Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Government Structure

January 6, 2010

The entire point behind the manner in which a government is organized is to maximize its ability to govern well – generally, to maximize the goodness and minimize the badness of its policies. I don’t particularly understand understand people who claim to like a particular government structure for what amount to metaphysical reasons (although I will, of course, grant that the debate over the goodness and badness of policies is wide and far reaching).

Newt Gingrich: the big tent phase

December 31, 2009

You don’t want to come to my camp… What do I care… I have your children… Soon you will be gone… But your children will be in my camp
-Adolf Hitler 1932 speech on dissidents to the Nazi Party

Newt Gingrich recently gave a fantastic speech – you can see all forty minutes here: the speech.

While it sounds like the progressives are in trouble here, what this speech actually does is illustrate the amazing weakness of the conservatives; the progressives control all of the intellectual machinery of the country, which means that the Overton window always shifts to the left. Progressives don’t have to be in the majority now. They sink their stakes confident that in a few decades time, the majority will have caught up to them.

The United States of Europe

December 1, 2009

Interesting post in the Financial Times, “Greece can expect no gifts from Europe

The current strategy of the EU is to raise the political pressure – perhaps even provoke a political crisis – with the strategic objective that the Greek government might eventually relent.
So what happens if Greece cannot meet a payment on its bonds, or fails to roll over existing debt? About two-thirds of Greece’s public debt is held by foreigners. According to calculations from Deutsche Bank, Greece is looking to raise some €31bn ($46bn, £28bn) in new borrowing and €16bn to roll over existing debt next year. In the absence of help from the eurozone, the Greek government would have to resort to the International Monetary Fund if it were to encounter difficulties refinancing the debt.

Previously, I had assumed that the major road to European federalism was via treaties and agreements which slowly work to export sovereignty to Brussels. I hadn’t anticipated that the EU, which withholds the power to print money from its member states, would use fiscal emergencies and the natural proclivity of social democracies to run deficits to make larger, more pronounced gains in sovereignty.

While there is no evidence that this is happening yet (at last in the EU), all of the pieces and players look remarkably like the game the IMF plays with developing nations.

On Power: Politics and Legitimacy

May 25, 2009

One interesting thing about politics is that there are political theories which closely “identify” with the types of power I identified earlier.

Generally speaking, conservatism identifies with military power, classical liberalism identifies with economic power and progressivism identifies with intellectual power.

What does identify mean? There are three parts. Forms of power that are blow the form that the political ideology identifies with are considered illegitimate. They are not to be used. There are generally a few exceptions – lower level power is legitimately used when it is used to counteract another use of that same type of power. For classical liberals, most recognize self defense as a valid use of military power (force) – both individually and nationally. Most progressives think it is morally just to donate to charity.

In general, the political ideologies see the fruit of the power they align with to be the core strength of society. Conservatives look to the strength of the military as a key sign of national greatness. Classical liberals look at economic output as the indicator of strength. Progressives generally see intellectual output as well as the compliance of society to the directives of the smartest as the true strength of society.

Lastly, forms of power above the one identified with by an ideology are seen to be too flimsy to be relied upon. Conservatives tend towards mercantilism because they see the military aspect of trade whereas progressives tend towards mercantilism out of a tactical alliance with unions. Intellectual power is generally not even considered real by either conservatives of classical liberals.

On Power: Types

May 21, 2009

This is the first in a series of posts about the way I understand power works.

First off, a definition – power is the ability to influence the behavior of other people. Essentially, it is the ability to get people to do what you want them to do.

Historically, there have been three sorts of power, which I’m going to call military, economic and intellectual.

Military power is the power to coerce – it is the power to get people to do something by threatening them with harm if they don’t comply.
Economic power is the power to cajole – it is the power to get people to do something by enticing them with benefits if they comply.
Intellectual power is the power to convince – it is the power to get people to do something by convincing them that said action is in their best interest.

Military power is the most stable form of power. All animals, whether they live in societies or not use military power to get what they want. Even in modern human society, military power is prevalent.

One of the interesting things about military power is that it acts as a sort of base for the other two sorts of power. In order for economic or intellectual power to form in any sort of concerted manner, there has to be sufficient military power for a level of stability to develop.

Economic power is the power to cajole. It is the power to get people to do something by offering them a reward if they do it. Economic power always co-exists with military power to some extent. In a war band, the relationships between members can be thought of as a sort of informal economic power. To expand on the point, most people, when they think of economics, think of what I’m going to call formal economic power – the trading of goods for money or vise versa. Informal economic power is generally contained within inter-personal relationships, making it difficult to analyze; this does not make it any less real. Imagine it as a network of favors, debts and constructive alliances between people which are rarely explicitly spoken of, but are very real none the less.

Economic power has become immense of late for very good reasons. In a situation where the exercise of military power is strongly curtailed, economic power becomes ascendant, simply because the exercise of economic power is always positive sum. Additionally, as wealth – the currency of economic power – accretes, generally a part of it ends up being capital, which increases the efficiency with which economic power is generated. This ends up being a virtuous cycle, whereby economic power in a system increases at an exponential rate.

This presents a problem, however – a large amount of economic power in the form of wealth is easily capturable via military power. As the amount of wealth grows, the more desirable a target it becomes for predations from the militarily powerful.

Intellectual power is the power to convince. Intellectual power is the power to get people to do something by convincing them that doing that thing is actually in their own best interest. Intellectual power has also always co-existed with military and economic power. In the old days, it was almost exclusively restricted to religion. Indeed, there is a reason why religious systems that incorporated a solid set of ethics out competed religious systems that didn’t – ethics is essentially primitive form of game theory – and it works. If people lived for thousands or even hundreds of years, perhaps ethics wouldn’t be such a big deal. However, given the current relatively short life time most people enjoy, ethics has historically been quite important – allowing people to converge quickly towards Nash equilibrium strategies.

One of the interesting consequences of this is that most times, when people attempt to use intellectual power, they use the language of ethics. A classic example is A Theory of Justice which. as Mencius Moldbug points out, has absolutely nothing to do with the correct application of the law. Other examples abound – finding more is left as an exercise to the reader.

Intellectual power depends on a stable economic system. Without a stable economic system, there is generally no surplus from which people seeking economic power can take a cut. Generally it is quite difficult to think of complex theories of human interaction while mining coal or harvesting wheat. This means that intellectual power is also indirectly dependent on a stable military power base.

While I only identify three methods of gaining power, I freely admit that there might be some that I have yet to discover (or that simply do not exist without the requisite technological advances). If other forms of power do exist, though, they should be readily discoverable: people who can get others to do their bidding tend not to stay in the shadows for too long.

The gift of the classical liberals

March 18, 2009

In history, there have been largely three theories about how to distribute wealth, generally associated with political movements.

The first theory (chronologically) is the conservative theory. This theory says that the people who should control wealth are those who are the strongest militarily. This is a very stable solution, but it doesn’t really work all that well – it generally keeps societies at their Malthusian limit; people who are strong militarily are generally much better at taking wealth from others (a negative sum game) than creating it (a positive sum game). There are very few people who believe in this theory, and those that do are generally in charge of very poor countries.

The second theory is the classical liberal theory. This theory says that the people who should control wealth are those who are the best at making new wealth. This actually works out really well – giving lots of wealth to people who are really good at making wealth tends to result in them making… even more wealth.

The third theory is the progressive theory. This theory says that the people who should control wealth are those who are the smartest. On its face, this actually sounds like a good idea. In practice, being smart doesn’t mean that one is good at increasing the amount of wealth in the world – it typically means that one is deeply concerned with displaying how smart one is. There is a pretty deep problem with this theory, and that is that historically, people have only started to believe in the progressive theory after lots of time on the classical liberal theory. What ends up happening is that either another culture takes over, or the nation consumes more than it produces until there is nothing left and then it moves back over to the conservative theory, after a great deal of pain and suffering.

While the conservative theory is attractive in its stability, it is the classical liberal theory which truly deserves to shine – it is far and away the best way (that we know of) to increase the welfare of a nation.

The Beattitudes

March 15, 2009

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
— Matthew 5:3-10

Progressives: Doing God’s work since 1517.

It really is amazing how Christian progressives are – although they seem to not be content with inheriting the Kingdom of God in death – they want to create the Kingdom here on earth.

A Zoo of Conservatives

February 23, 2009

Jim Kalb lists many (all?) of the common types of conservatives in the United States in What Conservatism?. He does an excellent job of summarizing the philosophical and practical backgrounds of each kind of conservative.