The Morality of Socialism

For some reason in the news recently there has been a great deal of discussion about socialism, most often with respect to the Obama health care plan. Before I start ripping into socialism as an idea, I think it’s important for me to point out that I see virtually nothing in any Obama policy that smacks of socialism.

Socialism as a theoretical framework is quite simple to disprove on moral grounds- by any classical argument in favor of the inalienable right of property. However, the people who advocate for welfare programs tend to disagree on the grounds that property is not an inalienable right. Moreover, they will argue that there are people who need help, who are unable to help themselves, and that the agency to help them may as well be the government. Especially since the government is in the business of taking responsibility for its citizens. So the issue is not as clear-cut as many conservatives will claim it is. In fact, I would say pretty much everything is more complex and nuanced than any conservative in the media has the neurons to understand. On the other hand, conservatives do tend to be conservative because deductions from moral frameworks make sense to them, where a liberal instead prefers arguments from emotion, relativism, and pragmatism in chaos. This is not to say that the political strategies they use reflects these paradigms, in fact it tends to be the opposite, where conservatives use smear campaigns, evocative language, and outright lies, and liberals use deliberate logical arguments from effect, which are principally arguments from pragmatism. It is somewhat sad that nobody seems able to reconcile theory with pragmatism- it’s not terribly difficult as long as the theory is sufficiently complete and the points where it is flexible are known.

Anyway, modern “socialism” is really a question of whether liberal democratic welfare programs are morally justified. The conservatives throw hissy fits and cry socialism, and the liberals claim it will address the issues. The conservatives claim the government is going to increase taxes to finance wasteful programs, the liberals claim big business is screwing everyone over and Big Daddy government must step in to save us.

First of all, I would like to point out that both sides of the argument are intrinsically linked, like two sides of a coin. Capitalism allows for owners and shareholders to profit from their businesses and holdings, which can through some wrangling be framed as waste. Conversely, the government can take some of the money in circulation through commerce and salary in sales and income tax, and that can be framed as a waste. There is a finite amount of money in circulation, and claiming that it is a waste when party :X acquires it is erroneous. My reason for this is that it is the nature of money to be spent. Government taxes, in large part, recirculate back into the economy because the government pays for services, in very large part to parties in their own country. Similarly, big business takes its money and either reinvests into itself, pays off its suppliers, or ends up in its employees and executives’ bank accounts. It could be said that overseas commerce and outsourcing “leaks” money, but that is absurd. In the act of paying for labor, a service or act of production is purchased in return, which presumably is worth more than the cost of the labor or it wouldn’t be worth making. If this product is then sold, a profit is made, and also the worker now has a little cash to spend which will recirculate. This process in economics is called the multiplier effect, where one dollar actually does a great deal more than one dollar’s work in the course of a year because it changes hands many times. So this issue of “it’s a waste if X acquires money” is really a question over who has control of that money. The one who controls that money has just that measure of extra power. So, which entity would you vest that power in? This is the fundamental question of welfare programs.

Now, as much as it pains the anarcho-capitalist in me to say this, you don’t necessarily want a company as they exist today to handle some concerns. Development of civilization proceeds in many dimensions, not just technological. The invention of the check caused a revolution of the “web of trust” between people and financial institutions. Before that network existed, credit as we know it was inconceivable. It was a recipe for being ripped off, and the economy was locked into a coin-or-barter mode, except between friends. In truth, it’s not as clean as the development of a technology, for example laws against usury and distrust of Jews and all this nonsense. Anyway, my point is that social development of society allows things which could not have happened before in a similar way that technological development does, it’s just as absolute as “the invention of the airplane- 1904- now we can fly!” It is my belief that government is one of those features that has been evolved over time, and whose evolution is not yet finished. At some time in the future we will not need it anymore, but given our current level of societal development and technological capability, it is most likely a necessary evil. This is not to say we should not try to develop past it as quickly as possible.

Karl Marx was unquestionably a brilliant man, although his theories are not exactly the font of human social development. Nevertheless I think he may have contributed at least one very important idea to the body of human knowledge. When the power of production drastically outstrips the wants and needs of an entire society, then we will have a utopia, materially at least, where everyone has everything they want. The social side is a separate issue, and is in my opinion infinitely more important to creating the sort of utopia that all theoretical political science is predicated upon producing. Now the question is, what is the best method of reaching a stage when we have that sort of productive power at our fingertips? Is it welfare programs, or by technological innovation? My favorite new and upcoming technology is rapid prototyping- check out RepRap. This one technology has the power to obviate material products at a stroke, by having a ubiquitous machine that can produce nearly anything. More advanced later versions will follow quickly, using that very device, and we may well have a true make-anything-machine very soon after that. Now, Marx believed that this world would be Communist in nature. I would react that communism is essentially capitalism where money is no longer relevant in day-to-day life. The best explanation for this is that goods and services change hands so easily that the monetary system is not worth its upkeep.

Those who argue that there are people who are poor and destitute need to be helped by the government providing welfare programs are reacting instinctively, their conscience is grating against the injustice. To some extent that’s fine, although it gets a little out of hand when you see this righteous indignation that some people are fabulously wealthy while others are poor. In any reasonable world there will be a set of choices which anyone can choose from, some of which will result in poverty. I don’t mean to say that all poverty is controllable- there are many, many unfortunates who had no opportunity to do anything else. The mentally ill, the handicapped, the people saddled with medical bills unexpectedly, there are all kinds of possibilities for being poor beyond all control. One stance is that the problem then becomes to differentiate between the deserving and the undeserving. My issue with this position is that any judgment on who is deserving and who is not is made by an agent who will lack a clear and objective metric. So whoever chooses to help one or more of these people is excluding others for subjective reasons. The only way this could possibly work is if it is entirely acceptable for those subjective reasons to be valid, and subjectivity is not something a government should EVER mix itself up in, because then corruption and misuse of public resources will run rampant. So private organizations should pick up the slack, offering resources where they can or choose to, and if they exclude someone for subjective or arbitrary or even completely bone-deep-corrupt reasons, it’s not morally nice but it is entirely within their purview. The government, on the other hand, by reserving the use of force restricts itself to a much higher moral standard that is virtually impossible to meet for beings with human-level intelligence, much less a conglomerate of them. A corruption of the use of force is a terrible, terrible moral crime, while a refusal to give alms to a beggar, however deserving, is not a big deal. Any policy the government might use to help the poor is subject to a host of issues stemming from this problem. But then, so does everything the government does, so it’s not like this will deter them.

My central point is that pragmatism at the expense of ethics is a bad idea in the long run, no matter how good your intentions. The poor and the underprivileged are much better served by advancing technology and social progress than by any attempt to simply hand them their daily bread. Now, I would be open to an argument that instituting government health care is itself a push towards social progress, but that is a very different type of argument than nearly all arguments being put forth in its defense, which tend to run something along the lines of “evil insurance companies! government good! Simple solution!” With the other side pretty much barking the reverse, and decrying that the solution is just as simple. It is not simple, and I hope to hear some real arguments for a change, instead of catering to the reptilian brain of people too stupid to think their way out of a wet cardboard box.

The St. Petersburg Paradox

I’m in more of a mathematical mood right now, so I’m going to cover a piece of abstract mathematics.  I want to talk about the St. Petersburg Paradox.  While a famous problem, you can wikipedia it for more information if you like, here’s a short summary.  Imagine we have a game of flipping a coin.  Starting at $1, every time the coin lands heads, you double that amount.  When it eventually lands tails you win however much you have earned so far.  How much should it cost to play?

Now I very much enjoy this problem in a pure mathematical sense, but Daniel Bernoulli, the man who invented it, apparently took the mathematics of this problem rather too far.  Bernoulli noticed, as the more astute among you probably either deduced, or probably already knew, that the game’s expected value is in fact infinite.  This means that no matter what the cost to play, you should always accept.  However most common people wouldn’t pay even $50 to play this game.  Bernoulli deduced from mathematical bases a utility function of the game which would explain this behavior using a logarithmic idea of value.  He supposed that people’s valuation of money decreases as the amount of money they possess increases, or to use another term, he proposed a diminishing marginal utility function for money.  While this approach, I guess, works, the even more astute among you will have noticed that this doesn’t actually solve the paradox.  You can just have a game’s payoff function that uses the inverse of whatever utility function and still end up with an infinite payoff that nobody will take.  Other mathematicians have wrestled with this problem, and so far the conclusion, as far as I am aware, is that utility must be bounded in order to resolve this type of paradox.

Now, I am not a professional mathematician, but I believe that I have solved this paradox.  SImply put, all these mathematicians have been assuming that people have the same conception of reality that they are working with; a mathematical one.  These mathematicians have assumed that people think of money as a number.  That seems obvious, right?  Money is measured numerically.  Well, yes, but the fact that different people have different ideas of what money or other commodities are valued at means that it isn’t a number.  Numbers are objective, inherently.  Two people must categorically agree that a 7 is a 7, it always was, is, and will be 7, and that 7 = 7, which also equals 6 + 1 and an infinitude of other identities.  However we all know that two people might have a differing opinion of various exchanges, such as $3 for a mango, for example.  Someone who loves mangoes might buy at that price, someone who doesn’t, won’t.  So we can’t say that $3 = 1 mango in the same way that we can say that 7 = 7, even if all mangoes in the world were always bought and sold for that price.

The issue here is that these mathematicians, while brilliant direct deductive thinkers, think of the universe in a flatly rational way.  While this is probably the best single perspective through which to view the universe, it fails when dealing with people that lack a similar rational strictness.  Have you ever been beaten by someone at a game you were clearly better at, simply because the other player just refused to play “properly”?  This happens all the time in poker and numerous gambling or card games.  In games like chess this rarely happens because in a game of perfect information, “proper” play can be categorically proven to be superior during the game itself.  If it would result in a bad situation, then it isn’t proper play.  Where information is limited, “proper” play might land you in situations you couldn’t predict or prevent.  Anyway, a more textured view of the perception of the universe would allow for nonlinear and unconventional conceptual modes for perceiving the universe.  For example, perhaps a certain subsection of people conceive of money like power.  The actual number isn’t as relevant as the power it holds to create exchanges.  The numbers are negotiable based on the situation and on the value sets of the parties involved  So the St. Petersburg Paradox could be equally resolved by saying that power doesn’t scale in the same way that money does.  If you offered someone a utility function of power, it would mean nothing.  Power is not infinitely reducible: the ability to do something doesn’t blend seamlessly into the ability to do something else.  The atomic unit of power is much larger than the infinitely fine divisions between any given numbers.  Having ten very small amounts of additional power is also not the same thing as one very large new executive power.

People can link together abstractions and concepts in many, many different ways.  For example, some successful investors say that instead of looking at your money like it’s your fruit, look at it like your bag of seed with which to grow more seeds.  True, you’re going to have to sell some of those seeds to get what you need, but its purpose is to grow.  As you accumulate more and more, the amount you can draw off increases while still maintaining useful volume.  This gives a completely different outlook on money, and will generate different decision behavior than looking at money as something to be spent as it is earned.  This same principle can apply anywhere at all, because in order for something to exist in your perceptual map, you have to think about it.  You might think of movies like books that have been converted, like picture books, like snatches of real-life experience, like a sequence of scenes strung together like string being tied together, or like a strip that runs through its full length in only one direction the same way every time.  There are other possibilities of course, but that’s as many as I could think of while I was in the process of typing this post.  This is only looking at a small slice of the possibilities of conceptual remapping (analogues and analogies, specifically) but other forms would require a great deal more explanation.  I think you get the point though.

Back to mathematicians and the St. Petersburg Paradox.  The paradox only exists if you look at utility in the mathematical sense.  There exist models, such as the one that “common sense” seems to indicate, that don’t see a paradox.  These models instead see a game that has a sliding scale of value and beyond a certain point the value is zero (or negligible).  This gradual fading of value is responsible for the probable effect of many people deciding to play the game at differing values.  I don’t think even the most hardcore mathematician would play the game for $1 million a round, even though it will eventually pay for itself.  The utility solution fails to take into account the common sense evaluation of time and effort as factors in any given activity.  You could factor in such an evaluation, but you would probably then be missing something else, and so on until you have built up a complete map of the common sense and shared perceptual map of the most common conceptual space.  But then you have duplicated the entire structure you’re attempting to model and created a simulation instead of a simplification.

On simulations and conventional models, we currently use both.  Our simulations, however, tend to be based in the real world, and we refer to them as experiments.  This is how we collect evidence.  The problem with the natural universe is that there is such an unimaginable profusion of activity and information that we can’t pick out any particular aspect to study.  An experiment is controlling all those other extraneous factors, or removing/minimizing them from a confusing universe so we can focus on a single test.  Once we have our results from that test we can move on to test another part of reality.  Eventually we will have built up a complete picture of what’s going on.  Simulations are data overkill from which we can draw inductive conclusions because we don’t understand all the underlying mechanics.  Models are streamlined flows, as simple and spare as possible, which we can use to draw deductive conclusions.  For example, the equation for displacement for a falling object [dp = v0*t + (1/2)a^2*t] is a simplified model, subtracting all other factors than the one being considered, allowing us to deductively conclude the displacement for any values of v0, t, and a.  Mathematical conclusions are a sequence of deductive operations, both to make mathematical proofs and to solve/apply any given instance of an equation/expression/situation/etc.

Our minds operate on the most basic level using models primarily, and simulations second.  This is because most of the time, a model is close enough.  You don’t need to include every factor in order to get an answer at sufficient precision.  You don’t have to factor in the time, the temperature, or the quantum wobble of each atom in a baseball to figure out where it’s going to land.  If you wanted a perfect answer you could simulate it, but you can get it to an extremely high level of precision by simply ignoring all those marginal factors.  They are not worth computing.  Now we are beginning to factor in the distinction I’ve brought up before between algorithms and heuristics.  Models are often heuristics, and simulations are often algorithms.  Models can include algorithms and simulations can include heuristics, but on the whole a simulation (given correct laws and good starting conditions) will algorithmically compute exactly what is going to happen.  A model, on the other hand, is a much more efficient process that throws away data in order to make calculation simpler.  Usually a lot simpler.

Now I am willing to bet that some readers will be confused.  I just said that simulations need the right laws and starting conditions- isn’t that the same thing as a deductive process needing the right logical framework and initial premises?  Well, yes.  That’s because a logical construct is a simulation.  However, it is a simulation constructed using information already stripped of extraneous information by creating a model of it.  The line between model and simulation is not black and white- they are simply approximate labels for the extremes of a spectrum, with conflicting ideals.  The perfect model is one law that determines everything.  The perfect simulation is a colossal, gigantically massive data stream that represents everything, down to the last spin on the last electron.  This is also where we get the fundamental distinction between philosophers: the conflict of rationalism versus empiricism.  The rationalists believe the model to be the “one true philosophical medium” and the empiricists believe it’s better to use simulations.  The tricky part is that in order to construct a simulation, you have to have models to run each of its laws and each of its elements.  In order to have a model, you have to have a simulation to draw patterns from.  So we have an infinite recursion where rationalists and empiricists are chasing one another’s coattails for all eternity.  Fortunately, most people who have thought about this much have come to more or less the same conclusion, and figured out that rationalism and empiricism go hand it hand quite nicely.  However there is still a preference for choosing to understand the world through one mode or the other.

How does all this apply to the original issue of the St. Petersburg Paradox?  So we have mathematicians who are definitely rationalists- I imagine there aren’t many professional mathematicians who are empiricists.  And these mathematicians construct a model that represents a certain behavioral set.  Their problem, however, is that reality doesn’t actually support the conclusion they are saying is the most rational.  So they change the model, as they should, to better reflect reality.  All well and good.  Their problem, though, is that they are actually doing their job backwards in one concealed respect.  Implicit in their model is the idea that it is the case in the simulation they are describing that the population they are describing has the same conceptual map that the people who created the model did.  I am aware that I could have simply said we have some ivory tower mathematicians who are out of touch with reality, but I wanted to cover in-depth what the disconnect with reality is.  They are correcting their model by making it better reflect empirical reality in one respect, but in so doing they are simultaneously doing the same in reverse by assuming things from their meta-models onto reality.  We have rationalism and empiricism, simulations and models, inductive and deductive thinking, all chasing their dance partner around.  But the most vital thought is that the process must only go one way.  You must always push forward by correcting both to better fit the other in reality, rather than working backwards and assuming things onto reality which are not the case.  If you do this, and then entrench your position with a rationale, you are screwing up your meta-model of reality.  And, like a monkey with its hand caught in a banana trap, the tighter you squeeze your fist the more surely you get stuck.  For every ratchet backwards on the progress ladder, you get more and more firmly stuck in place, and it even gets harder to continue to go backwards.  The wheel spins one way, it grinds to a halt in the other.

The Bailout

Dammit.  I usually find the reserve to just keep on talking about timeless issues, the human condition, and problems that persist and grow.  But this is just too much.  While I’m still going to avoid talking about the election and such, I just have to talk about the bailout.  It can no longer be avoided.

The source of my agitation is this article (http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2008/1007083aig1.html) from the Smoking Gun.  Essentially, the executives of AIG have, days after the $85 billion bailout, thrown a massive executive party at a resort in California.  Now, let’s be honest, this article does slant the situation in the obvious direction.  But don’t they just bloody well deserve it?  I mean, seriously.  These people are seriously threatening even my steely impartiality and objectivity, if I do say so myself.  What on earth are these executives thinking?  Was the whole thing a scam and they simply no longer care because we’re all going to economic hell anyway?

OK, first, let’s be fair.  The invoice tells us that the vast majority of the funds were spent on either rooms or food and not on luxury services like spa services, exploding cakes, urinating ice statues, and the like.  Although there were sizable figures under those categories, to say that they spent a fortune (relative to the $450k price tag) would be improper.  I don’t want to pore through their invoice because it’s a limited source of information anyway, and you can only extract so much information from it.  Anyway, it seems to me that the exorbitant cost of their retreat resulted from their choice of location rather than any particular absurd excess.  Whether or not they might have simply gotten a convention hall for an executive summit is debatable, but any argument we might have lacks all basis because we have no context.  It’s highly probably there is a good reason why that location was chosen, possibly to secure ties to some other company or maybe something as small as associates of the company involved with the resort.

All that said, dammit, do you guys care that little about our money?  That $85 billion is supposed to be saving your asses, not letting you party like it’s 1929.  They must have known how this would look, which only strengthens the possibility that there is a good reason we aren’t seeing.  Of course, Occam’s Razor says they’re just partying because they feel like it and don’t give a damn if we despise them for it.

The basic issue at hand here, though, is not corporate irresponsibility.  In a perfect world, CEOs and executives can do whatever they want with their money.  However, the critical point here is that it must be their money.  The second that they control money they don’t actually own or have legitimate authority to manage, we have a problem.  Of course, that’s exactly what the government has done.  The government extracted that $85 billion from us against our will with the vapid promise that it was *still ours.*  Of course that’s nonsense because we have absolutely no control over how it’s spent.  So they give it to big corporations because those big corporations can incentivize the people in power however they need to in order to get a piece of that pie.  They’ll figure it out if it’s possible.  You can’t build a system that will get the job done properly that will not be open to willful subversion to the same degree.  If you count on intent, then intent will be its weakness.  If you count on structure and checks, then structure and checks will be its weakness, and so on.  If you count on open violence, then open violence will be its weakness.  It doesn’t matter on what motive power the government is managed, it can be subverted by an appropriate strategy because the only way it can’t give money to the wrong hands is if they can’t give money at all.  Anyway, I’m getting off topic.  My point is that those bankers now control a great deal of “our” money, so it pisses us off when they do stuff like this, and rightly so.  We’ve been robbed on the promise that we would get something in return, and later we were deprived even that (as usual I might add).  If there were no public money floating around, then why should it irritate you if these CEO’s throw flagrantly irresponsible parties?  You already got your goods or services rendered.  Just like how they don’t care if you burn that plasma TV after you buy it, you don’t care if they burn your money once you’ve paid for that TV.  It’s not yours anymore- you willfully parted with it in exchange for your new TV.

There are so many unfortunate fools who will blame the companies for this type of fiasco.  What bullshit!  Imagine if you were handed $85 billion dollars on a silver platter.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  Imagine that you could spend all of your assets and have some probability of pulling down $85 billion from the government cloud funds, and it pays off for you.  You’re A) going to party like a wild animal because you’re set, and B) you’re going to keep on using that money to try to get more.  It is obviously a very effective strategy.  Not only that, but there comes a time when they don’t even need to provide the same level of services.  Because when things are in the shitter, they get free money.  Does this sound like a good plan to fix the economy?  No.  These banks are going to do their damnedest to keep that free money flowing.  The only way they would stop would be if they could make significantly more money by actually working.  There must be a significant enough difference that their profits from being honest will exceed the free funds they get while cutting expenses at the same time.  Which probably is never going to happen.

My point is that these executives are being completely reasonable given their environment, even if they’re just being 100% wasteful.  Imagine if you were paid to spend money.  The more money you spent, the more you earned.  In fact, if you were so bad that you were in a constant state of poverty, you would get even more.  I’m not trying to argue that the poor don’t deserve aid, but I am trying to say that this incentive structure is just insane.  It will literally incentivize insanity.  Doing the exact opposite of the preferred behavior is rewarded.  Total madness.  “We want people to be wealthy, so we should give money to people who are poor.”  What the hell?  The banks are actually in this situation.  The worse they are at managing their business, the more money they get from the government, on the grounds that if they fail it will be bad for the economy.  Haha!  It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.

Now a lot of people think that incentives are a crude way to look at humanity.  I would agree.  However, incentives provide a direct model upon which complications can be built.  It’s like how we discovered algebra before we discovered complex numbers, but the discovery of the complex numbers doesn’t invalidate the process of algebra.  Deeper structure to the human mind and personality doesn’t change the fact that they judge by application and comparison of incentives or utility functions.  If the deeper structure would predict that someone would pick a free $5 over a free $10 then your model is broken, no matter how complex or interesting or otherwise intuitive.

In fact, models tend to be constructed to formalize specific inconsistencies in the way that the world is filtered.  Fallacies are easily communicated through analogy, models, and other constructions.  For example, it seems perfectly logical that gun ownership would cause crimes involving guns.  Very intuitive, right?  The more guns there are, the more likely people will be to use them because they will be more available.  Actually, this is not the case.  In fact, I would wager that gun crime goes down if you decrease, or increase, the supply of guns.  The gun-control-slanted middle area is where the most crime involving guns will take place.  Those who really want to can legally acquire them, and they can be reasonably sure that nobody else will have one.  If you make them harder to acquire, it goes down a little.  Although crime might remain equally high- it’s just crime with guns that would probably go down.  However, if you increase the supply of guns, then the thugs no longer have the same certitude that they will not be met with lethal force.  Even if the probability that the person they’re mugging will be armed and belligerent are small, they only have to do it numerous times before statistics kills them.  Knowing this, a whole slew of crimes such as violent crime, muggings, robberies, etc. all would be expected to drop.  This is of course a theory only moderately supported by evidence, but it’s a reasonable hypothesis that deserves further testing.

Before I end this post, I want to talk about positive obligation.  There is no such thing.  Who cares?  Well, how come it’s possible to take out a loan which your children are then responsible for, even though they never spent a penny of it?  Irresponsible and morally reprehensible for the person, sure, but how come it’s even possible?  Simply put, it’s because the people lending the money are the people with the money.  They get to decide how those loans are paid back.  And it is true that if some loans where the client dies are paid back, it makes capital cheaper and more available.  This somewhat stimulates the economy, and at the expensive of only a little moral questionability.  This is acceptable to the people lending the money, and they have a legitimate case to make.  However, the day my government can spend money it doesn’t have on the good faith that I’ll pay interest on it?  Not a chance.  I’m not old enough to have a stake in the vast national debt.  So I just won’t.  If they make me pay for it, I will, but not because I want to.  I’m not going to put myself in a difficult position or enter direct conflict with the government- that’s just foolhardy.  You can’t fight them- they’ve got everything from the army up to and including the nuclear option.  So don’t.  Just do what they say, but keep to principles.  They can threaten you.  Let them, and accede to their demands.  Very simple.  It’s the mob.  You don’t pay, your life gets difficult.

Seizing Property

I just read an intriguing article which talks about Bush’s recent executive orders to enable the secretary of the treasury to seize the assets of anyone who is in any way, directly or however indirectly, interferes with Iraq or Lebanon.  While I agree that this is the utmost insanity, I have a more interesting argument to make than merely discussing the lunacy of the politicians of the day.  Here is a quote from the article linked above:

“While both orders bypass the Constitutional right to due process of law in giving the Secretary of Treasury authority to seize properties of those persons posing a risk of violence, or in any vague way assisting opposition to US agenda”

Oh, so the problem is that the Secretary of the Treasury now can do it without due process.  Meaning that they don’t have to notify you about how they’re just about to freeze and then steal all your assets.  It’s that they won’t permit you to hire a lawyer that this article is bemoaning.  While this is indeed bad, I think we’re all missing the point somewhat.  Shouldn’t the Secretary of the Treasury simply not have the power to just reach out and grab whatever they feel like?  Shouldn’t the government simply be unable to outright steal everyone’s assets?  The offhanded way that this article ignores the fundamental crime that is being committed here is disturbing.

On other current news, the government is handing out $700 billion to banks.  OK, so let me get this one straight.  You reserve the right to steal from citizens at will, and you restrict yourself by having little bits of paper which sometimes say you do, and sometimes you don’t.  However . . .  Unfortunately this makes perfect sense because the average citizen hasn’t the capital to siphon down from the great pie-in-the-sky that is government funds.  Fiscal governments raise barriers to entry.  Laws.  It’s what they do- they make regulations and restrictions, and they throw money around.  The bailout, the executive orders, everything, the whole deal is just business as usual.  Can you imagine how poorly the American government would be doing right now if it were a company?  If citizens had the option to leave and go to a competitor without dealing with the huge barriers to entry which are actually barriers to exit, they would be gone.  All the features the US government offers have become corrupted in recent years, from the Constitution to the balance of powers to the services rendered.  However they don’t care, quite simply because no matter what, they will keep their revenue stream alive.  That’s the purpose of taxes.

I’m going to cite Stefan Molyneux’s example, perhaps again, but I can’t be bothered to check.  Let’s say there’s a paperboy.  He goes from house to house and delivers papers.  Part of his job is to try to sell subscriptions to more houses.  If the paper offers more value to consumers then he sells more papers, and everyone is better off.  The consumer gets the paper, he gets paid, and the publisher makes money.  Now, let’s give this model a twist.  Let’s turn the paperboy into a government force- say the paperboy has the force of arms to walk up to someone’s house and tell them, flat out, that they are now subscribed to his paper and will pay the subscription cost.  He doesn’t care what they do with the paper- they can burn it for all it matters.  But they must subscribe and receive the paper, or there will be consequences.  For example, let’s say he can have them thrown in jail for failure to comply.  In the short term, you’ll see a massive increase in the number of subscriptions.  This looks like a fan-fucking-tastic idea.  True, some people get thrown in jail, but on the whole the economy is being stimulated, and so many more people are getting newspapers than they used to.  They’re keeping up to date, they’re reading, they’re becoming more international.  Of course, the paper no longer has any incentive to print anything at all- they could give out blank sheets of paper for all they care.  They have more subscriptions than ever, and are growing explosively.  If the paperboy is ethical, he might exercise his power to make the newspaper print good stories, but how do you judge that, and are you need boards and standards, and so on…  Of course, the paperboy is making a lot of money since he’s the crux of the operation- or at least him and others like him.  Of course, this puts the paperboy in a powerful position, giving him the option to push hard for more money, exploit his employer, turn corrupt, etc. etc.  Crime- at least, white collar crime, is a result of this crevasse created by the government.  For example, if the paperboy is trying to help people with his power, he might demand that people receive the paper in order to give the publisher more money with which to hire more reporters, editors, etc. to make more and better stories.  So everyone enjoys the paper more, lots of people are receiving it, and everything is just dandy.  This puts our paperboy squarely in the naive liberal point of view.  This is fantasy.  You can’t put the cart before the horse and expect it to go.  You can’t legislate that the machine will work.  You let people who want the machine to work fix it so it goes.  If nobody wants the machine to go- if it’s uneconomical to run it, then it shouldn’t be run anyway.  By demanding that people receive the paper, you’re skewing the incentives to screw over the consumer, or buyer, and thereby alleviate the burden on the seller.  If you expect them not to take advantage of that, you’re stupid.  The way to stop them is to regulate the seller, too, but now that crevasse is widened and you’ve made everyone worse off, and introduced counterproductive protocols and immense complication.  If it gets too complicated, you might even create niches for specialists to help people navigate and cope.  It’s madness.

Can you think of any parallels between this example and, say, the school system?  The stock market?  Other systems or government programs?  Can you guess why they use contractors whenever they actually need to get stuff done, and done well?  I have a thought experiment for you.  Let’s say that the government didn’t issue defense contracts.  Do you think that the defense contracting companies would even attempt to make weapons the way they do when they’re being paid for their effort?  How do they expect to make money?  Do you think these people just want to make weapons, and they would do it anyway even if they wasted millions or billions doing it?  Of course not.  Now, if there was a legitimate reason for those weapons to be built, agreed upon on a sufficiently massive scale to make the general public want to pay for their production out of their own pockets, they could be made.  But I don’t believe a situation like that has ever occurred without being created in the first place by one or more governments screwing their citizens.  I don’t want a company representing me to attack anybody- what a complete waste!  But of course that’s just the point.  The government doesn’t actually represent anybody.  Even if you wanted them to stop representing you, you can’t.  QED, they don’t represent you.  The reasoning behind this is very simple.  Let’s say you’re in a conversation with three other people, and one of them is telling the other two about your opinions.  At any point you can simply declare that person incorrect and retract their right to represent you, granted on a very temporary basis.  If they keep going and say, “No, I represent you.  You don’t get to argue with me,” they are clearly the problem.  I mean, seriously, does anyone actually think this is a sane way to run a conglomerate of millions of people?  At the end of the day, this stuff is truly simple, but so many people are being misled.  Like the “terrorist fist jab,” it would be hilarious, if it weren’t so sad.

Intellectual Property’s Conundrum

There has been a great deal of conversation about intellectual property on the internet, with a recent uptick with regard to the IsoHunt incidents and other torrent sites.  In this post I intend to address the root ethical and economic issue imposed by intellectual property in, I hope, an objectve and reasonable perspective.

In order to do so thoroughly, I’m going to start with my own opinion and then the valid arguments of the opposition.  I believe that the modern take on intellectual property is, not to put too fine a point on it, insane.  There are so many gray areas introduced by the current legislation in everything from the right to patent genes that actually exist in people for commercial benefit by those who discovered them, software patent lunacy, etc. etc.  Now, I come pretty close to out and out declaring that intellectual property is foolish because you can’t own information sequences.  But there are certain facts that make this just an unreasonable expectation.

Firstly, there are a large number of very legitimate issues with a truly free information marketplace.  Firstly, there exists information that loses its value if it’s made public.  That said, this doesn’t mean that would-be patent owners should have their rights voided if the patent information is divulged before they apply for a patent.  This represents an impinging of the legal realm onto clear-cut ethics. Also, if we were unable to pay the creators of intellectual property, nobody would do it.  So we would be left without our most important industrial sector- the idea-people.  Artists would have to get “real jobs” instead of being full-time creators, and there would be all these other issues or “brain drain.”  Trade secrets are necessary because they can’t be protected any other way.  If Coca-Cola released their recipe, you could go to the grocery store and pick up enough ingredients to make it yourself.  Without their secret recipe, they have a lot of hardware and workers but nothing to do with them.  Also, copyrights are necessary so the creators are actually the ones who make money off of their inventions.  If anyone at all could steal their knowledge and clone their work, the original creator earns nothing for their efforts.

After all that, I still believe that information should be freer than it is.  There are a lot of people who want to convince you that intellectual property is confusing, has lots of gray areas, and that it’s a difficult problem.  It’s really not, unless you look at it through legal goggles which only let you see the current situation’s madness.  The underlying principles are very simple.  First and foremost, you can’t apply the same conception of physical property to intellectual property as we’ve been trying to do.  It’s trying to creatively fit a square peg into a round hole.  Can’t be done without damaging something, either the peg or the frame.  Just so, you can’t give more rights to the people or to the rights-holders without damaging the other.  At least to me, this indicates that we have erred somewhere, perhaps seriously.  Regarding the above paragraph, all those problems refer to information or processes related to physical products, not information-based products.  Different rules apply.

What can I posibly mean, you say?  Let’s take a look at the preeminent information product: software.  Software is generally treated as though it was a physical product, even to the point that you can go to a store and buy it off the shelf.  This is no longer as true as it once was, but in large part physical media are still the main distribution method.  However, software can be copied without limit.  Anyone can share their software with anyone else, even if you’ve never met or even seen them, using the internet.  So how do software developers react to this dilemma?  They try to lock down their software into a physical form.  They create DRM, use product keys, registration, encrypted channels, etc. etc.

I have a better idea.  How about taking advantage of all the power that this medium has to offer?  Distribute your product at the fastest possible rate you can by giving it away, for free.  Give away your best material, and let everyone who cares pay for the rest.  Software developers have an especially cushy position in this matter, since software requires updates.  Shareware has tried a type of marketing like this using free trials.  But what I’m saying is that the software doesn’t have to be the money-making vector of software developers.  Give away the software, and if enough people start to use it, then you can make money from them in a huge variety of ways.  The easiest way is to simply ask for donations, and this has worked well in the past.  However as a successful large business model, donations limit growth severely.  They also limit the capital available for getting more resources.  As such, donationware works for small businesses, but large companies need a more formal structure.  They could still ask, but maybe they’re too grown-up for that.  OK, how about a subscription model?  If you subscribe to a particular software firm, they give you all their software (which is free anyway), support, updates, additional resources, and even physical products.  This can work, especially for well-established small-medium businesses which have a lineup of software to offer.

All these models share two features.  One, the vendor has to demonstrate value before the customer has to pay for it.  There is absolutely no reason that I would ever pay for a song without having heard it, software without having used it (except on recommendation), and so on.  Movies use previews to give an impression of familiarity and value without actually spoiling the movie.  iTunes shows you a teaser clip of a song to make you feel that you know it enough to buy it.  In this respect, piracy is necessarily a part of information exchange.  In order to sell information, I have to tell you enough to make you willing to pay for it.  Of course, oftentimes that means I’ve told you enough that you don’t even have to pay for it anyway.  This is the conundrum of intellectual property that everyone is trying to wrestle with.  How do you force someone to pay for something they don’t know, or make sure that the vendor gets payment for something they have provided, without infringing on either party.

The bottom line?  You can’t.  It’s a contradiction in terms.  The common approach is to give the information and payment in multiple installments to confirm compliance.  I show you a trailer for free, you pay for it, and I give you the movie/song/game.  In situations like these, the property model is fundamentally broken.  The only reaction is that you can’t “own” it because in order to distribute it, you have to violate your own ownership.  Copyright’s solution is to give people different rights.  This person whom we shall legally deem the Creator, has the rights to duplicate, distribute, and profit from specific works, while the rest of the world doesn’t.  So, we have transformed an information set into a meta-information identity which we attach to its creator and there can be only one of by definition.

The solution is to flatten out the information space.  The information is not an object, and encapsulating it with abstractions and legal jibberjabber won’t change that.  Pirates know it full well.  So the old model of the “product” as the monymaking vector is broken with intellectual property.  So what?  Make the act of producing intellectual property the profit vector.  If you want software from a certain company which needs money to do it, you had damn well better give them the money they say they’ll need from you.  Otherwise, you can’t expect that they’ll produce it.  That’s just hypocritical.  You’re not entitled to the fruit of their labors implicitly.  You can’t expect that they will work for you anyway.  The objective of intellectual property, the intelligence industry, if you will, is to constantly produce new things, not the production of property.  So why not reward that pursuit, instead of treating it as property?  It’s the job of factories to produce stuff, and to the degree they produce stuff, they should be rewarded.  It’s the job of a thinker to think of new, useful things.  To the degree that they think of new, useful things, they should be rewarded.  Not to the degree that the product of their labor is produced.  As a metric of usefulness, that’s just going to need a committee or a court or other legal nonsense to decide if it’s useful, novel, non-obvious, etc. etc.  The ultimate judge of the value of the thinker should be the degree to which people wish them to continue working.  SImple

Net Neutrality

An issue near and dear to my heart, indeed.  It’s a foolhardy name- we need to call it “net freedom” or something.  However, that’s not what this post is about.  I’m going to cover the issue as objectively as possible.

First, the entrenched enemy.  Companies like Comcast, who own the internet’s basic data transmission infrastructure, are completely justified in their claims that they have the right to use their infrastructure however they please.  The people who respond to the net neutrality issue with the knee-jerk “we’ll get the government to make it illegal!” are foolish children having their candy taken from them.  Bringing the government to bear on the management of the internet is an incredibly bad idea, firstly because the internet is international.  However let’s not ignore the fact that the government will mismanage a medium such as the internet, and how centralized control will not be helpful to the internet anyway.  I believe that Comcast is free to do whatever it wants with its own hardware.  The rub comes from how Comcast probably has sufficient power to enforce such controls over other companies, possibly from an agreement.  This breach of market equilibrium means that Comcast has limited rein to just screw us over.  Without that assurance, blatantly screwing your customers is a ticket to bankruptcy.  But if those customers have no choice…  The problem isn’t Comcast’s right to use its infrastructure, it’s Comcast’s power to oligopolize the industry.  Still, there are people who would claim, “alright, then let’s get the government to nail them for anti-trust violations!”  While better than trying to directly control Comcast’s business model, it’s still a bad answer.

To give Comcast et al. a little credit which they seem oblivious to, it may well be that metered internet is the best path for the future.  With our unlimited model, there is no real penalty for colossal data inefficiency.  Sure, the awful file type will take longer to download and eat your hard drive space, and scripts, protocols, or instructions might be horrifyingly inefficient, but there’s no actual fiscal cost.  If the internet were metered, then as a web client you are going to expect a certain degree of respect for your bandwidth.  Websites arrogantly squandering your bandwidth for ads had better have the services to back it up.  Currently we assume that a metered internet will look just like the current internet, just more expensive and charged by the byte.  Not necessarily.  For most users it will probably be cheaper.  And, there may be new systems built in to improve the user experience.  For example, you might have a browser master control panel which gives you control every byte you download, and allows you to easily lock out unwanted sites’ data.  There would be a strong incentive to create double-layer security and user facility protocols, a default deny data acquisition model, streamlined packet handling, and so on.  On a grander scale, older and obsolete file types or programming languages and paradigms will be upgraded and phased out more quickly, giving you more bang for your hardware dollar (and software too).

Much of my audience is probably ready to throw up by now.  Just to make this clear- I DO NOT support Comcast and their cohorts in their efforts to strangle the internet.  However, I disagree with the alarmists who think that a metered internet is a dead internet.  It will be a very different internet, to be sure, but we can be resourceful.  Firstly, who says we have to do business with people who are screwing us?  And if they oligopolize the industry and give us no choice, then we can do it ourselves.  Buy your own fiber optics lines and connect your neighborhood together, then add lines to other places, etc. etc.  Comcast isn’t doing anything that is somehow impossible for your average Joe, although they would like you to think so.  If you, not Comcast, own your line that connects to a hub which can go anywhere, you can choose to use Comcast’s services or you can contact lines that also choose unlimited service, etc.  It might even be totally free.  Why not?  Open source hardware is not that big a leap.  We have options- but if we go and tell Comcast that they don’t actually own their own infrastructure, we’re no better than the people chopping our media with DRM.

Of course it’s more likely to be practical to use wireless connections and navigate by hubs alone rather than having wires running everywhere- and stashing them underground is expensive.  Comcast can offer us fast, high-capacity data services while we get our own free internet in other ways, such as each house running its own wifi.  You get a hub, other people can tap your bandwidth and you can tap theirs.  You can disallow anyone you like, or everyone, wherever or whenever you like.  But then don’t expect them to permit you to use theirs.  A decentralized internet is an ideal perhaps greater than that of an unlimited data model from a vendor like Comcast.  I don’t know what’s going to happen- this is just speculation, although it seems reasonable to me that people want internet, and if they can’t get it for free from companies like Comcast we’ll start seeing inventive solutions to make it happen.  If signals can leapfrog wirelessly from house to house to commercial building to house, then that seems like a good possible solution to me.  Hey, it might even be an improvement for us not to be dependent on data services or wires.  And we may be reaping the data efficiency benefits of limited pipelines between disparate areas.  I doubt wireless technology will get powerful enough to broadcast over, say, the Pacific Ocean in the next couple years.  So fiber optics lines will probably be the best way to get lots of data around the world, fast.  If you don’t need to pay for speed, maybe a circuitous route through many low-signal areas to get to you is good enough.  I am optimistic about the outcome, either way.  If net neutrality fails, so what?  The environment changes, and we bend our intelligences to working out the problems in front of us.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what we want, since what I’ve been talking about are basically after-the-fact tactics we might employ to the same effect: getting what we want.

Organic Personal Economics

Economic behavior is perhaps best described as the most natural form of interpersonal behavior.  Remember, I’m referring to personal economics not just stock indices, so any exchange of value works.  Status being the most traded commodity in social interactions.  My intent is to convince you that human economics “just works” without any need to control or use coercive force.  It is an automatic balancing feedback loop which corrects itself against objective reality all the time.  One person, or even a large group of people, is unable to compete with such a swarm intelligence.

Consider the law of supply and demand.  While hailed as the fundamental principle of monetary economics, if it’s taught as such then the students will fail to see that the same principle applies in countless other situations.  Supply and demand is simply one instance of a self-correcting system to maximize the gain of the seller by maximizing the value given out to buyers.  The guy who wants the last iPhone the most can prove that quite simply by being prepared to pay the most for it.  If prices are too high, competition drives them down because supply is too high, if they’re too low then supply diminishes, increasing price until an equilibrium is reached.  This same type of system applies to everything from evolution to the water level in a toilet.

I’m going to make an extravagant claim.  I don’t have any problem with vote-buying as a concept.  This is a perfect example of a self-correcting (and therefore adaptive) system- i.e. the market, working within an artificial environment created and manipulated by a government.  The government has created a commodity that did not before exist- votes.  They clearly have personal economics implications on everyone, including within that the fiscal economics effects of voting.  So votes clearly have value.  Everybody has one, and indeed gets another one in each election.  Just as a thought experiment, what would actually happen if vote-buying was completely legit?  Well, you say, the rich people get all the power because they can just pay anyone they like and they’ll vote however their buyers want.  Me: Yeah.  So?  It’s a completely voluntary exchange, obviously the person with the vote in question was only invested in their first choice to the extent they are prepared to be bought.  Proper forms of value for both parties will be created, even if a little creativity is required.  For example, I imagine a third type of commodity would appear- the purchase of a non-vote, cheaper than a positive vote in the opposite direction, but gives voters the feeling of not having helped the enemy.  What about maybe a futures vote market, trading on the value of a vote.  I’m not going to even guess what price the market would find for the average Presidential vote- there’s an absolutely impossible Fermi problem if I’ve ever seen one.  But let’s just say that the going rate is $1,000.  Clearly, buying other peoples’ votes is therefore an expensive proposition, because you need to win or else you pretty much wasted $1k for each ineffective vote.  If you’re part of the ultra-wealthy class, and you stand to gain a ton of money by electing some uber-corrupt politician, I say by all means pay people like me to make that a reality for you.  It’s not going to be cheap, and the more corrupt that politician is, the more you’re going to have to pay me, but I can be bought.  Let’s look at the 2000 election.  I hate Bush with a burning passion, but if he offered to pay me $80,000 to vote for him I’d be on the fence.  If he made it $100,000 then I’m his.  I don’t like him, never agreed to support his Presidency, but unless Gore was prepared to give me some competitive compensation I’d have to go with the $100k.  Of course, at that price the man is completely unelectable.  You can’t pay off, say, ten percent of the country at $100k apiece- that’s 30 million Americans, totaling $3 TRILLION.  Not to mention the fact that every opposing party is going to be using the same tactics, both driving up the price of the otherwise neutral votes and decreasing the number of those votes available.

Going back to the self-correcting system.  If we have the problem of an ultra-rich upper class taking advantage of all the poor people, then the way I see it, allowing those rich people to get value from their money by buying votes seems like a damn good way to even out the class divide.  Think about it.  The poorer you are, smaller amounts of money have a greater amount of proportional value.  That’s why poor people are prepared to work more cheaply.  The same principle applies to the starving man being prepared to pay more for food.  So we have the ultra-rich, interested in a commodity which the poor people will have a large quantity of, in direct proportion to the class inequality currently present.  If we have an extremely unbalanced society where 1% are billionaires and everyone else is broke, we have lots of people prepared to sell their votes to a small number of people with all the resources and motivation to buy lots of votes.  If it’s more equal, we have fewer people with mass-vote-buying capability but at the same time we have fewer people whose votes can be bought cheaply.  Self-correcting.  You can never arrive at a more equal, fair, and free society through centralized control as a Communist would have you believe, because they are ignoring the stark reality of personal economics.  If prices are fixed to be affordable, they’ll disappear and then the good in question will be unavailable- and obviously if they’re too high nobody can afford it.  Centralized control creates self-reinforcing loops increasing the inequality in society.  Letting go of control creates self-correcting loops, decreasing the inequality in society.  This entire mechanic is a product of free choice, in bold because it is damn important.  If you have choice, you will pick the option you prefer.  If you can’t, you don’t.  It truly is that simple.

OK, let’s look at another one.  Crime.  If there is a problem of any kind, then you should have the free choice to respond to that problem in any way that your heart desires, be it retarded or brilliant.  This is really just a specific case of the above example that you should be able to do whatever you want anyway.  In the case of crime, maybe you want to hire a security guard, maybe get an alarm system.  Maybe you think that all the options available are too expensive to be justified for a small risk in your area, I don’t know.  However, what I will tell you, is that there exists a solution which you, yes you, will pick in response to your environment, even if that solution is to do nothing.  If there are no solutions available then the incentive is there for you to go out and make one to sell to other people.  Even if it sucks, there are no other options, so you’ll make an absolute killing.  And then someone else has the fantastic idea of doing the same thing a little cheaper, and random guy #3 says no, I have a better idea, etc. etc. ad infinitum.  If crime is a problem, you will take steps to address that problem while taking into account the exact nature of the issue, the circumstances, and all other factors which might contribute to your own personal utility.  To touch on a current issue, perhaps that means acquiring a weapon of some sort.  If lots of people make that choice then the burglar’s personal economics obviously changes, like it does for all changes in their environment.  If X% of the houses they burglarize contain angry and armed homeowners then Y% of burglars will stop being burglars, or never become burglars in the first place.  The same clearly applies to muggings, bank robberies, and all other types of crime, or even any other problem at all.  The institution in question will simply take steps to safeguard themselves relative to the risk.  If the risk is high because security everywhere else is low then it pays to have lots of security relative to elsewhere.  After that, the institution really doesn’t care, whether everyone else increases their security as well.  However if they do then crime becomes a crazy strategy and falls to negligible levels, and then security can be relaxed.  If you’re guarding priceless artifacts then obviously you need more because the potential payoff is greater.  If it’s just your house you can have less, but if you choose to outfit your house with proximity activated popup autofire machine gun turrets, that’s fine, whatever floats your boat.  However, it may turn out that your popup turrets themselves represent a problem which I need to solve.  So I decide to ask you to not use machine guns to defend your property in case my dog should run into your yard.  Perhaps my gratitude is insufficient payment, and it may be worth my while to give you outright compensation in exchange for depriving you of your gun turrets.  Maybe I go door to door in the neighborhood asking for donations to end the tyranny of the machine gun turret maniac down the street.  Perhaps I just buy a mortar and blow up whatever gun turrets you may happen to purchase.  Not a realistic choice, especially for me, but a possible choice, so why not?  Then you decide that that is just too much and you pay some organization with an economic interest in being arbitrary (DRO perhaps) to mediate our argument, and get you some compensation for the blown up gun turrets.  Hey, maybe you even pay them off.  Then I tell the world that this or that DRO is getting paid off, here’s my proof, their entire enterprise is shot and they are out of business.  Or, you pay all the legal fees and whatnot and I am charged with blowing up your stuff.  I hire someone to represent me, and so on and so forth.  We can do whatever we want, and we aren’t harming anyone but ourselves.  However, the moment you implicate some huge centralized control agent such as the government, our little dispute involves everyone in the entire country to some degree in the form of courts, consistent laws, and taxpayer money.  Get rid of it all- back to a state of nature, baby!

In a state of nature, personal economics rules.  The problem with “state of nature” is some arbitrary connotative association that in order for us to live in a state of nature, we have to be savages who just barely invented the wheel.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the economy when we were, in fact, savages who just invented the wheel.  Absolutely nothing- it worked perfectly.  There wasn’t a hell of a lot to trade, there was no useful medical technology, and a whole myriad of other problems.  But the personal economics of the day were absolutely without parallel in the modern world.  You could do anything you wanted.  It just so happened that the environment made severe demands upon you which led you to choose certain courses over others due to the risk of death, which nowadays we find barbaric.  You don’t decide if you want to eat pizza or a sandwich and worry about risk of death in either choice.  We are living with the products of thousands of years of personal economics, and the further we go the more we distort those personal economics with coercion.  This is why all countries and empires must fall.  Very simply, an agency of centralized control has, by definition, sufficient power to increase its own control.  If the controlling agency lacks the ability to actually do anything in either direction then it’s not much of a controlling agency, is it?  And, anyone given a choice will pick the one they prefer.  Therefore any group given controlling power must therefore use it maximize their own value.  Depending on everyone involved with coercive power to consistently choose to act against their own interests, indefinitely, is a losing bet.

Allow me to reframe this in a different context.  Consider your average corporation, I often use McDonald’s as a corporate empire example (I never eat their food, but they’re an interesting empire).  Is there corruption in McDonald’s?  More importantly, do you care?  Your choice is very simple: they offer you food products and you offer them money.  Nobody is forcing you to buy their stuff.  After you’ve made your deal, your business is concluded.  What they do with the money is no longer your concern.  They could burn it for all you care, in the same way that you could just burn your Big Mac- they don’t care.  If it should turn out that a couple McDonald’s executives stole $100 million from their company, why should you care?  If the corruption ever gets so bad that their products increase in price, or their employees quit, or whatever else should happen, then that’s just a few more of those factors that go into your decision to buy or not buy.  Even if you work at McDonald’s, you are offered a certain pay in exchange for specific services.  As long as those executives don’t cut into your paycheck one cent, or make your job one whit more difficult, why do you care?  Now compare this situation to the government.  If a couple government officials ran off with $100 million there would be an uproar.  This type of thing actually happens all the time, they just don’t ‘run off with it’ because they have more creative, subtle, and above all effective ways to profit.  But if they out-and-out stole it there would be a storm.  This is because the government applies an interesting abstraction to taxation which decrees that, while you must give them the money or be thrown in jail, you also have some claim over it even after you have given it to them.  This makes it that much easier to take, and also leads you to believe that you aren’t actually being coerced.  A bunch of other people voted to say that your money should be taken and used to do X, but the spin is that you have the power to vote as well so it all evens out.

Of course, if they actually were providing you with value for value then the government would be completely optional in the same way McDonald’s is.  I hate McDonald’s food, but they aren’t going to throw me in jail for not using their services.  The government, however, will.  And they will go so far as to use the money they stole from me to pay for the cops to go get me, the cell they would keep me in, and to line the pockets of the legislators who mandated that I should be jailed.  If the government actually did provide useful services such as law and order, a just court system, health care, and whatever else, then let them make participation completely optional.  Let’s have multiple available citizenship plans.  Liberty service has no taxes, but you agree to abide by the laws and regulations and in return you will be defended by the police and military, and given fire services, hospital service, and a number of other vitals, including 1 vote.  Bronze service costs 10% of your income, you get 2 votes, and several other services such as school services, libraries, etc. plus everything on the liberty plan.  Silver service is 25% of your income, you get 5 votes, free health care, whatever, you get the point.  Gold service is 50% of your income, you get 10 votes and a number of other services to compensate for the increased.  Then there’s Patriot service, for 75% of your income plus optional donation-based bonuses, you get 30 votes plus direct contact rights to your representatives, the option for low-level leadership positions within the government, guaranteed employment, whatever you like.  You don’t have to buy any of them, of course.  But if you want, you can.