Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Game Theory and Naivety


Game theory can teach some very curious lessons.

Perhaps the most important is that the obvious solution is frequently the wrong solution.  In order to create an environment where cooperation is possible, you have to create an environment where profitable defection isn't.

The naive solution is always "Let's cooperate".  In an environment of people who -always- cooperate, defecting is a -very- powerful tool, and very attractive.  "Always cooperate" as a strategy rewards defection.

In order to foster a truly cooperative environment, you have to be willing to defect, and most specifically against those who have first defected.

Naive anarchism or communism is the belief that "Let's just work together" is a viable strategy, that you can rely upon goodwill.  Even I'd defect in that system, if for no other reason than resentment of a system that doesn't punish defection.

We can't reward cooperation enough to make defection unattractive - we have finite resources, and defection is, in any system, the gaming of the system to get disproportionate reward.  The only real option is to make defection less attractive.

Government is one mechanism of punishing defection; it is a universal agent, with whom cooperation is paramount, and whose defection is lethal.  There's just one issue with the use of government in this manner: It permits a grander scale of defection, that of false accusation.  Government becomes the arbiter of grudge, rather than law.  Coyote Blog comments on one example.  It's hardly the only.

Belief in government as a reliable arbiter isn't -quite- as naive as "Let's just work together", but still makes the same mistake: Assuming cooperation and defection can be made infallible.  They can't.  That's the metagame.  Then there's the third level of naivety - the belief in a solution to this mess.  There is no end solution - whatever rules you use, there's a metagame that will defeat them.

The Cure...

...is surprisingly simple: It's a sledgehammer.

Our existing government is made up of masons; the legislative branch exists to build new walls, the Supreme Court -at best- exists to make sure the walls are in the right places, and the Executive branch mans the walls.

We need a branch whose purpose is to knock walls down.  Our government is fundamentally constructivist - it needs a deconstructivist element.  A branch devoted to knocking down the things the legislature builds.

The courts have kind-of sort-of fulfilled this role in the past, but only for the most egregious cases.  The legislative branch has this power, but rarely if ever uses it; they're elected to fix problems in society.  Knocking down parts of the government just makes it harder for them to do their job.

So break the legislative branch's powers up.  One branch to construct, one branch to destroy.  Hell, even give them the power to send the bills back to the legislation with notes on what needs to be adjusted and why - they can't propose new legislation, but they can remove legislation and suggest changes.

And give them a reason.  Put a cap on the total pages of law in the government.  Is a single person's life even long enough to -read- all the laws on the books right now, after all?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Politics Today...

...is largely the process of millionaires spending inordinate amounts of money in an attempt to convince people that -other- millionaires are spending inordinate amounts of money convincing them of things.

It's not even grounded to anything anymore; this is the postmodernist era of the political art, full of abstract pieces that don't mean anything but that's okay because the whole "meaning" concept is conceptually oppressive, man.

I've seen Democrats -literally argue to me- that Hobby Lobby only protested in the first place because they hate Obama because they're racists.  There are Republicans who -legitimately believe- this is all an attack on religion.  And six months from now the arguments will be completely different, based on completely different principles, and everybody will behave as if this is the way it's always been.

Which means, in a curious roundabout way, that politics is fundamentally about -fashion-.  Which shouldn't surprise me, but does anyways, and explains so very much about how society got to where it is.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pistocracy

What makes theocracy dangerous?  What -is- theocracy, truly?

The word translates as "Rule by God."  This is a curious way for an atheist to refer to a religious government - what is a more accurate way of referring to a theocracy?

Well, there is a word.  Pistocracy.  "Rule by beliefs," or perhaps "Rule by believers."  Epistocracy, "Rule by knowledge", or, as David Estlund translates, "Rule by the knowers", is just pistocracy in which the pistocrats assume they're correct.

Pistocracy, as a concept, is much more broadly applicable than theocracy; it is not limited to those governments run on beliefs written in ancient books.  It describes any government which enforces a particular belief structure on its participants - these beliefs need not be religious.  They can be philosophic - the belief that the community must come before the individual, for example.

The elements which make theocracy dangerous make a pistocracy dangerous as well - you do not need god to have heretics.  Trotsky was a heretic of the Soviet pistocracy - an individual who shared the same basic beliefs but disagreed with the orthodox interpretation of those beliefs.

The danger in a pistocracy is -in- the orthodoxy, in established beliefs the challenging of which marks one as a heretic, an apostate, or a pagan.  (We have a word for pagans even in science, which should be better than that - crank, or crackpot.  "Denier" has become part of the parlance as well, at least in more politicized sciences.)

Beliefs aren't limited to beliefs about the world-as-it-is, either.  Beliefs include the world-as-it-should-be.  Every argument for free college education, for food stamps, for welfare in the general case - these are arguments for a pistocracy based around a set of beliefs about how the world operates, and how it should operate going forward.  No concern or consideration is given for those whose beliefs differ - indeed, those who believe differently become The Enemy.  Heartless, evil, cruel, selfish - whatever invectives can stick, to label the Unbeliever a heretic whose opinion is not worth hearing.

This is an elaborate work-up to a single point: A secular government isn't a free government.  It can still fight and suppress philosophies, and indeed ours does so, on a scale that puts many theocracies to shame.  We live under a government in which certain philosophies are, for all intents and purposes, illegal to practice.  Not that I'm fond of racists, but the machinery that exists to crush them isn't limited in the scope of its application, and there has been a slow creep in that application, to the point where, today, the government attempts to crush even philosophies as basic as that it's better if workers manage their own health insurance, rather than relying on their employer to pick appropriate insurance programs -for- them.

A Radical Departure... Marx, Part III

So, why did Marx's roadplan fail as miserably as it did?  What were his actual goals?

His actual goal was the elimination of class, and he spent a -lot- of time talking about "rentier" classes.  Libertarians, this should immediately call to mind a phrase we use quite frequently in regard to anti-free market behavior: Rent seeking.

I'll spare you the Socratic dialogue in which I try to make you come to the conclusion yourself: Marx apparently failed to recognize that rent is a fully generalized phenomenon.

Marx recognized land as a rental property.  Did he recognize that a bureaucratic job working for the central state-owned bank deciding who gets and doesn't get credit is a rental property as well?  That the people responsible for assigning transportation routes and communication lines had power over those who had to request things from them?

We can talk about Stalin and Lenin, but they aren't really the issue with Marxism; they demonstrate one potential way the implementation can go very, very wrong.  What they don't demonstrate is that the implementation Marx laid out is itself very, very wrong.

Government power is rental power.  A centralized credit agency is staffed by a rentier class by virtue of the fact that they staff a centralized credit agency.  What strangles Marxist states isn't just the dictators, it's the millions of petty bureaucrats who become the new bourgeois, the new rentier class - there's a reason bribery becomes standard in such societies, it's the best way the rentier class has of extracting rent for their rental property.

An incomplete list of rental properties:
Land
Intellectual Property
Education/Skills/Talents
Capital goods
Social connections
Social power
Beauty/height
Gender in a genuinely sexist society
Reputation
Occupational power/discretionary power

A rental property can be either stable or transitory, replicable or non-replicable, transferable or non-transferable.

Communism in its most extreme Harrison Bergeron implementation is the complete elimination of -all- forms of rent.  A more reasonable communism is just the minimization of certain kinds of rent - eliminating stable, non-replicable, transferable rental properties.  Land, (some) forms of intellectual property, occupational power, for the big three that share this deadly trio of properties.  The inclusion of capital goods is a mistake for precisely the same reason as the inclusion of education would be a mistake - it's a replicable rental property.  As long as replication isn't unduly constrained, at least.

Every implementation of Marx to date has -omitted- attention paid to occupational power, because Marx himself does little to address the potential harm, and has become overrun by bureaucrats.

But once we consider the deadly trio of properties - aren't these precisely the things libertarianism as a whole has been incapable of coming to conclusions on?  Intellectual property ownership of, for example, a book isn't a problem - you weren't going to write -that- book anyways, you were going to write a completely different one.  We'd need to fill the universe with nanobot authors before this actually started to become an issue.  However, owning -process- -is- a problem; there are a finite number of ways to feasibly manufacture penicillin.  Intellectual property laws have historically solved this dilemma by eliminating -stability- from this aspect of intellectual property; you have a finite amount of time to capitalize on your patent before it ceases to be functional.  (In today's society, that amount of time is probably too high, since a better something will probably come along long before the patent expires, but that's another discussion entirely.)  Modern society, however, has begun to -copyright-, rather than -patent-, process.  Witness the massive intellectual capital wars happening between major corporations right now.

I, on great consideration, define communism to be, quite simply, a special case of the general case of libertarianism.  (Yes, Marx hated libertarians, but libertarian in his day meant anarchist; anarchism now being considered one of -many- different ideologies in the very broad category we loosely refer to as "libertarian").  Existing implementations of communism were not in fact implementations of communism, but implementation of a deeply and fatally laid out -process- by which to -arrive- at communism, which ultimately exacerbated the very classist society they sought to eliminate.

Communism isn't incompatible with the free market.  The modern left isn't Left; they're the same bourgeois that they've always been, and their support of the already-shown-to-be-flawed Marxist -approach- to -arriving- at communism, combined with their opposition to libertarian philosophy more broadly, demonstrates their desire to perpetuate the classist society we live in.  (Not that this is unexpected from a group of people who generally take -pleasure- in being referred to as "elitist.")

The goal is the elimination of class.  This is not an inherently anti-libertarian concept; we take great issue with class, we just don't generally call it that.

A Radical Departure... Marx, Part II

Ok, setting aside the whole "Which party is more proletariat/bourgeois" thing, let's get into the bolts of what Marxism was really pursuing.

Marx wasn't opposed to capitalism, per se, but rather a state of economic affairs such that classism is supported or arises.  In -particular- he was pissed about the "rentier" class.

While most of what he actually wrote about wasn't communism - the end goal - but rather the -mechanism- by which he thought to get there, let's evaluate the list of "common elements" of a Marxist society that was trying to evolve into communism, forwarded first by a quote:

"Of course, in the beginning, [the revolution] cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable"

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production


And let's analyze each of these:

1.) I'll respond to this with Marx himself: "We by no means intend to abolish... personal appropriation of the products of labour, an appropriation that is made for the maintenance and reproduction of human life, and that leaves no surplus wherewith to command the labour of others. All that we want to do away with is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the labourer lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as the interest of the ruling class requires it."

Keep in mind the social conditions in the society Marx lived in; half-feudal, with remnants of the old noble classes still hanging around; in many places, the old nobility were the only ones able to afford factories in the first place, initially cementing their power structures further.

Compare this to modern nations, and ask yourself: Do free-market capitalists -really- disagree with the notion that Europe defends its old elite against competition?  Isn't that what protectionism, which we oppose, -is-?  Do we really disagree with the complaint Marx predicated this upon?

His implementation is shit.  We'll see this repeatedly.  I'll get to the -why- in the next post, but for now, let's just acknowledge he was addressing a real problem in a clumsy way.

 2.) This is probably the dumbest item on the list.  Marx chose income tax over wealth tax... why?  Why did he choose to tax -production- rather than -rent-?  In actual implementation, income tax has advantaged old wealth over new wealth, by depleting new wealth's influx of said wealth.  (Hint: Marx thought he could eliminate rent, and rentier classes, thereby preventing this problem in the first place.)

3.) What Marx would not foresee is the proletariat acquiring sufficient wealth that these laws would disadvantage them even worse than it would the bourgeois, who could rely upon social connections and trust-funds-through-charities to avoid this.  The bourgeois don't -need- inheritance, they have -much- subtler ways of sending their wealth through generations.

4.) Well this couldn't go badly at all.

5.) Remember how much Marx hated the rentier classes.  Again, we'll get back to this item in the next post, and why it is a complete and total failure.

6.) Ditto.

7.) Like farming in Nevada deserts?  Well, we've been there, we've done that, we're having water supply issues.  It really wasn't that good an idea.

8.) This is a nice way of saying "Mass slavery."  Marx thought the proletariat were already slaves, so in his mind, he was just extending this status to the bourgeois.  This is one of those "despotic inroad" things.

9.) Well, capitalism already beat him to the first thing.  As for the second... well, honestly I don't understand why he thinks it matters.  Perhaps, in an era without instantaneous communication, it did.

10.) "Combination of education with industrial production."  Heh.

So, that's kind of a loose roadmap of what Marx thought the revolution would look like.

So... why did this roadmap fail?  Changing technology may have been part of it, a misunderstanding of free-market capitalism another, and the fact that Marx's vision for the proletariat was never the proletariat vision for the proletariat; indeed, Marx is favored primarily by the bourgeois, who see Marxism as an escape from their own inevitable decline into the proletariat.  They're terrified of the uncertainty of free-market capitalism, in which they can succeed - or fail.

The proletariat, on the other hand, look at what Marx proposed as a roadmap to communism, and recognized it for what it was: Not a change in their own living conditions (Mass slavery, anyone?), because they're a pipe welder, and pipes need to be welded in any society - all of that work is still there, waiting to be done, but under Marxism, there's never an escape.

Next, I'll consider what Marx actually wanted, as opposed to how he proposed we get there.  In this, we'll be able to see precisely why Marx's roadmap failed as miserably as it did.

A Radical Departure... Marx, Part I

So, I've been reading me some Marx.  With a deliberate purpose, this time around: I was trying to divine Marx's fundamental principles.

See, I encountered this concept called the "Lumpenproletariat", which is essentially a derogatory term for the welfare class that Marx used.  "Wait," I thought, "Wouldn't Marx be -for- the welfare class?"  So I started reading.

Long story short: Nope.  Marx regarded the welfare class as class security for the bourgeois.  He expected them to be counter-revolutionary and vote for bourgeois socialists, who he describes thusly:

"The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems. In requiring the proletariat to carry out such a system, and thereby to march straightway into the social New Jerusalem, it but requires in reality, that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but should cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie... Bourgeois Socialism attains adequate expression when, and only when, it becomes a mere figure of speech.

Free trade: for the benefit of the working class. Protective duties: for the benefit of the working class. Prison Reform: for the benefit of the working class. This is the last word and the only seriously meant word of bourgeois socialism. It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois — for the benefit of the working class."

With the possible exception of Free Trade, which has a habit of undermining the bourgeois, what political party does this sound like?

Ain't the Republicans.

What -are- the Republicans?  Well, who are the proletariat?

The working class.

Which political party is dominated by the beliefs of the working class?

Now, this is not to say that the Republicans -aren't- largely run by the upper classes; this is true as much of the Republicans as the Democrats.  The difference is that Republicans do a much better job of reflecting the wishes of their constituents.  The Tea Party represented the proletariat, the working classes, more truly than had been seen in a while; they weren't quite -welcomed- by the Republicans, but neither were they turned away.

I'll leave further ramifications of the Republicans being more proletariat in nature, and the Democrats more bourgeoisie in nature, to the reader.

I'll close with a quote from Marx, and my simplistic translation:

"The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry."

The bourgeois will stop promoting free-market capitalism, and start opposing it, when capitalism stops benefiting them.