Thursday, November 29, 2012

Query for Readers of The Machinery of Freedom

As I have mentioned here before, I am working on a third edition of Machinery. My current plan is what I did for the second edition—leave the existing text alone aside from minor changes and simply add a new section with the new material. 

My question is whether that is a good idea or whether I should attempt the more difficult task of rewriting the whole thing. The argument against is that the original was not really about the world in 1972; the logic of what I was doing was intended to apply much more generally than that. My views of some issues have deepened but not substantially changed. And the original seem to have worked for a good many readers. If it isn't broke, why fix it?

Also, I'm lazy.

The argument the other way is that a good deal of the new material relates to parts of the old. There is a chapter in the first edition on the problem of producing national defense without a government. There is another chapter on that subject that will be in the third edition. I could try to combine them into one chapter. 

Similarly, in the first edition I discussed the question of what the defining characteristic of a government was, how we distinguish governments from other institutions, given that pretty nearly every function performed by a government has also been performed, at some time and place, by something that isn't a government. My conclusion was that a government was an agency of legitimized coercion, with special definitions for both "legitimized" and "coercion." In the third edition I fill out that argument by asking how and in what sense any society can get out of the Hobbesian state of nature, offering an answer involving commitment strategies and Schelling points, and using that answer to more clearly explain what I meant by coercion and legitimized, hence what is special about a government.

I see three possible alternatives for dealing with such situations. One is to combine two chapters into one, eliminating some of the old material in the process. One is my present plan, a part V containing all the new material. An intermediate possibility is to retain the old material but intersperse it with the new, putting the new chapter on national defense immediately after the old, and similarly with the chapter on defining government.



Chase said...

I don't think rewriting the whole thing is necessary. As you say, the original worked for a good many readers and can be expected to for a good many more, regardless of what you choose to do.

With that said, I do think you should go through and update some of the more dated references and examples used to illustrate certain points. I re-read the 2nd edition recently and found some of the more overt "this was written in the '70s" stuff to be pretty distracting.

I also think it'd be a better idea to merge new chapters with the old whenever possible rather than simply append them to the end like you did last time. I know this would be a lot of work, but it would make for a much stronger book imo. You don't "owe" anyone the best you're capable of obv, and I'll be buying either way, but I'd appreciate having some thought and effort put into the organizational structure, and I think most casual readers would as well.

Either way, I'm excited to see the new stuff! =)

Chase said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philippe BĂ©langer said...

As someone whose ideas were very much shaped by TMOF, a complete re-writing would be awesome. I think integrating chapters about similar subjects would make for an easier and more interesting reading. I hope the book adresses recents debates about anarcho-capitalism by Cowen, Caplan and Stringham. Either way I will of course buy the new edition!

Matt said...

Maybe you could inset the new material within the chapters, block-quote style, kind of like a "director's commentary" on a DVD, a retrospective from the modern-day point of view.

Anonymous said...

"My question is whether that is a good idea or whether I should attempt the more difficult task of rewriting the whole thing."

Great question. Here's my response.

I don't know.

Would it be possible to have someone else do the rewriting so that you can focus on the new material?

The reason I say that is because I believe your specialty and interest is in adding new material to the existing book. If you're feeling lazy about rewriting the entire book, that feeling probably won't go away, and it may come back to bite you. It may prevent you from doing other valuable stuff or may result in you not finishing.

With that said, I don't think you realize how valuable a completely rewritten and polished version of Machinery book would be!

I suggest dividing the work if you can. Take the simple step of adding the new material to the existing book, and consider a follow-on project of working on a complete rewrite with another talented writer or doing it yourself at a later date.

The complete rewrite of Machinery would be a concise and polished version targeted at a wider audience mainly written by a Michael Crichton-talented writer with you acting as a consultant or co-author. I would suggest toning down the radical language in the book and marketing it as though Apple were trying to sell it to hundreds of millions of people. This level of marketing and this type of writing isn't something I think you're interested in, but I think you can help make it happen.

By the way have you considered using iBooks Author?

Anonymous said...

I agree with what Matt said - you should do it in the form of commentary on your original ideas. Make the text stand out in a way that can be easily recognized, and then you can have all the freedom you need to elaborate or criticize your original thinking without endangering the integrity of the original work.

Wheylous said...

More-recent numbers would be nice (where you quote dollar amounts).

Clayton said...

I would be interested to see your thoughts on Seasteading as well as the experience of the recent Honduras experiment in terms of their relative potentials as strategies to implementing a "machinery of freedom." What I'm particularly interested in is seeing some kind of "abstraction" of the lessons of these (ongoing) experiments - is there a generic cost-benefit analysis that can be applied to cultural-community experimentation, whatever its particular form? Some experiments (e.g. Seasteading) are very isolated and others (e.g. pamphleteering) are fully integrated. Both have costs and both have the potential to provide benefits in terms of increased liberty, even if indirectly (i.e. pushing politicians to adopt more liberty-friendly policies on threat of losing tax-revenues, etc.)

I know that doesn't answer the question in your blog post but just thought I'd throw in the suggestion FWIW.

Joey said...

As someone who read the book, a "director's commentary" will be a cool novelty, but if your aim is to re-market the book to a new audience, I don't think that will serve you well. A director's cut isn't very welcoming to new readers; it gives the impression that it's a gift to the die-hard fans only.

That said, I like the first anonymous' idea. A new release targeted to a wider audience would be great! I imagine it will be easy to get publicity from libertarian websites, especially if you give it a fresh coat of paint, do some reorganization, and update some of the examples. People like currency.

I understand that could be a lot of work; is there a deadline? Why not take your time with it? Books can always be improved, and its potential will grow with the libertarian movement.

Will buy regardless; I don't have a paper copy.

Unknown said...

Please include a new section on the American West and the anarchic institutions in it. I know you use medieval Iceland, but its hard to get people to take Iceland as an example of anything.

Joseph said...

1.Also, I'm lazy.

That is bad news, since I and many other readers are also lazy. I prefer to copy your own analysis now then someday do the research myself. That is harder to do if the institutions analysed have since changed.

2. MOF recently led to me arguing in favor of Texas' right to succeed and similarly for Scotland in the UK, based on the idea of government competition producing a positive result. I realized that by convincing people that splitting governments up is a good idea, it can lead people towards ancap conclusions even if those people are not conventionally libertarian. I wonder if you think that is a good idea, or a good way to approach the argument for anarchy.

3. I always think that if only I were writing a book, I could say everything. I have now written a book and am forced to conclude that if only I were writing an encyclopedia...

If only... I have to resist the temptation to suggest vaguely related things like "corn laws" and "margaret thatcher" in the hope of seeing what you write about them.

jdgalt said...

A new edition of TMOF would be wonderful, and I'd certainly buy it; naturally it's up to you what sort of effort you want to put into it. But since the point (or one of them) of the original work seems to be to answer a lot of the arguments libertarians make for or against certain ways of trying to cope with, or escape, overgrown government, I would suggest that you solicit some counter-arguments to the second edition, and respond to some deserving subset of them.

This might best be done by adding an update section at the end of most chapters, as Heinlein did when he published a set of predictions of the year 2000 in 1950, and added updates in 1970 and 1985.

Eitan said...

You mentioned the point that you are lazy. Well, so are some of your readers who read and enjoyed the previous edition. Make new chapters, so I can just read those :-D

David R. Henderson said...

I don't have an answer to your question, but in my marked-up copy, I've noted where some numbers you have are highly misleading. You can't assume that people will automatically correct carefully for inflation and size of the economy. One sore thumb: your estimate of total annual tips.

jscoppe said...

I ultimately agree with Matt and at least one other person about the 'block quote' style commentary, which would preserve the original as much as possible.

But perhaps a rewrite might make for a better end-product. I would suggest calling it something like TMoF "2.0" or something like that, so people know it's even more different than just some new information added in, as is typical with a new edition. The amount of work that would go into a full rewrite means it deserves to be treated as more than just a glorified re-release with some bonus material added in.

Jonathan said...

As we've seen, there are various possible strategies, which can be laid out in a spectrum.

1. Rewrite the whole thing from scratch.

2. Rewrite the whole thing seamlessly with one coherent structure, but keep some of the old text where it still seems good.

3. Keep the old text in full with some minor updates, but interleave it with new text.

4. Keep the old text in full with some minor updates, but add new text at the end of some or all chapters.

5. Keep the old text in full with some minor updates, but add a new bunch of chapters at the end of the book.

6. Keep the old text completely unchanged, but add a new bunch of chapters at the end of the book.

In this spectrum, the best result for readers is at the beginning, and the easiest process for you as the writer is at the end. Perhaps some compromise in the middle may be feasible?

I think numbers 5 and 6 are better than no new edition at all, but do you really want to be represented by a book in which a chapter on subject A is followed much later by another chapter on the same subject? It may be a third edition to you, but it's the only edition to anyone who hasn't seen the earlier editions; and in the future it will become the only edition seen by anyone (unless you write fourth and fifth editions...).

Anonymous said...

bro what about religion in usa?

the idea of competing legal systems parallels what is happening and has been going on in religion. different denominations and religions offer different methods of dispute resolution (e.g. Peacemaker Ministries) and one is free to change one's religion in usa.

of course there is normal arbitration for business but that is expensive for private individuals. so getting one's church to try to resolve disputes is much cheaper.

Austin said...

1. Save time by doing a simple update.

2. Use the saved time to write another book.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan is missing one at the top, "rewrite the book and release it with a 6-part TV series" =)

Jonathan said...

I agree with Anonymous about the TV series. I remember being intrigued and persuaded by the "Free to choose" series in 1980.

William H. Stoddard said...

If you're going to introduce new content, I would rather see it kept separate from the old. I prefer to be able to follow the original presentation, and not have it vanish down the memory hole. If you do a radical rewrite I'd rather see it under a new title, as a new work.

Joseph said...

To Anonymous:

Religion in general seems to be benefiting by competition. In the UK, older churches seem to be getting replaced by the American-imported culture of megachurches, since rock music and special effects allow them to appeal to broader audience.

The idea of them offering dispute resolution is very interesting to hear. I wonder how it will develop.

Jonathan said...

William: It seems to me that anyone who already has the 1st or 2nd editions (I have both), and wants to retain access to them exactly as they were, can simply hang on to the editions he or she already has, after buying the 3rd edition.

People encountering the 3rd edition as their first copy of the book are unlikely to be consumed with a lust to read the earlier editions; those who want to do so can find the full text on the Web, or could probably find a second-hand paper copy.

I see nothing wrong with a radical rewrite appearing under a different title, but I imagine that the original book would probably then drop out of print.

Judging from the original post, a radical rewrite of the whole book doesn't seem likely.

Anonymous said...

1. MOF is a fabulous book that completely changed the way I thought about the world.

2. Although I haven't read it in twenty years, I remember it as holding together so well that I can see the "lazy" case against re-writing it.

3. A fantasy Michael Crichton/David Friedman that is more geared towards a popular audience is a cool idea, but not likely to happen.

4. Although "David Friedman's NEW AND IMPROVED version" is appealing, the higher priority is to expand the market for the book.

5. An approach that would combine:

A. An opportunity to update
B. An opportunity to expand the market for the product

would be to issue an edition of the book that combined brief passages from Milton Friedman that hinted at the David Friedman direction, followed by later passages from Patri Friedman that took David Friedman in interesting new directions of thought and action. David Friedman could comment on any and all aspects of this.

Maybe an intern or crowd sourcing could identify the Milton Friedman passages. Patri would probably do his part. David can certainly engage in commentary, which is much easier than re-creating and updating an entire coherent book.

The immense marketing advantage of this kind of book would be that it would attract people interested in the similarities and differences, as well as the genealogical development, of the thought of all three. Because each of the three of you have significant audiences of your own, as well as commentators and critics who may be interested in the more extended "Friedman legacy," such a book product would have a much larger draw than would a simple update of MOF.

Plus, done right, it might be interesting and fun to put together.

Anonymous said...

David, rewrite - or at least read-filter - the entire document.

Make that which is clear, clearer. Make that which is wrong, right. Make that which has changed modified.

You're not lazy, you're comfortable!

Less Antman said...

In baseball, the manager's decision on which 9 players he should have in his batting lineup is FAR more important than the decision on the lineup order.

Whatever the merit of integrating the new material with the older chapters, it just isn't important enough to become a reason to delay the completion of the book or take additional time away from your continued research on new topics.

Anonymous said...

I think what is most helpful is to focus on what has changed in your thinking from your 1970's self and why you changed your point of view over time (however you accomplish that in the fastest time).

Chase said...

In baseball, the manager's decision on which 9 players he should have in his batting lineup is FAR more important than the decision on the lineup order.

This is definitely wrong for certain players and certain potential lineups. That is, two teams with completely different rosters can have a smaller EV gap between them than the EV gap between either team with an optimal vs. suboptimal batting order. The quoted statement is only true for trivial situations where we're comparing players of vastly differing quality. When comparing players of similar quality, it can easily be the case that lineup order trumps lineup selection in importance.

I actually think this is a really good analogy, but you've drawn the wrong conclusion from it. If the opportunity cost to David of re-writing/re-structuring much of the book is so large that it prevents him from including new material he would otherwise publish, then I agree that he should forego doing so. If, however, the only drawback is inconvenience for the author or a delayed publication date, I think the decision should swing the other way. Ultimately depends on the value David places on his free time vs. putting out the best possible product, really.

Whatever the merit of integrating the new material with the older chapters, it just isn't important enough to become a reason to delay the completion of the book or take additional time away from your continued research on new topics.

I disagree with this. Whether the book is published in 2020 or 2021 doesn't matter much; the same holds for whether it's published in 2013 or 2014. However, the value added by re-writing/re-structuring the book and integrating the new material into the body rather than simply tacking it on to the end could prove to be substantial. And David's continued research/discoveries have no innate value, at least to anyone other than him; all that matters is what he publishes/publicizes. If an aesthetic overhaul will broaden the audience of the work, I think it should be done.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

How about the new chapters as a separate book, and a light polish (updating the prices and any other obvious tweaks) for TMF?

Anonymous said...

TMOF was excellent and hugely inspiring. Obviously I'm going to suggest you re-write everything, because I want to read more.

Athanasios Ghikas said...

I vote for separation of the new material so that we can check for dogmatic consistency.

Don said...

Of course, add anything new that you wish. New material (in any form, separate or integrated) will be appreciated.

As for the original material, I think simply updating the examples would help it find a new audience. There are two ways to do this:

1) Update the numbers so it doesn't read "Suppose a new home owner pays $125.00 a month for his mortgage" and things like that. They are just jarring to a new reader, especially one who comes to this type of material for the first time.

2) Update any examples that seem to drag the reader back to 1970. I can't think of any offhand, but I remember a few times suddenly having images of hippies, peace marches and the like.

There is nothing wrong with 1) or 2) above in the present book. I'm thinking in terms of MOF getting "a whole new audience" and that sort of thing.

You could possibly get someone else to do 1) for you.

Don said...

One more suggestion: an index is always nice for this type of book. Yes, I know, the book is easily searchable in PDF form and through Google Books. Perhaps I'm old fashioned in that respect (computers do horrible indexes; more like alphabetical concordances).

Problems: indexes are mind numbing marches of death if you are the author and not accustomed to doing them. And, hiring a professional indexer costs money.

BUT -- if there is a fan out there who does indexes (a librarian or information specialist) you might get it done as a labor of love.

Unknown said...

I don't know that you would gain much by altering the whole document, specially if you thank that there isn't much to update in the first place. I don't think that the book's purpose - trying to persuade others to join the libertarian cause - would not by accomplished much further.

It wouldn't be time well spent.

I'd say it is best to add the new material at the end and - only when it is easy - alter the specific chapters where new material is at hand.

RJ Miller said...

I just recently started reading the second edition again for what may be the fifth time now and one thing remains clear:

You do not need to rewrite that material.


The nature of the debate has changed very little over the last few decades, and one of the strengths of your book is that so much of the material is relatively timeless.

Everything in part one is primarily about the nature of private property, how people operate under it, the history of how it played out in the past, etc. Nothing about any of those has changed today.

The only chapter with anything dated in part one is "Robin Hood Sells Out" which has some statistics on money transfers that could use some updating.

Part two has a few chapters that require some updated figures - in particular the one on voucher schooling. You might want to mention the growth of school choice and the DC system's results:

But again, I see little beyond that which needs to be changed.

Part three especially has very little that requires updating since it primarily deals with analytic defenses of Anarcho-Capitalism.

Same applies to part four - which is pretty much a mix of philosophy, econ, and history. Not much has changed over the past few years that makes any of those chapters obsolete.


Updating the statistics where they are present in the second edition is enough. From there I think it might be helpful to have something here on your blog or your personal site that serves as a one-stop source for updated statistics; something I plan on doing with a book I have in progress.

By the way, are you likely sticking with the new chapter list you highlighted the post below?

Perry E. Metzger said...

Sorry for jumping in late, I only just saw this.

I think the old material is excellent and largely stands up, but in many cases probably would be improved by minor edits. There are numbers and facts that are 30 years out of date here and there, a few spots where the language dates the book badly. As one example, you cite financial figures for the Social Security system at one point which are now many decades old.

A few judicious edits here and there would probably improve things. I would do a close reading and make the needed minor updates here and there.

Joe said...

In the first section I'd like to see a more detailed analysis of:
1. Whether most government spending does not go to the poor in practice, as public choice theory predicts.
2. The degree of spending which the poor pay in tax, even if they don't pay income tax. The farm program and food is a good example, but I suspect you have more examples.

Joe said...

Another suggestion.

I've seen it suggested on the net that the reason co-operatives don't dominate already is because the State does not allow them to. That legal structures are stacked against them.

I don't have the expertise to judge the truth of that. They didn't provide any evidence. But you might be interested.

It also seems necessary to redo the calculations for workers buying their own companies. Wages and productivity divorced in the early 70s and have been growing further apart since.