Porphyrogenitus

If one is going to go after sacred cows, one should really go after sacred cows. Most of the people in our society who get credit for "going after sacred cows" are just going after unfashionable ones. At least ones that are unfashionable in the circles they want to appeal to. We live in a world of iconodules posing as iconoclasts.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Exchange With Mencius

Mencius responds to post and some e-mail exchanges, very lucidly. Some reactions:

No, I haven't enabled comments, and for reasons only known to myself I haven't even provided an e-mail to contact me with, which is rather boorish and inhospitable. I might rectify at least one of these soon. [Indeed I just did, so it's possible to comment on this if one wants].

"Porphyrogenitus" means "Born in the Purple [room]", but I'm sure Mencius knows that and is just having a little fun with me. :p

"Therefore, this problem must be solved politically - ie, through the usual old-fashioned means."

Well, then we haven't eliminated politics after all, which was one of your goals. We may have minimized it, but it can never be eliminated, because of human nature.

"Unfortunately, while Europe existed, the joint-stock sovereign does not."

We have had joint-stock corporations ruling/governing nations though. The attractiveness of Moldbug's outline will depend in part on how well or badly you think they governed the lands they held, and leads to:

"But had it been perfectly stable, it would still exist. So why not shoot for perfectly stable?"

True; also true of Cameralism, but you combine it with your technological system, and I include that in the "NeoFeudal" structure as well. So it would be as stable.

I personally don't think anything human-made can be perfect. It's always worth striving for the perfect and achieving excellence along the way, but belief in the perfectibility of human institutions has been a pitfall of Progressivism and utopians generally, one no reactionary should fall into.

That said, your system might endure longer than the current system. It does have more stability built in. Hopefully that does not mean it will also achieve stasis, but there is enough competition among states for clients/residents that this would only be a problem if they cartelized somehow, something that's difficult if there is enough of these polities.

"The latter question can be answered easily: no. We know that the answer is no because we know that a crazy person can buy a publicly listed company, today, and intentionally run it into the ground in some deranged manner. And how often does this happen? Never."

Nobody ever intentionally runs something very expensive that they own into the ground. This does happen unintentionally all the time. Leopold's Congo is always a possibility. Helotism is always a possibility. Faddish-but-ineffective management theories are always a possibility. Humans are not always rational, even rich ones, and the unintentional effect of their actions can be counterproductive, contrary to what they expected and hoped for.

Historically, in my observations, corporations have been best run while under the dominance of their original owner(s): U.S. Steel, The House of Morgan, Microsoft, and it's not a surprise Apple brought Steve Jobs back. But management tends to deteriorate or ossify over time. See IBM, K-Mart, &tc, which decline or go out of business and are replaced by more vigorous competitors A question might arise whether Moldbug's polities become so stable they are too stable, and cannot be supplanted. (It's possible that they can be "not as stable as Moldbug expects" and "too stable, even if they stagnate", but these are really separate points; we don't know what might happen, because it hasn't happened yet, so both sides of the coin should be considered).

"But any system containing an election can be no better than its electors."

This is the real crux of the matter. Almost any sort of government can work well if properly run (and under certain definitions of "work well" - work well for whom?), but the mechanism for selecting proper people, letting the cream rise to the top instead of the scum, is the fundamental problem of good government.

I do applaud Mencius for trying to devise a structure that is more likely to result in responsible, accountable rule than what we have today.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Dexter said...

"Nobody ever intentionally runs something very expensive that they own into the ground. This does happen unintentionally all the time. Leopold's Congo is always a possibility."

I wouldn't agree that Leopold's Congo was "run into the ground". It was run rationally and profitably, from the standpoint of its owner. The objective was to extract rubber; labor was cheap and disposable, and therefore it was used hard and then disposed of. Just a variation on what big accounting firms do with college grads - hire 'em, tire 'em, and fire 'em.

October 1, 2009 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Porphyrogenitus said...

"It was run rationally and profitably, from the standpoint of its owner."

Which I suppose is the real issue. From the point of view of the owners, a country might be run well, but the inhabitants may not think so.

I believe that if Joint-Stock sovereignty produced such results, profit satisfactory to the shareholders at the expense of the inhabitants, who transform then from "customers" (Moldbug's categorization of them, at times), into "chattel", the system won't be a step forward for most of us.

Moldbug might point out that such abuse of the "human capital" is counterproductive and that thus a rationally run Joint Stock Sovereign won't engage in it, but as you point out, they have and do, to varying degrees. One might surmise indeed that one of the reasons the Accounting Firm you speak of doesn't do it to the degree Leopold did is that the employees have other options.

It's not rational, by one definition of rationality, but people's calculations are often different from what we imagine they will be under an ideal.

We'd escape the Minotaur only to be eaten by the Dragon.

October 1, 2009 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Johnny Abacus said...

One of the big wins in allowing shares of companies be traded among people on a market is that those with short time horizons could simply sell their shares to those with longer ones.

Before this, people with short time horizons had to resort to socially-destructive behavior: liquidating capital, abusing workers, etc.

I see no reason why this benefit wouldn't carry over to sovereignty (in Mencius' model).

October 1, 2009 at 2:09 PM  
Blogger Porphyrogenitus said...

Well, sticking with the Leopold example, he had a long time horizon, as did the East India Company. The latter ran things in a way we would object to less than the former, but was not without its abuses.

I think, though, that under the "original owners", the system would work well in most places, though the idea of Mencius to encourage foreign ownership of shares I think is more likely to backfire (there are reasons Sovereign Monarchs under "Absolute Monarchy" did not treat their domestic subjects the way Leopold treated alien, Congolese ones).

Over time I think abuses and decay in management would be more likely to increase than decrease, especially if the owners were as absolutely secure as Mencius wants to make them.

October 1, 2009 at 4:12 PM  

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