Friday, October 24, 2014

The weak state and the rise of the Mafia

"Diego Gambetta, however, presents an elegant economic theory of the Mafia's origins: mafiosi are private entrepreneurs whose function is to provide protection of individual property rights in a society in which the state fails to perform this basic service." -- Fukuyama, p. 114

In fact, according to what I have read, state law enforcement was almost entirely absent in Sicily when it was ruled by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 19th century. (One of the "Two Sicilies" was the mezzogiorno.)

As Gambetta writes:

"In all likelihood, by the time Italy was unified in 1860-61 the foundations of this peculiar industry were already firmly in place. Not only did the state have to fight to establish itself and its law as the legitimate authority and a credible guarantor in a region where no such authority had previously existed."

So, in Sicily before the creation of the Italian state, there was effectively no state at all. The Mafia filled this vacuum.

This history would seem to present a problem for anarcho-capitalists. Our good friend Bob Murphy "deals" with this problem by contending the problem was... the state!

So, although we are dealing with a region in which state control was almost entirely absent, which would seem to be ideal conditions for the establishment of ancap defense agencies, the mere whiff of the state in their vicinity caused these agencies to become violent criminal gangs. This does not argue well for the stability of anarcho-capitalism!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The most basic form of redistribution

"The most basic form of redistribution that a state engages in is equal application of the law. The rich and powerful always have ways of looking after themselves, and if left to their own devices will always get their way over nonelites. It is only the state, with its judicial and enforcement power, that can make elites conform to the same rules that everyone else is required to follow." -- Fukuyama, p. 56

Of course, the state often fails to perform its duty in this regard. That is a good argument for reforming it. It is no more an argument for eliminating it than is the fact that most new businesses fail an argument for eliminating entrepreneurship.

The cancer of American politics

"For example, Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in 2010 turned into something of a monstrosity during the legislative process as a result of all the concessions inside payments that had to be made to interest groups, including doctors, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry. The bill itself ran to 900 pages…" -- Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, p. 480

Yes, indeed: the good done by the ACA could have been done with a 10-page bill subsidizing insurance coverage for everyone making under some amount per year. That means there are 890 pages of bad in there.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The rule of law and religion

"The rule of law, understood as rules that are binding even on the most politically powerful actors in a given society, has its origins in religion. It is only religious authority that was capable of creating rules that warriors needed to respect." -- Fukuyama, p. 11

It is interesting, in view of the massive amount of historical evidence showing the positive role that religion has played in ordering social life, how little heed the New Atheists pay to this data. Honest scholars who are nonbelievers, such as Fukuyama, Eco, or Hayek, have not had this blind spot.

La Bocca: Your all Francis Fukuyama all the time blog!

Well, at least for the next two weeks, as I frantically try to read his new 600 page book and write a review of it before November 11. As usual, I will be placing interesting quotes from and occasional remarks about the book here, in the process of collecting material for the review.

Here is one for my ancap friends: "The reason that [Africa] is so much poorer in terms of income, health, education and the like than booming regions like East Asia can be traced directly to its lack of strong government institutions." -- Political Order and Political Decay, p. 4

It suggests a new slogan for them: "Embrace anarcho-capitalism, and we, too, can be as poor as Africans!"

Well, let me introduce you to some of my friends, Francis…

"Hence even the most committed free-market economist would readily admit that governments have a role in providing pure public goods." -- Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, p. 55

Well, Rothbard/Hoppe/Block says that would not be permitted!

One very curious ancap habit is to declare what would actually transpire in ancapistan by looking in some book by an ancap writer. So, for instance, when asked "Would there be IP rights in ancapistan?" they look in Block's work and answer, "Well, Walter Block says 'no,' so, no."

But Walter Block will not be the king of ancapistan, so how he thinks ancapistan ought to work is almost completely irrelevant as to how it will work. To answer that question, we should look to the interests of those with the most money to pay defense agencies to get the rules that they want. And once we do that, we can see that almost certainly ancapistan will have stronger IP rights than we do at present: the large corporations that own those rights today can pay a hell of a lot more to have them enforced and enforced more strongly than they are today, than Stephan Kinsella and his coalition of 50 anti-IP activists can pay to have them done away with.

Incentives matter, but according to ancaps, apparently they will no longer matter in the earthly paradise of ancapistan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

If it's not your body it's not your decision

I saw a bumpersticker declaring this on a car in a parking lot today. Presumably, this bumper sticker was meant to make an argument in favor of abortion rights. But it is a very shallow argument: all anti-abortion folks have to do to refute it is to note that the fetus's body is not the mother's body.

I don' for a moment pretend this post has definitively resolved this issue: I am merely noting a very bad argument for abortion rights.

In ancapistan, if you have no property, you have no rights

Ancaps often declare, "All rights are property rights."

I was thinking about this the other day, in the context of running into libertarians online who insisted that libertarianism supports "the freedom of movement," and realized that this principle actually entails that people without property have no rights at all, let alone any right to "freedom of movement."

Of course, immediately, any ancap readers still left here are going to say, "Wait a second! Everyone owns his own body! And so everyone at least has the right to not have his body interfered with." Well, that is true... except that in ancapistan, one has no right to any place to put that body, except if one owns property, or has the permission of at least one property owner to place that body on her land. So, if one is landless and penniless, one had sure better hope that there are kindly disposed property owners aligned in a corridor from wherever one happens to be to wherever the nearest charitable homeless shelter is located.

Or consider the position of a lone poor person, owning a shack and a small patch of land, in the midst of an area that has attracted many rich people: let's call him "Jeb." (When I lived in Weston, CT, I saw such situations: despite Weston being one of the wealthiest towns in the nation, there were still little patches of "Swamp Yankee" housing remaining from the days when Weston was a poor backwater.) The wealthy landowners want Jeb gone, since his shack is an eyesore and brings down property values. But Jeb likes where he lives, and doesn't want to sell. Under standard ancap doctrine, per say, Rothbard, the wealthy landowners literally have the right to starve Jeb to death should he fail to sell, since once they have him surrounded, they can refuse to let him off of his land. (We can even imagine that Jeb's land abuts a privately owned road, but even then, the wealthy landowners can simply pay the road owner to refuse Jeb passage on his road, unless he agrees to sell his land to them.)

It is very strange to characterize such a regime as embodying "freedom of movement"!

UPDATE: I removed "Block" from the sentence with "standard ancap doctrine," as KP notes that Block forbids this.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The computer does not give partial credit

I am working with a student on a programming project at present. I can see that he needs to make a fundamental shift in his mentality in terms of working on a project like this, as opposed to the sort of things he's used to doing in school. He is a smart guy, but he is used to thinking things through part way, and getting close to the idea, and having professors tell him "not bad."

But the computer never tells you "not bad." You either got the code right, and it does what you wanted it to, or you got it wrong. Something very close to the right code can often produce results wildly off from the right results. The computer does not give partial credit.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wouldn't it be ironic…

if in some future, garbled version of the history of our time, historians described it as follows:

"Around the year 2000, humanity faced a crisis: a new ice age, more terrible than those before, was about to put the world in a deep freeze. Luckily, the far-sighted people of that era had foreseen this looming disaster, and, in a valiant effort to avert it, frantically burned fossil fuels at an incredible rate in order to keep temperatures higher than they would have been otherwise. Thanks to their valiant efforts, humanity narrowly pulled through the frozen centuries that followed."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The genius of Thomas Schelling

I am rereading Micromotives and Macrobehavior, as I am supervising the senior thesis of a student who is writing agent-based models drawn from this book. I must say, if there is a superior analysis of what models are and what they are good for, I do not know of it.