Tuesday, September 09, 2014

On Government, Morality and Competition

== The age-old enemies of competition ==

As part of my eclectic and contrarian approach to life, I subscribe to a number of conservative and libertarian newsletters and sites... and some rather lefty ones, too. While I am skeptical of all prescriptive-simplistic dogmas, I do keep searching for that germ or core concept or variation that might be worthwhile. As a result, and despite my well-known views about the noxious New Confederacy, I nurse some concepts and notions that shock my left-leaning friends.  Indeed, what follows is sure not to please dogmatists of any stripe. Still, you might learn something.

government-moralOne of the more hard-hitting, Rothbardian-Libertarian sites is Casey Research, headed the brash but smart and sorry-but-I-can’t-help-liking-him master-provocatuer Doug Casey. One of Doug’s Fellows, Mr. Paul Rosenberg, just issued a manifesto assailing the core morality of “government”… a central catechism of the Rand-Rothbard-Cato wing that has taken over libertarianism, for more than a generation. You should read this missive; it will give you a better understanding of the incantations that transfix many of your neighbors. (Hey, you have your own glib and oversimplifying incantations – are you honest enough to admit it?)

I generally shrug off the polemics while sifting for pearls in manure. In this case, however, I felt I simply had to respond. Go have a look… then come back here.

== Hatred of all government - enabling an older enemy of freedom ==

Alas, amid his blanket denunciations of “government” as inimical to liberty, Mr. Rosenberg ignores the elephant in the room -- the failure mode that destroyed freedom and competitive markets and enterprise in 99% of human cultures, across the last 6000 years.  Feudal lordships in which owner-oligarchs crushed the hopes of the great masses of peasants below, while quashing any advances that might destabilize their family grip on power.  Steep pyramids of power, in which a few bullies with swords owned everything and used hired priesthoods to declare "it is GOOD that our sons will own your sons!"

Compare the horrific "morality" of any feudal oligarchy to the flawed but often progressively positive morality of a modern, western state.  This is not a comparison that Mr. Rosenberg's jeremiad can survive... so he evades the contrast, altogether.

Mr. Rosenberg knows darned well that owner-oligarchy is the great failure mode.  The one denounced by Adam Smith as the relentless market destroyer.  The calamity against which our American founders rebelled.  Yet, he is part of the campaign to yell "squirrel!" and point our attention elsewhere.

CompetitionTo be clear, competition is the greatest creative force in the cosmos.  Adam Smith focused on the positive outcomes when competition can be engendered in the best ways.  Competition made us! But in nature it is vicious and inefficient, working slowly, atop mountains of corpses.

It is seldom much better in human affairs. Look across the centuries; we see almost every renaissance of competitive creativity (e.g. in markets) is almost always quickly suborned and ruined by cheaters.  By conniving men with swords or deeds of ownership over everything.  The rentier caste that Adam Smith denounced.(Indeed, even Ayn Rand denounced Olde Money cheaters... though her New Lords would quickly become more or the same; that's why she never showed her Galtian characters having kids!)

Competition that is open, fair and productive has only survived more than one generation  - anywhere - when it was regulated to minimize cheating. Exactly as Smith recommended.

In fact, that success, getting the good, positive outcomes from creative competition, while excluding the nearly automatic cheating modes that always ruined it in the past, has truly only happened for more than two generations in a row once in all of the history of Homo sapiens... during this marvelous western renaissance we are living in.

COMPETITION-1
You'll notice that my portrayal of the situation fits into neither the simplistic model of the Left nor that of the Right!  

One side's lunacy is to ignore the fantastic fecundity of competition at generating such vast amounts of wealth that we can then afford to do progressive things. 

The contrasting insanity of the right is to ignore those 6000 years and pretend that competition's fecundity and productivity can happen amid the usual, festering swarm of opportunist-cheaters!

= Prevention of cheating requires...regulation! =

I can prove all of this with one spectacular example. 

sports-regulationThe exact parallel is professional sports, one of the tightest-regulated realms of human experience.  Yes, most of the regulations are decided by cabals of team owners. But I never said regulation has to be "governmental"! It simply has to prevent the failure modes (cheating that Adam Smith said always ruin markets.

  What is key is that most of the regulations in a sporting league are intended to level the playing field and eliminate cheating.  Because if cheating reigns, then the system fails to deliver the desired product... excited fans, eager to buy tickets.  (Do you deny that individual players and teams would cheat, if they could get away with it? Or that the sports franchises become valueless, when the customers notice rampant cheating?)

AdamSmithREgulationAdam Smith knew all of this and recommended state endeavors to balance out the inevitable rise of cheaters and to do what F. Hayek later demanded... to maximize the number of skilled competitors!


Smith wanted free public education, state financed infrastructure and health measures, the breaking up of monopolies and other reforms that would ease the way for bright sons of the peasantry to compete with the sons of owner-lords.  The very first acts of the American Founders, after the Revolution, included seizure of half the land in the former colonies from a few lordly families and redistribution, in order to create a (somewhat more) level playing field.

LIBERTARIANS-PROPERTYIndeed, many of the reform movements since then have revolved around spreading that circle of fairness.  Not just because it's nice, but because it is stupid to waste talent and let cheaters stifle competition by the maximum number. In other words, it takes some socialism to deliver the world that Hayek recommended!

None of which is part of today's libertarian doctrine!  All talk of level-flat-fair-open competition and Smithian libertarianism is quashed, replaced by the New Dogma -- idolatry of unlimited, lordly accumulations of private ownership... which (let me reiterate) was THE failure mode for 6000 years.

Property is now the libertarian god! Competition is shrugged off and never appraised for what it is, an explosively creative force that must be maintained, like an engine, lest the grit of cheating destroy it.

WealthNations== To be clear... ==

While I hold many liberal or progressive views, I also proudly and unabashedly proclaim others that are Smithian-Heinleinian Libertarian, in that I deem healthy suspicion of government over-reach to be fit and proper! But I can turn my head and see such dangers - abuse of power - looming from all directions. 

(Can you?)

Yes, "government" can be captured by crony oligarchs!  That is why the democrats (and never republicans) de-regulated away and erased captured agencies like the ICC and CAB and broke up AT&T and gave an unregulated Internet to the world. 

Worth-noting: all of those deregulatory measures were opposed by the GOP at the time. The only industry that the GOP has ever de-regulated (despite all the rhetoric) is finance and Wall Street.  And you know how that went.

Keeping a close eye on government, skeptical to all over-reach, is a fine role for a sane libertarianism, and it inspired my book: "The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?"

But assuming we do keep the bureaucrats leashed, then it is proper to recall that they... and the scientists too... are "elites" we can use to counterbalance the inevitable cheaters-from-oligarchy who betrayed freedom and competition in every other era.  Indeed, the war on science and all other castes of "smartypants" expertise is being funded precisely by those who want feudal oligarchy to come roaring back.

== But is capitalism a good thing? ==

market-competitionGuardedly, you bet! In that market competition is the engine of our cornucopia and the wealth that enabled us to then take on progressive causes!

  Indeed, healthy market capitalism should be viewed as a top victim of crony-oligarchy. Indeed, You liberals need to admit that the issue of "globalization" is not settled and your reflexes were dead wrong.  Aside from the two billion people rising rapidly in China and India...

...read about potential real progress in three more countries that together contain 1.5 billion people.  Nor are these the only such examples.

Have investments in infrastructure, education, science RandD and public health paid off? According to one of the top (still-sane) conservative economics research houses, that “social capital” of shared investment in the future is responsible for most of our current standard of living.

“The United States and the rest of the post-industrial, developed world owe their epic rise in living standards to the underlying “social capital” that properly incentivized innovation, entrepreneurship, and thus technological transformation over the last two centuries.” - says Worth Wray of Mauldin Economics, a noted conservative investment newsletter:

MIT Professor Robert Solow would agree with us on this front. Solow’s work on the US economy – which has become a textbook economics lesson – explains that innovation has accounted for more than 80% of the long-term growth in US per capita income, with capital investments accounting for only 20% of per capita income growth.” 

So much for supply side (voodoo) economics (SSVE), which proclaims that the only way to engender growth and development is huge tax cuts for the uber-wealthy… even at the cost of cutting back on infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health… exactly opposite to the prescription cited by Adam Smith.

Funny thing. Not one prediction ever made by SSVE has ever, ever, ever come true.

Liberals, this is your fault too.  Again... until I am blue in the face -- instead of bad-mouthing capitalism, you must embrace Adam Smith and declare true, healthy, flat-open-fair capitalism to be a top victim of the campaign of crony-cabal grabbing by the New Lords.  Investments in infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health are what feed and engender a thriving market economy.

40 comments:

sociotard said...

A very tiny CITOKATE?

(Do you deny that individual players and teams would cheat, if they could get away with it? Or that the sports franchises become valueless, when the customers notice rampant cheating?)

That's what happened to Pro Wrestling. There was a time when fans honest to goodness believed the wrestlers were really playing to win, instead of performing a violent ballet they'd carefully rehearsed.

And when everyone, fans and performers alike, admitted it was just a show . . . the fans were still fans. Wrestling goes on. They just replaced the need for competition with the need for a show or narrative.

Perhaps the oligarchs will sate us by offering narratives of competition, without addressing the statistical quality of it. Push lots of rags to riches stories in the media, that sort of thing.

sociotard said...

Ah, found it. There was a really fun spiel I'd read on Ben Franklin, who's often portrayed as the self-made-man of the founding fathers. It helps illustrated how media can sell a story of rags-to-riches through good competition, just by ignoring the inconvenient bits.

So Ben Franklin is the son of a working-class fellow (you can tell that Josiah Franklin is working class; he works at the businesses that he owns, just like Warren Buffet!), and that pretty much makes him working class, too. His mom was just a country girl from Nantucket name of Folger. What? You've heard that name? Shut up. No. Just shut up.

Anyway, at the age of 17, this totally working class boy (I said, "shut up") runs away to Philadelphia. Along the way, like any seventeen-year-old working class runaway, he's invited to dinner by the Governor of New York, and soon after his arrival in Philadelphia, he's sent on a private mission to London by the Governor of Pennsylvania, who is his buddy.

I remember when that sort of thing used to happen to me back when I had no money! But relax, this doesn't prove that Ben wasn't a self-made man, because it turns out that the Governor's word wasn't good in London, and so Ben was left to ...hang around London for two years with no discernible means of support, meeting famous people, reading lots of books, and generally making a name for himself. Just like those homeless kids begging down on the Granville strip.

And then back he goes to Philadelphia, where he finally makes a name for himself.

Ben: "Hey, Mr. secretary to the assembly, I just got a state of the art printing press with no apparent source of capital!"
Secretary: "Well, why don't you become the sole-licensed printer to the colony? Here's a bunch of Indian treaties and the like for you to publish, and a wheelbarrow load of money in payment case you want to finance the publication of an almanac on the side!"
Ben: "Yay! I'm a self-made man!"
Later...
Ben: "Hey, Albany Conference dudes. Check me out! I'm an official Pennsylvania delegate!"
Dudes: "Big ups, Ben! How'd that happen, exactly?"
Ben: "Well, the guys down in Phillie got tired of giving out all the appointments to totally connected insiders, so they decided to give me one, too. Because I totally do not have any inside connections."
Dudes: "And because you're totally not connected or anything, we'd like to make you postmaster of the colonies!"
Ben: "Well, on the one hand, that'd be like a license to print money. But on the other, I don't know if I'd look good in a blue uniform..."
Dudes: "Don't worry, Ben, you can use the office to circulate your almanacs and make even more money!"
Ben: "Awesome, because I'm about to take the lead of a major insider faction in the assembly and try to win an election! Like all us eighteenth century working class outsiders do!"
Dudes: "Careful. If you lose, you'll have to go off to London and swan about the court, living in luxury on your enormous wealth and buttering up the king, and he won't even be able to tell you apart from all the Cocknies and Tynesiders doing the same!"
Ben: "That is a risk I'm prepared to take. Just as long as my shadowy real estate interests in America are taken care of while I'm away."
Dudes: "Will making your illegitimate son by an unknown woman the Governor of New Jersey cover that?"
Ben: "Well, bastard sons of working class, self-made outsiders usually do way better than Royal Governor of a Crown Colony, but... okay."
Dudes: "Okay. And give our best to your maternal uncles, okay?"
Ben: "Shut up shut up shut up shut up."

matthew said...

David, sports franchises do not become valueless when rampant cheating is exposed. See: the New England Patriots (filming opponents secretly), the Boston Celtics (fans famously jiggling the opponents' backboard from up in the rafters), Major League Baseball (the doping years). All these examples have grown in popularity after cheating was exposed. And, do not forget the theater of professional wrestling.

matthew said...

Hah. Sociotard beat me to the wrestling comparison by nine minutes. Great minds and all... Lesson learned - no more proofreading for me :)

matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Berial said...

You wrote, " Indeed, healthy market capitalism should be viewed as a top victim of crony-oligarchy. Indeed, You liberals need to admit that the issue of "globalization" is not settled and your reflexes were dead wrong. Aside from the two billion people rising rapidly in China and India..."

What is the 'liberal' point of view that you are decrying here? I ask because I know people of all political stripes that both like and hate 'globalization'.

David Brin said...

Sociotard's narrative about Franklin was hilarious and pointed and certainly gets across a counterpoint of view. But of course, it is easily as much a lie - by omission - as the other narrative.

Fact is, Franklin was extremely extremely persuasive. He charmed the socks off everybody. He forged alliances everywhere he went, and those were often with the core young businessmen. NOT "working class" but ambitious bourgeoisie.

Note that except for oblique mention of "Folger" S does not actually provide any evidence of aristocratic origins for Ben. Bourgeoise? Yes. Still, the persuasive wunderkind theory is vastly more consistent with observed events than any nod-nudge-wink aristocratic connections.

Don Gisselbeck said...

Ben Franklin, on the other hand, did say this; "Private Property therefore is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing..." from http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch12s25.html

sociotard said...

Granted, he was very charming. He also had venues to work that charm that equally charming but less connected persons would not have had.

Paul Shen-Brown said...


"Yet, he is part of the campaign to yell "squirrel!" and point our attention elsewhere."
I think somebody has been watching "Up" with his kids ...

sociotard said...

Every time I see that movie I want to yell at the little scout about how his guidebook probably says something about not feeding wildlife. I know, its a movie with a house flying with helium balloons and talking dogs, and that's what breaks my suspension of disbelief.

David Brin said...


DG thanks for that quotation. But of course, Ben F was never the favorite Founder of the Confederacy wing.

Sociotard, I think you still don’t get it. People who met Franklin did not think “Ah, this well-connected fellow happens to be above-average charming.”

What they thought… and contemporaries wrote it even when he was young, was: “This is the smartest person I have ever met and am ever likely to meet and he has out-maneuvered every foe and turned most of them into allies and maybe I should consider being his friend to, since those who are seem to be prospering really well. And also he’s the smartest person I ever saw.”

That goes a little beyond “charming.”

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin (now I'm no longer being stereoed by my son),

Your comment "But I never said regulation has to be "governmental"!" makes an important point. Government is not the only power, it is not the only frustrating bureaucracy, and is far from the only thing that limits our personal freedom. There was a professor at Chapel Hill named Carole Crumley who came up with an idea called "heterarchy" which you might find useful. The idea is that when trying to understand any society (including our own) we need to look at all the relationships, not just the "official" relationships of power, exactly what you are pointing out (and I have tried with so many people who think "the Guvument" is the source of all evil). I'll include a link to her seminal paper. Since I have been out of it for years, now, I don't know how the idea has grown over the years, but even in its early form it is a useful concept.

http://www.sonoma.edu/users/p/purser/Anth590/crumley%20heterarchy.pdf

sociotard: in spite of it being animated, which should immediately break the S of B, I still find it moving, especially every time they smashed open their savings jar to fix life's latest little accident.

mwsmith said...

I have to take issue with your attributing too much to competition and cheating. I can't see competition as a creative force. The creativity still comes from the human mind. Competition didn't create the integrated circuit and the internet. But once they were created, competition speeded up their development. Quite a lot of the R in R&D is not financed by competition but by need. The DoD needed computers to talk to each other so it financed early development of ARPANET. You can argue that was competition with the USSR, but it wasn't capitalist competition. Capitalist competition becomes important in the D part of R&D.

Watson and Crick weren't motivated by competition in their research that gave us DNA. But since their work, competition has developed their creative work to the benefit of everyone. So I think the human mind is creative, with or without competition, and competition becomes important in the D phase of R&D.

Cheating isn't the only reason we need regulation. In the absence of regulation, monopolies can form without cheating. But monopolies naturally eliminate competition, so they have to be prevented by regulation.

And the Fed was originally meant to prevent runs on banks. A bank run is a natural thing in capitalism, but a capitalist system is finite, so no matter how big the capitalist banking system, there is always a run that is big enough to break the bank. Runs on banks must be prevented by regulation.

Alex Tolley said...

While the very wealthy can use their wealth to influence competition (who competes and who doesn't), we shouldn't assume that reducing competition is confined to the wealthy. Society is structured so that competition is not constant - positions and incomes attained are not continuously competed for. Social position can be maintained by societal agreement. Today we are seeing the disruption that is caused when this is no longer true e.g. firing the bottom performing 5% of workers. It is the competition required by voting democracies that increases cheating e.g. politicians aligning themselves with wealthy funders rather than their constituents.

A society based on high competition, more like nature, would be inefficient - so much effort expended to constantly maintain position or increase position and income. A balance is required, enough stability so that energies can be expended in productive endeavors, enough competition to prevent stasis. The trick is in how to ensure that society is truly a meritocracy and to prevent "cheating" (i.e. featherbedding) at all levels. We still have a way to go to reach that Star Trek type society. We make progress in some arenas, slip back in others.

locumranch said...

Although previously mentioned, it is worth repeating that David's idea of 'enlightened competition' represents de facto 'cooperation' (wherein the term 'cooperation' is defined as a willingness to participate in 'joint operation' and 'act together for a common purpose or benefit'), in which all participants agree to (or, are compelled to) comply with 'fair & balanced' rules designed to maintain a 'level playing field', meaning that the term 'enlightened competition' is merely disingenuous newspeak for social conformity, collaboration and collectivism.

Strictly speaking then, this so-called 'enlightened competition' of David's is not competition but rather collectivism with a multifocal (rather than unifocal) hierarchy that allows for flexible non-centralised control and some 'positive-sum gaming', whereas pure 'competition' is an all-out, unregulated, no holds barred zero-sum war in which 'winning' (and/or surviving) is the one & only goal, and this assessment is confirmed by David's obsession with catching 'cheaters' or 'rule breakers' as there can be no cheating in a pure competition that lacks collective rules or regulations.

That said, it is important to remember that most social rules are in no way right, divine or objective, meaning that they can be (and should be) altered by whim, vote or force majeure as the need arises, in accordance with individual will, as the 'joint action' of collectivism relies (lives or dies) on the voluntary participation of every individual 'cheater'.


Best

Alex Tolley said...

@locum 'enlightened competition' of David's is not competition but rather collectivism with a multifocal (rather than unifocal) hierarchy that allows for flexible non-centralised control and some 'positive-sum gaming', whereas pure 'competition' is an all-out, unregulated, no holds barred zero-sum war in which 'winning' (and/or surviving) is the one & only goal

Each individual tries to operate in such a way to reduce all out competition. Whether it is to rise within a social or organizational structure, or to join with a revolution to overturn the existing structure. Arguing for 'rules' to control some sub group is at least in part an argument for diminishing the ability of that group to compete. The US built rules that allowed a much less pyramid shaped social structure after WWII, but this has been systematically dismantled since the 1960's to allow for the more stable pyramid to return. Those that have benefitted most from this argue that this is the better structure (while conveniently it is also the one that they have gained most from). But there are a myriad rules that have also benefitted different sub groups, often to the detriment of others. Whether a new rule is "liberating" or "oppressive" may depend on which side of the rule benefit you fall on. The better rules benefit the whole population, the worst rules benefit just one sub group, perhaps with zero-sum benefits. Let us not forget that rules don't stop at borders. For example, the US has consistently avoided any rules on carbon emissions that are perceived to reduce the benefits to Americans, whilst the consequences are already being felt by other nations.

David often speaks of the "Western Enlightenment". I'm personally very wedded to that ideal. Unfortunately, this WE often gets interpreted as the US version of it, due to past successes. Somewhere the idea that it started in Europe and is still the predominant ideology, especially in Northern Europe, gets lost. It may be that the US version of the WE ideology experiment is failing and that it needs a revolution, or at least a thorough renewal, to restore it.

David Brin said...

Sorry mwsmith you are splitting hairs. Competitive realms ENGENDER speeded creativity… better? Liberals’ error is to neglect that. While conservatives’ error is to ignore that competitive systems always collapse, except when very carefully tended with regulation to keep it flat-fair-open… with state help to maximize the number of kids who get food/education-confidence to then compete.

“Cheating isn't the only reason we need regulation. In the absence of regulation, monopolies can form without cheating.” HAIRSPLITTING! Define monopolies as cheating. That’s how Adam Smith defined things. You are just looking for excuses to disagree.

Alex I never said the rich are the only cheaters. Libertarians are right to remind us that bureaucrats can cheat and even with good intentions. Goody-goody interventions to “help people” should face a test. If they will demonstrably increase the number of poor kids who reach 25 ready to compete, then the measures are positive by BOTH goody-goody and pragmatic standards. If they ONLY serve to equalize outcomes or boost some interest group, then they should face a higher burden of proof.

Jiminy… Locum gives me neck pain. One moment he is way over in strawman-scarecrow-lala-land. The next he is one of our most cogent members. This last post of his was VERY good…

…even though I totally disagree that the term “competition” has to apply only to rule-less cut-throat, unregulated chaos. THAT is a sub-version of “competition” a word that perfectly well includes tightly regulated sports and the demurely courteous but savage world of science.

But yes, as I point out in EARTH, competition and cooperation merge and overlap tremendously. That is how we get positive sum games!

Alex Tolley said...

@DB I never said the rich are the only cheaters.

I don't see where I said you did. However, I wanted to increase the scope of what might be called "cheating". let's consider societies structured as classes. being born into a higher class conveys a lot of advantages over those from lower ones. Without having to do anything, certainly compete with those in lower classes, the individual gains advantage. Classes become self perpetuating. Other countries, like India, are very class rigid.

There are so many social structures that offer ways to similarly cheat. Gender is an obvious one. Race another. We all to some extent accept these structures, effectively reinforcing the benefits we receive compared to the disadvantaged group. This may seem minor compared to blatant tax rate rigging by the connected, but the point is that very few of us are entirely blameless in this regard. Also of note, it isn't just some bureaucrat that might set bad rules, it is our sanctioning of those actions at the ballot box.

Cheating per se isn't the problem, it is how much one can gain by cheating that is. If cheating can only provides a small advantage, that constrains the effects. Where cheating can be a winner takes all scenario, then the consequences (and temptation) is high.

Tim H. said...

The casey essay is flawed at the start, we aren't born with much in the way of morality, it's learned. The quick ones pick up on the self interest in altruism, the slow ones need threat of hellfire. Also ignored is how useful government regulation is for most business, raising the bar of entry for competitors and in some cases, requiring customers to do business with them, or another like business. Conspicuously released methane, in printed form.

sociotard said...

Hey, remember that time Bush was President and the Air Force, and the Air Force Academy in particular, seemed unduly influenced by evangelical Christians?

Hey meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Remember that time Bush got is in that war in Iraq with poorly defined parameters for success?

Hey meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

David Brin said...

Re the Air Force. Yep.

Those who snipe that President Obama is acting just like GW Bush, in going to war, are being foolish. Name a time, across 6000 years, when a great power went to war as little as we generally do. The real question is not whether fights happen, but how they are handled. Democrats (post-Vietnam) handle war diametrically opposite to the style of republican (post Eisenhower) presidents. The difference in approach is total and universal. Obama is doing precisely what demprexies do.

I lay it out here... and yes it is absolutely universal, down the line. A very strong criterion for choosing one party over the other. Especially since it correlates with all the other reasons.

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-democrats-and-republicans-wage-war.html

Tom Crowl said...

RE: How Capitalism becomes crony capitalism

09 06 14 - Macro Analytics - Why Crony Capitalism is Happening w/ Charles Hugh Smith

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUx2SYDgwGk

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Tim H.
We have to be very cautious making blanket statements about how much "morality" we are born with (or not). This is a question that people have been making a whole lot of blanket assumptions about, and using those assumptions as the foundations of both religions and governments. However, we will not really know the answer until the genetic scientists crack all of our genetic code, Though that is happening at an accelerating pace, we are a long way from being able to tell how much Hobbes, Rousseau or John Locke we really are. Humans are clearly social animals with some very strong social instincts, but different cultures spin these instincts into different moral systems. You might enjoy reading any of Frans de Waal's recent books on the subject, like "Good Natured" or "The Age of Empathy" which was my summer read along with Brin's latest - both of which turned out to be tops for their categories (fiction & non-fiction).

Tom Crowl said...

I believe neither Party will do the things required. The increasing wealth division is a product of a lack of "heat-from-the-bottom"... along with a bi-partisan agreement exemplified by things like the Powell Memo ( http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_memo_lewis/ )

and the weakening of unions, the loss of local Party organizations... and the lack of any meaningful method for contrary views to organize and fund their positions.

There's always a "liberal" side of every oligarchy. We've got it in spades.

They may want a better deal for the poor and middle class...

But the wealthy Left will never fight hard enough to win the fight. Especially when they're dependent for support upon those they need to limit.

Foreign policy will become increasingly difficult... much worse than it used to be because of the weakening of the social contract and the lack of engagement by the public.

That's one of the reasons I'm a fanatic for the micropayment in advocacy... its not only a tool for influence... it feeds back over time to the donor increasing their 'buy-in' to the system. For representative government to ever work for any length of time the population must be kept in the game in a meaningful way... not simply as targets for manipulation.

Frankly, I no longer feel a part of this country's political system. I support the Constitution and the Bill of Rights... but do not see either Party as leading to a better country. Both are apologists for the theft of the middle class over the last several decades...

And though it may have been a product of good intentions gone wrong... the duopoly ended up creating a "Company Store"*

* i.e. de-regulation followed by Greenspan and a collapse of credit standards which served the "privatization" loved by the Right... and the "give-a-break-to-the-poor" of the Left. This unsustainable model blew up in 2008 when the company store decided to let the workers know who's boss.,. and the credit of the United States has been used to bail out the oligarchy.

P.S. Re my own foreclosure... I didn't borrow for consumption... I borrowed to build a granny unit so I could live in it. Rent paid mortgage.
Renter had accident and had to move after no pay for three months. Wells Fargo (and this oligarchy) wouldn't even give a month to replace tenants but forced foreclosure. Its a long story and sorry to share even this muchh. But a $500 check didn't fix anything. And my house when to someone else for cash who got a great rental with granny unit for half price. My labor was stolen.. along with my home.

This oligarchy has done nothing but get richer while the poor and middle class died.

I'm not looking for pity... I'm good and pissed at this government.

P.P.S. Maybe Chelsea can do an investigative report? She's being paid very well for a beginning journalist.



Tim H. said...

Paul Shen-Brown, having dealt with small children, no, don't think there's a lot of inborn morality. I could see that modest desires might be easily mistaken for morality and could be coded into the epigenetic layer. With any luck, we won't make lasting decisions based on shallow understanding of genetics. Again.

sociotard said...

The question isn't just how fights are handled (though that helps, and I am glad there is no prospect for 'boots on the ground').

The second half of the question is how the fights are chosen.

I might not be able to find a major power that warred as little as we do, but I bet I could find one that only warred to pursue its interests.

What interests do we have in Iraq? They sell us oil, but so do lots of countries. Besides, whoever takes over there will want to sell us oil too.

Kurds and other minorities will suffer terribly, but that isn't a US interest. Warring for peace is like screwing for virginity and all that.

We have some bases, which are useful for projecting US force into other countries . . . where we also don't have that many interests.

So Brin, what US interests in Iraq are you willing to drone-strike a bunch of civilians for?

Tacitus2 said...

I have no qualms about air strikes on barbarians. There will be a price to be paid of course. It has been kept fairly quiet but ISIS is holding more Westerners and has threatened that one of their Brit prisoners will soon die. Pray for all the captives and their families if you are a person of faith.

David we now have 6 years of the Obama administration to add to the data base of how Democratic presidents wage war. I am not ignorant of their need to keep a substantial pacifist element of their party happy. I am not going to cast aspersions on the C and C's courage or masculinity. (his foreign affairs experience pre 2008 is fair game).

I think it would be difficult at this time to call Libya a success. Media casting its lensed eyes elsewhere notwithstanding, it is a mess. A fair argument can also be made that the failure to negotiate an agreement for continued US forces in Iraq has ended badly. Obama wanted out. How hard did he try? I am going to be honest now, the tiptoeing close to hostilities in/over/with/against the Assad regime confuses me. Our Genial Host was kind of gung ho for a brief, fevered moment if I recall. But would we have been bombing Assad to provide air cover for AQ, for IS, or for the nebulous moderates of the sort that only sell journalists to IS not behead them personally? Clarity, Clarity.....

Oh, I suppose I could toss in the reset button with Putin but that would be piling on and in any case Ukraine is not yet a war because there were no Americans on the Malaysian Air flight I guess.

I will anticipate a few ripostes. Yes, all presidents inherit messes not of their own making. All presidents have constituencies they must mollify. No Republican now on the scene has put forward a compelling foreign policy path for America in 2014. (and if one does it will be derided and called racist/teaparty/koch machinations by the commentariat.

Tacitus

mk045 said...

I'd like to zoom out a bit, rather than argue Dr. Brin's wordsmithing. The premise of the Casey post was that a government cannot be moral. I see their argument as being fundamentally flawed. From the start, the definitions and descriptions of "government" beg the question.

In simple terms, government is the organization that tells us what we can or cannot do. And if we disobey it, it claims the right to punish us, and quite often does punish us.

As the formal definition says, government is an organization built upon force. Without force, it ceases being “government.”

Government is not a productive organization like a commercial business or a family farm. The people who form a government live off the wealth of others, which the government system removes from those others. This is beyond dispute.


If this twisted nonsense is your starting point, the article's conclusions do generally follow. "This is beyond dispute," should be a red flag for anybody not already drinking the Kool Aid. But it misses, no violates, the basic premise of the Western Enlightenment and Western democracy: government as derived from the rights and consent of "the people".

Without getting too absurd with definitions and proof, I think anybody could agree that a person could be "moral". Two people could be moral. Recursively, any number of people can be moral, individually and as a group. Government is "the people" saying that we have common needs (e.g. infrastructure, defense, relations with other groups), and making provision for those common needs. We entrust the public good to public servants, who are then nominally accountable to elected representatives who are in turn, for the sake of argument, ultimately answerable to the society at large. "They" are not "takers" using force to defraud us; we are "givers" expecting an ever rising trajectory for some notion of "the common good".

I'm not sure where Paul Rosenberg lives, but I've never had my taxes collected at gunpoint with black helicopters circling overhead and my children backed into a corner by snarling attack dogs lunging at the ends of their leashes (as he seems to imply). I recognize that, as a citizen, I have to contribute to the operation of my society, which I fulfill with tax funding, productive activity, and community participation. I fill out my 1040 like the majority of citizens and move on with my life, enjoying roads, parks, the Internet (a product of government research), fairly clean water and air, and a stable currency. I vote - blue in a harshly red state, so it's often depressing - but i do vote. So I'll be frank: this is only complicated if you want to make it complicated, if you have some small or great untruth to sell.

The real danger comes when a person or subgroup becomes (or chooses to be) disconnected from this essential truth of democratic government. They see it as "other"; something foreign and threatening. This would include Rosenberg, French (the second post on Casey), the Tea Party, and their ilk. Possibly others with different agendas as well. They want the benefits without the sacrifice. They are the Randian "takers". They want to believe that everything they have accomplished has been in spite of this liberal democracy, when in truth it has been facilitated by the same. The label of "takers" is used preemptively to dodge their own dishonesty, going all the way back to Ayn. The taxes you paid should be as voluntary as the money you pay for groceries (per Rosenberg's example). If they are not voluntary for you, then you do not understand the fundamental purpose of government and your role therein; take a civics course. With a broad brush, I would suggest that this includes most of the Tea Party: wolves in sheep's clothing; or to twist the metaphor, oligarchs (and their apologists) in libertarian's clothing.

mk045 said...

David does not talk directly to French's follow-up post on the Casey site, but does brush up against it with the "But is capitalism a good thing?" section. Yes, capitalism can be a force for innovation and progress, but anybody familiar with basic math will realize that capital advantage generally leads to exponentially greater advantage. Capitalism may succeed in driving progress, but even moreso, it is a fantastic redistributor, particularly concentrator, of wealth. This is where the rules must be constantly rebalanced. Otherwise, the economy (and society by extension) will evolve over time like pre-inflation quantum fluctuations becoming the cosmological structures we see in the universe today: dense clusters of light scattered among vast and empty voids, as we see in our economy today.

The "cheaters" are those that look for gaps in the laws and rules of society, and wedge those gaps to create advantage. This is why, as David points out, we have to vigilant in maintaining the framework of rules. Those that complain because the rules have been changed on them, well, they are actually complaining that they've been found out. If they understood the need for balance, for morals and ethics in general - no harm to my person or interests in exchange for my not harming you or your interests - they would not complain when rules and laws are updated to facilitate a changing reality. Liberal democracy is not efficient, and is not easy. It takes time, work, participation, and patience. It is often messy, and entwined with compromise. If I want to live with my neighbor rather than shoot him, steal his goods, and enslave his children, I suppose I have to allow him his point of view even if he disagrees with mine. In return, I expect the same. Compromise is the essence of the Golden Rule, not the "four letter word" of current politics.

The word "capitalism" is too often used as a fig leaf to support the illusion that hard work is rewarded, and harder work is rewarded even more. French gives a peek behind the fig leaf with his ironic selection of a quote from Daily Kos:

If capitalism worked as it was supposed to, these laborers would be making much more money. The problem is, capitalism is working as it is supposed to: create as much wealth as humanly possible [...]. The assumption that it makes everybody’s lives better however, is a falsity.

He says this is wrong, and by implication suggests that it's OK to reward hard work with subsistence wages (or less) while "enlightened" masters reap every cent of profit above the "market driven" payroll. They key word in this Kosquote is "everybody", synonymous with "our society". He says this is wrong, and in doing so has tipped his hand.

I've rambled far too long, but the actual "takers" have engineered this "market driven" purchase of influence we see in current politics; this environment where intellectual secessionists seem mainstream and argue that "liberals" - by any definition - are hampering the work of the masters to impoverish the many for the benefit of the few. I hope this situation will collapse in upon its own emptiness, leaving space for more meaningful intellectual discourse.

David Brin said...

TomC… wow. Dang what a story. You have real cause.

Sociotard, Iraq never had the slightest to do with Oil. Not one bit. And even less, today. It was a tussle of Saudi & Iran in which Saudi ordered Bush in… and Iran won. Now Saudi is scared and Iran is scared and we have major interests in seeing if those two can be calmed down and turned into helpful players. Especially if the Saudis can be persuaded to stop meddling in US politics and to allow an arab-Israeli peace.

Tacitus my essay describes the DOCTRINES of the two parties, which are opposite. The Dem doctrines have worked more often… but with notable failures e.g. Somalia.

matthew said...

As to Obama's war record, let us compare him to recent presidents.

GWB? Absolutely the worst Commander in Chief our nation has ever known. Two unfunded wars, both of which went south after no plans for post-war other than "...and then the people we were killing will see the error of their ways and become our democratic allies."

Clinton? Did OK with the Bosnia business. Utterly crap in Somalia. Regrets inaction on Rwanda.

GHB? Betrayed the Kurds and Shias and let Saddam purge them. Wholly owned by the Saudis.

Reagan? Won vs. Panama and Grenada. Took down the evil empire using bluster and economics (and proxy wars). Lost Lebanon and killed a bunch of Marines by not funding adequate barracks. Negotiated with terrorists. Backed so many dictators in Central America that the area is still messed up and hates us to this day. Originator of the "I'm so crazy I might kill us all" offensive style that Putin is using now. Mixed bag.

Carter? No shots fired during his presidency. Failed hostage-rescue.

Ford? Got us out of Vietnam, finally.

Nixon? Cambodia. Laos. Kissinger, one of the evilest men on the planet. Scuttled a peace deal to boost his election chances.

LBJ? Vietnam.

JFK? Vietnam, plus Cuba, plus nuclear showmanship.

Ike? Korea. Start of cold war and military-industrial complex.

So, in summation, do you really think that Obama has done any worse than the *average* of these bozos that have lead our nation in wartime? How many of them have done worse?

TL:DR being the American President means having lots of foreign policy egg on your shirt. And none of our CiC's in the last 60 years has been good at war. Except maybe Clinton (but he fucked up a lot).

occam's comic said...

In The Wealth Of Nature, the Archdruid has a very interesting take on market competition. He thinks that a well functioning marketplace is a type of commons. And like all commons it will be destroyed unless the use of the commons is regulated. The unregulated competition of the libertarian dream would lead to the Tragedy of the Commons.

This is one of the reasons that many people have problems with global "free" trade. It makes regulation more difficult and the tragedy much more likely.

Tacitus2 said...

Matthew

I can't tell if you were directly addressing me or not.

Obama is at the 3/4 mark of his presidency. And some effects good and bad will take years longer to sort out. If I might, I will add two more entries.

Ongoing sub rosa campaigns against N.Korea and Iran. STuxnet, financial quarantine. Spread out over several administrations. Sure, no shooting other than a few Nork reprisals but still conflict along the lines of Cold War.

And I submit WWI as a modern war. Hell, we are still paying the price for arbitrary nation making in its wake. Talk about no realistic end of war plans...

I would give Obama a provisional grade of C. Might go up, might go down.

You can supply your own filters to rating our Presidents in matters of war and peace. My calls...

GWB D Clinton B minus Bush the Elder C plus Reagan solid B Carter Incomplete Ford B minus Nixon ( too complicated for a simple grade ) Kennedy Incomplete Ike B plus

One term or less presidents especially those whose stewardship was focused on domestic issues get an Incomplete

You could go back farther if so inclined. I wonder if we have ever had a leader who rates an A? We went in one mad rush from being a frontier backwater to a world power. Not much wiggle room between being ignored and being resented.

Tacitus

Alfred Differ said...

leaks happen side note:
It's Home Depot this time. Probably bigger than what happened to Target recently.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/09/08/home_depot_confirms_credit_card_hack.html

Robert said...

The thing to recall about each President is that they also have their hands constrained in different ways by Congress.

For instance, Obama has a problem in that even if he got the United Nations to fully support an action... Republicans would very likely torpedo it because they don't want Obama to succeed at anything. They're busy doing everything possible to damage his presidency so that in two years they can get the White House back by claiming "You gave the Democrats eight years and look at how messed up things are. Give us the ball."

The sad thing is, the Republican Party is busy killing their own future. They have alienated the youth vote, they are poisoning the immigration vote, and they are doing everything possible through crook to remain in power.

What's more, the economy is improving, but the fundamental flaws remain. If Republicans get the White House and Congress... I could very easily see several years of largess... and suddenly another massive failure with some aspect of the finance industry that just chokes the economy and causes a worldwide disaster again. It doesn't even have to originate in the U.S. for this to happen.

Really, the best bet Republicans have is to let the Democrats win... and then when this economic failure happens again, point fingers and say "Democrats are inept! You can't trust them at all!"

Even then, having poisoned the youth, immigrant, and woman vote? They might still not be able to ultimately retain power.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Proposal from a couple of years ago to create a formal US Foreign Legion (in place of the current private military contractors.) http://iissonline.net/legitimizing-a-de-facto-u-s-foreign-legion-in-afghanistan-transfer-of-mission-critical-security-operations-from-private-contractors-to-u-s-military-personnel/

[via NextBigFuture]

Unlike PMCs, which cost about $20b/yr and are notoriously out of control, Foreign Legion troops would operate according to US military law, and under full US military command. And their cost would be closer to $5b/yr.

Of course, I'd love to see how the FEMA-death-camps crowd would react to Obama setting up an army of foreign nationals (often Muslim, given the regions the US operates.)

David Brin said...

onward

Benschachar said...

This is kind of dumb.
Do you really beleive competition can really happen when everyone is forced to give up their hard earned money on their deathbed out of fear their wealth will be used to oppress others.

You suffer from the standard liberal failing of believing that the wealthy are inherently evil.

mk045 said...

Benschachar, I have to disagree. The narrative on the right around this is a clear contradiction. You either have "equality of opportunity" or you have inherited privilege. You either have representative democracy with "one man, one vote", or you have oligarchy based on wealth (not exactly a plutocracy, but close). You have to pick one or the other; no amount of magical thinking will make them simultaneously possible.

And you can eliminate what you describe as "deathbed robbery" with progressive taxation. This also reduced/eliminates privilege continuously over time rather than as a step function.