Saturday, November 16, 2013

A romp through contrary ideas of government's role

Woke up around 2 and couldn't sleep, so I came down and broke out some Ted talks.  This morning, what appealed to me were the government ones that showed a view contrary to mine:

I'll grant that government funding and support has pushed advances in many fields.  However, the market-shaping that government does is inappropriate, driven mainly by bureaucratic and political interests; there are only so many good examples of innovation because government has been involved in every aspect of our lives!  The negatives and unintended consequences of so much intervention far outweigh the positives.  I believe we would be much better off without some of our current technology (including space and medicine and computers and atomic energy), growing at a pace that is supported by voluntary investment.

I'll agree, too, with the proposition that government-funded innovations and research should yield a return.  There is no excuse for privatization of resources that have been forcibly taken from taxpayers.  Of course, I recommend a slightly different take: the results of these investments should be made available to all, without restriction, rather than being employed privately by anyone, neither in a company boardroom nor in a government office nor in a military base.

He's totally focused on the market of dollars and cents.  That's the market I trust the least.  So I guess I agree with him there!  But there are other markets that make appropriate foundations for our "civic life."

I was going to add this comment, but Steve already did... and I couldn't resist the prompt to expand on it:

  • Oct 21 2013: There is a prevalent assumption in this talk that the only kind of market there can be is a monetized one, which is a bit like saying age is the only way to measure a child's progress.
    • Nov 8 2013: your comment is completely opaque. could you elaborate? Markets mean money in this here USA.
      Are you referring to indulgences from the 10th century?
      • I believe he is talking about a broader meaning of market, eg. "one of the many varieties of systems... whereby parties engage in exchange" (Wikipedia). Any social exchange becomes a market, so we can talk about the market for singles to find a good time and even a mate; for students to find a fitting educational environment; for workers to find an appropriate job; for social change-makers to find fertile ground for their ideas; and even for children to find the place where they will be loved and accepted. All these are exchanges, and I think we'd agree that there are many more dimensions than raw money that influence these trades and implicit contracts.

        This is my complaint with Sandel's talk as well: he only discusses the market of money/currency... meaning, in the USA, the system of the Federal Reserve and the Federal Treasury (and the supporting laws regarding tracking, lobbying, etc). I believe that particular market is rather unjust... so I guess I'd agree with him on that one. But there are so many other motivators that drive people to exchange their time and attention and effort, and it would be great if we paid more attention to those markets... markets which will always be voluntary... markets which give genuine, lasting rewards to the participants as opposed to artifacts generated by organizations.

        And I'll go further: I trust the aggregate choices driven by our common humanity much more than I trust the military-industrial-financial complex that currently serves as our civic governance in the US. I believe that we can build civil systems based on these other markets, contracting with one another rather than with a police-enforced government. (Unfortunately, I also believe it'll take a few generations.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jefferson: "a little rebellion now and then is a good thing"

A friend of mine saw this note from Thomas Jefferson and thought I may have something to say about it:

"Societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments wherein the will of every one has a just influence, as is the case in England in a slight degree, and in our states in a great one. 3. Under governments of force: as is the case in all other monarchies and in most of the other republics. To have an idea of the curse of existence under these last, they must be seen. It is a government of wolves over sheep. It is a problem, not clear in my mind, that the 1st. condition is not the best. But I believe it to be inconsistent with any great degree of population. The second state has a great deal of good in it. The mass of mankind under that enjoys a precious degree of liberty and happiness. It has it's evils too: the principal of which is the turbulence to which it is subject. But weigh this against the oppressions of monarchy, and it becomes nothing. Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem. Even this evil is productive of good. It prevents the degeneracy of government, and nourishes a general attention to the public affairs. I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." - Jefferson to James Madison, January 30, 1787

I think the American Experiment has shown that even a well-defined, limited set of powers will be expanded and abused by those who gain power (whether in a republic or a democracy).  This country has become become oppressive and violent.  So it's good to see that Jefferson recognized the need for a little rebellion.

But dismissing anarchy (ie. no government, option #1) shows a lack of imagination.  I might actually agree with him that it may not support the kind of society we have... I don't think we'd have atomic energy (or bombs) nor would we have the space technology we have today, and maybe we couldn't support such a large population, either.  However, I see that as an upside: power would not be concentrated in so few people's hands, families and communities would be more connected (out of necessity), and lives would be richer (in the spiritual sense, not an economic/comfortable sense).

It can be hard to see how to apply it, and it requires a massive rework of our social conventions.  For example, how can we get to where people will not be driven by fear to hire mercenaries to "protect our interests" in other people's lands (or states or even nearby cities)?  I'm afraid it'll require massive education before it'll work... probably spanning generations.  But it's really cool to think about it all... for example, the basis of possession as opposed to private property:
Anyway, back to Jefferson's point: a little rebellion is a good thing.  I wholeheartedly agree.  And I think we're overdue for one.