Mar 03

General Politics: The Slow March to Anarchy (Part 1)

As a first blog post on politics, I thought it would be appropriate to describe my general political view of things.  As I see it, one’s politics is determined by two things: their view of how the world should be, and their view of what we should do to get there.  When it comes to the first issue, my views are rather extreme.  When it comes to the second, my views are far more moderate.  I’ll start with the fist question here, and address the second one in my next political post.

There are a number of general principles that underlie my view of how the world should be.  Among them are the following:

Perfection is not attainable:

As Obama likes to remind us, Voltaire once said “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  Too often political discussions turn disingenuous because they forget this.  In politics, it is not enough to show that your opponent’s views have problems.  The reason is that every political view has problems.  There is no way to structure society so that no one has any difficulties, all death, disease, and suffering is eliminated, and we are free to live happy and prosperous lives free of strife.  What matters is not whether a society is perfect, but whether it is better than the viable alternatives.  Relatedly…

Societies should be evaluated as a whole:

Because political views are defended through comparing the alternatives, it is important to look at the big picture when evaluating the options.  Focusing too much on pet issues rather than on large-scale issues risks giving up on fundamental concerns to make sure that comparatively minor issues are done correctly.

Other things being close to equal, we should prefer the society with more freedom:

Personal freedom is vitally important, because it is the foundation on which we are able to pursue our means of living happy and successful lives.  Given this, if there are two societies that are comparable in terms of overall welfare, we should prefer the one that gives us greater personal freedom.

On average, people aren’t malevolent:

For any group of people, it may be true that they will seek personal advantage, be lazy or ineffectual, be stubborn or stupid or clumsily harmful, but on average, they aren’t out to get you.  One can take various stances on why this is, but it seems quite clear to me that, for most people out there, you just don’t matter enough to them for them to have any desire to harm you.  And since pleasantries make life easier, you can usually count on them to treat you well most of the time.  There is nothing, be it race, or sex, or class, or religion, that will make the average member of any group antagonistic toward particular people they do not know.  No one is out to get you.

Central planning sucks:

Consider the problems you face in life.  Now imagine that a small group of smart people who face, on average, very different problems from you were to plan every detail of how your life should be lived.  Wouldn’t that suck?  The reason is that problems are too various, and small groups, even if well-intentioned and intelligent as you could hope, too narrow in their vision, to see what everyone will face.  When solutions come from oligarchies, even at their best they’re vastly limited, and often blind to the problems we face.  And they usually aren’t at their best.

Creativity and need solve problems:

However, if other people like you have similar problems, then presumably they’ll want to fix them.  Giving people access to the means of creating solutions would mean that we could have various ones to chose from, including ones created by people who better understand what solutions will work for people like you, because they were made by people like you.  Numerous solutions from an open forum where everyone can try to help fix people’s problems don’t have the problem of trying to fit every shape of person into the round hole solution of central planning.  It also allows you to try various solutions, and to weed out the ones that don’t work.  Open access to problem solving creates empirical tests of successful projects.  This is good.

Capitalism makes greed useful:

What would really help in getting people to think of and to create the means of solving our problems would be if they could gain from being successful.  We should seek to ensure that the only way for people to succeed is to give other people what they want.  Harnessing our basest desires for the public good would mean that whatever our motives in creating our goods, they would need to be the sort of thing people actually value for us to be able to produce and to sell them.  That’s the idea behind capitalism.  It creates an open vehicle for the creation of solutions to our problems, or means of addressing our desires, that is empirically testable in terms of success, and harnesses both the greatest creativity and the basest greed of humanity, driving them both toward producing social good.

The more, the merrier:

When you let everyone create solutions, the more people there are working on them, the more likely it is that someone will come up with the answer you were looking for.  Free markets work best when more people are involved in them.  The world is better when we see each other as companions trying to help one another solve our problems rather than as enemies.  Trade stops wars.  Capitalism makes friends of us all if done right.  There is no cause to fear the inclusion of others in our system, because people everywhere have things of value to contribute.  I don’t understand how anyone can so much as decide where to go for dinner, considering the vast and magnificent options we now have that we missed out on even a decade or two ago, and not see the value of having everyone contribute to our lives and our options.

Government is essentially coercive:

Imagine if someone said that if you didn’t do what they told you to, they would steal your stuff.  Imagine if they said that if you tried to stop them, they would take you away from your life, lock you in a small room, and not let you out.  Imagine if they said that if you tried to stop them from stealing your freedom away from you, they would shoot you.  Wouldn’t that be horrible?  Now imagine if they told you that everyone else has already agreed to let them do this, so if you tried to get help from your neighbors, they would ignore your pleas for help, and think it was okay for them to do as they wish.  Wouldn’t that be government?

Every time we give the government authority over our lives, we empower them to do horrible things to people who refuse to comply with that authority.  Governments are institutions that we consent to have treats us in ways that we would find atrocious if done by anyone else.  We do this in the hope that they will do good things with their power.  We do it in the hope that they won’t abuse their power and become tyrants.  We do it in fear of one another, and with the idea that if there is an intervening authority, we can be protected from the evil people among us.  People claim that government is necessary.  If this is so, government is certainly a necessary evil.  Finding ourselves in such a sad state that we need to give someone this power over us is not a good thing.  Coercion is the last resort of those who cannot stop unacceptable harms in any other way.  It should be used as little as possible.

Voting doesn’t work:

It is far too easy for government to become evil if no one else has any say in how things are run than the people at the top.  Seeing this, people reasonably decided that it would be better if people had a more direct say in who was in charge.  Democratic societies are far less prone to tyranny from government, and democracy is certainly an improvement along the political spectrum.  But the problem for democracy is that voters don’t make good decisions.

Political issues are incredibly complicated.  Seeing the outcome of decisions that affect millions of people is virtually impossible even for people who have studied the likely effects a lot.  The average voter obviously hasn’t.  However, the average voter is expected to form a judgment on these matters anyway.  In fact, in a democratic society a significant portion of a person’s self-image is often built off of their views on these matters.  If they simply had hesitant judgments, or random ones, this wouldn’t be so bad, since errors like those typically cancel each other out.  But instead they have passionate opinions based on shallow reasons and considerations of how policies make them feel instead of what the results of enacting them will be.  This is a terrible way to make decisions.  It is only in contrast to the evils that inevitably arise from central planning without the capacity for the citizens to challenge it that it looks so good.  If democracy really is the best government except for all the rest, as Churchill claimed, I can think of no clearer statement showing just how bad government is.

The Result: Compassionate Anarcho-Capitalism

There are times when markets fail.  It doesn’t happen often, but there are certain problems where, for whatever reason, markets cannot produce optimal outcomes.  In these cases, we may be tempted to use the government to create a solution for us.  In principle, it is possible in these circumstances for central planning to do better than even the creativity of all of us trying to solve the problem.  The problem with government solutions in a democratic society, however, is that solutions are subject to the assent of the public.

Because governments are dependent on voters when they are at their best, and dependent upon despots in nearly every other circumstance, it is highly unlikely that government solutions will actually be good very often.  This means that in any actually obtainable society, government solutions to problems almost certainly won’t be significantly better than non-governmental ones, even in cases where it is technically possible for them to be.  Since non-governmental solutions include a higher degree of personal freedom, my general principles support a society where there is no government, only a free market society where we all create solutions to the problems we face with the understanding that we will be compensated for our efforts.

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