RE: POL: Extropianism and Politics

Billy Brown (
Tue, 23 Mar 1999 09:24:50 -0600

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
> What methods do states use to restrain the initiation of force by
> the state, and what backs them up if those methods fail? I can think
> of only two such means: jury nullification and armed rebellion (I do
> not include elections or recall, because they are more likely to
> support the majority's use of violence than to restrain it). Do you
> think "complex market mechanisms" are less stable or in some other
> way inferior to those methods?

Writers of constitutions restrain state power by apportioning it among different entities with competing interests. Ideally, one hopes that on any given question the strength of the agencies with a vested interest in restraint will be greater than that of those in favor of expansion. This can be a tricky design problem, but it is of a level of complexity that can readily be addressed by careful thought.

Early attempts to design this sort of government have been moderately successful. For instance, the U.S. government, arguable the first serious attempt in history at creating a stable limited government, operated largely as expected for several generations. It eventually succumbed to the problems of special interest lobbying and gradual expansion with which we are so famliar, but it has been a rather gradual process. It is also worth noting that this transformation is largely the result of popular desires - the Federal Government grew into its present form largely because the people wanted it to.

Now, we could certainly build a much better system based on the experience of the last two centuries. We can see now that the government should be much smaller to start with, and that there must be some active mechanism for pruning back outdated laws and obsolete programs. We can see that stronger mechanisms are needed to fight 'constitutional creep', but we can also readily see ways of designing such mechanisms. IMO, it would now be feasible to design a limited government that could operate for several centuries without serious erosion - and if immortality and other transhumanist technologies can give us a population that understands how governments evolve, that could easily stretch to millennia. Since I expect to see strong SI long before then, I don't see long-term stability as a problem we really need to be worried about.

There are two reasons why I don't really trust market mechanisms to achieve the same goal. The first is simply that they are untried in this arena. We can see from experience that the market is capable of optimizing economic activities, but the same is not true of the use of force. In fact, what data I can see (from cases like modern-day Russia) would seem to indicate that there are perverse incentives at work whenever the use of force becomes an option. If there is no one who can police my actions, it is often in my best interests to act like a criminal. It is not at all clear that it is possible to create a stable population of independent entities that will police each other.

The second problem is transaction costs. Every scheme I have seen for privately produced law results in a massive proliferation of complexity. The individual contracts with a PPA, the PPAs contract with each other, the PPAs negotiate meta-contracts covering contract enforcement, and on and on and on. When you combine this approach with an absolutist view of individual responsibility (which is usually the case), you end up with a society where you need to read and understand a thousand pages of legalese to buy a pack of chewing gum. Either everyone spends all their time reading legal documents, or no one ever knows what laws are going to apply to a given situation. This might be a viable society for transhumans, but you and I would have some serious problems.

Finally, I don't really see a need to try something as exotic as anarcho-capitalism. I can readily see how to set up a government whose only really objectionable activity as a small compulsory tax bill. Since I'd be paying the same money to a PPA in an anarchist society, I don't see that there is much to be gained by trying the experiment.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I