A Guide to the Legitimacy of State Authority for Minarchists

The point of a legitimate monopoly on the use of force is, at a fundamental level, to limit the level of violence. Insofar as it accomplishes this aim the state is superior to anarchism; insofar as this monopoly unleashes unchecked or insufficiently checked violence, it is not. In a situation where multiple agents try to extract rents through the use of force a state modeled simply as a stable protection racket- forget theories of justice or any larger scope of political philosophy- still pays for itself; in a society that largely understands the virtues of cooperation where apathy and where badly calibrated moral outrage over, say, drug laws leads to the disproportionate incarceration of millions of lower-class citizens of minority backgrounds, it does not.

Inspired by: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/no-kony-is-an-island-death-and-profit-in-central-africa/ , although I didn’t read the whole thing, because it says far too little in far too many words.

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Things I don’t get

I think this post has something for all the classes of people that I know have ever read my blog.

1) Why free speech advocates reject the “but it will offend Muslims!” argument as if it were clearly not worth considering.

Personally, I preferred the bear suit.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea that you should not be able to draw a picture or write an article about something because somebody might find it offensive really is inherently stupid. I think blasphemy laws suck, that they’re a disgrace to a civilised world and that they’re taking us back to the dark ages. But the idea that some things can offend us simply by existing is not in fact particularly new or unconventional, as much as it might go against my libertarian principles. Few people demand the categorical repeal of obscenity laws, which are essentially just that. Here is a Less Wrong article asking a similar question.

My theory is that this is a problem that inevitably arises in heterogenous societies. Most of us don’t object to a law that bans public masturbation because we share the same instinctual reaction to it, and we don’t share the reaction of an observant Muslim faced with a cartoon of Mohammed. Of course, I still say the offended Muslim can go poke his/her eyes out if he cares that much, but then I’m also perfectly comfortable to generally push “enlightenment values” and secular traditions in the face of local cultures everywhere.

2) Why people cried for Steve Jobs

English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone...

Steve Jobs and a device people now identify with Steve Jobs.

Which is an entirely different question from why people exhibit such strong emotions for their Apple devices. Because let’s be fair, Apple makes a lot of good products. They have great designs and generally trouble-free, marvelously smooth interfaces, and the customer support in Apple stores is wonderful (or so I’m told).  But Jobs himself was never the most savoury of characters. The man was horrible to work for, stole ideas all over the place, never gave significantly to charity despite his vast wealth, promoted quack medicine until it almost killed him, and cared little for how his subcontractors treated workers.

Of course he was smart. And of course he had a good eye for design and had vision and was a good executor and gave good speeches. If I owned a tech company-ok, pretty much any company- and Zombie Jobs offered to run it I would jump at the chance. But since when does any of that lead people to care so deeply about a total stranger?

My answer is a combination of the media’s increasing tendency towards hagiographic obituaries, the fact that he had very consciously developed a personality cult and tied the company and its products strongly to himself, and the simple truth that he was a very well-known figure and there will be someone who cries for just about any celebrity, just because it means a change in their world. I remain unsatisfied at the idea that so many people the world over chose him as the only corporate titan to connect to in such an emotional way, though.

3) Why people care about the US elections

Like the first one, this is a bit of a tease, because I find myself reading a fair bit about it and I’ll probably continue to, if only because I won’t be able to escape it. But from a purely utilitarian viewpoint it’s a pointless exercise.

I mean, look at him.

“But Nikhil!” , you protest. “Perry’s a whore, Santorum’s santorum, and Gingrich is such an obvious prick: wouldn’t it be horrible if one of them won?” And I say: it won’t, because they won’t. The truth is that none of them have a real shot, let alone the gallery of buffoons (Cain, Bachman, and oh God, Palin) that have sprung up and dropped out one by one. Mitt Romney is the only real Republican candidate who has a chance- sorry, Ron Paul- and no matter what he says in the primary to appease the raving horde, his actions as president are unlikely to be significantly different from Obama’s. Of course he’ll be a little to Obama’s right but on most things we would care about-foreign policy, Internet regulation, general IP regulations/agreements, free trade agreements- that isn’t saying much. As long as he isn’t stupid enough to start a new war-and however much you might despise his views, he shows all signs of being a rather intelligent man- the rest of the world could easily close their eyes to this entire circus.

Political Economy is Depressing

I don’t want to turn the overall tone of this blog more conservative, especially as I’m detecting a slow but certain leftward trend in my political views, but I’m afraid this is going to be another conservative post. This is not, however, an anti-Occupy-Wall-Street post, just an anti-Marxism one.

Partly due to Occupy Wall Street, I was reading some Marxist theory-distilled, condensed, simplified, etc, but in book form, and it seems to cover the basics- and it’s really startling to see how so many of the arguments have remained essentially unchanged. Post-scarcity economics has always been a contradiction in terms but at least it is something that can be considered in a science-fictional setting; however, a similar optimism about the abundance of the industrial age and the bounty of the coming era seems to me to be woven into much of Marxist theory.

The basic idea that wealth becomes ever more concentrated and that this is the inevitable product of the system and so on is something that I have a certain amount of sympathy with, but on the other hand, the clear failure of Marx‘s theory that wages will always be pushed down to subsistence levels and that productivity gains will always be captured by capital and not labour do not seem to be sufficiently impressed in the minds of those who continue to call themselves Marxists. Even more, the simple fact that Marx’s theory of human nature- human nature having always been the largest and most obvious impediment to the success of practically every alternative to plain old capitalism that has ever been suggested or implemented- was wrong doesn’t seem to be fazing anyone in the slightest. Clearly, though, the less-than-necessarily-pliant selfishness of man is a fact that most people grow up to accept (I have always thought this rather than a decreasing sympathy for unfortunates was at the core of that old joke: “if you’re not a socialist before 20, you have no heart; if you are a socialist after 20, you have no head.”)

This, then, is why the “why don’t these people have any actual demands?” question is worth asking, all rhetoric about pushing “the idea” and “maintaining unity” and “not allowing ourselves to be boxed in” aside. (I feel fairly comfortable calling it rhetoric because after all the focus on rhetoric is precisely what “momentum” and “the idea” are all about.) I can accept their premises in the narrowest sense: inequality is widening, and this is bad. I can’t accept their details because the details vary with every telling*, and I can’t accept their solutions because there aren’t any**. Capitalism-as-she-is-practised may well be a system nobody wants, but neither an alternative workable system nor a feasible transition to it (the bigger hurdle, in my opinion) seem to be on offer.

PS: This isn’t to say there’s nowhere to go from here, of course. The system could use more than a few tweaks, and a fair bit of re-shaping. It’s not going to change it’s essential incentive-based structure, that’s all.

PS2: And, of course, burning books is bad.

* I mean, of course crony capitalism is bad, of course banks shouldn’t be given bailouts and then turn around and hand their executives huge bonuses, of course we should avoid moral hazards and try for a more stable, better balanced financial system- but yet again, these aren’t details, those are practically tautologies!

**Some solutions that have been proposed by some people, like a well-targeted debt jubilee, I actually think make sense. (I will, however, wager a small sum of money that no broad-based debt jubilee will happen in the United States for the next 5 years.) The same goes for a reasonable tax increase, although I have a better sense for the numbers than to suggest that it can be restricted to the top 1% and still be sufficient to reduce the deficit.

Ooh, and here’s an inkling of the sort of crap I’m talking about.

The Undue Simplification of Political Discourse

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Maybe you don’t want to get as complex as that title, but you could do with being a teensy bit more complex than this:

“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Who’s saying otherwise?[1] Rush Limbaugh isn’t even saying otherwise, he’s just ranting at perceived tonal issues and liberals and Marxists. Most minarchists still think you need a state for providing security and some subset of those think you need one for public infrastructure. This isn’t really news. This isn’t something that anyone but the odd anarchist needs convincing about. Of course you set aside a certain amount of your earnings for public goods. The problem isn’t to convince people that they need some sort of a state. The problem is to convince people that this state should do all the things it does today, and that they have to pay for it.

PS: Of course Elizabeth Warren isn’t the only one “unduly simplifying” the debate. She isn’t even on the list of prime offenders. But this is the sort of simplification that even otherwise intelligent people feel the need to produce as a manifesto, hence the post.

[1]Aside from objecting to “the rest of us”-what, factory owners don’t pay taxes- and “paying it forward” framing vs “paying back”, at least.