human activity that resulted in diversity of ideas and, consequently, continuous growth in economic and military power.
5. Why Anglo-Saxon optimism about future is nearly always was wrong.
6. What three centuries of Anglo-Saxon success means for world history.
Walter Russell Mead uses some 400 pages to answer to all these questions in details. I think he gives pretty good answers, but I’d like to add one thing that seems to be missing. In my opinion a lot of this is explained by different relationship between individuals at the top layers of society and individuals at the bottom.
To put it mildly the individuals at the bottom of Dutch-Anglo-Saxon culture always had a lot more appreciation of their own value then individuals in other cultures. Whether it is coming from religious specifics of Protestantism or from simple fact that sailor is always more skilled and therefore more valuable then soldier, or from tradition of clearly identified private property of individuals versus everything belonging to the king, but result is the same – individual in maritime culture has much more space for incentive, wealth creation, and wealth acquisition then in other cultures.
This is transferred into technological and overall material advantage, which in every long lasting military encounter overcomes ability of other cultures easily sacrifice regular individuals to whatever objective leaders deem worth of persecuting.
Actually the issue of dignity of self sufficient and productive individual as driver of Western prosperity is thoroughly explored by Deirdre McCloskey in her book “Bourgeois dignity”. She adds a human dimension sorely missing in typical analysis not only history, but also current politics either internal or external. Her meticulous review of all other conceivable causes of Western prosperity seems to leave very little space for these alternatives.
I actually believe that all of these causes interplayed in the creation of Western civilization that provided for unprecedented level of prosperity and hope that currently ongoing destruction of this civilization form inside is just a temporary setback which will be stopped and reversed as soon as negative impact of this destruction on their lives and well being will become obvious for significant enough numbers of individuals in Western world.
By some strange coincidence I was watching an epic documentary about American West just a few weeks after reading an epic book about Genghis Khan and Mongolian conquests. It caused me to compare two historical events that occurred with some 600 years difference in time and brought me to conclusion that these two events had pretty much the same meaning while quite opposite outcome.
These two events were Mongol conquest of Asia and Europe and European conquest of American West. In both cases two civilizations founded on two different ways of resource acquisition encountered each other, clashed in multiple wars over the long period of time, which ended in absolute victory for one civilization, and defeat for another. However long term consequences where absolutely different.
In both cases Herders (Mongols and American Indians) fought agricultural civilizations with different level of manufacturing abilities (Chinese, Central Asians, Russians, and Americans). In one case herders (Mongols) won the clash hands down, but either accepted cultures of conquered agrarians (China and India) or just limited themselves to taking tribute for a few centuries until losers where able develop enough military power to repulse attacks after stopping paying tribute (Russia and other European nations). In another case herders (American Indians) lost every battle they fought save one against agrarians/manufacturers (Americans) and where pretty much obliterated as independent entities from the face of the Earth.
The reason for such different outcomes came from what they were fighting for. The herders where fighting either to obtain goods and services from agrarian/manufacturers that they could not produce themselves or just to maintain control over natural resources that they where not able to use intensively. The agrarians/manufacturers on other hand were fighting for control over natural resources either in the form of land or in the form of gold which they could use much more intensively then herders maintaining more people, building cities and industries
For herders the winning meant to make agrarian/manufactures to provide their goods and services for free which could be done only if they remained alive and productive. For the agrarian/manufacturers the winning meant to get access to natural resources and eliminate herders as completely as possible because herders represented nothing more then obstacle to their prosperity. Looking at these clashes from such point of view makes it obvious that any victory of herders was temporary, while any victory for agrarian/manufacturers was not just final, but often genocidal for herders.
Somehow this history resonates with the biggest clash of our time between politicians and bureaucracy on the one side and productive individuals of society on the other side. Doesn’t matter how many victories politicians and bureaucrats are able to obtain, their every victory diminishes productive ability of society and consequently decreases quality of life for everybody creating foundation for backlash. On other hand the victory for productive part of society could be final with restructuring of society in such way that bureaucrats and politicians have no more ability to rob productive members of society then American Indians maintain tribal lifestyle based on hunting buffalo on American plains.
Let’s just hope that bloody and eventually futile victories of politicians and bureaucrats that they achieved in XX century in such places like Nazi Germany and Soviet Union will be avoided in XXI century, while eventual defeat of politicians and bureaucracy will be bloodless with peaceful weaning of these people off their habitual behavior of robbing and looting productive people via dual mechanism of taxation / regulation.
Hopefully equal rights for natural resources with ability to sell them to highest (presumably more productive) bidder would provide them enough incentive to accept loss of ability to loot and, who knows, maybe achieve higher level of consumption and satisfaction then they were able to achieve via looting
I somewhat sick and tired to hear about Social Security and Medicare that they are direct transfer programs of moving resources from young people to the old. Obviously it is truth, but it nearly always mentioned without any reference to the huge expense that old incurred over time of their productive lives to provide resources for young people to survive until adulthood and obtain education. It seems to be clear that without these resources young people would not become productive and would not be able generate new resources necessary for old people to enjoy their Social Security and Medicare.
Given that, unfortunately while resources provided to meet physiological need of young generation where more then adequate – they are bigger, stronger, and often fatter then their parents, resources provided for their education where wasted on the scale unimaginable by previous generations – just look at inability of significant percentage of youth to find productive employment or start their own businesses.
I submit that the reason of this failure comes from one and one source only – the big part of investment was transferred from older generation to young generation via hierarchical organization of politicians and bureaucrats also known as government. As always with no exception to the rule, bureaucrats and politicians used these resources for their own gratification with education of youth or lack thereof being insignificant byproduct of bureaucratic activities.
The solution from the point of few of Rights Libertarian (RL) would be to substitute hierarchy of politicians and bureaucrats with direct investment of older people into younger people the same way as people invest in any company, organization, or entity which has at least some chance to generate more resources then were consumed.
Contemporary technology allows creating a market for trade between young people or their parents (custodians) and completely unrelated people with current resources supplied in exchange for obligation to pay back a share of specific individual’s income in the future. It would obviously create competition for resources between young people who would try to demonstrate that they are a better investment then other guy. This would add to educational process the part, which is most missing – deep interest of youth to obtain marketable skills whatever they are. It would also create competition among resource providers for opportunity to invest in the most promising young people and therefore greatly improve resource allocation process. By the way profitability would mean that some people would try to invest in great geniuses, but other would invest in bad cases where marginal improvement at decent scale could bring significant profits.
If such market created, all supplemental market activities like insurance, educational programs, materials, and services will be generated in necessary amount and of much higher quality then bureaucrats and politicians can do. It would open a great opportunity for all bureaucrats and politicians who actually capable to teach effectively to earn much higher return on their talents then what they get from being part (usually lower) of bureaucratic educational structure.
Last weekend I watched a very old movie from 1949 – The Fountainhead after Ayn Rand’s novel with the same name. It was made in the best traditions of propaganda movies of the first half of XX century – a simple idea expressed very directly with no recognition of realities of life.
For those who did not read the book and/or did not see the movie, the plot is going like this – highly talented architect Howard Roark refuses to compromise his talent by doing what other people want him to do and agrees to apply his incredible talents only on condition that his projects will be accepted and paid for as is, with no modifications to his vision.
Initially he is deprived of opportunities to apply his vision so he is working as manual laborer, but his superior and heroic personality overcomes all resistance and he builds all he wants to build the way he wants to do it until his friend convinces him to design a project for public housing. He does it without compensation, but on condition that integrity of design will not be violated. As it is to be expected, evil forces intentionally distort design and build new buildings in the way unacceptable for genius. In retaliation the genius blows buildings up (literally) and makes the great speech during the trial about individual’s right and even duty to live selfishly in his/her own interest and not give a damn about other people expectations, providing he is not interfering with their selfish interests.
Somehow jury behaves strangely different from surrounding masses of people who demand his blood, and acquits him. The happy end comes in the form of opportunity to build the biggest and most visionary building in the world with lesser people providing financing and conveniently removing themselves from the scene. Or, and for a cherry on the top of the cake he gets a beautiful and rich women who is in love with him from the moment she saw him as laborer on construction site.
Actually I am pretty much agree with Libertarian ideology and with Ayn Rand on main parts of her philosophy. I just see no more reason in trying to convince people to be selfish then in trying to convince them to be selfless. They will do whatever they believe is in their interest anyway with this “whatever” being unpredictable. Whether it would be “washing beggar’s feet” as Mather Teresa did or running “Ponzi schema” as Barry Medoff did depends purely on what the individual perceives as his/her paramount interest at the time – saving the soul or maintaining the image of great investor at any cost.
However Ayn Rand’s paeans to illusionary superior human beings, geniuses, “job creators”, and visionaries cause huge damage because they tend to send message to regular people that they are not important in the Libertarian world, that they are just a tool or raw materials in achieving goals and visions of some heroic capitalist. Real people observe real capitalists, see no superior talents or heroic deeds and know that these capitalists do the same as all people do to obtain resources and achieve their goals and this “the same” is not always pretty. Sometimes they work harder, but sometimes they do not. Sometimes they are more knowledgeable, but sometimes they are not. In short there is no way that regular people would accept their own inferiority and supported a hero in real life.
The secondary message – that everybody will be better off if capitalists, heroic or not, do whatever market makes them to do, while true could not possibly resonate if it means to loose one’s job here and now without any way to know whether one will be able to get similar or better job in the future.
In short I believe that Libertarian ideas could and eventually will get traction, but only after Libertarians will be able to come up with a solution that provides reliable backup plan for everybody in any situation while leaving wide open the way up for everybody who is willing to try. So let’s stop blabbering about heroic “job creators” and start looking for solution that would prompt regular people to switch their support from politicians and bureaucrats who promise them share of loot to Libertarians who provide a feasible way to prosperity through self-reliance without risk of absolute failure and poverty.
In my mind these two books are going together. One of them is documenting in details the dramatic changes in American society at the beginning of XXI century while another one, interestingly enough written a few years earlier, provides an alternative solution to failing welfare state in America.
“Coming Apart” provides details of growing differentiation between well educated and effective in their dealings with live Americans who are quickly becoming an upper class and poorly educated, overwhelmed by complexity, and failing in their managing of contemporary life Americans who are becoming lower class.
Charles Murray is doing a great job in looking at details of this coming apart process in all areas of life – industriousness, honesty, religiosity, and marriage while demonstrating the growing difference between emerging upper and lower classes and how it threatens wellbeing of American society.
Being written before “Coming Apart”, “In Our Hands” does not directly addresses issues of failing society, but rather proposes a detailed suggestion of how to provide for failed individuals in very rich American society in more effective and efficient way then welfare state could possibly do. I believe Charles Murray has no illusions in regard to feasibility of his plan to become reality; he just needs to put it up for review and discussion.
In my opinion it is a great plan – to give everybody $10,000 per year per adult person as grant, link it to income so people with higher income would cover the grant for people with lower income, and rid of welfare state which is destroying American society. Too bad it was pretty much ignored by all parties of the great American discussion of our time.
I think that the reason for this quiet rejection is that in reality the main beneficiaries of welfare state are not poor and powerless 20% of population at the bottom. The real beneficiaries are all – middle class, plutocrats, and everybody else who has one of the giant number of meaningless jobs created by big government to produce goods and services that nobody needs and nobody would ever buy on the free market.
The contemporary society is so hugely productive that we have 2% of active people producing enough food for 100% to suffer from overeating. We have 8% of population manufacturing everything that we need. We have 0.01% of population producing all entertainment we can possibly consume. At this point we use a big government in all its forms – services, regulations, etc. to provide “jobs” and living to people either in form of salary for high-income regulation compliance specialist or meager social security disability payments for young man not capable to find meaningful application for his energy.
We need completely different way of creating and distributing goods and services and, even more important, providing everybody with a meaningful way to apply their energies and talents. If American society fails to find such way, we’ll be in trouble sooner then anybody expects.
.45 ACP is a type of handgun bullet. It was designed in 1904 by John Browning for the new Colt pistol adapted by US Army in 1911. It proved itself possessing a very high stopping power during World War I and is a very popular high caliber handgun ammunition in America ever since. The reason for this is a very simple one. The stopping power is an ability of bullet to stop a big man with bayonet running towards you from driving this bayonet through your guts. A different bullet may kill the man, but would not stop him and his bayonet. .45 ACP would reliably do this stopping trick so your guts will be just fine.
Last week I encountered a situation that I did not encounter for the last 23 years ever since I immigrated to America from the Soviet Union – the widely used popular commodity product manufactured for more then a century disappeared from the shelves of the stores. This product is .45 ACP bullets. The shop assistant happily informed me that it is just a temporary inconvenience caused by dramatically increased sales of guns and ammunition so supplier cannot keep up with the demand He had no doubt that eventfully they will catch up and everything will be back to normal.
So while media of all kinds is discussing fine points of American gun culture, the regular members of this culture are buying ammunition in huge quantities despite the fact that it is not cheap even for dwellers of American suburbs with jobs and/or small businesses.
The media discussion is very often concentrating around self-defense issues with only sporadic reference to American tradition of being armed against tyrannical government. In reality the violent crime is down and in Suburbia it is practically non-existent. The government is obviously growing like cancer tumor, but we still seem to be quite a bit away from setting up concentration camps for dissidents, the situation that would call for use of guns and ammunition.
I think that the piece that is missing in this discussion is a symbolic value of a gun as tool of power. In any encounter of a person with the gun with person without gun, the person with gun is powerful, while person without gun is powerless. When I was growing up in USSR after WWII it was a usual thing in movies of, unknown to Americans genre of industrial drama, to see a powerful person like plan manager or even scientist with a gun, usually in his desk. Contrary to the rules of Russian school of dramatic art it would be never used, but it always had the same deep meaning – this guy allowed to have a gun so he must be important and powerful.
Meanwhile in real life to have unauthorized gun would be a crime punishable by long prison term. Even veterans of war who had guns given to them as award for some heroic action with their name and description of action inscribed on the gun (popular way to reward an officer without going through bureaucratic nightmare of getting him a decoration) were strongly recommended to give their guns to government for “safekeeping”. As usual it was an offer that nobody could refuse.
It short, I believe we should look at gun control battles for what they really are – a struggle of politicians and bureaucrats to deprive Americans of these symbols of power in hope that it would help them to break resistance to their political agenda.
I think politicians and bureaucrats should be very careful and remember old flags of American Revolution depicturing snake and “Don’t step on me” slogan. Recently these flags start flying again. Just keep in mind that when you are stepping on the people, nobody knows when and if they start using the stopping power of .45ACP. One thing is for sure – you cannot have a big government without stepping on the people.
“Love and Survival” is interesting because it provides a pretty good scientific support to what I consider a plain common sense – a human being needs another human being(s) to have close relationship in order to have good and healthy live.
It makes a perfect evolutionary sense because everybody has periods of temporary weakness physical or psychological or both and need support of somebody else. Besides it is quite obvious that no human being could survive the first 10-15 years of life without external help.
Actually it provides for a very good case for every individual to adhere to boring traditional family values – that is to have, love, and cherish a spouse and take care about young and old not as matter of goodness and morality, but as a matter of self-preservation. As far as I am concern it just makes for a higher quality of life.
Here are a couple samples from the book:
The Harvard Mastery of stress study – In 1952-54 126 healthy Harvard student questioned about relationships with their parents. 35 years later 91% with cold relationships had serious diseases typical for midlife while on 45% with warm relationships had such diseases.
The John Hopkins Study – 1100 medical students followed starting in 1940-s. It was defined that closeness to parents had valid predictive value for good or poor psychological and physiological condition 50 years later.
Overall it contains reference to some 15+ studies that leave no doubt about value of close relationship for human wellbeing.
I do not share Ornish’s interest in eastern philosophy, dieting, and overall science/mystery staff. For me it is just shows the simple way to good live – find somebody to love you and love them back as they are without being judgmental and trying to change them to become more to your liking. If you cannot do that with humans, just get a dog, still would be better for your health then any dieting and even many medicines.
A while ago when I was some 10 years old I learned in school about the great scourge of humanity – Tatar-Mongols. According to the history that I was taught, they where savages who came from distant and nearly inhabitable steppes in XIII century, devastated all civilized world from Pacific shores of China to Eastern part of Europe and where stopped only by heroic fight of noble Russians who despite loosing all the battles and being subjugated by Mongols for 200 years nevertheless weakened Mongols to such extent that they could not expand much farther to the West. As result as usual ungrateful Western Europe was saved to develop its civilization which eventually produced wonderful contemporary industrial world. Russia meanwhile paid for its heroism by falling behind and was still catching up at the middle of XX century some 700 years after invasion.
This book provides much more interesting and logically much more probable account of the greatest kind of empire in human history. The reason I used words “Kind of empire” is that what Mongols mainly created was not a big bureaucratic state, but rather a common space of trade and communications that established foundation of contemporary word. Obviously being not less bandits then Russian noblemen or Chinese bureaucrats or American politicians they robbed everybody in their power, but it was somewhat more orderly robbery with enough space for people being robbed to produce sufficient wealth for themselves. In short while other robbers treated people in agricultural way that is like peasants treat their crop – planting, growing, and cutting with continuing attention and control over process of growing, Mongols treated conquered people like horses, allowing free pasture with little attention and getting what they needed when enough wealth was produced.
For me the most interesting is history of conversion of pastoral culture of Mongols who were not cowboys, but rather horse-boys and lived off pastures and horses in necessarily small family size groups into the most powerful military force known to history until advance of contemporary technology. Especially interesting is Genghis Khan’s ability to accommodate independent, self-sufficient, and quite individualistic Mongolian horseman into well coordinated military unit.
The military strength of Mongols came from combination of every warrior being self sufficient with 5-6 horses and hunting ability that provided for food, shelter, and mobility with team discipline and loyalty to the unit that allowed tens of thousands of such warriors coordinate their actions. Resulting ability of Mongols to fight equally well in retreat as in advance with decisions readily made at every level without excessive fear of superiors provided for the huge advantage in any encounter with big armies of agricultural people with their well armed knights, huge masses of poorly armed conscripts, top down decision making, and inability to move fast either spatially or intellectually because of bureaucratic hierarchy.
I do not know how much details of this book regarding Mongols religious tolerance, support of science, technology, and trade are correct, but the undeniable fact of Mongol’s movement over the huge Euro-Asian space and mingling and mixing multiple people living in this space could not possibly occur without giant exchange of information and knowledge causing upgrade of everybody’s level to the top level achieved elsewhere. In short it looked like the beginning of one world in which we are living today.
I am starting this blog because I need a place to express my ideas and hopefully to find people who would be interested in them. These ideas are about philosophy, economics, politics, work of society, and similar things that I was interested in since I was a small child a very long time ago. As far as I know these ideas not trivial so I would appreciate any meaningful feedback.
My views are not right and not left, but in main libertarian. The main disagreement that I have with libertarian point of view is in relation to private property. The great libertarian thinkers properly see it as the foundation of free society, but accept its existing allocation as given, unchangeable, and sacred. I am, on other hand, see it as just a temporary arrangement easily changeable by force applied legally or illegally. Their aim was to prove that it would be the best for society if property remains sacred and all transaction are conducted voluntary without government interference. In their views it would provide the best outcome for everybody because people with resources will always need labor of people without resources and therefore lively exchange beneficial for everybody will take place. I believe that with expanding level of automation people with resources will need less and less labor from people without resources, all the way to the point when there is no demand for labor whatsoever. My solution is to provide unalienable and marketable private property rights for natural resources to everybody and only after that allow Laissez–faire free market economy to sort things out.
Other two mainstream-political movements tend to support and promote Welfare State either in form of private charity (conservatives) or state controlled wealth redistribution (liberals), which in my view is deeply destructive for human individuals depriving them of ability to search, strive for better life, fail and/or succeed-the only staff of life that actually provide for happiness.