Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Answers to two questions about government

I just sent out an email answering two questions, I'm going to copy them here because they're a good reference point for my current views going into 2014. Previously in the email I had mentioned as a decent source of anti-libertarianism, though not without its own problems. The first question, referencing that link:

Some of his arguments are worth thinking about, but It seems to me that many of his argmumetns can be turned on their head fairly easily. What do you think of his marginal utility argument using the movie ticket example?

I think the concept of marginal utility is sound, but by itself it does not justify progressive taxes. So what if I'm so wealthy that an extra dollar is more or less useless for me personally because I already have everything I desire materially? It's still my dollar. What was left unjustified is that 'burden' should be the basis of a taxation policy. But the real problem with the movie ticket metaphor is that it ignores a crucial power of money: the power to create more of it through investing.

Scott wrote "But by your ten billionth dollar, all you're doing is buying a slightly larger yacht." As far as personal artifacts go, sure. But what does the government need billions of dollars for then, buying slightly larger Navy ships? Well, maybe now, the latest fighter jets are all kind of sad, and Lockheed isn't what it once was... No, the government needs money for securing its subjects which is its primary responsibility, I think it also needs money for a certain amount of charity (which factors into security), and amongst other things, it needs money to encourage economic growth...

Throughout the 20th century, especially around the Vietnam war which forced a lot of bright young people into the universities, the US government was pretty good at finding and funding research and development teams that were part of a university, part of a company, or completely independent. Some of the funding was wasteful, some wasn't, and for most cases it was probably close to impossibly hard to figure out which was which until it was tried. The British government did similar things throughout its history, the work of Charles Babbage being a good example despite his efforts never quite coming to fruition in his lifetime. Without government funding the modern computer age probably would have come later -- there were other precursors to the Internet being developed in Europe at the same time as the ARPA-net, but they failed to get the funding to make something of it.

The US government weren't the only ones doing funding, though. Companies used excess profits to fund R&D labs (not altogether successfully -- e.g. Apple's R&D was a waste and Steve Jobs cut it hard when he returned), and individual wealthy people invested into startup companies. And that last thing is really important to me when it comes to letting rich people keep their money. Where would our economy be now without Google? Would Google be where it is now without that $200k from David Cheriton and Andy Bechtolsheim? Would the US government have given Brin and Page that money? Did the US government have anyone employed with the background to see the potential like Andy and David did (Andy cofounded Sun), plus the power to get Google the money? At least in the 60s, the US government had men like Licklider, Bob Taylor, Ivan Sutherland, Lawrence Roberts, and others. (I really liked reading

Where are the great men of today? Busy getting rich, probably, and then using their expertise to try and pick the next winners and/or going after their real end goals for which getting rich was just a means. Does anyone in the US government think they can do a better job than Paul Graham is doing when it comes to incubating and seed-funding new startups? I doubt it. The latest outrage is for Paul Graham to lower his standards so that "a more diverse group of founders" (women, black people) can get into his exclusive club. If the government were to replace Paul Graham, they would lower their standards and have a less successful program. Bill Gates is kicking ass in eradicating diseases, Elon Musk is more likely to get the human species to Mars sooner than any government bothers to, Google's got a bunch of moonshot projects going on... Individuals and small groups of individuals today have wealth that far exceeds the wealth of nations past (and many present too), it's no wonder that they can do great things with it. Centralized vs. decentralized is a battle that's never going to be decided in favor of just one because they're part of a set of contextual tradeoffs. Sometimes centralization is better, sometimes decentralization is better. I think there's enough evidence now to show that we're in a nice feedback loop of growth in many directions, that decentralization of those who have the money and drive to steer the future works, and is presently working better than centralized future steering. It's also harder now for any one entity to steer the future into a dark age. This means the government doesn't need to be as involved as it has been in encouraging growth. It can still take the lead in areas where others aren't showing much interest (like most of what comes out of academic science these days), or in areas where the country is behind or falling behind compared to others, or on the occasional big thing a lot of people might agree is important but individually don't want to strive for, but it doesn't need such a huge pool of money to work from anymore and basically shouldn't have a monopoly on determining where the future goes.

The real justification of a progressive tax system has to come from a justification of taxes itself first, regardless of the form of taxes, and marginal utility doesn't do that. I think that primary justification is simply that the State obviously requires some portion of my dollar to function efficiently, and maybe it requires more from those more capable of providing it, maybe it requires only from organizations of people instead of individuals, maybe it requires from just the rich and exchanges some power on picking the leaders who pick the Leader... (I could live with Singapore's tax system. I have no problem with this justification on authority. I'm perfectly happy to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, with one caveat. I want to see that Caesar is doing a good job, overall, otherwise I'll be unhappy. Maybe he could do a better job, maybe I might be so arrogant to think I could do a better job, but a good job is all I ask. I think Augustus Caesar did a fine job. I don't think the current US government is doing even a mediocre job, it's doing a poor job. So it's with resentment that I pay my taxes, and I'm more inclined to seek every avenue to pay less, and I'm sure plenty of people contemplate the risks of misreporting their income. Just because I'm unhappy doesn't mean I'm justified in not paying taxes, but human actions don't need to be justified for them to occur. It should be obvious to any government that an unhappy populace is harder to govern than a happy one, but a government shouldn't just bow to the whims of its subjects, who will complain at the slightest discomfort. Furthermore a government's leader must have iron in him, otherwise he will be unable to speak hard truths and make painful corrections.

The second question was referencing a previous comment, copied here, I made about how I like some libertarian hands-off policies, I disagree with the desire for no State to exist at all. I said:

Basically I agree a lot of hands-off solutions are the best too, but I also think that having a King (or a person with king-like authority), even a corrupt King who uses a mere $10bn of His $800bn in funds to build a solid gold palace, is a better way to achieve those policies that would be put in place simply because it's only the King that needs convincing, not the masses (who in addition to being convinced that it's a better policy, have to be convinced it's an important enough issue that they'll vote differently over it) (nor the media nor the universities that influence the masses, nor the bureaucrats who would be out of a job if they were hands-off and who believe they know better anyway). Absolute power monarchs are also good at solving coordination problems, disputes, and will tend to have a smaller government as that means less work for them personally.

The second question regarding the paragraph above was:

How do you propose selecting this king? Aren't you concerned the king will be a despot?

Getting from here (demotism) to there (monarchy) is a problem I don't have a realistic solution for, I don't think anyone in the reactionary-sphere does yet. That said, I think any solution that requires the consent of the People, any King who derives his authority from the People, is what is most likely to set up a despot than a King selected by some elite group. (I like the elite group of airplane pilots, who are generally intelligent, accustomed to taking other people's lives in their hands, and not as a whole already devoted to some particular theory or ruling family.) Robert Filmer wrote in "Nero, Heliogabalus, Otho, Vitellius, and such other monsters of nature, were the minions of the multitude and set up by them. Pertinax, Alexander, Severus, Gordianus, Gallus, Emilianus, Quintilius, Aurelianus, Tacitus, Probus, and Numerianus, all of them good emperors in the judgment of all historians, yet murdered by the multitude." I think Hitler, Mao, and Stalin were all at some point considered men of the people, too. King Louis the 16th's main fault was that he was a Nice Guy. ( King Leopold did a decent job governing Belgium even if his management of Congo wasn't very good.

I think even a mediocre King would do better than what we have right now, and if we can just get to that state of affairs, the problem is then how to maintain a line of rulers without having a nutty one, though looking at this non-exhaustive list of kingdoms the prospect of changing nothing with historical succession rules isn't too troubling. (It'd be kind of nice to see Prince Joseph, the rightful heir to the Stuarts (, become King of England and America with his father as regent and Lee Kuan Yew as a consultant...) I think the most important principles can actually be found in Lee Kuan Yew's advice; he warns against a ruler holding on to his position as long as he can, because then he will be weak when it is time for a new ruler, and that will encourage coups. He should instead spend lots of time looking for the next ruler while his own power is solid (ideally a pool of potentials) and make the decision while he is still strong and capable of helping the new ruler come into position. A ruler's son shouldn't immediately become the next ruler, though they may be a very powerful candidate and the next ruler anyway, because having someone groomed for the position since birth can be very effective. For a more complicated scheme, I like the idea of neocameralism, restructuring the State into a formal corporation (a good summary along with its shortcomings here: (In general I want more formalism... see

Posted on 2014-01-02 by Jach

Tags: government, philosophy


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