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20140119 Seeing like a State



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The book is about case of State against people and nature. It starts with observation that state is somehow always against “people, who are moving around”. This analysis led to understanding that main functions of state: taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion are successful only if people are easily found, their wealth is easily assessed, and, most important they could be easily robbed.

From here comes the most common functions of the state – creation of identification system in the form of last names, standardization of measures, creation of cadastral surveys, and population registers. In short the state and its bureaucracy creates conditions necessary for population control by bureaucracy with consequent confiscation and concentration of resources to achieve whatever objectives bureaucracy wants to achieve.

The book reviews real life examples of state projects, philosophy behind them, and catastrophic results of violent implementation of different visions of bureaucracies in different countries and places.

The projects reviewed are:
• Forest management in Germany
• Artificial cities build from the scratch like in Brazil and/or existing cities modernized by bureaucracy like Paris by Napoleon III.
• Creation of surnames
• Implementation of standard national language
• Centralization and restructuring of traffic

The book is reviewing history and logic of authoritarian high modernist visions, which are nothing more then different forms of socialism developed in Europe and implemented to various degrees around the world. Two visions are analyzed in details one architectural – Le Corbusier and his “Radiant City”, and another one – political – Lenin and his new type of Revolutionary party.

Bulk of the book is dedicated to history of 3 sad examples of application of high modernist visions using bureaucratic power of state: Soviet Collectivization, Viligization in Tanzania, and modernization of agriculture in the third world. The disastrous character of the first two is well known. However agricultural change is not that easily defined and author admits that it led to dramatic increase in agricultural production, even if it was done not in the best possible way.

The somewhat unusual approach to all this consists in analysis of bureaucratic intervention as conflict between simplified view of the world developed and used by educated bureaucrat with little to none practical knowledge who lives and dies by getting resources from other people using coercion versus complicated and nuanced view of uneducated farmer who survives by constant experimentation and interaction with nature where resources are obtained from by accommodation and use of natural processes.

The main lesson here is that the more power bureaucracy has, the more damage it could cause by implementing its high modernist visions. In countries with powerful bureaucratic traditions this damage is in millions of human lives. In courtiers with relatively limited bureaucratic tradition and strong democratic traditions the damage come just as significant decrease in quality of lives for millions of people.

If only enough people were able to learn these lessons, the power of bureaucracy would be suppressed and the lives of these people would be significantly better.

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