Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Different David Friedman

A Trump advisor named David Friedman has been announced as his choice for ambassador to Israel. At least one news story on the event had my picture and I have just gotten an invitation from the Indian embassy to a Hanukkah event.

Not me. But the Picture is

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Two Visions of Anarchy–My Exchange With James Scott

A few weeks ago I had a debate on anarchy with James Scott, a writer whose books I find interesting. Robert Ellickson was moderator cum participant. It has now been webbed.

I have read two of Scott's books. One, The Art of Not Being Governed, is about the existence of extensive stateless areas in South-east Asia over a very long period of time. From the standpoint of the adjacent states, the stateless areas, typically hills, mountains, and swamps, are populated by primitive people who have not yet developed far enough to create or join states--"our ancestors." By Scott's account, on the other hand, much of the population of the stateless areas is descended from people who were once in states, much of the population of the states from people who were once stateless. The pattern as he sees it is a long term equilibrium based on the difficulty of maintaining a state when population densities are low and transport and communication slow. When a state is doing well it pulls in people, whether voluntary immigrants or the captives of slave raids, from the adjacent stateless areas. When the state is doing badly, the flow of people goes in the other direction, fleeing taxes, conscription, and other benefits of being ruled. 

Part of what I found interesting was Scott's discussion of features of stateless areas that make it unprofitable for adjacent states to annex them. It was very much an economist's point of view and suggested an approach to the question of how a modern anarchist society could avoid annexation by adjacent states that I had not considered. In my writing I have described that as the problem of national defense. What Scott's account implies is that military defense is only one part of a broader set of solutions.

The other book I read is Seeing Like a State. Its central theme is the ways in which states have attempted to reorganize societies in order to make them easier to rule, to make the territory look more like the rulers' necessarily simplified map. It is harder to rule a country if the people do not all speak the same language. It is harder to tax land if the country contains a wide variety of systems of land tenure and units of measurement. It is harder to keep track of who has or has not been conscripted if there is no uniform and consistent system of names. It may be possible, sometimes has been possible, to change those features of a country to make it easier to rule and tax.

A secondary theme is the amount of damage that states have done in the process of revising societies to be easier to rule and ruling them. While it was obvious to the author that his account would be attractive to market libertarians such as myself, he went to some trouble to make it clear that he was not himself one of those icky market libertarians. His part of the exchange linked to above may help suggest why.

Another theme that he devotes considerable attention to is what he describes as "high modernism," the belief that modern science lets us figure out how everyone should do things and, once we have figured it out, we should make them do it that way. Examples include planned cities, Soviet collective farms and attempts by first world agronomists to tell third world peasants what to plant.

Adam Smith had something to say on the subject:
The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.

It All Depends Whose Ox is Gored

Recent news stories claim that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump. How accurate the claim is I don't know. What seems clear is that the reaction of Americans is that doing that is wrong, cheating, meddling in our affairs. That is why, during the election, the story was popular with Trump's opponents. I expect it still is.

During the build-up to the Brexit vote, Barack Obama gave a talk in the U.K. in which he strongly hinted that if Britain pulled out of the E.U., leaving it free to negotiate its own trade agreements with other countries, the U.S. would not be eager to join such an agreement--“The UK is going to be in the back of the queue.” Pretty obviously, it was an attempt to influence the vote on the referendum. 

I am not sure if its actual effect was in the intended direction or the opposite direction. My impression at the time was that, while most Americans saw nothing wrong with Obama's talk, many in Britain resented the attempt to influence their voting. 

Which explains the title of this post.