Arnold Kling  

Creative Capitalism Gets Moldbugian

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I sent a post of my own to Creative Capitalism.


If a government were truly trying to maximize profits, then it would be managing a country in such a way as to increase its wealth.

...A poorly-run country, such as Zimbabwe, probably would be taken over by investors seeking to profit from a turnaround. These investors would buy up shares and install new management.

The editors shortened the piece, and in the process took out an acknowledgment of Mencius Moldbug.

One way to think about a profit-maximizing government is that it is like a slave-owner who realizes that feeding and educating his slaves is the best way to earn a high return on his assets.

Most people would say that we live in a world in which we are not slaves to government. It could be that, or it could just be that our masters are somewhat diffuse and dysfunctional.


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COMMENTS (26 to date)
Alex J. writes:

"Well-educated" slaves would be more likely to rebel in various ways. The slave owner would have to balance the return on investment from "human capital" against the likelihood that the thus empowered capital would rise up against him. Frederick Douglass wrote that the slave owners encouraged over-indulgence in alcohol on holidays in order to convince the slaves that they couldn't handle freedom. The owners specifically discouraged the virtue of responsibility in their slaves in order to make them easier to control.

Alex J. writes:

You might be interested in Spencer Heath Spencer_Heath. His notion of proprietary communities is similar to your notion of profit-maximizing governments.

Snark writes:
...or it could just be that our masters are somewhat diffuse and dysfunctional.

In certain respects, we're simply unwitting house slaves teased into complacency by the sophistry of our masters, and by whose hand we feel the sharp sting of the whip in the form of taxes.

LemmusLemmus writes:

So, slaves voted for who their owners would be? Thought so.

Mindless libertarian nonsense. I was trying to come up with a more polite way of saying that, but couldn't. Sorry.

Snark writes:
So, slaves voted for who their owners would be? Thought so.

Do you suppose we could gain our freedom from oppressive government by refusing to vote?

Adam writes:
So, slaves voted for who their owners would be? Thought so.

Would it have made a difference? After the vote you're still owned by someone. It's no wonder there isn't an option to vote to not be a slave.

Adam writes:

Let me restate that.

Slaves who can vote for their owners are indeed better off than those who can't. However, neither of them is as good as not being owned.

Besides, the only people who we can vote between are different people who want to own us. That doesn't bode well.

LemmusLemmus writes:

Snark,

no, and I trust you know that wasn't what I was saying.

Adam,

"However, neither of them is as good as not being owned."

Well, that's where the analogy breaks down: Even a pretty bad democratically elected government is better than none at all.

mjh writes:
Even a pretty bad democratically elected government is better than none at all.
As stated, I don't think that's true. I think a bad democratically elected government could be much worse than no government at all.

But I think you may have meant something else. I think you meant that even a bad democratically elected government is better than a government that is not accountable to elections. I certainly think that's true. But how much better would it be?

Even a bad democratically elected slave owner is better than a slave owner that is not accountable to elections.
This sentence is *also* true. But in both cases, it's a matter of degree. A bad democratically elected {government,slave owner} is really only better by a tiny amount. And being slightly better, it does not mean that it's crossed the threshold to being good. One bad thing can be better than another bad thing while both things still remain bad. In the case of the government and the slave owner, the "good" option would be freedom for the citizen and the slave.

When the government, whether democratically elected or not, takes by force the product of the labor of it's citizenry, it seems remarkably similar to slavery. Certainly, there's a difference when as a slave, you forfeit 100% of the product of your labor, and as a tax payer it's a smaller percentage. But does it cease to be theft when the government takes 39% instead of 100%? If I came over to your house and, at the end of a gun, demanded 100% of your stuff I think you would be right to call me a thief. If I only demanded 15% wouldn't I still be a thief? If I held a vote in your community and we all decided that we should take this same 15% from you, would that act suddenly make us virtuous? Personally, I don't think it does.

Eric H writes:

Even a pretty bad democratically elected government is better than none at all.

Not necessarily. France under Robespierre, Germany under the National Socialists. In those cases, bad democratically elected governments led to autocratic governments, but the people knew (or should have known) what the policies were going to lead to. Somalia's experience is a great counterpoint to this way of thinking, as was the short Spanish experiment with anarchy.

SheetWise writes:
So, slaves voted for who their owners would be? Thought so.

Thought what?

If you put that in the current tense with the assumption we are slaves, it doesn't do much better.

So, as slaves we vote for who our owners are?

As I see it, we can select from a short list who are selected by the current owners, and who have jumped all of the hurdles put in place by the current owners.

LemmusLemmus writes:

Sheet Wise,

sorry, I don't get what you mean.

Eric H.,

note that I wrote "pretty bad", not "any". And, to get technical, the Nazis never got a majority in any German election, and did away with democracy as soon as they could.

mjh,

"I think you may have meant something else. I think you meant that even a bad democratically elected government is better than a government that is not accountable to elections. I certainly think that's true."

I actually meant what I wrote, although, of course, I agree with the last sentence quoted.

Generally, I think maybe there should be a little bit more respect for the suffering of slaves. Their main problem wasn't that they had to pay taxes, you know?

Niccolo writes:

As the United States is made of individuals, I don't see how the individuals themselves do not benefit by spending and going into debt.


The US as a legal fiction may, but I doubt anyone other than a flag-waiving hick from Mobile, Alabama really cares about Amerikuuuhhh.

mjh writes:

LemmusLemmus:

Generally, I think maybe there should be a little bit more respect for the suffering of slaves. Their main problem wasn't that they had to pay taxes, you know?
It is a misinterpretation of my comments if you think that I'm being disrespectful of the suffering of slaves. However, slavery is forcibly taking the product of another's labor. Slavery takes 100% of that product. The government takes up to 39.5%. The difference isn't in category: both are stealing. The difference is in degree: 39.5% vs 100%.

Of course, the slave owners could also take more than 100% of the slave's labor. They could take their lives. Is slavery worse than our current system of government? Of course it is! In every conceivable way. However, I have to disagree with you if you think that what our government does is anything but stealing, and that since our government does it, it's suddenly become virtuous.

Theft is certainly less bad than slavery. But it's still theft, and I don't think it's a virtue.

Jay Harris writes:

I have a good read,I will certainly come back for more reads later. Thanks for sharing Arnold!

Max M writes:

It seems to me like the rulers of these countries have a choice. They can live like kings on the backs of peasantry, or they can not. Whether the people are poor or prospering really doesn't affect their own degree of wealth all that much. In fact, I'd be willing to say that Bush and the average member of congress is not as wealthy as the average leader of some corrupt government in the third world.

If anything, the correlation between the wealth of the politicians and the non-politicians would seem to be negative, even in the long run. Its the politicians of the underdeveloped and despotic states, not the developed world, that you see on the list of the top billionaires.

LemmusLemmus writes:

mjh,

the differences between slavery and taxation which you correctly describe (and one could add that a slave owner also has the power to dictate which kind of work the slave does) would seem so significant as to leave the taxation-slavery analogy ridiculous.

Tax is not theft for the simple reason that people indirectly vote for taxes (by voting for parties or candidates that support taxes). Of course, you might counter that it is wrong that taxation is applied to people that are against it, and that's wrong. But using that logic, one could say that theft proper is not theft if it is perpetrated by someone who opposes the law against theft. But it is still deemed theft if there is a law against it; hopefully enacted by a democratically elected government.

Josh Lyle writes:

LemmusLemmus,
between the slave and the citizen we might consider the medieval serf, who often paid taxes in wheat and compelled labor, and had other constraints placed on his or her behavior by the local politician, thus reinforcing the idea that all three are on one spectrum and that a free person is off of it, or at least at the ultimate end. As an aside, owners do not often capture 100% of a slave's labor; in practice a great deal goes to the slave's own upkeep in the form of small-scale agriculture and cottage industry.

Also, you're commenting on a blog where one of the authors is an out and out anarchist. Your claim that taxation /= theft is really not up to the status quo here.

LemmusLemmus writes:

Josh,

"not up to the status quo", in the sense that you use it, is not an argument. I'm a long time reader, by the way.

Josh Lyle writes:

LemmusLemmus,
you're right, it's not. It's an invitation to make a better argument.

If an argument is what you require, then I would claim that by your reasoning I could get some people to vote on a "law" that says "punching LemmusLemmus in the nose is theft", perform some token act of promulgation, and then become a thief by punching you in the nose. Absurd! Theft, as a concept, has non-legalistic content.

LemmusLemmus writes:

Josh,

definitions can't be right or wrong, but what "is" "theft" is best answered by common usage, which in turn in strongly influenced by legal codes. As practically nobody and no legal code defines "punching Lemmus in the nose" as theft, for all practical purposes it isn't.

Of course you could use "theft" as a metaphor for taxation given that something is being taken away from you, but I already said why I think that is misleading above. I have yet to read a good counter-argument.

Speaking of which, the best way of making me come up with a better argument (or admit I was wrong), is coming up with a good counter-argument.

And, by the way, I'd appreciate it if you didn't tacitly suggest I be punched in the nose, o.k.?

Josh Lyle writes:

LemmusLemmus,
but taxation bears all the hallmarks of theft as defined by common usage, and I've never found a principled reason to exclude it. Regardless, having argued for the continuum of slavery-serfdom-taxation, my interest in chasing down an agreeable definition so that we can argue the larger matter with more substance wanes.

Incidentally, your tacit approval of the ongoing theft I am subjected to is similarly regarded.

Adam writes:

LemmusLemmus,

Tax is not theft for the simple reason that people indirectly vote for taxes (by voting for parties or candidates that support taxes). Of course, you might counter that it is wrong that taxation is applied to people that are against it, and that's wrong. But using that logic, one could say that theft proper is not theft if it is perpetrated by someone who opposes the law against theft.

You've made a logical error, your "using that logic" example is a non-sequitur. In the first instance the definition hinges on the person being taken from, in the second instance it hinges on the person doing the taking.

In fact, you are the one saying that taxation isn't theft because the perpetrator doesn't believe it to be. Your own example actually indicts you. By using your logic it would be okay for me to take your money if I and my friends voted and decided that it would be okay.

Kurbla writes:

Taxation is not theft by pretty simple deduction - in medieval state king is OWNER of the whole country. Then he offers exchange - he'll give you some of his owners rights [not all of them] in exchange for some of your services. One of them, but not only one is - to pay taxes. You can accept his terms - or not. If not, you are free to leave and find another place for yourself. But if you stay, don't rant because of taxes - you accepted them.

Only way you (i.e. non-socialist) can challenge the king is to question his initial right for ownership over the whole country. How he became owner of the whole country? Well, long time ago, he or some of his ancestors conquered it by force. Maybe he bought something from other sovereign, but that other took it by force. So, his initial ownership is what is questionable here.

It is quite valid and pro-liberty criticism. The problem is that it is too radical from libertarian point of view - because exactly the same criticism can be applied not only against king, but on exactly the same way against any landlord, and far more than that.

In other forms of state, you have no king, but some organization - state, church, party, army - the problem is the same.


QED.

=------------

As for Arnold's proposal, it is quite strange that libertarians propose slavery.

I can still speculate how that kind of the state can look like. In the case there are few shareholders - they do not care for profit any more, they are too powerful for that. If there are many shareholders, then they feed, educate and breed their citizens, but they keep their wages as low as possible (they are still motivated - difference between $10 and $100 is huge) and attract foreign investors, tax them for big part of the profit they earn because of low wages. They try to enforce some eugenics etc.

State you get has Stalinist speed of the accumulation of the capital and capitalist efficiency.

Josh Lyle writes:

Kurbla,
your analysis leaves out the method that most (although by no means all) libertarian anarchists regard as being the valid way of initially acquiring property: homesteading (with consensual transfers also being considered valid, although your example of trade covers that nicely). Thus it is entirely possible to regard at least some property in for instance America as at least potentially acquired in the absence of the improper use of force. The Devil is, as usual, in the details, but it sounds like you're trying to argue that I owe tax on my property (or income that has become my property) that can be seized without being theft because it's not really my property, even though I'm being taxed because the government considers it to be my property. Again I cry, Absurd!

Adam writes:

Kurbla,

Taxation is not theft by pretty simple deduction...

Your deduction only shows that it's not theft in the eyes of those who think it's not theft. We can also use a similar deduction to show the opposite, but that's equally unhelpful. What we need is a universal, objective definition which I don't think is possible. Taxation will never be theft to those who think the government has a right to lay taxes.

My definition of theft is "the taking of property by force or the threat of force, excluding the taking back of property which was itself taken by force." Even that definition is not perfect because it leaves out the meaning of "property" which gets a bit stickier. Those who don't think of taxation as theft will have a different definition, perhaps one that specifically excludes taxes. Or will define property in a way that justifies taxation as not actually the taking property.

But honestly, "taxation is theft" is a polemic not unlike "meat is murder." The point is not so much to prove that they are equivalent, but to highlight the moral viewpoint of the speaker in contrast to the moral viewpoint of the listener.

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