Mencius Moldbug on the financial crisis. Pithy quote amuses me:
Accounting is boring. Or at least, it should be boring. If it's not, something is probably up.
(Hear, hear.)

About Fnargocracy

I've been pretty active over at Moldbug's place. But I had this old essay I wrote up about one of his old posts, which explains neocameralism via our old friend Fnargl. So I thought I would post it to use a springboard for more general discussion about neocameralism.
...let's assume that the dictator is not evil but simply amoral, omnipotent, and avaricious.

One easy way to construct this thought-experiment is to imagine the dictator isn't even human. He is an alien. His name is Fnargl. Fnargl came to Earth for one thing: gold. His goal is to dominate the planet for a thousand years, the so-called "Thousand-Year Fnarg," and then depart in his Fnargship with as much gold as possible. Other than this Fnargl has no other feelings. He's concerned with humans about the way you and I are concerned with bacteria.

You might think we humans, a plucky bunch, would say "screw you, Fnargl!" and not give him any gold at all. But there are two problems with this. One, Fnargl is invulnerable - he cannot be harmed by any human weapon. Two, he has the power to kill any human or humans, anywhere at any time, just by snapping his fingers.

Other than this he has no other powers. He can't even walk - he needs to be carried, as if he was the Empress of India. (Fnargl actually has a striking physical resemblance to Jabba the Hutt.) But with invulnerability and the power of death, it's a pretty simple matter for Fnargl to get himself set up as Secretary-General of the United Nations. And in the Thousand-Year Fnarg, the UN is no mere sinecure for alcoholic African kleptocrats. It is an absolute global superstate. Its only purpose is Fnargl's goal - gold. And lots of it.

In other words, Fnargl is a revenue maximizer. The question is: what are his policies? What does he order us, his loyal subjects, to do?

Well, I don't think taking control is exactly that easy, although it depends on details. But let's ignore that.

What would Fnarglocracy be like? Well, I think Moldbug is right in that it would have strong private property. Fnargl's interests are aligned with ours in some ways, one of them being preventing wastage from violence, theft, and most of what we think of as crime. Economically, assuming Fnargl has reasonably finite computational power and/or limited abilities to gather information, he'd want a free market.

Fnargl would certainly not want a gold standard. Monetizing gold encourages saving it, including cacheing it and wearing it, both of which may result in lossage. Rather, he could set up a nearly perfect currency: fiat, with no dilution. If he came now, he'd probably just use dollars for this: new bills would be printed only to replace old; the Fed would be closed down, or at least open-market operations would be. This is what taxes would be collected in, so that it is what the world would have to use (not to mention it being superior even to gold as a store of value). Then Fnargl would use taxes to buy gold, which he would store in a heavily guarded pile somewhere. (How exactly he would do this is an interesting question, but I am ignoring it.) The price of gold would go sky-high, as a means to get humans to mine it assiduously. In this manner, Fnargl would use the free market to channel as much human effort as possible into gold mining.

I think it would probably be safest for Fnargl if he created propoganda (see discussion below) that there was a vague sort of gold backing for his money. This would be useful to justify state gold-buying and to explain the existence of the gold-pile, which otherwise might cause people to wonder why Fnargl is so interested in the stuff. If it is seen as just "backing up our money" in some vague and esoteric way, nobody will think much about it, just as nobody currently makes anything of the huge gold pile the USA has stashed away.

In other ways, Fnargl's interests are opposite ours and not libertarian in the
least. For one, he wants to extract the maximum possible tribute from us, so he'd tax us at nearly the Laffer maximum. He does want investment, to increase the size of the economy. He'd probably mandate high forced savings. But he'd let us run our investments ourselves, for the same reason he'd have a free market -- to let the market work to allow us to best motivate ourselves.

For a few other ways in which Fnargl's interests are not the same as ours, read on. What these boil down to is that Fnargl is not liberal -- he does not see the point of our lives as we do. Liberals agree that our lives should be for us to live; the specific lives we choose vary widely. To him, though, our lives are simply means by which gold is to be extracted, refined, and moved into his stockpile. These are very different goals. Our subordination to him allows him to align them, but only so long as we are productive as possible right now, or will be in future. This is not exact alignment. In particular, goals are different at the extremes of our lives.

Before we exist, we don't have goals, whereas Fnargl does. He wants only the most productive bacteria. Once we are alive, we very much value our own life, for its own sake, whereas Fnargl values it only if we produce. Otherwise, he'd prefer us dead, ceterus paribus. Also, we tend to value ourselves as we are, not in some alternate form. (We do change ourselves to a degree, but this is self-chosen, and usually minimal.) Fnargl may envision radical changes to us, and it certainly does not matter to him whether we would want these changes. Consider this simple question: do you think it would be a good idea to amputate your hand and replace it with a shovel? Probably not. Fnargl, however, might consider that worth doing if it speeds your ability to dig for gold.

Conversely, there are people who kill themselves that Fnargl would probably want alive. In Fnarglocracy, suicide would be a crime, just as it was in monarchy, and for the same reason. You're depriving the state of your production! The difference is, human moral sentiments revolt against hurting innocents to punish a suicide. Fnargl would be happy to visit punishment on anyone near and dear to you. Now, he may or may not -- this depends on whether or not he feels the downside (him being seen as a meanie) would be more demotivational for survivers than the upside would be. Hard to say. But it is certainly a possibility.
will Fnargl allow freedom of the press? But why wouldn't he? What can the press do to Fnargl?
It can determine how people view him: God or devil. Benevelent and lovable? Or evil and greedy? It can also determine how people view working for him. This will determine other things. How likely it is that people close to him attempt to attack him or the regime? How willing are people to work for him? How much does he have to pay to get good help? He needs an apparat, just like any other state. Money helps when hiring, and he will certainly use it to get the best and brightest. But fanatical devotion can also be useful sometimes.

If Fnargl is invulnerable, why should he fear attack? Well, there are some attacks that might work, depending on the exact details of his powers. For example, Moldbug describes Fnargl as immobile. So, one way to deal with him might be to drop him in a deep hole or desert somewhere (perhaps he sleeps), and run for it. Or, perhaps you can't run: still, a sufficiently motivated suicide squad may be found to do this. Alternatively, you create a desert where he is -- perhaps via a thermonuclear attack. (Fnargl himself is invulnerable, by assumption. But it would clear out all nearby people and equipment, so that Fnargl is now isolated and cannot exert any control.)

Is it nitpicking to think of ways to attack Fnargl? After all, he's an imaginary alien. But he is supposed to stand in for Moldbug's preferred state owners --shareholders of a sovereign corporation. And they can be attacked, perhaps in ways analogous to attacking Fnargl. For example, they might be rendered unable to actually communicate with the CEO, which is analogous to stranding Fnargl in a desert. If the CEO is faithful, he'll find a way to reconnect. If he isn't, he may decide it's time for neocameralism to evolve into monarchy.

By controlling the press, and other information-transmitting institutions, Fnargl can ensure that he himself is loved by humanity. He should not tell them the truth (that he is here only for gold, that he cares for us not at all, and would happily blow up the planet if it secures more gold). Rather, he should tell us that his enlightened species has taken a benevelent interest in us, and that he has been sent to help us rule ourselves, to prevent our self-destruction (which his people's advanced social sciences have determined to be inevitable on our own), and to bring us into a golden age of freedom, equality, and righteousness. He should definitely hold elections, so allow us to endorse his rule. (Of course he should not allow any legislation which would significantly impair our gold extraction operations.) That is, he should coopt the existing progressive memeset and consent-manufactories to his own advantage. The more we love him, the more we consent to his rule, the less likely it is that anyone manages to bring off any serious attack against him or his state. As Moldbug himself said elsewhere: "Once people even start to see you as powerful, rather than responsible, a crack has appeared in your armor. You have enemies. And who wants enemies?"

Even after Fnargl manages to securely set himself up as god-king, there is still the problem of people being unproductive. They can steal from each other, for example. They might engage in intra-human politics or warfare to grab stuff. They might engage in strikes, or slow-downs, in ways that cut production. Or, they may simply not work hard. They might devote their lives to esoteric stuff that humans care about, but Fnargl doesn't -- the pursuit of as much sex as possible, for example. All of these things are more reasons why Fnargl will want a press that is not objective. Rather, the press should instill the correct values.

Hard work is one such value. I've read that in Japan, when a man is unhappy with his job he works harder, to attempt to shame his superiors into giving him a promotion or more pay. This is a memeset Fnargl wants, not the memeset where when you are unhappy you quit, slack off or strike. What else? Well, Fnargl certain does not want people idling away their lives on selfish pursuits, meaningful only to themselves. Sex and drugs, to take the most salient examples. But also writing poetry, gossiping, entertainment -- anything except work and reproduction. He will tolerate our distractions to some degree, I think, because they make us happy, and Fnargl wants us to have rewards so that we have a reason to work hard. But I think his press will discourage the more self-centered life. And he may well decide to keep laws against really addictive and disabling drugs.

What other values will Fnargl want? Law abidingness. Peacefulness, even pacifism. Docility. The brotherhood of man. Do these values sound familiar? Well, yes -- they are the values of progressivism! Again, Fnargl will do well by coopting this memeset, not by letting it die. He certainly does not want every bit of progressivism, but he does want some of it.

Do the values above remind you a bit of sheep? Well, no surprise -- wild animals are far more unruly than our domesticated breeds. We've bred certain behaviors out of them. Establishing progressivism as his state religion is one means by which Fnargl will domesticate humans. But then there is literal domestication, too. Why should Fnargl let us breed as we choose? He should not. Rather, he will want to control our breeding, so as to achieve several ends.

One important end would be to rapidly increase the total population of the Earth to near its carrying capacity. More people equals more production. Fnargl would want to stabilize the population only once there were enough people so that marginal human life was at zero gold(tax) production, that is, just scraping by. He's not concerned with our average quality of life: he's concerned only with total production. Given variable harvests, I don't think it unlikely that he'd let us go beyond the carrying capacity for a while, during years with good harvests, then let us starve back to it in bad years.

But there's more than just numbers here. Fnargl always will want to increase our productivity, and not only via capital investment (the current means), but also by cultivating better people. Eugenics! He'll want to increase our intelligence and decrease our time-preference, both of which are known to be correlated with (and most likely causal of) productivity. He'll certainly want us healthier, and probably also physically smaller (fewer calories per worker). And he'll probably want to increase our docility, law-abidingness, hard workingness, and general disinterest in selfish pleasures. How would Fnargl do these things?

Some of his eugenics could be done more or less in a free market way. I.e., Fnargl would probably subsidize reproduction, enough to make pregnancy and child rearing more lucrative than some work, at least for people whose traits he likes. Remember that he's got all the taxes he needs to do pretty much whatever he wants. Children pay out in the long run for Fnargl, but may not for us. From his POV, this is a market failure that he'll want to correct.

After he filled the world to the quantity of people desired, which would take a few generations I'd guess, then he'd start in with the harsher stuff. Once you've got sufficient quantity, then you start working on quality. (Increasing the supportable amount of humans would also be a goal, but the free market would handle that just fine; Fnargl doesn't need to invest in that himself.)

Some of the eugenics would be... less than free. Three generations of imbeciles would be way too much for Fnargl -- I doubt he'd even allow one. I don't see him allowing morons to live off the state, that's for sure. He'd probably let them live, so long as they are sterilized and paid for privately -- this goes in the category of "let them have rewards to keep them working". But without someone else paying their bills? Euthanasia. (The progressive consent-manufactories would be kept busy for quite a while with this one.)

With the world at its carrying capacity, Fnargl would want to start replacing the least productive people. This would be people with low intelligence, high time preference, and few skills. Some of them might accept being worked to death, but some might revolt or turn to crime, or otherwise cause problems instead of dying peacefully. This is an example of a situation where interests are not aligned -- our genes tell us categorically "do not die"; Fnargl cares not. These criminals he would kill if he caught them, perhaps having them disassembled for organs if possible. (He might also attempt to squelch the crime of desperate men by harsh measures: punishing their families.) I could also imagine Fnargl learning that working people to death was not cost-effective, and perhaps preemptable. I can imagine him clearing whole countries at a time via his snap, if he didn't like their average genetics and/or culture. Then he could resettle using people who were more to his taste. For PR reasons, he would probably try to justify his genocides, probably by manipulating a group he had decided to genocide into warring on a neighbor. His progressive PR organs would clarify these occurances to make sure that the world understood things correctly.

Fnargl would enforce breeding limits against people with all sorts of genetic problems. How would he do that? A caring (but steely) progressive bureaucracy. Every person would be genetically tested prenatally, and perhaps also at birth, with abortion/euthanasia for those found wanting. Further testing would be done later in life for personality and intelligence, with sterilization for the worst cases. License to breed granted conditionally. Justification? Overcrowding, and of course "the good of the children". Again, here's a situation where progressivism is vital: how else can Fnargl create millions of dedicated eugenecists and their staffs, the informers, the voluntary compliance to something as illiberal as this?

I also tend to think he would want focused inbreeding programs on small groups of people, to attempt to fix certain traits for general propagation. This is how we artificially select animal strains, and I see good reason for Fnargl to desire it. 1000 years is plenty of time to spread desirable traits to everyone living. Women (even girls) might be encouraged to reproduce using state-sponsored sperm donors, perhaps via very large subsidies. Or perhaps they'd just be forced, if not enough of them were volunteering. Droit de seigneur, indeed. Perhaps they'd call it "being drafted" and it would be highly praised as "doing your duty" and "serving humanity".

Mencius Moldbug and the Ring of Power

I've been at a bit of an intellectual dry point for a while. I'm too lazy to read books, while blogs are not sufficiently challenging intellectually

This is why Mencius Moldbug's blog (see sidebar) has been very welcome to me. Having discovered it a few months back, and dabbled in the comments there, I continued to find him stimulating enough that I went back and read through his archives. Which are voluminous -- the man is quirky. Among other quirks, he never writes a paragraph if a page will do.

I think I will try to write up a more complete discussion of the philosophy of Moldbug to coincide with his promised April 17 return. Meanwhile, I was thinking about power analogically, using the Lord of the Rings template, when I realized Moldbug's ideas actually map onto it quite nicely.

In LotR, to recap for those few who have not read it, the central conundrum is created by an evil artifact, the One Ring of Power. It was created by an evil demigod, Sauron, who poured much of his power into it. Sauron was vanquished at one point, and almost but not quite dead. But he cannot be killed while the Ring exists. So Sauron has rearisen to threaten all of Middle Earth with his armies of evil orcs, trolls, etc. This time he has far more power than the degenerate kingdoms of men and fading elves that he faces. They cannot win militarily and everyone knows it.

The One Ring is, as its name indicates, very powerful. Any great person who wields it can command armies and gain victory via its power. However, nobody who has owned it has ever voluntarily given it up, except two hobbits (this seems to be their special power). The Ring is evil, and has a will of its own: although its possessor may have the best of intentions and may do many good things with it initially, the Ring will possess his or her mind in the long run. It will inflame the base desires of the Ringlord, which for men and elves both seems to involve the will to dominate others.

Thus, the conundrum in LotR is that the Ring offers military victory, which is not possible in any other way. And yet if anyone of the "good guys" should wield it and win, it will destroy him or her and in the long run set up its dark dominion in any case. It seems like a no win situation, however, there's one out. The good news is it can be destroyed. The bad news is, being ultramagical it can only be unmade in one place in the entire world, the volcano in which it was forged. And Sauron happens to own that place, which is in the very center of his dark kingdom, practically impossible to get to.

So, in the LotR a couple of weak, largely clueless hobbits are sent on a rather ridiculous errand into the heart of the enemy's territory to throw the Ring into the fire. (This can work in fiction -- may the Plot be with you. But it's still risible from any "realistic" perspective, which many of the characters in the book understand quite well.)

The libertarian analogy here is clear enough. The Ring of Power is coercive power, particularly, legitimized coercion as institutionalized in the State. The conundrum is similar: as Acton said, power corrupts. Nobody can be trusted to run the state, it seems. And so we anarchists want to "throw it in the volcano" -- to break outside of the entire paradigm that the damn thing must always exist. And the risibility factor also maps: how do we get to liberty from where we are? Vote for it? Please.

Mencius Moldbug comes on the scene with a new proposal, his "neocameralism" as he calls it. You can read his explanation at the link. To understand neocameralism via analogy in Middle Earth, we need to understand a few more of Tolkien's "rules". Lesser rings of power were created for all of the free peoples of middle earth (Men, Elves, and Dwarves). Men who get lesser rings of power actually fade from the world, turning to undead, evil wraiths. Elves have their own lesser rings, which Sauron never touched, and they do not fade. But we are assured by everyone concerned that they cannot wield the One Ring safely, presumably because they do like domination (although less than Men), which it would inflame. There were also lesser rings created for the Dwarves. But these rings are said to have little power over Dwarves, who were created separately from Men and Elves. Rather, the only effect on Dwarves is to inflame their existing greed, their covetousness of gold, jewels, and other wealth. (Also the rings seem to magically help them with wealth accumulation in some unspecific way.)

Now I've laid out enough here to understand a radical proposal that should have been entertained at the Council of Elrond. It is this: give the One Ring of Power to a Dwarf Lord. (Presumably this would have been Dáin II Ironfoot, who was the current King Under the Mountain when the War of the Ring happened, but let's call this hypothetical dwarven hero "Fnargl".) Fnargl can use the military power of the Ring to destroy Sauron's power, thus saving Middle Earth from the dominion of a known evil. So far so good. (Analogically, neocameralism fills the power vaccuum that folks like Moldbug worry about in anarchy.) Now the bad part: with the Ring, Fnargl is unstoppable. He will take over the world. (Analog: anarchy is not possible. The State must exist.) But there's good news: unlike other mortals, dwarves don't want domination. Rather they want money. And so the resulting Fnarglocracy will be something truly new in Middle Earth: a kingdom without a real King. Oh, Fnargl will be there, yes. A sort of God-King. But he won't care a whit about the subjects as such: from his point of view, they exist to make him money, and he is undying so he has very, very low time preference. Everyone must be subjected to force them to pay taxes, but Fnargl does not want to control them for dominion's sake, or for any other end except money, money, money. Since the best way to make money is via a free market, he'll let them have that. (With heavy taxation, of course.) He won't otherwise interfere with them. So, you'll get a semi-libertarian outcome: far more liberal than any modern state, but just as tax-heavy. The hobbits can still smoke their weed, so long as they continue to work most of the time. (Analogically, instead of an eternal ruler, Moldbug envisions a corporation. Agency becomes a problem, and more on that eventually, but the idea is the same: corps exist to make money for their shareholders, and so according to Moldbuggian thought they'd make good rulers from the POV of not caring what their subjects do.)

Anyway, for much more on Fnarglocracy, you can read Moldbug's views here. Note that Moldbug is proposing an interstellar alien as Fnargl in the linked piece, with a slightly different power ring. But the same general principle applies.

I have my own critique of Fnarglocracy, which I suppose I will post eventually. Some of it maps to critiques of neocameralism; some of it may not.

Improved Democracy

State democracy is a form of socialism. As such I've got no desire for it. However, democracy as a decisionmaking process is useful in many organizations, for example corporations. And it is also important in the state, of course, whether I like it or not. It is impossible for me as an engineering mind to look at the current system and not think of ways to improve it. Here's a sketch of how I'd set up the democratic subsystem of a government.

The legislative branch is bicameral. The lower house (let's call if, "of Representatives", to make things easier on us with American civics knowledge) is the lawmaking body. The upper house (the "Senate") is the law abolishing body. Laws do not come into effect without being passed by both houses. The upper house, alone, can strike a law from the books, by sunsetting it (see below).

Citizens do not have to register to vote. Every citizen who has registered to vote has one vote in the lower house of the legislature. These votes can be proxied, to any other citizen, or to two special proxies: "no", and "abstain". All proxy assignments, of all citizens, are public information. As a convenience, a citizen's proxy is asked for on each election day, but can be changed at any time by a relatively simple procedure, akin to registering to vote. Proxies themselves may proxy, although they are not allowed to change their own proxy except as a part of an election.

Note that this makes, de facto, two classes of voters: "representatives" (who cannot change their proxy at will), and normal citizens (who can). (Unregistered citizens are a third class.) A representative who wishes to change his proxy without an election should be allowed to do this, but only by giving up his representative status (until the next election). All citizens who were formerly proxying to him should be notified of what happened, and they should have their proxy reassigned to his (old) proxy.

Actual legislation can be voted on electronically, if the technology is present. In that case, there is no need to exclude any voter, although for convenience it may be worthwhile to forbid individual voters. In a lower-tech setting, a physical meeting would be necessary. In this case, only the top 100 representatives (by votes proxied) should be allowed to vote.

There are two kinds of legislation that the House may create. "Writs of Abolition" are proposals which only remove existing laws, they cannot also create any new law or change any existing law. All other proposed legislation is called a "bill". To pass legislation of either kind, 50% of the non-abstaining registered voters must vote for it. The "no" proxy is counted as voting for all Writs of Abolition, and against all bills. The "abstain" proxy always abstains. Representatives vote as they like. A proxy votes with the weight of all citizens who he/she/it is proxying for, who are not currently present and voting.

The upper house ("senate") also is a proxy-based voting system. However in this case, the proxy link is secret, not public. Each election, each voter may vote for a single proxy by a secret ballot. The top 100 vote-getters will be the new Senate. Again, note that proxying means that unsuccessful candidates (those not in the top 100) will have any votes they get proxied to their assigned proxy; this is done as part of the election. Once the election is completed, all proxying to Senators is fixed until the next election.

The senate does not have a lot to do. It has only three powers:
  1. to vote to affirm a bill that has already passed the House
  2. to vote to affirm a writ of abolition that has already passed the House
  3. to vote to change the sunset provision in any existing law.
All laws have a subset provision in, that is, a date at which they cease to be in effect. (Note that the House may assign a sunset to a bill if it wants to, but this is largely cosmetic because the Senate can always change the sunset.)

When a bill comes to the Senate, it must vote to affirm that bill before it can become law. If the Senate does not vote on a bill, it automatically is removed from consideration as possible law at the next election day. (After the election the House may always re-pass the bill to replace it into consideration.) The only change the Senate can make to a bill is to add a sunset provision to it. And it must do this (unless the House did), because for the Senate to pass legislation, it must be sunsetted. The earliest allowed sunset is 90 days after the next election day. The longest allowed sunset is 10 years.

Any existing law may have its sunset provision changed by the Senate. The same limits to possible sunsets apply: the earliest allowed sunset is 90 days after the next election day. The longest allowed sunset is 10 years.

Finally, when a Writ of Abolition comes to the Senate, it may vote to pass it. If it passes, the change in the law takes place immediately. Thus laws may be immediately abolished only with the consent of both houses.

In all three cases, simple majority vote (of proxied citizens) passes the law/sunset/writ.

Making money in America

Can one make it in America starting with nothing? This guy did.:
Alone on a dark gritty street, Adam Shepard searched for a homeless shelter. He had a gym bag, $25, and little else. A former college athlete with a bachelor's degree, Mr. Shepard had left a comfortable life with supportive parents in Raleigh, N.C. Now he was an outsider on the wrong side of the tracks in Charles­ton, S.C.

But Shepard's descent into poverty in the summer of 2006 was no accident. Shortly after graduating from Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., he intentionally left his parents' home to test the vivacity of the American Dream. His goal: to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within a year.

To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts or mention his education.

During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.

The effort, he says, was inspired after reading "Nickel and Dimed," in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty.

He tells his story in "Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream." The book, he says, is a testament to what ordinary Americans can achieve.
The link has a short interview with the author. Practically the first question is, "but surely your background – you're privileged; you have an education and a family – made it much easier for you to achieve." Shepard thinks not, but of course he does have many advantages ("privilege" means "advantage" to the left). He's white for one thing. Young and healthy, presumably. And most importantly, he has a work ethic. That's a very real advantage.

I've been given Nickled and Dimed to read, by goodthinking friends. And I've read it; it's good, but you should read it knowing that its author is a hard-left ideologue. She documents ably the fact that low-end jobs are not very pleasant, nor hugely remunerative. She works hard for little, and is amazed that people can work that hard. But her experiment doesn't show what she thinks about opportunity in America. Ehrenreich was, by intention, sampling how she might live given certain jobs. She was not trying to get ahead. And her lifestyle, for all the privation she experienced, was nonetheless not the same as many of her coworkers. For example, she'd get an apartment for herself to live in when she tried a new job. Real minimum wage workers rarely live alone; they live with relatives, or get roommates. When I was in graduate school making $14000/year, I lived in a series of group houses with up to 4 other people. My share of the rent: from $250 to $400 per month. I also lived alone, when I was first in College Park, in a tiny miserable mildewed little basement apartment which rented for $650/month. Living alone, as Ehrenreich did, is not what the working poor do.

Lamest Edit Wars

Via Balko, the Lamest Edit Wars in Wikipedia page:
Cow tipping

Is it appropriate to include a picture of a cow with the caption An unsuspecting potential victim? People disputed this caption, largely because a couple people considered it humor and no evidence could be found that it was. Many different variations were put forth from plain "A cow" to humorous "Mooo?" Consensus was to delete the image, but the article ended up with the picture of "A cow in its natural upright state." There were attempts to add a cow lying down to dispute that cows can lie down and get up, but the edit warriors refused it. Perhaps cow tipping is just an urban legend and the implication that this cow could be tipped violates WP:NPOV. Can any reliable source verify that the cow is unsuspecting? Does it matter that the cow is looking at the camera? How does this segue into links to flatulence humor and the dozens? Learn the answers to these burning questions and others at Talk:Cow tipping.


Many libertarians propound what we might call the hardline abolitionist stance on immigration: people have a right to move around; movement is not coercion. Ergo there should be no immigration or emigration restrictions. None, anywhere. No passports, no regulation whatsoever. Full stop.

This analysis is simple enough, but it is also wildly impractical when imagined in our real-world situation, where the state exists and serves as a conduit for forced wealth transfers to all subjects, which includes immigrants. Furthermore, we are rich and the world is poor, so there's plenty of reason to want to move to America.

Surveys that Pew did in Mexico suggest that 40% of Mexicans want to move to the US, if they could... and Mexico is not even a particularly poor country, by world standards. If economic factors drive most immigration, which seems likely to me, then it seems possible that a third or more of the world's population would want to move to America tomorrow, if we abolished immigration restrictions.

How do you think having 2 billion new citizens, most of them desperately poor, uneducated, non-English speaking, not our culture, would affect America? What if it was "only" 1 billion, or even just 500 million?

Well, one thing a lot of libertarians have thought over the years is: well, that would kill the welfare state. Because the tiny minority of native-born citizens, in that scenario, would no longer consent to (or even be able to afford) the level of wealth transfers we'll put up with currently due to our relative uniformity. Uniformity in many ways: wealth, culture (including language), and yes, race. Presumably the native-born would have the power (due to owning most of the wealth) to change the laws. And yes, I am aware that we are not that uniform now: I mean only to say that we are quite uniform now by comparison to how we would be if we abolished all immigration restrictions and a billion peasants immigrated from all corners of the world.

OTOH, there's a second argument that says the newcomers would easily outvote the native-born and they'd vote to dispossess us. Perhaps large parts of our welfare state would go, but not all, and certainly the ideological basis of it would not be destroyed. I subscribe to this position, myself. In this analysis, the fact of the existing state with its mechanisms for forced wealth transfers makes allowing any immigration into a species of coercion; but we can afford quite a bit, and so even the current level of immigration, while perhaps somewhat of a strain, is affordable. But free immigration would not be.

Thus, as an "implementation detail" of libertarianism, it is important that before we abolish immigration restrictions, we abolish the welfare state. Don't hold your breath on that one! Meanwhile, while we wait for the welfare state to collapse, immigration should be limited enough so that we can assimilate our immigrants, economically at least. And given that we do already have laws about immigration, it seems like those would be the place to start. There's something to be said for the rule of law.

Although it is quite possible to graft a racial analysis onto all that, or to emphasize race over culture, language, religion, etc. as a form of diversity, it is not necessary. The simple brute reality of a rich democratic state in a world full of poor people is all you need to force some rather ugly choices. It's not just here, either; it's every Western country.

Another aspect of free immigration that may be dangerous in our current world is letting into the USA vast numbers of immigrants who hate us for our violent interventions in their countries of origin. We are opening ourselves to terrorism if we let just anyone come and go freely. Now, the answer to this is rather like the former problem of the welfare state: abolish it. If we stopped intervening worldwide, gave up on pushing around foreigners, then (after a while) it should be safe to let in all the immigrants we want to, at least in terms of their holding grievances against us. But again, that's not how things are now. So, we do need to become a peaceful country before letting in just anyone.

Unlike the situation with the welfare state, which seems extremely unlikely to change, I think a peaceful USA is an plausible, attainable political goal. It's not only crazy libertarians who talk about abolishing the warfare state and empire: we have friends on the left and right on this issue. But we're not that country now, and so there is a certain prudence in keeping out foreigners who we've offended.

Now, there is one more thing here that many paleocons and paleolibs care about, that I care less about but I still think is worth considering. And that is this whole "national question". If we opened the gates, America would change, drastically. We'd go from being a nation that is post-Protestant, white, and Anglo (with a nice leaven of believing Christians of many flavors, Jews, blacks, hispanics, etc.), to a polyglot patchwork of nations. We would no longer be a nation in any substantial sense, although we would still be living under one state.

Is the demise of American nationhood worth arguing or worrying about? Well, some people really like our country as it is, and I can't blame them for that. I like it too. I don't feel I have the right to coerce people to keep it static, but a lot of people do. Certainly I see no principled reason to abolish immigration restrictionism outside of libertarian thought.

But more importantly, there's a real danger in diversity within a nation-state: once it becomes simply a state, it may not be stable. An unstable state is a dangerous thing, typically full of civil conflict and civil rights violations, sometimes externally aggressive as well. If we look at the world today, we can see many stable nations, and many unstable ones. And the correlation is high between stability and nation-states, as versus unstable states which do not have a (single) nation in their territory. There's also a high correlation between a country's wealth and its level of stability. We may not have the option to be a highly diverse, peaceful, rich country. We may have to choose between being a somewhat diverse, rich nation-state, or a truly diverse poor unstable state at war with itself.

To put some numbers on the value of stability, read this article at Reason. It's a discussion of a 2005 study from the World Bank, "Where is the Wealth of Nations?: Measuring Capital for the 21st Century", which makes estimates of the contribution of natural, produced, and "intangible" capital to the aggregate wealth nations. The findings are interesting: most of the value of living in the first world is not due to natural resources (good farmland, timber, oil, metal ore, etc.), or even already-produced capital (factories, roads, etc). It's "intangible" capital, that is, living under the rule of law in a stable economic system with freedom of contract. If we let in too many people who are not used to the rule of law, who have their own religious law and/or cultural norms, and who have no particular attachment to the common law and inherited Anglo-American national traditions, they may unintentionally destroy our intangible capital.

Now, the preceding analysis is something hard to prove one way or the other, but it seems plausible to me. How much risk should we accept that we'll destroy the rule of law in the USA? It may not be highly likely, but it's a terribly bad outcome.

And, unfortunately, this is an angle on immigration where race and religion, among other forms of diversity, are unavoidable. We are what we are: white English-speaking post-Christians. Diversity, for us, is anything not that, which people notice and care about. To the extent that you buy either of the two arguments about nationality (that you want America to remain more or less as it is, or that you fear that the post-national state will be unstable and thus violent and poor), you will want to exclude immigrants that "aren't like us", in whatever ways seem relevant to you in the above analysis.

Of course, the good liberal response here is that we are not supposed to notice race, religion, culture, etc. Those things are not supposed to matter. Perhaps not, but they manifestly do to most people. We may think all that religion stuff is silly, but ask a believer and he'll tell you that his religion is not silly to him.

My response to the "national question" is as an anarchist: I want to abolish the state. With no state, nations can coexist because there does not have to be one policy. But failing that, I don't think multinational states are stable, at least not liberal democratic ones. (The Ottoman Empire lasted for a very long time, but it is not a model for us.) Thus I think it would be wise, so long as we do have the state, to limit immigration to moderate levels that we can assimilate.