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Axial Age, 2.0: Sell the State
Axial Age, 2.0: Sell the State
Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2020
Anguilla, British West Indies
Grover Norquist used to joke that a nation-state should be small enough to drown in a bathtub. Certainly the modern nation-state needs a bath, if not the whole Marat thing. Or most of our modern ‘law-speakers’ do, at any rate.
Since the Treaty of Westphalia created the modern nation-state by formally separating church from government, at least in international relations, there’s been a recursive process of shoving one’s personal beliefs about the world and one’s neighbors down the stack to the level of the individual.
We’re now pretty much at the level of the sovereign religious individual now, the number of protestant sects being pretty much uncountable. Even more fun, each regular church-goer is usually a dissenting denomination of one. There’s a joke Unitarian-Universalists tell about themselves, something I used to be before I well, converted, to metaphysical naturalism: “Why are UUs such bad singers?” “They’re scanning the hymn ahead to see if they agree with it.”
Lawyers like to point to Runnymeade as the place where that idea starts with national authority instead of religion, though Anglo-Saxon society, like all Germanic culture, was inherently anarchic to begin with, Western culture has been trending towards individual freedom ever since.
Theologians and philosophers point to the so-called axial age -- the thousand years or so beginning immediately after the iron age renaissance until what Jews and atheists call the common era, giving us Confucius, Buddha, Socrates and Jesus -- as the time when religion and metaphysics stopped being a supernatural environmental externality and more about, as Paul lifted from the Stoics and shoved into Christian Canon, individual conscience. The movie-plot definition of ‘Hebrew’ is ‘argues with God’, remember.
With the current, shall we say, contretemps, over a presidential election, there is every inch the threat that things in the US at least, and possibly the world, might go, in the arcana of military euphemism, “recursively kinetic”. Westphalia again. Again, the hard way. With Moore’s Law telescoping events. Maybe not thirty years, but three years this time. Or three months. Or days. Hours? Rwanda everywhere, all at once. Lions and Tigers and Bears living together, Mr. Mayor. Biblical stuff, indeed, Miz Sidney.
The whole world, slouching towards, heh, involuntary devolution.
In place of the USA, three countries in ten years. Thirty countries in fifty. Three hundred in a century? And not just the US, but everywhere. All the big countries turning into swarms of smaller ones. China. Russia. India. Brazil. Nigeria. Egypt. South Africa. Canada. Mexico. I used to say that the US had to re-federalize or die. Maybe it’s too late. I even wonder sometimes about Switzerland, the archetype of federalism, a country without even a capital. Moore’s law lowers Coase’s floor. More and smaller firms, including nation-states. Let ten thousand countries bloom, the very world Nicholas Negroponte predicted twenty years ago.
At least a couple months ago, I had assumed otherwise, that devolution to a world like the above would be peaceful, voluntary, market based; I’m still hoping so. A peaceful path to universal individual sovereignty. Nation states with the social significance of protestant sects. Sports teams.
How? With free markets, of course. Just sell government off.
No. Really. All of it. Starting with the all the stuff that government, an organization intended to hurt people and break things, does besides, you know, hurting people and breaking things.
The old libertarian battle cry was ‘sell the roads’. So, yes, sell the roads. How? A car drives down a road, paying the abutters as it goes. Part of the value of any property is its utility, its usefulness. That means rights of way, navigable rights of way, for all kinds of people, the public, in other words. That’s why it’s called a ‘public way’, after all. The public pays for the road, increasing its utility to the owner, this time without the phlogiston of ‘externalities’. Dirigistes can go calculate their prices on somebody else’s dime.
Done. Sell the roads. Just sell them. Auction them off to the abutters and they can charge cars as they drive by. Raise prices with instantaneous demand. Decentralized, no, distributed, traffic ‘control’. Almost thirty years ago, I’d imagined doing the car-pays-for-the-road thing with Chaumian blind signatures, or, I’d actually thought a while later, something much smaller, probably unblinded MicroMint coins settled by probabilistic assay. Maybe people could do it with Bitcoin, and Lightning, which seems to be designed for micropayments, and Bitcoin turning out to be the exact financial cryptographic inverse of MicroMint anyway. So, sure, it’s doable, and like Bitcoin itself, when it *can* be done, it *will* be done. Physics causes finance, and all that.
Another favorite libertarian trope is that of tenth century Iceland, and yes, the lög(sögu)maður, or lawspeaker, a more or less universal germanic idea. In Iceland, the lawspeaker would recite laws once a year at the Allthing, a sort of combination annual fair, swap meet, singles bar, and law court. There, at Thingvallir, ‘Thing Valley’, on the exact geologic hotspot where the Atlantic Ocean is ripping itself in half, law, decisions, were sold. You hired a judge to decide an issue in order to prevent violence, a chronic problem where everybody was absolutely armed to the teeth. Even murder was a tort. Everybody had a literal price on their head, and if you killed someone, you paid that amount to their family or you were declared an outlaw and anybody could kill you for free. Brutal but fair. And cheap.
So, there were, sort of, a few laws that everybody more or less agreed to, in order to keep things moving along. Like the ‘code’ of Hammurabi, which it now turns out wasn’t actually promulgated *laws*, but a compilation of common law *decisions’*, the law speaker would recite a quarter of those laws every year, very much in keeping with a verbal story-culture, this being the culture of memorized epics -- sagas -- remember. If it didn’t ‘speak’ a law after four years, it stopped being a law. Again, brutal, but fair. And cheap.
So, yes, law was for sale, and, elsewhere, that kind of thing ended up in force-monopoly and empire. Remember, they didn’t call the old rulers of early Israel ‘Judges’, for nothing. The Persian empire was the result of a single judge, Cyrus the Great, achieving a ‘natural monopoly’ on force. Mohammed was hired as a judge in Medina, remember, and, after they had fought each other to a lethal standstill, and with, strangely enough, the equivalent of a global pandemic, down went both the Persians and the Byzantines in a historical eye-blink.
So. Sell the law. No. Really.
The executive ‘branch’ is more properly the function of firms anyway. Okay, in this world *everything’s* a firm. Hierarchy, spans of literal dominance and control, and “chains” of command, belong inside of firms, competing firms at that, and not binding us all up in the universally hierarchical tyranny like feudal China. Or France. Or the Soviet Union. Or Communist China, for that matter. Since Marxism, by denying free markets, is just feudalism in drag anyway. Or, ultimately, right now, if we let it happen, the United States of America.
Finally, there’s legislation, something that could properly be handled by common law anyway. In the same way that a free market distributes resources far better than force and fiat, a concatenation of case law does a much better job of regulating the transfer of property and services than five hundred and thirty seven wolves voting on which one of us is their next dinner at the French Laundry.
So, yes, sell the law.
You’re seeing where I’m going with this. Ron Paul and his friends imagined a US constitutional amendment prohibiting government from competing with *any* business. “Free markets for everything” is another popular libertarian slogan.
So. If you see it, and the government owns it, sell it: When in doubt, sell it off.
More on this in detail later, but, remember, market monopoly only exists in the presence of monopolistic *force*. So, that means, like the judges in Iceland, free markets. And geodesic networks create geodesic markets, including those for force. Force, I liked to say is conserved. It’ll be come more evenly distributed, and, hopefully, less violent. An armed society is a polite society, as Heinlein liked to say.
Don’t smash the state, silly Marxist. Sell it off.
Okay, and I get asked this a lot. Am I prescriptive here, or am I descriptive? I’m descriptive. I’m pointing at left-field, calling my shot, and swinging for the fences. Reality, especially market reality, is not optional. You can’t fight the tape. Just as the internal combustion engine gives us powered individual transport and flight, I think that geodesic networks and financial cryptography give us recursively smaller firms, and thus markets for those firms, including markets for force.
But trying to immanentize the eschaton never works, Bullwinkle. Like international Marxism, that just kills people. Here’s hoping we figure this out, and our own private Westphalia is a peaceful one, and that the fight against cultural Marxism also happens, by surprise, without a shot.
Sell the state.