Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

On Absolutism

AnomalyUK was so kind as to write a response to my last post. I was commenting on his post at his blog, but it got too long, so I’d better post it over here.

He talks about the problem about organizations having a nominal and a real agenda is basically what it’s called the agency problem. Which it is.  The problem is that for any organization to be efficient, by definition, it needs to have goal orientation. And the goal must be shared by all. And that is pretty much impossible, as individuals tend to have their own individual goal. That’s biology. The old way of solving that problem is by absolutism: only one man gets power, so his goal prevails, and he has power to enforce that the people working for him actually do his work.

Of course absolutism solves the agency problem, as there is no agent, or the agents get no power. Absolutism, also makes administration way more efficient, the market shows that, corporations work when a man has absolute power, and he has drive. Absolutism has two problems, one is that not all monarchs are driven by any purpose, preferring hedonistic idleness. That historically has set their countries into chaos as other people driven to power fight between themselves to occupy the power vacuum that the idle king created by preferring poetry to politics. Eunuchs against military, you know the story.

Then there’s the problem that absolutism is so efficient that it cuts both ways: a king with a noble purpose creates heaven on earth, but a vicious king driven to create misery can create a very whole lot of it. It’s this risk that made absolutism demodé in intellectual circles since the 18th century. What if the king is retarded? We remove him? If he can be removed that his not really a king, is he?

But of course this is all idle talk. I’m no Marxist but the political arrangements of a society depend very much on the technology available for power driven people. And today absolutism is untenable; it’s way too easy to get someone out of power. Anomaly’s idea is trying to get away with organizations, solving problems with ad-hoc mechanisms as far as possible. That’s a quasi-libertarian point. And the basic answer to libertarianism is that things simply don’t work like that.

The fact is that government today is capable, by various means combining violence and suggestion, of capturing up to 50-60% of a country’s income. And the basic law of nepotism will make that money trickle down from the government making it expand until every single penny is spent in giving somebody’s niece’s job. Bureaucratic agencies and QUANGOs all being just excuses for that nepotism. An absolute ruler with 60% of the country’s income in his hand will be no less likely to make it trickle down to his family and friends. Happens in Africa all the time. Kings can be social too.

Of course Africans employed by the government don’t try to justify their position by “doing good” or trying to make themselves useful. They just spend it in whatever they please. Which would be an improvement over the QUANGO mushrooming we live with today. But not by much.

We need less parasites living off productive people. I fail to see how concentrating power would help.

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10 responses to “On Absolutism

  1. Leonard May 7, 2012 at 19:09

    The choice is not between parasites and not. It is in the nature of the parasitism; particularly, how damaging the parasites are to the polity, and what they offer in return. Ideally your parasites actually serve a positive function.

    As such, the point of concentrating power is that you lose the bad side effects of the parasites. In the extreme, you get Moldbuggian neocameralism: the parasites are formalized as shareholders in the sovereign corp. The sovcorp itself is lean and small; it can outsource almost all tasks of governance except for security.

    • spandrell May 8, 2012 at 02:11

      Ever heard of the Byzantine empire? Parasites can’t have no bad side effects. It doesn’t work like that.

      • Leonard May 8, 2012 at 03:15

        I have heard of it, yes. One anecdote is sufficient to prove that there can be bad side effects, but I was not disputing that. One anecdote cannot prove that there must be bad side effects.

        I am with Mencius in thinking that the side effects can be minimal, or even positive, depending on how you look at them. But regardless, that’s not really the question here. The question is, can the parasites’ side effects vary substantively? I think it’s obvious they can; if so, then it is wise into looking into how to minimize them.

  2. spandrell May 8, 2012 at 10:45

    Moldbug was also smart on telling libertarians that the problem is not the theory, but getting from here to there.
    But he never addressed it. Electing a CEO is as feasible as a spontaneous religious revelation to the truth of Misesianism.

    Coercion is an advanced science today. And patronage is human nature.

    • Leonard May 8, 2012 at 14:46

      There’s no problem in getting there from here. The obvious route is military coup, followed by formalization. Of course, this is unappealing to the folk activist, insofar as he is not an officer in the US Army. Moldbug has spent much more time trying to discuss his “reboot”, in an unsatisfying manner. I certainly do not think that a democratic vote to end democracy is as far fetched as a new religious revelation of a rightist nature. But neither do I think it very likely that it would end in neocameralism.

      On the other hand, while I don’t think a democratic reboot –> neocameralism likely, I find it much more likely than any scenario that would bring anarchocapitalism. So, there’s that.

      I agree with your latter two statements. Neither of them are arguments against neocameralism.

    • nydwracu May 8, 2012 at 17:42

      I still need to write something about this, but the most feasible route I can see is USSR-style collapse of centralized authority -> decentralization, with non-state groups already established as legitimate stepping into the crater -> local-level implementation of $governanceStructure there. And then, if it can be demonstrated to work, who knows, it might just spread.

      • Anomaly UK May 8, 2012 at 20:56

        Worth noting that today is the 352nd anniversary of the restoration of Charles II. History isn’t quite the straight line we are sometimes led to believe.

  3. nydwracu May 8, 2012 at 17:39

    Don’t have time to respond in detail, but it’d be interesting to see how effective corporate rulers rule. I’m not familiar with e.g. Apple, but I had a few books on Commodore lying around when I was growing up, and what made Commodore successful was basically that Jack Tramiel didn’t have an inflated ego, and stayed out of the way. One of the higher-ups in Commodore when it was successful (Tomczyk — his book is definitely worth reading) said (iirc) that Tramiel just left power lying around for anyone competent enough to pick it up. (I think that’s what the three or four ‘anarcho-monarchists’ in the world are on about. Minarcho-monarchism, maybe…?) And they entered the computer market because one of his engineers said computers were the future and he told him to prove it and build one. Later, Commodore brought in outside management, and that’s probably what killed it. (Then Tramiel left for Atari, but I don’t know much about that.)

    • spandrell May 9, 2012 at 11:01

      It depends on what is your workforce. If you have low IQ employees you better be a domineering asshole who slaves bullies them into submission.
      Commodore could afford to let their employees be creative.

      Then again Apple was based in humiliating high IQ engineers too. Egomaniac jerks evolved because they serve a function.

  4. RS May 18, 2012 at 21:14

    MM, for one, confessed that his ideal state would still tax at the Laffer max, and that it wouldn’t be libertarian/liberal in that sense. He said it would be pretty libertarian otherwise.

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