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Friday, April 20, 2007

Impending Release and the End of No-Context

Sometimes I think liberals only hate conservatives because they make government look bad. I came across some essay somewhere complaining about how the FDA is failing to properly inspect our food (anyone reading this probably is not surprised about that at all...). He made some very cutting factual arguments, he had some interesting points. But what was missing was the context.
What makes conservatism generally a useless ideology that serves as nothing more than a red-herring, if you'll excuse the pun, is that the conservative version of "free enterprise" is a matter of cutting back government intrusion slightly to give big business more room to cut corners. Now it's arguable whether or not that is beneficial to us, it's a matter of priority, but again, the context is missing here.
Coming in on the edges of our vision, is a lesson. It's a lesson being demonstrated most palpably in Iraq. William Lind calls it "4th Generation Warfare" and Kevin Carson over at the mutualist blog has written a pretty great essay on how this can be (and has been) applied to labor relations.
But there's even more, really, to the story. The pending financial collapse. The fears of terrorism. The drug war going ape shit on the population. Peak oil, global warming, etc...
All of it are examples of the same pattern, one that was pointed out by Ludwig Von Mises a long time ago. The calculation problem, he called it. Basically, the way he put it, a central economic planner has no way to possibly calculate how to carry out the plan. A weaker variation on this was proposed later by Hayek, but really Hayek's "information problem" even if true, is superfluous. Even with access to all the discrete information in a system, without spontaneous market clearing mechanisms, there is no way to know what price will balance any particular demand curve. (And demand curves are subjective, so that kills the idea anyway.) In other words, not only is the demand curve opaque until revealed, so is the supply curve. The only way to reveal it is with a market.
The problem, and here's where I relate this all, is that the calculation problem isn't an all or nothing affair. Of course a central planner that had total control over the economy would have an infinite calculation problem. But to the extent that there is interference with market clearing, there is a partial calculation disturbance. All estimates are a bit off.
The thing that both the liberal and conservative thinker are missing is this larger picture, that the world we live in is not one of a spontaneous order with a few minor distortions.
To put it simply, if my house caught on fire, and the fire department botched the job of putting it out and rescuing me safely, while I wouldn't be entirely surprised, I would have a right to hold them responsible. Why? Because there is no other agency to turn to to perform this service. And so to understand why things are the way they are, we must answer the further question of why it is that there is no other agency to perform this service. The answer lies with the same people that run the fire department. Namely, the State.
Why are people getting contaminated food? Because the FDA has taken on the role of guarding food in such a way that competitors to their system can't operate on a widespread basis. And because the food industry has been cartelized to the point where competitors to the major food suppliers can't operate on a widespread basis.
And because the federal reserve pushes the money supply forward, making the benefits of cutting costs and operating for the short term almost irresistable, and making it unduly profitable to expand businesses beyond their natural limits of growth.

All of this leads to massive calculation problems. To some extent, up till now, there has been enough force applied to hold the system together in the face of these problems, by shifting costs downward to the weak and defenseless. Europe and the US haven't had to absorb the costs of their own miscalculations. But the "weak and defenseless" have learned how to fight back, in the face of military calculation problems.

Technology, while often used by the State and it's parasitical appendages to protect centralization, often has the side effect of equalizing power. Missiles and C4 are cheap and effective.

For the past 100 years, we've lived in a secret hidden context of oligarchy that many of us at this point have been programmed to take for granted. Food comes from the supermarket. We drive 10 miles to work or more, in cars made by "the big three" or now maybe "the big six". We sit down and work in a giant office building in cubicles. Then we go home and watch tv, broadcast by a few companies. Even our elections run on this model. Multiple choice.

Well, the world is about to become an essay question. And the powers that be want you to be afraid of that, because they are. People who even address the possibility of these interlocking, related systems collapsing mention it with an air of dread.
But in reality, when the destabilizing force of the giants and official experts is removed from any system, and replaced by a spontaneous market, calculation comes back and things rebuild themselves properly, stably, in a way that doesn't require more and more input all the time, but yields more and more output, because the patterns get smarter, meaning more and more amenable to our desires.
When businesses really compete in a hard way, for example, we benefit as consumers, as laborers and even as small business owners.
When many banks are issuing their own money, whatever money survives will be stable and a good store of value, making all economic calculations more accurate, allowing our time horizons to slow down, we can think long term and plan for our future.

When the US is finally forced out of Iraq, the Sadrists and Sunnis will fight to a standstill using the same 4th Generation Warfare techniques on each other, and then mark off their territory and get on with life.
And the rest of us will have gotten a lesson that will be indelible.

Will things get worse for us First Worlders in the short term? Possibly, but the division of labor is pretty remarkable and people are pretty good at solving problems when left to their own devices. On the other hand, the Third World will bloom like 3 billion flowers. And in the long run that will make things more stable and pleasant for all of us.
And with all of us having mastered these decentralized techniques for toppling larger opponents, the resulting near-anarchy will be stable. In other words, anarchy cannot arrive until it can be maintained stably and peaceably, because the means for attaining it are the means for maintaining it. So when it comes, it's coming pretty much for good. The future looks bright indeed.
It won't be a utopia, but things will be as good as they can be given our state of knowledge and development.


Blogger Dr. Lenny said...

Good to see you blogging again. You have resonated on some very good points. Context is necessary to know where in the scheme of order and chaos we find ourselves. It need not be the same for each of us in form, but it will be in mechanism.

1:08 PM  

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