Can micropatronage save the net?

How can we fund common Internet infrastructure without risking that it will be captured by corporations or governments? He who pays the piper tends to call the tune, which is a bad thing when you don’t actually want the content of your network to be controlled.

This is a problem I’ve been worrying about a lot for the last couple of years. I’ve been working on one organized attack on it that I’m not ready to talk about in public yet (but will be soon; some of this blog’s regulars are already briefed in). I’ve just found something else that might help which I can talk about: micropatronage.

There’s a site called gittip.com that provides a way for people to give small recurring gifts, weekly, to a person or project team. Donors give it payment system information; weekly gifts are then automatically shipped unless donors elect to stop. It’s meant to handle small amounts, with an upper limit of $100 per patron/client pair per week.

Gittip has the interesting property that, as a patronage receiver, you don’t know who your patrons are – all you know is the total amount you’re being gifted. So people can fund you, but they can’t attach any strings. There’s still a kind of market check; if you’re not doing work that your donor base as a whole finds interesting, your patronage volume will drop.

As a mechanism for funding commons development that is insulated from political and commercial pressure this seems very promising. Of course it has other uses, too; creators of all kinds might be able to use it to turn reputation into a steady cash flow.

That is, if there are enough patrons. Chad Whitacre and his team are betting that a lot of people will actually prefer making small recurring donations to single lump-sum gifts. So far there is one piece of objective evidence that suggests they’re right: gittip development is itself funded through gittip.

Watch this space. Soon, the gittip team and I will try an interesting social experiment…

179 thoughts on “Can micropatronage save the net?

  1. This is actually the 3rd such similar micropayment system I’ve heard of. The first one was called Propits, and it died within the first year. I can’t recall the second one, but I think it’s still going on over in the UK. I hope this one will do better than Propits did.

  2. Not sure how micropatronage helps solve the core problem. If a government (think China) or a corporation (think Verizon) can impose constraints on the data transfer nodes and conduits, how does a user program overcome this obstacle? If they don’t like you, they just lock you out with a filter.

  3. > If they don’t like you, they just lock you out with a filter.

    That’s a different core problem (there are more than one). Micropatronage can’t solve everything; what it might be able to do is free people who want to be full-time paladins of network freedom to actually do that while still being able to pay for food and rent.

  4. Anecdotally, I think this is right. The webcomic Erfworld has a “become a Tool” program where you basically sign yourself up for a $3 monthly payment, which I barely even notice, in exchange for some goodies and store credit. I’ve donated far more to the comic ($120 so far) through this than I ever would have otherwise.

  5. I see no reason to want to prevent a company or companies from controlling important things like the DNS or SSL protocols (or future replacements for them), if the company can be set up to have the right incentives. If I were doing it, I would create something like what Verisign appeared to the world to be when it was created — a security vendor which stands to pay damages if the security of its products/services gets broken or leaked — and have it deposit surety with third parties scattered over enough of the world so that even a superpower government couldn’t subvert it.

    Of course, if such protocols can be made completely peer-to-peer such that a neutral escrow agent like the entity I describe isn’t even necessary, that would be better. But I’m not sure it can be done.

    What we need to avoid is the myth that a government, or a non-profit entity, is more to be trusted than someone who wants to make money and says so up front. Today’s behavior on the part of the US government, on every level from the NSA to the IRS to local police, should have, but hasn’t yet, disabused everyone of that idea. The real challenge, which should be addressed as an engineering problem, is how to design incentives to prevent our new entity from behaving as any of those agencies did. If you haven’t read the works of David Friedman, I’d start there.

  6. > If you haven’t read the works of David Friedman, I’d start there.

    *snort* Read them? David Friedman is a friend of mine who once joked that I could have written some parts of them. (Funniest book autograph I’ve ever gotten.)

    Yes, there are in principle ways corporations could be trusted. In practice the revelations about NSA co-option of network providers and content companies demonstrate that no actual and existing corporation can be trusted. This will remain the case until (a) state coercive power greatly decreases, and (b) the corporations in question undertake to operate with a very high degree of transparency, including no shipping closed-source software ever again.

    While your point about governments being far less trustworthy than corporations is valid both in principle and current practice, you need to bear in mind that I’m not writing my blog posts exclusively for a libertarian audience…

  7. This is a tangentially related problem that I have been thinking about recently, but I’m curious as to what you think. (And yes, I know, ideas are only 1% of the way to implementation, if that.)

    What do you think about wireless mesh networking as a potential replacement for a wired internet? As I understand things right now, the infrastructure of the internet is fairly concentrated among N telecom companies, with a hierarchical structure to routers and routing. It isn’t practical for hundreds or thousands of individual companies to own pieces of the internet. And now, the concentrated ownership of the main routers is one of the things making all the NSA spying and government control of internet traffic possible.

    If, instead, a situation obtained (yes, how to get there from here is another problem, which I don’t have a lot of answers for) where every internet user also owned a wireless router that connected to every other router in range via some automated protocol, it would be much harder to have main-data lines to tap, or to be able to shut-down the internet during crises, or to do content filtering and blacklisting of sites.

    The network topology would require some sort of non-hierarchical means of location and routing. Physical location, I think, might work well as an address, as it would closely match the topology of a network like this (though that makes any sort of anonymity difficult. Maybe approximate location + neighbor-listing?).

    Anyway, lots of problems to solve. I’m just thinking: The internet we have now seems vulnerable to control, spying, and denial by malevolent governments. (Which, increasingly, it seems we have, even in the US) This other idea looks like an internet we would want to have – uninterdictable, unstoppable, harder to spy on, with widely distributed peer ownership. What do you think? (About any of these problems, about the concept in general, etc?)

  8. What we need to avoid is the myth that a government, or a non-profit entity, is more to be trusted than someone who wants to make money and says so up front

    In a post Prism world, I think anyone who believes the US government(either side) is to be trusted is barking mad, anyone who believes any other government not specifically an enemy of the US wasn’t working with them is woefully naive and anyone who believes that any state currently an enemy of the US wouldn’t have had the same program given the opportunity is kidding themselves.

    The biggest problem with the most quoted forms of libertarianism (and i say that because i believe these “quoted forms” would be seen as strawmen by most people i know who self-identify as libertarian) is that they seem to transfer faith in government to faith in corporations. And I trust corporations about as much as I trust government (which is to say not at all).

    Anyone who has the ability to ruin the lives of people they have never met nor ever expect to meet is someone to be regarded as a potential threat.

  9. >What do you think about wireless mesh networking as a potential replacement for a wired internet?

    That it could be done, but there are serious technical hurdles in the way and an all-wireless net would necessarily be lower performance than one with a lot of wired backhaul.

  10. >(and i say that because i believe these “quoted forms” would be seen as strawmen by most people i know who self-identify as libertarian)

    You got that right. :-)

  11. @esr

    “>(and i say that because i believe these “quoted forms” would be seen as strawmen by most people i know who self-identify as libertarian)

    You got that right. :-)”

    That holds for most “quoted forms” used against governments by libertarians.

    On the micropatronage. This comes very close to the old “Public Goods” question.
    http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/PublicGoods.html
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good

    There are very few infrastructural organizations that are kept “alive” by voluntary micro-payments. Actually, outside activist organizations like Amnesty International and Greenpeace (which are not infrastructural), the only example I can come up with is organized religion.

    For that matter, I have difficulty finding real inter community infrastructural work that is done solely by companies in a free market. Power grid, tap water, roads, and tracks all are backed by governmental and legal force (right of way, cross subsidies, etc.).

  12. >That holds for most “quoted forms” used against governments by libertarians.

    While Winter says this, North Korea is still murdering more of its own people every year than every private-sector organization combined has managed to in the 250-odd years since he Industrial Revolution.

  13. Any wireless network would be vulnerable to jamming by anyone putting out transmitters emitting a strong carrier in the middle of the band in use. Of course, these transmitters could be located and destroyed, but that takes organization…and if governments are doing the jamming, interference with it brings criminal penalties. The problems here are political, not technical, and there is NO technical way to circumvent them. If the people cannot bring their governments under control, it will be oligarchy all the way down the road to serfdom. Hacker-types, who try to remain as apolitical as possible, will be pretty useless in this fight.

  14. @John Galt:

    Of course, if such protocols can be made completely peer-to-peer such that a neutral escrow agent like the entity I describe isn’t even necessary, that would be better. But I’m not sure it can be done.

    You mean like, say, how this is done in OpenSSH? Yeah, it would be possible if people would actually be bright enough to maintain their own keystores the way users of ssh must do.

  15. @LS:

    Hacker-types, who try to remain as apolitical as possible, will be pretty useless in this fight.

    Hacker-types try to remain apolitical? What planet are you from?

    Hackers have managed to overcome many legal and political battles throughout their storied history. The Internet would not be what it is today were it not for the efforts of hackers.

  16. By the way, some time ago I have read (perhaps on EFF blog, perhaps even here) about an idea of microdonations / microlobbying for politics. It was to be meant to balance power that the corporations have via lobbying and donations. It was more involved that Gittip or Flattr in that there was to be neutral third party that was to check how “donated to” politician votes for some percentage of donations…

    That is what I remember, anyway.

  17. @esr
    “While Winter says this, North Korea is still murdering more of its own people every year than every private-sector organization combined has managed to in the 250-odd years since he Industrial Revolution.”

    And countless governments in Europe preside over one of the safest parts on the Earth’s surface. So I do not see why one government (or a few) could prove that all governments are mass murdering institutions.

    Past European governments have caused mass killings, but for the last seven decades (Western) Europe is one of the safest places on earth. Past Chinese governments have murdered a sizable portion of their population. However, for the last 40 years or so, Chinese governments were not a major cause of premature deaths. The same for Russian governments, from a major cause of unnatural death to just a minor one (statistically).

    So, there is more to it than “just” a government. Every human activity has risks, and many commercial activities lead to a choice of human risk versus profit. From the tobacco industry (millions of deaths each year, globally), to selling anti personnel mines, to taking risks with hygiene and additives (e.g., Chinese milk powder scandals).

    Some people will want to benefit no matter what the costs to others, from slave traders to the producers of fake medical drugs. That works on an individual scale and at every step of the organizational scale. All the way up to states.

  18. And countless governments in Europe preside over one of the safest parts on the Earth’s surface. So I do not see why one government (or a few) could prove that all governments are mass murdering institutions.

    Name one European country that has never participated in mass murder. By contrast, I can name thousands of corporations and other private entities that have never participated in mass murder.

  19. @ Winter – “And countless governments in Europe preside over one of the safest parts on the Earth’s surface.”

    Aren’t you forgetting all the carnage of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century wars? The present half century may just be a lull in the action.

  20. With regard to the core problem (government/corporate Big Brotherism), I wonder if a user-based AI program could be implemented that occasionally spams the internet from your address and creates a host of confusing misdirection identities. If they are going to watch, we may as well give them a show. Conceivably, if you manage the messaging properly, you may be able to control what they think they know. Talk about turning the tables!

  21. @TomA
    “Aren’t you forgetting all the carnage of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century wars?”

    I did not even forget all the carnages back to neolithical times. These carnages happened once in a while during every period. Whether there were states involved, e.g., Roman Empire, Charlemagne, or French/English wars, or not, e.g., Huns, Magyar, Vikings. More people alive tends to mean more people murdered. And while there was war and killing at one place, there was peace at another.

    @TomA
    “The present half century may just be a lull in the action.”

    Prove it. My country has existed as a state for four centuries. Only during less than five years there was a government incited mass murder inside our borders (~1%, as opposed to open warfare). And the government that did the murdering was not our own, but a foreign conqueror.

    So, why should I take these rare times (1%, a single case) of mass murdering as the norm and the times of safety (99%) as the exception?

  22. @Morgan Greywolf
    “Name one European country that has never participated in mass murder.”

    Depends a little on how you define “mass-murder”. But here is a guess assuming you mean “in the hundreds of thousands” and by country I assume post-medieval times:
    Netherlands, Belgium*, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal*, Switzerland, Iceland, Slovenia, Finland.

    * I am not completely sure about the colonial history of these countries. There might be some horrible facts I missed.

  23. I think the stable peace in western Europe should count as one of the amazing human achievements, considering the previous history.

    I’m not sure that rare examples of things going very wrong should be counted against a common practice. North Korea is not at all a typical government, any more than mass shooters are typical gun owners.

    However, impoverishment *is* typical of communist governments, and should be counted against them more than it usually is.

    Back to the original topic: I think micropayments have a chance of solving one problem– people needing to make a living while doing crucial infrastructure work. The nice thing is that infrastructure for the web is cheaper than building roads.

    However, the other problem– protecting the web against active attack by governments– is much harder, and may require political action to restrain governments to the extent that’s possible. I’m granting that good infrastructure design would make the web harder to attack, but can that be enough by itself?

  24. I have my doubts as to how many folks can be persuaded to sign up to make regular small donations to support the Internet. “Isn’t that a government thing?” “Isn’t that what Verizon is for?” And so on…

  25. @Winter: So, the Thirty Years’ War never happened, eh? I wasn’t there to witness it, but this post-medieval war involved most of the countries of Central Europe, including virtually all of the countries you listed. I’m sure the combatants on all sides committed many attrocities.

  26. Winter said: “Past European governments have caused mass killings, but for the last seven decades (Western) Europe is one of the safest places on earth.”

    This is a mention of an extended (and I would say, stable) peace, not a defense of European history in general.

  27. @Morgan Greywolf
    ” I wasn’t there to witness it, but this post-medieval war involved most of the countries of Central Europe, including virtually all of the countries you listed.”

    Your are shifting the stage. First we start about mass murders committed by governments on their own people. We are talking about organized killings of, say, 100k plus people.

    Now you are going on about war, one community exterminating another community.

    So, what is it? Are you claiming that governments inevitably murder their own people? Or are you claiming that only “states” will start large scale wars?

    For the first, see my earlier comment. For the second, see Scythians, Goths, Huns, Magyar, Vikings, Mongols and Turks.

  28. @By contrast, I can name thousands of corporations and other private entities that have never participated in mass murder.

    and all the armarments and weapons used to kill the innocent just sprung up out of thin air? interesting…

    corporations are creations of the state. therefore are the state. therefore also responsible for the mass killings in the name of the state. corporatism != capitalism.

  29. @Winter: The Thirty Years’ War was a religious war. Yes, each of the participating states murdered their own people if they were in the “wrong” religion. I shifted nothing. Just because these states haven’t committed mass murder in the last 70 years doesn’t mean that they never will. And your second counterexample is an example of a common gross misunderstanding of the term “state.” A tribal government is still a government.

  30. “Hacker-types try to remain apolitical? What planet are you from?”

    “Hackers have managed to overcome many legal and political battles throughout their storied history. The Internet would not be what it is today were it not for the efforts of hackers.”

    @Morgan Greywolf: I’m from Earth…specifically Earth in 2013. The ‘storied efforts’ belong to a bygone era. Things are different now. Big companies support the Internet because it is profitable for them to do so. Hackers are but a tiny part of it, and while a FEW can make some political noise, most would rather stay home and code, instead of going out and ringing doorbells. Unless you can deliver votes, it doesn’t matter how clever your new protocol designs are.

  31. While Winter says this, North Korea is still murdering more of its own people every year than every private-sector organization combined has managed to in the 250-odd years since he Industrial Revolution.

    While you say this, mothers can’t afford to diaper their babies in America even as teabaggers try to push through austerity measures that have been tried and found not to work in Europe.

    And again, if you’re going to argue the demerits of government to a Dutchman, you’d better damn well have a proven alternative way of keeping said Dutchman’s ass dry, with working real-world implementations, first.

  32. @Jay Maynard: Without taking sides, I’ll note: Money is not a physical thing, nor does it disappear when spent even if it was, so you have to make a case for the idea that governments taxing (or printing) and spending money destroys more real economic value than it creates.

  33. >Money is not a physical thing, nor does it disappear when spent

    Jay was referring to Margeret Thatcher’s observation: “The trouble with socialism is th eventually you run out of other people’s money.” You’re confused because Thatcher, and Jay, used the word “money” when what they actually meant was “wealth”.

    The meat of Thatcher’s observation is that redistribution doesn’t generate wealth; in fact, redistribution destroys and wastes wealth by inducing what economists call deadweight losses. Sooner or later, politically-locked-in redistribution schemes must run into the limit of the amount of wealth the economy can actually generate, and crash.

  34. Those saying that Austerity has been tried in Europe and failed are not understanding the differences between the US idea of Austerity and the European idea of Austerity. In Europe, they don’t just mean cutting government. They also mean drastic tax increases. It’s a shared austerity between the public and private sector, and it’s taxing the private sector that leads to the damages to growth and prosperity.

    Whereas the Tea party wants to only apply austerity to the public sector.

  35. @esr
    “Sooner or later, politically-locked-in redistribution schemes must run into the limit of the amount of wealth the economy can actually generate, and crash.”

    Thatcher’s sound bite was just as stupid as that of a local Maoist here “What does Capitalism do when it runs out of competitors?”. Germany shows that one of the effects of redistribution schemes, “income leveling”, is that you actually get political support for drastic cuts and reorganizations when they are needed.

    So despite, or thanks to, the fact that Germany and the UK went opposite ways in redistribution of wealth, the Germans have a better budget and are more wealthy than the British.

    @kazriko
    “Those saying that Austerity has been tried in Europe and failed are not understanding the differences between the US idea of Austerity and the European idea of Austerity.”

    The Germans have a quite good budget.

  36. @Morgan Greywolf
    “Yes, each of the participating states murdered their own people if they were in the “wrong” religion.”

    You are mixing up histories.

    Many people were murdered during wars and sieges, also in the low countries. But when did any Dutch government order the murder of thousands of people with the wrong religion? Or the governments of Iceland, Finland, or Denmark?

    Slovenia, Belgium and Ireland were not independent countries at the time of the thirty years war, and I have no clue about Portugal.

  37. >Germany shows that one of the effects of redistribution schemes, “income leveling”, is that you actually get political support for drastic cuts and reorganizations when they are needed.

    You misspelled “minor cosmetic rearrangements”.

  38. @esr
    Cosmetic for you, major for those involved. Their budget is in pretty good shape and Germany is very competitive (e.g., exporting tools and machinery into China) so why should they go further?

  39. >Cosmetic for you, major for those involved. Their budget is in pretty good shape and Germany is very competitive (e.g., exporting tools and machinery into China) so why should they go further?

    Because eventually they’ll have to. See Some Iron Laws of Political Economics; in particular the second one: “Political demand for income transfers, entitlements and subsidies always rises faster than the economy can generate increased wealth to supply them from.” Germany’s renewable-energy boondoggle is a case in point – it’s an entirely predictable consequence of the basic Olsonian dynamic of concentrated benefits, diffused costs, and rent-seeking.

  40. I’d like to know more about how well gittip works in practice.

    One obvious drawback from my perspective: I would have no idea whom to tip. (My programming skills are…”workmanlike”, and I know better than to assume I can evaluate anybody else’s code.) It seems like the pool of tippers would be limited simply by knowledgeability.

    (It’s like the problem of crowdfunding science. You need to know science to know which projects are important — or even possible.)

    For example. I have a friend who’s writing a Haskell scientific computing package (like Matlab but better.) I would use the shit out of it if it existed and did what I needed. I would *probably* want to pay to fund the creation of such a thing. But I am nowhere near able to evaluate the chance that my friend is ever going to finish the project. You can’t assess competence too many levels above your own. So in practice, no, I’m wouldn’t be willing to put more than a trivial amount of cash into this.

    Unsexy-but-necessary, sons-of-Martha work would probably be just as underfunded on a crowdfunding site as it is now; anybody who has run a Kickstarter campaign is well aware that it’s a PR game.

  41. “The meat of Thatcher’s observation is that redistribution doesn’t generate wealth;”

    You have misspelled “assertion” as “observation”.

  42. Iron Law, n.:
    1. An assertion which I additionally assert has absolutely no exceptions.
    2. An assertion for which I do not wish to provide any evidence.

  43. @esr
    This iron law seems to work only in the far future. The Germans seem to be able to contain costs below growth. Maybe these “laws” from the Anglo-Saxon world need some adaptations to apply to other political systems? Or maybe they could do with some real evidence?

    Joking aside, some politicians are able to organize support for drastic changes. Then you can have people who vote for the public good and against their short term financial interest.

  44. @Random832: Redistribution by definition doesn’t create new wealth, it just takes wealth from some people by force and gives it to other people, incurring transaction costs along the way.

  45. >Redistribution by definition doesn’t create new wealth, it just takes wealth from some people by force and gives it to other people, incurring transaction costs along the way.

    That’s right. The rest of the Iron Laws are straightforward logical consequences of concentration of costs coupled with diffusion of benefits.

  46. Why do we need centralised websites to distribute the largess? Why not just use, wait for it, use, wait for it, Bitcoin? Well, apart from that a large chunk of the available coins (most of them I believe) are locked up and has never been “spent”. But apart from that, it’s perfect. Far better than having people have to sign up to some website. And you sign up for website X, and I sign up for website Y, and then if I want to give you money, either one of us has to also sign up for the other website. Just silly.

    But yes, I think that micropatronage could really do some good… I also love the idea of wireless mesh networks, though I’m sure governments could shut them down if they wanted.

    Speaking of governments:
    @ Winter who said “Are you claiming that governments inevitably murder their own people?”
    Well, yes. I would say that. Governments are based on the threat and use of force, up to and including the killing and inevitable murder of the people they claim to be the government of. I won’t comment on mass-murder, because that’s a different thing. But certainly all governments only exist because of the inevitability of anyone who’s significantly against them getting killed.
    Story time:
    Once a person decided that they wanted to live alone on their farm and not have any contact off said farm. They cut their power, phone, Internet, and all other connections. They had sufficient land that they could sustain themselves indefinitely. However, the police came along and said that there was a court order for said person. The person refused to recognise the court, or the right of the police. The police came to arrest (aka detain involuntarily, using force). The person defend themselves against this force, and was shot dead.
    Fin.

  47. >Well, yes. I would say that. Governments are based on the threat and use of force, up to and including the killing and inevitable murder of the people they claim to be the governing.

    This isn’t merely a contingent property of government, it’s the essential one. Read your Max Weber: a government is, definitionally, an organization which claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force (thus, a monopoly on legal murder). Political science has failed to improve on this definition since it was proposed in 1919.

  48. “Why not just use, wait for it, use, wait for it, Bitcoin?”

    Because you want to make it easy for people to give you money.

  49. @esr Yes. I can’t remember if I ever actually read any Weber, but I certainly knew this definition. (I won’t go into critiques of it here. Beyond that it also gives warlords government status.)
    It’s also very interesting to note that few people have thought about this, and what it means for the legitimacy of the government (whichever one). When I’ve explained this to some people (that governments govern by the threat and use of force), they don’t get it at first. They deny it. It takes a few goes normally before they understand, and then so far, well. Most people nod and change the topic.

    @Adriano I have a few bitcoins that I got from doing some work for someone back in 2011. It was very east to download and install the software, and generate a payment address. To donate bitcoins (which I have done to many organisations, including the EFF, which then went and gave them back to the Bitcoin Foundation…) was as simple as verifying that the address on the website was correct, and then saying how many bitcoins I wanted to send.
    Far far easier than registering for a website. Realising that I’ve got the wrong website (it’s gittip, not flickr that my favourite band, charity, or whatever, is signed up for…), register for the second website. Give my payment details (optional step for some people: realise that you don’t have a credit card or other means of paying the website, stop), realise that I actually only want to give a one off to one charity, and only once. Swear and curse.
    Actually, its more like: don’t register. Don’t give money. End.

  50. @Michael – You’re missing Adriano’s point – you want to make it easy for normal people – i.e. people who have credit cards, and often paypal accounts, and who do not have bitcoin, to give you money.

  51. Also, how the heck did you end up on the wrong web site after clicking the button on their website? And if what you want to do is a “one-off”, then you haven’t read esr’s post, which specifically mentions “small recurring gifts”.

  52. Pursuant to the digression regarding the nature of state governments, all governments are, by definition, parasites on society and consequently behave like any parasite. They typically grow up to the sustaining capacity of the host and, should a conflict of interest arise with the host, will always pursue its own survival as a first priority. If that means killing off some offending component of the host, so be it.

  53. @TomA: Governments aren’t parasites as a necessity; the proper label for the theoretical possibilities is “symbiotic”, and there’s a particular scope of government (basically the “night-watchman state”) that is mutualistic rather than parasitic. The empirical question is how long such a government can be sustained before evolving into a parasite, and the judgment whether the tendency toward such evolution outweighs the benefits of a basic prescriptive legal structure (anarchism vs. minarchism).

  54. >the judgment whether the tendency toward such evolution outweighs the benefits of a basic prescriptive legal structure (anarchism vs. minarchism).

    Most libertarian versions of anarchism have a basic prescriptive legal structure, defined by a contract network among judicial and security agencies – the expectation is that it would function like Anglo-American common law. This is distinct from “left” anarchism, most versions of which have no theory of law and little if any theory of enforcement by any means more structured than mob violence.

  55. @esr: The distinction I was attempting to draw is between some sort of a priori legitimacy (whether from divine right or from an explicit social contract) that applies universally and the structured-anarchy model wherein explicit social contracts require consent of all parties involved.

  56. @Morgan Greywolf
    ” Just because these states haven’t committed mass murder in the last 70 years doesn’t mean that they never will.”

    That is an empty argument. Past performance is never a guarantee for the future. There are no certainties in life.

    @Morgan Greywolf
    “And your second counterexample is an example of a common gross misunderstanding of the term “state.” A tribal government is still a government.”

    A “tribal government” is an oxymoron. Tribal organization is fundamentally different from “modern” states. What you say with this extension of “government” is that people sometimes murder each other. Yes, they do. They always have done and there is absolutely no way we will ever change that.

    @Michael
    “@ Winter who said “Are you claiming that governments inevitably murder their own people?”
    Well, yes. I would say that. Governments are based on the threat and use of force, up to and including the killing and inevitable murder of the people they claim to be the government of.”

    You will see that many governments will not kill except in self defense when lives are in danger.

    @Michael
    “I won’t comment on mass-murder, because that’s a different thing. But certainly all governments only exist because of the inevitability of anyone who’s significantly against them getting killed.”

    The whole discussion was about mass-murder.

  57. @ Christopher Smith – the proper label for the theoretical possibilities is “symbiotic”

    In symbiosis, both elements can sustain themselves independently, but benefit from a shared relationship. Governments sustain themselves by taxing the host society (or in the case of Imperialism, by taxing a captive foreign population). No government exists independent of a host population.

  58. @TomA: Apparently there’s some disagreement about the term “symbiosis”, with some restricting it (as you seem to) to mutualism alone, while others include parasitism.

  59. symbiosis, noun
    interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both. Compare with antibiosis.
    • a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups : a perfect mother and daughter symbiosis.

    parasite, noun
    an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.

  60. @Christopher Smith
    In biology, mutualism is the general term, meaning just that both organisms live together. IIRC, that is the preferred term nowadays.

    It is called symbiosis when both profit, patasitism when one profits at the expense of the other, comensalism when one profits withoit an effect on the other. These terms are deprecated as the profits and costs vary over time and context.

    As governments are made up of the very people they govern, I consider mutualism a daft metaphor. It looks like a means of dehumanising politicians and civil servants.

  61. >In symbiosis, both elements can sustain themselves independently, but benefit from a shared relationship.

    That is not necessarily the case. Some symbiosis is obligatory; that is, the partner species reproduce together and do not occur outside of the symbiotic lines even though closely related species do. This is true, for example, in some cyanolichens.

    Obligatory symbiosis is distinguished from parasitism by the fact that, in parasitism, the host and parasite’s reproductive fitness move in different directions (on up, one down) when they’re separated. In symbiosis separation decreases the reproductive fitness of both partners.

  62. @Winter – you may disagree that it is wrong, but the idea that governments are not based on the threat of deadly force is absurd.

    “You will see that many governments will not kill except in self defense when lives are in danger.”

    So in your country, you can refuse to pay your taxes (which doesn’t endanger any lives directly – there are plenty of other people paying for those damn dams you keep going on about), and refuse to go to jail for not paying your taxes, and they won’t ever get to the point of killing you for using increasing amounts of force to fight off the people attempting to drag you off to jail?

  63. @Random832
    If I am not a threat to life and health of others, they will not kill me. They will drag me off to jail by as much force as is needed.

    Obviously, when people wield firearms, people get shot. Our police is no exception. But it is a career ending move to wield a weapon unless in real self defense.

    As has been written here before. The police fotce of, eg, Cleveland, shoots more bullets than the complete police force of Germany.

  64. @ ESR – ” In symbiosis separation decreases the reproductive fitness of both partners.”

    Now apply this to the government/society pairing. Most First World states have growing governments and declining native birth rates. Seems inverse to me.

  65. @esr “While Winter says this, North Korea is still murdering more of its own people every year than every private-sector organization combined has managed to in the 250-odd years since he Industrial Revolution.”

    And you’re supposed to be pretty good in History. The East India Company and it’s policies have killed millions. The 1770 Bengali Famine (almost but not quite 250 years ago) was a result of EIC’s desire to maximize profits even when the country was undergoing drought conditions. The destruction of food crops to plant opium coupled with increase in taxation to maintain profits in the early stages of drought caused the famine. Deaths are estimated at around 10M.

    Death from the opium trade was non-neglible as well.

    European slave trade as part of the economic triangle resulted in an estimated 1.2M-2.4M deaths just in transshipment.

    Government, like guns, don’t kill people. Evil people kill people. Sometimes for gain. Sometimes for kicks. As a tool for mass murder governments have certain advantages in lethality and organization but unbridled capitalism is equally adept of killing people when given the opportunity and a good profit motive.

  66. “So in your country, you can refuse to pay your taxes (which doesn’t endanger any lives directly [...]), and refuse to go to jail for not paying your taxes, and they won’t ever get to the point of killing you for using increasing amounts of force to fight off the people attempting to drag you off to jail?”

    Goalposts are moving. You’re not being shot for actually refusing to pay taxes, but for resisting arrest with increasing force.

  67. “As governments are made up of the very people they govern,”

    Same for corporations (made up of people). Which is why some are successful and others not so much. Which is why some are ethical and others not so much.

  68. @winter Oh man, are you ever wrong on this, on multiple counts. With the prevalence of no knock, smash the door down raids these days, there’s a huge number of instances of people who had done nothing wrong being shot by the police. In many of these cases the police are not sanctioned for their actions in any way.

    One person who thought that robbers were attacking his house had picked up his rifle to defend his family, only to be shot more than 50 times by police. He didn’t even have the safety off on his rifle. The police department admitted no wrong doing, but was still forced to pay his family 3.5 million dollars in compensation. Needless to say, the police involved weren’t career limited.

    Another person was in the basement laying in bed with a cell phone in his hand and was shot more than 8 times because the police mistook his cell phone for a gun. Luckily he survived, but was disabled. In many cases, these raids happen on the wrong address as well.

    I see these incidents happen at least twice per month, reported on the Reason magazine blog. The drug war and drug war tactics have completely corrupted and wrecked any semblance of reasoned and rational response in policing.

  69. @esr
    I thought that the whole point of decriminalizing self-defense & re-legalizing defensive carry was to put the kibosh on the notion state actors should hold a monopoly on force?

  70. “As governments are made up of the very people they govern”

    Oh, to be young and idealistic again.

    The modern bureaucratic state is made up of its own ruling class, those who work in the bureaucracy and, in practice, answer to nobody at all.

    My government doesn’t represent me in the least.

  71. murph on 2013-09-27 at 19:23:15 said:@esr
    I thought that the whole point of decriminalizing self-defense & re-legalizing defensive carry was to put the kibosh on the notion state actors should hold a monopoly on force?

    Private actors may respond to attacks by force on person or property by defensive force. That’s never been questioned.

    State actors have a monopoly on the initiation of force. For instance, if I drive a motor vehicle down a city street at 200 kph, or in a manner indicating gross intoxication, the state may use force to stop me, but passing motorists may not. If I occupy another person’s property without permission, the state may use force to remove me, but a landlord may not perform his own evictions.

  72. nht on 2013-09-27 at 17:35:32 said:The East India Company…The 1770 Bengali Famine …

    The EIC was, in India, a government. Its authority was enforced by guns – its own and the British army’s. Its alleged responsibility includes collection of extortionate taxes. How is this the action of a private party?

  73. >I thought that the whole point of decriminalizing self-defense & re-legalizing defensive carry was to put the kibosh on the notion state actors should hold a monopoly on force?

    Weber was a little unclear on the distinction between force and inititiation of force. Re-legalizing defensive carry is intended to support retaliatory force – not initiation, which remains a state monopoly.

  74. “With the prevalence of no knock, smash the door down raids these days, there’s a huge number of instances of people who had done nothing wrong being shot by the police.”

    Maybe in the USA, but not where I live.

  75. @Rich Rostrom
    “Its alleged responsibility includes collection of extortionate taxes. How is this the action of a private party?”

    Most mining companies working in the developing world have their own mercenary armies.
    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/New_World_Order/Mercenaries_Minerals.html

    EIC
    http://www.victorianweb.org/history/empire/india/eic.html

    The company’s encounters with foreign competitors eventually required it to assemble its own military and administrative departments, thereby becoming an imperial power in its own right, though the British government began to reign it in by the late eighteenth century. Before Parliament created a government-controlled policy-making body with the Regulating Act of 1773 and the India Act eleven years later, shareholders’ meetings made decisions about Britain’s de facto colonies in the East. The British government took away the Company’s monopoly in 1813, and after 1834 it worked as the government’s agency until the 1857 India Mutiny when the Colonial Office took full control. The East India Company went out of existence in 1873.

  76. @Rich Rostrom
    “Its alleged responsibility includes collection of extortionate taxes. How is this the action of a private party?”

    Even a casual look at the history of the East India Company would show you that it was a private party for a long part of its history. The same with it’s Dutch model, the VOC. Both companies had only private stockholders (the VOC was the first company in the world having shareholders). Both companies had private armies and ran large colonies for profit as a foreign occupying force.

    Current examples are large mining companies working in the developing world:
    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/New_World_Order/Mercenaries_Minerals.html

  77. Sorry for the double post. The first one had disappeared after an “issue”. Either one can be removed.

  78. “Government, Threat or Menace?” seems to be quite a strong attractor here, but financing work on web infrastructure is more interesting (at least to me) and possibly a more solvable problem.

    Any thoughts about how infrastructure work could establish enough prestige and credibility to attract financing? Are there enough people who understand the details of programming to supply the money, or would it have to be a plausible charity for people who just want to help?

  79. >Any thoughts about how infrastructure work could establish enough prestige and credibility to attract financing? Are there enough people who understand the details of programming to supply the money, or would it have to be a plausible charity for people who just want to help?

    I’m working this problem. You’ll see one attack on it here within the next week; I’ve got a second in progress as well.

  80. “The EIC was, in India, a government. Its authority was enforced by guns – its own and the British army’s. Its alleged responsibility includes collection of extortionate taxes. How is this the action of a private party?”

    As winter pointed out the EIC was a privately owned entity beholden to shareholders and not citizens/voters/whatever. The point is that unbridled capitalism doesn’t look any different than unbridled government. Both are rapacious. Both will employ force to get their way.

  81. A “tribal government” is an oxymoron. Tribal organization is fundamentally different from “modern” states.

    On the contrary, the basic theory of government has always been based on prehistoric archetypes that evolved to be the most successful ways to organize a band of hunter/gatherers. The man with the strongest skills with the weapons used both to hunt game and to fight battles against other tribes was the leader, because the weaker hunters would get more meat to eat sharing in his kills than they could hunting alone. With better military skills against enemies, they could control a larger territory in which to enjoy the flora and fauna.

    This is so common that it’s likely to be at least partially hard-wired into us, making so many people willing to apply the Führerprinzip to a society that no longer measures success in hunt/gather terms. (In fact, for agriculture and industry to be successful requires social bootloaders to install memes that directly contradict key tribal/hunt/gather values.)

    When I hear people talk about electing government “leaders” to “run the country” (as opposed to managing the operations of the government) I hear a lot of rhetoric that plays to the ancient archetype of the strong man leader who can take care of the tribe writ large.

  82. As winter pointed out the EIC was a privately owned entity beholden to shareholders and not citizens/voters/whatever. The point is that unbridled capitalism doesn’t look any different than unbridled government. Both are rapacious. Both will employ force to get their way.

    What you’re calling “unbridled capitalism” is actually “crony capitalism” or “corporatism”. The EIC had a monopoly granted by legal charter. No one else could compete against it because the British government would not allow it. It had powers that do not exist in a free market.

  83. @The Monster
    Tribal chiefdoms really are different from kingdoms and anything above a city. For one thing, tribes are organized around kinship and personal acquaintance. People all know each other and all have blood ties.

    Your idea of chiefdoms is based on movies and adventure stories. Just being the most brutish does not even manage to always make you a leader in Chimpansees.

    In the real world, the chief was the best connected man with the best talk. In short, a politician. People follow those who best protects and furthers the interests of the followers.

  84. “””
    In a post Prism world, I think anyone who believes the US government(either side) is to be trusted is barking mad, anyone who believes any other government not specifically an enemy of the US wasn’t working with them is woefully naive and anyone who believes that any state currently an enemy of the US wouldn’t have had the same program given the opportunity is kidding themselves.
    “””
    Every government is spying on every other government to the extent it is economically feasible in a risk/return matrix (meaning that no one outside of Europe is spying on Lichtenstein, but everyone is spying on the US if they can afford to).

    “””
    …free people who want to be full-time paladins of network freedom…
    “””

    Most “full-time paladins” tend to be assholes.

    Winter says:
    “””
    but for the last seven decades (Western) Europe is one of the safest places on earth.
    “””
    You mean for the length of time the US has been subsidizing European safety nets (both military and social) you haven’t had any wars.

    Now we’re f*ing broke. Wanna bet what the future looks like? (Oh, and I note that you exclude the Balkans from “Europe”. Racist.

    “””
    Past Chinese governments have murdered a sizable portion of their population. However, for the last 40 years or so, Chinese governments were not a major cause of premature deaths.
    “””

    You’re joking, right?

    “””
    The same for Russian governments, from a major cause of unnatural death to just a minor one (statistically).
    “””

    You’re joking, right?

  85. If I’d speculated that a liberal would counter an assertion about North Korea’s mass murder rate with an assertion about how mothers don’t have enough diapers, I would have been pilloried by the left, assumed to be joking by the right, and accused of building a strawman by the middle.

    And then, it happened.

  86. What you’re calling “unbridled capitalism” is actually “crony capitalism” or “corporatism”.

    Unrestricted or unbridled capitalism includes all of these forms by definition. However in the case of the EIC not quite the same.

    The EIC had a monopoly granted by legal charter. No one else could compete against it because the British government would not allow it. It had powers that do not exist in a free market.

    A legal charter that only mattered to English competitors. A sales area enforced against foreign and native competitors by their own private army. Granted this was backed by the British military.

    What you don’t get is that “free markets” exist only for those with the biggest armies. In a truly “free market” with zero governmental control huge corporations like the EIC would rule you like they did the Bengalis.

  87. If I’d speculated that a liberal would counter an assertion about North Korea’s mass murder rate with an assertion about how mothers don’t have enough diapers, I would have been pilloried by the left, assumed to be joking by the right, and accused of building a strawman by the middle.

    That was Read, he’s a bit naive about how the world really works.

  88. A legal charter that only mattered to English competitors. A sales area enforced against foreign and native competitors by their own private army. Granted this was backed by the British military.

    Yes, but it gave the EIC access to the British Army.

    See, that’s the thing ’bout Corporations, they don’t have any authority of their own, they work through the legal system. Without the legal system they either have no force available to them, or they are “War Lords”.

    War Lords are just governments inside land claimed by another government.

  89. Regarding the OP, I’m fairly well convinced that we’re headed towards a massively dystopic future if we don’t figure out a way to get our society to start using micropatronage to fund the sorts of stuff that is currently funded with patent and copyright royalties.

    It’s certainly possible to make a decent living by micropatronage: I’ve lived on it for pretty much my entire life (my parents work for a religious nonprofit). It does involve a fair amount of traveling and speaking to find people who believe in what you’re doing and are willing and able to fund it.

  90. @Petro
    I said Western Europe. The Balkans are currently “assimilated” into that sphere. But it is difficult to protect people if they really want to fight.

    Anyhow, the discussion was about the assertion that every government will devolve into mass murder their own people Mao or Kim style. The fact how Western Europe was saved from destruction by the soviets is a completely different subject.

    And you should get your statistics right about causes of death in Russia and China. They have changed considerably since Stalin and Mao died.

  91. @Billy Oblivion
    The Dutch VOC did the same as the EIC. Both paid for their own armies.

  92. “See, that’s the thing ’bout Corporations, they don’t have any authority of their own, they work through the legal system.”

    And you call Jeff naive.

  93. Nigel:

    That “work through the legal system” is a bit of short hand. I didn’t and don’t feel like writing a 40 page exegesis.

    Let’s say I worked for a large international security contractor (because in a sense I did), and that Corp had a notion that I’d not turned in a piece of equipment when I’d left their employ (this part is illustrative fiction). They could, as in it is within their rights, send one of their folks–even an armed security guard–round to my house to request I hand over the item.

    They could not kick in my front door and search the house for it. To do that they would need to go through the legal system, and there would (generally) be a bit of back and forth about what the item was etc.

    Unless, of course, it was seriously dangerous like a WMD, or the NSA’s recordings of McCain talking to a phone sex line.

    OTOH, if the *police* get it in their head that I have something that contravenes social niceties they don’t have to jump through the same degree of hoopage.

    Now, does this mean that corporations never violate these laws? That they never engage in illegal or violent acts? No, of course not. Corporations routinely break laws deliberately or through ignorance (Ever read the PCI specs (no, not Peripheral Component Interconnect, No, not Pre-Stressed Concrete Institute, Payment Card Industry standards. Or SoX. Or HIPPA etc. it is VERY easy for a business/corporation to get AFU relative to the law and not even realize they’ve done wrong), and some (vitamin/supplement companies as an example) even budget it in to the cost of business.

    But what they do not have is the authority to decide to initiate force all by their lonesome.

    Every Single Corporation out there is chartered under some government, and all use of force is under the color of that law.

    If the security guy from InternationalSecurityContractorInc decides he’s going to kick in my door HE becomes the criminal, and depending on the situation I can kill him for doing it (as long as I can convince the cops/DA/Jury that I acted in fear for my life).

    In *almost* no case will that be true for the police. They can kick your door in, trash your house, kill your dog, realize they hit the wrong side of the street and walk away. They MIGHT have to pay for the front door if the error was especially egregious. And Gawd help the survivors if you fight back.

    This notion that Corporations can do whatever they want and not be held accountable is a delusion. Any time you see it it’s not that the corporations have that much power, it’s the politicians–the *government* that is allowing them that much power. It’s not that their “corporations”, it’s that they have some sort of hold over the local or national power-structure ranging from being good friends with those in power (AIG for example) to outright graft.

    I’m not naive about the power of Corporations, where they exercise it legally it’s through the courts. It may still be corrupt, it may still be immoral, but it is through established government mechanisms. Governments don’t have that problem, they *are* the courts.

    Corporations don’t field *real* armies, unless they’re a PMC, but that’s a corner case.

    Winter: Partially the issue is we’re talking about a ~175 year stretch of history. I was working off some stuff I’d read by Kipling, which would have probably been after the EIC was broken up, and it was actually British forces.

    However note that for large periods of time the EIC was actually functioning *as* the government in India, while functioning as a Joint Stock Corporation outside India. This was allowed by the English Government *then* in ways that no western nation would allow today.

    Look, even at it’s peak Blackwater/XE/Academi/whatever weren’t mounting rockets and gun pods on their aircraft. Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing &etc. have weapons, but mostly because they BUILD them. If they were to use them–outside of defensive uses (for example stopping someone from coming in and stealing dangerous stuff) they’d get nailed with railway spikes.

    Again, this isn’t to argue that companies don’t occasional *do* it and get away with it, but OJ Simpson isn’t in jail for killing Nicole either.

  94. Sorry to further the political discussion, but this one always gets me: for the most part, there hasn’t been austerity in Europe. Most governments have increased their spending straight through the crisis, including the UK, which is claimed to be austerity central.

  95. @Billy Oblivion
    “They could not kick in my front door and search the house for it.”

    You are indeed naive. In most of the world this is exactly what they would do. Only in countries with a strong government will the private sector go to the police or courts to settle disputes. In all others, disputes are settled in “private”.

    Do you really think Chiquita or Del Monte did care for warrants to settle disputes with their workers in Central America?

  96. If I’d speculated that a liberal would counter an assertion about North Korea’s mass murder rate with an assertion about how mothers don’t have enough diapers, I would have been pilloried by the left, assumed to be joking by the right, and accused of building a strawman by the middle.

    Eric has this weird tendency to bring up Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or North Korea every time someone makes a cogent defense of a welfare state, as if that were the terminal condition of all states. That’s what you should be laughing at. Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and North Korea are, as Winter points out, isolated anomalies marked by a cult of personality, not a natural consequence of strong state apparatus. Such things may exist even without a state apparatus backing them up, even in America — consider Scientology, which has all the trappings of a totalitarian society, even gulags.

    America’s allergy to strengthening the state to promote the general welfare has real, terrible follow-on consequences, such as a significant percentage of mothers unable to afford taking proper care of their babies. This is a far more real, more urgent, and more devastating problem than a hypothetical scenario where the Netherlands descends into Nork-style totalitarianism.

    America has other pathologies too, such as blind allegiance to the Bill of Rights. Putting aside the obvious implications of this for the Second Amendment, consider the First Amendment. Free speech is not an absolute. And, as seven decades of peace with nary a totalitarian uprising in Western Europe have shown, criminalizing certain forms of expression is much more effective at preventing the isolated anomaly of totalitarianism than diluting the state apparatus. (Remember that Scientology originated in America, and here enjoys special protection as a religion under the Constitution. The Germans, by contrast, ruled it a cult and banned it.) Poisoning the memetic well is a crime against humanity; its practitioners should be regarded and treated as criminals.

  97. No, it cannot. We enjoyed a long holiday of the rules of the game and power relations of the real world not applying to the online world, but ultimately it’s all physical servers stored in physical locations, so it cannot be delayed forever. The only possible way I see is in encryption – creating a kind of a sub-net where every traffic is so heavily encrypted, not even necessarily to prevent decryption, just to make it uneconomically costly. Then they can, of course, ban that whole sub-net or all encrypted traffic. Then it is checkmate.

  98. @Jeff @Winter @ESR it will be surprising, but in a way I agree – the danger facing Western Europe and similar states is not Stalinist type totalitarianism, rather the opposite: become so soft, so “nice”, that it saps the ambition, the will, the competitiveness, the optimism, the birthrate and all similar stuff.

    I am with Lakoff so far that I agree that it does make some sense to classify politics as masculine and feminine, fatherly and motherly, it sounds superficial but it is actually not, it is real evolved instincts and hormones.

    As an oversimplification, the libertarianism of the American Right can be summarized as “masculine individualism”, the American Left and European Mainstream as “feminine collectivisim”, and various kinds of nationalisms, fascisms, tribalisms, theocracies, so basically Europe’s past as “masculine collectivism”.

    So you can say that leftwards move of the post-1945 Europe is from masculine collectivism to feminine collectivism, while the same thing in America from masculine individualism to feminine collectivism.

    Europe never really had an individualist past, it is just a process of softening up, and feminizing, motherizing collectivist values. For example there never was a cult of individual gun ownership (masculine indivdiualism). However in the past military conscription was seen as a good thing, turning boys into men through discipline and order and teaching obedience (masculine collectivism), and now it is seen as a bad thing, “too macho”. Meanwhile, I think it was conscription and wartime mobilizations that created the mindset that made things like universal healthcare easily accepted – if you are a human resource managed by the state to fight or to produce materiel, of course you expect to be looked after.

    My point here is that in America this process is somewhat slowed and constantly challenged by a nostalgy towards a past where individual rights mattered more. Europe has nothing to fall back on in this regard – very few people would want to go back to masculine collectivism, as it would be seen – more or less correctly – as fascism, and there is no tradition of masculine individualism.

    The result is that the emasculating process of modern culture and politics goes unchecked, with nothing to fall back on. Concepts like masculine dominance, competing for status, ambition in the old German sense of Ehrgeiz, taking challenges personally, a pride and honor based like ethics, sound entirely alien thing of the past for young Western European males. (In the South and East it lives on, in a way.)

    This has consequences. The most obvious is the reduced sex drive of Western European women – there are no more alphas around to excite them. This must have something to do with natality. Another is the well known inability to turn scientific advances into actual products. Lack of business startups. Low employee turnover. Working in the same posiiton for 20 years, even when there are no promotion chances. Decline in the culture of negotiation. In Austria in many cases there is nothing to negotiate with your employer, the pay is fixed by the collective contract, hours etc. by the state. A general lack of excitement and risk-taking. Speed limits are lowered even when brakes etc. are better than in the past. There is a movement for a universal 30 km/h limit. Cars getting more and more hated on. To the young Western European man, the idea of a macho in a fast car living dangerously is no longer a romantic ideal.

    No, a Stalin type scenario is entirely out of question. A Romulus Augustulus type scenario, however…

  99. @Shenpen
    “The most obvious is the reduced sex drive of Western European women – there are no more alphas around to excite them. ”

    There are things you cannot make up. This “libertarian” reasoning is one of them.

    Anyhow, birthrates worldwide are directly correlated to income and female education. When girls go to school and family income rises, birth rates decline. Everywhere. Even in the heartlands of fundamentalism, birth rates are declining.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/13/why-are-birthrates-falling-around-the-world-in-a-word-television/

    But I especially like the new cause: TV ownership. I see the point. It is the soap operas that teach women they have rights and will have happy families with fewer children.

  100. “But what they do not have is the authority to decide to initiate force all by their lonesome.

    Every Single Corporation out there is chartered under some government, and all use of force is under the color of that law.

    If the security guy from InternationalSecurityContractorInc decides he’s going to kick in my door HE becomes the criminal, and depending on the situation I can kill him for doing it (as long as I can convince the cops/DA/Jury that I acted in fear for my life).”

    The premise is that there are no governments. Just “a basic prescriptive legal structure, defined by a contract network among judicial and security agencies”.

    When that security contractor busts down your door he’s not breaking any real laws. Just a minor contract violation to be handled by other contractors hired to enforce the “basic prescriptive legal structure”. Which like the condottieri of history are going to be loath to actually fight someone that can seriously impact their bottom line. Which probably will mean arbitration and a fine for him.

    And good luck killing him if he elected to do this from the comfort of his armored vehicle and remote weapon station. Or maybe drone. Or simply 5 buddies, tactical surprise, and far better training and gear.

    Corporations can afford these things and you cannot even if it were legal to own them.

    Most big talking libertarians won’t do any better against the proverbial blackwater team than the average Iraqi/Afghan family armed with AKs and RPGs. You aren’t Jason Bourne.

  101. @Winter of course the birth rate has many factors going for it. But the reduced sex drive is something I am more or less certain about. What supposes me the most in the average German or Dutch office – as opposed to say an Ukrainian office, which is leaps and bounds healthier – is that there is absolutely zero teasing, flirting going on, there is zero pheromons in the air, people act with incredibly amounts of cold professionality without even as much as giving each other a playful eye. Maybe they are just very good at compartmentalizing their lives into worktime vs. funtime but if their funtime part would be trippin’ on hormones as it should be, I guess a bit more would leak through for compartmentalization in itself is rarely so succesful. My guess for the reason is dropping testosterone levels.

  102. Most people, big talking libertarians and otherwise, don’t have to be Jason Bourne. They just have to be resistant enough to make the use of proverbial blackwater teams a highly unprofitable undertaking. This is strange reasoning coming from you – you speak of the condottieri as if the cost of war matters, and then immediately flip over and speak of corporations as if they stamp out missiles in a factory as easily as you would make a sandwich. They can’t.

    Any corporation capable of fielding missiles and strike teams and isn’t completely stone deaf to their accountants is going to be extremely parsimonious about dumping a million bucks on pacifying a household or two. Any household that makes a peep about preferring to negotiate is giving that corporation an opportunity to resolve an issue for maybe only hundreds – business would be almost like putty in this situation.

  103. “Goalposts are moving. You’re not being shot for actually refusing to pay taxes, but for resisting arrest with increasing force.”

    The goalposts haven’t moved. You have no options but to pay your taxes, accept punishment for not paying taxes, or be killed.

  104. @Shenpen
    “But the reduced sex drive is something I am more or less certain about.”

    The point is that you need very little intercourse to get a dozen children. Moreover, all investigations have shown that the frequency of intercourse in Western Europe is not less than that in other countries.

    It is just that women in Western Europe do not want many children, women start late in life at having children (over 30 yoa is quite common), and they have plenty of ways to get exactly the number of children they want.

  105. @Random832
    “You have no options but to pay your taxes, accept punishment for not paying taxes, or be killed.”

    If you do not pay taxes you are declared bankrupt. That is another option. You only get killed in self defense if you use violence against other people. If you sit down and refuse to cooperate, your possessions are seized and you are then left alone.

  106. For what it’s worth, I’ve read that men from Japan and Italy have grown up *very* coddled by their mothers. As a result of feminism, women in those countries don’t want to give that sort of care to their husbands, and as a result, don’t marry.

    When I say “for what it’s worth”, I’m not kidding– I don’t know if this is convenient stereotypes to hang news stories on, or there’s some truth in it.

    Speaking of evolutionary psychology, has anyone read Mother Nature by Sarah Hrdy? It’s based on the premise that females (both human and animal) make reproductive decisions which are affected by the need to divide resources between themselves and one or more children.

  107. Your idea of chiefdoms is based on movies and adventure stories. Just being the most brutish does not even manage to always make you a leader in Chimpansees.

    It’s your strawman of my idea that is based on fiction.

    I didn’t say “brutish”. I said strongest skills in hunting/war (which had a large overlap). Skills in organizing a hunting or war expedition include the ability to talk to which you allude. Just being a mindless brute who can personally kick the ass of any other member of the tribe isn’t enough if one of them is able to get together a gang to fight the brute together. But the other members of the gang won’t respect a weak leader. They know based on how much meat they bring back to the camp whether they have the right guy leading them. If the hunting isn’t going well, a better hunter may rise to challenge the leader.

    Look back at the history of most royal and “noble” houses. The first ruler of any given line was the guy whose gang was able to beat up the other gang(s) in the area and establish control. From time to time an established title would be contested in a war of succession, so later generations had to prove their ability to lead armies in battle in order to keep the job in the family.

  108. “Most people, big talking libertarians and otherwise, don’t have to be Jason Bourne. They just have to be resistant enough to make the use of proverbial blackwater teams a highly unprofitable undertaking.

    Any corporation capable of fielding missiles and strike teams and isn’t completely stone deaf to their accountants is going to be extremely parsimonious about dumping a million bucks on pacifying a household or two.”

    I think you vastly overestimate the cost of pacifying a household or two but you are correct…they probably wouldn’t do it for kicks.

    In the case of an average household with a couple, three potential combatants with light weapons the cost for a merc contractor team that decided to go off the reservation is a few flash bangs, a grenade or two and a few rounds expended. If you think that at 3am you’re providing credible resistance after flash bangs or CS grenades flys through your bedroom windows you do believe you are Jason Bourne.

    Now the contractor can admit their team went off the reservation and potentially pay millions in damages. Or they could kill/intimidate/bribe any witnesses and cover it up. It’s too bad (or lucky if you can reliably be bought for cheap) for your family that you were up at 2AM walking the dog isn’t it?

    Or let’s take another example where a chemical factory is polluting your area. There no EPA so you organize some kind of response from your community “to negotiate” as you put it. You’re now a pain in their ass and the changes you want will cost the company millions. If it only costs $68,000 + gas money to kill you then hey you just made the business case to die. The next “community organizer” might be a pushover.

    We have no idea who owned that missile that killed him. It wasn’t ours that’s for sure. See all our records show all our predators were on the ground when it happened and all our hellfires accounted for. But in the spirit of good faith we make this slightly improved weak assed offer of compensation for the residents of fuckedville for the increased cancer rate which your new negotiator has recommended y’all accept.

    /shrug

    It isn’t about government or corporation, it’s about the people that control the government or corporation and the checks and balances that exist to keep the people who control power in check. The government in the US has thus far been quite good at being a check against corporate rapaciousness while being designed in a Rube Goldberg way to create inefficiencies where very little ever get done.

    One of the costs of this design will be a government shutdown tomorrow because a minority bunch of fruitcakes are exercising their as designed ability to gum up the works. But god help us all if fruitcakes ever manage to actually bring down the government to implement their vision of libertarian “utopia”.

  109. @The Monster
    ” Skills in organizing a hunting or war expedition include the ability to talk to which you allude.”

    Such people are also called “politicians”. In general, their marital skill are of secondary importance.

  110. Speaking vaguely of, I’m reading a book about evil people, and it says that Stalin was really charming.

    I guess it’s reasonable. Anyone who establishes a dictatorship (as distinct from inheriting a dictatorship that someone else started) has to be good at people stuff.

    Any recommendations for fiction which does a good job of showing the bad guy as plausibly convincing?

  111. @Nancy Lebovitz
    “It’s based on the premise that females (both human and animal) make reproductive decisions which are affected by the need to divide resources between themselves and one or more children.”

    That is indeed a well known relation in reproductive ecology. Here is a link to a (random) paper which might have some useful references:

    Pooled Energy Budget and Human Life History
    http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Reiches-et-al-2009-AJHB.pdf

    The problem is how mothers integrate expected financial costs into the decision to give birth. Somehow, women will increase spending per child faster than income rises leading to less children with more income.

  112. @NAncy Lebovitz
    “Any recommendations for fiction which does a good job of showing the bad guy as plausibly convincing?”

    “Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes. Not yet available in English. But if you can read German “Er ist wieder da”. This is fiction, but is the best I have seen about how Hitler did the people stuff.

  113. @Winter

    Such people are also called “politicians”. In general, their marital [sic] skill are of secondary importance

    Right up until the moment two politicians who are good enough at the non-martial side of things to rise to control their respective baronies, and the one with better martial skills decides he wants to annex the neighboring barony and style himself “Earl”, etc.

    Now, if one politician is good enough to hire generals with better martial skills than the other politician and his generals have, that may work out for him, right up until those better generals decide to depose him and turn the head general into the new Earl.

  114. For what it’s worth, I’ve read that men from Japan and Italy have grown up *very* coddled by their mothers. As a result of feminism, women in those countries don’t want to give that sort of care to their husbands, and as a result, don’t marry.

    The situation in Japan is… more complicated. Despite Japanese women enjoying increasingly more rights and freedoms since WWII, feminism still hasn’t taken root over there the way it has in, say, Western Europe or North America. Women are still encouraged to marry and start breeding early. The stereotypical urban Japanese girl is shallow and a bit of a ditz, and mainly holds down a job to buy high-fashion items so she can look cute and attract a decent man to take care of her.

    Japanese women who want careers can have them, but often must sacrifice their love life in exchange. The stereotypical American “power mom” juggling work and family life is much rarer in Japan, and there are very few Japanese business executives or entrepreneurs. The expression used to go that women are like Christmas cakes: nobody wants them after the 25th — i.e., a Japanese woman older than 25 is virtually unmarriageable. But if you want to get a Ph.D. or move up the ladder, you need to invest your early twenties in something besides Louis Vuitton handbags, so you’re out of the rat race for a decent husband.

    This alone could account for why Western men are HUGELY popular among Japanese women. Western guys don’t give a shit, and those of us at the top end of the IQ scale love and appreciate a competent woman.

    But there’s more. Once they are well situated in life, Japanese women may well return to the love market, so “cougars” are becoming a thing over there. And they have surprisingly many takers, even amongst younger men. As Neal Stephenson wrote, Nipponese have a different aging algorithm than we do. When you’re in your early 40s and look like this, you’re still beating them away with a stick. (That’s not typical, but a 40-year-old Japanese woman who hasn’t smoked her youth away still does fine, especially on the global market.)

  115. Nigel on 2013-09-28 at 09:51:40 said:“The EIC was, in India, a government. Its authority was enforced by guns – its own and the British army’s. Its alleged responsibility includes collection of extortionate taxes. How is this the action of a private party?”

    As winter pointed out the EIC was a privately owned entity beholden to shareholders and not citizens/voters/whatever. The point is that unbridled capitalism doesn’t look any different than unbridled government. Both are rapacious. Both will employ force to get their way.

    How is taking money at gunpoint “capitalism”? It’s what governments do. By definition. The EIC gained the power to do it by displacing the native ruler of Bengal.

  116. “How is taking money at gunpoint “capitalism”? ”

    How was slavery capitalism? How was the opium trade capitalism?

    I don’t know why you guys cannot accept that capitalism with no/few limits is just as bad as government with no/few limits.

    Either one will roll over you.

  117. “When you’re in your early 40s and look like this, you’re still beating them away with a stick. (That’s not typical, but a 40-year-old Japanese woman who hasn’t smoked her youth away still does fine, especially on the global market.)”

    That is so not typical. Masako is like Lynda Carter. I’m sure at 60 she’ll still look good.

    The biggest downside at 40 is that it’s tougher to have kids if you wanted them. It’s also tougher to keep up.

  118. The biggest downside at 40 is that it’s tougher to have kids if you wanted them. It’s also tougher to keep up.

    That’s true.

    Point is, Italy and Japan are quite different cases. In Italy, “mammismo” is a recent development, whereas Japanese dependence on one’s parents is traditional, and linked to Confucian filial piety and the Japanese concept of amae, which is sort of an exchange of loyalty for being taken care of. Amae underpins a lot of Japanese social structures, including work, where you are expected to become a company man in exchange for the benefits the company offers you.

  119. @Jeff China will also be an interesting dynamic with coddled sons and a (relative) lack of women.

    No problems for expats and rich guys…but they don’t tend to start revolutions do they?

  120. I already had a notion of proto-governments– organizations which use violence to control territory which might theoretically become governments except that the niche is already filled. I had unions* and street gangs in the category, but uncontrolled businesses in places with no competition for them (EIC, King Leopold) might fit, too.

    *IIRC, Cherryh had a government that used to be a union.

  121. @Nancy
    “I already had a notion of proto-governments– organizations which use violence to control territory which might theoretically become governments except that the niche is already filled.”

    This requires a meaningful definition of “government”.

  122. @Nancy re: proto-governments. The world we currently live in was created by the Treaty of Westphalia which basically said it is governments, read, kings that are going to be the highest and undisputed sovereigns over a given piece of land. Before, other entities could act as proto-governments, such as Malta, Cyprus etc. was owned by knightly, military-monastic orders, but perhaps more importantly, sovereignty even in a given piece of land was more complicated, not so exclusive, more shared – basically the use of force was not really a monopoly, or not an undisputed one.

    One of the most insightful ideas kicking around today IMHO is that the Westphalian system seems to be over.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westphalian_sovereignty

    In the pre-Westphalian world there was nothing especially unusual about e.g. large traders having their own armed guards, projecting a certain amount of sovereignty around themselves.

  123. @Jeff

    >In Italy, “mammismo” is a recent development,

    It’s roots are very deep, the Catholic cult of Mary and with that motherhood, a huge amount of reverence for mothers etc. You probably have heard that even in the US it is not a good idea to jokingly say “motherfucker” around Catholic (Irish, Italian) cops, they will not take it as a joke.

    Back in older times, in the chaotic mess of warring city-states and petty tyrants and brilliant artists, there was basically one thing on the peninsula to be truly loyal to and truly trust, and that was the family.

  124. @Shenpen
    The “West-Phalian” system seems to be founded on international recognition and national legitimacy. So, it is the government if people think it is the government.

  125. I believe both that a government has to have a pretty good monopoly on the use of force within its borders (possibly on the use of overwhelming force) and that governments are a sort of shared hallucination. That last isn’t quite as harsh as it sounds, since it seems that people mostly live in their imaginations.

  126. @Nancy
    “I believe both that a government has to have a pretty good monopoly on the use of force within its borders (possibly on the use of overwhelming force) and that governments are a sort of shared hallucination.”

    Sounds reasonable. Note that it does not exclude private companies from acting as a government in some (foreign) territory.

  127. … I had a look at gittip [www.gittip.com]

    It looks sorta culty to be honest, even leaving aside the religious affiliations of the site’s founder.

    I really don’t see the benefit over suitably accessible “tip jar” buttons on project websites.

    As another commenter noted, BitCoin really is very well suited to that application.

  128. (I think something’s eating my posts. Twice in a row now, and I don’t know what’s wrong with it. It has no links.)

  129. Note that it does not exclude private companies from acting as a government in some (foreign) territory.

    The only effective difference between a business and a government is that a government claims some sort of mandate for imposing its rules on people who haven’t agreed to them. The Habsburgs and the Rothschilds don’t look all that different in their design patterns, and in the case of the Medici, the principle of running of a state as a business was quite explicit. Merely having “publicly traded governments” (republics) instead of privately-held ones doesn’t change the interests and long-term behavior of the institutions.

  130. @Christopher Smith
    Which makes business and government orthogonal categories.

  131. @ Nigel

    “Capitalism” is freedom in relation to making money. The “Capital” part of Capital-ism refers to businesses being owned by the people that put up the capital – money/wealth – to start them. This ownership in a business can be bought and sold – in full, in large chunks or in very tiny chunks (shares). This is another way of saying that businesses are property – another concept directly related to freedom.

    “taking money at gunpoint” and all other references to the actions of the EIC do illustrate that businesses often have to engage in protecting themselves (often in the form of security guards), but all the extreme things the EIC did just demonstrate that it is an extreme case. There are always extreme cases, especially if you look back hundreds of years.

    “slavery” has all manner of moral and economic aspects, but… not all slaves were used in business and those that were, were the property – capital assets – of the business. You (and I) may not think people should be property, but they frequently have been over the course of history. Of course, “freedom” didn’t apply to slaves, but this is a political issue – it has nothing to do with the nature of businesses.

    The opium trade? The extreme stuff that went on demonstrates that this is, again, an extreme case – one which we think goes beyond what businesses should do, but was acceptable to at least one side of the “trade”.

    Dredging up extreme examples of businesses doing bad things just demonstrates that some business have done, and some business now do, bad things.

    I don’t know why you guys cannot accept that capitalism with no/few limits is just as bad as government with no/few limits.

    Either one will roll over you.

    Extreme cases are extreme cases no matter how much it makes a business look like a government or, in very extreme cases, how a business actually was a government in some capacity.

    People generally want limits on governments – no need to elaborate on that. But businesses…

    You are referring to businesses as organizations that do things and how they should be judged and limited (as opposed to an owner, officer or employee that is personally judged and limited by the law). And this is the core of the whole matter…

    Business should be judged and limited – as an organization – they should be judged and limited like people. They shouldn’t engage in theft, fraud, assault, murder, kidnapping, etc.

    People that believe in lots of freedom generally want to leave it more or less at that.

    People that think we should have all kinds of laws to make society a better place generally want more laws that apply to businesses. IMO, these people (or at least this idea) is evil, but there is little I can do about it.

    In short, businesses should be compared, judged and limited like people.

  132. @BRM Lol…so every case of businesses killing and enslaving people is an extreme case that shouldn’t be considered but every case of a government killing and enslaving people is the norm?

    Because the 2008 Chinese milk scandal that killed 6, hospitalized 54,000 and impacted 300,000 infants is ancient history. Businesses will defraud, kill and enslave people because it is profitable to do so. And if businesses should be judged and limited who will do so in this libertarian “free-market” utopia?

    Both businesses and governments are human constructs subject to the same virtues and vices.

  133. From the criminal complaint against libertarian businessman Ross William Ulbricht a.k.a. “Dread Pirate Roberts”:

    DPR sent a message to “redandwhite” stating that “FriendlyChemist”
    is “Causing me problems” and adding: “I would like to put a bounty on
    his head if it’s not too much trouble for you. What would be an
    adequate amount to motivate you to find him?”

    Later that same day, redandwhite sent DPR a message quoting him a
    price of $150,000 or $300,000 “depending on how you want it done” –
    “clean” or “non-clean”

    DPR responded: “Don’t want to be a pain here, but the price seems high.
    Not long ago, I had a clean hit done for $80k. Are the prices you
    quoted the best you can do? I would like this done ASAP as he is
    talking about releasing the info on Monday.

    DPR and redandwhite agreed upon a price of 1,670 Bitcoins – approximately
    $150k – for the job. In DPR’s message confirming the deal, DPR included
    a transacation record reflecting the transfer of 1,670 Bitcoins to a
    certain Bitcoin address.

    It’s like I said, the absence of a state creates a power vacuum; whoever fills it, you didn’t elect and you probably don’t ever want to meet.

  134. …so every case of businesses killing and enslaving people is an extreme case that shouldn’t be considered… the 2008 Chinese milk scandal that killed 6, hospitalized 54,000 and impacted 300,000 infants is ancient history.

    Consider anything you want.

    How many businesses are there that affect people in the USA? How many in all the cities and in all the towns? LOTS ^ LOTS. What proportion of these businesses engage in killing and enslaving people?

    The yellow pages in Calgary (which fewer businesses are using these days) is more than 5 cm thick. How many of these businesses do you suppose kill and enslave people?

    You wanna know who is really at fault for Chinese milk scandal? How about all the people that think that is the government’s job to make living safe so that they don’t have to give any thought to the matter – the people that think that if a product is on the shelf to be sold, it must be safe. Then, when an exception is discovered, you get people talking about “businesses killing people”.

    The problem with food safety in the US is that the vast majority of it is safe, so people take no responsibility whatsoever in deciding whether any particular product is safe.

  135. @BRM
    “The problem with food safety in the US is that the vast majority of it is safe, so people take no responsibility whatsoever in deciding whether any particular product is safe.”

    How many young parents in China have any idea how to test baby formula for safety? Do you know?

    Actually, instead of testing themselves, they buy it in countries with good, government controlled, food quality standards.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/world/asia/chinas-search-for-infant-formula-goes-global.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    @BRM
    “The problem with food safety in the US is that the vast majority of it is safe, so people take no responsibility whatsoever in deciding whether any particular product is safe.”

    You are the first person I meet who thinks high food safety is a problem. I think you will have a hard time convincing people that food safety should be lowered. Especially in baby food.

  136. “How many businesses are there that affect people in the USA? How many in all the cities and in all the towns? LOTS ^ LOTS. What proportion of these businesses engage in killing and enslaving people?”

    How many governments are there that affect people in the USA? How many in all the cities and in all the towns? LOTS ^ LOTS. What proportion of these governments engage in killing and enslaving people?

    Same number. North Korea is an extreme case and not the norm either.

  137. @BRM: You seem to have found an awful lot of ‘extreme cases’. When you have that many you should strart to think that you’ve left the tail of the distribution and are well up on the shoulder; ‘extreme’ is starting to aproach ‘more or less typical’.

  138. @ Winter

    Considering how little I remembered about the Chinese baby milk thing, I should have left it alone. Actually, I can’t even make an intelligent statement about it without doing more research, so I am just going to leave it alone in particular, other than to say that mistakes happen and bad people do bad things – I don’t know which category the baby milk thing falls into.

    The problem with food safety in the US is that the vast majority of it is safe, so people take no responsibility whatsoever in deciding whether any particular product is safe.

    You are the first person I meet who thinks high food safety is a problem. I think you will have a hard time convincing people that food safety should be lowered. Especially in baby food.

    Um… I admit that there is more than one way to interpret my sentence. I was attempting to make a point about safety from a libertarian perspective, which I also should have left alone, as it had nothing to do with my point. I am sorry that I didn’t make myself clearer.

  139. @BRM
    ” I am sorry that I didn’t make myself clearer.”

    I can try to get to your intended message, as far as I can divine it. You seem to argue that consumers should not rely on government food safety laws and checks, like the USA FDA? They should make their own judgement.

    We can blame Chinese consumers with a lot, but not with trust of the Chinese equivalents of the FDA. But it is next to impossible for a consumer to check the safety of a single food product, let alone a complete diet. I assume you know that too, so I guess you want people to go to a “market” for “food safety assurance”.

    But I would like to know how you think this should work?

    These “Commercial FDA companies” would have to be resistant to bribing and pressure (e.g., from the mob) and they would need to get access to production plants. On top of this come incredible high transaction costs: Which food assurance company to trust, how to pay for their services, carrying around lists of “approved safe products” while shopping, finding shops that carry products on the lists of your food assurance company, etc.

    I have never heard of something like this to actually work.

    It starts with the fact that food inspectors from relatively small companies will not be able to resist pressure from global food conglomerates. The Chinese milk powder producers were willing to put poisonous substances in baby milk to make some extra money. They would not hesitate to use pressure and violence against some food inspector.

  140. @Winter

    The Underwriters Laboratory, started by and owned by a consortium of insurance companies in the USA, seems to work pretty well.

    The baby formula is only the latest in a string of tainted products from China. The USA and/or the EU cannot fix China. We can only keep our own houses in order.

    The way the USA does food safety is probably not the most cost-effective method possible. It seems difficult to come up with another paradigm now that there are vested interested in the regulatory regime.

    It ultimately comes down to trust. Who can we trust and who can we not? How can we make dealing with untrustworthy people more expensive and difficult without hurting trustworthy people?

  141. @BobW
    “The Underwriters Laboratory, started by and owned by a consortium of insurance companies in the USA, seems to work pretty well.”

    There are more of these independent testing and certification laboratories also in Europe, e.g., the German TÜVs. They tend to evolve into semi-official institutions with a national certification monopoly. And as far as I know, their primary clients are other companies.

    I assume that the ideas of BRM above were not replace the FDA by an official institute with a monopoly.

    In my view, the main problems with competing commercial certification institutes are the difficulties for the consumers to evaluate the institutes, and certification shopping by the companies. Due to the information imbalance, the incentives for the institutes would be to service the wishes of the companies more than the consumers.

  142. @Winter –

    “””
    In my view, the main problems with competing commercial certification institutes are the difficulties for the consumers to evaluate the institutes, and certification shopping by the companies. Due to the information imbalance, the incentives for the institutes would be to service the wishes of the companies more than the consumers.
    “””

    You misunderstand who the real customers of these certification institutes are – it’s the insurance companies. UL exists not because a device manufacturer wants to look good to the end consumers, but so that they look good to those who sell them liability insurance. It indirectly assists retail consumers by letting them know that the electrical gizmos they buy probably won’t burn their houses down (which helps with their insurance, etc.) “Certification shopping” probably isn’t much of a problem, because one can look at real liability claims against these insurance companies, and know whose standards and certs are golden, and whose are bogus.

    By analogy for the ‘Net – what group warrants or ensures that the “common Internet infrastructure” is ‘honest’, i.e. does exactly what it claims (routes packets legitimately, efficiently, and transparently; doesn’t give info clandestinely to governments or your other favorite boogie-men; etc.)? What incentives or penalties could this group of ‘ ‘insurers’ ‘ use to enforce those claims by the manufacturers and maintainers of the ‘Net?

  143. @John D. Bell
    “You misunderstand who the real customers of these certification institutes are – it’s the insurance companies. ”

    But how would that work for consumers who need to buy food products, say baby milk powder?

  144. But how would that work for consumers who need to buy food products, say baby milk powder?

    The same way it already works the world over for kosher and halal certifications. Now that everyone has a smartphone, it would even be feasible to print a per-lot digital signature on the label that customers could scan to identify the certifying authority and verify the legitimacy of the certification. Authorities, while probably directly employed by the manufacturers, still have an interest in their reputation; if they’re caught certifying bad products, people simply won’t buy them any more.

  145. @Winter

    @John D. Bell
    “You misunderstand who the real customers of these certification institutes are – it’s the insurance companies. ”

    But how would that work for consumers who need to buy food products, say baby milk powder?

    We need a way to put insurance companies on the hook for the associated costs. In the USA you can insure your dependents basically for the cost of their funerals. That’s too little to motivate insurance companies.

    It should not involve the courts. That doesn’t work well for medical malpractice here. Lawyers are hired guns. They take dubious cases on contingency for a chance at a big payday.

    The problem with the regulatory state is that the overhead is too high and the feedback on failures is ineffective. Every problem leads to more onerous regulation, which increases costs, which amplifies the incentives to evade regulation.

  146. @BobW
    “The problem with the regulatory state is that the overhead is too high and the feedback on failures is ineffective. Every problem leads to more onerous regulation, which increases costs, which amplifies the incentives to evade regulation.”

    That is an empirical question. Any evidence?

    The Chinese come to buy their baby milk in our shops in the Netherlands. So our food control seems to work reasonably well. And we are doing well economically too, so the costs seem to be bearable.

  147. Nigel on 2013-09-30 at 18:37:47 said:“How is taking money at gunpoint “capitalism”? ”

    The original claim was that the EIC, a private actor, caused many deaths. The EIC was accused of collecting extortionate taxes. My point is that in doing so, the EIC was not a private actor, it was a state. Denouncing “capitalism” for this action of the EIC is like denouncing “baseball” for crony stadium deals.

    How was slavery capitalism?

    It wasn’t. Slavery was established and maintained by state power. It was the theft of the labor of people by force. Slaves were made by the state.

    How was the opium trade capitalism?

    What are you asking here? The India-China opium trade was voluntary on both ends. The “force” element was the Chinese government’s prohibition of the trade, and the British government’s making China withdraw that prohibition.

    I happen to think that China was right. But then I’m not a libertarian. Arguably, by engaging in the opium trade, the EIC caused much death as a private actor. OTOH, there were other opium traders, and it’s not particularly clear how much the EIC increased the trade, if at all – except by using British state action to defeat Chinese state action against the trade.

  148. @Rich Rostrum
    “The EIC was accused of collecting extortionate taxes. My point is that in doing so, the EIC was not a private actor, it was a state.”

    Private actors are good, states are bad. So, if a private actor acts bad on a large scale, then it must be a state. Impeccable reasoning.

  149. I find it interesting that the Chinese Baby Formula Poison affair is only viewed as a failure of capitalism. The reasoning seems to be that a private actor in China wanted to increase profits, so they used poison in baby formula as filler, people died, ergo capitalism is evil and we need to rely on the State for protection.

    The problem with this is that this incident didn’t occur in an anarcho-capitalist vacuum. Indeed, it was *surrounded* by State: The Chinese government didn’t prevent this from happening, nor did Chinese culture (except, if I recall correctly, some members of the company committed suicide over this, so there are cultural consequences that should have prevented this from happening). The United States Customs agents didn’t check the for purity. The FDA didn’t have agents making sure that the formula was safe. State and Local Health Inspectors weren’t checking on the formula for safety. Neither corporations nor customers were checking the formula for safety, either. In other words, this represents as much a failure of the Regulatory State, as it does anything else.

    What lesson can we take from this, if anything? I, personally, can only conclude that, as much as we think the Regulatory State protects us, this protection is just an illusion. Trade between individuals happens at such a great scale, that it would be impossible to have enough inspectors to make sure that such a thing never happens; and when you consider how *rare* an event like this is, I can conclude only one thing: this doesn’t happen as often as it could, because the vast majority of people want to do the decent thing, and those that don’t are found out quickly–and face consequences, both cultural and governmental.

    For me, I have only two questions: First, is it possible to keep people mostly honest through cultural force alone? Second, if it *isn’t* sufficient, are the harms imposed by government sufficiently cancelled out by the harms prevented here?

    (And don’t tell me that harm isn’t caused by government. Over time, I have noticed that advocates of government interference are quick to point out the failures of those acting in freedom, yet are blind to the failures of their own governments, whether great or small. It’s easy to point out a home-schooled student who wasn’t taught math, for example, yet overlook the children who grew up in a California school, who weren’t taught math either. Similarly, it’s easy to point out the Libertarian putting a contract on someone’s head, while ignoring the mayor of a big city who calls in a Mafia buddy to do the same thing, because he’s owed a favor.)

  150. I think this argument about the State vs. Anarchy ignores an interesting aspect of what one might call “Personal Libertarianism”, for a lack of a better term. Eric is proposing the development of a private network, free of centralized control, and this post is bringing up one of several possible ways to fund the development such a network. In other words, he’s ignoring Government, and developing something on his own! (Well, not necessarily on his own–others, through the choice of voluntary association, are helping him–but he’s doing it without Government help.)

    I’m a recent convert to the philosophy of anarcho-capitalism. In the last couple of years, however, I have developed the impression that most small-government conservatives, most libertarians, perhaps even a large number of anarcho-capitalists, are hung up on the fact that we don’t have a limited government. The interesting thing is, though, that we don’t have to wait until we control government to start living in Freedom. We just have to decide to do something good, and then go do it.

    Now, doing so is more complicated than it sounds, particularly because bureaucrats like to stick their nose into business that should be left to individuals to do; it also requires free time on the part of the people “going and doing”. But the surprising thing is that it’s applicable as much to government activism as it is for anything else! And I have the feeling that when enough liberty-minded people discover that they could just ignore the government, and live their lives as they see fit, government will become largely irrelevant….

  151. Alpheus,

    Indeed. More libertarians should understand that ideology means nothing without direct personal engagement with the situation on the ground.

    “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” –W.E.B. Du Bois

  152. @Winter:

    >Private actors are good, states are bad. So, if a private actor acts bad on a large scale, then it must be a state. Impeccable reasoning.

    First of all, the EIC had been delegated powers by the British state, and thus, repsecting issues relating to those powers, was acting as part of the state regardless of the goodness or badness of its actions.

    Secondly, everybody is bad. Private actors *as a group* (not as individuals) approximate good as well as is possible because people who screw over their customers or suppliers tend to go out of business if their customers/suppliers have alternatives to doing business with them. Because nobody can be trusted, aggregations of power and single points of failure are bad. Government interference tends to create aggregations of power and single points of failure, either among private actors or within the State itself (or both), and is thus to be avoided whenever at all possible.

    A similar argument is what makes democracy and separation of powers a good idea.

  153. In other words, he’s ignoring Government, and developing something on his own! (Well, not necessarily on his own–others, through the choice of voluntary association, are helping him–but he’s doing it without Government help.)

    He might want to avoid talking about it on a government-funded Web site if he’s trying to do it without government help.

  154. @ BobW, John D. Bell, Christopher Smith, Alpheus, Jeff Read, Jon Brase

    I have been busy, but you guys ran with the ball I so clumsily dropped. Nigel’s attitude towards capitalism made me want to make the point that blaming an incident of unsafe food on capitalism is silly.

    There are always going to be incidents.

    In the US, the FDA seems to basically do a good job, but I imagine that, like any vast federal agency, it does so in a lumbering fashion at great expense.

    At this point, I am not arguing for the FDA to be shut down (although, by the end of November, who knows…..)

    The point is that capitalism can do a fine job… Underwriters Laboratory, kosher and halal certifications, Consumer Reports, and – easiest of all for consumers – shopping at stores that have a very high interest in maintaining a good reputation (so these stores buy only from suppliers that depend on their reputations, etc.). Of course, this only works where every party is free to fail – if your only choice is to buy at businesses propped up by the government or the local-powerful-connected-person, you are in trouble.

    To say this in a blatant way, corporate greed protects us. Or the invisible hand protects us. Businesses that want to keep making as much money as possible (which is their purpose, of course), are reluctant to risk all by selling unsafe goods. We want to shop at places that intend to make money over the long haul but can only do so if they maintain their reputations.

  155. @Alpheus
    The Chinese baby milk poisoning was presented as an example that there are companies that kill if given the opportunity. There was no extrapolation to Capitalism as a system. Just a counter example to ‘Private Companies Good, States Bad’ .

    But if I present a counter example, that does not mean my believes are a simple negation of this proposition.

  156. @BRM:
    >To say this in a blatant way, corporate greed protects us. Or the invisible hand protects us. Businesses that want to keep making as much money as possible (which is their purpose, of course), are reluctant to risk all by selling unsafe goods. We want to shop at places that intend to make money over the long haul but can only do so if they maintain their reputations.

    I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with you rather strenuously here.

    *Redundancy* protects us. It tempers greed and even makes it a bit useful by making it financially advantageous to do the right thing in many cases, but greed remains a dangerous animal that will maul us if we let our guard down for a second. And full-blown corporate greed has no compunctions about destroying redundancy or calling the government in to do its dirty work if that will make money.

    Eternal vigilance against attacks on redundancy, whether they originate in government powermongering or corporate greed, is the price of freedom.

  157. @ Jon Brase

    I am basically imagining/dreaming about a more or less libertarian society, here, in which capitalism means free enterprise. This doesn’t include societies in which corporations can call “the government in to do its dirty work if that will make money.”.

    We are probably using different definitions of “greed”. My definition is the desire to make as much money as possible, which, it seems to me, makes the concept of “corporate greed” basically meaningless – the whole point of corporations is to make money.

    I don’t know what you mean by redundancy unless you mean “options” or “choices”, both of which usually exist if the capitalism is sufficiently free and the society has an effective way of dealing with predators.

  158. @BRM
    “I don’t know what you mean by redundancy unless you mean “options” or “choices”, both of which usually exist if the capitalism is sufficiently free and the society has an effective way of dealing with predators.”

    I assume he means competition.

    Your dream seems to require people not to team up against each other. The history of humanity suggests that people team up against each other the moment there is an opportunity to do so. So, maybe you want to think things through more carefully.

  159. I keep mixing two ideas in my comments…

    The primary point is that there are always going to be incidents of businesses selling unsafe goods, but this shouldn’t be blamed on capitalism. Crony capitalism is a whole different story, however.

    In a society where businesses depend on their reputations, and where there is competition so people can choose to deal with one business over another, mistakes that hurt customers are punished by the market and a business that deliberately hurts its customers is really punished by the market.

    The libertarian idea is that this doesn’t require vast government agencies.

  160. If a particular market is dominated by a small number of large businesses, these businesses can collude so that each can deliberately hurt its customers. In any truly capitalist society, this opens the door for new competition. Again, this doesn’t work in a crony capitalist society.

  161. Another aspect is that deliberately selling food that hurts people is fraud. A good government (or whatever mechanism stomps on people that engage in fraud) should step in and hammer any business that does this.

    As I said way upthread, businesses should be judged like people – no theft, fraud, assault, murder, etc.

  162. Existing businesses like barriers to entry to be high. Red tape and massive amounts of regulation accomplish this, making it harder for new businesses to enter the market to supply better/safer products.

    Actually, I realize that cartels can last a long time by the standards of consumers. Ya got yer established firms, ya got yer barriers to entry, ya got yer game theory that shows that cartels are unstable over the long run, ya got yer antitrust laws… I don’t want to get into this.

    However, it is worth noting that for many foodstuffs, barriers to entry can be quite low. Competition with a multinational business can be by a large number of small, trusted local businesses. In Alberta, you can turn part of your basement into a commercial food production facility for less than ten grand – sealed, wipeable floors, walls and ceilings, walk-in freezer(s)/fridge(s), certain standards about sinks, and such like. Another option is renting space in an existing food production facility.

  163. @BRM:
    >I am basically imagining/dreaming about a more or less libertarian society, here, in which capitalism means free enterprise. This doesn’t include societies in which corporations can call “the government in to do its dirty work if that will make money.”.

    My point is that greed will drive people to turn the first society into the second. If a government exists, they will lobby it. If no government exists, they will create one. Thus the need for eternal vigilance.

    A pet peeve of mine about the word “capitalism”, though. Namely, why do we use it? The name was coined by Marx to refer to croney capitalism, mercantilism, and the like, and for some odd reason advocates of free markets took the name for themselves, which has caused us no shortage of PR trouble. If what we call “capitalism” is to be an “-ism”, I propose “Smithism”. In any case, let’s find something else to call it.

    >We are probably using different definitions of “greed”. My definition is the desire to make as much money as possible, which, it seems to me, makes the concept of “corporate greed” basically meaningless – the whole point of corporations is to make money.

    I mean pretty much “the desire to make as much money as possible”. I mean viewing money as an end rather than a means, especially when its acquiring it is seen as a justification for whatever behavior is necessary to obtain it.

    The purpose of a corporation is not to make money: the purpose of a corporation is to fulfill the goals of its investors. But that isn’t too important. I mostly used the phrasing “corporate greed” because you had in the post I was quoting. You can take my previous post and do s/corporate greed/greed without changing my point.

    >I don’t know what you mean by redundancy unless you mean “options” or “choices”, both of which usually exist if the capitalism is sufficiently free and the society has an effective way of dealing with predators.

    That is exactly what I mean. But free markets and effective ways of dealing with predators have to be maintained. And if we fail to recognize that greed is not our friend, we will fail to maintain them for two reasons:

    1) We’ll be too slow to recognize and act against greedy predators, who will destroy them so as to be able to make more money by unethical means without losing customers.

    2) We will play right into liberal strawmen and give them all the ammunition they need to bury us in regulation.

    Smithism is not an encouragement to or excuse for greed. Greed is not the key feature of Smithism. Redundancy is. Smithism is meant to contain greed. It is meant to nullify the effects of greed where it can and to turn it to useful purposes where it cannot.

  164. @ Jon Brase

    I agree with everything you said.

    Another aspect is the more the market punishes making money by unethical means, the better. If people don’t like how a business operates, they should be willing to stop being a (direct or indirect) customer if that is practical, including paying more (if that is practical).

  165. >I agree with everything you said.

    That’s good. My point of disagreement was with “corporate greed protects us”.

  166. @Jon Brase
    You want to get rid of the word Capitalism because you object to a term coined by Marx?

    And then you go on demonstrating your ignorance about the history of economics, and economics in general.

    Maybe, you might look up the meaning of the word Capitalism and read the works of Adam Smith.

  167. Going back a bit, I’m surprised no one has brought up the cynical description of NATO. It was there to “keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.”

    70 odd years of relative peace in Western Europe hasn’t been an accident. And has very little to do with enlightened attitudes there, although that has probably changed now. But the long term occupation (for that’s what it was) probably stopped wars in the 70s and 80s.

  168. “And countless governments in Europe preside over one of the safest parts on the Earth’s surface.”

    While outsourcing their defence. Shame that’s gonna go away now that Sugar Daddy is broke. Hi, Russia!

  169. @Ltw
    “While outsourcing their defence.”

    And how is that relevant to the question that states will inevitably commit mass murder on their subjects? No one has ever contested that states, tribes, or gangs, like Russia, will mass murder the subjects other states.

    @Ltw
    “Shame that’s gonna go away now that Sugar Daddy is broke. Hi, Russia!”

    And Russia is not broke?

  170. @Winter:
    >You want to get rid of the word Capitalism because you object to a term coined by Marx?

    No. I don’t object to it being used the way Marx originally used it.

    I do object to the term Marx came up with for the thing both he and Smith were arguing against being used to refer to the thing Smith was arguing for.

  171. Winter: The Chinese baby milk poisoning was presented as an example that there are companies that kill if given the opportunity. There was no extrapolation to Capitalism as a system. Just a counter example to ‘Private Companies Good, States Bad’ .

    But if I present a counter example, that does not mean my believes are a simple negation of this proposition.

    Perhaps, but the hidden assumption behind this (and other examples) is “and this is why we need government–to make sure that such things never happen”. It is this hidden assumption that I was refuting. There is another hidden assumption that I won’t attempt to refute here: that so-called anarcho-capitalism would have no way to counteract or punish such behavior.

    Winter: You want to get rid of the word Capitalism because you object to a term coined by Marx?

    I have developed my own qualms about this term; although I recognize that Marx has coined it with the goal to disparage the very system he was trying to debunk, this isn’t the reason I dislike the term. The term implies that only “capital” rules, or rather, only those who own capital. The free market is far more complex than what this term suggests. Indeed, I would propose that what makes our system so great, isn’t that “capitalists” rule–it’s that people have rights to life, liberty, and property, among other things, and with those rights, they can carve decent lives for themselves without worrying about government bureaucrats ruining everything at a whim.

    It is my understanding that the witch hunts of Medieval times were far worse in Europe than they were in England. While it may be tempting to conclude that England wasn’t as quick to embrace the superstitions of the times, it simply wasn’t so: England had mechanisms that discouraged the taking of life, liberty or property without due process, and their legal systems didn’t accept typical witch trials as “due process”, whereas in Europe, it was relatively easy to accuse someone as a witch, “try” them for the crime, and then profit from the so-called witches’ estates.

    While Eric would be quick to point out that Christianity is susceptible to such things, I would point out that non-Christians aren’t immune to hysteria, either, which is why we need a strong legal tradition that respects life, liberty and property, regardless of whether that tradition is anarcho-capitalist or government-centric. The reason why Communist, Socialist and Fascist, countries have proven to be such miserable failures, is because they value the Collective above all else, and have no qualms taking the freedom, the properties, or even the very lives of individuals for the “betterment” of society.

    So I would propose a better term to describe the Great American Experiment would be “Individualist” rather than “Capitalist”; all the remaining experiments are really just “Collectivists” (and they are always under the illusion that they are doing something “new” and “revolutionary”, when in reality they are only regressing back to the mean of human existence).

  172. “While outsourcing their defence. Shame that’s gonna go away now that Sugar Daddy is broke. Hi, Russia!”

    China spent $166B on defense.
    Russia spent $90.7B.
    UK ($61B), France ($58.9B) and Germany ($43.4B) spent $165B.

    The EU as a whole spent $285.8B.

    The only thing that the EU “outsourced” was nuclear deterrence and both the UK and France retains deterrence capability.

    EU spends plenty on defense. Russia attacking the EU without nukes would bounce. Hard. They can stomp on Georgia. They could take on the Ukrainians if they wanted to. But if they drove into Poland the Bundeswehr would pound them into the ground given current Russian readiness and training.

    The US spends a lot on offense. That we spent $682B is to maintain Pax Americana is our choice. There is great benefit to being the dominant world power. Something Libs (either left liberals or right libertarians) simply don’t get.

  173. @Alpheus
    “It is my understanding that the witch hunts of Medieval times were far worse in Europe than they were in England. ”

    They were far worse in the UK than in The Low Countries. What you try to say is that the witch hunts were very bad in parts of Germany and France, with periods of madness in assorted other countries. But witch hunts were patchy in the history of Europe.

    @Alpheus
    “While it may be tempting to conclude that England wasn’t as quick to embrace the superstitions of the times, it simply wasn’t so: England had mechanisms that discouraged the taking of life, liberty or property without due process, and their legal systems didn’t accept typical witch trials as “due process”, whereas in Europe, it was relatively easy to accuse someone as a witch, “try” them for the crime, and then profit from the so-called witches’ estates.”

    The UK was not the only one. Europe was never one country, not even continental Europe.

  174. @Alpheus
    “So I would propose a better term to describe the Great American Experiment would be “Individualist” rather than “Capitalist”; all the remaining experiments are really just “Collectivists””

    Your understanding of non-American economical policies are even worse than those of the witch hunts. Btw, if there is one country where Capital rules, it would be the USA.

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  176. @Winter

    Perhaps my understanding of the witch trials is incorrect; unfortunately I haven’t studied it in detail, and it’s also plausible that the essay I remember reading on the subject focused on a particular era of England, and a parallel time in Europe.

    As for my understanding of “non-American economical policies”, what makes you think I was talking about Europe? I’m willing to grant that Europe tends to focus on the Collectivist mindsets–that is, the belief that the Individual’s interests are to be consumed by the State–such attitudes are alive and well in the United States as well. Indeed, when comparing Europe and the United States, I see how America’s attitudes towards natural rights has influenced European countries, to one degree or another, to observe those rights themselves, if half-heartedly; but I also see how Europe’s attitude that Government must control All has permeated American politics.

    And I simply don’t see how Capital rules here in the United States. Neither Bill Gates, nor Warren Buffett, nor Oprah Winfrey nor even Ross Perot have any control over my life. (Perot couldn’t even use his vast fortune to become President! although it could be argued that he might not have been trying hard enough…) To the extent that Capital has control over my life, it’s because it’s influenced government to make rules–but the last time I checked, the various levels of Government aren’t run by “capital”, but by force under the color of Law. (Furthermore, as far as I could see, all those Collectivists around the world–the Monarchies, the Nazis, the Communists, the Socialists, the Progressives–weren’t and aren’t exactly lacking in capital, either, so in that sense, the difference between “Capitalism” and any other “Ism” is greatly blurred, at best.)

    It is possible to start with nothing, and grow to the point where one becomes prosperous. Technically, such activity can be done anywhere, but historically it’s been easier in the United States than in most other places in the world; such activity flourishes best when you can count on a system that respects life, liberty, and property.

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