Thursday, November 16, 2017

Regarding the Interview with Reactionary Future

RF's thesis is perfect because no matter how you attack it the goal post can always be moved. It is kind of like feminists who say things like, "it is all the patriarchy's fault." Then you point out that some feminist harmed a man in some way, and she says, "well patriarchy harms men too." The definition of the word patriarchy gets expanded and contracted as needed to prove anything she wants.

Reactionary Future says right at the top of his page at Imperial Energy that, "a ruler only becomes a tyrant when they do not have enough power."

Oh really? So George Soros would make a perfect ruler if given absolute power? What about Harvey Weinstein? Angela Merkel? Granted that all of our examples occur with people who have unsecure power. But does Teodoro Mbasogo have secure power? What about Kim Jong-un? When does power become secure? And why would even liberals, (or at least the sane ones) prefer to be ruled by Trump in a democracy rather than Kim Jong-un in a dictatorship?

The unfalsifiable hypothesis is that totally secure power will lead to responsible behavior. But let us postulate a slightly different, and falsifiable, version of this hypothesis;

The more secure power is the more responsible it will behave.

We should then see some kind of graph trend where leaders get progressively better as the security of the power increases. But what we see is no correlation at all, or a correlation in the opposite direction. Most of the heads of state of democracies are reasonable people, some monarchs are great, like Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai. Some are horrible, like Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. Lots of democratic leaders are terrible, assuming we expand the definition of "democracy" to include dictatorships with fake elections.

North Korea has fake elections. So does Russia, and various African dictatorships. But democracies with genuine elections appear to work rather well. We might even modify RF's thesis to say that a real democracy actually has secure power, (the people are securely in charge). Therefore, only secure monarchies where the king is securely in charge, or secure democracies, where the people are securely in charge, are run properly. This ties things up nicely. It explains why America worked just fine in the 1950's, (the people were secure in their power), and also explains why Dubai works just fine now, (the king is secure in his power). But it doesn't lead to the conclusion that democracy should be abolished. It leads to the conclusion that elites who corrupt democracy should be killed or incarcerated, since its easier to restore the secure power of the people than to have a violent revolution, which will inevitably involve nuclear civil war. It also explains why societies with fake elections are dysfunctional, (except it does not explain Russia that well).

The problem with RF's whole thesis is that we either play whack-a-mole with sovereignty, moving it around to try to find what the "true" sovereign is in a democracy, or we have to stretch and manipulate the definition to fit weird outliers. We discover that in a democracy the people are not really deciding things for themselves. So we then say, "ah, it's the universities who are the true sovereign because they control what people think," but then we find out they receive foundation money, so we say, "the foundations are the true sovereign." But are they? Did not the universities train the billionaires that control the foundations? Where the hell is the true sovereign? We are playing whack-a-mole with sovereignty.

Or we can play the definition game. But this leads to weird anti-monarchy conclusions like, "the people are actually sovereign in a democracy," and "Russia doesn't work because it has fake elections." And, "democracy should be vastly strengthened."

The sovereign does not stop being sovereign just because he receives advice. If an adviser is too strong then he should be brought to heel. Similarly, the people do not stop being sovereign in a democracy just because the universities have brainwashed them. In the "inverted sovereignty hypothesis," which is the hypothesis that the people really are the ones in charge in a democracy, if an institution has too much power, then the solution is to democratize it.

Facebook has too much power? Then its board should be elected by the users of Facebook. Google has too much power? The same. The universities are out of control? Then the deans and department heads should be elected by the parents of the students. Foundation have too much power? Then foundations should be elected too. Large information corporations have too much power? Then their boards should be elected by customer-members, just like with credit unions. (But not elected by the workers because that would produce a destructive conflict of interest).

In fact, the above plan seems like a much more viable alternative to nuclear civil war. But this leads to some downright Chomskyite-sounding conclusions. The above plan is not actually insane. Customers do just fine electing credit union boards, and credit unions provide complex financial products. In real life, an inner cabal of management winds up running things, just like the cabal of bureaucrats in a democracy. I see this as mostly a feature and not a bug. Smart managers would inevitably game the system and run things anyway, and the act of having everything accountable would make things work better in most industries. If Comcast were a democracy your cable bill would probably drop, and if Facebook/Google were democracies its shady and manipulative practices could be brought to heel. It would definitely help destroy the Cathedral if university department heads were elected.

Democracy is best applied to information business rather than production businesses, because production is so crucial to a nations prosperity, and because information businesses are much more of a threat to public sanity, while production ones are not. One should never democratize the food industry or agribusinesses, (never tamper with a nations food supply), the risk is too great. And companies that actually produce products should not be run as democracies, and do not need to be.

Even better, after democratizing the universities they would undoubtedly be sufficiently weakened to bring in market mechanisms and subordinate their professors to the discipline of the market. While democracy in education is not ideal, it could be used as a first stage attack toward the ultimate goal of bringing in a more robust market mechanism like the one described in The Machinery of Freedom, by David D. Friedman.

Some reactionaries struggle to fit capitalism into an understanding of sovereignty, especially absolutist reactionaries. There is no confusion needed here; a market is a game whose rules are set up by a sovereign. The market is used by the sovereign to test forms of production and arrive at the best ones. Production is delegated to the market by the sovereign authority in order to increase its output and bring in a taxable revenue. The fact that the market continues to exist long after the sovereign king who set it up is gone, and even been overthrown by the capitalists he empowered, is no matter. Markets are divided power in production, that is, markets are war in production. The kings of Europe may have given us capitalism to meet the internal needs of their regimes at the time — a time of military war, but it has outlived them. Say what you want about divided power in production, but it is vastly superior to the starvation economics of feudal monopolies. See North Korea as an example of a modern feudal regime where the state owns nearly the entire productive capacity. Observation shows that the more of an economy is under the direct control of the government, the poorer that society is. China is even poorer than Mexico.

I like licensed anarcho capitalism under the control of a wise sovereign AI more than anything, but I'll take reformed democracy if I can get it.

Friedman describes a fine plan for breaking the Cathedral, though he does not call it as such.

"In [some] universities the teacher is prohibited from receiving any honorary or fee from his pupils, and his salary constitutes the whole of the revenue which he derives from his office. His interest is, in this case, set as directly in opposition to his duty as it is possible to set it.... It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does, or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest, at least as interest is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it altogether, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in as careless and slovenly a manner as that authority will permit. If he is naturally active and a lover of labour, it is his interest to employ that activity in any way, from which he can derive some advantage, rather than in the performance of his duty, from which he can derive none."
 He goes on;
"Before discussing how a 'free-market university' would work, we must analyze what is essentially wrong with the present system. The lack of student power which the New Left deplores is a direct result of the success of one of the pet schemes of the old left, heavily subsidized schooling. Students in public universities and, to a lesser extent, in private ones do not pay the whole cost of their schooling. As a result the university does not need its students; it can always get more. Like a landlord under rent control, the university can afford to ignore the wishes and convenience of its customers."
"If the subsidies were abolished or converted into scholarships awarded to students, so that the university got its money from tuition, it would be in the position of a merchant selling his goods at their market price and thus constrained to sell what his customers most want to buy. That is the situation of market schools, such as Berlitz and the various correspondence schools, and that is how they act.
"A university of the present sort, even if financed entirely from tuition, would still be a centralized, bureaucratic organization. In a free-market university, on the other hand, the present corporate structure would be replaced by a number of separate organizations, cooperating in their mutual interest through the normal processes of the marketplace. These presumably would include one or more businesses renting out the use of classrooms, and a large number of teachers, each paying for the use of a classroom and charging the students who wished to take his course whatever price was mutually agreeable. The system thus would be ultimately supported by the students, each choosing his courses according to what he wanted to study, the reputation of the teacher, and his price.
"Under the sort of market system I have described, a majority of students, even a large majority, can have only a positive, not a negative, effect on what is taught. They can guarantee that something will be taught but not that something will not be. As long as there are enough students interested in a subject that a teacher can make money teaching it, that subject will be taught, however much other students dislike it. The market system accomplishes the objective of the new left's proposal.
"It might be possible to reform our present universities in the direction of such free-market universities. One way would be by the introduction of a 'tuition diversion' plan. This arrangement would allow students, while purchasing most of their education from the university, to arrange some courses taught by instructors of their own choice. A group of students would inform the university that they wished to take a course from an instructor from outside the university during the next year. The university would multiply the number of students by the average spent from each student's tuition for the salary of one of his instructors for one quarter. The result would be the amount of their tuition the group wished to divert from paying an instructor of the university's choice to paying an instructor of their own choice. The university would offer him that sum to teach the course or courses proposed. If he accepted, the students would be obligated to take the course.
"The university would determine what credit, if any, was given for such courses. The number each student could take for credit might at first be severely limited. If the plan proved successful, it could be expanded until any such course could serve as an elective. Departments would still decide whether a given course would satisfy specific departmental requirements.
"A tuition diversion plan does not appear to be a very revolutionary proposal; it can begin on a small scale as an educational experiment of the sort dear to the heart of every liberal educator. Such plans could, in time, revolutionize the universities.
"At first, tuition diversion would be used to hire famous scholars on sabbatical leave, political figures of the left or right, film directors invited by college film groups, and other such notables. But it would also offer young academics an alternative to a normal career. Capable teachers would find that, by attracting many students, they could get a much larger salary than by working for a university. The large and growing pool of skilled 'free-lance' teachers would encourage more schools to adopt tuition diversion plans and thus simplify their own faculty recruitment problems. Universities would have to offer substantial incentives to keep their better teachers from being drawn off into freelancing. Such incentives might take the form of effective market structures within the university, rewarding departments and professors for attracting students. Large universities would become radically decentralized, approximating free-market universities. Many courses would be taught by free-lancers, and the departments would develop independence verging on autarchy.
Jordan Peterson is attempting to develop a kind of Rate My Professor-style website, but it lists the political ideologies of the professors so that you can avoid the nutcases. This needs to be done, but a lot more also needs to be done. A tuition diversion plan for all of Americas universities should be a key part of any Republican campaign platform.

But we need to get back to talking about Reactionary Future.

1. It cannot be shown that there is anything called secure power, unless the people in a democracy are considered a secure power. If the people are not a secure sovereign in a democracy, then nothing is.
2. If the people are considered a secure sovereign, then there is no reason to overthrow them, and strengthening democracy is a better approach.
3. If the people are not a secure sovereign, then the standard of sovereignty is so high as to make a secure monarch impossible.
4. There is no proven correlation between security of power, and good behavior, unless you consider the people in a democracy with real elections to be a secure power.
5. Therefore there is no reason to reject rather than strengthen democracy.
6. Claiming all three of the following is true is totally self-refuting; that monarchy is preferred, that secure power is possible under monarchy using the same standard to judge democracy, and that it does not exist in a democracy according to that standard.
7. The thesis of Reactionary Future, (that a ruler only becomes a tyrant when they do not have enough power), is unfalsifiable, and contradicts plain observation.


  1. Chechna, which is fairly unrepresentative of Russia, has fake elections; Russia proper does not (it just has a popular government). Singapore also has uncompetitive elections with a popular government, and it works fine.

    I agree; a secure ruler is not necessarily an accountable or responsible one. Were Kim Jong-Un actually given permanently secure power, he'd still run the country poorly. RF's thesis sounds like a bizarre version of the Coase Theorem.

  2. We will write a response shortly on our blog. The claim that "a ruler only becomes a tyrant when they do have enough power" is not RF's thesis but our own. In fact, we got this formula from a critic of Moldbug who imputes it to him.

  3. Response: